Back when I started this blog (waaaaaay back in 2005….) I occasionally blogged short-lived cult-tv series in their totality, including Logan’s Run (1977), Push, Nevada (2002) and Surface (2005).
Since then, I’ve also occasionally launched on cult-tv blogging jags for the likes of Quark (1978), Star Maidens (1976), and episodes of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1970-1973).
Well, I figured this is a good time to get back to that old habit.
Therefore, I’ve decided to blog over the next few weeks the series The Fantastic Journey (1977), a sci-fi program which aired for ten hour-long episodes back in the watershed year of Star Wars.
I selected this particular cult series because I’ve always enjoyed it, it doesn’t represent a vast investment in time (like blogging the entirety of Stargate, for instance…), the cast of characters remains intriguing, and because The Fantastic Journey is a cult series I’d like to see released on DVD or blu ray in the States.
With The Starlost and Man from Atlantis now available, and Logan’s Run (the series) due in April, it’s about time we get The Fantastic Journey too. Along with Salvage One, Project UFO and Cliffhangers, this memorable series is one of the last 1970s cult programs not yet returned to contemporary pop culture for a second assessment.
For the uninitiated, The Fantastic Journey — initially known as “The Incredible Island” — aired on NBC Thursday nights (at 8:00 pm) mainly in February and March of 1977. Created by Bruce Lansbury, the story was story-edited, at least for a time, by Dorothy Fontana, one of the greatest writers of science fiction television during the 1960s and 1970s.
In terms of concept, The Fantastic Journey played on the in-vogue “Bermuda Triangle” craze of the disco decade. Specifically, the series involved a group of marine biologists who inadvertently became snared by a menacing green cloud in the Bermuda Triangle, and then washed ashore on a mysterious, immense, timeless island. This mysterious island consisted of “honeycombs” of unique time zones, each one different from the next. Local legends reported that a wayward traveler could find his way home to his own epoch by visiting a mecca called “Evoland,” where “instantaneous transfer” equipment existed.
The Fantastic Journey underwent numerous cast changes in short order, and the first few episodes showcase this revolving door in terms of both personnel and concepts. Eventually, the primary lead characters on the series became Varian (Jared Martin), a musical healer from the 23rd century, Dr. Fred Walters (Carl Franklin), an African-American medical student from 1976, teenager Scott Jordan (Ike Eisenmann), the manipulative and wily Dr. Willoway (Roddy McDowall), and telepathic/empathic alien/human hybrid, Liana (Katie Saylor), and her highly-intelligent cat, Sil-El.
To put it another way, Varian was added in a late draft of the pilot, Liana in the second aired episode (“Atlantium”) and Willoway in the third episode (“Beyond the Mountain”), if that tally provides a sense of how unsettled the cast was, even as the series was broadcast.
The creation of the series was rushed, no doubt, and the pilot episode “Vortex” certainly showcases this sense of zigging and zagging in many different direction. “We had very short prep time,” story editor Dorothy Fontana informed me during an interview I conducted in 2001 for Filmfax: “The pilot was sold in November and we had to be on the air the following January. It was a race to get scripts ready that we could shoot, and get rolling, and actually have a show to put on the air by January. Adding to the problem, there were many cast changes from the pilot. The parents of the boy [Ike Eisenmann] were written out of the format, and we had a woman character, Lianna [Katie Saylor] in the second story ["Atlantium"].
So in the coming weeks, between other posts here — on The Films of 1982, Sinbad – and more, look for an episode-by-episode retrospective of The Fantastic Journey. The first show in the queue is that problematic pilot, the 90 minute initial outing, “Vortex.”