The Fantastic Journey’snext-to-last episode, “Riddles,” represents a big step up in quality from the previous “episode, Turnabout,” for two reasons. In the first case, the episode abandons the “civilization of the week” template which, even after just nine weeks, feels very tired. In the second instance, the episode begins – finally – to craft some coherent mythology regarding Evoland and the series’ strange island in the Devil’s Triangle.
In terms of mythology, “Riddles” introduces the wayward travelers to characters called “Riders,” horseback sentries who patrol the various time zones helping lost wanderers and guiding them to Evoland.
Unfortunately, these Riders speak only in riddles, and their words must be deciphered by any travelers.
This key to Evoland represents a helpful story tool because now Varian, Scott, Willaway and Fred must actually accomplish something important each adventure: they must find a crystalline key. Otherwise, the question remains: why interfere in local politics and not just high-tail it out of each province as soon as possible? At least now there’s a reason to stick around, and solve mysteries, and deal with the locals. Of course, no more keys were found on The Fantastic Journey since the series was canceled after one more episode.
At first they claim to be from an overpopulated world, and simply seeking privacy and isolation.
Later, Kedrin claims they are actually parasites and vampires, seeking to “suck the life force” out of unsuspecting visitors.
Only in the last moments of the episode is the true nature of the “curse” imperiling Kedrin and Kendra revealed. And it’s actually a good one: they come from a world where old age is shunned, and have been holding onto the illusion of “youth” here in the Bermuda Triangle, with the help of the Evoland Key, which can create hallucinations. Rather surprisingly, this revelation permits the episode to end on a tender rather than harsh note.
Eagle-eyed cult-tv fans will also note that Kedrin wears the PAX uniform from the Roddenberry pilot, Planet Earth!
Each character in the tale is similarly asked to face a deep fear. Willaway faces claustrophobia (in a shrinking closet), the doctor, Fred, faces the loss of his hands, and Varian falls into an endless abyss…alone. They each manage to escape these mental traps, but Scott’s terror is the most powerful, and Ike Eisenmann does a terrific job expressing Scott’s pain. Although The Fantastic Journey certainly boasts its share of problems, one perpetual strength, perhaps, is the characterization of Scott, a teenage boy. Rather than presenting him as a know-it-all, a genius or a savior, the series writers present him as an absolutely likable, regular kid. Scott is smart, resourceful and clever, but he’s not a superman, and is rarely used as a deus ex machina in the manner of an Adric or a Wesley Crusher.
Future cult tv programs would be wise to remember Scott’s example.
“Riddles” even ends on a great literary note, as Willaway quotes from a poem by Robert Browning and Abraham ibn Ezra. The poem is called Rabbi ben Ezra and it was published in 1864.
The work begins, in part “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.” So, once more, Roddy McDowall gets the smartest and best line in the show. Looking back, it’s clear that in many ways, the addition of the Willaway character as a regular saved the series.