The third and final season of “Land of the Lost” is often considered the ugly, misshapen, redheaded bastard stepchild of the series. Indeed, if the 13 episodes of which it consists were the only “Land of the Lost” ever created, the show would have been long since forgotten. But it’s worth mentioning that the initial impetus for doing this three part retrospective came from the desire to come to the defense of Season Three, and try to give a little bit of respect to the episodes that are routinely shunned even by the people who display their love of this show as a badge of honor.
Season Three again saw shifts in the production team, and even more noticeably, in front of the camera. As I understand it, Spencer Milligan couldn’t reach an amicable contract agreement and so he abruptly left the show. With his departure came new lyrics for the opening credits:
Will and Holly Marshall
As the earth beneath them trembled
Lost their father through the door of time
Uncle Jack went searching
And found those kids at last
Looking for a way to escape
From the Land of the Lost
Uncle Jack replaced Ranger Rick, and he was played by Ron Harper, best known to genre fans as astronaut Alan Virdon in the TV series incarnation of “Planet of the Apes.” He was a true uncle, rather than a father – instead of being preachy and bestowing wisdom, he was more often than not a man of action; a guy trying to get things done. I like Ron Harper, and if there’s a reason I’ve got some love for Season Three, much of it’s due to his presence. Would Spencer Milligan’s Rick have been as believable in many of these situations? Likely not. He’d accrued too much info during his time in the Land for these stories to work. In contrast, Uncle Jack was experiencing this madness through fresh eyes, and so he was more accepting.
Behind the scenes, Jon Kubichan and Sam Roeca took over as producer and story editor respectively, and between the two of them, they scripted the majority of the season. Their vision of the series was quite the departure from the two seasons that came before. Nearly everything – including the iconic elements such as the Sleestak, the Pakuni and the ubiquitous dinosaurs – got a major overhaul.
So far in writing this series of pieces I’ve tried to be objective, but in discussing the season opener, “After-Shock,” I feel the need to get a little personal. In the opening scene there’s an earthquake in the Land (an idea that was actually set up late in Season Two), and as Rick is fiddling away in a pylon (we only ever see him from behind), he’s suddenly and presumably whisked away and taken back home…alongside numerous images of rampant destruction across the Land. No matter what Will and Holly discussed afterwards, to a five-year old it came across that he was killed. This piece of television traumatized me, as it just seemed that Rick was ripped away from his children and that he’d died some horrible death. I have no childhood memories of “Land of the Lost” after this episode. Did I just stop watching? Did I block the rest of the season out? Was the general quality of Season Three just plain forgettable? I’ve no idea.
From an adult standpoint, however, “After-Shock” is rather anticlimactic. It’s essentially a rejiggered pilot designed to set up the third season, and in the process change a bunch of shit that had been established in the previous two seasons. Cha-Ka can suddenly speak broken English. The other Pakuni have disappeared along with Rick. Uncle Jack arrives. A fictitious (rather than reality-based) two-headed dinosaur, nicknamed Lulu, crops up in the swamp. High Bluff is destroyed and the Marshalls move into the Temple near the Lost City. Cha-Ka moves in with the Marshalls. The Sleestak have a leader (Jon Locke) who can speak English the Marshalls understand without the aid of the smoke-filled Library of Skulls. And Enik? Well, we’ll get to him in due course. These changes (Lulu aside) reflect the new production team’s vision (for better or worse) to deliver a more efficient series of scripts. Whether or not these scripts are any good is another matter entirely, but ultimately credit must be handed to a vision that wanted to bring something fresh to “Land of the Lost,” given that the previous template had been all but exhausted (as was evidenced by numerous tales in the second season).
Episode 2, “Survival Kit,” introduces the Cro-Magnon character of Malak, played by Richard Kiel, who would go on to play Jaws in the Bond movies “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker.” While “Land of the Lost” offered up its fair share of weak performances over three seasons, none were even close to as dire as Kiel’s. There’s absolutely nothing even remotely convincing about anything he delivers. The Sleestak fear him presumably because he’s taller than they are, and it just simply doesn’t work. As a result the episode can only be considered a failure. Enik shows up and, as the subtitle of this entry declares, is a dick. He’s a dick throughout most the season, too. Some see this as a betrayal of Enik’s character, but I see a guy who’s at the end of his rope, frazzled, and aching to get away from this intolerable place. It doesn’t help matters that Rick Marshall managed to exit the Land of the Lost, while he’s still stuck here dealing with countless species he considers beneath him. And he’s just sick and tired of the Marshalls fucking his shit up, as well as hurt that they’ve not invited him to come live with them in the Temple. This is the only plausible way to read Enik’s behavior throughout the season. Episode 3, “The Orb,” features Will becoming invisible after coming out of a pylon. After Wesley Eure’s coming out this week to AfterElton.com, this installment takes on a whole new meaning. Quite seriously – I’ve all the respect in the world for Mr. Eure for doing so, but when I got to this juncture in the article, I couldn’t help but notice a bizarre parallel after reading the interview. “The Orb” also features a plethora of soundbites for DJ’s who are still remixing the sounds of Dr. Alex Paterson 15 years after he went out of style.
Episode 4, “Repairman,” is a personal highlight for me, and it might be for you, too, provided you love “Doctor Who.” The Sleestak are once again messing around with a pylon in the hopes of blotting out the sun. Instead they induce solar flares that wreak havoc across the Land. A mysterious English gentleman appears with the intention of setting things right. Blandings (Laurie Main) declares that he’ll only be around until 6 o’clock, and he’s got several gadgets to aid him in his mission, as well as the ability to produce chocolate milkshakes out of thin air. Blandings is if not the Time Lord, most certainly a Time Lord. He’s a mysterious being who appears out of nowhere, speaking in rhymes and riddles and offering up hope to the helpless. He’s not invincible, yet he is a hero. He’s exactly what any given character on “Doctor Who” perceives the Doctor to be. And when his job is done, he disappears with no explanation and without expecting any thanks. If you hated “Love & Monsters,” perhaps “Repairman” will get the job done. If, on the other hand, “Doctor Who” ain’t your cup of tea, then this episode is perhaps the only entry in the entire series to give some hints as to the beings overseeing and controlling the Land of the Lost.
“Medusa,” Episode 5, delivers pretty much exactly what you’d expect from a piece of drama with that title, as well as the worst Medusa makeup you’ve ever seen in your life. Season Three is really hung up on dragging new elements into the Land. Some, like Blandings, work; others, like Malak and Medusa, do not. Holly is seduced by the charms of “Meddie.” Jack and Will must rescue her. This Medusa is stupid, because she wants to also be the Queen from “Snow White,” demonstrated by the fact that she keeps a mirror that talks to her. Guess where this ends up? A bad episode, but as right a time as any to point out how damn good Kathy Coleman is in Season Three. She really is. It’s just a shame she’s given so little to do as the season moves on. Episode 6, “Cornered,” features Will being poisoned by the sting of the tail of Torchy – a dimetrodon who breathes fire(?!). Again, Enik is a massive, duplicitous dick. Oh, and this is the first episode to end with Will singing a song. It’s not that Wesley Eure has a bad singing voice (he did, after all, provide vocals for one of the most memorable TV theme tunes of all time), but come on, this sort of thing has no business being in this series.
Episode 7, “Flying Dutchman,” could have been a masterpiece…had it not included a subplot featuring Kiel’s Malak. Otherwise, it’s a sad, haunting piece of fiction with wonderful atmosphere. If you know nothing about the mythical Flying Dutchman, I won’t ruin it for you; if you do, then you can glean what it’s all about…although it’s got absolutely no business taking place in “Land of the Lost” – like many of the elements introduced in Season Three. Episode 8, “Hot-Air Artist,” is another such example. A dude lands in the Land in his hot-air balloon. Maybe the Marshalls can go back up with him and escape? (At this point, the idea of the Land being a “closed universe,” as was set up in the first season, has clearly been abandoned.) But the guy’s a huckster, and is only interested in taking Cha-Ka with him so he can exploit the little guy as a carnival freak. Perhaps this character should’ve been named Blandings? Episode 9, “Abominable Snowman,” needs no explanation, except that in addition to a Yeti, there’s also a unicorn. Ack. The Snowman in question is just a guy in white furry suit – you will not mistake him for anything more interesting than that.
“Timestop,” Episode 10, is the one episode of the season that will take you back to classic “Land of the Lost.” (Funny, no?) It’s the story of a crystal that everyone covets, and of time going backwards, and of Enik being a dickhead of massive proportions. Good stuff written by Tom Swale, who had been a producer in Season Two. Surprising it slipped through the cracks and got made at all. Episode 11, “Ancient Guardian,” sees the Marshalls messing with a Sleestak-shaped totem that they should absolutely walk away from. “Hey! This looks cool! (Even though we hate these guys.) Let’s decorate our front porch with it!” The Abominable Snowman returns, and we ask why? Still, the twist at the end isn’t altogether terrible. Episode 12, “Scarab,” features a possessed Cha-Ka. In this episode, Enik is not the dick – Cha-Ka is! And it’s quite amusing, all things considered, but then again we’re nearing the end of the entire saga, so we’re easily amused.
So how does “Land of the Lost” end? With one of the most uninspiring episodes of the entire series, Episode 13, “Medicine Man” – a simple morality tale featuring an Indian (Ned Romero) and a soldier (Gregory Walcott) who must figure out how to get along. That’s it kids. That’s the end of the ‘70s incarnation of “Land of the Lost”: the entire shebang is completely and totally unresolved. The Marshalls are seemingly stuck in the Land for eternity. Enik doesn’t even get a chance to redeem himself. (Actually, it really ends with Wesley Eure singing another one of those damned songs!)
It’s been a long week, folks, and recapping 43 episodes of a series that most consider a joke at best hasn’t been easy…and I’ve completely failed to give Season Three its due, which is what I set out to accomplish here. Let’s try to fix that. Regardless of what I’ve said about Season Three above, what I like about this season, as opposed to Season Two, is that it’s full of possibilities – no matter how silly or uninspiring they may be. Most of it really doesn’t work, but rather than lodge cannonballs at the creative minds behind this stuff, I think it really shows how limited, as a concept, “Land of the Lost” really was. The reality is that David Gerrold pretty much said all that needed to be said with these ideas in Season One – most everything that came after was redundant, and even the few tales after that that did stand out weren’t special enough to warrant whole seasons being built around them. Yet “Land of the Lost” was total benchmark ‘70s television, and the fact that it lasted three seasons no doubt contributed to that perception. The ideas and imagery it presented have stood the test of time, and today we’re seeing a major Hollywood studio spending upwards of a $100 million based on these ideas. Nostalgia’s a funny thing, eh? Now if they can only pull off some kind of “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters” movie, they’ll have my eternal respect…well, as long as it doesn’t involve Will Ferrell, anyway.