This week on The View from The Junkyard, we’ve spent some time with dinosaurs, like Tricey the Triceratops from Dinosaurs on a Spaceship and a bunch of puppets from Invasion of the Dinosaurs. It got me thinking about another weird world of Science Fiction. Conan Doyle introduced audiences to The Lost World, a place where dinosaurs still existed in a land that time forgot. As a child of the 70’s, there was another lost world but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I recognized the genius of it. Land of the Lost was not a lost world like the one of Doyle’s writing. Doyle told the story of a land mass that basically never developed, somehow staying stuck in a bygone age. Land of the Lost was a pocket universe where things might end up, lost forever. Created by David Gerold and presented as part of the Sid and Marty Kroft hour, it was a different take on a land where dinosaurs still existed. Gerold, probably best known for his script for the original Star Trek series, The Trouble with Tribbles, was onto something that 1974 television simply could not bring to life as it truly deserved.
As a child, Land of the Lost was simply a show about dinosaurs. And it was fun to watch for having some cool monsters, namely the Sleestak. These bipedal reptiles might be the offspring of Silurians and Sea Devils, but lost to some unknown catastrophe that left them in this mysterious land. So one holiday weekend, several years ago, while sick as a newly regenerated man, I turned on the television just in time for a Memorial Day Marathon of Land of the Lost. And I am so glad I sat through that first episode because I could not wait to start the next one. It changed my perspective of the show tremendously. Like Doctor Who, you don’t go into the Land of the Lost expecting great visuals but what’s worse: the acting of the main cast is terrible. It feels like the cast was pulled off the street rather than spending the money on trained actors. I’m aware that this is not a sterling recommendation, but think of what that will say for the stories when I get there! And, considering how amazing the original cast was for Doctor Who, there doesn’t appear to be much of a connection yet. Well imagine my surprise as I kept watching and saw just how good the actual stories were. Season 1 forms a complete arc. For 1970’s television, this was amazing. The story centers around a family who were rafting together when they went over a waterfall. They should have died, but discover instead that they are in the Land of the Lost. If the series has one thing going against it, it’s that it made a critical mistake by attempting two additional seasons, because season one ties everything up. Comprising 17 episodes, it ends with Circle which, as you might imagine, completes the circle and ends the series. (So why go on? Because networks know how to milk a thing! Nevermind that, let’s stay focused on season 1…)
So why talk about it here? Namely because the stories are surprisingly intelligent. It’s like the networks knew the parents wanted something to watch with their children so they created a show that would visually appeal to the children while telling a story the parents could sink their mental teeth into. The stories are frequently excellent, but that should come as little surprise when you see the list of writers. The list includes the aforementioned David Gerrold as well D.C. Fontana, writer of Star Trek’s Charlie X and This Side of Paradise as well as episodes of the Star Trek animated series, Deep Space Nine, The Next Generation and even Babylon 5. Also, Pavel Chekov himself, Walter Koenig, wrote one of the strongest episodes of the first season introducing us to the intelligent Sleestak, Enik. Enik, who I thought was the coolest reptile, even when I was a kid, is a time traveler from the future of the Sleestak and may possess the means for the Marshalls to get back home. Hugo award winners Ben Bova and Larry Niven also wrote for this pocket universe. Niven is probably best known for his Ringworld series and worked with Gerold on the final two episodes of season one, completing the series on a high note.
The stories explore the idea of a weird place that seems to be largely prehistoric but with technology in the form of pylons with control panels within. It would have been incredible to see what shaped this strange world but season one only explains one mystery, although it’s an important one: how the Marshalls got to the Land, and it’s a paradox worthy of the best of Doctor Who. Like so many of the mysteries of this place, there is also Cha-Ka, a little creature that may be the missing link between man and ape. He and his people, the Pakuni, are as lost as the main protagonists. Random dinosaurs wander in and out and one even becomes a sort of family pet. Like I said, the acting won’t wow you; it’s often extremely weak, but like Doctor Who, if we go into it with a teaspoon and an open mind, there’s no telling what treasures we can uncover.
It comes down to those ideas: pocket universes, intelligent bipedal reptiles, time travel, lost worlds, temporal paradoxes… they are all quintessentially Doctor Who concepts written by some of the best science fiction writers of the time.
But I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t go the extra mile for our website. For this to truly be an article for our Six Degrees category, I had a DNA test run on one of the Triceratops from Land of the Lost and discovered that it had a sister named Tricey who was last seen being escorted to a spaceship by a guy who looked a bit like a Sleestak. It’s a small world, isn’t it? ML