THE FANTASTIC JOURNEY
The weird and troubled ’ 70s fantasy TV show.
The fate of The Fantastic Journey reflected its own premise, ironically. An intriguing TV drama about a group of travellers who disappeared into a mysterious vortex, it fleetingly entertained ’ 70s audiences before vanishing as surely as had its protagonists, slipping from the public consciousness after its brief run and remaining unissued on video or DVD.
The Fantastic Journey was created for NBC by Bruce Lansbury, a writer and producer who had previously devised The Barbary Coast and
The Magician. Its jumping- off point was the Bermuda Triangle, interest in which was then at a peak. The show’s two- part pilot – first aired on 3 and 10 February 1977 – depicted a pleasure boat sailing into a green mist in that area of ocean notable for swallowing ships and planes. The party aboard are shipwrecked in an uncharted and bizarre land where they repeatedly find themselves stepping – with a blue flash – through invisible portals that take them into wildly contrasting worlds. Or as one of them, Professor Paul Jordan, observed, “We’re in some kind of time- lock. A spacetime continuum: past, present and future exist together, each on its own terms.”
Explains Ike Eisenmann, who played Jordan’s 13- year- old son Scotty, “The nature of the arc of the series was that they were wanting to find this mythic place within the story called Evoland where we can go back to where we first came from.”
The stranded party hook up with one of the many other people also trapped on the island. Varian ( Jared Martin) is a twinkle- eyed, preternaturally calm musician- healer from 2230. He wields a gizmo that can heal people, but which – like Thor’s hammer – only responds to his touch.
The pilot juxtaposed a futuristic- looking dystopia called Atlantium run by a grotesque brain in a jar with the escapades of a group of Elizabethan privateers led by the brooding Sir James Camden ( a young Ian McShane). Sir James is anxious for news of the Armada threatening England and mistakes Fred Walters – a black medical school graduate played by Carl Franklin – for Jordan’s slave.
Despite displaying such cleverness, the historical content was immediately abandoned due to advance feedback. Recalls Eisenmann, “Originally, the idea was to make it more of a fantasy which could go at any time in history, backwards or forwards. The skew as far as the screenings were concerned found that people were more interested in the science fiction aspect of the show than they were the historical possibilities. The futuristic parts that were incorporated into the pilot were brought into play after we shot the pilot itself. They restructured it and re- cut those things into it.”
The producers also ruthlessly axed three of the original six characters who hadn’t rated well on the screenings, one of whom was no less than Scotty’s dad. “It was shocking to see that they had taken the father out of the story
Liana was played by Katie Saylor – before her mysterious disappearance. Flick the switch! Dodgy experiments in “A Dream Of Conquest”.