MST3K Recap: 1103, Time Travelers

Mystery Science Theater 3000: Experiment 1103

Written by Joel Hodgson et al
Directed by Joel Hodgson and Robert Cohen
Copyright 2017

The world of Riffing has always had a close relationship with the sci-fi genre. Even before the original MST3K moved to the Sci-Fi Channel (as it was known back then), a sizable proportion of its targets fitted comfortably within that genre. There just seems to be so much in the way of raw material to work with when cinematic flights of fancy go awry. This week’s episode is a fine example from the “Deep Message” subgenre, which follows the rules of time travel fiction lock-step and with zero surprises.

The show opens with Jonah and the gang playing a game of “Never Have I Ever”, with the ‘bots cheerfully taking it into a whole weird area, like they do. One show open later, the SOL crew introduces Crow’s invention for the week: edible silicone packets, which unfortunately need to be packed with a single non-edible one to keep them fresh. You can pretty much see where this is going. The Mads return with “Afterlife Alert”, for dead people who require post-mortem assistance. Fans who watched last week’s episode may find Max’s alert necklace rather on the familiar side. A cute one, but quick. And then it’s movie sign.

This go-round is The Time Travelers (1964), in which a group of scientists (and the electrician sent to shut down their excess power) discover they “window to the future” they created is actually a door. Naturally, they all wind up wandering through and getting lost, and naturally the door closes behind them. It’s your usual post-apocalyptic hellscape with a race of elites constantly fighting off mutants and so on. This bunch are getting ready to blast off for a new world, taking their robots (who look like Trumpy from Pod People got lucky while on Earth) with them. Naturally there’s intrigue, dirty secrets, the race against time to get back to their own time and so on. The ending screams “we ran out of ideas” and doesn’t even try to justify itself. One feature of note is the use of stage magic techniques as F/X work. This appears not to have been done not out of necessity, as elaborate tricks are used to create effects that could easily have been reproduced with a simple edit. Nevertheless, it does make the movie stand out, inasmuch as it stands out at all.

In the first host segment, the SOL crew has a time portal drill. Gypsy lectures them on the basics of portal encounters, including the important (if confusing) “Enter the portal, not”. It is also firmly established that meddling with the future always results in a nuclear wasteland. It just appears to be one of those things.

In the second segment, Jonah introduces a new series of ‘bots to the SOL, only to have each in turn be violently destroyed by Crow & Tom. This goes on for a while, until the sudden (but inevitable) reveal that the new ‘bots are phonies, made to be destroyed in the first place. Just a quick bit of slapstick, but it does remind this viewer that this series is meant to introduce us to a new ‘bot by the name of Waverly, which we have yet to see. One wonders how he’ll get along with the others, and when we’ll get to find out.

Lastly, the SOL gets a visit from Dr. Varno from the movie and his friend “Larry” (Joel Hodgson himself, making his first unmasked on-camera appearance this series). They’ve given up science in favor of the 24-hour party lifestyle. Jonah, believe it or not, turns down their invitation to join them, and they belt off to Betelgeuse to hit a rave. Sadly, “Larry” doesn’t speak a word during the whole bit, but it’s nice to at least see him.

After the movie, the gang returns to the crew cabin to find they have somehow reproduced the ending to the movie. It gets weird fast. Kinga proclaims this to be the 200th episode of MST3K, which Max helpfully points out is only if you count the episodes they personally had nothing to do with. It’s a bit silly, but this reviewer must admit she has a fondness for meta humor.

So that’s three down, 11 to go. The episodes seem to be gaining popularity, and passing muster with old & new fans alike. When Felicia Day was at Planet Comicon this last weekend (hence the delay in this recap, sorry), this reviewer noted many fans bringing paraphernalia related to the show (t-shirts and so on). No word yet on numbers, but at this early date, the “feel” is positive. This reviewer is optimistic that a second season is not an unreasonable wish at all.

What do you think, sirs?

Kelly Luck is constructing a time portal so she can go back to the past and tell herself not to bother with trombone lessons. Her other SciFi4Me work can be read here.

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