Monday, June 11, 2007



Oh, Voyagers! How I love thee...

To a kid in 1982 who hadn't really started watching Doctor Who yet (I'd seen a few episodes, but didn't really understand it until KERA in Dallas started rerunning all of the Tom Baker episodes from Robot straight through to the end in the summer of 1983, or somewhere around there), Voyagers! was about the best idea ever.
Phineas Bogg (Jon-Erik Hexum) is a member of the secret society of Voyagers, a mysterious organization of time-travelers charged with keeping history on the right track. Whenever he's alerted to irregularities in the past, his job is to travel into history to smooth them out. When his time machine, Omni, goes on the fritz and he overshoots his mark by a few decades, Boggs picks up an unwanted companion, twelve-year-old Jeffrey Jones (Meeno Peluce). But Jeffrey's extensive knowledge of history comes in handy as the incompatible pair careens from century to century, giving the past a jump start whenever it's needed.
Now, this was unabashedly a children's show, no question about it. There wasn't a lot of subtext and nuance going on here. But the idea of a pocket watch that lets you travel anywhere in time and space is a terrific one, whatever the presentation.

A couple of years ago I managed to find a bootleg DVD set of all twenty episodes of the show, and watched a sampling of episodes from the beginning, middle, and end. Having cringed through any number of shows I enjoyed as a kid that, on viewing them again as an adult proved to be horrible, Voyagers! held up remarkably well. It really was a well-oiled machine for telling stories. And, perhaps even more surprisingly, the treatment of time-travel in the show as fairly well-thought-out and rational.

I'd always remembered it as one of those we-must-fix-history things, like Quantum Leap, where one version of history is preferable to any other. But in Voyagers!, while there is only one timeline, it's a malleable one. It wobbles and jitters, at key points, and runs the risk of "jumping the track." The purpose of the Voyagers themselves is to travel to these weak spots, identify the point of divergence, and restore the timeline to its previous course. Their Omni devices function not only as time machines, but as tools to monitor the stability of the timeline. The Omni seems to contain some crude level of AI, and is equipped with a complete record of the timeline's "pristine" history, to which it can compare the actual. When history diverges from the ideal, its red tell lights up, indicating a problem. When history and the timeline match, it lights green. Apparently when in Auto mode, the Omni travels to the nearest point of divergence.

The Voyagers themselves are drawn from different time periods and cultures, and educated in a structure of some kind which seems to exist outside of time. When they complete their studies they are given an Omni and a Guide Book, which is a one volume reference that contains not only the directions for field-stripping and calibrating the Omni, but also a complete history of the time period to which the Voyager is assigned (while the Omni must have a complete history in it, as well, it--like the visual and audio record it maintains of its bearer's actions--can't be accessed in the field). Naturally, our hero Phineas Bogg loses his Guide Book almost immediately, and his unwitting companion Jeffrey Jones--a preteen history buff--has to fill in as best he can.

When it was originally broadcast, the rights to Voyagers! were co-owned by Scholastic Books, and it seems a shame that they haven't tried in the decades since to relaunch the franchise as a book series. The original series was clearly intended to be entertainment with educational value, with every episode ending with Jeffrey or Phineas doing a to-the-camera "If you enjoyed learning about [whatever], visit the library to learn more." By the last episode of the series, the show runners had introduced an archnemesis, Drake, a rogue Voyager with a superior Omni who was diverting the course of history known only to him. Unless I'm misremembering, there was also a scene where Jeffrey Jones learns that he is destined to go on to become one of the greatest Voyagers.

Clearly, a perfect way to relaunch the concept for modern readers would be to pick up the characters twenty years on. Jeffrey Jones, now in his mid-thirties, is the pride of the Voyagers, having been at it since he was a kid. The rogue Voyager Drake has set up his own cadre of Omni-wielding renegades bent on altering the timeline to their own ends. Drake's alterations interfer with Jones's Omni, and he's left unable to return to Voyager HQ out there beyond time and space, and through misadventure Jones is forced to take on a smart-mouthed teenaged girl from the early 21st century as his sidekick. The girl, of course, is the POV for the series, and is good at all of the stuff that Jones, who missed out on having a childhood, isn't.

There you go, Scholastic, I've just given you a dynamite idea for a book series. And chances are you already own the rights. Just give me piles of money and I'll be more than happy to write it for you.

As for everyone else, you can pick up the DVD of the series coming out in a few months, and see for yourself.

Holy crap... I remember this show like it was yesterday. The episode in which Edison disassembles the Omni and Jeffrey is stuck working for him sticks out in my mind.

Strange timing, too. I was just describing this show to a friend of mine at work who had never even heard of it. He knew The Great Space Coaster, but he didn't know this little gem.
Ah, Great Space Coaster. You know, I can never hear Kevin Clash's more gravely characters on Sesame Street without thinking of Goriddle Gorilla. But I was old enough that I only ever watched that show when I was home sick from school, so I associate all memories of it with a feverish feeling.

Now, do you remember Gigglesnort Hotel?
I watched me some VOYAGERS! back in the day. Like the ep where MacArthur died at Pearl Harbor. Good stuff.

I even remember Through The Magic Pyramid, which, while not technically the pilot for VOYAGERS!, certainly looks to have influenced the show to a great degree.
I must have missed Through the Magic Pyramid. Might have been on opposite something my folks wanted to watch, I guess.
Gigglesnort Hotel is a new one on me, but I do remember The Uncle Al Show. Is The Magic Pyramid that show about the family who got left in a pyramid by an Egyptian tour guide only to be dropped into some parallel world?
No, you're thinking of Otherworld, which was a little later.
I started watching Voyagers! with the nineties reruns, but it has left it's mark on me, so much so that I created a huge fan website for it with art, videos, pictures etc.. What a great show, and you are so right about Scholastic. I fancy myself a writer as a hobby (at least for fanfic) and I wondered how one went about making a pitch to restart the Franchise with the original characters. I would love to write for it. Oh well, I'll keep checking it out, glad I stumbled on this blog, though a little late! Take care!
Ginger, if you should discover how to pitch a restart of the series, be sure to let me know!
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