Jun 30, 2014

The Questor Reality

Novelization by D. C. Fontana
In 1974, 13 episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man were transmitted into homes, along with a barrage of commercials promoting the show. At the time, I was discovering the science fiction stories of Isaac Asimov who had grown up reading science fiction stories about evil robots and, through his own stories featuring the "laws of robotics", he had explored the idea of robots who could not harm people. Evil robots were a popular topic in episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man. For example, in episode 4, "Day of the Robot", an evil robot tried to kill the star of the show, Steve Austin.

The Questor Tapes
The Questor Reality
     In an alternative universe, The Questor Tapes might have become a late 1970s science fiction television program about an ancient alien intervention into Earth's history. The star of The Questor Tapes (an android named Questor) was a "friendly robot" similar to the character Data in the late 1980s Star Trek: The Next Generation. I suppose that Questor ruined his own chances of staring in a 1970s television series by stating calmly and logically: "I am not programmed to kill."

Lindsay Wagner
2014 is the 40th anniversary of The Questor Tapes pilot movie. There were no fist fights, no car chases and only one person dies -in an act of self-sacrifice- at the very end. In the late 1960s, Roddenberry had failed to interest Hollywood in a similarly cerebral science fiction show called Assignment: Earth.

Hollywood go boom!
I suppose the folks in Hollywood had little trouble opting for shows like The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman over The Questor Tapes and Assignment: Earth. Mindless episodes about killer robots and bigfoot with slow motion video of Lee Majors and Lindsay Wagner were safe bets in Hollywood.

Lost in Hollywood
To me, it seems miraculous that Star Trek was on television in the 1960s. As it was, Roddenberry had to fight to defend core features of his futuristic vision against the mundane and conventional preferences of Hollywood executives. It is fun to fantasize about an alternate Reality, the Roddenberry Reality, where in 1970 there could have been a television show based on Assignment: Earth, while in our world we got dystopian drek. In 1975 we could have had a new television series called Questor, but we got The Lost Saucer. In 1978 we almost had Star Trek: Phase II, but we got Cylons.

Teri Garr (left) as Roberta Lincoln in Assignment: Earth
Collaboration. The original script by Roddenberry (1966) for what became Assignment: Earth had a fairly conventional Evil Alien theme running through it. Adam Riggio has commented that Roddenberry was "utterly terrible at writing" for Star Trek. In 1967 Art Wallace collaborated with Roddenberry to re-work the story as a potential Star Trek spinoff. As a television SciFi show, why is Assignment: Earth so much better than The Questor Tapes? How might it have been made even better; good enough to out-shine Star Trek?

Reggio has had fun imagining an alternate Reality in which Assignment: Earth became Roddenberry's best known creation while Star Trek was quickly forgotten. Riggio suggests that we, "Just imagine Lindsay Wagner (The Bionic Woman) playing Roberta", and Nimoy as Gary Seven.

Barbara of Get Smart
Riggio has also suggested Barbara Feldon as a possible Roberta, which I think is absurd. Star Trek might have gotten its start by pretending to be a "Western" set among the stars, and Roddenberry might have originally sought to launch Assignment: Earth off of the popularity of "spy shows", but it would have been a huge error to push potential fans of Assignment: Earth towards associating a fledgling science fiction show with a comedy secret agent spoof like Get Smart.

Time Travel
Does Assignment: Earth work as a television show about time travel? I have my doubts. Would anyone like the idea that the history of Earth is being kept on track by Gary Seven, an agent in a time travel war, an endless struggle against evil aliens?

Dana Wynter
Art Wallace vs Gene Coon
Somehow Art Wallace was a good fit for Assignment: Earth, able to produce a fun episode that held promise as a possible new series. In contrast, with a terminally ill Gene Coon working on The Questor Tapes, the result was rather cringe-worthy. For example, the middle part of the pilot movie with Dana Wynter seems contrived to allow Questor to explain that he has a functioning penis. It is fun for me to image that in the Ekcolir Reality, the entire course of the history of science fiction television shows could have been different, allowing both Assignment: Earth and The Questor Tapes to be produced as long-running television shows.

The Thomas Effect
deviantART image credits
This is Daneel with the galaxy.
Thomas Iwedon is born into the Ekcolir Reality and he quickly came to have some understanding of the fact that Earth has long been visited by aliens from a distant galaxy. Thomas became a writer of science fiction stories. I imagine that Thomas first wrote for a television show in 1959, writing for the Foundation of Reality science fiction series. Foundation of Reality was based on the revelations in the final book of Isaac Asimov's Foundation saga: Foundation Law. In Foundation Law, Asimov revealed how Daneel had worked for 20,000 years to design a modified type of human being, genetically imprinted with the Three Laws and capable of functioning to form the group mind, Galaxia. Asimov's Foundation saga ended with Galaxia repulsing aliens from another galaxy (described by Asimov as "the Huaoshy" along with their minions "the pek"), preserving our galaxy as a domain of 25,000,000 Earth-like planets populated by a unified human species safely existing under the watchful eyes of positronic robots following the Zeroth Law of Robotics.

Sut'hiro and Number One (Natalie Wood)
Foundation of Reality continued Asimov's saga with the introduction of the Kac'hin, a human variant that had been designed by the pek. The television series spanned most of the 1960s and covered the same ground as The Foundations of Eternity.

In the Ekcolir Reality, Star Trek began as a spinoff from Foundation of Reality. The transgalactic mission in Star Trek was an attempt to reach the Galactic Core and find worlds such as Hemmal and Klyz where the pek had long worked to design new human and Fruthwa variants. In this Star Trek, there was no Vulcan, but there was a Fruthwa crew member (Sut'hiro). Natalie Wood was second in command as the captain's "Number One". In the Ekcolir Reality, television technology was about 20 years ahead of what we have here in the Buld Reality, so the original Star Trek was in many ways similar to Voyager.

Future Science
Roberta Lincoln and Gary Seven
Staring Lindsay Wagner and Steve McQueen
Future Science magazine first appeared in the Foundation Reality where it was devoted to non-fiction  and frequently served as a platform for Isaac Asimov's stories about recent developments in nuclear physics, military technology and computers. In the Ekcolir Reality, Future Science published science fiction stories. Many of its stories were in the format of scripts, initially for radio and later (starting in the 1920s) for television. During the 1950s both Thomas and Gene Roddenberry had stories published in Future Science.

Thomas, Jack Vance, Roddenberry, Art Wallace and Gene Coon all wrote episodes of the long-running 1950s television series The Phaeton Effect, inspired by Robert Heinlein's 1949 story in Future Science: "Pathfinder".

Questor the pek,
usually played by
Erin Gray
In The Phaeton Effect, an underground civilization existed below the surface of Mars. That hidden culture was home to a form of artificial life representing the remnants of a Fru'wu-like species that had originated on a planet, Phaeton, a world with a dense carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere that had once existed where the asteroid belt is.

Thomas recruited Lindsay Wagner to play the role of  Roberta Lincoln in the 1970 television series, Assignment: Earth. Many of the episodes concerned environmental problems, particularly the chronic problem of rising sea level that was a serious issue in the 1970s of the Ekcolir Reality. As a spinoff of Star Trek, the star ship Voyager, having reached the black hole at the center of the Galaxy, was propelled through a time warp back to 1970s Earth. Its crew played a role in Assignment: Earth that was similar to the Buld who reach Earth in Exode.

In the Ekcolir Reality, Questor was a spinoff series from Assignment: Earth. In a bold move, the alien android Questor was played by Erin Gray in the television series. Questor's human companion was Dr. Rachel Tajneb, played by Gretchen Corbett.

In the television series, Questor was a pek, able to morph into any convenient form. Many other 70s actors and actresses appeared on the show to help depict Questor in disguise including memorable performances by Lola Falana, Angie Dickinson,  Phyllis Davis, Cheryl Ladd, John Travolta, Clint Eastwood, George Takei and Dustin Hoffman.

Related reading. More television from the Ekcolir Reality.

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