Other worlds lie outside our seeing.
Beyond the beyond.
At the edge of within.
The Great Pyramid: erected by the Ancient Ones as a barricade.
At the portal between two dimensions.
Two separate realities.
This is the story of one family,
drawn through a mysterious vortex into the Otherworld
-and of their perilous trek homeward.
This monologue serves as the premise of the short-lived series 'Otherworld'. Created by Roderick Taylor, this mid-season series ran from January 26, 1985 to March 16, 1985. It aired on Saturday nights to serve as family hour viewing. It is reported that 13 episodes were made, but only 8 made it to air, with the pilot divided into two separate episodes.
This series' origins came from a discussion Taylor had with the president of Universal Studios at the time, asking if it was possible to do 'Lost in Space' on Earth. Taylor mentioned that he had a way, and came up with the concept of Otherworld, where a California family, named the Sterlings, was vacationing in Egypt. While sightseeing they run across Ahmed (Gokol), serving as the show's Dr. Smith for all of two minutes, as he offers to take the family on a celebrity tour of the Great Pyramid of Cheops during an alignment of planets that occurs only once in ten thousand years. Ahmed charges $10 American to take the Sterlings on a tour, which the Sterlings accept despite dubious claims that he knew John Wayne, Humphery Bogart, Elvis Presley, Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter.
Sounds harmless? So did Dr. Smith at times on Lost in Space, and look at the trouble he got the Robinson's in to.
This series starred Sam Groom as engineer Hal Sterling, the patriarch of the clan. Gretchen Corbett (Rockford Files) as veterinarian June, the mother. Tony O’Dell (Head of the Class) played 18 year old Trace. Jonna Lee was 17 year old Gina. And Brandon Chase played 11 year old Smith Sterling in the pilot episodes ‘Rules of Attraction’ and ‘Village of the Motorpigs’. Chris Herbert took over the role of Smith in the following episodes. Roderick Taylor was executive producer as well as creator. Supervising producer was Alex Beaton with music by Sylvester Levay. And Starsky and Hutch alumn Paul Michael Glaser directed the episode ‘Village of the Motorpigs’.
Getting back to story, the Sterlings follow Ahmed into the Great Pyramid of Cheops and he takes them to the main burial site. Here Ahmed then charges the Sterlings an additional $10 American to lead them back out of the pyramid. When Hal Sterling refuses Ahmed leaves the Sterlings in the tomb just as the alignment comes into effect. When that happens the vortex opens up and the Sterlings fall through it into a parallel universe called Thel. They make a watery landing and then find themselves walking through the desert where they happen across a Zone Trooper Commander by the name of Nuveen Kroll, played by Jonathan Banks.
Kroll is the equivalent of a Gestapo-like officer. He informs the Sterlings that they are in a Forbidden Zone and orders them into his hovercar. When he manhandles Smith in an effort to force them into the car he and Hal get into a struggle where Kroll draws his weapon on Smith (gee you’d think he doesn’t like kids) and gets hit by the backlash. The Sterlings then pile into the hovercar and take off leaving Kroll in the Forbidden Zone. Not only do the Sterlings take Kroll’s car, but also his Class 1 access crystal, which the Sterlings use to access computer memories, open certain doors, give travel information (since maps are forbidden) and also create new identities for themselves, which the Sterlings need on occasion.
With the premise of the show set up in the first 15 minutes (the Sterlings arriving and them being hunted by Kroll) the Sterlings' adventure truly begins. They discover that Thel is divided into 77 official provinces, one unofficial province, and some dwellers in the Forbidden Zones. Each province is divided in terms of cultures, government and technology, but they are all united under the banner of the central province of Imar. This is due to a series of Unification Wars where Imar came out the victor.
Each province is divided and isolated through a series of Forbidden Zones where only the enforcement body of the Zone Troopers are allowed access. Others are allowed access but only if they have a special pass from the province of Imar. In the first episode ‘Rules of Attraction’ the Sterlings learn about other visitors from Earth to Thel and how they went to Imar to return to Earth as ‘kings and sorcerers’. Following a trail of obelisks that lead to Imar the Sterlings hope to make contact with signpost astrologers to help them get home.
Chasing the Sterlings is Kroll, looking to get his access crystal back. He also exaggerates to the Praetor of Imar that the Sterlings are dangerous terrorists that attacked him, and that they were armed. The Sterlings, however, seek to stay one step ahead of Kroll as they visit the different provinces Thel has to offer. They also find stories of other visitors who came to Thel through different means. So, the pyramid was not the only access point to the other world.
Many of the Sterlings adventures consisted of Trace falling for an android in the first episode ‘Rules of Attraction’, Hal having to fight a Road Warrior type leader to keep his family together in ‘Village of the Motorpige’, and Trace becomes drafted in the Zone Troopers when his grades become too low in ‘The Zone Troopers Make Men.’ Trace and Gina starting a rock and roll craze, running afoul of a member of the state sponsored religion-the Church of Artificial Intelligence, June being kidnapped by a half man/half beast in the episode ‘Mansion of the Beast’, Hal being seduced by a manager of a tropical resort, and Gina also has an episode where she is mistaken for the ruler of the province of Metraplex in the episode ‘Princess Metra’.
And - a ruler whose real name was Kelly Bradford that also came from Earth and left to find Imar herself. It should also be noted that this episode spots one of the greatest video montages this writer ever had the honor to witness as it makes use of special effects and music by Sylvester Levey.
One of the more amusing adventures was the episode ‘I Am Woman Hear Me Roar’, where the Sterlings come across the province of Ador. This province was a female dominated society founded by a Zone Trooper Commander who was passed over for promotion in favor of her male colleagues. Ador is governed by a series of Stratification laws that leave the men as an underclass unable to get an education. Hal is lucky to get a job as a fruit waxer, then some kind of Tupperware salesman. Smith has to do the shopping since he is June’s ‘midget servant’. Trace and Smith are arrested for riding in a female elevator. And for the second infraction (taking off his shirt in public) Trace is put up for auction.
Kroll also runs afoul of the laws in Ador when he breaks the law simply for arriving (only female Zone Troopers are allowed in Ador). His sexist attitudes also get him in trouble and he himself is put up for auction along with his lieutenant (played by Wayne Alexander). His magazine promo (which has him in a rage) says that he likes ‘to yell and shoot’.
I should also note that Wayne Alexander (Sebastian/Lorien on Babylon 5) was not the only Sci-Fi actor to appear on Otherworld. Other such names are Robert O’Reilly (Gowron-Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) who was a drill sergeant in ‘The Zone Troopers build men.’ Mark Lenard (Sarek-Star Trek, Star Trek-The Next Generation) was the Zone Trooper Commandant Perel Sightings in the same episode. Charles Lane (Bewitched, Mister Ed, Get Smart, The Munsters, Mork and Mindy) a veteran of acting since the 1930’s appeared in the episode ‘Village of the Motorpigs’ as a retired Zone Trooper named Velcrows Widley alongside Vincent Sciavelli, who played Pango in the same episode (Mr. Vargas from Fast Times). Ray Walson (Uncle Martin-My Favorite Martian, Boothby-Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mr. Hand-Fast Times) was an android supervisor in ‘Rules of Attraction’, John Astin (Gomez Addams-The Addams Family, Buddy Ryan-Night Court) appeared as the beastman’s brother in the episode ‘Mansion of the Beast’. And Carolyn Seymour (Evil Leaper Zoey from Quantum Leap) appeared as a deposed administrator in the episode ‘Princess Metra’.
While working on Otherworld, Taylor also ran afoul with the CBS censors a few times. Most notably with the use of the Church of Artificial Intelligence concerned as to how it would portray religion. Taylor won out on this battle; however, he was not able to continue his series, which was cancelled after only 8 weeks. Another Sci-Fi show with much potential cut down ahead of its time.
Roderick Taylor’s last known job was writing three episodes of the TNT series Witchblade along side son Bruce. These episodes are titled "Periculum", "Hierophant" and "Palindrome." He also wrote scripts to six episodes of the short lived MTV series Dead at 21.
Written by JSC1