Jan 26, 2015

Other Worlds Lie Outside Our Seeing


Otherworld
CBS (1985)
This is a show that was years ahead of its time.  It feels like a combination of Lost In Space, Sliders and Stargate SG-1.  While it definitely was inspired by Lost In Space in that it follows a family who are lost and trying to find their way home, it wouldn't surprise me if it inspired the other two, which it predates by a decade.


Otherworld tells the story of the Sterling family.  They're in the final days of an extended stay in Cairo where the father, engineer Hal Sterling is working on a hydroelectric project.  His wife, June, is a veterinarian, and they have three children: high school students Trace and Gina Sterling, and their youngest son, Smith Sterling, who goes to elementary school.  Smith convinces the family to pay a tour guide to lead them inside the Great Pyramid of Giza.  The tour guide leads the family to The Chamber of Ordeal where he tries to extort them out of ten dollars.  Hal refuses, and the tour guide turns his lantern off and abandons the family to find their way out of the pyramid on their own.  A planetary alignment takes place while the Sterlings wander through the pyramid.  When they escape, they find that they are on another world.


It is left up for the viewer to decide if the Sterlings have crossed into a parallel dimension or if they have traveled through time and/or space and come to another planet.  In any case, they are stranded on a world called Thel, a dystopian world run by a totalitarian theocracy called The Church of Artificial Intelligence.  The government has divided the world into 77 provinces, each of with their own distinct culture and society.  In fact, the only thing they have in common is that they're all under the control of the capital province of Imar.  The population of each of these zones have no knowledge about what happens outside of their home province.  Maps are illegal, and the only people who are allowed to travel or to go into the forbidden zone between the provinces are Zone Trooper officers, one of whom is hunting the family who were unfortunate enough to meet soon after their arrival.

Thel reminds me a bit of Panem in The Hunger Games.  Most provinces have more individual freedoms, and the government isn't quite as powerful or malevolent, but life is very controlled.  The family is able to travel between the zones using a stolen access crystal which they use to escape the Zone Troopers and to search from province to province for a way to get back home.  In their travels, they learn that they aren't the only people to have traveled from our Earth to Thel.


One of my favorite episodes is called Rock & Roll Suicide, which aired at the halfway point in the series.  The teenage Sterlings perform I Want To Hold Your Hand at the school's talent show to an audience that hasn't heard of The Beatles and have had no prior exposure to pop or rock music.  They go on to perform Jumpin' Jack Flash by The Rolling Stones, Modern Love by David Bowie and Bop Girl by Pat Wilson, which I've only ever heard on KROQ other than this episode.  They also reference a number of other songs that they're recording for their album, including Bennie And The Jets, Space Oddity, Hey Jude, Billie Jean, London Calling, and The Ballad Of Jed Clampett from The Beverly Hillbillies.  That's one hell of an eclectic album.  Naturally, they are pursued by the authorities for the subversive effects that their music is having on the youth.

Speaking of music, the show is backed by a score that reminds me of the music you'd hear on a Pure Moods album.  It sets an other-wordly tone that blends perfectly with the show.


Otherworld originally aired from January to March, 1985 as a mid-season replacement on CBS.  It was given a horrible time slot (8:00 pm on Saturday), which contributed to it's quick and unfortunate cancellation after just eight episodes.  Some of the reviews were strong, but others were quick to dismiss it.  It's clear that most of the negative reviews were written by people who simply didn't understand what they were watching.  It was re-aired on the USA Network and on the Sci-Fi Channel, which is where I found it in the mid 90's.  You can find all of the episodes on YouTube.

Source: Baltimore Evening Sun - February 10, 1985 - Click to view full size
Source: Cincinnati Enquirer - January 25, 1985 - Click to view full size

Jan 1, 2015

A Cathedral Of Nature


The Natural History Museum
South Kensington - London, UK
This museum opened its doors in 1881, and the only thing more beautiful than the building itself is the wealth of knowledge and history of the natural world that is on display inside.

Our first visit to the museum was on December 28th, and despite spending much of the day there, we were only able to see a fraction of the exhibits on display.  I'm pretty sure that Lady Gaga was there too.  No joke - she was right next to me, and when I got back to the hotel, I looked it up and saw that she's in London right now.  However, I was in full nerd mode and the museum had my full attention, so by the time I realized she was there, she had moved on.  I'm not sure what I would have said to her anyway.  I'm sure she doesn't need a random fan gushing about her music when she's trying to relax and enjoy a day at the museum.

We became members of the museum and got to take the behind-the-scenes guided tour of The Spirit Collection.  Included in this collection were specimens collected by Charles Darwin, and Archie, a fully preserved giant squid that measures 8.62 meters.  That's over 28 feet long - larger than a London bus.  Photography wasn't allowed during that portion of the tour so I don't have any pictures, but it was truly amazing [update: the museum has shared a video of Archie on YouTube].

Before we flew home, we visited one last time.  Because we were members, we were able to enter the museum a little bit before it opened to the public, so I was able to get a few photos of the museum while it was still mostly empty.  There's no way that I'm going to be able to do justice to how incredible of an experience this museum is, but I'm happy to share what I can.


This is Dippy, a complete cast of the fossilized bones of a Diplodocus.  The skeleton was discovered in Wyoming in 1898 and was acquired by Andrew Carnegie.  Carnegie donated a full cast of the skeleton to King Edward VII, and it's been on display here at The Natural History Museum for over 100 years.


This is the view of the main lobby of the museum from the statue of Charles Darwin.  The large round object you can see at the top center of the photo is a slice of a Giant Sequoia tree that has been on display at the museum since 1893.


Based on the study of its rings, the tree was determined to have been a sapling in 557 AD.  It lived for 1,300 years and grew to be over 330 feet tall before it was cut down in California in 1891.  The rings of the tree are marked to show the historical events that have taken place during the life of this tree.  For example, this Sequoia was 1,000 years old when Shakespeare and Galileo were born in 1564.


Here is the view of the main entrance of the museum taken from the location of the Giant Sequoia specimen.  The white statue at the top of the first staircase in the center is Charles Darwin.


And here's me being a great big nerd standing next to the statue of Darwin.

So, now that you've seen the main entrance lobby, keep in mind that this is a small area when compared to the entire museum.  There are five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology, and the museum is home to over 80 million exhibits and specimens.  I could visit every day for a year and still not see all of them, so the photos below are a ridiculously small sample of things that you can see and learn about in the museum.