Monday, July 11, 2011

TV from the 80s: Voyagers

Anyone remember this show?  It was about a member of a time-traveling group called the Voyagers, who travel throughout history to "fix" history when it's gone awry, using a special device called an Omni that looks suspiciously like a gold pocket watch.

The main character is a guy named Phineas Bogg, who (as described via IMDB, since I barely remember this show, having last watched it about 30 years ago) was a pirate but was somehow selected to be a member of this elite history-saving organization.  His kid side-kick (this is fantasy TV in the 80s, so there has to be either a kid sidekick or a curvy woman wearing a silver lamé jumpsuit) is Jeffrey Jones, orphaned son of a history professor.  They are thrown together through a series of mishaps in which Bogg's omni device malfunctions, depositing him in 1982 with 12 year-old Jones (apparently the device was only supposed to take him as far forward as 1970), Bogg's Voyager Guide Book is taken by Jones' dog, and then Jones falls out of a window, prompting Bogg to jump out the window to grab Jones and then zap to a different point in history to prevent their deaths via the fall.  Now they are stuck moving throughout history with no Voyager Guide Book (and apparently no way to contact the Voyager Consortium or Corporation or Confederacy, or whatever the main organization was called that selected a pirate with absolutely no knowledge of history to be one of their guardians), so they have to rely on the superior knowledge of kid genius Wesley Crusher Jeffrey Jones to remember how history is supposed to be, and then fix it.  

So, despite all of my sarcasm above, when I was a kid, I absolutely loved this show, and couldn't wait until it was on every week.  As I remember, it was on Sunday Nights about 7pm (6pm Mountain and Central), and therefore it got preempted a lot for baseball and other things.  I also could be remembering this incorrectly, but I do believe it ran opposite of the "Muppet Show", and in those olden days without DVRs, you had to choose which one were you going to watch.  Being the only person in my family of four who wanted to watch "The Voyagers", I usually lost out.

What made the Voyagers fun was its sense of whimsy - each episode was a free-for-all of "anything can happen", and it usually did.  In Episode 2, the two heroes encounter Spartacus and convince him to lead his slave revolt in ancient Rome, and then also encounter Samuel Clemens and then help Harriet Tubman escape.  That's just one episode.

I love time-travel type shows because I absolutely love history, as I've mentioned before.  And, I also think they're great for stealing ideas for RPGs, because they tend to just focus on the "interesting" parts of the historical events and gloss over all of the "boring" parts that you wouldn't want to include in a game.  Also, if the writer has done his research, the alternate history that could have happened is usually plausible enough that it makes an interesting "What If?" scenario.  Episodes of the Voyagers sometimes concentrated on certain devices not having been invented, such as the telephone or the electric light, resulting in a very different world.  Basically any of the alternate scenarios proposed in the Voyagers could make for some very interesting campaign settings, even if just for a short one-shot night of gaming.

Many people think that the Voyagers sort of paved the way for another more famous time-travel show, "Quantum Leap," with the main difference being that the Voyagers' historical mishaps usually focused around historical figures, whereas Quantum Leap tended to revolve around everyday people.  I also remember a 90s time-travel show on Fox called "Sliders" featuring Jerry O'Connell, that bears a passing resemblance to Voyagers.

I noticed that the entire series (it sadly only lasted one season) is available on DVD and can be rented via Netflix.  It's unfortunately not available via Netflix streaming, so for some reason I just can't bring myself to watch it now.  Casually pulling up an episode to stream on Netflix while my wife is giving my daughter her bath at night after dinner is one thing, but actually going through the effort of putting each of the four disks into my Netflix queue, then getting up off the couch to put the disk into the DVD player after it arrives in the mail... it just seems like such a commitment.

Anyone else have any memories, good or bad, about this show?  I'd love to hear them.


  1. Totally remember this show and was blown away by the concept, despite the fact that it was a slight variation on a theme from Terry Gilliam's "Time Bandits" which had come out the year before in 1981.

    Very sad what happened to the lead actor, Jon-Erik while on the set of his next series... kind of similar to what happened to Jason Lee while he was doing The Crow.

    Oddly, he was dating Elizabeth Daily, who did a bunch of voice work as E.G. Daily, including the voice Tommy Pickles on Rugrats and, since we're talking about Time, one of the Land Before Time movies.

    I could be wrong, but if I remember correctly, "Sliders" was alternative realities/parallel dimensions and not travel.

  2. I remember Voyagers. Loved it. And the cartoon series "Time Squad" was kind of a riff on it, with a time-enforcement cop (who was a bit of a rogue with little actual historical knowledge) and an orphan sidekick who was a historical genus.

  3. I loved the arcane look of the pocketwatch thing. A few years ago when they came out with the first (and only) Philip Pullman Golden Compass movie, I thought their design of the divinatory alethiometer was very reminiscent of the Omni from this show.

  4. Man, I'd completely forgotten this show. I was also hooked on it as a kid, but don't remember getting to see it very often. Likely for the same reasons as you.

  5. Yes, Sliders was more about alternate realities, where one change sometime in the past would lead to a vastly different world. However, the protagonists in the show were indeed lost, so the two programmes have that similarity.

  6. @Jeff and @Kelvin- okay, I stand corrected on the whole "Sliders" comparison. I was thinking about it more from the standpoint of the potential for creating alternate histories if something "goes wrong", which was the entire premise of Sliders, and what would have happened if Bogg and Jones hadn't "helped things along" in Voyagers.

    @Sniderman - I totally don't remember "Time Squad" at all. I'll have to look that up! I'm a sucker for the time-travel/alternate history genre.

    @Cygnus - I did like the omni device thing, even though it kind of just did look like an ornate gold pocket watch. But I think that's kind of why I liked it. It was cool to have a "futuristic" device that basically looked like it was invented during the Victorian-era. Kind of like pre-steampunk.
    And good comparison on the alehtiometer from Golden Compass. I can totally see that.

    @LordGwydion - there are a lot of shows back then that I know I'd completely forgotten about, but I plan to write about a few of them in the upcoming weeks.

  7. We ran a time travel/dimensional travel campaign back in the 90's based on the show. We ran it as a shared GM thing, where anybody could do an adventure or two. It also produced one of my favorite players characters that I have ever played.

  8. I'm late to this cool blog post, but I run a website all about the series with tons of information and pictures and videos. :) As of 2014, Voyagers! is no longer on Netflix even to rent. But it can be rented for streaming on Amazon Instant Video.

    1. Hey - glad you found the blog! And that totally sucks that it's no longer available for streaming on Netflix.

      Hope you stick around - I'll be covering some more 80's TV Shows in the future.


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