Applied Physics

I hold Chris Black and his talents in high regard. He’s good, but just how good I had yet to realize until one morning this past fall. I showed him a posting I had printed out from the Internet. According to this heretofore unnamed source, Chris had already written four episodes for the coming season. I confronted him with the complete synopses of the episodes, four of eighteen that had been outlined and electronically posted (some in great detail).

This, of course, was news to executive producer Bill Dial and myself. As far as we were concerned, Chris was just finishing his first script. We had one in the can, another on the way (mine) and a couple of ideas in the hopper, but that was it. Apparently, Chris was holding out on us. He, of course, immediately demanded payment for the other three scripts or he would walk. We all caught a chuckle off this, (though were puzzled over the bogus source). To his credit, two of Chris’ scripts are my favorites of the season. The Return of Maggie Beckett is one. The other is “Applied Physics.”

The episode “Applied Physics,” although not stated as such in the opening credits, is considered part two of our opener. We (Bill Dial, Chris Black and myself) wanted to make sure we gave our new characters a “proper” initiation into the world of transdimensional travel. A fair portion of The Unstuck Man involved the technical arc of that introduction. “Applied Physics” focuses on the emotional. We needed to address the question of how Quinn would deal with his new duality and how Diana would cope with meeting one of her duplicates for the first time. We were still trying to get a feel for who these characters were and this episode would help us further define them.

During the early weeks of development our new Quinn and Diana went through a number of changes. Quinn (2) would become Michael then finally Mallory. Their backstories, especially Mallory’s, also would continue to evolve over the next couple of episodes. But some of our first concepts were quite different from the finished product. For example, early on we decided it might be interesting to add a new twist to the Sliders intra-group dynamic:

As seen in The Unstuck Man, our heroes would eventually defeat Geiger and Diana would join our travelers, seemingly now on their side. Only later would the viewers learn of her own clandestine agenda that would threaten the safety of the other three Sliders and possibly the entire multiverse. Diana would secretly retain her loyalty to Geiger, outwardly pledging to find a way to separate the two Quinns and to stabilize Colin, but in truth always seeking a way to bring back the banished Geiger. We sort of likened her to a Doctor Smith-type character (first season of course!), always working counter to the objectives of the other three Sliders. She would eventually be “turned to the good side,” but not until we were a third of the way into the season. This concept would eventually be abandoned in favor developing a more straightforward, cohesive team.

By the time Chris had completed “Applied Physics” we had managed to solidify most of the broad details to Diana’s backstory. Some come out in subsequent episodes, some are simply implied. But so often like many background details, some go unstated and exist simply to provide the writers a character palate to work from.

Diana Davis is from a wealthy family who gave her everything she ever wanted, except for the essentials — specifically, attention and praise. As a result, she tended to be an overachiever, constantly fighting for something her stoic parents were incapable of delivering. As the chasm between them grew, Diana developed a genuine passion for the study of science that before to her was simply a means to an end. The universal question of “what if…?” weighed heavily on her mind. “What if my life were different? What if my family was more giving?” Such speculation would plant the seeds (among other things) for her interest in parallel worlds and alternative possibilities.

Diana eventually met Geiger while working on her Ph.D. at the University of Watts. He was seeking an assistant for his grand plan and Diana’s myopic tendencies made her perfect for the task. In no time, despite his strange personal venue, Geiger became a father figure to Diana. It was a grand deception that in the end hurt her deeply.

Now that Diana was our “science officer” as it were, we needed to rethink our new Quinn, now referred to as “Mallory.” His backstory would continue to be in a constant state of flux for the first several episodes, but we did have a basic premise. He would not be a scientific genius like his doppleganger. His education is the rough and ready kind from the mean city streets. Orphaned at a young age, Mallory pretty much raised himself. He’s a survivor and a manipulator. A fast-talking charmer, he’s able to wiggle his way out of most jams and into the confidence of whoever he needs at the moment. His role among the Sliders is as a kind of “scrounger,” a bit of a con man. When our people need something — special equipment, food, medical supplies, a fake I.D., etc, or to get out of or into restricted areas — Michael is the front man. He has an eye for the ladies, especially for Maggie. This would normally annoy her, but he’s the kind of amiably flirtatious sort who women like Maggie can easily handle. Maggie would instead mourn the loss of Quinn (in light of the lifetime they experienced in season four’s Roads Taken) and would long for the day when the amalgam of the two would be separated.

After “Applied Physics” we were now back on our sliding track with only one minor problem. Our heroes were traveling with, perhaps, too many objectives. Specifically, re-splitting Quinn, finding Colin, locating Michael Mallory’s weapon and getting back to Rembrandt’s world to implement it. Though not a major problem, it was a rather cumbersome set of motivations for the Sliders to wrangle. These motivations would have to be streamlined and focused.

More on that next time…

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