The Return of Maggie Beckett

I think it was in inevitable. I mean Sliders is by and large a science fiction show. As a matter of fact with the series now on Sci Fi many of the script notes we received from the network cited an occasional lack of sci-fi elements. We would periodically have to tweak on them, adding gimmicks and gizmos that would bring our stories in line with the channel’s hi-tech leanings. With that in mind it’s only natural to consider doing an episode that has something to do with space. The notion had been bantered around for some time, both internally and pitched by freelancers. A number of interesting ideas flew across the table but nothing ever stuck.

Back in my freelance days, before I sold Virtual Slide, I pitched a story in which our heroes slide into a world where the space program didn’t stall after project Apollo. Where space travel en masse was commonplace. The Sliders arrive in the hold of a spacecraft just as it is lifting off from Earth. The adventure would have taken place entirely on the ship, in an alternate history where Quinn’s unscrupulous double has taken undeserved credit for the ship’s star drive design. A system that is instrumental in the salvation of humanity. As the craft carries our heroes beyond their sliding radius they realize they are on an ark, on a one way trip from a dying Earth to a new home in the stars. It would have been a fun and ambitious episode had it not died in the room.

There were a number of other space episodes considered. One pitched by Mark Scott Zicree involved the Sliders getting stuck on a mission to Mars. Another idea dealt with Earth actually being a colony of Mars and had our heroes encountering the crew of the first mission to Earth. Like so many before, these ideas became…lost in space.

The fact that these stories failed to generate interest is not really surprising. Trying to sell a space-faring idea to Sliders was a dicey prospect to begin with. First off you have to come up with a believable premise coupled with a valid reason for sending the characters into the void. Outer space is not the Sliders’ normal venue. After all, their journeys take them to parallel Earths, not Mars or beyond. Then there are the technical considerations. Specifically, you need a spaceship set, which would have been a budget buster. Then finally there was the extra added expense of those pesky visual effects.

David (Peckinpah) and Bill (Dial) never ruled out producing a space oriented episode. We just needed to come up with a practical way of doing it. Having grown up in the age of Apollo, Chris (Black) and I both share a deep interest in the American space program. It became our mission to concoct a story that the big guys would buy.

Our quest quickly turned into a two pronged effort. A friendly competition if you will. We both had our own takes on what the episode should be and began drafting our own versions of the pitch. Chris and I were in agreement that it should be a Maggie episode and that as a logical extension of her military background we would explore her or her duplicate’s involvement in the space program.

In my version (which used elements of my earlier pitch) Remmy, Maggie, Mallory and Diana make a two minute slide to a futuristic world and end up in a spacecraft that is about to lift off from Vandenburg Air Force Base. As they key the timer to leave the vortex interacts with the ship’s advanced propulsion system and the whole craft slides away to the next world.

As luck would have it, their next stop plants them on an Earth with a very small landmass. The scientists here are projecting a severe overpopulation crisis within the next twenty years and are desperately trying to create an accelerated space program to solve the problem. They want to use the newly arrived spacecraft as a model so they may construct a fleet of interplanetary transport ships. They hope to circumvent the population explosion by sending the bulk of their people to colonize other worlds. Unfortunately the Sliders and their astronaut companions need the ship to re-produce the conditions that caused their aberrant slide. Our heroes can’t leave this Earth without the spaceship they came in.

On a character level the story would have dealt with a painful time in Maggie’s history when she was passed over for the space program and the subsequent rift it created between she and her father. Again, Chris and I often shared and exchanged similar ideas and themes (our “quest” was less about ego and more about putting out good material). The quandary on this ailing Earth represented a second chance for Maggie but a major dilemma for the rest of the group. Should the Sliders and their astronaut companions sacrifice their only way home to stay on this world and help these people? The idea was not all that unappealing to Maggie. In doing so she could realize a life-long dream. The B-story of the episode would have been about the love story between Maggie and her secret desire to become an astronaut.

Also thrown into the mix to complicate things was a hostile anti-space group who believed their world could be saved through methods that were not as “dangerous” or “wasteful” as space travel. Of course I had an agenda. I freely admit it. Yes…I am pro manned space travel. I had addressed this theme in a number of previous pitches. Unfortunately I couldn’t get any of those stories to fly (no pun intended). Still, that’s the beauty of this kind of work. If you have an axe to grind and if you write responsibly (chuckle) maybe you can raise an eyebrow or two. Get people to think about our future and the choices we need to make. That’s why I love my job. I wouldn’t be doing this if it were all just kiss kiss bang bang. End of speech.

When all was said and done Chris ended up with the assignment. He would be writing his version now known as “Waiting for Beckett,” a clever title and respectful homage to the late playwright. Unfortunately the title would later be changed to The Return of Maggie Beckett. We were informed that it didn’t clear the legal department and that using the original title represented a possible copyright infringement.

As I read Chris’ version I realized the right choice was made. The Return of Maggie Beckett is still my favorite episode of the fifth season.

Of course, if any of you out there tell him that… I will vehemently deny it.

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