By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 29, 2016
My illness-induced quest for mindless entertainment extended beyond watching the dire Star Wars Holiday Special. Thanks to the magic of YouTube’s algorithms, I stumbled upon Earth Star Voyager, a three-hour television pilot from 1988 that I believe originally aired under the rubric of an anthology show known either as Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color or The Wonderful World of Disney.
I’m not sure whether the program was first broadcast on ABC, CBS or Disney’s cable channel. What I do know is that at some point, I saw at least part of it, and I remembered it fondly.
The premise is pretty straightforward: In 2088, the powers that be assign 115 mainly young officers and hands to the Earth Star Voyager, a new ship that features the Bowman drive, a cutting-edge propulsion system that can make crewed interstellar flight practical. Because Earth is a toxic, overcrowded dump, humanity is in desperate need of a new home, and a potential site has been found. Earth Star Voyager’s mission is to embark upon the first crewed excursion to another star so it can evaluate the candidate planet firsthand. Because the trip will take decades, the crew will spend nightly sleep periods in suspended animation; the ship also has a nursery to accommodate the children who will be born en route.
But the ship has only just gotten under way before Captain Forbes (Ric Reid) is ejected from an airlock, apparently due to the deliberate malice of an unknown crew member. That leaves the ship in the hands of its untested 21-year-old executive officer, Jonathan Hays (Brian McNamara), and his highly trained but inexperienced command team: Hays’s close friend, the 14-year-old computer specialist and all-around young super-genius Jessie Bienstock (Jason Michas); cocky navigator Huxley Welles (Tom Bresnahan), age 18; the 24-year-old ship’s doctor, Sally Arthur (Julia Montgomery, the female lead from Revenge of the Nerds); and the 22-year-old psychiatrist, Leland Eugene (Bruce Harwood, who went on to become one of The X-Files’s Lone Gunmen).