In the first episode, the Sterling family (Hal, June, Trace, Gina, Smithy) take a tour of the interior of the Great Pyramid of Giza at the same time as a once-in-ten-thousand-years conjunction of the planets. Inside, they are abandoned by their guide, and as they try to get out, they are mysteriously transported to a parallel universe Earth.
On this Earth (called ‘Thel’), there are no familiar countries or states. The area they are in is divided up into self-contained “Zones,” each with a wildly different style of government and way of life, although the province of “Imar” (ruled by a Praetor) appears to be the central seat of government for this entire Earth. Most of Thel’s history is unknown, although the pilot episode contains references to ‘territories’ and ‘wars of unification’.
Travel between Zones is not permitted, and all maps have been banned by the state. Thus, the inhabitants of each zone know absolutely nothing about life in other zones. The family could not know about the travel ban, and approached a soldier (the first Thel native they met) in all innocence, seeking help, while the soldier – Commander Nuveen Kroll, reputed to be worst, and most ill-tempered of all Zone Troopers – viewed them as lawbreakers and treated them as such. When Hal insists they need help, Kroll attempts to arrest them and gets rough with Smith, the youngest of the Sterling sons. The Sterlings resist and, in the struggle, Kroll’s sidearm weapon goes off, the blast rendering him unconscious. The Sterlings take his access crystal, (which is possessed only by Zone Trooper officers, and which gives them security access to state-controlled equipment and information) his vehicle, and his sidearm and drive away. For the rest of the series, Kroll is resolute in his attempts to recover his crystal, capture the Sterlings (whom, in a report to his superior, he would later regard as a band of “armed terrorists”) and subject them to severe punishment.
The Church of Artificial Intelligence is the official state religion of Thel, and no conflicting ideologies are permitted. Very few actual details about this religion are known, except that it appears to be centered on the worship of robots, computers and technology (adherents are, in one episode, said to use “Worship Modules” which are electronic in nature).
A series of Egyptian-like stone markers, each with one eye, are supposed to mark the way to Imar, a city with beautiful buildings and a suspension bridge (the city shown in the opening credits, apparently intended to be Imar, is a photographic negative of New York City).
Each episode had the family dealing with the bizarre ways of life in each “Zone,” and at the end of the episode, fleeing one Zone for another, pursued by Commander Kroll (Jonathan Banks) and his Zone Troopers. Kroll is intent on revenge, given that the Sterlings stole his high security access crystal, acquired during their disastrous encounter in the first episode.
While most science fiction dealing with alternate universes has a recognizable point of divergence (POD) from Earth history as we know it, Otherworld did not. Aside from everyone conveniently speaking English, there were no familiar Earth historical events taking place on Thel. However, several references to Earth history did occur:
- References to Egyptian mythology abound, particularly in the signposts which the Sterlings use to attempt to find Imar; it was implied that the ancient Egyptians either had the ability to travel between universes, or had contact with a people that did.
- The episode “Village of the Motorpigs” featured a retired Zone Trooper who shows the Sterlings a United States dollar and says that his grandfather came from Earth.
- Another episode (“Princess Metra”) takes place in a zone called Metraplex. The Zone’s former leader, Kelly Bradford (since deceased), came from Earth; Gina, who resembles Bradford, is appointed the new leader and is quizzed on Earth historical events by Metraplex officials. In this episode, we learn that time passes at a different rate on Thel and Earth; Kelly is from Earth of the 1960s, yet her time on Thel was over 200 years ago.
- As mentioned, Imar appears to be the alternate universe’s version of New York City, an image of which is used in the opening credits of the show to depict Imar.
Although only 8 episodes ever aired before the network cancelled the series, rumor has it that 13 episodes were taped, but chances of this rumor being true are very slim. Whether these 5 lost episodes still exist remains a mystery, although the website scriptcity.com has an Otherworld script entitled “Seeing Double” (reportedly involving evil duplicates of the Sterling family) for sale.
Series creator Rod Taylor has done teaching at Standford University, a recording artist for Asylum Records, occasional acting, and writing scripts. The series came about when Rod was walking across the street with the president of Universal who mentioned if only there was a way to do Lost In Space on Earth. Rod replied I have the way for you. Rod’s son Bruce was also involved with the series starting when he was just 18. Since the show aired at 8pm CBS wanted it family-oriented. Rod did run up against the CBS censors on several occasions. One was over using the name Church of Artificial Intelligence but Rod eventually won out on this. The episodes were written by people involved with the show, but had the series continued Rod planned to bring in Sci-Fi writers and others not part of the mainstream. The pilot was originally to be 2 hours but was split into 2 episodes: Rules of Attraction and Village of the Motorpigs.
* Show information gathered from Wikipedia & Innermind.com