We arrive at the end of Roderick Taylor’s Otherworld (1985) with the outstanding segment called “Princess Metra.” In this eighth and final episode of the series, the Sterlings travel the Forbidden Zone by hot air balloon and end up in the province of “Metraplex.” There, Gina (Jonna Lee) is mistaken for the legendary Princess Metra, a former ruler of the land, which is now separated into castes: the powerful “Macro Elite” and the enslaved “Micro Workers.”
The current ruler of the province, the Prime Manager (Carolyn Seymour of Survivors)) believes Gina to be a fraud, but Gina passes a test of legitimacy in the “Hall of Memories” by answering correctly several questions about American history. As the Sterlings soon learn, the original Princess Metra was from Earth too, a girl named Kelly Bradford. She arrived in this strange dimension on August 22, 1964 and soon ascended to the throne. After ruling for a time, she left Metraplex for Emar and a way back home.
As ruler of Metraplex, Gina begins to make a series of humanistic reforms over the Prime Manager’s strenuous objections. She discontinues production of particle-beam weaponry. Then, she emancipates the Micro-Workers and grants the group full human rights and privileges (including child-bearing and rearing). This last act causes the Prime Manager to attempt to kill Gina and her family…
Like many previous episodes of Otherworld, “Princess Metra” reveals a sci-fi series slowly but surely building an intricate and consistent mythology. Here we learn more about the connection between Earth and the Otherworld, and the idea that time passes differently in each dimension. What this means, as Trace (Tony O’Dell) worries, is that if the Sterlings do make it back to Earth, it will be a thousand years in their future.
Also, in this episode, Gina undergoes a kind of spiritual journey, and travels “psychically” to the city of Emar. Pushing the limits of 1980s network television standards, she “trips” for a good two minutes in a fascinating, impressionistic montage. For the first time, we actually see the spires of Emar, and the city is dominated by a view of Three Towers – the Twin Towers of Manhattan…plus one.
Princess Metra boasts many allusions to previous works. It plays a little like the Anastasia story, and bit like the (terrific) 1975 movie, The Man Who Would Be King. But underneath these clever allusions is a story that is quite pertinent today. Hal tells the people of Metraplex that they can’t erect a “government based on revenge.” Instead it must be built “on fairness.” It looks very much like the presidential election of 2012 may be fought on those very terms. Will we choose anger or fairness? Will the Macro-Elite of America (the 1%) get to continue to dictate economic policy, or will the Micro Workers (the 99) get a seat at the table?
In terms of genre history, “Princess Metra” offers a few interesting footnotes. The soldiers of the city are all armed with Colonial pistols from the original Battlestar Galactica, as well as Draconian weaponry from Buck Rogers. And this episode’s director is Peter Medak, who directed an episode of Space:1999 as well as the brilliant 1980 horror film, The Changeling.
Frankly, I’m sad to see Otherworld end here. I remember being heartbroken when it was canceled in 1985. My mother and I watched the series together throughout its original network run. Otherworldlasted just eight episodes, and a full four of those segments are excellent (“Rules of Attraction,” “The Zone Troopers Build Men,” “Rock and Roll Suicide” and “Princess Metra.”) The remaining episodes (“Paradise Lost,” I am Woman Hear Me Roar,” “Village of the Motorpigs” and “Mansion of the Beast” are good and pretty ambitious, if not great. There isn’t a real, flat-out stinker in the bunch. One of these days, I’d love to see Roderick Taylor resurrect the series today, and get the opportunity to build his mythology further. He could send a new family to the Other world, and maybe, in a few installments, find out what’s become of the Sterlings…
Mark Phillips and Frank Garcia’s excellent McFarland book, Science Fiction Television Seriesreveals that at least two further scripts were written for Otherworld. One, called “Seeing Double,” concerned the Sterlings in a province where their darkest fears were manifested.
Another teleplay titled “The Judge” revolved around an evil judge character who threatened to imprison the family if it didn’t play a “game” by his own draconian rules. I would have loved to see either of these episodes get produced. Barring that, let’s have an official DVD release. Soon.
Next week, I begin blogging Ghost Story/Circle of Fear (1972) in this space.