Voyagers! Was the Anti-Doctor Who
As a bit of nostalgia, I bought the Voyagers! The Complete Series DVD set this summer.
The series ran for one season, 20 episodes, from 1982-1983. I loved the concept — a befuddled time traveler, part of a group fixing mistakes in history, lost his instruction book (a popular concept of the time) and teamed up with a kid who knew a lot about history. The traveler was Phineas Bogg, played by Jon-Erik Hexum (known for dying young after an accident with a prop gun), while the kid was Jeffrey Jones (Meeno Peluce). Bogg carried an Omni, a pocket-watch-looking device that would go from red to green when they’d fixed whatever they needed to.
The writing and acting is functional. Unlike some other shows from the era, it’s not a struggle to rewatch, mainly for the various connections they make — such as an episode about slavery that has them meeting Spartacus, Harriet Tubman, and a young Sam Clemens — but I found myself pondering how different this was from that other time travel show, Doctor Who.
The Doctor is super-smart, and his companions are there mostly to ask him to explain things to them (and the audience). In contrast, Bogg needs the younger traveler’s help because the kid knows more about history than he does.
The Doctor, in the classic days, wasn’t interested in romance, while Bogg is often confused about what’s going on because he was more interested in women than in his training. He also hits on whatever attractive woman is around, to the point of making that part of the team’s plans. I don’t blame the writers for taking that approach, as Hexum was an attractive man.
The Doctor mostly fought monsters, only rarely meeting famous people in time, while the point of a Voyagers! episode is to see who they’ll run into next — the Wright Brothers, Harry Houdini, Cleopatra, Billy the Kid, Charles Dickens, Arthur Conan Doyle, and tons more all make appearances.
Voyagers! was explicitly educational, with an end credit voiceover recommending a visit to the library to learn more about the topics in the episode. Doctor Who, instead, was the target of campaigns by reformers concerned that it was no longer acceptable viewing by kids during part of its run.
Doctor Who was about action, suspense, and sometimes horror, while Voyagers! incorporated a lot of comedy with its adventures.
Doctor Who is coming up on its 60th anniversary, while Voyagers! ran one year. It was up against 60 Minutes on Sunday evenings, which regularly topped the ratings at the time.