The Greatest Show That Never Was
I was trying to go to sleep the other night when this random rhyme popped into my head. It stuck with me for a few days before, finally, I was able to think about something else. What rhyme, you ask? This one:
“Two great ladies will catch your fall, they are the ones who catch us all.
Their children kept them far apart; the Lady Light, the Lady Dark.
Dark broken, light storm, dead spoken, dreams torn…And we will bring you home.”
Your next question is probably: “What sort of things have you been smoking and where can I get some?”
Absolutely nothing. This rhyme is actually from the pilot for a show called “White Dwarf” that aired in 1995. It combined two of my favorite loves from the 1990′s: science fiction and “Northern Exposure.” Yes, you totally just read that right. Basically, the show was about this fresh-out-of-med-school doctor from future New York who goes to the backwater planet of Rusta for his internship.
Perfect for a sort of fish-out-of-water medical Sci-fi show, right?
Rusta, the planet, has a very unique circumstance in that half of it is in this state of perpetual night and the other is in a state of perpetual day. The night half is set up as a feudal domain with a lot of traces of the medieval. The day half is stylistically Victorian with some elements of life on the frontier. Between them is a huge wall that is both a symbol and a practical thing. The light and dark sides have not really gotten on well, after all.
The protagonist, Driscoll Rampart (Neal McDonough), starts out the show as a bit of a dick. As much as it pains him to be away from civilization, he’s looking at this as a learning experience. High-class patients will love hearing his tales from the “armpit” of the universe. Needless to say, he has a talent for rubbing people the wrong way.
The Light Side Clinic he is sent to is run by the enigmatic Dr. Akata with the able assistance of his awesome right-hand woman, Nurse Shabana (CCH Pounder). The clinic has a few long-term residents/patients, like shape-shifter Never (Giuseppe Andrews), and orphaned twins XaXa (Tara Graham) and XuXu (Beverly Mitchell). XuXu has some random disease that makes her look far older than her young years.
The cast of interesting characters doesn’t stop there. On the Dark Side, we have King Joist (Robert Cornthwaite) and his lovely daughter Princess Ariel (Ele Keats). We also have schemer Lt. Strake (Michael McGrady) who has his eye on the throne and the princess.
There’s also a subplot involving prophecies, a mysterious prisoner and the warden who’s in love with her, and Never’s never-ending abandonment issues. . .among other things. Keep in mind that this pilot was only 90 minutes long. 90. Minutes. They packed a lot of plot into those 90 minutes. The problem? It was before its time.
As I was re-watching it the other day, I realized that the music reminded me a bit of “Firefly” (which wouldn’t be out for another 7 years). It then occurred to me that in the intervening years between 1995, we’ve seen a number of more successful Fantasy/Sci-Fi shows: “Battlestar Galactica,” “Farscape,” the rebirth of “Doctor Who,” “Charmed,” and many others. In 1995, we had “Babylon 5″ and “Star Trek: Deep Space 9.” They were so obviously Sci-fi that it wasn’t hard to market them. People who watched those shows were already sold on the concept. How does one market a show like “White Dwarf?”
That’s the conundrum. That’s also a problem that ended up facing “Firefly.” Yes, the show had (and has) a ton of loyal fans willing to put the time and effort into trying to bug the network into keeping the show around (an effort that tragically failed). That persistence, however, earned them a movie.
“White Dwarf” had a pilot. Sure, it wasn’t Shakespeare and some things could have been improved. Still, it had so much potential and it bugs me that I’ll never see where they were going with that story. What was going to happen to the mysterious Lady X and the alien prison warden who loved her? Was Driscoll going to continue to become less of a dick? Was he going to end up with Princess Ariel? What about the plotting at the palace? Oh! And what the Hell was up with those creepy awesome Tissue Gloves?
We’ll never know now. All we can do is speculate and somehow acquire a copy of this unloved gem. Check the internet. It could have been an awesome show, but it was ahead of its time.