If there’s one sci-fi trope that we know Gene Roddenberry loved (besides his own creation, Star Trek), it was Buck Rogers… the man who was accidentally stuck in suspended animation and revived half a millennium later, becoming a hero in an era that needed his long-forgotten skills and abilities. How do we know Roddenberry loved it? Because he kept trying to revive it in various of his own new series. Most recently was Andromeda, the story of a starship Captain trapped in the event horizon of a black hole for hundreds of years, and pulled out after his galactic alliance had collapsed, so he sets about collecting a crew and trying to revive that alliance.
But before Andromeda, there was a series that had two TV pilots and two sets of actors, a few test episodes, and… nothing. The original series pilot was Genesis II, and the second attempt and pilot episodes were called Planet Earth.
Genesis II featured the character of Dylan Hunt (note: same character name as the Captain of the Andromeda), a test subject in a suspended animation experiment (so at least his being put to sleep was intentional this time). What wasn’t intentional was the earthquake that buried the test chamber soon after he was put under. Assumed dead, his body lay sleeping for centuries, enough time for modern civilization to collapse. When he was found years later, it was by a science-based organization called Pax, trying to bring civilization back to the world. Dylan volunteers to be part of the group, bringing knowledge and skills that hadn’t been recovered after the fall, and help with Mankind’s recovery. Utilizing a network of underground bullet trains, they could travel the world in much the same way that the U.S.S. Enterprise could take its crew to strange, new worlds.
The initial Genesis II was a made-for-TV movie and pilot for a series. It didn’t take, so Roddenberry tried again with a new look, new actors, and a new name: Planet Earth. With Planet Earth, it was clear that the intention of the show was to be a more (and literally) grounded version of Star Trek, with the members of the organization, Pax, traveling from place to place in a recovered high-speed train system and meeting different peoples and cultures along the way… some that would need their help, and some that would be a threat for them to overcome.
The second series pilot was also passed up, in favor of The Six Million Dollar Man. So maybe this non-starter series seems an odd one to try to reboot. But in fact, it can be said that this series was ahead of its time, and just needs a more up-to-date touch to shine.
Though the original pilots have some dated elements (many of which nonetheless appeared years later in Star Trek: The Next Generation), the premise seems more prescient now than it did in the seventies. Today, the mounting environmental threats caused by global warming are creating just the kind of global catastrophes that we used to imagine under the dystopian predictions collectively known as World War III. The idea that global weather patterns could decimate, divide, isolate and erode human civilization seems a lot more than likely.
So, a very realistic reboot of Genesis II is in order. Personally, I’d want to ditch the names Genesis II (too biblical for my tastes) and Planet Earth (too generic, and now being used for the popular documentary series) and give the show a new name that was closer to the theme and import of the show… something like Earth:2.0, or Earth: Reset. Years ago I postulated a post-crash Age of Responsibility, or Onus, which I named the Onuissance, and which might make an interesting name for the series: The Onuissance Files, or perhaps just Onuissance.
Dylan Hunt’s character can still do the Rip Van Winkle thing, and when he’s revived, he finds a world ravaged by environmental and resulting social and political upheaval, and an organization, the Pax, dedicated to fixing as much of it as they can. Maybe Hunt’s long-forgotten skill is related to medical knowledge, a huge font of data that it’s easy to imagine being significantly lost in a worldwide crash. Maybe Hunt knows where stores of recoverable medical information may reside, prompting a worldwide exploration to get to those places.
Although high-speed buried bullet trains were one of the hip fascinating ideas of the 1970s, I’d ditch that—all that environmental damage would have almost certainly destroyed most of those train tubes—and probably assume we’d rediscovered the ability of flight, either with Osprey-type aircraft, or maybe dirigible-motherships. Another possibility would be an orbital habitat serving as Pax’s base of operations, recovered from an older age and still being examined and restored. And maybe some maglev-style bullet trains remain, although the damaged quality of their maglev beds limits their use to a few reconstructed lines.
And as they explore the new new world, we get to see proto-civilizations trying to rebuild after the crash, some with unique and arcane recovered knowledge, some with strange or ruthless cultures to be dealt with, some who resent the Pax and their reliance on the technology that caused the crash, etc, etc. Perhaps some remnants of warming-inspired weather issues or natural disasters require Pax’s help to mitigate.
Planet Earth, like Star Trek, featured a mildly diverse cast, including a character from a more simple, savage culture who’d joined Pax as part of the excursion team (sort of a proto-Worf). A new show’s cast should be even more race- and gender-diverse, including the lead, especially as they’ll be potentially traveling to every corner of the world. It would be interesting to depict Pax’s leaders as being from a third world country that had picked up the banner of science that the old and new worlds lost after the crash. Perhaps the new new world will be led from the southern hemisphere. (Looking at you, Wakanda!)
The main draw of the show would be the rediscovery and restoration of Earth, its peoples and its history. There should be a lot of discourse and debate about what to restore and how, and a lot of conflict about the pros and cons of past cultures and beliefs, and their place in the new order. Hunt should be at the center of it all, providing the perspective of the old world that was discovering its mistakes, too late to reverse the damage, and concerned for the future. And relationships (and probably the desire to repopulate) should lead to some interesting character dynamics. Again, a very timely premise for a sci-fi show.
Roddenberry’s attachment to the Buck Rogers mythos may seem quaint, but today we could put that mythos to good use, applying it to the examination of the social and environmental damage being afflicted upon the planet and the uncertainty of our collective future.