Quantum Leap: Breaking all the Time Travel Rules

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Veteran actor Dean Stockwell plays Al Calavicci , a hologram, in Quantum Leap. Stockwell became famous as a child actor and is still busy with his career, currently working on a new series in his home state of New Mexico. 

The writers of Quantum Leap didn’t care if they broke the rules. Time travel? Change the past? Jump into the bodies of others? Sure! If the audience liked it and they could manage to create a semi-plausible explanation, they did it.

The audience loved it!

Quantum Leap aired on NBC from March 26, 1989 to May 5, 1993 with a stellar cast of Scott Bakula and the impressive veteran actor Dean Stockwell. Although the show was not anticipated to survive, it lasted five years. Quantum Leap was rated number 19 on TV Guide Magazine’s list of “Top Cult Shows Ever.” The shown and its actors also received numerous Golden Globe, Emmy and Edgar Awards.

Donald-bellisario-1993Quantum Leap’s creator Donald P. Bellisario. Photo by Leap Con 1993. Photo by Nancy J. Price.

The Plot

Quantum Leap was created by Donald P. Bellisario, who was inspired by the 1941 film Here Comes Mr. Jordan, and its 1978 remake Heaven Can Wait. In both films a man who dies “before his time” is allowed to return to earth in another person’s body, presumably to make the world a better place. In Quantum Leap, Dr. Sam Becket “leaps” into the bodies of other people and helps them correct situations using knowledge of the situation sent by the Quantum Leap Team to Al Calavicci’s hand-held gadget. The information helps Dr. Becket and the hologram keep track of whether or not Becket’s actions are actually making the situation better.

Quantum Leap is accurately titled. In this story, Dr. Sam Becket is a Quantum Physicist who becomes lost in time during a time travel experiment when he steps into the Quantum Leap accelerator. Suddenly, when he looks into a mirror he sees the faces of people whose bodies he has entered. Instead of focusing his efforts on returning to his original location, Becket dedicates his time to restore situations that went wrong for these people, turning pain and heartache into joyful situations. Dean Stockwell plays Al Calavicci, Becket’s hologram and only friend who guides Becket toward problem situations and assists Becket in his efforts to help others. Al can only be seen by Sam, children, animals, and the developmentally challenged. His trademark is his cigar, womanizing behavior, and the comment he makes at the end of the show, presumable before the next episode begins: “Oh boy!”

Time Travel Delimma

Time travel is literature is as old as Hindu mythology. Early time travel stories generally involved moving forward in time. Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle” could be considered a time travel story as Rip falls asleep and wakes up 20 years in the future to meet his grown daughter.

One of the problems with writing science fiction is the readers are generally science fans and time travel stories can be controversial depending on how the travel aspects are handled. Although the possibility of forward time travel is generally accepted, traveling back in time is thought to be illogical due to the problems it would cause.

One common example is the possibility that a time traveler could travel to the past, fall in love with a stranger and become his own father, or the “Grandfather Paradox,” where a time traveler hypothetically travels back in time and accidentally kills his own grandfather before his father is conceived, which would make the time traveler disappear, therefore, how could the event take place? Physicist Stephen Hawking, in his lecture “Space and Time Warps,“ suggests that time travel is possible if spacetime is warped in the correct way.

The time travel dilemma in Quantum Leap is conveniently tackled with ignorance–Dr. Becket’s support crew, the Project Quantum Leap Team, has no control over where he will “leap” next or how the leaps work. He generally ends up in random places, but sometimes the episode’s story line places him in celebrity situations, like when he leaped into the body of Marilyn Monroe’s bodyguard, one of my favorite episodes.

Scott_BakulaScott Bakula was nominated for three Golden Globes and won once for his role in Quantum Leap. 

The Stars

I think the acting is one of the reasons this show was so popular. The show has two primary stars with various guest stars. Scott Bakula started his career in 1986 with Walt Disney, then made various appearances on shows such as Matlock and Designing Women, but I first saw him in the hysterically funny 1990 comedy Sibling Rivalry where he played the husband to Kirstie Alley, who cheats on her husband with his older brother who then dies of a heart attack in their hotel room bed.

Bakula’s performance in Sibling Rivalry impressed me, so when I heard he would star in Quantum Leap I was excited to see how he would do, and of course he did a great job. He was nominated for three Golden Globes for his performances and one once. Bakula was also nominated for Golden Globes for his performances in Star Trek Enterprise in 2001.

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Dean Stockwell in a trailer screenshot from Gentleman’s Agreement, 1947.

Dean Stockwell, surprisingly, plays a secondary role in this series. This is surprising because he is a television and film star of some magnitude. His career began when he was nine years old and offered a contract with Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. He appeared in four films in 1945. He was born on March 5, 1936. Therefore, his acting career spans over 65 years, which is impressive. He made frequent appearances on shows such as The Twilight Zone, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and Night Gallery during the television anthology era; and appeared on shows such as Wagon Train and Bonanza during the Westerns era of television; and also made frequent appearances on shows such as Columbo, Ellery Queen, and The Streets of San Francisco during the television mysteries era of the 1970s.

Stockwell made more films as a child actor and television appearances as an adult, but he’s had steady work since his childhood, which does not happen often to child actors, and his career is still going strong. He also appeared on Star Trek Enterprise and episodes of other recent television series, such as Battlestar Galactica. He is currently working on the film Persecuted. Filming of Persecuted began in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 2013. Stockwell is also an artist, musician, golfer, and practices martial arts. According to SciFi.com, Stockwell is a golf maniac. “If you want to get on his good side, ask him about golf,” one of his coworkers is quoted as saying on the site, but considering his career record, I’d rather ask about his acting!

Resources:

  • Hawking, Stephen. “Space and Time Warps.” Stephen Hawking: The Official Website. Retrieved September 12, 2013.
  • “The Pro: A Conversation with Dean Stockwell.” Quantum Leap: Cast & Crew. SciFi.com. Retrieved September 26, 2013.