WHITE DWARF -- Rusta, 3040 A.D. Orbiting a white dwarf star light years from Earth,
Rusta is a remote outpost where night and day are forever halved. It's a mystical place
where a giant wall splits the planet, it's climate and it's people. As one half of the
planet is bathed in eternal light, the other is sheathed in endless darkness. These two
sides are embroiled in a civil war but are on the verge of signing an historic peace
Into this twisted world of Light Sider vs. Dark Sider lands Dr. Driscoll Rampart III on loan from Earth to fulfill a six-month internship with head medicine man and legendary Dr. Akada. What the young doctor thought would be an easy six months in "the arm pit of the galaxy" would soon become the adventure of his life.
Donning a fresh, white, summer suit and dragging his golf clubs behind him, young Driscoll, fresh out of Columbia Med, is initially quite naive. He dreams of a career on Park Avenue and figures he can carve out a well-heeled clientele by spending a year on the frontier accumulating charming stories designed to make the Manhattan society patients titter. His foray into frontier medicine opens his jaded eyes to a surreal culture that blurs the line between utopia and dystopia.
The Rustians are retro-futurists. Soldiers fight with muskets and crossbows. Fashions span the medieval, Wild West and 1920s eras. Transportation is via horses and carriages. Kings reside in ornate castles. And spiritual visions come in the form of the Two Ladies -- one dressed in white, the other in black -- who, legend has it, are forever separated by their loyalty to the single child each mother bore. The legend says that each child became too possessive of their maternal affections and forbade their mothers from seeing each other. Sundered, the two sisters died of broken hearts. The great wall that sections the two halves of the planet was build to keep them apart and now separates their peoples still at war -- though on the eve of peace.
"The mythology is," begins writer Bruce Wagner, "there were two sisters impregnated by the soul of the planet. And they bore two children who were very possessive and who forbid them to see one another. The Two Ladies died of broken hearts, and like Christ on our planet, they are the icon that rules people's hearts."
The realm of the Dark Side is ruled by King Joist with his a daughter, Ariel, at his side -- as well as a knight, Strake. Strake romantically pursues the ever-elusive Ariel. The decor is distinctly gothic. This place of shadows resounds with the clinking of chain mail, the clash of swords and the haughty boasts and base treacheries of people who sport codpieces. There are castles and dungeons and criminals (and innocents?) forced to live in captivity for upwards of 500 years.
The Light side, meanwhile, has adopted a Western motif, replete with homesteads, stagecoaches and purple sagebrush. This frontier's major set is a medical center that resembles an early Mexican mission.
As only one face of Rusta is perennially orbiting it's white dwarf star, the entire surface is made habitable by orbiting, albeit decaying, Regulators. Regulators are huge metallic orbs, which hang in the horizon and were left by some unknown entity 10,000 years ago to control planetary weather patterns.
After drawing the curtains tight from the never-ending light, Emma poured the last bit of hot spring water drawn from the well into her tub and stepped in. She tried to be quiet, but her husband, Peter, (James Morrison) awoke anyway.
"It's those damn Regulators. They'll be servicing
them soon," Peter says as he takes the sponge from her hand and begins washing her
upraised leg. "I think the twins inherited your insomnia. Bedtime stories are
"Sweet girls. Zuzu's nervous about tomorrow. The kids always tease her so."
"Dr. Akada said he had a new medicine. He seemed hopeful."
"It just seems so cruel that the virus would attack one twin and not the other."
"She's a tough little girl, just like her mom."
"And on top of everything else, the
first day of school. Don't you remember what that was like?"
"No, I don't. It's a complete blank. I've forgotten a lot of things," he teases. "I really think you should help me remember." He leans in and kisses his wife, then blows out the illuminating candle.
Morning arrives on the lush Rusta. Emma ties
the ribbon on Zuzu's bonnet and helps her frail figure onto the waiting buckboard -- for
Zuzu is afflicted with a virus that has caused her, in all physical ways, to resemble a 70
year- old. Zaza prods her sister, impatient to get to school. As Peter calls the horses to
move, the two sisters swing their heads back to say goodbye to their mother. Unbeknownst
to the two 12 year-olds, this will be the last time they will ever see her.
As Peter and the twins pull away, Emma hears a strange, ominous call in the near distance. Not a forest creature, it is a Dark Side cultist gang coming through the Great Wall with a plan to violently inhibit the impending peace accord.
Light Side Marshalls chase the Dark Siders home. They escape through a dragon's head shaped opening in the Great Wall. They return home and report that not only were a wife AND husband slaughtered for the cause, but also a coachman -- his passenger wounded. Their leader appears unsatisfied until the passenger of the coach is identified. It is the graduated intern before Driscoll -- a man from earth, a past enemy. The leader is pleased but can not stay to celebrate -- for Strake must return to his sovereign, King Joist, ruler of the Dark Side.
Driscoll wanders the halls of his new hospital. He ventures into a small, white room and stands stunned. The two lifeless bodies of Peter and Emma are lain on horizontal racks on the wall. Their fixed-open, vacant, crystal-blue eyes are a reminder and a warning of the severity of the politics Driscoll has blindly stepped into. Driscoll moves trance-like past them and backs out into an orderly who demands his assistance in the operating room. Slowly recovering from his disturbed vision, Driscoll realizes that the emergency patient now dying on the table is the previous intern. Despite Akada's best efforts, the young doctor dies from his wounds.
Dr. Akada is Rampart's mentor and a Dark Sider ex-patriot. He was once imprisoned in "The Keep" for his aspirations to rule and for his ignorance of tolerance. Reeducated and freed, Akada vowed to help people. Nurse Shobanna assists him.
Driscoll seeks refuge outside, but the wind is up. A child patient nicknamed Never meets him. Never is an empathic shape-shifter whose powers are known to the Rustians as Proteus Syndrome. He is a societal pariah to his wealthy parents as he morphs uncontrollably into anything from a boy-sized raven to a panther. He can even change into the loved ones he finds in the minds of the people nearest in proximity to him -- including Driscoll's recently deceased fiancÚ.
Never takes the form of a mysterious and beautiful woman that Driscoll recognizes and who speaks forlornly of "our son." Driscoll had a wife and son, but Driscoll caught a disease and passed it to them. He recovered, they did not. Driscoll forms an attachment to the abandoned Never and helps the boy get a handle on his physical disease by providing love and psychological grounding.
Also housed at the hospital now are the orphaned Zuzu and Zaza, twin 12 year- old daughters of Peter and Emma. Zuzu's virus needs monitoring. Though Zaza does not share this affliction, she is housed in the villa-style house as well.
Elsewhere in this fantastical world dwells a fantastic, mythical character with tusks and horns -- a creature named Osh. Osh is the warden of the Dark Sider King's prison, The Keep. His prime charge is Lady X, a beautiful "young" woman more than 500 years old who was convicted of having created a plague on Earth that killed billions -- though she pleads she is innocent. She is kept alive by Osh's ability to secrete a hormone that affords an entirely undesired immortality. The only problem is that this big, lumbering beast is also in love with her.
In the Dark Side castle, King Joist and Strake find and interrogate the mercenaries who were responsible for the Light Side attack. As Strake claims ignorance and abhorrence of their deeds in front of his sovereign, it becomes clear that he is not pursuing the interests of his King. His secret command of the raiders is for his own, sordid profit.
Strake convinces the King's doctor to drug the ruler, and together they insert a parasite into the King's body as an inconspicuous method to kill him and then usurp his thrown. Akada is sent for, but even he cannot save the ailing King. Instead Akada takes his life to end the King's imminent madness as the parasite moves into his head to consume his brain.
Afterwards, as Strake postures about ambition, Akada realizes Strake has caused this death. But it is the Two Ladies in a dream who tell the King's daughter Ariel, true heir to the thrown, that Strake is the murderer. Ariel sends for Osh, who comes, personally, to escort Strake to the Keep.
Then bad new arrives at the hospital for Never. His mother is unable to send for him as she had promised, and she adds that she may not even be able to visit for another year. Feeling more alone than ever, the boy starts shifting uncontrollably. Driscoll takes Never into his arms and holds him until he stops, but, now weakened by the exertion, Never is still in critical condition with a raging fever.
Shobanna takes the twins and Driscoll to the Sea of Tears, a truly red sea also called the Blood of Rusta. Together, according to tradition, they shout across the waters, calling Never's name. They call for him to return from his journey toward death. Miraculously, this works. They return to the hospital to find Never awake and recovering.
At The Keep, Strake endures his first taste of the immortality dreaded by all inmates.
Ariel, now Dark Side Queen, sits down with the Governor of the Light Side to sign their peace accord.
Afterwards, bedecked in a flowing, white gown complete with ornamental wings, Ariel joins Acada and Driscoll for a picnic by the Sea of Tears. The once elusive Ariel is quite attentive to Driscoll. Osh arrives with his beloved Lady X for whom he has risked death to grant her single wish to see the sun again.
Then Driscoll's internship ends. He packs his white suit and wistfully departs on the waiting stagecoach. But Rusta's call is too strong, and soon... Never is no longer alone.
Writer Bruce Wagner (WILD PALMS) attempts to fashion an allegory about the ignorance and prejudices of mankind, and it's quite clever that within such traditional divisions most of the characters are patterned in shades of gray. It's a nicely ironic touch that Driscoll's two mentors on the light side are played by black actors, even though he may not have written this with those specifics in mind. In addition to Winfield, C.C.H. Pounder (ER) plays Akada's head nurse, Nurse Shobanna.
Acada, is played by Paul Winfield (STII: THE WRATH OF KHAN), who admits to having read science fiction while growing up in Watts. "It was a great way to escape the daily drudgery of survival, to go to other worlds. I read a lot 'til I got to college -- Asimov, Heinlein.... Red Planet was a book I read over and over."
Coppola hooked up his company, American Zoetrope, with Wagner, as he was a fan of WILD PALMS. When asked how he got the suits at Fox to buy his premise, Wagner returns, "You just mention the name Coppola."
"We presented it as a doctor show with an extreme twist. I've always wanted to do a doctor show. I was also an enormous fan of LONESOME DOVE. And the idea of commingling these things, particularly with Francis (Coppola) coming off DRACULA -- doing something very stylish -- I think this gave Fox something they really sparked to, a rather traditional story that is couched in a very unusual language and images."
"I'm not a huge sci-fi reader, but I am a fan of sci-fi illustrations -- floating cities and dragon-slayers. At the end of the pilot there is a cliff, an overlook, and Lady X is wading into the Red Sea, and Osh is on the beach sitting with the horses in a carriage, and there are these eunuchs, called Davids, watching. The image to me was just a lovely one. As a child I would project myself into these kinds of images."
Unlike other speculative shows, that all but dismiss the rather Earthly trappings of their alien landscapes, here there are a few rather oblique references to the Rustians and Earthlings having crossed paths, with rather disastrous results, some 500 years previous which compensate for the propensity toward an earth-like environment -- as well as piquing our interest into how the histories of the two worlds are intertwined.
"It's a coming-of-age story. Hopefully it will be fun. It's quite a different doctor show." Some material and quotes taken from a review from the Cabin Fever Entertainment, Inc. video cover box, a review by Andrew O. Thompson for Sci-Fi Universe magazine and interviews by Sheldon Teitelbaum, also for Sci-Fi Universe magazine.