George R.R. Martin’s Doorways: The TV Show That Never Was

doorwayscoverWith Season Six of Game of Thrones premiering last Sunday, now is perhaps a good time to discuss a not so successful TV project of George R.R. Matin: Doorways.

For those who don’t know, Doorways was 1992 science fiction series created by Martin and produced by ABC. Only one episode was ever made. In it a feral woman named Cat (Anne Le Guernec) appears in the middle of the road and ends up in the hospital after using her weapon to blow up a truck. She is treated by Dr. Thomas Mason (George Newbern) who becomes concerned for Cat’s well-being and shares his experience treating Cat with his girlfriend, Laura (Carrie-Anne Moss).

Cat, however, is taken into custody by FBI Special Agent Trager (Kurtwood Smith). Thomas is brought in by Trager to communicate with Cat and figure how her technology works. She has something that goes around her wrist that enables her to find and enter “Doors”, but when she notices the color it emits has change, she realizes she is being hunted by those she fled. Cat and Thomas escape the FBI and travel to a nearby Door.

Before they can enter it, Trager shows up to arrest them, but he is in turn thrawted by Thane (Robert Knepper), a “manhound” and servant of the Dark Lord, who kills Trager. He is tracking Cat and was the one who taught her to speak. Thomas and Cat still manage to escape through the Door and find themselves near Denver.

They happen upon Jake (Hoyt Axton) and his granddaughter Cissy (Tisha Putman) who are travelling the highway on a horse-drawn wagon. They later run into Trager, seemingly alive and working as a bartender at a truck stop, but he has no memory of them. Thomas eventually learns that he is in a timeline where a microbe was developed to clean up an oil spill, but instead ate up all the world’s oil and anything made with it (plastic, resins, etc.). Thane, however, is still hot on their trail and even this timeline’s Trager isn’t all that he seems.

I won’t spoil the rest of the pilot since you still can watch it online in some places (like here). I will say that despite being full of 90s cheese and having a noticeable small special effects budget, Doorways was still fun to watch. It had great world building and you can feel that we were only scratching the surface behind the mystery of the multiverse. It also had a lot of talent behind it and many of actors and actresses I mentioned above went on to have careers in television, film and voice acting. It was a show with potential that could have brought the high concept ideas of alternate history to a mainstream audience.

The reason, however, that there is only one episode is because ABC never picked up the pilot. Martin reported that at first ABC was enthusiastic when they saw the first episode and even ordered six additional scripts. Alas, the premier kept getting pushed back, the executives who originally championed Doorways left the channel and the new crop of producers had no interest in keeping the project going. Although Martin said it did premier overseas, it never was released in the United States.

Also, if Doorways sounds like Sliders, you are not far off. Many have pointed out the similarities between the two shows that used technology to travel through alternate timelines. Even one of the creators of Sliders, Tracy Tormé, apparently applied for a position to work on Doorways. Tormé denied any connection between the shows and I believe him. The idea about travelling through parallel timelines isn’t anything new. H. Beam Piper wrote about it as early as the 1940s with his Paratime series. So it is plausible to think that Martin and Tormé could have just come up with the idea independently of each other.

Honestly I’m more curious about whether SM Stirling got the idea for the Emberverse series after seeing the pilot episode of Doorways. Both Stirling post-apocalyptic fantasy and Martin’s alternate post-oil timeline both involve society falling back to an earlier level of civilization after some sort of catastrophe that led to a huge death toll. Granted Stirling took it further then Martin did, but the similarities between the two alternate histories are there.

Believe it or not, there was an attempt in 2010 to revise Doorways, except this time in comics form. IDW published a 4 issue miniseries based on the original script of the pilot, which was collected in hardcover in 2011. Since it had the same plot as the pilot I won’t repeat the plot summary, but I can talk about some improvements the comic had over the TV show.

For starters, Thane and the Dark Lord both got redesigns. In the show Thane was just a normal guy with tiny retractable claws, but in the comic he looked a lot more beast like. Trager is also black in the comic, adding some diversity to the cast that was predominately white in the show. Additionally, since the artist was not limited by anything but their imagination, the “special effects” in the comic look a lot better. They even spent some time talking about how bad things got when the Earth in the other timeline lost the use of oil, which is something glossed over by the show. Perhaps this is because when trying to reach a wide audience, ABC didn’t want to bum everyone out by talking about billions of people dying.

Sadly the comic does have one big issue. Let’s take a look at it by seeing this side by side comparison of Thomas and Cat from the show and the comic:DoorwaysComparisonYeah Cat wears a lot less clothing in the comic and what she does wear tends to draw attention to her ample bossum. She also has this odd habit of…posing at inappropriate moments. In the show, Cat was a scrappy survivor on the run. If she was sexy it was because of how bad ass she was, not because she looked like a model being told by her photographer to go for a “sassy” look. I don’t think I am saying anything mind-blowing by mentioning that comics tends to over-sexualize women more than other mediums, but its because of that regrettable cliche that the comic adaptation of Doorways lost points with me.

Alas, the comic adaptation of Doorways didn’t get past the pilot either, despite the fact that Martin confirmed there were at least 6 other scripts written for the show that could have been used. My guess is IDW didn’t make enough money off the initial run to justify a longer series, probably because it was unfortunate to come out in a post-Sliders world. In my theory, the novelty of travelling through alternate timelines had worn off by then and, even though it technically came first, Doorways would always be compared to the more successful alternate history show.

In the end, it was probably all for the best that Doorways was never picked up by ABC. Later in 2011 the first season of Game of Thrones would premier and become the hit sensation we all know and love. If Doorways had been picked up and was even successful, Martin may never have written the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire and who knows how different popular culture would be.

In many ways though, that is life. Sometimes we need to fail so we can be in the right place to finally succeed.

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