Project Questor is the brainchild of the genius Dr. Emil Vaslovik, Ph.D., a Nobel laureate. Vaslovik had developed plans to build a superhuman android. A team of the world’s foremost experts is able to build the android even though they do not understand the components with which they are working — they are only able to follow the instructions and install the parts left by Vaslovik, who has disappeared. Attempts to decode the programming tape were worse than merely unsuccessful—they also erased approximately half of the tape’s contents. They decide to substitute their own programming, over the objections of Jerry Robinson (Mike Farrell), the only team member who had actually worked with Dr. Vaslovik. He is overruled by the head of the project, Geoffrey Darrow (John Vernon). When the android’s body has been finished, the new tape is loaded, but with no apparent results. In desperation, Robinson persuades Darrow to allow Vaslovik’s tape — what remains of it — to be loaded. Again, the team is disappointed, as there appears to be no response.
Once left alone, the android comes to life. It adds various cosmetic touches to a previously featureless outer skin, transforming itself from an “it” to a “him”, and he (Robert Foxworth) then leaves the laboratory to visit Vaslovik’s office and archives; it is there that he first identifies himself as “part of Project Questor”. The android then seeks out Robinson, whom he forces to accompany him in a search for Vaslovik, with Darrow in pursuit of both, following a minuscule datum in his original programming.
Questor (who becomes more “human” as the story progresses) only knows that it has something to do with an “aquatic vehicle” — a boat — and that if he does not find Vaslovik before the end of a countdown, the nuclear generator in his abdomen will overload and explode. Vaslovik had programmed this into him to prevent his creation from being misused, and time is running out. The pair, traveling to England, escape from custody and travel to the home of Lady Helena Trimble (Dana Wynter), who had known and worked with Vaslovik. (Her name was an homage to Bjo Trimble, who had led the fan campaign to keep Star Trek on the air.) After Robinson refuses Questor’s naive suggestion that the scientist seduce Lady Helena as a way to get information, Questor announces that he will make the attempt, adding, “I am fully functional.”
Just as Questor deciphers the clues and tells Robinson that he knows where Vaslovik is, he is shot by British soldiers, and returned to the laboratory. Robinson repairs Questor, and Darrow gives him two options: If Robinson puts a homing transmitter inside the android, they will be given a plane to go find Vaslovik, but if Robinson refuses, the android will simply be flown to a safe location where the explosion will not endanger anyone. Robinson implants the beacon, and they jet off to Mount Ararat; the “boat” imperative, as Questor had realized just minutes before being shot, had referred to Noah’s Ark.
Robinson and Questor reach a cave concealed inside Mount Ararat with seconds to spare. Questor’s timer is made safe, and he has found Emil Vaslovik (Lew Ayres), who tells Questor and Robinson that he, too, is an android. Questor is the last of a series, going back to “the dawn of this world,” left there by “Masters” to serve and protect mankind. They functioned by a law which Vaslovik quotes to Questor:
“We protect, but we do not interfere. Man must make his own way. We guide him — but always without his knowledge.”
Each of the Masters’ previous androids had a lifespan of several hundred years, at the end of which each assembled its replacement. The unexpected, rapid advent of nuclear physics and the radioactive fallout from above-ground nuclear testing had damaged Vaslovik. Questor’s design corrected these failures, and finally Vaslovik is able to die in peace, after asking Robinson to help Questor learn about humanity.
Darrow, having followed the pair, has heard enough to know how important it is that Questor be allowed to fulfill his mission. Unfortunately, he has brought the military with him to destroy the android. The cynical Darrow believes that this is proof that humanity does not deserve Questor’s help. Questor convinces him otherwise.
Deciding to sacrifice his own life for Questor’s sake, Darrow takes the transmitter and leaves, telling the military commander that not only Vaslovik had gone insane, but also that the android has escaped, and to send in jet fighters when the beacon signal is picked up. He then takes off in the jet that Questor and Robinson had used, turning on the transmitter as he goes so that they will think that the android is aboard.
Robinson and Questor, now outside the cave, look up into the sky. Robinson tells Questor that he cannot see anything, to which the android replies, “I wish that I could not.” This is notably his first verbal expression of emotion, Questor’s first visual expression of emotion had occurred when his timer had been made safe; he had then regarded Robinson with a smile. The plane is then destroyed, killing Darrow. Questor and Robinson begin their mission together.
The Questor Tapes was a pilot for a television series. In fact, a 13-episode go-ahead was given for the series before the television movie was aired, with both Foxworth and Farrell having signed to reprise their roles. Joining the actors behind the scenes were producers Michael Rhodes and Earl Booth and story editor Larry Alexander. The green-lighted series was slated for Friday nights at 10 p.m. on NBC — the “death slot” where the final season of the original Star Trek had withered.
Roddenberry’s Best Since “Star Trek” Gene Roddenberry’s The Questor Tapes premiered on January 23, 1974. It has proven to be his best work since Star Trek. The show received solid ratings and favorable reviews on its Wednesday night telecast, it was opposite an ABC movie with William Shatner, and became an immediate success. Fans were thoroughly impressed and hoped the pilot would lead to a series.
But by that time it was already shelved. The original story, titled Questor, was written by Roddenberry three years earlier. Universal and NBC read it, liked it and Gene L. Coon was hired to write the script.
He handed in the first draft on November 29, 1972. It made the rounds and a revision was called for. Gene fulfilled their request. finishing the new pages on December 12.
Roddenberry talking about The Questor Tapes
The project was approved, with a few changes:
- Contessa Ignacia Valenti Comara Calassi became Lady Helena Alexandria Trimble and her estate was moved from Italy to England.
- The sight of Project Questor was moved from Geneva, Switzerland, to Pasadena, California.
- The kidnapping of Questor and Robinson by the French was thrown out, as was the now (in)famous scene of android seducing cortesan. Roddenberry objected most heavily to that.
Robert Foxworth was under contract to Universal at the time, as was Mike Farrell. Both were miserable and turning down parts. The Questor script was handed to them. They both loved it and were hired for the parts of Questor and Jerry Robinson.
A production schedule was set, the other parts cast and sets were built. By the end of the summer of ’73 the pilot was finished. At this time, NBC was beginning to falter even more in the ratings. The execs viewed the pilot and were enthusiastic over its prospects. NBC liked it, Universal liked it, Gene Roddenberry liked it. Mike Farrell liked it…everyone liked it. NBC gave the go ahead; make it a series.
Several time slots were considered, with NBC finally choosing nine to 10 on Friday nights, directly following their new series (and hit) The Rockford Files.
Gene drafted the series “bible,” the guide to go by. In it. Questor and Jerry were based at Robinson Enterprises Ltd. a multimillion dollar corporation established with financing raised by Questor on the stock exchange.
Hidden inside the headquarters was the Information Center, with which Questor could monitor world events as they took place. Viewing screens surrounded the room, on which Questor could tune in to any meeting, merger or convergence-with no regard for secrecy. He could watch Congress, or the Soviet Defense Command or even the bedroom of a world dignitary.
Also hidden inside the corporate headquarters was the cosmetology/repair lab. Because Questor could be damaged (or even killed, with a sufficient injury to the head and bionic plasma contained therein), the repair facilities were mandatory. With the cosmetology lab, Questor could re-mold his features in order to impersonate any (presumably) male person. A new device, a personality implanter, would allow him to take on the voice, reactions, mannerisms and habits of the individual. It also allowed him to simulate emotions, under the right circumstances.
Two new characters were added: Candi. their secretary, and Balfour, their business manager, Candi was to be a beautiful, naive blonde–hired for these very qualities. It was hoped her naiveté would blind her to the true identity of Questor, and his mission. She was also to be a constant distraction to Robinson, her beauty getting in his way. However, she was determined to keep her virginity until marriage.
Balfour, their personal business manager, was a crippled Vietnam veteran, confined toa wheelchair. He used his G.I. loan to invest heavily in the stock market, and made millions overnight. He lost it as quickly. Questor found him, penniless and depressed, recognized his remarkable talent for business and hired him on the spot. Asthe series was to progress, Balfour was to grow, recognizing his injury was not the end of his life. Jerry was to play an immense part in helping to regenerate Balfour, through his sensitivity, empathy and caring qualities even Jerry did not know he possessed.
Scripts were to be of high quality, “well thought out.” No “monsters trying to conquer man” or “mad scientists threatening to destroy the world.” One plot suggested by Roddenberry involved a cancer research scientist. His upcoming marriage, to all indications, would stifle his career. There was a good chance he would succeed in finding a cure for cancer-but only if he did not marry. It was up to Jerry and Questor to break up the couple, which (with great difficulty) they did.
Conflict between Roddenberry and both Universal and NBC over the content of the proposed series doomed it, most notably ignoring the revelation at the end of the TV movie and eliminating the key character of Jerry Robinson. These changes were too much for Roddenberry, who abandoned the project. No episodes were produced.
The Questor Tapes was one of a series of television movies in which Roddenberry was involved, which also included Genesis II, Planet Earth, Strange New World and Spectre. All were intended as pilots; none led to a series.
The music for The Questor Tapes was scored by Gil Mellé, who was a jazz musician as well as a saxophonist, composer, and also noted as a painter. (Some of his music for The Questor Tapes later made its way into Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Both properties were developed at, and produced out of, Universal Studios.) Mellé also was known for scoring My Sweet Charlie, That Certain Summer, and Frankenstein: The True Story. His most well-known film score was The Andromeda Strain.
Gene L. Coon
Robert Foxworth as Questor
Mike Farrell as Jerry Robinson
John Vernon as Geoffrey Darrow
Lew Ayres as Dr. Emil Vaslovik, Ph.D.
James Shigeta as Dr. Chen
Robert Douglas as Dr. Michaels
Dana Wynter as Lady Helena Trimble
Ellen Weston as Allison Sample
Majel Barrett as Dr. Bradley
Walter Koenig as Administrative Assistant