||It has been suggested that Earthsearch II be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since June 2011.|
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (April 2009)|
Cover art for the original 1993 audio cassette release (Original artwork by Andrew Skilleter)
|Running time||30 minutes|
|Home station||BBC Radio 4 Extra|
|Air dates||January 1981 to March 1981 (last repeated September / October 2013) |
|No. of series||1|
|No. of episodes||10 per series|
Earthsearch: A Ten-Part Adventure Serial in Time and Space science fiction radio series written by James Follett. It consists of ten half-hour episodes broadcast. It was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 between January and March 1981. There is also a novelisation by Follett of the same name. The series has been released on cassette  and audio CD Since 2003 it has been re-broadcast, several times in the Seventh Dimension science fiction slot on BBC 7 and its successor BBC Radio 4 Extra.
- Commander Telson - Sean Arnold
- Sharna - Amanda Murray
- Darv - Haydn Wood
- Astra - Kathryn Hurlbutt
- Angel One - Sonia Fraser
- Angel Two - Gordon Reid
Other cast (across the series):
- Commander Sinclair - Christopher Scott
- Simon - David Bradshaw
- The Sentinel - Alexander John
- George - John MacAndrew
- Helan - Judy Franklin
- Emperor Thorden - John Bott
- Thail - Graham Faulkner
- Spegal - Stephen Garlick
- The Custodian - Eve Calfe
- Fagor - Sion Probert
- Krol - Michael Spice
- Dren - John Webb
- Lenart - Jane Knowles
- Tandor - Pauline Letts
- No. 41 - John Church
- First Footprint City
- Sands of Kyros
- The Solaric Empire
- The Pools of Time
- Across the Abyss
- New Blood
- Star Cluster: Tersus Nine
Three crew-generations previously, the Starship Challenger - a vast ten-mile-long survey vessel – was launched from Earth on an interstellar mission to search the universe for an Earth-type planet to colonise. This has been unsuccessful, and the ship’s once enormous crew-count has now been reduced to four. Telson (the ship’s Commander), Sharna, Darv and Astra are the third-generation crew- the only survivors of the disastrous Great Meteoroid Strike which seriously damaged the ship two decades previously, killing the entire second-generation crew and rendering large areas of the ship “uncontrolled” and inaccessible to its electronic systems.
From infancy, the four third-generation crew members (now in their early twenties) have been raised by robots and by the Angels – mysterious unseen beings who run the ship and who only manifest as disembodied voices. Darv, the most skeptical and enquiring of the crew members, suspects that the Angels are merely computers; but the others consider them as “Guardian Angels” and work entirely under their guidance.
With no suitably colonisable planet found after over a hundred years of searching, a crew-vote is taken and the Challenger sets a course for the return to Earth. Darv, while exploring one of the uncontrolled zones, finds a survey recording of an Earth-type planet called Paradise. As is standard procedure, the crew enter suspended animation in order to prevent ageing and possible death during the many years of journey time.
Unrevealed to the crew, the Angels (who are the ship’s control computers; their name being an acronym of ANcillary Guardian of Environment and Life ) have their own agenda. They desire absolute control and mastery over any colony resulting from the mission. To this end, they covertly engineered the apparent accident which killed the second-generation crew (who would otherwise have ended the mission before the Angels wanted it to end) and have kept the third-generation crew sexually immature and innocent via drugs and disinformation in order to keep them more tractable. However, their machinations have begun to backfire already. Their requirement of a minimum human crew of four to man the Challenger’s control room requires the Angels to work mainly via suggestion and manipulation. Also, the Great Meteoroid Strike damaged the ship and their control over it more than was planned for, including damage to their own memory banks, which in turn deprived them of vital information about the Theory of Relativity. Concerned that Darv may interest the other crew members in what he has discovered about the planet Paradise, the Angels suppress his memories of the survey recording by violent, nightmare-inducing hypnotic manipulation.
Reaching the Earth’s solar system, the Challenger’s crew are horrified to discover that Earth has vanished altogether, with the Moon now occupying Earth’s former orbit. Although the crew locate a large city on the Moon, they are unable to receive any answers to their communications and are unable to leave the ship to explore. This situation is changed when Darv and Astra enter an uncontrolled zone within the Challenger and locate a space shuttle previously unknown to the Angels. Using this, they visit the city and discover the Moon Sentinel, a computerized guardian and archive whom they can question. From the Sentinel they discover that while only one hundred and fifteen years of shipboard time has passed during the Challenger’s entire mission, due to the ship’s use of near-lightspeed travel and the effects of time dilation much more time has passed on Earth – over one million years. During this time, the Earth was removed from the solar system via a tremendous feat of interstellar engineering – desiring to protect the planet from the risk of increased solar activity, the inhabitants of Earth took the planet to orbit another, safer star. The Sentinel does not known which solar system Earth now occupies, but notes that if the Challenger’s crew genuinely are descendants of Earth people they will think as the people of Earth thought, and will find the Earth by following that pattern.
Seeking more clues in their new Earthsearch mission, the Challenger travels to Kyros (the third planet of the solar system, and a desert world). However, Darv’s enquiring and rebellious mind is now putting him at odds with the Angels again, who are forced to surreptitiously discipline him for a second time. Opting to work in the ship’s farm galleries for a while, Darv develops a taste for unprocessed fruit, and the hormone suppressants which keep him sexually undeveloped begin to wear off. He introduces Astra to the same diet, with similar effects. On arrival in Kyros orbit, Darv and Astra take the shuttle down to the planet surface to investigate a buried gravitational anomaly. While there, they are kidnapped, leaving the Challenger minus half its crew (and consequently stranded).
Darv and Astra’s kidnappers turn out to be members of the Solaric Empire - an organisation based on the fifth moon of Zelda (the gas-giant fourth planet in the solar system) and consisting of the remaining humans in the Solar System. Darv and Astra’s artificially-maintained sexual immaturity leads to them being labeled as poor-quality alien replicas of human beings. Their stories of the past of Earth and their mission are considered a threat to the position of the Solaric Emperor Thorden, who plans to have them executed. This is thwarted by the arrival of the Challenger (Telson and Sharna having worked out how to use surgical androids as temporary control room crew replacements).
Following the subsequent standoff Thorden offers to join the Challenger on its search for Earth. He bluntly confirms to the crew that the Angels are computers, of the dangerous “freewill” kind that develop an obsession with power and which the Solaric Empire fought and won a war against (the defeated machines were imprisoned in a vault on Kyros, the anomaly investigated earlier by the Challenger crew). He plans for his own security and future dominance over the mission by ensuring that the space ferry which he brings to and docks within the Challenger as personal transport is heavily armed. He also smuggles on board a fearsome warrior android called Fagor.
Unknown to the crew, he strikes a deal with the Angels to share power over the Earth once it is found. However, the Angels have other plans. Once the humans on ship have entered suspended animation for the next leg of the journey, they cancel the crew’s hormone suppressants and allow them to develop to full sexual maturity, suppressing any shock or curiosity via post-hypnotic suggestion (although Darv and Astra, who had previously begun to develop following their rejection of the processed food, had already begun a fully sexual relationship before this).
When they next revive the crew, the Angels allow the revival process to go wrong for Thorden, killing him as a result. Though Darv is suspicious of the Angels, he and the crew are more concerned with the drifting ship which the Challenger has picked up on its radar – which turns out to be the Challenger II, their own craft’s sister ship, which appears derelict. Sharna and Telson go over in the shuttle to investigate, and discover that the Challenger II is still populated by the descendants of its original crew but has been crippled by civil wars between them. The survivors are divided between the initially welcoming, highly religious Earth Worshippers (who destroy the shuttle and threaten to hang Sharna and Telson for unintentional blasphemy) and the more anarchic but historically-aware Underpeople.
Meanwhile, the warrior android Fagor begins to wreak havoc onboard Challenger in revenge for Thorden’s death: Darv and Astra are forced to flee from him in Thorden’s ferry. Aided by an Underperson, they rescue Telson and Sharna from the Earth Worshippers, but their subsequent visit to the Underpeople puts them into further peril. While welcoming, the female-dominated Underpeople have chosen to stabilize their society by keep their men almost permanently in suspended animation, reviving them only temporarily to serve as sperm sources for impregnation. Darv and Telson have been targeted to bolster the Underpeople’s dwindling genetic stock.
Successfully fleeing Challenger II in Thorden’s ferry, the Challenger crew discovers that Challenger itself has disappeared. Fagor has seized control of the ship and is accelerating it away with the intention of plunging it into a sun to avenge Thorden. The crew carries out a harrowing pursuit in the ferry, constantly trying to produce enough velocity to cut down on a fatal time and oxygen shortfall. The Angels manage to trick Fagor into leaving the Challenger and flying via his own onboard jets to attack the ferry, hoping that the humans will destroy him with the ferry’s armament. This is successful, with Darv discovering that firing the cannon can also produce sufficient thrust to reach the Challenger in time. The crew re-enter suspended animation for the next part of the journey, but during their medical examinations the Angels discover that Astra is pregnant.
Wishing to maintain control of a future crew – and already wary of the rebellious Darv – the Angels plan to deliver Astra’s baby secretly. With these plans thwarted when they’re obliged to bring Astra out of suspended animation to avoid a miscarriage, they’re also forced to awake everyone in order to avoid arousing her suspicions. This is a particular risk for them as the ship is by then passing close to the Paradise solar system as detailed in the records found earlier by Darv. The Angels fear that the crew may still opt to colonise an undeveloped planet rather than lead the Angels to dominion over a developed one.
Discovering her own pregnancy, Astra then tells Darv, Suspecting that the Angels will try to harm the baby, she finally rejects them: refusing to go back into suspended animation, she and Darv flee into the Challenger’s uncontrolled zones to escape the Angels’ control. They discover and set up home in the ship’s long-lost terraforming centre, where there are more shuttles. While there, they witness survey footage of the Paradise planet on the centre’s control screens and eventually deduce that these are live video broadcasts from an instrument package left on the planet by the second-generation crew. This in turn allows them to pinpoint the position of Paradise.
Revealing what they have found to Telson and Sharna, Darv and Astra choose to leave the Challenger altogether and set up home on Paradise. With Sharna’s help, they persuade Telson to bring the ship close enough to Paradise for a one-way shuttle trip to the surface. Darv and Astra reach the planet successfully but lose all of their supplies when the shuttle crashes into the sea. Forced to live rough, and often terrified by the hardships of their new life, they make the best of what they have. Meanwhile, back on the Challenger, Telson and Sharna discover the physical location of the Angels within the ship – their Central Switching Room. Despite the Angels’ desperate attempts to protect themselves (via nightmare-inducing hallucinatory barriers), Telson and Sharna reach the room and finally see the Angels as they really are – two complex racks of organic integrated wetware circuits which could be destroyed with two blows of a hammer.
Having finally broken the control which the Angels wielded over the crew’s life, Telson and Sharna have them at their mercy. They strike a deal whereby the Angels will take the Challenger – now crewed by surgical androids – and continue the Earthsearch mission. Unhindered by the Angels, Telson and Sharna follow Astra and Darv to settle on Paradise, successfully landing on the planet with appropriate supplies and resources to begin their colony. All four former crew members watch the exhaust trail of the Challenger as it leaves Paradise orbit. They remind themselves that they will need to tell their children warning stories about the Angels, just in case they ever return.
Earthsearch eventually reveals itself as an inverted creation myth, providing a possible "factual" story which could lie behind various Earth legends. The story deliberately misleads the listener in order to gradually reveal that the planet Paradise is in fact the Earth of human history as we know it (with the original "Earth" being a previous forgotten homeworld for the human race) and that the legends of authoritative and fear-inducing "angels" refer to the domineering computers. Various clues are presented in that "Earth" and its sister planet Kyros and Zelda (the latter two clearly analoguous to Mars and Jupiter) are the second, third and fourth planets of their solar system rather than the third, fourth and fifth, while Paradise is the third planet of its own solar system (as is "our" Earth), although the different planetary names are at one point attributed to an administrative change of nomenclature.