The Prince of Wails

Seasons 1 & 2
DVD Box Set
Region 1 NTSC

Seasons 1 & 2
DVD Box Set
Region 2 PAL
(Sliders Story No. 3, starring Jerry O'Connell)
  • written by Lee Goldberg & William Rabkin
  • directed by Felix Alcalá
  • produced by Steven Ecclesine
  • music by Mark Mothersbaugh
  • 1 episode @ 45 minutes
Story: Finding themselves in the British States of America, the vow that the Sliders make to remain uninvolved goes awry when they become mixed up in a plot to assassinate the prince, and discover that the evil Sheriff of San Francisco is none other than Arturo's double.

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.

Incoming writers to new series often have some difficulty knowing which elements of the show are etched in stone, and which ones were merely the "story of the week" that happened to feature in the pilot. In this tale, writers Lee Goldberg & William Rabkin successfully create an interesting new world for their story, and launch it off in an interesting direction, but then wind up repeating too many of same ideas found in the second half of the pilot story. No matter whose order you choose to watch the early episodes in, it's simply too soon for repeats.

The episode begins where "Summer of Love" (story no. 2) left off, so it still is best to watch the two stories back-to-back. And these opening segments prove to be the best portions of the episode, full of sci-fi situations, special effects, humour, and interesting premises. Good stuff.

The hotel-stay mentality that features in many later stories is featured here for the first time, alas all too briefly. Then, discarding the complexity of city-based society, we find ourselves in the relative simplicity of the woods where the next series of events might be a bit more plausible.... if only there weren't so many coincidences to take care of. The story is delivering good stuff up until the rebels are encountered, at which point the red flags of too much coincidence go off, and character portrayals begin to become too caricaturish and silly.

The story then reveals it has not so much been developed naturally from the premise of a plausible parallel world, but rather as a modernization of the legends of Robin Hood. Not a bad idea, but with many elements of modern society glossed over, it feels like a forced fit, and the believability factor suffers accordingly.

The Sliders' options for non-involvement, uninteresting as they may have been, quickly expire, reminding me strongly of similar motivational problems in "The Crusade" (Doctor Who story no. 14), particularly in its novelized form.

But interestingly, Quinn is quickly bitten by the bug to be a hero, leading the others (some reluctantly) into the idea of embracing involvement. He quickly proves that he is less than brilliant about it, unable to create a coherent bluff about his reason for bringing Arturo to the rebels. One minute he's supposed to be the real Sheriff brought to be a prisoner/hostage, the next it's important they know he's just a look-alike so they don't kill him. Quinn attempts to play both these cards at the same time interchangeably during one rallying argument with the rebels, and he manages to look fairly silly at it. Luckily, the rebel crowd audience is refreshingly well fleshed out in its responses, unlike what we got in "The Daemons" (Doctor Who story no. 59), and that audience is very believably less discerning than Quinn and his gang, allowing emotion and mob-mentality to govern its allegiances. Quinn reaches desperately for any famous uplifting saying he can remember, whether it helps or has anything to do with the situation or not, spouting it with the energy of a motivational speaker gone mad. His audience is dumb enough to buy it believably, but it doesn't make great TV.

Coming back from a commercial break, one may easily not recognize at first as part of the show the montage sequence that covers several days worth of "Robin Hood" activities that Quinn has inspired the rebels to perform, both because it is quite some time before any recognizable regulars or guest stars appear, and also because Mark Mothersbaugh chose to back the sequence with a jarring piece of music that seems more appropriate for frenzied advertising than the show itself. Quinn and Wade get some interesting dialogue-less moments during the sequence, which work really well for their character arcs - nice touch.

Wade's dialogue scenes with the prince are not as great. Although the actors do a good job with what they get, the script itself seems unnecessarily padded with attempts at secrecy, skirting around the hot porridge instead of honestly hitting at the heart of the issues and dealing with them. Wade could easily and truthfully come out and say that she needs to go far away in a few days and will likely never be back. Her inexplicable inability to do so reminds me of so many similar situations written by David Whitaker in early Doctor Who stories. Interestingly, Wade immediately goes on to have a far superior scene with Quinn. They are completely honest with each other, and thus get dialogue that achieves far more, and in about 1/3 of the time. Jerry O'Connell and Sabrina Lloyd knock the scene out of the park with great performances. Excellent.

Quinn's shaky heroics go down the drain in the all important final stages of the story though. We are set-up for Quinn to go out and do something really special all on his own, only to have him get captured and need rescuing throughout the story's conclusion. Luckily, Arturo steps up to the plate, and masterminds a brilliant conclusion with the help of the others. It's Ian Chesterton upstaging William Hartnell's Doctor all over again. Unfortunately, Mark Mothersbaugh initiates this angle by creating another overly frenzied and jarring cue for the supposedly stealthy sequence of Quinn following the prince back into town, which doesn't help. Music is just not this episode's strong point.

Another dynamic is also at work, with the prince being a secondary local hero who learns from our regular characters, and they clearly hand the baton over to him before the end. Reminds me of the dynamic with the character of Penley in "The Ice Warriors" (Doctor Who story no. 39). Nicely done. Another nice touch is the fun Rembrandt makes of Arturo trying to recreate the U.S. constitution exactly, when really they have the freedom to make any improvements or appropriate customizations they want. If only Gene Roddenberry had had some similar wisdom back when he wrote "The Omega Glory" (Star Trek story no. 54), which was absolutely ridiculous in its misuse of the symbolism. "The Prince of Wails" here is much, much better, without the constitution being a great idea for the conclusion in the first place.

Although more time is taken to flesh out the social dynamics of this world than was done back in the Russian America seen in the second half of the pilot, Russian America perhaps got away with it a little better by being more archetypal, and needing fewer explanatory scenes, thus being able to focus on more interesting scenes. Sheriff Arturo is played well enough by Rhys-Davies in this tale, effectively frightening when appropriate, yet his addiction for spending so much time in TV studios is bizarre, and without seeing how the common people actually react (as was demonstrated brilliantly in "Vengeance on Varos" - Doctor Who story no. 139), really lacks balance and purpose. Gary Jones is also back from the pilot story, playing yet another double of the character Hurley. His familiar ineptitude is most welcome, being another good element that doesn't quite manage to raise the calibre of the story very much.

Ultimately, "The Prince of Wails" is not a great episode, chiefly abandoning the sci-fi genre in an attempt to be a bit of a political-thriller adventure, and not being sophisticated enough to really pull it off. Although not a bad adventure either by any means, it is easily the lowest ranking of the three Sliders stories produced up until this time....

This story has become available on DVD. Click on the Amazon symbol for the location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Seasons 1 & 2
DVD Box Set
Region 1 NTSC
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
Seasons 1 & 2
DVD Box Set
Region 2 PAL
for the U.K.
Season 1 DVD Box Set
Region 1 NTSC - new for 2012
for the North American market:
Canada 1
Canada 2

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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "Fever"

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