Quantum Leap
Season 5

Starring: Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell
Universal Pictures UK
RRP: 27.99
Certificate: 12
Available 26 December 2006

Theorising that one could time travel within his own lifetime, Dr. Sam Beckett stepped into the Quantum Leap accelerator and vanished... He woke to find himself trapped in the past, facing mirror images that were not his own and driven by an unknown force to change history for the better. His only guide on this journey is Al, an observer from his own time, who appears in the form of a hologram that only Sam can see and hear. And so Dr. Beckett finds himself leaping from life to life, striving to put right what once went wrong and hoping each time that his next leap will be the leap home...

So began the prologue to Quantum Leap, which ran for five seasons between 1989 and 1993, created by Don Bellisario from an idea which had previously appeared both in the original Battlestar Galactica show (Experiment in Terra) and the film Heaven can Wait.

The premise of the show is that Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), following an ill advised early use of his accelerator, finds himself, each episode, in the body of another person whose life needs altering for the better. Each week he was helped in his quest by Al (Dean Stockwell). Generally the show had a massive feel good factor as Sam leaps around making peoples lives better. Though there was a minor Christian undercurrent to the show, much of its appeal came from its unequivocal moral stance, the interplay between Al and Sam, and undoubtedly Bakula's Tom Hanks like ability to ooze "niceness" into every frame.

With such an open-ended format Sam could be anyone who had been alive during his lifetime; the show had the opportunity to place Bakula's character at the heart of some of the most intriguing historical events of the past forty years. Although, at times, it did indeed go down this path, it was the more personal stories of tragedy and triumph which were the shows main staple and its strength. Admittedly, by the fifth season the show had to experiment with its format so as not to become repetitive. Some of these changes worked better than others, but to its credit the show ended on a high note with the last episode.

This box set represents the fifth and final season of the show. Its main change to the format was the introduction of the evil leapers (Eps Deliver Us From Evil) who are in direct conflict with Sam's work. This change drew much controversy to the show, with fans taking sides on whether this was an expansion of the format or a complete turkey of an idea. That said, the show opened strongly, generally maintained its level of quality and ended in an appropriately enigmatic way.

The opening show of the fifth season was Lee Harvey Oswald, a two-parter that did what it said on the box, with Sam leaping into various different times in Lee's life. There are many ways the show could have gone with this. The assassination of JFK was, and continues to be, shrouded in controversy - a veritable field day for the conspiracy theorists. The show rightly goes with the single shooter theory, which allows them to concentrate on Sam's attempt to stop history repeating itself.

Given the emotionally charged Oswald, the next show is a light-hearted little number Leaping of the Shrew, which is a cross between The Blue Lagoon and The Taming of the Shrew, where Sam finds himself stranded on a desert island with a rich and unpleasant young woman.

With Nowhere to Run the show returns to its staple type story, with Sam leaping into the body of a Vietnam vet who must stop a fellow soldier from killing himself following the loss of his legs.

Disc two opens with Killin' Time and is a show that I remember well from the show's first run. Sam finds himself in a house with a mother and child. Worse still he quickly discovers that he is an escaped killer, whom the sheriff is determined to kill. His only way out is to persuade the woman that he is not really the killer, but Sam, so that he can buy himself enough time to resolve the situation. Once again, following an emotionally charged show, the tone reverts to light-hearted with a story of a son who wants to have his father committed for seeing UFO's in Star Light, Star Bright. Okay, that doesn't sound very light-hearted, but trust me; it's a matter of degree, given the previous shows.

Deliver Us From Evil saw the show take a dramatic new turn with the introduction of evil jumpers who are out to stop Sam changing history. I remember, when I first saw this episode, that I thought that this was a really bad idea. And even today, after so much time has passed, my opinion hasn't changed. It wasn't that the evil jumper shows weren't well written, or that there was a sudden downturn in the quality of acting, for me it ran deeper; it just wasn't Quantum Leap. With no logical idea why this should be I can only assume that it was a form of Luddite mentality that affected those of us who felt the same way. Anyway, Sam finds himself back with Jimmy LaMotta, a downs Syndrome guy who had appeared in a previous episode. Sam is in a quandary, as he cannot understand why, having sorted out Jimmy's lift, it should all be going wrong. At first he tries to do nothing, thinking that it was something that he was doing that was altering history for the worst, until he uncovers the evil leapers.

Disc three shows a taste for longer stories and a continued desire to experiment with the format. The next story is spread over three episodes: One Little Heart, For your Love and The Last Door. The story takes place over a considerable time period and is a murder mystery involving Abigail, who is accused of murder, at various points in her life Sam leaps in to save the day. Strangely enough the show works very well as a three-parter and doesn't feel like it has much in the way of padding. With Promised Land the show is back to its "setting things right" type of story, when Sam leaps in to help some farmers save their homestead from an evil banker. The nice thing about this episode is that we discover that this is Sam's hometown, which obviously brings up the dilemma of whether he should go and see his deceased parents and even if he did, what would he say?

Disc four opens with A Tale of two Sweeties which finds Sam in a quandary. The computer at the project says that he must choose between two families but doesn't know which one to choose, leaving Sam with only a fifty-fifty chance of getting it right. In Liberation, the show goes back to the slightly preachy stance that it sometimes took. Sam turns up as a woman, not for the first time, at the turning point of the Women's Liberation Movement. Apart from saving the daughter from an untimely death, Sam spends a lot of the time convincing stereotypical fifties father that liberation of the females in his household does not mean the end of his world, or masculinity. Anyone of a certain age will remember Dr Ruth, a petite, white haired Jewish grandmother figure who would turn up on television giving sex advice to embarrassed couples a quarter of her age. Always good TV, and the perfect excuse to base a show around her. So, in Dr Ruth she appears as herself helping Al come to terms with his relationship with the women in his life whilst Sam has to deal with a case of sexual harassment. The last story on disc four is Blood Moon which is a case of vampires and things going bump in the night.

Disc five opens with another of the dubious evil leaper stories with Return of the Evil Leaper, which even sounds like a cheesy fifties film, before we even get to the story. The story is okay as far as it goes, but really can't be considered as a high point of the series. Sam has to try and stop frat initiation ceremonies. For reasons of flaky logic, Arnold, Sam's host, wants to kill himself due to his parent death. To add problems to the mixture, the evil leapers have gotten involved and Sam is not going to take the interference without a fight. Goodbye Norma Jean is not a story based on Elton John's song but about the death of Marilyn Monroe. Sam pops into her driver and, like any full blooded male, wants to try and save her from her fate. The disc closes with The Beast Within, which is kind of like a cheap version of The Deer Hunter, which deals with the consequences of the Vietnam War, a theme that the show had visited more than once.

Obviously the show's writers have never heard the phrase "if isn't broke don't fix it" or even "if you set up a premise then you kinda have to stick with it", as in The Leap Between States Sam leaps into the body of his great grandfather. Hold on what happened to only being able to leap into history which had only happened within his own lifetime? Once again it's not a bad story, but you get the feeling that the writers were running out of ideas which could be used within the stated format. The penultimate episode is Memphis Melody where Sam finds himself in Elvis Presley prior to his Sun Records discovery.

The last episode on the final disc, Mirror Image, is probably the most discussed and argued about. Sam leaps into a bar, where for the first time he can see himself in a mirror and not the reflection of the person he has leaped into. There is an uninteresting back story about a rescue in a mine but that's not what will draw you to the story. For the first time Sam can see other jumpers popping in and out of reality, which means that he is not the only one. In addition there are the conversations with the barman, who Sam suspects is the person leaping him through time. Although Sam confronts him with this, and even the accusation that he may well be God, the barman denies all - though he does seem to have more insight into what is making Sam leap than he should be. I won't spoil the ending for you but it always brings a bit of a tear to these old jaded eyes.

The discs don't come with any extras, except a trailer reel on the first disc. Audio is the original stereo, but the visuals are nice and clean and the whole thing runs to a magnificent sixteen and a half hours.

To be honest you can't fault this collection and it's pretty much a steal at this price. The quality of the stories rarely drops and Bakula is always a joy to watch.

Charles Packer

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