A Quantum Leap Primer

The following is adapted from the Quantum Leap Information Kiosk by Go-Captain Alvarez, one of the leading sites on information about the series:

Scott Bakula as Dr. Sam Beckett On March 26, 1989, Quantum Leap debuted on NBC as a mid-season replacement series. The series centers on the adventures of the multi-talented quantum physicist Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) whose time travel experiment has gone awry. Project Quantum Leap was developed in order to send a person traveling through time. Theorizing that one can time-travel within the span of one's own lifetime, Dr. Beckett's theories are brought into reality in a top secret project hidden deep in an mountain somewhere in New Mexico. On the verge of losing funding for the project, Sam sends himself back into the past exchanging places with a young US Air Force test pilot, demonstrating beyond any doubt that Project Quantum Leap is a success. Although the project keeps its funding, its principal investigator can't be brought home. Due to the failure of the retrieval system, or perhaps due to the intervention of a higher power, Sam finds himself leaping through the years from life to life, moving on only when he puts right what once went wrong in each person's life.

Dean Stockwell as Rear Admiral Al Calavicci Time travel is not easy for Sam Beckett, especially when you can't control where you might end up next. As an added complication, leaping messes with your mind. Although Sam usually remembers who he is after a leap, parts of his memory get scrambled each time, making it difficult for Sam to remember previous leaps, skills he possesses, and information he may have already known about the current time period (the swiss-cheese effect). Sam is assisted by a support team anchored in the "present" (the late 1990s). Rear Admiral Albert Calavicci (Dean Stockwell) is the Observer and he's also Sam's best friend. A small amount of neural material collected from both Sam and Al allows Ziggy (voice of Deborah Pratt), the semi-sentient, hybrid supercomputer to track Sam through time. While he is in the Imaging Chamber, Ziggy can project a holographic image of Sam's time period around Al. Sam, in turn, can see an image of Al in his own mind. Through the handlink to Ziggy (a palm top data terminal) Al can provide advice and information to Sam which will help him determine the nature of his mission and then complete it.

Exactly what Sam is supposed to "put right" each leap often remains a mystery well into each episode. When Sam leaps, he trades places with someone in the past. That person ends up in the "future" in the Project's Waiting Room (often scared and confused) while Sam takes their place. People in the past don't see Sam Beckett, they see the person he is replacing. Small changes for the better in the lives of seemingly anonymous people will often have major repercussions on significant historical events in our recent past.

A few other details I didn't find in the above summary:

Ziggy's main contribution to each episode is "her" connection to all of the major government and news databases, allowing her to figure out what it is Sam must do for the leap. At the Project, Al is the only one who sees the guest in the Waiting Room for who they are (everyone else sees Sam). At the end of a leap, the guest usually has few memories of the Waiting Room, due to the same "swiss-cheese effect" that plagues Sam.

In addition to Al, there are a few other known characters working at Project Quantum Leap. Gooshie (Dennis Wolfberg) is Ziggy's programmer, Verbena Beeks (Candy Ann Brown) is the staff psychologist, and Tina (Gigi Rice) is a "Pulse Communication Technician" who has affairs with both Al and Gooshie.

There are a few exceptions to the general rule that people in the past are unable to see Sam for who he is: Al, young children, animals, the "mentally absent", those on the verge of death, and psychics. A few times members of these groups were even able to see Al. Also, when Sam looks into a mirror he sees the person he leaped into instead of himself.

There is a great deal of fanfiction for this series, including fully-authorized published novels. I haven't read very much of it, but what I have noticed is a larger than normal amount of crossover fiction, something that is to be expected given that the original series included homages to a number of standard styles (mobster story, musical, film noir, and sports story, to name a few off the top of my head). A good place to look for amateur fanfiction is the alt.ql.creative Archives.

Some very-technical points that you probably don't need to know:

"Leaping" as a process involves a swapping of bodies, while the "aura" or physical appearance is left in place. What this means is that if Sam leaps into someone with no legs he is still capable of walking, even though to other people it would look like he is floating. As to the matter of height differences it has been speculated by some fan writers that Sam is physically "mapped" into the height of the person he's leaping into. As for the "aura" and why some individuals can see through it, my best theory is that this aura is in some sense transparent, rather like a ghost, so that when someone looks at Sam (in the past) or at the leapee (in the future) what they see is both images at once. However, the conscious mind (in most cases) is only able to concentrate on one of the two images at a time, and apparently the aura is easier to focus on than the actual image "behind" it. The fact that this is actually a psychological trick (seeing what you want to see) is revealed by who can see through it--those with no prior expectations as to what reality is supposed to look like. In a few episodes, a character close to Sam or the leapee was able to see through the aura through a process of concentration or by somehow tuning their mind to Sam's "wavelength". A similar tuning would explain how anyone could see Al, since as near as I can tell he has no physical existence in Sam's world and only exists as a hologram in Sam's visual cortex.

The show never stated explicitly who or what was controlling Sam's leaps. Sam and Al's best guess is that this controller is God, based on the fact that Sam only seems to leap into lives in crisis and because he only leaps out once he has materially improved the leapee's life. If this is correct, then this would make Sam into a sort of honorary "guardian angel" whose job is to correct lives that have been disrupted. The flipside of this speculation is the question of who has been disrupting these lives in the first place. If Satan is at work behind the scenes, he is even more secretive than God. His most likely agents are the "Evil Leapers", introduced in Season Five of the series. The "Evil Leapers" come from several decades after Project Quantum Leap, possibly in an alternate future. Rather than improve people's lives, the other project's goal appears to be to use the potential of time travel to amass riches and exploitable information. The leaper in this project is named Alia, and her Observer is Zoey. Their computer is called Lothos.

Picture of Scott Bakula taken from Quantum Leaping 2001.

Picture of Dean Stockwell taken from the Quantum Leap Information Kiosk

This page maintained by McPoodle43 @t Yahoo.com. Page last updated March 24, 2003 (when it was ported over from Newton's pages).