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Earthsearch: A Ten-Part Adventure Serial in Time and Space is a BBC Radio 4 science fiction series written by James , comprising ten half-hour episodes broadcast between January and March 1981. The series has been released on cassette and audio CD, and has been rerun several times on BBC 7 beginning in 2003.

Some years before the story opens, the huge Earth starship Challenger, on a mission to find Earth-like planets for colonization, encountered a meteoroid shower that killed all of the adult crew and seriously damaged the ship. The only human survivors were four babies - two boys, Telson and Darv, and two girls, Sharna and Astra.

The four have been raised from childhood by androids and tutored by two disembodied voices called Angel One and Angel Two. Most of the humans believe the voices are real angels, but Darv is more suspicious and believes they are actually computers.

Darv is correct. The Angels are the Challenger's ancillary control computers. Due to a fault in their design they have become megalomaniacal and want to return to Earth and rule it. It was they who deliberately manoeuvred the Challenger into the path of the meteoroids and shut off the ship's defences. Unfortunately for them, they underestimated the amount of damage that would result, not only to the ship but themselves. As a result they have lost an unknown amount of potentially vital information about the nature of space and time.

They are also having difficulties with the human crew, despite retarding the onset of puberty with drugs in order to keep them sexually ignorant. Telson, now commander, and Sharna are compliant, but Darv is headstrong and independent and is beginning to win Astra over.

When the Challenger arrives in Earth's solar system, the crew and the Angels are equally surprised to discover that the Earth has vanished, leaving the moon behind. The irony is that the Angels now need Darv's rebellious mind to try to figure out where Earth has gone, otherwise they will have no planet to rule.

The rest of the series deals with the crew's attempts to solve the mystery, encountering various humans and computers, hostile and otherwise, on their travels, while attempting to throw off the Angels' control over them once and for all.

In the final episode the crew leave the Challenger to settle on a new planet which they call Paradise.

The story is continued in Earthsearch II. The prequel Mindwarp is set on the original Earth. While it has only a loose connection to the Earthsearch series, it sets the stage for it, and contains many familiar plot elements and character traits.

The series is notable for not violating the known laws of physics by introducing faster than light travel. Instead the crew must enter suspended animation while the ship is travelling. The crew's ignorance of the time dilation effect caused by relativity is a major plot point.


Episodes in Earthsearch:

  1. Planetfall
  2. First Footprint City
  3. Sands of Kyros
  4. The Solaric Empire
  5. The Pools of Time
  6. Across the Abyss
  7. New Blood
  8. Marooned
  9. Star Cluster: Tersus Nine
  10. Earthfall




Earthsearch 2: A New Adventure Serial in Time and Space is a BBC Radio 4 science fiction series written by James, comprising ten half-hour episodes broadcast between January and March 1982. There is also a novel by James under the title Earthsearch 2: Deathship. The series has been released on cassette and audio CD, and has been rerun several times on BBC 7 beginning in 2003.

At the end of Earthsearch, the crew of the starship Challenger settled on the Paradise planet, having never seen their original home planet that they called Earth. They left the Challenger's control computers, Angel One and Angel Two, in charge of the ship to continue the search for Earth.

Four years later, the crew have settled into their life on Paradise, despite many hardships they are suffering. Then suddenly, one of their children is killed by a 'monster' that appeared from the sea.

It transpires that this 'monster' is actually an android from the Challenger, which has returned. When the sea level begins to rise, the crew are suspicious of the Angels. They notice a large amount of radiation coming from the southern horizon, and they fly to Antarctica in their shuttle craft. There they find hundreds of towers embedded in the ice. The Angels are using terraforming equipment from the Challenger to melt the ice and thus raise the sea level in an attempt to get the crew to rejoin them on the ship.

The crew are adamant that they will not leave Paradise. The flood gets worse and worse, and will clearly soon submerge all the land. They load breeding pairs of animals into the shuttle cargo bay, and when the water level gets high enough, the shuttle floats. The crew are surviving, barely, and have beaten the Angels for the time being.

However, their situation deteriorates to the point where they have no more water to drink, so they eventually surrender to the Angels. First, however, they demand that the flood is reversed, so they can release the animals. Then they fly their shuttle up to the Challenger.

The crew are gassed by an android, and they become unconscious. When they come round, they discover that they have been in suspended animation for sixteen years. But the children, who were very young when they came on board, have been awake the whole time, and are now about twenty years old. Telson and Sharna's son, Bran, is now the commander.

The older crew have realised that the Angels have brought the human crew on board for a reason. The Angels are being attacked by mysterious transmissions which are weakening them. Higher intelligence androids (the type that the Angels use to run the ship) are also being affected by these transmissions. However, humans are totally unaffected. The Angels want to seek out and destroy the source of these transmissions, and they need the humans in order to achieve this.

Eventually, the Challenger arrives at its original home, Earth. It now orbits a new star, having been moved there a long time ago when its citizens realised their sun was going to go nova in a (geologically) short time. However, it does not look like the Earth that the crew have seen in recordings. This planet is almost totally dead. There is very little water, and no rain. The only sign of life is a huge tower on the equator, with a tiny village nearby.

The crew fly down to the village, and meet Peeron, the leader. The Earth's civilisation has collapsed a long time ago, and the human race is reduced to eking out a meager living from a tiny spring that grows weaker every year. It appears that the humans will be extinct in a short period of time.

The crew examine the tower. There is a door set into one side, but it cannot be moved. Peeron says that many of his predecessors have tried to open it over the centuries, by hitting it with battering rams, but it will not budge. It is said that it is held shut by a "lock of knowledge".

Darv eventually works out how to open the ingeniously simple lock. It requires a low grade of technology which would only be available to people who have already worked out basic principles of science and engineering.

When the crew open the door, they enter the tower, leaving Peeron and his people outside. They hear a voice, which introduces itself as "Earthvoice".

Earthvoice establishes contact with the Angels, and promises to join forces with them to rule the Earth. The Angels welcome him, but it is a trick. Earthvoice is the source of the attacks that have been weakening the Angels, and now he launches one last brutal attack from close range that destroys them.

Earthvoice explains to the crew that the tower was constructed by the people of Earth as a repository of all human knoweledge when their last great civilisation was collapsing. The lock was designed so that the people could not enter until they had already worked out how to make some technology for themselves. Unfortunately, Earthvoice has been helplessly watching the environmental conditions deteriorate, as he lacks any means to fix the problem.

The crew use the terraforming systems on the Challenger to bring rain to Earth. They create a stable weather pattern which will allow the people to flourish.

Rather than interfere further with the primitive human culture on Earth, they seal the door to the tower, return to the Challenger, and head back to their new home, Paradise.


Episodes in Earthsearch II

  1. Return
  2. Flood
  3. Surrender
  4. Solaria
  5. Sundeath
  6. Supermass
  7. Deathship
  8. Megalomania
  9. Earth
  10. Earthvoice



Earthsearch was featured in the Radio Times in January 1981. The article can be see here

radio times 1981

A large PDF version can be downloaded from here.

Men, Martians and Machines.

BBC7 3 Hour Earthsearch special tracing the origins of the Radio 4 SF serial and how it started on, literally, the back of an envelope. Includes formerly lost material. Presented & written by James Follett. 3 August 2003, produced by Martin Dempsey.

The program title is a tribute to the British SF writer Eric Frank Russell.