Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Starlost

In 1973 I really wanted to see THE STARLOST. I had read about it in TV GUIDE and comics and STAR TREK fan mags. I saw the ads in TV GUIDE. never aired in the Cincinnati market. It aired in Dayton and this was listed in the TV listings but it was on the one Dayton channel we could barely get even if weather conditions were right. I checked every week and only once was able to tune it in at all...and then lost it long before the hour was up. In 1973, I never saw THE STARLOST.

My wife hadn't seen it either but she had bought the book above, published in 1975 and telling the originally intended introductory story (along with an essay as to why that wasn't what aired.)

The basic premise, designed to take advantage of the vast STAR TREK fandom of the early seventies, was developed by Harlan Ellison with Ben Bova as science advisor and 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY's special effects wizard Douglas Trumbull on the team as well.

Unfortunately, the production ended up as a low-budget, shot on video series made in Canada. Trumbull's "revolutionary" special effects didn't work and were scrapped, leaving the whole project looking vaguely like a cross between middle period DOCTOR WHO and a Gerry Anderson puppet series.

I knew little of those issues in 1973. I just knew that I wasn't able to see a series I really wanted to see.

When I finally did see THE STARLOST for the first time it was 2010. I liked it! By that point, I'd read all the stories and knew all the behind the scenes drama. I also knew what to expect and for what they had to work with, THE STARLOST is good!

The story deals with a giant "Ark" spaceship which, in an effort to help humanity survive, is sent away from an earth facing certain disaster. The ship features many separate biospheres. Over time, the residents lose track of the fact that they're on a spaceship and develop their own civilizations i each dome. Our heroes are two men and a woman who team up and travel between the domes getting captured, saving oppressed people and having adventures. Keir Dullea, star of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY was the unfortunately dull choice for leading man. Actress Gay Rowan and Canadian actor/announcer Robin Ward (oddly, a later host of the US game show TO TELL THE TRUTH) are his sidekicks.

Some of the writing is actually quite good with a number of episodes based on Ellison's ideas. Because of the downtrending of the production, however, Harlan opted to use his alternate credit of Cordwainer Bird. Familiar faces abound with John Colicos, Barry Morse, Walter Koenig and Ed Ames prominent among them.

Although never a hit, THE STARLOST is a fascinating footnote in sci-fi TV and now, in the age of Internet and DVD, a wider audience finally has access to it...including me!

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