Saturday, 7 February 2015

Made in the 70s Saturday

It's hard to believe the amount of research that goes into writing a blog post that takes ten minutes to read. In fact, it took 17 hours of research to bring you...

The Starlost

My husband latched onto The Starlost last summer and read everything he could about it, then recited it back to me at random moments. "I did not know this, but..." is my cue that I'm going to hear about carburetors, single propeller planes or anything, really! Imagine a science fiction TV series with a stellar concept starring well-known actors and backed by two science fiction titans. Now imagine that series being produced in the age of Canuxploitation and shot on video while the entire concept falls apart before and during production! "Jill, just what are you rambling about? What is this show? Why haven't I heard of it? I'm a huge science fiction fan!" you may be saying. Wonder no more, my friend, because the Internet coughs up everything eventually. Bet you'd never guess that Keir Dullea, who played Dave Bowman from 2001: A Space Odyssey is the star of this series.

There's no shortage of blogs and YouTubers to help you understand the world of The Starlost. Harlan Ellison wrote the series bible and Ben Bova was brought on as science advisor. Both left the project (Ellison before it aired, Bova after six episodes) and the entire run of episodes was never finished.

I can sagely nod at the lost potential of The Starlost, and while many focus on the technical aspects, the failure of the Magicam system and goofy 70s haircuts, no one talks about the relationships between the three main characters. It's a glaring omission in my eyes. The backstory of the main three characters - Devon Rachel and Garth - makes up the entire amazing first episode. Devon is to be stoned to death after questioning the elders of rustic Cypress Corners and being a rabble rouser. He is in love with Rachel, but she is betrothed to his friend Garth. After discovering that their dome world is a sham, the three escape and go about exploring the interstellar ark in a "dome of the week" style format. Rachel chooses to leave with Devon because she loves him...but the love part is mostly forgotten, replaced with a quest to find the "back-up bridge" in order to save the Ark from certain doom. The tension that your best friend stealing your bride to be would have been amazing to explore! But if Garth is ever jealous or unhappy about being friendzoned, it never really shows. Despite having the freedom to love each other, Devon and Rachel remain pretty chaste. 

A complete lack of consistency is really the main problem with The Starlost (even the format of the titles change halfway through). The Canadian writers threw out tantalizing plot lines and intriguing characters without following up. The entire premise of the dome inhabitants being unaware of each other goes out the window with the introduction of dome paramedics. At least the main characters hold onto their naivete and innocence as inhabitants of an agrarian society. Bit by bit they stretch their thinking and learn from their strange encounters.

As much as possible for the time, The Starlost does have progressive roles for women as scientists, pilots and technicians and Rachel is far more than just a prop. Her modest ways shine in "Children of Methuselah" where she wins the trust of the children with compassion and love. Idona, in "The Alien Oro", amazes Garth as she works on some circuit boards. Idona does her best to ignore Garth as he tries to talk to her and tells her that he's never seen women use tools before.

My favourite episode is "Circuit of Death"
Despite having a reputation as one of the worst science fiction shows ever, The Starlost is not that bad. It looks like any episode of 70s vintage Dr. Who. It's just that it's futuristic ideas about dystopian societies and technology get lost in the slow pacing, low production values and twangy music. It's just begging to be remade. But until then, you can enjoy the novelization, the the graphic novel adaptation of the first episode or grab the whole series on DVD.