The Starlost

Set in the year 2790 A.D., The Starlost was set in the interior of a giant space ark that had escaped a now-dead Earth. The vessel drifted through space, out of control. The crew that controlled the vessel had been killed in an accident five hundred years earlier. The disaster caused the airlocks connecting the ship’s sections to secure, cutting off the residents in each of the domed areas. Cut off from the outside, many of these sub-communities forgot they were on a spacecraft and accepted that their world was a mere 50 miles wide with a sky made of metal. Being content with their new lives, few knew that their lives were in intense danger. The ark was on a collusion course with the sun.

The populations that inhabited the Ark were the descendants of a specific slice of humanity, primarily derived from the artisans, physicians, technicians and philosophers, all originally selected to be those most worth preserving of mankind. They were placed in a spacecraft 200 miles long that held 500,000 people in specialized domed regions designed to simulate living conditions on the surface of a planet. In some domes, representative cultures had been preserved, along with the animals and plants of Earth.

The lead character, Devon (Keir Dullea of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame), inadvertently discovers an access hatch that takes him from his isolated 1800s-style farming community into the heart of an advanced, technical access hallway where, to his astonishment, he discovers that he doesn’t actually live in a simple farming community modeled after the 1800s, but is an inhabitant of a domed region of a massive spacecraft. He also discovers the fate of the vessel. Through a series of mishaps, Devon eventually teams with his girlfriend Rachael (played by Gay Rowan), and his friend Garth, (played by Robin Ward), on a quest to save the space ark.

The 1973 Starlost series was loosely based on a concept created by Harlan Ellison, whose technical aspects were refined for television by “scientific advisor” Ben Bova. Ellison contracted writers such as A.E. Van Vogt, Frank Herbert, Joanna Russ, Thomas M. Disch, Alexei Panshin, Phillip K. Dick, and Ursula K. Le Guin to write storylines that were then scripted for television by the production staff. Douglas Trumbull served as Executive Producer and first tested the famous Magicam system, that later allowed the spectacular breakthrough in special effects used in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars.

The concept was fabulous. In application, it completely fell apart. The Starlost regressed into a low-budget, syndicated show whose special effects were ineffectively completed through the lower grade chroma-key method used in TV newscasts to put pictures behind the commentators. Trumbull left in frustration before actual production. He was soon followed by Ellison who only allowed his name to be used for the first episode. Jerome M. Zeitman remained as co-producer. With the departure of the two heavyweights, the studios further reworked the stories. The end product was a dismal reflection of the original concept. After only 16 episodes, The Starlost series was cancelled.