The Starlost

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The Starlost
The Starlost - intro.jpg
The Starlost title card from the original series.
Genre Science fiction
Created by Harlan Ellison (as Cordwainer Bird)
Written by Harlan Ellison (as Cordwainer Bird)
George Ghent
Norman Klenman
Martin Lager
Directed by Harvey Hart
Martin Lager
George McCowan
Leo Orenstein
Ed Richardson
Joseph L. Scanlan
Starring Keir Dullea
Gay Rowan
Robin Ward
Country of origin Canada
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 1
No. of episodes 16
Executive producer(s) William Davidson
Gerry Rochon
Douglas Trumbull
Jerome M. Zeitman
Producer(s) William Davidson
Ed Richardson
Gerry Rochon
Douglas Trumbull
Jerome M. Zeitman
Editor(s) Bernie Clayton
Gordon Stoddard
Camera setup Single-camera
Running time 50 mins.
Production company(s) 20th Century Fox Television
CTV Television Network
Glen Warren Productions
Distributor Bell Media
20th Television
Original channel CTV
Original run September 22, 1973 (1973-09-22) – January 5, 1974 (1974-01-05)

The Starlost is a Canadian-produced science fiction television series created by writer Harlan Ellison and broadcast in 1973 on CTV in Canada and syndicated to local stations in the United States. The show's setting is a huge generational colony spacecraft called Earthship Ark, which has gone off course. Many of the descendants of the original crew and colonists are unaware, however, that they are aboard a ship. The series experienced a number of production difficulties, and Ellison broke with the project before the airing of its first episode.[1][2]


Foreseeing the destruction of the Earth, humanity builds a multi-generational starship called Earthship Ark, 80 kilometres (50 mi) wide and 320 kilometres (200 mi) long. The ship contains dozens of biospheres, each kilometres across and housing people of different cultures; their goal is to find and seed a new world of a distant star. More than one hundred years into the voyage, an unexplained accident occurs, and the ship goes into emergency mode, whereby each biosphere is sealed off from the others.

Four hundred five years after the accident, Devon (Keir Dullea) a resident of Cypress Corners, a conservative agrarian community with a culture resembling that of the Amish, discovers that his world is far larger and more mysterious than he had realized. Considered an outcast because of his questioning of the way things are, especially his refusal to accept the arranged marriage of his love Rachel (Gay Rowan) to his friend Garth (Robin Ward), Devon finds the Cypress Corners elders have been deliberately manipulating the local computer terminal, which they call "The Voice of The Creator". The congregation pursues Devon for attacking the elders and stealing a computer cassette on which they have recorded their orders, and its leaders plot to execute him, but the elderly Abraham, who also questions the elders, gives Devon a key to a mysterious doorway, which Abraham himself is afraid to enter. The frightened Devon escapes into the service areas of the ship and accesses a computer data station that explains the nature and purpose of the Ark and hints at its problems.

When Devon returns to Cypress Corners to tell his community what he has learned, he is put on trial for heresy and condemned to death by stoning. Escaping on the night before his execution with the aid of Garth, Devon convinces Rachel to come with him, and Garth pursues them. When Rachel refuses to return with Garth, he joins her and Devon. Eventually they make their way to the ship's bridge, containing the skeletal remains of its crew. It is badly damaged and its control systems are inoperative. The three discover that the Ark is on a collision course with a Class G star similar to the Sun, and realize that the only way to save The Ark and its passengers is to find the backup bridge and reactivate the navigation and propulsion systems. Occasionally, they are aided by the ship's partially functioning computer system, portrayed by the deep voiced William Osler (1933-2008).[citation needed]

20th Century Fox was involved in the project with Douglas Trumbull as executive producer. Science fiction writer and editor Ben Bova was brought in as science advisor.[citation needed]

Development and production[edit]

Harlan Ellison was approached by Robert Kline, a 20th Century Fox television producer, to come up with an idea for a science fiction TV series consisting of eight episodes, to pitch to the BBC as a co-production in February 1973.[1] The BBC rejected the idea.[2] Unable to sell "The Starlost" for prime time, Kline decided to pursue a low budget approach and produce it for syndication. By May, Kline had sold the idea to 48 NBC stations and the Canadian CTV network.[1]

To get Canadian government subsidies the production was shot in Canada and Canadian writers produced the scripts from story outlines by Ellison.[1]

Before Ellison could begin work on the show's production bible, a writers' strike began, running from March 6 to June 24.[3] Kline negotiated an exception with the Writer's Guild, on the grounds that the production was wholly Canadian — and Ellison went to work on a bible for the series.[1]

A drawing from the Magicam patent showing the basic arrangement of the system - a servo controlled dolly along with a secondary periscope camera filming a model background.

Originally, the show was to be filmed with a special effects camera system developed by Doug Trumbull called Magicam. The system comprised two cameras whose motion was servo controlled. One camera would film actors against a blue screen, while the other would shoot a model background. The motion of both cameras was synchronized and scaled appropriately, allowing both the camera and the actors to move through model sets. The technology did not work reliably. In the end, simple blue screen effects were used, forcing static camera shots.[2]

The failure of the Magicam system was a major blow — as the Canadian studio space that had been rented was too small to build the required sets. In the end, partial sets were built, but the lack of space hampered production.[2]

As the filming went on, Ellison grew disenchanted with the budget cuts, details that were changed, and what he characterized as the progressive dumbing down of the story. Ellison's dissatisfaction extended to the new title of the pilot episode; he had titled it "Phoenix Without Ashes" but it was changed to "Voyage of Discovery".

Before the production of the pilot episode was completed, Ellison invoked a clause in his contract to force the producers to use his alternative registered writer's name of "Cordwainer Bird" on the end credits. This was a signal to anyone who knew him to show how disgusted he was with the whole business (see Alan Smithee for the motion picture industry equivalent).

Sixteen episodes were made. Fox decided not to pick up the options for the remainder of the series after seeing how badly it was doing in the ratings. Bova, frustrated that his advice was ignored, saw the first show when it was broadcast and quit. He asked the producers to take his name off the credits of all the shows but he did not have a clause like Ellison's in his contract, so he remained credited.

TV scriptwriter Norman Klenman stated that he was called in to work on The Starlost because the production team were unable to deal with Ellison. Klenman claims he rewrote the pilot script, hired the writers for the series, chose the themes of the episodes and wrote four and heavily rewrote eight more episodes.

Reception and impact[edit]

On March 31, 1974, Ellison received a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay for the original script (the pilot script as originally written, not the version that was filmed). A novelization of this script by Edward Bryant, Phoenix Without Ashes, was published in 1975; this contained a lengthy foreword by Ellison describing what had gone on in production. In 2010 the novel was adapted in comic book form by IDW Publishing.

Bova, in an editorial in Analog Science Fiction (June 1974) and in interviews in fanzines, made it clear how disgruntled he had been as science adviser. In 1975, he published a novel entitled The Starcrossed, depicting a scientist taken on as a science adviser for a terrible science fiction series.

The Starlost has generally received a negative reception from historians of science fiction television: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction described The Starlost as "dire".[4] while the book The Best of Science Fiction TV included The Starlost in its list of the "Worst Science Fiction Shows of All Time" (along with Space: 1999, Lost in Space, Buck Rogers in the 25 Century, and Manimal). [5]


Episode Title Synopsis
1 "The Beginning" a.k.a. "Voyage of Discovery" Forced to leave his village because of persecution, Devon discovers his people live on a huge spacecraft
2 "Lazarus from the Mist" While Garth is held by "cavemen" descendants of the service crew, Devon and Rachel awaken a scientist from suspended animation to help repair the Ark
3 "The Goddess Calabra" The trio visit a biosphere populated only by men, whose governor desires to marry Rachel, who resembles a goddess worshipped in the community
4 "The Pisces" (also titled "The Return") An exploratory vessel returns after an apparent ten-year journey, but in reality has been hundreds of years.
5 "Children of Methuselah" Thinking they've found the backup bridge of the Ark, they discover a module occupied by children who believe they've been piloting the Ark since it left Earth
6 "And Only Man Is Vile" A scientist intent on breeding a hardier race of humans tries to prove man is too selfish
7 "Circuit of Death" A disillusioned man triggers the self-destruction of the Ark but intends to escape; he and Devon must undergo miniaturization to stop the detonation
8 "Gallery of Fear" A computer desires to become autonomous and tricks the trio into completing its programming
9 "Mr. Smith of Manchester" The trio find their way past a mysterious high-security biosphere entrance and discover a distrusting, power-mad ruler who tries to assure them of his peaceful intents while he pollutes his city to produce armaments
10 "The Alien Oro" An alien sent on a reconnaissance mission has crashed into the Ark and is now harvesting parts to repair his ship to return home; Garth falls for a woman who must leave with Oro in order to survive
11 "The Astro Medics" After Devon is injured by radiation, a medical ship that orbits the Ark comes to his aid, but the doctor who can help him is too intrigued by the possibility of helping aliens who've signalled for help
12 "The Implant People" The trio visit a biosphere where a despotic servant to the leader terrorizes the population with pain produced from mandatory implants
13 "The Return of Oro" Oro returns... as commander of Earthship Ark. He tells the trio and their temporary companion that his home world can support the people from Earth, but Devon discovers otherwise when a robot is asked the correct questions
14 "Farthing's Comet" A scientist alters the Ark's course to pass through a comet's tail so he can study it; Devon must make an EVA to rewire a panel so the service reactors can be fired again; cometary debris damages the biospheres
15 "The Beehive" The trio visit a science installation where a scientist has bred giant mutant bees
16 "Space Precinct" Garth decides to return to Cypress Corners, but he is recruited into the inter-ark police force by an officer intending to take a flight to assist in resolving an interplanetary conflict
  • According to "Starlog Photo Guidebook TV Episode Guides Volume 1" (1981), there are two other episodes: "God That Died" and "People In The Dark". It is not known if these are two un-aired episodes, unfinished episodes, or scripts that never got filmed.

Episodes of the original series were rebroadcast in 1978 and further in the 1982. A number of episodes were also edited together to create movie-length instalments that were sold to cable television broadcasters in the late 1980s.

Movie Episodes
The Starlost: The Beginning "Voyage of Discovery" and "The Goddess Calabra"
The Starlost: The Return "The Pisces" and "Farthing's Comet"
The Starlost: Deception "Mr. Smith of Manchester" and "Gallery of Fear"
The Starlost: The Alien Oro "The Alien Oro" and "The Return of Oro"
The Starlost: The Invasion "The Astro Medics" and "The Implant People"

Commercial releases[edit]

All 16 episodes were at one time available in a VHS boxed set.

The first DVD release was limited to the five feature-length edited versions.[6]

In fall 2008 the full series was released on DVD by VCI Entertainment. Aside from the digitally remastered episodes, a "presentation reel" created for potential broadcasters is also included. Hosted by Dullea and Trumbull, and predating Ellison's departure as he is credited under his own name with creating the series, the short feature includes sample footage using the later-abandoned Magicam technology, some filmed special effects footage taken from other productions along with model footage from the film Silent Running to represent the "Earthship Ark" concept, and a different series logo. Dullea's character is also referred to by a different name than that used in the final production.

Major characters[edit]

Episode Name Actor Character (in order of appearance)
1 Jeremiah Sterling Hayden Leader of Cypress Corners congregation
1- Devon Keir Dullea Adult outcast and orphan from Cypress Corners
1- Rachel Gay Rowan Devon's love interest, Garth's betrothed, "Goddess Calabra"
1- Garth Robin Ward Blacksmith from Cypress Corners
1 Abraham Gillie Fenwick Wise old 'fool' in Cypress Corners
1- Mu Lambda 165 William Osler Sphere Projector visualization programmed for general information; also computer voice and narrator
1,5 boy and 4 Prosecutor Scott Fisher short-straight red hair
1,8 Rachel's mother Aileen Seaton
1,8,13 Garth's father Jim Barron
2 Dr. Gerald W. Aaron Frank Converse Enclosure 78 Row 54 Section C, 090-40-6930, age 40 years, Radiation virus terminal 2hrs. A-34S Communications electronic engineer
2 James T. Atkinson 2nd of 17 Earthship ARK design and construction engineers suspended in cryonic vault
2 Sergeant Doug McGrath Leader of degenerate vault security guard descendants
2 1st Tube Dweller Clive Endersby
2 2nd Tube Dweller Mel Tuck
2 Jane Gregory-Aaron Vivian Reis Nuclear engineer, Dr. Gerald W. Aaron's long-dead wife
3 Captain Brad Michael Kirby promoted to Colonel Government house guard
3 Governor John Colicos Governor of State
3 Shaliff Barry Morse Head-priest of Temple, formerly Colonel in Guard
4 Colonel M. P. Garroway Lloyd Bochner Commander of ARK vessel Spaceship Pisces, age 44 years, 6', weight 173, health rating AAG3
4 Captain Janice Diana Barrington Electronic technician field promoted to Captain of Spaceship Pisces
4 Navigator Teale Carol Lazare
4 Admiral Baines unknown, only Gold Security Clearance rank crew
4 Captain Rodgers unknown
4 Captain Armstrong Former Captain of Spaceship Pisces, died while on away mission
4 A. C. Garroway long-dead relative of Colonel M. P. Garroway
4 Milton Carnes, Mabel Carnes, and George Carnes long-dead relatives of Captain Janice
4 Rick Malloy long-dead 32 year-old boyfriend of Navigator Teal
4 Daisy Garroway long-dead daughter of Colonel M. P. Garroway
5 1 David Tyrell Captain of Alpha (bridge) complex, boy, medium-curly blonde-red hair
5 Grand Council
6 Dr. Asgard Simon Oakland
6 Dr. Diana Tabor Irena Mayeska
6 Lethe Trudy Young woman
6 Village Elder Tim Whelan
6 Villager A John Bethune
7 I. A. Richards Percy Rodriguez electronic technician, First Class, from Biosphere Alpha 5, Valerie's father, former leader of dissolved & defeated citizens' party administrative assembly (by control party)
7 Valerie Richards Narene Virgin epileptic daughter of I. A. Richards, from Biosphere Alpha 5
7 Cort Calvin Butler Valerie Richards's friend, Biosphere Alpha 5 security
8 Daphne Angel Tompkins woman
8 Magnus Allen Stewart-Coates Earthship ARK commander's personal computer
8 Monster Danny Dodgkins
8 Admiral George Austin William Clune first officer commanding Earthship ARK
8 computer voice Jim Barron
9 Secretary Pattie Elsasser
9 Trent Pat Galloway aide
9 President Mr. Smith Ed Ames
9 City man Les Ruby
9 Nurse Doris Petrie
10 Egreck 419B2 Idona Alexandra Bastedo could not have children
10 & 13 Oro of planet Xar Walter Koenig Alien


Episode Name Role
1-8- William Davidson Producer
1-8- Douglas Trumbull Executive Producer
1-8- Jerry Zeitman Executive Producer
1-16 Cordwainer Bird (pseudonym for Harlan Ellison) Creator; Writer, Episode 1
2 Douglas Hall Writer
2 Don Wallace Writer
1- Leo Orenstein Director
2- Ed Richardson Associate Producer
2,6 Norman Klenman Story Consultant
2,6 Jack McAdam Production Designer
2,6 Ben Bova Science Consultant
2,6 Shirley Mann Costume Designer
2,6 Karen Hazzard Ltd. Casting
2,6 Score Productions Inc. Music Producer
2- Carol Davidson Make-Up
2,6 Bob Bowkett Properties
2,6 Maurie Jackson Technical Director
2,6 Peter Edwards Lighting Director
2,6 Gordon White Art Director
2- Doug Drew Audio
2,6 Percy Brinkworth Video
2,6 Barrie Diehl Unit Production Manager
2- Gary Smith Unit Production Manager
2,6 Ray Fitzwalter Studio Director
2,6 Mary Lou Fraser Production Assistant
2,6 Derrett Lee Production Co-ordinator
2,6 Larry Wells Wardrobe
2,6 Bob Colouhoun Model Construction
2,6 Gordon Lowe Model Construction
2,6 Mereline Thompson Model Construction
2,6 Lissa Calvert Model Construction
2,6 Lori Margolis Model Construction
2- Ed Brennan Post Production Supervisor
2,6 Gordon Stoddard Video Tape Editor
2,6 Wally Weaver Re-Recording
2,6 Wally Harris Re-Recording
2- Bob Kozak Sound Editor
2- In the Sunrise Graphic Design
2- The McLaughlin Planetarium Research Assistance and Visual Materials
2- Glen Warren Productions Ltd. Executive Producer
2,6 Gerard Rochon Executive Producer
2- Arthur Weinthal Executive in Charge of Production
4 Jonah Royston Story and Writer
4 George Ghent Writer
4 Joseph L. Scanlan Director
6 Shimon Wincelberg Writer
6 Ed Richardson Director & Associate Producer
6 Bill Rennie Unit Production Manager
6 Cy Fawcett Floor Manager
6 Larry Wells (unknown)
6 Pat Burrows Make-up Artist
6 Art Claridge Audio
6 Doug McCormick Post Production Supervisor
6 Malcolm Fox Sound Editor
6 Phillip Stephens Model Construction
7 Norman Klenman Writer
7 Peter Levin Director
8 Douglas Trumbull Visual Effects
1- Keir Dullea Devon
1- Gay Rowan Rachel
1- Robin Ward Garth
1- William Osler Host/Computer Voice

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Somehow, I Don't Think We're in Kansas Toto, Harlan Ellison
  2. ^ a b c d Mark Phillips, Frank Garcia. Science Fiction Television Series. McFarland. 
  3. ^ "Television Obscurities - A Brief History of Television Writers: 1949-1979 (Part 4)". 
  4. ^ Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls ,Orbit Books, 1993, ISBN 1857231244 (pgs. 1154).
  5. ^ John Javna, The Best of Science Fiction TV: the critics' choice. New York : Harmony Books, 1987. ISBN 0517566508 (p. 76-77).
  6. ^ Simpson, Michael (2007-12-28). "VCI To Launch 'The Starlost'". CinemaSpy (Robert Falconer). Retrieved 2008-01-09. 

External links[edit]