The Starlost (1973)
Hi all, Nate here. So Pam and I thought we’d do something a little different this time, just to keep things free and interesting. Instead of a single movie, we’re going to review an entire television series in one shot in an effort to shred page buffers across the web. We’ve picked the nearly forgotten sci-fi series The Starlost, a Canadian production that ran for one shortened season in 1973. That’s 16 separate 48 minute-long episodes, split 4/4/4/4 between the two of us. Yay.
The basic plot is that centuries in the future the Earth is in danger of being destroyed and humanity bands together to build a massive spaceship to travel in search of a habitable world to start over. The ship is so big that it has a large number of “biospheres”, huge domes connected by tubes/tunnels that each contain wildly different elements of human society and culture. Tragedy strikes a ways into the trip, however, and the ship is now adrift in space, each biosphere locked down tight to evolve independently over the next few hundred years. Over the generations most of the biosphere populations seem to have forgotten that they are on a spaceship (sure), though there are still a lot of people on the “main body“ of the ship that are aware of the facts. As our series opens it’s the year 2790 and the ship has been in space for nearly 500 years, and about 400 years since the “accident“ set them adrift. Got all that?
Before you yell at me, none of this is spoilery in any way because the voice-over narration at the beginning of each episode tells us all the above basic facts. We are not so much walking along with our heroes as they discover their new world, but watching them learn stuff we already know about. That’s a severe, deal-breaking let-down for me as it completely destroys any sense of adventure and exploration, but there’s not much I can do about it. If I were to super-cut this series, I’d delete the voice-overs and stitch the episodes together in such a way that the viewer discovers new and wondrous things at the same pace as our characters do. But that’s not to be, so let’s move on.
A lot of exposition has to tossed at the screen in the pilot episode, so let’s not tarry on the small stuff, ok? In “Cypress Corners”, the name for one of the many biospheres, a low-tech simple agricultural lifestyle has developed that closely mimics that of the Amish. That’s fine, whatever, we’ll go with that, it really doesn’t matter much in the overall arch of the series’ storyline. Just know that our three heroes, Devon, Garth, and Rachel come from this farming/herding cultural background and have all the homespun clothes and aversion to cellphones and satellite TV that you’d expect.
Let’s start with Devon, he’s the “star”.
Rachel is pledged by the grumpy town elders to be Garth’s wife, but she loves Devon and Devon loves her. Loves her so much that he is willing to risk banishment and excommunication from his society to keep her from marrying Garth. A wise old man gives Devon an electronic key to the “forbidden tunnels” and he and Rachel escape into them as the torch/pitchfork mob closes in. Garth follows, determined to get Rachel back and because he’s really bored with being a blacksmith and eating mashed potatoes without butter all day. They eventually meet up and come to some sort of understanding whereby Garth completely forgets what he came here for and just stands around and takes up oxygen while Devon and Rachel do snuggly cutesy couple things right in front of him. Sadly, I’m not over simplifying that one bit.
Poor Garth, always the bridesmaid, never a bride.
So in the tunnels they learn through experimentation about the “bounce pads” which allow them to fly through the long distances from one end of a tunnel to the other (antigravity?) . This was a very poor production decision as it looks terrible in every way, specifically the horrible blue screen effects that have the actors just flail around in front of the screen like they’re having an epileptic seizure/cocaine freakout and the tunnel is projected behind them. It’s the kind of thing that makes you want to turn off the TV and go outside and play Frisbee, sure that nothing will ever make watching television good again. A lot of things appear in the first few episodes that just don’t work well that are never seen again, which is a credit to the production team to adapt on the fly like that.
Stop doing that.
Thanks to a slightly-helpful computerized Beatnik version of Larry King that they can access on numerous viewscreen terminals, they learn that they are on a massive generation ship called the “Ark”, cruising through the vast expanses of the cosmos. This, predictably, blows their minds, but they recover quite quickly and set about their task. And that task is to save the entire Ark from destruction as it’s heading for a collision course with a star and unless they can figure out a way to alter their trajectory the human race is toast. They find the command bridge, but the crew is all long dead and nothing there can help them, so as the episode ends they set off to wander around the rest of the vessel to try and find help/answers. And thus we begin their series-long trek of exploration and discovery.
The computer needs some IT help.
Some ending notes… The overall tone of mystery is extremely well set-up (for them, we already know). We really want to know what lies before them, what’s in the other biospheres, who is still alive, and what weird and wonderful things are hiding behind all the doors and hatches they pass. On a ship this huge there’s bound to be endless possibilities for adventure, enough to last ten seasons. Or maybe just 16 episodes of low ratings and then an ignoble cancellation via fax from the studio secretary, hard to tell.
Garth brings along his crossbow for some reason.
The fact that the computer is only half-helpful and seems to answer even the most simple questions in riddles and government tech-speak is great. For our Amish heroes, this is quite frustrating and they rarely use the computers except in emergencies as the series goes on. I’m tired of omnipresent and powerful sci-fi computers providing all the plot points on cue, so it’s nice to see something different for once. You would think, however, that there’s some way to bypass that annoying Beatnik guy animation and just go straight to the command line and type in “fix ark navigation error, enter”.
Devon don’t need no ‘puter.
The look of the sets are retro ‘70s cool, with the sort of funky bright minimalism copied from the original Star Trek series that is a hallmark of the era’s sci-fi. The uncluttered floors and neutral walls and a lot of bright, contrasting colors for highlights are really great, though I’d love to see more in the way of wear and tear, especially since so much of the ship is abandoned. If The Starlost were shot after Star Wars and Alien made it acceptable to have sci-fi sets that actually looked lived-in and used, the style and tone of our series would be drastically different (better?). The lights are almost always on, as well, would be nice to see some more dark, Doom-style corridors and tunnels.
I’m a big fan of orange.
Oh sweet Raptor Jesus, the hair and the mustaches are so outrageously 1973 as to be characters in their own right. Devon in particular is rocking a luxurious Tom Selleck/Joe Stalin ‘stache that remains perfectly groomed no matter what the days may bring. Garth is perpetually clean-shaven but his fluffy hair helmet is like a discarded prototype for Michael Landon in Little House on the Prairie. Rachel’s hair is oh-so Amish, and that’s meh. She does have nice eyebrows. I only bring all this up because every time they’re on screen you are slammed with the realization that this is a fake television show filmed in 1973 and not really the adventures of space-faring super humans from the far future.
It gets much worse.
Rachel, oh Rachel. God love ya, girl, but you ugly. Not sure why this particular actress got this part but if you’re going to be the hinge of a series-long love triangle between your strapping male leads, then you better have the looks to hold up your end of the deal(s). I totally get that they were going for “Amish plain-Jane” in the beginning, but as they episodes wear on, hour after hour after tedious hour, there’s less and less to get excited about with Rachel’s Walmart cashier looks and vanilla paste personality.
All the vacu-formed plastic domes everywhere, perhaps the worst part of the static set design, which is overall generally pretty good. These domes are repeated all over the ship, in every biosphere and in every tunnel and every room, just domes, domes, everywhere. A lot of other props and wall sections are repeated from episode to episode, it’s pretty clear that they re-dressed a lot of the sets between episodes by just rearranging the drapes and spray-painting some new colors. But damn, those domes get old, I’d prefer endless banks of randomly flashing lights over all these pimply domes, which do little more than distractingly reflect the set lights.
The sound effects are terrible, especially all the random background electronica synthesizer bwoops and tweeps that might have sounded cool on the Enterprise but will make you want to kill yourself here. I just can’t imagine that in THE FUTURE so many different electrical/computer devices will make such annoying sounds for no reason. The actual musical soundtrack is just as bad, like a reverb disco album played backwards and filtered through a 55-gallon drum of pain. If this were filmed in 2014, with every scene transition there’d be a Justin Beiber song cut, which would have maybe been an improvement.
Finding a skeleton does not need a music cue.
The near total lack of establishing material for their semi-Amish lifestyle is a problem for me. It would certainly help us understand why they seem so drooling amazed at the wondrous technology they find behind the tunnel door if we had something to compare it to. Not asking for much, just a few insert shots of them harvesting crops or cooking a rabbit over a fire or hand-sewing a dress or something, you don’t even have to have any dialogue, we can figure it out. A lack of characterization is a sign of a poor script.
Our heroes are off on their journey now through the bowels of the ship. In a random tunnel they are surprised to find a small number (a dozen or so) of “mutants” who capture Garth and trap Devon and Rachel in another part of the ship. It’s determined that these mutants are descendants of the Ark’s maintenance personnel, which makes no damn sense at all, and they are sure Garth is the devil and they want to kill him and maybe eat him. And no, the budget won’t permit anything “mutant-ish” except for Halloween press-on fake nails and South London teeth.
The Mutants. Rah!!!
The Mutants’ leader looks like a hung-over Tom Petty and he’s in charge because he’s ever so slightly more intelligent and thoughtful than the rest of them, who seem content to shuffle around and grow mats in their hair. Tom Petty is eventually captured in turn by Devon and Rachel, who bandage his wounds and show him that they aren’t a danger to him and his group. Thus convinced, Tom Petty agrees to Devon’s plan to relocate the mutants to a disused, empty agricultural biosphere nearby. There the mutants can give up their lifestyle of skittering around the tunnels and settle down and grow apples and hunt rabbits. I suspect that’s going to work out just fine, but we might never know because I doubt that we’ll ever revisit here again the rest of the series (we don‘t).
Listen to Devon, he’ll give you a new home.
That’s the flipside B-Plot of this episode, the main story thrust is that our heroes have stumbled upon the Ark’s cryogenic freeze lab, which is filled with hundreds and hundreds of crewmen frozen in tubes for various reasons. Determining, rightly so, that they need to unfreeze one of them to get help in saving the ship, they pick one tube at random and thaw him out. It turns out that the guy isn’t really much help, as he was just a low-level communications specialist and doesn’t know much about the overall workings of the Ark. He’s also suffering from radiation poisoning (why he was in the cryo tube to start with) and they only have him for an hour or so before they have to re-freeze him for his own survival.
He’s a bit groggy at first.
Ok, so that guy was a bust, but there’s hundreds of other crewmen in similar cryo tubes in the same room, why don’t they just crack a few more open until they find a crewman who can help them? Surely one of these popsicles used to be an officer or an engineer or knows something about the ships navigation/propulsion system, right? Three feet to the right in the next tube over could be a guy who could solve all their problems! But no, they just wander away as the credits roll because they are dumbasses and the scriptwriters are idiots.
How hard can it be to open them all?
Some ending notes… By far the frozen/refrozen scientist’s stellar performance, the actor is vastly better at his craft than either Devon or Garth, and it’s clear the director knew it too as he pretty much keeps our Amish hobos in the background and lets the guest star do his thing uninterrupted. In the beginning the scientist was confused and frightened as he came to terms with this new future, feelings that drifted into sadness and anger as the episode went on, culminating in acceptance and peace of mind, a real honest-to-god character arc like nothing we‘ve seen so far. Shame he’s gone, hope he comes back, there‘s nothing wrong with guest stars returning in later episodes (he won‘t).
His long-dead wife left him a message, quite sad.
Loved the general idea of some segments of the crew becoming isolated for hundreds of years and developing different cultures, just like in the biospheres, but within the body of the Ark. Just not so terribly done next time, please. If you are going to do mutants, fine, but make them evolved to their surroundings, adapted to darkness, three-feet tall, something other than just messed up hair and face paint.
The Tunnel Mutant’s costumes and their stage direction are terrible. Shambling like zombies in greasepaint while grunting and mumbling? Really? Is that the best you can do? There’s no way that this population of mutants have survived genetic extinction for this long when not a one of them can even open a can of carrots or brush their hair. It doesn’t help that their leader Tom Petty is a terrrrrrrible actor and sounds like he just learned English yesterday. I get that he’s supposed to be a mutant with diminished mental capacity and all, but I’m beginning to think that the actual actor is functionally retarded. Or drunk.
He makes mush-mouthed beefsteak Garth look like
Daniel Day-Lewis on Broadway.
Some indeterminate amount of time passes (though no one has yet grown any additional facial hair…) and our team has stumbled into a biosphere called Omnicron. Like a cut-rate third season TOS plot outline, Omnicron’s society is 100% male and solely based on a toxic stew of force and violence and machismo. The hook is that they worship a female deity called Calabra, who Rachel is a dead ringer for, and the colony’s Governor wants her to be his bride, whether she wants to or not.
He knows his way around the ladies (strangely).
But, maybe she’s ok with that. In fact, shovel-faced Rachel actually seems to be falling for the smooth-talking and complementive Governor, or at least for what he can offer her. But, even though she’s enthralled by the fancy un-Amish dresses and all the doting, in the end she sticks with boring-as-dirt homeslice Devon (Garth dies on the inside a little more each day…). For a brief moment I actually thought Rachel was going to have some sort of lasting character development moment here, something that would carry over to subsequent episodes, but it was not to be. It would have been nice to have Rachel, after her experiences in Omnicron, become more self-aware and self-reliant, but her character arc is still a flat line.
Jealousy will tear them apart eventually.
There’s some really interesting stuff in this episode about the literal separation of church and state in Omnicron society, and it‘s all done between the one-shot guest actors, our heroes are nowhere in sight for a good chunk of the episode. The elderly High Priest is on the outsiders’ side, because he wants to know more of their background and to preserved his own religious authority, and the wily Governor is aware Rachel really isn‘t a goddess but wants to take back some of the church‘s power over the people by “becoming a god himself“ by marrying her. Back and forth they argue, but the Governor can’t really do much to the High Priest because he‘s an institution in himself and he needs him to put his stamp of approval on the marriage for the people to buy into it. It’s a shame that the series never revisits Ominicron, the power machinations at the top deserve more time and attention than you can allow in a single episode.
The High Priest is not amused.
The wedding day approaches, and in desperation Devon challenges the Governor to a duel to the death, the way that the Omnicrons handle such differences of opinion. Garth does nothing but stand there and mince, Rachel does even less than nothing, despite the fact that she‘s the cause of all this, and it’s all up to Devon to save himself. The “fight” is really just the two actors trying really hard not to hurt themselves without looking too foolish, though they were clearly trying to ape Spock’s duel with Kirk on Vulcan right down to the style of weapons and the music cues. Predictably, Devon gets the showboating Governor down and has him at his mercy. And even more predictably, Devon spares him in exchange for a look at their ancient books and the right to leave unmolested. The Governor finds his inner softie and agrees to let them go.
More like dance fighting, dinner theater style.
The texts are actually old engineering blueprints of the Ark. In a little Canticle of Leibowitz moment, the Priests have created their own sacred liturgies and chants from the scattered words on the blueprints and whole generations of scribes and wisemen have tried and failed to find meaning in the pages. Our Amish team is no help, of course, but they do determine that there’s a “back-up bridge” somewhere that might still be active and off they go to find that as the episode ends.
The scrolls are rolled out for viewing.
Some ending notes… I love a good single-gender society story, even if it‘s been pretty overdone in the last 50 years of sci-fi lit. Thanks to some meaty scenes of the Governor monologuing, we get to learn quite a bit about Omnicrom’s background, about their past wars and revolts, about how they bred out the “weaker gender”. There’s also some pretty clear homosexual undertones that are a nice touch, especially when you consider all the testosterone and bloodshed on display in everyday Omnicron life. You could probably set an entire series just in this one biosphere, there’s enough potential here.
Lot’s of “dancing boys” here.
Is that a black man!?!?!?!? With a pimp limp, no less! Kudos for that, a rarity in sci-fi before the 1980s, but it kinda makes no sense to have a black man with dark, dark skin in Omnicron when their whole male-only society reproduces via artificial wombs and sperm donations. Unless they have a black-only artificial womb reserved just for black sperm? But why would they do that? I should note that this entire series should be commended for having a fairly broad multiracial cast, most impressive.
I’m over thinking this.
Foreshadowing! The Governor drops a few offhand hints that some women escaped the purge long ago and are probably still out there beyond the tunnel doors. We’ll have to wait and see if this comes up again in later episodes (no, it does not) as it’s a neat way to have some continuity in what so far is shaping up to be a “biosphere of the week” show. It’s not easy to keep continuity through a weekly series like this, and few productions even attempt to, but it would be great if we had more of it here (which we don‘t).
I’d watch the Governor again.
I’m happy to see that Rachel gets some decent lines for once. She’s been criminally underused so far and it’s nice to have her voice be a part of moving the plot along in a critical way. Shame that she ends up standing back and letting the menfolk decide her fate, I’d love to see her hold on to an independent though for longer than one scene. I also wish that she had kept the form-fitting Omnicron dress because her regular Amish canvas bible outfit is boring me to death.
Too much skin for the Amish.
When you can’t build a set then you go cheap with the optical effects and this episode features some of the worst blue screening blurs ever! The technology was mature enough in 1973 to make it work well, but only if you could spend the time and money it takes to blend the live elements into the effects, and neither time nor money was plentiful during The Starlost’s run. I’d much prefer matte painting backdrops to blue screening, but I’m oldschool like that.
Look at all that blur! That’s terrible.
OMG the Omnicron costumes are so bad, especially the soldiers, like Devo cosplayers. Satin! Lycra! Glitter paint! Crotch bulges galore! At one point in the future did the human race decide that a simple cotton t-shirt and a nice pair of Dockers wasn’t going to cut it anymore? Look at what people were wearing 800 years ago in 1200 AD or so, cotton shirts and pants with pockets, really not much different than what you see today. How did our species go so wrong?
Where’s the disco ball?
And relatedly, uncomfortable sci-fi chairs make their first appearance in this episode, proving once again that even the most simplistic things like furniture just have to change in the future. Of course, our butts haven’t changed and there’s no way any of these hard, painful chairs would be in any way pleasant to sit on.
The chairs even have raised rims, how is that comfortable?
Our heroes are busy wandering aimlessly (they do that a lot) when they are alerted to the arrival of the Pisces, a small survey ship that is returning to the Ark from a mission launched back in 2381 (409 years ago). The Pisces’ crew consists of the Colonel, a by-the-book military man with a charming demeanor, and two beautiful young women named Teale and Janice, who are the navigator and engineer respectively. They say they’ve been gone for just nine years and are surprised to learn that the Ark has suffered an accident and is adrift without command.
Awkward first meeting.
They reboard the Pisces, taking along Devon, Rachel, and Garth, and fly around the Ark to assess any visible damage. And damage there is as something has punched a hole in the Ark’s reactor banks, undoubtedly some sort of meteorite, and that’s what caused the “accident” all those hundreds of years ago. Great look at the whole of the Ark in this scene, really helps to give it some sense of scale.
Ouch, that had to hurt.
Searching for answers, the Pisces crew go to their old quarters and stumble upon four people in matching gray jumpsuits. These harmless folks, an aged couple and their middle-aged daughter and her teenage girl are all that’s left of the remains of the crew in this sector of the Ark that survived the accident hundreds of years ago. And then they just leave them and move on with the plot, and they are completely forgotten for the rest of the episode (and perhaps the series).
Maybe they could help?
They have bigger problems as they are suffering from “space senility” due to their long time away in deep space and tend to fall asleep on their feet often, waking groggy and disoriented. It’s clear that Teale especially has lost her mind, perhaps because she, as navigator, screwed up some sort of temporary space figures and stuck them in “time dilation“. Don’t ask, just go with it. Garth, seemingly totes over the Rachel thing, puts his schwerve on the sexy Teale for a couple scenes before blending back into the corners of the frame for the rest of the episode. I don’t know who the wonderful actress playing Teale is but I know she should have been cast as the Rachel character instead, and I’m sure the director was thinking the same thing (and hitting his head against the wall).
She’s out of your league, Garth.
They determine that the rapid “mental and emotional aging” effects of the time dilation will kill them all if they don’t return to the Pisces and get back into the accelerated time (just don’t ask, ok?). Janice and Teale take it upon themselves to launch the Pisces and take it out to space, with the Colonel and our three heroes trapped inside. Devon gets a chance to act a bit here as he tries to convince the women to return to the Ark, though his efforts are made more difficult by the fact that he’s a Amish country boy who doesn’t know about all this nuclear reactor/time travel thing. The girls also have laser guns and aren’t afraid to use them, which is pretty cool.
Not sure what she’s aiming at.
Devon eventually just resorts to punching and overpowering the women. There’s some drama as the Pisces loses control, the camera shakes and bounces, and the Colonel has to fix it all in the nick of time to get them back to the Ark. But the Colonel just wants to drop off Devon, Rachel and Garth, as he’s decided the girls are right and they should make an effort to return to speedytimething (I stopped caring). And so they wave good-bye and leave as the episode ends, and poor Garth is once again blueballed and lonely.
Everyone has someone but him.
Some ending notes… For the first time we have other female characters with substantial roles, which really highlights just how bad Rachel is. Teale in particular is amazing, sexy and emotive and able to read her lines in such a way that you actually believe what she’s saying. Janice is also excellent, even though she’s not given much space in the script, and her decisions end up driving the critical phase of the plot. Sci-fi, especially before the 1990s, tended to be dominated by male characters so whenever you get little glimpses of the opposite it’s worth noting.
Her pimp hand is strong.
The model work on the Pisces (and to a lesser extent the Ark) is exceptional and shows some inventive touches in placement of lights and windows and hatches. The starfield effects are dicey but the ships themselves are well-shot against the backgrounds. I’ve long made known my preference for physical models over CGI and this is a prime example why, and thank the heavens that there‘s no flames shooting out the back of anything.
Love the paintwork, too.
We see here our first appearance of uncomfortable space beds, a tradition dating back to the heyday of the b-movie 1950s. I’m not sure why it was thought that in the future we’d all toss our comfy mattresses and fluffy pillows for the joy of wrapping up in a one-ply sheet of tinfoil while we torture our spines on bare, flat metal slabs.
Getting real tired of endless shots of our three Cypress Corners bumpkins staring open-mouthed and wide-eyed at stuff. We get it, they’re smalltown peasants lost in this big, wide universe, move on from that. Give them credit for adaptability, show them becoming more comfortable with their new environment and situation, learning as they go. That’s what we humans do so well, roll with the punches and get up stronger, please scale back on the Beverly Hillbillies close-ups, ok?
So that’s the first four, and so far the series has been surprisingly watchable. Uneven and often eye-rollingly cheesy, but it’s kept my interest up and that’s half the fight since I have the attention span of a toddler. Let me close out my part with some general observations, starting with the size of the Ark and the total number of biospheres. A couple of the tracking shots of the Ark model are clear enough to count the separate domes, eight rows of five domes for 40, if not a few more (maybe up to 48?). So far we know of the condition of just three of these, Cypress Corners, Omnicron, and the unnamed one that they gave over to the Tunnel Mutants. That’s a lot of potential for new and exciting characters and environments and I’m excited to see what the other 37 might hold. Plus the massive central body of the spaceship itself, which seems to contain almost as much interior volume as all the biospheres combined, remains mostly unexplored, that alone could keep the series running for another decade (no such luck).
Some nice exteriors, though few of the whole Ark.
What I’m not excited to see more of is Garth, because he is worthless. The ultimate third wheel, Garth has been reduced to throw-away lines and literally carrying heavy things for Devon so he can mack on Rachel. I can’t be bothered to go back and count (or maybe I will) but I can guess that a breakdown of the total lines spoken would be 50% Devon, 35% Rachel, and a bare 15% Garth. I assume (hope) that Garth gets to do more as the series proceeds, because as it is he could get eaten by a spacezombie tomorrow and no one would miss him.
Just keep walking, Garth.
Also the intro voice-overs at the beginning of each episode harp on how the Ark must be saved by “three young people”. I get that they are (assumingly) aiming for the coveted 18-24 demographic, but none of them are anywhere near “young”. Keir Dullea (Devon) was 37 in 1973, Robin Ward (Garth) was 29, and Gay Rowen (Rachel) was 25. And they look that old, too, though I think we should be thankful that the producers really didn’t cast bland, vacuous, pretty 17 year-olds with perfect teeth like they do nowadays. The subject matter and the tone of the series so far really lends itself better to a more adult audience and I’m glad that they thought the same when casting.
A tad seasoned.
And finally I have to rage a second about the lighting. Since about 40% of the shots are actors against a blue screen, you have to be real soft on the lights and it shows in how pale and dim everyone‘s skin looks, I’ll give them a pass. On those shots against an actual physical set, however, more often than not there’s a single-source harshness to the lighting that creates shadows so sharp they can cut you and doesn’t really give you the impression that they’re wandering around an abandoned, long-dead space hulk. It’s like Ripley creeping around the Nostromo looking for aliens with a 3,000 watt spotlight in her face the whole time, a great disservice. Just my two cents.
Over to Pam now for the next four episodes…
Hi, everybody, it’s Pam, picking up at the fifth episode. Nate didn’t want to keep all the fun for himself. So let’s get started, and we’ll see what further adventures await our gallant threesome.
As you’ll recall, Rachel, Devon, and Garth just watched three of the original crewmembers disappear into space on their small survey ship. Is this episode going to mention that at all? Nah, of course not! Garth and Rachel are refreshing themselves with a light meal when Devon rushes in with the news that he’s found the backup bridge, “about a mile” from where they are, which gives an idea of how big the ship is. But it seems as though getting in is going to be tricky. Their magic key doesn’t work, and even though Garth short-circuits the control panel, the door opens only a few inches. Clearly access to the backup bridge was strictly limited. They can see enough to tell that there’s a little girl inside, staring blankly at them.
How long has she been standing there?
They manage to pry the door open enough to get inside to find more children, all wearing white jumpsuits with red trim, each one with a large number on the left chest of the jumpsuit. Also, all the children are as deadpan as though they’re drugged. Rachel is instructed to look after the children, while the men keep on looking for the adults they believe must be operating the bridge. However, Garth and Devon are sidelined by a funny noise that makes them gasp and clutch their heads. Fortunately for them, it lasts only a few seconds, then the sound stops and they’re fine. Although the children haven’t budged, Devon somehow knows that they were responsible. The girl, who has a large “5” on her jumpsuit, finally opens her mouth to say with a hint of smugness that they “thought pain” at Garth and Devon, then “took it away.” According to her, the bridge crew is plotting a course correction, but once it’s finished, she’ll take them to the Captain.
The Captain, however, is only a little older than the other pre-adolescent children, maybe about 17, and he’s no friendlier. He announces that they’re under arrest and tells 5 to take them to the holding area. Our threesome dutifully follows her, uttering not a word of protest or even surprise. Is it something in the air that makes everybody so listless and unemotional?
Number 1, with the laurels, is the Captain.
Devon tries to make 5 and her buddy 7 understand that they need to get the reactors started so the Ark won’t crash. 5 scoffs and tells them the computer says this isn’t going to happen, and as far as she’s concerned, the argument is over. However, they try to coax her into telling them what these kids are doing on the backup bridge. 5 is by no stretch of the imagination a chatterbox, but she wakes up enough to inform them that the children were trained to perform all the tasks required to operate the backup bridge before the Ark left Earth. All of the children were given an injection to make their cells regenerate constantly, therefore they haven’t aged since they left Earth 500 years ago. However, once the Ark reaches its destination, they’ll all get something that will make them resume natural aging. 5 finally cracks a smile when she says she wants to marry 7 and have babies once she begins growing up.
Devon is not really good with kids, Rachel should take note.
But you’ll recall how Garth, Devon, and Rachel broke into the backup bridge, and this, it turns out, is a complete no-no. The Captain orders them to be put on trial in front of all the kids. In the course of the trial, Devon tries to tell the kids what happened to the main bridge, but they refuse to believe it. Garth gets a little peeved, is “thought pain” at, and is taken back to the cell. What is it with these kids? They’ve been conscious the entire 500 years, how could they not know about the accident? The Captain haughtily informs Devon that according to their controls, everything is just hunky-dory with the Ark, and Devon is sentenced to death. But for now, he’s shoved into the cell with Garth, while Rachel is made a “ward of the dome” and sent to work in the play center. However, unbeknownst to the Captain, Garth managed to disable the force field that keeps him and Devon in the cell, letting them roam the backup bridge dome.
Devon pleads their case to no avail.
I’m curious to know what the play center is like. I visualize children playing with toys, but that seems unlikely, since even the smallest children take their turn to operate the ship’s controls. And it turns out I’m right about the unlikeliness of toys – the “play” consists in lying on a slab-like bed with a mask that contains an implant connected to the pleasure center in the brain. They know nothing of actual physical games. Rachel tries but is unable to interest the stolid blank-faced children in playing Blind Man’s Bluff, but as 5 escorts her to the dormitory, we see a spark of hope for the children – 5 is holding Rachel’s hand. This scene in the “play center” is actually rather touching, since most of the children are quite small to be so perpetually quiet and unemotional.
That doesn’t seem like fun.
The next scenes show more hope. 5 asks Rachel to pick a name for her, and when the Captain enters the play center, he finds the children off their slabs, shouting and playing Blind Man’s Bluff! Things start getting exciting as the Captain storms off to find Rachel and nip all this primitive emotional nonsense in the bud, and Devon and Garth find Rachel in the dormitory bestowing names on 5 (Sarah) and 7 (David). The adults are able to talk the newly-christened Sarah and David into taking them to the bridge. Finally our threesome, the two kids who now have names, the Captain, and other members of the bridge crew all end up on the bridge.
Rachel shows the kids some humanity.
It seems Devon has been doing some thinking. He watches what happens when the kids operate the controls, and he finally asks the Captain what I’ve been wondering, which is, if they’re truly in command of the Ark, why didn’t they know the main bridge was destroyed? The Captain refuses to listen, and finally Devon flips a large red switch labeled “Master Separation Switch.” The Captain screams that they’ll be propelled into deep space and lose their support systems, and he really seems scared, but, after a minute of suspense, the screen that shows conditions outside the Ark…lights up with a display that says “Simulated Separation – Film Insert.” Yes, Devon has deduced that the whole “backup bridge” is just a training simulator! Seems to me he was taking quite a chance, but he is the hero, therefore he couldn’t fail, duh.
Where are the other two?
We now cut to a scene of happy children, squealing and hugging Garth and Devon while Rachel gives them all names. All the children are happy except for the Captain, who is standing sadly on the empty backup bridge, mourning his lost power. He cheers up a little when Devon comes in and tells him they’re leaving, but when they find the backup bridge, he’ll come back for the kids and let them help run it. And off go our threesome to new adventures, leaving the children behind. I was going to say this seems neglectful, but after all, if they’ve been around for 500 years, they must know how to take care of themselves.
Hey, we’re just going to head out, ok?
Some ending notes… Hmm. There was some suspense, and for a little while, it looked as though the children might actually be able to imprison Garth, Devon, and Rachel permanently. Good thing I knew it wasn’t possible to do anything bad to the heroes of the show, otherwise I might have been worried. And it was rather touching to see the kids finally start acting like kids, although it happened remarkably quickly.
Devon is confused by children.
The kids’ acting was the worst! If they were trying to act like adults, they failed miserably. Come to think of it, they were probably told to act deadpan to try to hide how limited their acting skills were. I’m sure Nate’s right, and they’re all relatives of the cast and crew. The sets are really cheesy, and I saw one of the control consoles wobble as the child who was sitting at it got up. In fact, most of the furnishings seem to be made of cardboard.
This kid should give his salary back.
Also, there were some unanswered questions. I can see why whoever was in charge of the Ark thought it was a good idea to begin training the children young, but why separate them from their parents? 5 said her mother stayed behind on Earth, and none of the children mentioned ever having parents. And why keep the children from aging normally? Couldn’t their children take over the training? And how did the children learn to “think pain?” Will all these little hints be eventually put together with clues we’ve been given in other episodes to give us a picture of what Earth society was like when the Ark was launched, or will they prove to be just pointless details thrown in because they sounded good at the time? I think you can guess.
They all have great posture!
We resume the odyssey with our threesome again walking through a ship’s corridor, just like all the other ship’s corridors we’ve seen so far. This time their magic key leads them into what appears to be a grassy area surrounded by trees, which contains, according to a conveniently-placed pillar, “New Eden – Leisure Village – Population 1,000 – Where Every Prospect Pleases.” This doesn’t sound very exciting. Have they stumbled onto a retirement village?
Hey, guys, remember how the Ark is doomed?
Well, maybe it will be exciting. Unbeknownst to them, our three are under observation by a man and a woman, both clad in silver jumpsuits and using a camera hidden in the foliage to spy on them. This Ark sure does have a lot of hidden cameras. Does this suggest the society that launched the Ark tended to be paranoid? Or did the scriptwriters throw the cameras in as a matter of convenience? I’m sure you know by now. Also, I’m wondering if this dome gets enough traffic to warrant two people standing by observation screens to see what they’re up to. So far, Devon, Rachel, and Garth are the only people we’ve seen traveling between domes, unless you count the resettlement of the mutant maintenance workers.
Why are all the doors trapezoidal?
Of course if there are hidden cameras, there has to be a building where the observers of the cameras sit. Our threesome stumbles upon the building promptly and decides to explore it. It’s big and appears completely empty. Garth decides to do some exploring on his own, and shortly comes across a room with a table set with several plates of tempting food. However, he’s distracted from the food by the sound of sobs, and in the next room he finds a scared-looking blond girl. She seems to be unable to talk, but when Garth takes her back to Devon and Rachel, they manage to extract the information that something drove everybody else away, but it’s safe to be in the building now. Oh, no! The silver-jumpsuited man and woman are watching them, and from their conversation, we learn this building is part of an experiment. The man, Dr. Asgard, is trying to see how far people can be pushed before they begin thinking only of themselves and turn on their comrades, and our crew are going to be the next subjects. What will happen to them? Will Cypress Corners values prevail, or will they prove to be as weak as the building’s previous inhabitants?
Oh, Garth, just leave her alone.
However, it seems Dr. Asgard has a higher purpose than mere love of seeing people behaving badly. In the conversation between him and the woman, whose name is Diana, we learn he’s trying to develop people who are strong enough mentally to be able to survive in whatever environment is present on the planet the Ark eventually lands on, and that means accepting the fact that they can’t trust most of their comrades. Diana, on the other hand, feels that kindness is more helpful in getting people to work together.
Garth and Devon go off to look around more, leaving Rachel with the girl. The girl recovers enough to stammer out that her name is Leetha. She also gives Rachel a small pistol, first demonstrating its powers by using it to disintegrate a nearby brandy snifter (not sure why that’s there), and haltingly telling Rachel to use it to protect herself against her friends. The atmosphere may be getting to Rachel; instead of pushing the gun away, she takes it and hides it in her clothing. Devon and Garth have split up, and Devon is trying to find a computer when in pops a not only fully recovered, but slightly flirtatious Leetha. After a little banter on what Devon is doing here, she presents him with another gun with a warning that his friends are out to get him. Devon, though, doesn’t take the gun.
I’d take a gun from her.
So that leaves Garth, and sure enough, Leetha tries her wiles on him. She tries to convince him Rachel and Devon aren’t to be trusted (and a closeup shows she’s in desperate need of face powder, her skin’s so shiny it practically glows as though it’s lit from inside. Also, she went way too heavy on the mascara). She strongly implies she’s fallen in love with him. The scene ends before we see if Garth takes the gun. Suspense! Meanwhile, Devon is still exploring, and it’s revealed that Leetha isn’t the only person in the building when two men appear and knock Devon out. While Devon is lying on the deck, shackled and being questioned by a group of people who believe he and his two friends have come to kill them, Garth is back with Rachel, and Leetha is plying them with a purple liquid that just might be wine. Rachel is worried about Devon, Garth is not. I’m not sure just how long the drinking goes on, but the next morning, Garth appears somewhat the worse for the last night’s refreshment. Garth still doesn’t see the need to look for Devon, but once a smug Leetha shows him a few seconds of Devon saying something that sounds like a threat, Garth’s all ready to go out and get Devon before Devon gets him.
Jealousy is a terrible thing.
Devon’s fidgeting and waiting for somebody to let him loose, when in comes Leetha, who considerately explains to him that it’s all an experiment, and he’ll probably be killed either by the paranoid inhabitants of the dome or by his own friends. Just after she leaves, Garth and Rachel appear on the scene, hiding behind some pillars and debating whether they should help Devon. Rachel wants to, Garth doesn’t. Leetha sure did convince him quickly that Devon was his enemy. I know Rachel dumped him for Devon, but still, he’s known Devon his whole life and they got along okay, why would he suddenly believe Devon wants to kill him? Leetha’s wearing a really short skirt, maybe that’s it. Also, Garth does seem to be something of a dim bulb.
Garth doesn’t make good decisions around girls.
By this time, the inhabitants are getting ready to kill Devon, and he’s calling for help from Garth and Rachel. Garth is not coming to his assistance, but this is because Garth is back with Leetha, listening as she reports on the progress of the experiment to Dr. Asgard. Garth informs her sadly that Devon is dead, and he leads her into telling him about the entire experiment, also into telling him that she has no genuine feelings for him. Is Garth going to sink into a suicidal depression triggered by the loss of both his lifelong friend and his love? No. He runs back to where Rachel is lurking, and together they go in and try to help Devon.
Devon needs help…with his hair.
Garth is so overcome with remorse that he offers to let the people kill him if they’ll let Devon go. This convinces the people that our three really are good guys after all, and they let Devon go. It also, of course, severely bums out Dr. Asgard, who has been watching the whole thing. So the episode ends happily, and I’m left wondering what’s up with Garth. At first glance, it looked as though he deliberately tracked down Leetha, having suspected her motives the entire time and hoping to get proof she was setting them up to fight. Telling her Devon was dead when he knew perfectly well Devon wasn’t seems to confirm this, but when he got back to Devon, he acted as though he just happened to wander off from his friend’s coming execution and stumble across Leetha, and just happened to overhear her confession. Is the apparently stupid Garth actually a man of many subtle layers capable of acting any part he chooses, or was this sloppy scriptwriting? You decide.
All you people are responsible for this mess.
Some ending notes… I guess it’s good that Devon, Rachel, and Garth can stick up for each other, despite the fact that Rachel left Garth for Devon. The whole episode was a little too heavy-handed to be really touching, though, and by the sixth episode, it’s pretty obvious there aren’t going to be any real surprises, meaning there was no way Garth was going to let Devon get killed.
Garth has to look away.
As I mentioned, the idea of trusting one’s friends was hammered in with a sledgehammer, and the outcome was entirely predictable. Rachel was as sugary sweet as always, impossibly sweet. And what was going on with the makeup? Leetha wasn’t the only one whose face was too shiny. Were they skimping on foundation and powder, or was the lighting to blame? The actor who played Dr. Asgard, had his naturally dark hair powdered to look gray, and whoever did it did a terrible job. It looked exactly like dark hair powdered to look gray.
On the plus side, Diana looks pretty normal.
Unanswered questions: Dr. Asgard and Diana mention that this experiment has been ongoing for many years. Dr. Asgard implies that he and Diana are part of a large group conducting this research in support of the Ark’s eventual colonization of an unfamiliar planet, and from Dr. Asgard’s attitude, the research is considered quite important by the group. Yet they seem to have no idea the Ark is drifting helplessly in space, centuries overdue to find a planet to colonize. Don’t they need to report the results of their research to somebody outside this particular dome? In other words, when the Ark was launched, somebody in charge of the Ark’s mission needed to know there would be people trained and ready to colonize a planet whose hazards were unknown, so periodic status reports would be required. And wouldn’t the scientists expect to interact with other people in other biospheres? They aren’t poorly educated villagers, they must know there are other domes. What’s going on with the Ark, anyway? The main bridge is now inoperable and there’s no sign of a Captain or any crew still running the Ark. Is there in fact some sort of skeleton crew at least making an attempt to complete the Ark’s mission, and Dr. Asgard’s group knows this and is in communication with them? Or if each biosphere really is on its own, why are the scientists in this one still diligently conducting their experiments, even though they know there’s no longer any point to them, since the Ark isn’t going anywhere? Why don’t they help themselves to some of that wine Leetha was handing out, and devote themselves to having a good time?
I hope Leetha is getting extra credit for this.
And who signed off on this “experiment,” anyway? People are getting killed in the course of it! Was this something the original commanders of the Ark were okay with, or was letting the experimental subjects kill each other something thought up by the group Dr. Asgard seems to belong to? The members of the group don’t seem to be very nice people. Even Diana disapproved of Dr. Asgard’s theory of survival of the most ruthless only because she thought it wasn’t the most effective way to produce colonists with a good chance of survival. She didn’t appear seriously disturbed by the deaths of people who never signed up for the experiment.
Tense days at the office.
And what, exactly, is Leisure Village? Was an entire dome once dedicated to a retirement community? The inhabitants we saw trying to kill Devon were a mix of ages, and Leetha was quite young.
Looks like coastal Florida.
This is going to be a short summary. I guess money was running low when this episode was made, because nearly all the episode takes place on just two sets. Also, it looks as though the homespun clothing Devon, Rachel, and Garth have been wearing in the past six episodes had to be sent to the laundry, because in this episode they’re all wearing silver jumpsuits trimmed with red. (When you look closely, Rachel’s is actually a separate tunic and pants. Did the actress maybe request this to make bathroom breaks easier?) In addition, Rachel’s taken her hair out of the bun. No idea where they got these duds. The jumpsuits each have an identical patch on the right chest, suggesting they picked these up in a biosphere, but since they were wearing their usual clothes at the end of Episode 6, there’s no way of knowing which one. The patch is not the one Dr. Asgard and Diana were wearing in the last episode, and their silver jumpsuits were of a different design, so our three probably didn’t get their jumpsuits from them. There’s no sign of Garth’s crossbow, either. Was there an episode, or part of one that was never completed, filmed between Episodes 6 and 7 that was never aired? Or are we supposed to assume that a lot of action goes on between episodes? It probably doesn’t matter.
Are these episodes out of order?
Anyway, to get back to the action, our threesome arrives in a new biosphere just in time to catch a man and his daughter loading supplies into some sort of escape pod. The man gives the threesome a cock-and-bull story about using the pod to send the ship’s logs and other important documents to the nearest planet if something happens to the Ark. but they’re really planning to escape the Ark themselves. Before Devon, Rachel, and Garth arrived on the scene, conversation between the man and his daughter told us that they’re from Alpha-5, another biosphere populated mostly by technicians. These people, unlike most we’ve seen so far, are aware that the crew is all dead and the Ark is drifting helplessly in space, heading toward a collision with a star. Daughter likes the idea of staying and trying to fix the Ark, but Dad thinks it’s hopeless and wants to jump ship and find a planet.
Dad and Daughter.
Dad manages to talk his way past our heroes and get himself and Daughter into the pod, but the Ark won’t let them take off. Our heroes think this is a good thing, but there’s something they don’t know: just before they got to this biosphere, Dad rigged a circuit to make the Ark blow up (hence the title of this episode). He did this because he thought life aboard the Ark was going downhill in all the biospheres, not to mention that star that the Ark’s due to hit, and he wanted to put the Ark’s inhabitants out of their misery. Now he claims he can’t unrig the circuit in time to save the Ark.
Talking it out.
But Devon is full of the spirit of Cypress Corners and is undaunted! It seems there is a virtual-reality machine that can project him and Dad into the circuit, so they can fix it quicker than they could from the outside. So they go in, and the rest of the episode is Dad telling Devon how bad things are in Alpha-5 (a very conservative government took over and is infringing on people’s liberty, or so Dad says – from what we’ve seen, he doesn’t seem to have very good judgment on anything), and Devon being all optimistic and saying that he thinks he can find the backup bridge to get the Ark back up and running, and anyway, life in most biospheres is still pretty good. This despite the fact that he was nearly killed in the last episode by a mob of people being manipulated by a scientist.
Lugging the wires.
So, does Devon talk Dad into fixing the circuit? By this episode we all knew he would. And Dad knew perfectly well that the last action needed to repair the circuit would kill him, so we have a touching sacrifice to watch.
Even Garth is sad.
Some ending notes… Dad, Daughter, and the security agent who pursued them from the Alpha-5 biosphere are all black. So far we’ve seen only one black person aboard the Ark, a man in Omnicron, so this is a pleasant surprise, as is the fact that the inhabitants of Alpha-5 seem to have maintained a higher level of technology, and a better sense of what is really going on with the Ark, than those in most of the other biospheres. It’s also a little disturbing, because it suggests there might have been segregation in effect when populations were assigned to biospheres at the start of the Ark’s flight. I guess that three people aren’t enough to assume that all the inhabitants of a biosphere are of one race, though.
Cosby kid style.
Percy Rodriguez played Dad, and his acting outshines everyone else’s in this episode. As a matter of fact, casting him might not have been such a good idea, because his acting makes everybody else’s look even worse by comparison.
Working for that elusive Emmy.
This is a very boring episode. I guess it was meant to be suspenseful, but all but the youngest viewers must have figured out by now that nothing bad is going to happen to the heroes.
This sign is more suspenseful…
Before I talk about the action, I have to give a clothing update. Devon, Rachel, and Garth are out of their silver suits and back in their Cypress Corners clothes, although Rachel’s hair is now completely loose. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, the threesome are now walking down a ship’s corridor, when suddenly a strong wind (!) comes up and nearly blows them off their feet. They have to take refuge in a random nearby biosphere. I have no idea why there would be a strong current of air blowing through a spaceship corridor, maybe for cleaning purposes?
OMG her hair!
Evidently the biosphere’s civilization is at a relatively high level, because there are neon lights all over the place. There are also paintings and sculptures scattered around, so it looks as though they’ve stumbled into an art gallery. Garth and Rachel are wondering why one of the sculptures just disappeared right in front of their eyes, when in walks a woman with a blonde beehive and a blue satin swimsuit topped with a sparkly transparent blouse. (The swimsuit seems to have been made for a smaller woman than the one who’s currently wearing it, and it reveals more than TV shows of the time generally permitted. I can’t think of a delicate way to be more specific, except to say this is probably why the camera doesn’t get too close to anything below her waist. We also see some of the bulges Nate’s been mentioning, too. Seriously, could the series get away with this?) Devon and Garth are disturbed to see that Rachel seems mesmerized by one of the sculptures, and the woman is not very forthcoming as to what’s going on with the artwork or with Rachel. It seems the artwork is generated by a computer that picks up people’s thought waves and solidifies them into works of art.
That can’t be comfortable for her to wear.
Our threesome is provided with lavish food, clothing, and lodging (and hairstyling in the case of Rachel), but the blonde woman refuses to explain why things and people appear and disappear. Garth and Rachel are falling for the illusions hook, line, and sinker and are perfectly willing to stay forever, but Devon retains his mind and his sense of purpose. The blonde woman has dropped some hints that make it appear that a being named Magnus is responsible for everything, and Devon wants to find him. With some difficulty, he snaps Garth and Rachel out of their hypnotic states, but before they can go looking for Magnus, Magnus comes to them.
That’s not art, that’s crap.
Magnus, it seems, is a supercomputer designed for the use of the commander of the Ark. He was responsible for the wind that blew the threesome into this biosphere. What does Magnus want with them? He’s read Devon’s mind and believes Devon can reprogram him so he can recreate the Ark’s commander. Devon wonders why Magnus wants the commander back, and Magnus says that the commander will help him restore the Ark to its full function. After that, he says piously, he asks only to stay around to be of further service. Yeah, I don’t believe him, and neither does Devon. He flatly refuses to reprogram Magnus.
Magnus’ interface is quite flashy.
I was wondering what was keeping our threesome from just leaving the biosphere, and in fact they try, but it seems Magnus isn’t going to give up without a fight. They leave through the door they came in by, only to find brightly flashing lights and the feeling that walls are closing in on them. Devon reminds them that it’s all an illusion and if they stop believing in it, it will go away. This actually works, but all this gets them is back to where they first spoke to Magnus.
Stop posing, Devon.
Magnus throws a few more illusions at them, and Devon finally agrees to reprogram Magnus – but only if Magnus recreates the Ark Commander first. Magnus protests that he can’t do this until he’s reprogrammed. For a short time we have a Mexican standoff, but eventually Magnus yields and creates someone who claims to be Admiral Austin, the Ark’s commander. Devon’s first question is. “Where is the backup bridge?” The Admiral points out that what Devon sees is a compilation of information gathered during the Admiral’s lifetime, and he doesn’t know anything that happened after his death, which was prior to the accident. I assume the backup bridge was set up after his death, which is odd as I would have thought there’d have been one set up before the Ark was launched. Maybe it was an oversight that was corrected later. However, he does give Devon one useful piece of information: Magnus can’t be trusted, he malfunctioned right from the start and was never put into service. With that, he fades away.
This guy was in charge of the entire Ark? Really?
Of course Devon refuses to reprogram Magnus and instead tries to empty his memory banks. Rachel and Garth, displaying the kind of thinking we’ve seen from them before, try to talk Devon out of it, saying that it’s a shame to destroy such a unique computer. Garth is easily swayed and Rachel is too meek to protest once Devon states again that Magnus is too dangerous to be allowed to exist, so they proceed. Devon presses many unmarked buttons on a console, until, and why I don’t know, it occurs to him to slide open a door on a cabinet above the console. This reveals many colored tubes, which Devon and Garth somehow know they must remove. They do, and this puts an end to Magnus. Our threesome now find themselves standing in a bare room, wearing their Cypress Corner clothes. There’s a moment of suspense when it looks as though their magic key isn’t able to open the door, but finally it does, and they enter the corridor, only to be greeted by a disembodied voice that informs them that Magnus isn’t the only computer aboard the Ark, and for destroying Magnus, the threesome is now officially listed on the computers’ Naughty List, along with the possibility of punishment for bad little kids. Or words to that effect.
The girl also disappears for some reason.
Some ending notes… Finally, some suspense! Of course we knew Devon would prevail, but there was at least the possibility that Magnus would trick him. And it looks as though Devon didn’t win completely, after all. We’ll have to see if the computers actually follow up on their threat, or if this ends up being forgotten.
This room could use some coffee tables.
Garth and Rachel are pretty much dead weight as far as Devon’s quest to find the backup bridge is concerned, and here they were actually a hindrance. We weren’t seeing any particular affection between Devon and Rachel in this episode, and I’m wondering if eventually he won’t send Garth and Rachel back to Cypress Corners and go on alone. Probably not, that would be too great a deviation from the standard quest format that’s been set up in the series so far. The hero never ditches his buddies, no matter how useless they are.
Rachel always stands in the middle, what gives?
Back to Nate now for the next four episodes.
Thanks, Pam, I’ll run us through the next four episodes. So far this has been an experience in wasted potential and bad hair, let’s hope things improve.
Our heroes Devon, Rachel, and Garth are still out and about, uselessly poking into corners and crannies to find clues to the mysteries that only they can solve (sure). They stumble upon a biosphere called “Manchester”, and the only entrance is sealed behind a huge, impenetrable door that’s locked from the outside. They go through it, but it closes behind them, trapping them inside. They are quickly captured by guards and taken to see Manchester’s leader, the titular Mister Smith. This tall, charming Englishman (?), who looks like Admiral Akbar, is convinced they are spies from “enemy forces” beyond his dome and even after torturing them a bit he’s still not entirely convinced.
Didn’t put up much of a fight.
Mister Smith eventually monologues like a Bond villain, explaining how his biosphere is, was, and always will be tasked with producing armaments for the Ark, just in case they are needed (one can imagine many scenarios). He hints of “the Dome Wars” in the distant past and how the “other forces” locked Manchester’s door to keep them from destabilizing the rest of the Ark. As such, Manchester has developed into an isolated and xenophobic military/industrial complex that is run on paranoia and fear, with disloyalty and inefficiency punishable by death.
Smith makes his case for deterrence.
While the ruling elite live in the “inner city” that is a model of hi-tech comfort and pastel walls, the worker class and the “undesirables” live in the “outer city” which is seen as a matte painting of a dingy sky and a collection of miniature model armament factories, all spewing out toxic smoke. Those unlucky workers die often and painfully, all to keep Mister Smith’s warehouses filled with guns and bombs.
Call the EPA!
Mister Smith needs our three country bumpkins to help him find a secret way out of the dome so they can open the blast door from the outside like they did before. He claims that he just wants to bring peaceful commerce and democracy to the rest of the Ark. He is, of course, lying through his gnarly British teeth. But our heroes also need to get the heck out of Dodge, so they cooperate reluctantly and search for the exit. Along they way they learn that there are those in Manchester who don’t agree with Mister Smith and his policies and are not afraid to tell our heroes about their worries. These include a girl who looks like Doctor Pulaski from The Next Generation and another girl who looks like Kitty Foreman from That ‘70’s Show. Of course, Mister Smith has them both murdered for their treasonous thoughts, but they were just here for exposition anyway.
Doctor Pulaski is tortured for treason.
In the end our heroes find a secret exit and flee, leaving Manchester still locked in tight with their xenophobia and their guns. Mister Smith rages at them as they leave about how he’ll be back one day, but I’m guessing he won’t because this series hates bringing back guest stars. Lessons learned: Guns are bad, military guys are bad, politicians are bad, and when you combine all three together it’s really, really bad. Filmed in 1973, remember, just about the peak of America’s revulsion with the M/I Complex and emotionally worn down by a decade in Vietnam, these sorts of sentiments were often seen in the popular media of the day.
Devon will single-handedly save the day.
What’s good about this episode? This girl, in this dress, all night long.
Seems pretty self-explanatory.
Some ending notes… The confident, imposing, Shakespearian actor playing Mister Smith is simply amazing in every way. His whole character profile is one of duplicity, coercion, and violence, but he still manages to bring a level of humanity and civility to the man that makes you really want to get a beer with him someday. There’s also a few moments where Mister Smith shows even he’s capable of genuine sadness and depression, a fully rounded character like we’ve not seen before in the series, he’ll be missed.
His hair won’t be missed.
The background stuff on the Dome Wars and all that, really welcome when it seems like every episode takes place the day after “the accident” and not four centuries later. So much still needed to be explained about the “lost years” since the ship left Earth, and this is a start.
You need all these tanks for the next war.
We’ve seen weapons in almost every episode, but they’ve all been Phaser-type ray guns (often with invisible beams, saving some cash on post-prod optical effects). But here, in the climactic showdown in the warehouse, our heroes (and the bad guys) break out standard 20th century Earth weapons, like MP-40 and Sten submachineguns. And these aren’t “sci-fi’d up” at all, they are just regular prop guns borrowed from the set of a WWII drama filming down the street, complete with magazines and ejecting brass and everything. Just really, really seems anachronistic with everything we’ve seen so far, but I’m sure a box of blank cartridges, ear plugs, and some liability waivers cost much less than scratching out and color-coding laser beam lines on ten minutes worth of film negatives.
That might be the actual actress, not a stuntwoman.
During a brief visit to the factory zone, a guy goes around collecting corpses and calling out “Bring out your dead!”. Ok, ok, I know that his phrase dates to the Black Death in Europe, but when anyone born in the last century hears this they immediately think of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (don’t lie to me, you do). Since that movie wasn’t made until 1975, this is a rare example of a “Retconned Pop Culture Reference”, a term which I am fast at work trademarking as we speak.
Hovering corpse cart.
Really, and I mean this, Rachel and Garth really didn’t need to be in this episode at all. This was yet another Devon-centric episode and he gets 85% of the plot-relevant lines and makes all the decisions in the end to save them. I sometimes wonder why Garth (almost) always defers to Devon in most situations. Is it just because he’s older? Or because Devon has a more forceful and commanding personality? Is it because Garth just isn’t the type to make decisions? Been very interesting watching the power dynamics of these two as the series progresses.
When did they start wearing belts?
This episode is another “silver jumpsuit episode”, where our heroes have ditched their homespun Amish clothes for those fucking ugly pleather motorcycle rider outfits. I am not amused.
I can see Garth’s package, ew.
Another episode, another “wandering about the ship” intro. They come across a section of the main Ark that has suffered a decompression failure due to an impact many months ago. They then discover, in order, a horrendous rip in the side of the Ark, a beautiful blonde chick in lingerie, Ensign Pavel Chekov, and the most laughable “spaceship” ever slapped together with gaffer’s tape and baling wire. Stay with me, a lot is happening here.
The hole in the Ark was caused by Pavel’s spaceship (the “531”) accidentally crashing into it while on a recon mission (from the planet “Exar“) as the Ark drifted into Federation space. While looking for supplies and spare parts to fix his busted ship, Pavel came across the blonde chick, who was on the run from her biosphere (most likely called “Egret“). She had to leave her home because they have a breeding problem there and since she’s barren she was marked for death. She’ll dead soon anyway, because she’s been exposed to radiation or something, but she’s been helping Pavel gather the stuff from the abandoned Ark to get back home, loyal to him to the end.
How do Devon etc react to proof that other intelligent life exists in the universe? Pretty well, actually, quite nonplussed, just another day at the office for them. Devon does have some problem with Pavel stealing stuff from the humans (not sure where he’s going with that) and he even gets a bit physical with Pavel when he won’t give back the thingie that he stole from the thingie place to fix his own thingie. In the end, however, Devon realizes that he’s being a prick and works to help Pavel escape back home, coming to understand that just because he‘s a bumbling fool doesn‘t mean he has the right to keep someone else from being smart.
Doesn’t work well with others.
Garth, predictably, falls in love with the dying blonde girl who is pledged to Pavel, because that’s the sort of emotionally self-defeatist thing that Garth always does. The girl is torn a bit, conflicted about her loyalty to Pavel and about the way strapping hairsuit Garth makes her naughty bits tingle. Or maybe that tingling is just the radiation ravaging her body because she’s going to be dead in a few days if she doesn’t leave with Pavel back to his homeworld to get the medical attention only they can offer. Oh what will she do?
You know how this will end.
Rachel is just in the way. I don’t like her.
Not one bit.
In the end, Garth finally uses his blacksmith skills for something and hand-makes bolts and nuts to fix Pavel’s spaceship (seriously). Pavel says he’ll send back a team to help fix the Ark (I think he’s lying) and he takes the girl onto his ship and flies off. Garth is again blueballed and sad. For a “first contact”, that was pretty lame, one hopes that in real life we humans would be a bit more excited about meeting an alien life form for the first time.
And away he goes.
Some ending notes… The girl in pink is probably the best of the female guest stars so far, in my opinion. She’s a good actress and very pretty and even seems comfortable in that ridiculous baby doll lingerie outfit they stuck her in. Of course she is playing a desperate refugee from a backwards dome, so the fact that her hair and make-up is always absolutely perfect is a bit offputting. If she started out as dirty and scruffy, then we could have a scene where Garth gets her cleaned up and she discovers that being a hot chick is really worth the time and effort. And then she dies of radiation poisoning.
That’s a lot of boobs.
Science consultant Ben Bova!?! I know, right? But as much as I hate to type this, for the most part the “hard science” of this series has been pretty sound. Sure there’s been some exceptions, but overall they clearly put some effort into making it at least sound plausible. There’s a couple of rough concepts, like the shrinking machine and some of the optical effects, but for the most part it’s not hard to believe that 8 centuries of technological advancement would produce what we see here.
And he used his own name, unlike Ellison.
The spaceship is so so bad. While a full-sized prop, it’s covered in transparent domes and you can tell it’s made of plywood and chicken wire. It’s the focal point of the entire episode, as fixing it is Pavel’s sole motivation for everything he does, so you’d think they’d try and not make it suck so bad. And why does it look like a Roswell UFO? Is that really a shape that every alien civilization defaults to?
Lastly, the blue-screening is mortifyingly bad in this episode. This has to stop.
Not even trying anymore.
Like usual, Devon and crew are messing around with electrical stuff they have no idea how to use and there’s an accident. Devon has his brain scrambled by some sort of “sonic overload” and is left a drooling vegetable. I know, I know, he’s a better actor when playing dead, but that’s not the point.
Just let him go!
Rachel and Garth freak out and start randomly yelling at the Beatnik computer info hologram, who, and I hate having to say this because it sounds so stupid, contacts the “Astro-Medics” to come save Devon. The Astro-Medics are a medical team on a small spaceship (a reuse of the Pisces model) who have apparently been hanging around in the neighborhood of the Ark for the last 500 years. What? Yes, though they toss a line in there about generations of doctors and nurses supposedly living here on this tiny spaceship, it still feels very much like something that wouldn’t still be active four centuries after the legendary accident that crippled the Ark, but there you go.
So the Astro-Medics rush in and take our three heroes onboard and head out to space again. There’s some background characters on the ship, but really it’s all about Martin and Chris. No, not the Kratt Brothers from PBSKids, though I’d much prefer them in these roles, but a father/son (Martin/Chris) team of supersmart doctors who are Devon’s only chance for survival. The hook is that Chris is a total douchebag to everyone, including this father, who taught him all he knows about medicine. There’s a generational conflict subplot here where Chris has to learn that his father is still a capable doctor and a trusted friend, even if he doesn’t have the stamina and quickness of youth anymore. And Martin has to learn that he raised a son that’s a raging dickwad and find a way to get over that embarrassment.
There’s also a middle-aged psychiatrist chick with terrible hair who was/is/might be again Chris’ girlfriend who spends most of the episode counseling the grief-struck Garth, who thinks the accident with Devon was his fault (it clearly wasn’t). She’s also here to give Garth someone to, OMFG yet again, fall helplessly in doomed, desperate love with, even though we all know by the ending credits she will spurn him, and he’ll die miserable, all alone in his condemned house with his cats and his VHS tapes.
Just give it up, dude.
Devon gets his surgery, complete with flashing strobe lights and blinking computer panels and random kitchen appliances, and is just fine, waking up right near the end of the episode to laugh knowingly about how he just cashed a paycheck for doing nothing all week. This would have been the PERFECT opportunity for the production team to kill off the Devon character, who by episode 11 was clearly not living up to expectations, and reinvigorate the series with a new character/actor. Maybe someone with a little more charisma and charm than the wooden Devon, someone who could bring the best out in Garth and Rachel and give us something exciting to look forward to. Alas, the early buy-out clause in Keir Dullea’s contract was too expensive so Devon has to soldier on like limp wallpaper paste in the hot sun.
Chris points a shower faucet at Devon’s head and all is well.
All that’s the A-Plot, but there’s a B-Plot here, too, one with aliens! While everyone is mincing and hand-wringing about comatose Devon, the Astro-Medics receive a distress call from an alien spacecraft that just happens to be floating nearby. Are these the same aliens from Pavel Chekov’s planet? No, totally different ones, meaning that now we have yet another highly advanced race of extraterrestrials that no one really seem at all concerned or excited about. It’s gray-haired 80-year old Martin who uses his wily vintage brains to crack the mystery, something about the aliens not having any sense of temperature changes because their home planet was always 72 and partly cloudy like San Diego. Whatever. It’s this new challenge met that forces Chris to grudgingly accept his father’s advice on helping Devon, who Chris had pretty much left for dead while he was concentrating on aliens.
Chris is quite the xenobiologist.
So our heroes get the Astro-Medics to help them unfreeze some nuclear propulsion engineers from the cryo-lab and get the Ark turned arou…no, wait, they just wave bye to the departing medical ship and go back to crawling around the tunnels in the dark. Yeah, that’s fine, whatever works for you. I’m beginning to think that none of them are really that serious about trying to save the Ark anymore, either that or they’re just really, really dumb. And speaking of dumb, at no time did Garth or Rachel (Devon gets a pass, obviously) say to anyone, “Aliens? Wow, man, that’s weird as shit because just last week we ran into a completely different race of aliens in another part of the Ark!”. Did they not think that sort of information might be relevant here? Really?
No, just leave, we don’t need you.
Some ending notes… Devon is lying down nearly the entire episode, how can that not be anything other than wonderful? He has like 7 lines and has his eyes closed 95% of the time, that’s a fantastic change of pace for the series.
Why can’t that just be a flat line?
The interpersonal conflict between Martin and Chris is surprisingly well done, even if they have to rush it to get through all the other plot lines. I know this would never happen, especially in 1973, but I’d love it if this episode ended with Chris still being an arrogant dickwad and Martin sulking off to weep softly in the back room and curse his name. I realize the studio suits would red-x that sort of downer plot ending in a heartbeat, but something more realistic like that might have been a groundbreaking moment in television history.
At least he still has most of his hair.
Yet another “alien” race that looks like modern day humans. I know, I know, money was tight and it’s cheap to just give an actor a bowl haircut and slap a few coats of green face paint on him and call it a day, but it’s a complete misuse of a golden opportunity to do something unique. Even if they put a guy in a puppet suit with fifteen tentacles held up by fishing line, at least they’d be trying something different for once. Even the ultra-cheap b-movies of the 1950s often experimented with aliens who were one-eyed stalks or fleshy blobs of goo, got to give them credit for the effort at least.
Mexican bellhop aliens, no less.
Our cast is left laughing (again) as the credits role. More often that not this series falls into the sit-com trap of always having to end on a happy note where all is smiles and giggles, the bad guy gets his comeuppance and a valuable life lesson is learned. Typical of the era, but wouldn’t it be great to see the good guys lose, the bad guys victorious, and blood everywhere? Just like with the Martin/Chris old/young conflict, there are uncounted opportunities to make this a darker, more complex series. Maybe next time.
Cue laugh track.
Another week, another biosphere with major social problems desperately needing to be fixed by three vagabond Amish travelers. This time it’s an unnamed dome of fairly high-tech cosmopolitan civilians who are led by an elderly Queen who really seems to care about her people‘ welfare and happiness. This old lady, however, spends all her time holed up in her palace knitting sweaters and never goes out to see her people, instead depending on her Regent Roloff to handle the day-to-day operations of running the dome’s society.
Who invited them here?
Unsurprisingly, the Regent is a cruel, power-mad, duplicitous sociopath who has forced nearly everyone to have a brain chip implanted, a chip that he can use to kill them with pain via remote control whenever it serves his sadistic needs. He’s just dismissed the puppet Citizens Council and is now running the show all by himself when our heroes arrive. The Queen is unaware of all this, of course, still believing that everything is hunky dory.
I would buy a used Buick from this man.
It’s up to our three Cypress Corners expats to wander into this mess and make it all better! Not knowing when to just cut their losses and leave before something bad happens (people tend to get killed whenever they show up and start meddling), they decide to help the resistance overthrow the bad Regent. Why? Who knows, that’s the “Plot of the Week”, but it’s painfully clear that there’s nothing here in this dome that’s going to help them in any way achieve their oft-stated goal of finding someone who can get the Ark back on course. No one here knows anything useful, nor are they even interested in helping, so just turn around and walk away. There’s really not any pretty girls here, either, so even Garth has nothing to keep him from leaving (not broken-hearted for once…).
The capitol city is a nice mix of models and mattes.
But stay they do and much palace intrigue follows. The Regent is a suave manipulative bastard with a game show host smile and food truck cook greasy hair, who manages to convince Devon that he really should get a brain implant so he can be supersmart. This, predictably, backfires on dumbass Devon and it’s only through the timely intervention of Garth, a dirty-faced kid, some former city council members, and the wispy spectre of Rachel that Devon is able to survive to the end. No mention of Devon’s spectacularly bad decision making is made ever again, though someone should talk to him about it because he once again almost got everyone killed because he’s an idiot.
Anyway, the Regent Roloff is overthrown, the Queen comes out of her chambers to clean up the mess, and everything is peachy. The new rulers of the dome, the former councilmen, are now back in charge and surely a de-Bathification bloodletting is to come as loyalties are questioned and snitches given stitches. Rachel and Devon hug chastely and hold hands while Garth just strokes his crossbow idly and dreams of one day finding love that lasts longer than 42 minutes plus commercial breaks.
Garth has to be on suicide watch by now.
Some ending notes… This episode’s world building attempts are admirable, if limited. One wonders how this society got to have a traditional monarchy anyway, did they already have one when they left Earth or did it somehow come about in the last 500 years? It doesn’t really seem like the type of governmental structure that futuristic space-faring humans would adopt on their own.
Queens are awesome.
The whole implant idea is a good one, as it was originally developed to help scientists increase their brainpower and intelligence. The implants themselves are not the problem, if used the right way, it‘s just that the Regent figured out a way to use them for evil. The people should really look into improving the implants and not simply chucking them because of one bad usage. Imagine how many of their society’s problems could be helped with a little extra smarts.
This guy could really use a boost.
Oh there’s another child actor! Almost without exception, every actor under the age of 16 in this series has been a talentless hack who makes viewers want to change the channel as fast as they can lurch out of their easychairs. It doesn’t help that so far all the kids in the show have clearly been the sons and nieces of the production crew and not professional actors, which I’m sure saved them a bunch of money but makes your audiences’ eyeballs bleed whenever they’re in frame. Either recast with decent child actors or rewrite the parts to be 20somethings, both better options.
Street urchin kid with heart of gold (yawn).
Yet another supposedly hi-tech society that can’t offer any help at all to help the Ark. Not only can’t they offer anything, but they seem completely unwilling to even try. Why has every single biosphere society so far simply refused to leave their dome for any reason, even if it means their own survival. I get from a storytelling perspective you have to keep it to just our three heroes wandering around between each episode, but it really makes zero sense that they still haven’t found anyone who could at the very least go back with them to the command bridge and have a look around.
Can a brother get a little help here?
Some notes on the series up to this point… Continuing my running tally of how many biospheres have been identified so far…
Tunnel Rat Loaner Dome
Alpha-5 (mentioned, but not seen, in Circuit of Death)
Egret (mentioned, but not seen, in The Alien Oro)
M-32 (mentioned, but not seen, in The Astro-Medics)
The Implant People dome
Can I get a wide shot?
Why hasn’t anyone blown up the tunnels yet? If there was really a civil war of sorts on the Ark at one point, you’d think there’d be more in the way of damage. The visuals show that the domes are all still firmly connected by thin tunnels to the Ark, high-value choke points that would make prime targets for all sides. Of course, the only thing we’ve heard of this civil war was from Mister Smith from Manchester, and he was a proven liar about most things, so perhaps there really wasn’t any sort of armed conflict on the Ark.
View from the command bridge.
Is this not the mostly completely humorless show ever made? Has anyone laughed? Told a joke? Found the humor in any situation? Not the painfully forced laughs at the end of each episode, but genuine humor written into the scrip and delivered deliberately, have we seen any of that? You can have a serious sci-fi series with a lot of drama and weight and still find moments of humor. The original Star Trek proved that well, though most of its humor came from the relationships between the main characters (our Big Three have zero chemistry).
How can you not laugh at all those trash cans?
A great amount of plot movement takes place because of that magical “electronic key” that Devon was given way back in the first episode. The entire Ark is covered with these half basketball-sized input boxes with a couple random buttons and a key strip slot, one on every single door and on just about every control panel and desk. All Devon has to do is slide his key in and tap a few buttons and the door opens, no trouble at all. My question is why doesn’t anyone else have one of these keys? It would seem that every crewman on the Ark would/should have a similar key, not to mention the leaderships in the domes, so why does it seem like Devon has the only key on the entire ship?
The universal everything boxes.
Over to Pam now to finish up our series’ last four episodes.
Thanks, Nate. I’m back, picking up for the last four episodes. With 12 episodes gone by, surely both the acting and the writing have improved? Let’s see…
Remember when Nate asked why Devon is the only one who has a key to the biosphere doors? And remember when I pointed out that we’ve seen virtually no travel between domes? Well, that just changed at the beginning of this episode, as we see a scruffy, dirty-looking man try to open a door. He has a key, but it doesn’t work. It appears, based on the computer voice we hear, that he’s at the Master Control area but needs a special key to get in. However, the unsavory man is a resourceful sort, because he pulls a prybar out of his satchel and commences to jimmy open the door. The computer continues to sound the alarm and call for security, but instead Devon shows up and has apparently appointed himself head of security, because rather than helping the man, he orders him to leave. The man doesn’t listen, but the computer’s threats aren’t idle, because a ray shoots out of a nearby orifice and knocks the man unconscious. Instead of trying his key, or at least giving the man first aid, Devon races off to consult the Beatnik computer. It’s is verbose as always, but out of the flow of verbiage, Devon deduces that somebody inside Master Control has assumed command and is keeping everybody out.
He provides plot drama.
Devon returns and demands entry into Master Control, and somewhat to his surprise, is allowed in. The first being he encounters is a chatty robot, at which sight Devon shows no surprise. I don’t remember him encountering a robot before, but after all, by now he should be used to all sorts of unfamiliar equipment, so I guess his lack of surprise is natural. Anyway, the robot informs him that the would-be burglar is Williams, who, it seems, makes a habit of trying to get into places he’s not supposed to be in. Devon also finds out that the new commander is none other than our old friend Pavel (“Oro”), which you probably guessed when you saw the title of this episode.
OMG that robot!
Pavel’s in the same tiny spaceship he was in before (no sign of a bathroom!), but the girl we saw with him before isn’t with him now. All continuity hasn’t been abandoned, though, because Devon actually remembers her and asks how she’s doing, to be told by Pavel that she’s receiving treatment. Pavel is being mysterious about what he’s doing back at the Ark, not to mention his reason for assuming command, and Williams is being mysterious about why he wants to get into Pavel’s spaceship so badly. So we’ve got some suspense going on right now. After some prying by Devon, Pavel finally breaks down and says he’s come back to fix the Ark, which will then be put into orbit around Exar, Pavel’s planet. Garth, Rachel, and the mysterious Williams think this is peachy (which suggests that Williams may know more about what’s going on with the Ark than the average Ark dweller), but Devon is suspicious, and in my opinion, rightly so. There’s something shifty about Pavel.
Watch him close.
Pavel extols the beauties of Exar, and Garth, Rachel, and Williams are even more eager to go there, but Devon remains adamant that he thinks it’s a bad idea. At this, Pavel says sadly that he can’t take the Ark to Exar without unanimous consent, so it’s all off. Now, why is this? In the first place, who made Devon the decision-maker? In the second place, if complete unanimity is so important to Pavel, why is he only checking with these four people, one of whom he’s never seen before? Why doesn’t he have to get consent from everybody aboard the Ark? As a matter of fact, this question occurs to Devon, too, but Garth, Rachel, and Williams shrug it off and walk out when he asks them. Devon’s looking rather down in the mouth until the chatty robot helpfully tells him the beautiful scenes of Exar Pavel showed them aren’t really of Exar at all, they’re of Earth as it was long in the past. Exar, on the other hand, is cold, bleak, and has barely enough oxygen to sustain human life.
These two wouldn't last a week.
Meanwhile, Pavel seems to be trying to get the reactors back on line, probably strictly as a technical exercise, since of course he can’t take the Ark anywhere without everyone’s consent, remember? Devon finds this out and confronts Pavel, who retorts that the Ark contains valuable knowledge that shouldn’t be lost, and he’s salvaging it to take back to Exar. You know, he’s actually right about this. Devon is upset that the Ark’s inhabitants will be taken to Exar against their wills, but really, what else waiting for them except certain death? Exar doesn’t sound like the greatest place to live, but it beats the alternative.
Devon just really doesn't like Pavel.
Pavel manages to lock Devon and Williams in an unused stateroom while he proceeds with the reactors. Even the expert burglar Williams can’t get them out, but Devon spots something. The spaceship designers must have watched a lot of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea episodes, since they thoughtfully provided one of the Seaview’s conveniences: ventilation ducts in crew quarters that are big enough to crawl through. (Seriously, who designs a spaceship or a submarine with all this waste space?) These are even more convenient than those on the Seaview, because you don’t have to climb up to get into these, they’re handily located at waist-level. (I’m trying to remember if I’ve seen a sign of these ducts before. I don’t think so.) Williams seems to be completely familiar with the layout of the duct system, and off he and Devon go. Pavel knows they’re coming, because the blabbermouth computer tracks them and tell him exactly where they are.
Round access hatches? Really?
Poor Williams slips and falls and breaks his foot, and Devon just leaves him in the shaft while he charges off to stop Pavel, although when he catches up to Garth and Rachel, he sends Garth to help Williams. He and Pavel meet in the reactor room, where Pavel catches Devon trying to sabotage the reactors (and how does Devon even know how to do this?). Pavel tries to shoot Devon, using a weapon that looks remarkably like a piece of pipe with a handle glued on it, but for once the computer does Devon a favor. It seems that firing weapons in the reactor room is strictly forbidden (Why? Did the original crew think this was likely enough to happen that they made a rule against it?), so the computer deactivates Pavel’s pipe – ah, weapon. How it deactivates it is anybody’s guess, unless the computer has telekinetic powers, but it manages to save Devon and induce Pavel to make a virtue out of necessity and negotiate. Or sort of – he agrees to let the computer decide who is right, him or Devon, but with the addendum that whichever one loses, the computer will kill him. You readers of Isaac Asimov will be asking along with Devon, “Who would design a computer that’s willing to kill people?” Pavel’s explanation is, “You underestimate Tau Zeta (the computer’s name).”
Pavel and Devon have a stare-down.
Now that we’re all the wiser about the nature of computers, we can get on to the debate between Devon and Pavel. They spend a great deal of time arguing about the respective virtues of Exarians and humans, but finally, after much heat and some scenery-chewing, Devon convinces the computer that humans have the right to determine their own destiny. At which, Pavel whines that the computer is biased against him, and the computer cheerfully agrees and points out something that hadn’t occurred to Pavel, namely that it was designed by humans who built their own attitudes into it. You may recall that the loser was to be killed, but Devon, showing what a generous guy he is, orders the computer to release Pavel, who wastes no time getting back to his spaceship and making his departure from the Ark.
Pavel's ship looks just as awful as before.
Except that he doesn’t. Just before he takes off, he reports the failure of his mission to his superiors on Exar. They inform him that failure is unacceptable, he must bring the Ark back to Exar. To make sure he has no choice, they destroy his spaceship, with Pavel getting out in the nick of time. Well, Rachel says with horror that his own people destroyed his spaceship, but actually all that happens is there’s a smallish puff of smoke, then the camera cuts away. Funds for special effects must have been running low. So now Pavel’s a fugitive inside the Ark. Of course the computer can track him and knows exactly where he is, so it sends Devon, Garth, and Rachel to get him, and he’s captured in no time. Oh, yeah? Well, we’ll have to wait until the next episode to see. If you were wondering what happened to Williams, as soon as Garth got him out of the ventilation shaft, he took off for parts unknown.
Pavel's having a bad day.
Sloppy writing in places:
1) Why did Pavel even bother to ask Devon if he could take the Ark back to Exar? Couldn’t he have just sneaked up behind him, knocked him unconscious, fixed up the reactors, and taken the Ark back to Exar? Or since the Ark is so big, just get to work, tell the computer not to say anything to Devon, and head back to Exar before Devon realizes what’s going on? (By the way, with the main bridge knocked out, this might not have been possible anyway even if the reactors were working, since it might not be possible to coordinate power, flight, and navigation without the main bridge. However, we haven’t been told what the purpose of the main bridge actually was, or if Pavel knows where the backup bridge is and was going to use it, so I’ll let this go. But then, how would Pavel know where the backup bridge was, since nobody else on the Ark seems to?).
2) When did Devon learn enough about the Ark’s reactors to sabotage them?
3) Pavel’s “explanation” of the computer’s ability to kill was no explanation at all.
4) And finally, just who is Williams and what was the purpose of giving him such a big part in the story, other than for him to try to break into Master Control and thus alert Devon that somebody had taken command of the area? Will he ever be seen again? (I’m guessing not.)
Some ending notes… Ensign Pavel Chekhov is back! And he’s introduced a plot complication for Devon and team! And does he ever make the actors playing Devon, Garth, and Rachel look wooden and lifeless! Which brings us to…
Even Devon's shadow is a better actor.
Pavel (and Williams too, for that matter) makes Devon, Garth, and Rachel look wooden and lifeless. Okay, it’s probably not fair to point this out yet again, since they haven’t been anything else but wooden and lifeless throughout the series, but I just couldn’t resist. How were these three actors ever cast, anyway? All of the guest stars make them look pitiful.
I almost forgot Garth was in this episode.
Wow, there are some threats building up for our main characters, huh? First Devon gets the computers mad at him in Episode 8, and now there’s an alien determined to hijack the Ark and take it back to his planet. Oh, come on, don’t tell me you forgot that at the end of the last episode, Oro was loose in the Ark and had been informed by his superiors that if he didn’t come home in the Ark, he wasn’t coming home at all. Well, you might as well forget it, because you aren’t going to hear anything about him in this episode. In fact, Devon, Garth, and Rachel seem to have forgotten all about him, and the hostile computers, too. But I’ll be fair and say they have a pretty serious distraction going on.
Their duds must be getting stinky by now.
The episode opens with the Ark shaking to the point where they think it’s being attacked. Oh, no, have Oro’s people lost patience and decided to come get the Ark themselves? No, it turns out it’s more of an internal threat. Their old buddy the Beatnik computer directs them to an out-of-the-way module, where they find two scientists who have decided to take the Ark into a comet to see what it’s like on the inside. This unfortunately means the Ark is going to be destroyed in short order by debris from the comet. The senior scientist, Dr. Farthing, doesn’t seem to have a problem with this, but as it happens, he’s well aware that the Ark is due to hit a star in the near future, so he does have a point. However, Dr. McBride, the junior scientist, who is – gasp! – a woman, wants to stop observing the comet and spend the last hours with her family. Jeez, women! Now do you see why they can’t become scientists? As a matter of fact, Dr. Farthing mentions that the Ark has some kind of force shields which don’t seem to be working as well as he expected, so possibly he and Dr. McBride didn’t realize they were dooming the Ark until it was too late.
Farthing and his dome.
But Devon has picked up on something you may have noticed, too. Dr. Farthing had to move the Ark to get it in the comet’s path. It seems there are auxiliary navigational reactors that Dr. Farthing used to move the Ark. Well, then, he can just use them to move the Ark to safety, can’t he? It seems not. He doesn’t explain what happened to the reactors, but he states definitely that they’re not working anymore. (If I were there, I’d suspect he was lying about this so he could keep the Ark in the comet.) However, luck is with them, because Dr. McBride knows how to fix the reactors, and there’s a small spacecraft with all they’ll need to go outside the Ark and make the necessary repairs. Yes, I said them. Drs. Farthing and McBride, the ones who actually know how the reactors work, aren’t about to volunteer to do it themselves. This attitude is rather puzzling, actually, since Dr. McBride seems quite upset about the fact that the Ark and its inhabitants are going to perish, and you’d think that now Dr. Farthing knows what the inside of the comet looks like, he’d want to live to do more research. However, they don’t even hint they want to do something themselves, but this gives our three main characters the chance to go out and do something heroic, since as it happens it’ll take three people to operate the spacecraft and make repairs.
Making plans (stupid plans).
You may be thinking right along with me that this episode is starting to sound an awful lot like episode 7, Circuit of Fear, and you’re right. And – oh my God! – this is where they got those mysterious shiny silver jumpsuits they turned up wearing in Circuit of Fear! The scientists must have issued the jumpsuits along with the rest of the repair equipment. So now you know what’s going to happen. Garth flies the spacecraft (and when did he learn how to do this?), while Rachel directs both him and Devon, who is the lucky one going out into the vacuum of outer space to do the hands-on work, protected by nothing more than his silver jumpsuit topped with a fishbowl – I mean a helmet. Air is supplied by a hose connected to what looks like a silver chair cushion strapped to Devon’s back.
As with Circuit of Fear, Devon has a deadline. Not only does he have to get the reactors working before the comet pulverizes the Ark, the spacecraft will have to make it back into the Ark before it’s necessary to fire the reactors, otherwise the spacecraft will be roasted. And is it a good idea to trust Dr. Farthing to use the reactors to move the Ark? So far his actions haven’t exactly been made with the safety of the Ark as their primary concern. What if he decides again that he wants to look at the comet until the very end? But Dr. Farthing seems to have gotten with the program, and he directs all three on what to do while Dr. McBride stands by. There’s a little bit of tension as a few pieces of comet debris shake up the Ark, and Devon, too. And when Devon reaches the reactors and needs Dr. McBride’s instructions, it turns out she’s run off to be with her family after all. This gives Devon and Rachel a chance to display some pathos as they in turn beg her to help (the all-seeing ship’s computer locates her and transmits their voices to her), but it only takes a minute for her to give in and come back. We all knew she would, didn’t we?
Devon needs her help!
Once back, she knows exactly what to do. She’s even quite short with Dr. Farthing when he questions something she said, and she doesn’t back down when he calls her on this. He’s the one who finally gives in and lets her get on with it. That is, until he suddenly announces solemnly that all three have to be back in the Ark within ten minutes. He reluctantly admits that he made a mistake in his calculations. So Dr. McBride orders Devon to stop what he’s doing and get back to the spacecraft, but oh no! The airlock won’t pressurize! And Devon’s almost out of air! There’s nine minutes left to get Devon in, and neither Dr. Farthing nor Dr. McBride know what to do!
But they do know how to dress with style.
It’s very, very sad, but Devon is going to make a noble sacrifice and cut himself loose so Garth and Rachel can get back to the Ark. I can’t understand why they don’t head back to the Ark with Devon in the unpressurized airlock. Even if he runs out of air before they get there, at least he won’t be any worse off than he would be if he were floating alone in space with only a little air left. But Garth steps up to the plate and tries to fix the airlock. I was wondering how a guy who grew up in Cypress Corners knew how to fix an airlock, and in fact his efforts consist of a few seconds of pushing the two buttons that control pressurization and depressurization. Fortunately Dr. McBride has an idea. If Devon stays at just the right distance away from the spacecraft so his tether is tight, the spacecraft can push him into the Ark airlock, which can be pressurized. I’m extremely dubious about the feasibility of this, since his tether has been shown to be quite flexible, but hey, they didn’t ask me for my advice.
Devon saves the human race (again).
So, does Devon make it back to the Ark before his air fails? Do Rachel and Garth make it back without crushing Devon? Do the reactors work (an important question, because it looked as though Dr. McBride ordered Devon to quit before he’d finished what he was doing)? Does the Ark escape the comet? As though you even had to ask. And no sign of Oro through all this. But the good thing is, they now have reactors they can use to maneuver the Ark out of the way of that star it’s going to hit. They’ll probably do this in the next episode. Yeah, right.
It will be ok, Rachel.
Some ending notes… It’s outrageous that out of 16 episodes, they made two almost exactly alike. If the writers were already running so low on ideas, how did they think they could make a long-running series? Judging from the clothes our threesome wore, the two episodes were made back-to-back, with this one first. Another thing that leads me to believe this episode was made relatively early in the series but was shown later is that Rachel is still giving Devon dewy-eyed looks now and then. However, I liked seeing Dr. McBride stand up for herself and be the one to come up with a solution to the problem, even though it probably wouldn’t really work.
Shouldn’t they return these suits now?
I was yawning through the whole business of fixing the reactor, because there was no doubt at all that everything was going to turn out just fine. Also, the writing was rather sloppy, as usual. There was a disconnect between the Dr. Farthing at the beginning who took the Ark inside the comet without caring that it was going to be destroyed, and the Dr. Farthing at the end who did everything he could to save the Ark. As I mentioned, it’s possible he was expecting the Ark’s shields to protect it against the comet and didn’t realize the danger he was putting the Ark into until it was too late, or even that he thought the Ark was doomed no matter what he did so it didn’t matter, but the writers didn’t bother to mention that. And it looked as though Devon was called away from the reactors before completing the repair so he could be brought to safety, but then we saw the reactors were working fine. These problems could have been fixed with just a few extra lines of dialogue, but obviously the writers either didn’t notice them or didn’t care. And it just occurred to me, if Dr. Farthing had working reactors and knew the Ark was going to hit a star soon, why didn’t he use the reactors to move the Ark before the comet ever showed up?
Hold an inquest!
The special effects are really bad in this episode. Devon in space looks like Devon squirming around in front of a big piece of black cardboard with little white dots on it.
Woof, that’s bad.
Another thing, and this is really petty: how many professional actresses have you seen that had noses that looked like Dr. McBride’s?
That is indeed a big schnoz.
So, at the end of the last episode, Devon, Garth, and Rachel found out there were auxiliary reactors available that could (and did) move the Ark. Not only that, but they could be operated from Dr. Farthing’s observatory, so it was no longer immediately necessary to find the backup bridge. Although it may very well be necessary later on to find the backup bridge to navigate the Ark to a planet suitable for settlement, it appears the reactors Dr. Farthing has been using are adequate to move the Ark out of its collision course with the star. Naturally our heroes are camped out in the observatory with Dr. Farthing, who as an astronomer who successfully moved the Ark into to path of a comet, surely knows how to move it out of the path of the star, thus buying Devon and Co. more time to locate the backup bridge…HA! Joke’s on you, because they’re doing nothing of the sort.
Girl, you need a better conditioner for those split ends.
It appears the newly-found auxiliary reactors have completely slipped the threesome’s mind and they’ve decided to do a little more sightseeing around the Ark. This time they end up in yet another dome in a laboratory where a few scientists are hard at work, faithfully carrying out their research, unmindful of the fact that all the crew are dead and the Ark’s been drifting helplessly in space for hundreds of years. This particular research involves bees. How our threesome got here and why they wanted to come aren’t explained. They’re already on the scene as two scientists help a third one in. It seems the bees swarmed all over the unlucky one, stinging him and rendering him unconscious. The senior scientist opines that the recently-adopted practice of broadcasting the bees’ signals back at them has driven them to swarm unpredictably. Well, wouldn’t it do that to you? This sounds a lot like that annoying habit some younger siblings develop, that of repeating everything an older sibling says. Who could blame the bees for getting testy?
Everybody's just so earthtone here.
So, you are probably saying this is bad news for the scientist who got stung, but it sounds as though the other scientists have a good handle on what is causing the problem, and since there’s no evidence Devon, Rachel, and Garth know anything at all about bees, they might as well go on their way, resume looking for the backup bridge, and leave this to the experts. But in the ensuing conversation, we learn a couple of things. One is the senior scientist’s casual mention of “Security” being called to keep intruders out. This is the first we’ve heard of any organization with inter-dome function, let alone an ability to enforce law and order. (And why isn’t it tracking down Pavel Chekov, who as far as I can tell is still on the loose?) In fact, this pretty much contradicts everything we’ve seen so far, which is that each dome has been left to function on its own, making and enforcing its own laws as it sees fit. But let’s let this go for now in the hopes of learning more about this Security organization in the future and concentrate on the second thing we learn, which is that Devon, Garth, and Rachel were notified of communication signals in the bounce tubes at “station C-100” that are unclear, but do suggest some sort of impending threat from this area. This is why the three came here. Okay, what is going on? How did Devon, Garth, and Rachel switch their mission from “looking for the backup bridge to rescue the Ark from its rapidly-approaching doom” to “solving problems throughout the Ark”? No matter what’s going on in one dome, surely it’s more important to rescue the Ark? And how did they arrange to be notified of this alarm? Devon, Garth, and Rachel are also wearing brown-and-beige jumpsuits that that look rather like a uniform. I don’t know if they’ve been granted some official powers offscreen, or have maybe designated themselves as some sort of police force.
More yellow trashcan props.
The senior scientist’s wife, who has the most impressive Afro I’ve ever seen on a white person, informs them that this area was set up to produce bees for the colony that would be established when the Ark found a habitable planet, but recently research has shifted from the mundane to something more interesting: communicating with the bees. Don’t ask me why anybody would want to. How interesting could the conversation of a hive mind of insects be? But I suppose after hundreds of years of research, the more ordinary areas of research have been thoroughly mined out.
Even the walls are bee-themed.
We see more signs that the bees are out of control, also signs Devon feels he has some authority to order people around. We also see a very bad sign, which is there are now at least four gigantic mutant bees that are several feet long. These bees, it is revealed, are the cause of the “impending threat” signal, and they can control the small ordinary bees. The senior scientist seems to be in a perpetual rage, and it turns out there’s more to it than anger at a subordinate who conducted unauthorized research. He’s being controlled by the giant bees, who are not only much larger than normal bees, they’re much more intelligent!
"Bring us honey!"
Devon makes the eminently reasonable suggestion to kill the giant bees. He’s supported, not surprisingly, by the scientist who was so badly stung. The senior scientist’s wife, another scientist, and of course the senior scientist himself, argue some, but finally agree. (The senior scientist can break the bees’ control if he tries, although it seems they can still read his mind.) Oh, but have you forgotten that in past episodes where our heroes are in similar peril from the actions of scientists, there’s some sort of time constraint to add a little more suspense? And so it is here, because they’re going to be out of air in 17 minutes if they don’t kill the bees. (It’s not completely clear to me why, but I think the normal bees, now under control of the mutant bees, are somehow blocking the flow of air into the laboratory, and may be preventing anybody from leaving it. If anybody has taken the trouble to watch this episode closely enough to know this isn’t correct, please let me know.) The giant bees don’t go down without a struggle, one of the scientists dies, and for a few minutes it looks as though the giant bees will again regain control over the senior scientist, but eventually the giant bees are killed – and by Garth, who finally gets to do something useful! This initially leaves the senior scientist devastated, but his wife consoles him with the thought that there are still lots of little bees left for him to play with.
And always time to lay some disco tracks.
Some ending notes… The senior scientist’s wife Afro? That was seriously impressive. I can’t think of anything else.
It's like a beehive (harharhar).
Yet another episode about scientists causing trouble. Yet another episode where the guest actors are better than the stars. Yet another episode where the props and the special effects are abysmal. Yet another episode that has nothing to do with the main plot point, which is the need to save the Ark from its collision with the star. The information available about The Starlost suggests that Harlan Ellison had quit in disgust at this point, and I can see why. Whoever replaced him didn’t even begin to approach his ability, and the level of writing has sunk to the level of acting displayed by the stars. In fact, maybe the child actors were put to work writing scripts when the episode being filmed didn’t need them, that would explain a lot.
Yeah, that's totally legit.
Also, there was something really peculiar: In the struggle with the giant bees, the scientists exposed the bees to an insecticide, hoping to kill them, and in the process, Devon, Garth, and one of the scientists were themselves exposed. Devon and Garth got minor exposures and suffered only minimal symptoms, but the scientist got more exposure and died, although the senior scientist’s wife, who is herself a scientist, said the amount of exposure he got should not be lethal. However, after his death, his shirt is unzipped to reveal that his chest is completely covered with bees (well, it’s really covered with the projection of a swarm of bees – I told you the special effects are awful). I don’t know if we’re supposed to assume he was taken over by normal bees directed by the giant bees, and the bees either stung him to death or left him more vulnerable to the insecticide, or what. Anyway, he’s been back in the laboratory for some time – are we supposed to believe nobody noticed there were bees moving around under his clothing? And he didn’t say anything about the bees when he was being helped back to the laboratory? And nobody mentions this again after it’s shown, either, or tries to explain it. More sloppy writing, it looks like.
OMG that is so bad!
You may recall that in the last episode, Garth finally got to do something besides moon over women who have zero interest in him. In fact, he heroically killed some giant mutant bees who were threatening to take over the entire Ark! Perhaps naturally, this seems to have given him enough gumption to leave Devon and Rachel to their romance (although that seems to be pretty much over at this point), move on, and do something useful with his life. Devon and Rachel have finally remembered their primary mission is to save the Ark and are heading off to biosphere M-71, a biosphere the computer said had a high level of technology the last it heard, when it finally dawns on Garth they’ve been doing this for months and still aren’t any closer to accomplishing anything useful. The auxiliary reactors in Dr. Farthing’s observatory must have slipped his mind. So off he goes, telling them he’s going home. He’s wandering the corridors, looking rather lost, when Fate steps in in the person of an elderly man in a white jumpsuit with red and black trim (is Cypress Corners the only biosphere on the Ark where people wear anything but jumpsuits?) who pulls a gun on him.
Yah gotta warrant, copper?
Garth seems surprisingly unstartled, and he even musters a little hostility. He demands an explanation, and it turns out the man is the Chief of the Intra-Ark police. The Chief is not only able to look up all of Garth’s vital statistics on the computer, he’s able to find out where Garth has been since he left Cypress Corners. What? Where have the police been all this time? Garth has been in deadly peril in nearly every biosphere he’s entered, where were the police? And don’t the police care about all the crazy scientists who’ve been endangering the Ark? What are the police for, anyway?
You know there’s a chair right there?
But Garth doesn’t think to ask this, and it turns out the Chief has something else to worry about – namely, an interplanetary war. My first impulse is to say that meddling in interplanetary wars seems a little out of the normal range of police duties, and perhaps the Chief ought to concentrate on doing what the police are supposed to do, which is protecting the lives and property of the inhabitants of the Ark from criminal activity (hint: tracking down Pavel Chekhov should be a major priority). But even if the Chief chooses to interpret this responsibility very broadly indeed, it seems to me the first priority is still to get the Ark to safety! Why meddle in other planets’ problems when your very own ship is in imminent peril? However, it turns out the Chief has his own little spaceship, so I guess he figures if he doesn’t get around to saving the Ark, he and his staff can just abandon the Ark to its fate while they settle on one of the nearby planets who are threatening to go to war. In fact, maybe that’s why he’s trying to stop the war, he wants a safe haven to go to.
Garth, oh, Garth, why are you here?
According to the Chief, there is a Federation of Planets nearby that picked up the Ark’s signal five years ago and contacted the Ark. I don’t know why this Federation thought a disabled Ark could help them, and I don’t know why the Federation didn’t send assistance to at least get the Ark out of its course toward the star. I also don’t know why a Chief of Police with a staff as limited as his is (it seems to consist of only two people) decided it was so important to help a bunch of strangers. He explains to Garth that two of the planets in this Federation are fighting over mineral rights on a small uninhabited planet. The Federation government want the minerals distributed among all the planets in the Federation. Garth asks a very sensible question, which is, why did the Chief get involved in this? It turns out that one of the planets is hijacking the other’s ore ships, and the Chief felt the need to step in, and he’s now decided that Garth is the perfect person to help him. I’m not impressed by this argument, but Garth seems to find it acceptable, and he agrees to help the Chief. Garth is duly issued a snazzy white jumpsuit with green trim and is put to work.
The other guys get all green, why?
In the meantime, Devon and Rachel have gotten themselves into a spot of trouble. The regular corridor to M-71 is blocked, so they have to take an alternate route that involves an elevator with no air in it. I’m trying to understand how this happened, since the elevator opens on to areas with adequate air supplies. Does the elevator park itself in airless areas between use, and the air inside leaks out? But never mind this, because a more difficult question is how Devon could just glance inside the elevator when the doors opened and tell there was no air in it. Luckily for him and Rachel, he spotted a conveniently-located locker that holds spacesuits, presumably put there for anyone who needs to ride in the elevator. Unluckily the elevator gets stuck, and their spacesuits have a limited supply of air.
Oh goodie, those suits again.
The Chief is about to send Garth to meet with a representative of the Federation, when he runs into a spot of trouble of his own. Some outside force is jamming their controls, so they can’t launch their spacecraft. Oh, no, they’ll lose their launch window and it’ll be a year before they’ll have another one! The Chief’s technician, a not-very-pretty girl with a mass of sausage curls, promises to track down the problem. This girl doesn’t seem to have a name of her own, because everybody just calls her “Tech.” For some reason the Chief initially assumes the jamming is being done by somebody on the Ark (to make him resume his police duties, maybe?), but Tech tells him it’s coming from the space platform where Federation Headquarters is located. It seems reasonable to me that somebody there sees no reason for the Chief to stick his two cents in on a dispute he has no business being in, but this doesn’t occur to the Chief.
Tech needs a stylist.
It does occur to Garth, who suggests an investigation of the space platform personnel, including Rena, the person in charge of the planetary police. Naturally this doesn’t go over well with Rena, especially the part about investigating her, but she reluctantly agrees. While all this is going on, Devon and Rachel are still trapped in the elevator, with their air supply dwindling, and the situation between the two Federation planets is deteriorating. Tech, who is wearing a costume very similar to the one Leetha wore in Episode 6, in fact identical except for different boots and belt, finds the jamming signal is coming from the planetary police headquarters. Garth’s assigned to investigate planetary police personnel, but in the background, we see Tech lurking around and handling a small device. Oh, what could this mean? All of a sudden, the jamming stops and it becomes possible to launch the police spaceship.
The Chief talks with Rena.
But Garth is now faced with a dilemma. Just as he’s about to set off on the police ship, a distress signal comes in. The Chief looks at his personal computer and says it’s coming from the freight elevator near M-71. Garth remembers that this is how Devon and Rachel were planning to get to M-71 and wonders if they’re stuck inside it. The Chief informs him comfortingly that since it’s a freight elevator, there’s no air in it, so if his friends are in there, they haven’t got much time. Nice subtle way to set up a conflict for Garth! Also, if it’s possible to call the police for help all over the Ark, why haven’t we seen any signs of the police before this? And why are these calls forwarded to the Chief? Surely he has underlings who should be handling them. Tech gives an order to a rescue team to check out the elevator, suggesting there are trained personnel available who can gain access to an elevator, and some sort of hospital facilities available. So why has nobody on the Ark mentioned this before?
Is Tech’s outfit really workplace appropriate?
Garth decides to help the Chief and let the rescue team take care of Devon and Rachel, but no sooner has he left the room than Tech calls the rescue team and cancels their mission, saying the subjects have been found. It’s looking very bad for Devon and Rachel, when all of a sudden Devon realizes there’s now air in the elevator! Don’t ask me how he knows, I can’t imagine. At about this time, Tech slyly pulls out her little box and pushes a button, whereupon the jamming starts back up. Not only that, but Tech informs the Chief that she’s traced the signal to Rena’s office. To stir the pot a little more, she tells Garth his friends were found, but it was too late. Garth looks genuinely stunned here, but he lets the Chief lead him on to the police ship. Before it leaves, though, he thinks of something he wants to tell Tech, and he goes back just in time to overhear her communicating with somebody off the ship, making it clear she’s working for the Other Side and is responsible for jamming the controls. Yes, the same plot device that was used in Episode 6, except this time he doesn’t confront her, he pretends he didn’t hear her.
Just checking his Facebook page.
Once she leaves the room, Garth rummages through her desk and comes across her little box. Unfortunately for him, Tech comes back and pulls a gun on him when she sees what he’s holding. Unfortunately for Tech, she lets Garth get too close to her, and he tries but fails to grab the gun away from her. She knocks him down and shoots him! While all this is going on, the Chief’s assistant has found the jamming signal is actually coming from the Ark – specifically from the Chief’s office. He and the Chief assume it’s Garth who’s responsible.
Never easy being Garth.
Tech’s gun didn’t make any noise, but judging from its effect on Garth, it hypnotizes the victim rather than injuring him. At least Garth seems to be rather out of it as Tech marches him away, although Garth does tend to seem a little out of it at the best of times. But anyway, Tech’s knocked him out of the fight for now. But no sooner does she get Garth out of the way than Rena calls, letting Tech know that Rena’s crew has also figured out the jamming signal is coming from the police office. Tech assures Rena she’ll let the Chief know immediately.
Hold? Hold what?
Back in the elevator, Devon and Rachel are lying limply on the floor, gasping a little. Evidently the air is getting low again, or maybe they’ve exhausted themselves trying to get out. Luckily for them, while the Chief’s checking up on what Garth might have done, he finds out about the canceled rescue and dispatches another team to the elevator. Garth is about to find out firsthand what it’s like being trapped in an airless freight elevator, because Tech marches him into one, gives him another jolt from her pistol, closes the elevator door, and walks away. But Garth isn’t exactly trapped, because one of his feet sticks out just enough to keep the door from closing, and the person who designed this elevator must have been safety-minded, because once the door touches Garth’s foot, it opens completely.
Just let them go!
The Chief’s assistant has managed to get rid of the jamming, and just then Rena calls to let the Chief know the situation between the two planets is getting desperate. The Chief thinks it’s Garth who captured Tech and took her somewhere, and he’s torn between rescuing her and going to the space station to help prevent a planetary war. There’s no time to lose, because the launch window is almost gone. Normally I’d say the life of millions is more important than the life of one person, but in this case my opinion is the Chief should stay on the Ark because 1) this isn’t his fight, and 2) just what is it he’s supposed to do to help prevent the war, anyway? Nobody has quite explained this. Tech chooses this moment to stagger in and claim Garth tried to kill her. And not only that, she claims Garth was working with Rena. We leave this scene with the Chief looking bewildered and glancing between Tech and Rena.
Hey, is that a map of the Ark?
Garth has now revived and is staggering along a corridor. What kind of gun does Tech have? Some kind of stunner, maybe. Garth appears much the worse for wear, but he manages to make it back to police headquarters, just as Tech is trying to convince the Chief that Rena’s group has been hijacking the ore ships, and Rena wants to use the Ark police technology to help her in her nefarious scheme (although so far the Federation seems to be at least the equal, if not the superior, of the Ark as far as technology is concerned). Rena, on the other hand, claims to have captured the person who was responsible for the hijackings and says he confessed that Tech was working with him. The Chief is wavering on who to believe, although he still wants to go to the space station, but just then Garth walks in and Tech pulls her gun. She threatens to kill the Chief if the police ship is launched, but while she’s looking at the Chief, Garth manages to get her gun (he seems to have recovered from his indisposition). Unfortunately the launch window has passed, but Rena says reassuringly that with the person responsible for the hijackings in custody, the hostility between the two planets should cool off. Oh, and the rescue team got to Devon and Rachel in time.
Rena takes a break from all this nonsense.
And with that, the saga of The Starlost is over. We’ll never know if the Ark crashes into the star. Or if the bees manage to take over the Ark. Or what Pavel Chekhov is up to. Or if the computers will finally get their revenge on Devon. Or if Garth decides to become a policeman. Or if Devon and Rachel sustained permanent brain damage from insufficient oxygen. So many unanswered questions…
Like will they ever find a Laundromat?
Some ending notes… I can’t think of a thing especially good about this one. Oh, wait, I know! There weren’t any scientists endangering the Ark in this episode. And closeups of the actors show they got the shiny face thing taken care of.
Maybe winter outside studio so not so hot?
Bad stuff is easier to find, especially that badly-contrived plot device that traps Devon and Rachel in an elevator. That was really sloppy writing, particularly the part where air just suddenly appears in the elevator. In fact, the entire plot seems poorly-thought-out, although I can believe the Chief has gotten bored with routine police enforcement on the Ark and has seized this chance to get into bigger and better things. Still, the main problem is this episode suddenly throws in an organization we ought to have seen signs of before, namely the Intra-Ark police. I point out, it’s the Intra-Ark police, meaning it’s supposed to have jurisdiction over all areas of the Ark. If so, nobody we’ve seen in episodes 1 through 15 was at all aware of this, and if some areas of the Ark are so cut off the police don’t have access to them, the Chief didn’t mention it. The Chief seems to be the head of a large organization with rescue teams available, which have to be trained and equipped; with access to medical facilities, which require equipment and trained staff; and with its own little spaceship, which requires people trained in its operation and maintenance. Where is all this equipment coming from? The Ark’s been drifting for hundreds of years, so if the police have been relying on original equipment, at least some of it should have broken down by now. Where are the training facilities? How do the police get new recruits, if nobody knows about the police? Does the Chief make a practice of wandering the corridors, hoping to come across somebody suitable? And we saw nobody but the Chief and two staff members, although this was probably due to a low budget rather than deliberately writing an episode about a police chief with only two other people on the police force that’s supposed to serve the entire Ark. Actually, that would have made an interesting episode, the story of a delusional man who’s convinced himself he’s the head of a large and powerful organization, when all he really has are two people who for reasons of their own are playing along with his fantasies. It doesn’t seem the writers were capable of being this inventive, though.
God, those puke green walls!
Whew, we’re finally finished watching The Starlost. Do you realize watching all 16 episodes took up about 13 hours? Up until now, the longest movie Nate and I reviewed was The Phantom Empire serial, and that entire thing was about four hours long.
This show started out with quite a bit of promise, but it lost its way very quickly. In my opinion, the main problem with it was the writing. Yes, the writing. True, the sets were C-H-E-A-P. Some commenters have pointed out that Dr. Who was filmed very cheaply at first, but the quality of the sets and special effects on The Starlost was well below even early Dr. Who level. In addition, the makers cheaped out on actors, which was especially obvious in the last episode. I mean, a Chief of Intra-Ark police with only two staff members seen? And the acting of the regulars was for the most part atrocious. Casting Robin Ward and Gay Rowan as Garth and Rachel was a serious mistake, and even an experienced actor like Keir Dullea was bland and unmemorable here. But it’s mostly the writing that spoiled this show.
Not on his resume.
To start with, we’re told that all the crew was killed was killed in the accident that disabled the Ark. All the crew? The main bridge was in pretty bad shape when our threesome found it, but by “bad shape” I mean there was some random debris lying around and one skeleton in a uniform (the brownish-orange and cream jumpsuit that pops up throughout the 16 episodes), but the bridge still had air and there was only the one skeleton. How could all the crew have died? Even if the Ark was so advanced only a small crew was necessary, there’d have to be some crewmembers off duty at any given time. And even if there was a way to treat the crewmembers so they could be on duty all the time, which considering the 500-year-old children in Episode 5 might be possible, where are the other skeletons? The cryogenic laboratory in Episode 2 has quite a few crewmembers frozen in it, which suggests the Ark in fact had a large crew.
Most of them professionals.
But let’s forget about the crew for the moment. After all, the accident happened several hundred years ago. If key members of the crew were killed, and the survivors lacked the knowledge to repair or pilot the Ark, the crew might have felt they had no purpose, stopped training replacement crewmembers, and slowly dwindled in numbers over the years until finally they all died off. If Mr. Smith was telling the truth in Episode 9 and there were serious “Dome Wars” after the accident, so that most domes sealed themselves off to protect themselves, this would explain why most inhabitants are content to know nothing of what’s going on outside their biospheres. However, this doesn’t explain the scientists we’ve seen still diligently conducting their research even though there’s now no purpose to it, it doesn’t explain the Security group the scientists in the bee laboratory mentioned, and it certainly doesn’t explain the Inter-Ark police we saw in the last episode, where it was indicated that it’s a large organization with the ability to function in at least a good-sized part of the Ark. The Chief was so eager to meddle in other planets’ affairs, why couldn’t he have taken it upon himself to see if he could bring the biospheres together, assess what resources were available to repair the Ark and take it out of the path of that star, and consider either completing its mission or agreeing that everybody just wants to stay on the Ark?
Pool your talent.
And why is the Ark still working? It still has lights and air, the automatic doors work, food, clothing, and tools are being produced, and that Beatnik computer is still chattering away. Why hasn’t everything been slowly breaking down over the centuries? Why doesn’t any of the Ark’s structure or equipment even look worn? How do resources get distributed between biospheres? Some of the biospheres we’ve seen may be self-sufficient, but others such as Leisure World and the Beehive dome don’t seem to be, and we haven’t seen traffic between domes. What about those 500-year-old kids in the mockup of the backup bridge? Where does everything they need come from?
Like curling irons and hairspray.
With better writing, the story could have been quite compelling, but it needed to stay better focused. The first priority was obviously to get the Ark off its collision course with the star, and most of the random episodes about life in various biospheres should have been put on hold until that was finished. Then our threesome could have gone out to explore the biospheres, to assess the available resources and/or to get a consensus on whether to complete the Ark’s mission. And something needed to be done with Devon’s and Rachel’s relationship! They could have either made it clear they were in love and committed to each other, or admitted they were drifting apart and didn’t want to be together after all, but to make such a big deal of their love in the first episode and then just ignore it was poor writing. I wonder, was anybody even bothering to keep sight of the overall plot, or were writers just allowed to write whatever they came up with?
Just about the only intimate moment they have.
So, Nate, is there anything you’d like to add?
Thanks, Pam, yes I do have some final notes. First off, a final tally of all the domes visited or mentioned…
Tunnel Rat Loaner Dome
Alpha-5 (mentioned, but not seen, in Circuit of Death)
Egret (mentioned, but not seen, in The Alien Oro)
M-32 (mentioned, but not seen, in The Astro-Medics)
The Implant People dome
The Beehive Scientists’ dome.
M-71 (mentioned, but not seen, in Space Precinct)
That's a total of 11 domes seen/noted, with maybe as many as 40 or so still let as unexplored by the time the series was canceled. A shame, a lot of potential there.
A few other notes in no particular order. Why don’t we see any residual societies that are recognizable as Earth cultures? Why have none of the domes retained any sort of ethnic or national identity? No religions that carried over? Nothing recognizable from modern day Earth at all? Really? Well, other than some British accents. It defies logic that you could suppress or expunge all of the cultural and societal differences between people groups, even if you wanted to and I can’t see any reason why you would to begin with. You’d think the Ark builders would want to preserve those unique differences that make us humans so adaptable and interesting, not just a homogenous mass of bodies and hairspray.
And why is only this guy keeping his accent?
I keep asking this over and over, but why the hell didn’t a single dome or Ark population send along some dudes to help our heroes with their quest? Everyone agreed wholeheartedly that the Ark’s troubles were everyone’s troubles, and that maybe, just maybe, three hillbillies from Cypress Corners might need some help to save them all. Can’t the Inter-Ark Police call someone to help? A constant source of irritation for me and maybe the single most damaging reason why I hated this series so much.
Little help here, guys? Guys?
Why hasn’t Devon and Rachel’s relationship progressed at all? Why are they still in the “occasionally handholding” stage after all these weeks (months in realtime?) in close quarters? Is it because Garth is there, they don’t feel comfortable expressing emotion and affection when he’s watching? Not that there’s been much free time for couple stuff, but there really needs to be. Watching personal relationships grow and evolve is what television series are all about, and this particular series really needs to have something to humanize our characters and help us empathize with them.
Hard to be romantic in those suits.
The Ark must have been an extremely boring place to live on. We never see any sort of simple entertainment, no TVs, no books, no music players, no youtube, no porn DVDs, no basketball courts, no movie theaters, nothing like normal people would have to keep them occupied when off duty. Of course we never see anything like Crews Quarters or Common Areas where there might be a big screen with an Xbox hooked up, so maybe they were there. Just seems odd that we see nothing in the way of downtime entertainments for the crew. I over think things, don’t I?
Holographic “pleasure servants”? Yes, please.
Is there no inter-Ark transportation network? The Ark body is at least a couple hundred miles long and 50 miles tall, yet we never see any elevators, vehicles, trams, trains, taxi cabs, escalators, nothing that would make any sense for the crew to navigate the ship’s interior spaces. Sure there are those “bounce pads“, but they seem to just be in the tunnels connecting the domes to the main body and no one has used them since Episode 1. It seems that our heroes just have to shoeleather it everywhere and that makes no sense.
That’s a long, looong walk.
There's no sense of time passing, and it's hard to gauge how long things are taking. The clothes and hair almost never change, suggesting the entire series takes place over a long weekend. We never see any clocks on the walls or watches or calendars or really even any mentions of time as we know it. It might give us a better feeling of adventure and mystery if we knew how long our heroes had been schlepping around the Ark on their hopeless task. Even though you are away from Earth and the Sun, the human body still needs to operate on an internal clock and people still need to have some concept of set time periods to keep from going insane.
You’re putting me to sleep, Starlost.
My final bit of ink on The Starlost is that there’s just not enough here to make almost 13 hours of plot. If it were me, I’d recut this entire series down to a brisk 90 minute stand-alone movie, using 80% of the first episode and a good chunk of the second, with hints of more to come. They come out of Cypress Corners, discover the story of the Ark, fight with the mutants, revive a frozen guy, save the ship, and end it with them on the bridge staring out at the cosmos in awe. That would have made a pretty tight little movie with a satisfying ending, amiright?
Have to change that stupid name.
Kelby, do you have anything to add?
Yeah, what the hell, no one on the Ark had any pets? Where were the house cats? Did they just abandoned all the cats back on Earth? Is the Earth now completely under the control of the cats? That would make a much better series than these stupid humans in space.
Written in October 2014 by Nathan Decker and Pam Burda.
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