The Starlost

JoDee and I just finished up watching "The Starlost" which was "Canadian-produced science fiction television series created by writer Harlan Ellison and broadcast in 1973 on CTV in Canada and syndicated to local stations in the United States." (thanks, Wikipedia!). I won't go into the history of the show, the premise, or how it was literally disowned by Harlan Ellison (who used his "Cordwainer Bird" moniker to show his complete disavowal of the show. There are plenty of other sources for that, and frankly I would be parroting them here (thanks, Wikipedia!). I will however provide a link to so you can view the show yourself. And I frankly hope you do watch this show, not because this show has amazing special effects (which it does not) or because the stories stellar (which they certainly are not), but because even though this show has issues (which it does) it still manages to tell whatever ridiculous story as best it can. The actors still show up and still deliver their lines as though they truly believe their lives depend on them. Even when the sets, effects, and writing fail the actors they still move through as though their very actions will somehow avert their eventual doom. It's what makes what could be an entirely wacky and forgettable TV series into something much, much more.

OK, I said I wouldn't mention the premise of the show, but here's a quick synopsis: Devon, an outcast from the rustic world of Cyprus Corners, finds out that Cyprus Corners are part of a larger ship called The Ark. Each world is a separate biosphere, with different technology levels, aims, and means. Devon escapes from Cyprus Corners and is eventually joined by Rachel, his love, and Garth, the man who is betrothed to Rachel. Devon finds out that The Ark is on a collision course with a star or something that will destroy The Ark and it is up to these three folks to save The Ark from eventual destruction.

The first few episodes of The Starlost felt a lot like the laser disc game "Time Traveler", in part because of the set design and in part because of the exploratory nature of the main protagonist Devon. As the show progresses and Garth and Rachel become part of the exploring trio they uncover all sorts of weird situations and characters of various skill levels and intellects. Most are aware that they're on the Ark but none of them seem to be able to help in any meaningful way.

In many ways this show reminds me of a roleplaying game. Initially the goal is to find the bridge to see if The Ark can be saved. However, that would make for a short campaign, having found the initial goal so soon. So, turns out, the crew are all dead and the bridge doesn't directly control the ship. They instead need to find the backup control room in order to try to control The Ark. Each episode they encounter another challenge (or biosphere) where they try to convince the denizens to help. Naturally they get embroiled into something that they need to solve. Sometimes it makes sense. Many times it doesn't. If that doesn't scream "roleplaying game" I don't know what does.

The characters also feel like archetypes. Devon is the intellect; the curious one who keep the party going where they might not otherwise go. Rachel is kindness and heart, and is the voice of helping others when the rest of the party might want to keep exploring. Garth is brawny and cantankerous. He's loyal to his friends, though, and helps wherever he can. Together they feel like many facets of one character.

The original "trailer" for The Starlost promised the latest and greatest in TV effects and a story and premise that really could have been something special. In many ways though The Starlost really did become something special. It presents a concept that could be easily extended into a campaign or a game setting. And even though the show itself didn't make any sense it did so with heart and conviction. This is what makes The Starlost such an enjoyable series to watch, despite it's flaws.