Sci Fi TV Reboots That Should Happen: The Starlost

By | May 25, 2016




Television reboots are all the rage mostly because the entertainment industry prefers name recognition over original ideas. But there are some properties that truly deserve a re-look because they didn’t quite achieve their goal the first time around or they were cut short.

What Is It? This mid-1970’s TV series–created by Harlan Ellison–was set on the multi-generational colony starship named Earthship Ark that is comprised of multiple dome enclosures each housing a different society from Earth. The ship was sent out to space to save the last remnants of humanity from a dying Earth, but an accident caused it to go into emergency mode and cut off each dome from the rest of the ship. Now, hundreds of years later, the people have forgotten their original mission and live their lives in their isolated domes. But three people discover the interior of the ship and the truth of its nature and also learn that the Ark is on a perilous course.

When Did It Originally Air? Syndicated, 1973-74, 1 Season Totaling 16 Episodes

Where Did the Original Fall Short? The budget was too low for its ambitions and tinkering from the studio led to a change in direction from the more serious science fiction direction Harlan Ellison had originally planned for the series (leading him to take his name off the show in place of his infamous Cordwainer Bird moniker).

Why Reboot It? This show had a promising concept as evidenced by the award-winning script for the pilot written by Ellison and it aired in syndication where Star Trek was tearing it up at that point in the 70’s. But the technical limitations of television at that time couldn’t quite realize the show’s ambitions (despite having Douglas Trumbull onboard as sfx consultant) and the studio had a much more dumbed-down vision for the show. Plus, they cut the budget and switched from film to video tape (like what classic Doctor Who used) at the last minute, making it even more difficult to follow the show’s original plan. Ellison’s initial script was recently adapted to comics (IDW’s Phoenix Without Ashes), proving that there was a good idea in place when this thing started. And with the technical advancements since the original aired (leaps and bounds above 1970’s sfx), this idea would work quite well on television today. It could do dome-of-the week stories which would be less costly and give it somewhat of an episodic feel while also working in an overall story arc that that emphasizes its space opera potential. The original Starlost series had promise but was cut down by technical, budget, and creative limitations. A reboot, though, could maneuver past that and give us the grand space-based epic that the sci fi audience currently craves.

Did You Know? 2001: A Space Odyssey veteran Keir Dullea had the lead role in the series and Star Trek Alum Walter Koenig dropped in for two episodes playing the alien Oro.

Where Can I Watch the Original? The full series has been released on DVD. All of the episodes are also available on YouTube (at this link), including the original sales pitch for the show. And interestingly enough, there is a Roku channel dedicated to the show that has all the episodes available. It is titled–appropriately enough–The Starlost.

4 thoughts on “Sci Fi TV Reboots That Should Happen: The Starlost

  1. Sean Meaney

    You know…gravity decks are possible. A dome module can be designed to collect hydrogen given off by the sun and with a 3-D printer build up layer on layer of protons until you create a one earth gravity structure. It would then need an orbit that keeps it away from planets.

    Reply
    1. Rick W.

      Except that you can’t 3d print using hydrogen, it just won’t stick together. You’d have to have fusion capability, make at least some form of carbon polymer, and then 3d print that. These polymers are very light so you’d need more material if you’re trying to achieve earth gravity, than if you used metal. In any case then you’ve got the difficulty of trying to move so many planet masses around and keep them from pulling themselves together in one big crunch. Better to just assume we have artificial gravity by then and be done with it.

      Reply
  2. Joseph B.

    There is a new sci-fi movie with a very similar plot that is coming out on December 21st, 2016 called “Passengers,” starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe a producer looking for a new “old idea” will be reminded of this sci-fi classic as the original idea of Passengers and see it as something worthwhile to bring back. That movie could be the very thing to jumpsart a reboot of Starlost.

    Reply
  3. Simon Jones

    @JosephB is quite right.

    Passengers has many echoes of The Starlost.

    Vast colony ship suffers malfunction mid voyage (check), the cast do their best with limited knowledge to effect repairs to save the the lives of the thousands on board (check), computerised information points give partial information about the ship and its status (check), a general feeling of vastness and loneliness in wandering around an empty starship looking for the crew, or anyone who knows what is going on (check check check).

    I really enjoyed Passengers. It has fantastic production design, and the casting is great.

    It riffs on 2001, Silent Running, Sunlight and (yes) Titanic with TV themes from “The Starlost” (probably, coincidental) and Space 1999 (ditto, where I seem to remember an episode all about the dangers of suspended animation and a character awaking mid voyage after a failed suspension).

    Those are not bad references to have though.

    Reply

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