The Starlost Episode Two: Lazarus From The Mist

Looking for the cryogenic suspension facility so as to revive someone who can help them, the hero trio are set upon by a band of aggressive tribespeople. “I’ll be all right!” shouts Garth as the other two escape to safety leaving him facing the enemy horde, and indeed they believe him, it’s a full six minutes and fifty seconds before Devon says “…and we’ve got to get help for Garth.”

Anyway, the A plot is that Devon and Rachel manage to revive an engineer, only to find that 1) he’s the wrong kind of engineer, and 2) the reason he’s in suspension is because he was exposed to a “radiation virus” (how very 1973) and has two hours to live. Again, this is an interesting enough idea which could have been quite powerful in the right hands, but this is underplayed so awkwardly that there’s no emotional heft to what ought to have been a quite tragicomic situation. At least he manages to infodump a lot about the ship and what they need to do next.

LEXX might have got away with this.

The B plot is, of course, the tribespeople, who are dressed in the rags of crew uniforms, are apparently descended from surviving security personnel, and are the sort of thing LEXX would have been able to get away with. There’s two ways you can go with this sort of setup, and, to its credit, The Starlost goes with the optimistic version (befriending the tribespeople and helping them find a home in an abandoned dome). We’re never going to see them again, of course, but it’s just as well.

The Starlost Episode One: The Beginning

Yes, that’s really what it’s called. There’s an alternate title, “Voyage of Discovery”, but that’s similarly meaningless.

Keir Dullea is a young man with a gigantic moustache in the Amish-type religious peasant community of Cypress Corners. For some reason he’s named “Devon” although everyone else, bar his friend and love-rival Garth, has an Old Testament name. The initial setup is interesting enough: Devon has been forbidden from marrying the woman he loves, Rachel, because the match has been deemed genetically undesirable, and the Word of God that the people obey appears to be coming from a supercomputer. In an even more interesting twist, Devon later discovers that it isn’t even that: the community elders record the divine pronouncements on micro cassettes and the computer is nothing more than a playback machine. Devon of course rebels and is cast out of the community only to discover— surprise!— that they are all on a generation ship, that there are thousands of other communities on there, and that the ship is off course and going to collide with a nearby “solar star” (tautological as that sounds), since the bridge crew are all dead and the bridge in ruins. There’s a supercomputer on the ship, played by a man with an excellent beard, but of course it has a lot of plot-convenient gaps in its memory. Devon, Garth and Rachel must now embark on a quest to save the ship and humanity and et cetera.

As a story, it’s not too bad. It’s a bit obvious (will Devon rebel, or will we spend sixteen episodes watching him raise barns and plough fields?) but then a lot of setup episodes are. The production values are pretty good for 1973, even if the CSO sequences haven’t aged well. I actually quite liked the uneasy relationship with technology in the Amish-type community: you expect the twist to be that the elders all know God is a computer, but the further twist that the computer doesn’t work and the elders are actually doing a different technological hack, was cleverer.

The main problems so far have to do with production decisions, dialogue, and performances. It would have been much more effective to shoot the early sequences on location (Black Creek Pioneer Village, not too far from the studio, had been running since 1960), which would have made the contrast with the spaceship sets more dramatic and given the whole thing a real sense of a ship big enough that people can live in it for generations.

Inadvertently hilarious face

As for the script, oh dear. The dialogue was mostly stilted pronouncements along the lines of “why must we obey the word of God?”, and the actors all spoke it with forced-sounding emotion, as if everyone was reading off cue cards. There’s barely a moment of naturalistic acting in the story. Also, the face Keir Dullea pulls when Devon accidentally sets off an inter-ship transporter and is hurled up the corridor is inadvertently hilarious.

The Starlost: Introduction and apology (sorrynotsorry)

The Starlost is a 1973 series which is slightly notorious in the history of telefantasy. It starred Keir Dullea, accompanied by such well-known guest stars as John Collicos, Barry Morse and Walter Koenig, was created and developed by Harlan Ellison with Ben Bova as scientific advisor and Doug Trumbull as producer…. And yet, despite all this talent, it was a notorious flop. Ellison took his name off the project (it’s credited to “Cordwainer Bird”), and Bova later wrote a notorious roman-a-clef about his time on the series.

It’s also of note for being a rare example of a pre-1990s Canadian-made SFF television programme (I can’t think of any other beyond the children’s series Read All About It, unless you count cartoons).

Now, I like television, and I have a certain fondness for bad television, particularly of the so-bad-it’s-postmodern variety, so I wanted to check it out. Having discovered that the whole series is available on YouTube, that place where once-forgotten television shows enjoy surprising second lives, I girded my loins and watched the whole thing. Let’s just say it was tough going, even for me.

Starting from next week, I’ll be posting the cleaned-up and edited version of the reviews I posted on Facebook earlier this year, for your edification, enjoyment, and warning.

LEXX: 3.13: Heaven and Hell

If last week was Ingmar Bergman, this week is what you’d get if you handed Ingmar Bergman a tab of acid and a copy of the script for “Journey to the Far Side of the Sun”. Before you can say “aren’t the planets Fire and Water metaphorically like Hell and Heaven?” we discover that not only is this literally true, but a) you can’t have one without the other, b) Prince is Satan (leading to some nice speculation on what motivates him and why he even exists)… and c) in the season-ender cliffhanger, both he and the LEXX have now been unleashed onto the Earth.

Oh, and Xev gets dry-humped by a skeleton. Just in case all the metaphysics was getting to be too much and you needed to go back into the Pornography Zone.

I’m probably not going to cover LEXX season 4, because 1) it’s not on Amazon Prime, so I’d have to buy a box set, and 2) it’s Season 4, which I remember as not being remotely good in the slightest, and I have yet to see any evidence that it’s worth a re-visit, except possibly to be amused when various German actors who have since become known for other things turn up as guests. So my next set of TV reviews for this blog, at least, will be “The Starlost.”

LEXX 3.12: The Beach

Stanley is stranded in the sea on Water, and before you can say “he’s in the opening credits so they can’t kill him off,” they do. It’s obvious from early on that this is a clip-show episode, but the framing premise is better than most such stories, as Stanley discovers where people in the LEXX-verse go after they die. At first it seems like he’s going to be judged for the same crimes that kept haunting him in Season Two, but in the end what damns him is something much more personal and relatable.

The premise is reminiscent of the Red Dwarf episode where the characters are judged by versions of themselves, but there’s also an eerie Ingmar Bergman element to the staging and the imagery of Stan walking along a beach in the company of Prince and the mysterious judge.

LEXX 3.11: Girltown

Gigguratha’s back! Hooray! My favourite recurring grotesque is-this-clever-or-is-this-offensive character! And before you can say “I wonder what form she’ll take in the Dark Zone?”, we learn that she’s Queen, ruler of Girltown, where men toil over sewing machines and women form a parliament that’s less useful than Boris Johnson’s government.

The other guest star this week is Jimmy Somerville. Jimmy. Somerville. Of. Bronski. Beat. This is what I love about LEXX, it casually drops in an appearance by major figure in the history of techno music and LGBT+ rights, like it was nothing.

This is another of those episodes where I’m not sure if it’s exploitative and crass or clever and subversive, but Jimmy Somerville’s participation suggests that any potential homophobia or gender-shaming is to be taken ironically. Plus there’s a techno-dance-party sequence that, if I’m reading it right, says that in a world full of totalitarian fascists, the way to true freedom is to stop playing their games, don a frock and boa, and dance.

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LEXX 3.10: Battle

Before you can say “is this another filler episode?” the series, recognising that we’re going into the end game, ramps up the tension to give us the sort of corking, brain-twisting action we’ve been missing for the past couple of episodes. Prince kidnaps Xev, Kai and Stan stop lotus-eating in the Garden (euphemisms!) to give chase in a balloon, and airborne steampunk mayhem ensues.

This is also a great characterisation episode for Xev, as she gets to explore her feelings about her upbringing in the Wife Bank, and reflect on the way in which everyone in the empire of His Shadow was, to a greater or lesser extent, exploited, while also kicking a satisfying amount of ass. Prince also gets to come into his own as a villain, verbally sparring with her during the balloon chase.

In sum, Xev gets all the lines but Prince gets (almost) the last word.

LEXX 3.09: The Garden

The crew find themselves in a magical garden that’s uncomfortably like an X-rated version of a children’s show, and before you can say “that sounds like a lot of fun,” I’m here to warn you that it really isn’t. While that could be the premise for one of LEXX’s more audacious soft-porn romps, in fact we’re really in filler episode territory, with 45 minutes of not much happening. Not sure what the optimal length for a LEXX story is, really; 2 hours is too short, 22 episodes is way too long, and even 13 episodes seems to contain a fair bit of hang time. The main thing this episode has going for it is a welcome return cameo for Lyekka, but unfortunately she doesn’t do much more than titillate Stan and eat a few of the people of Water.