The Starlost, Episode Eleven: Astro-Medics

Devon gets injured saving Garth from himself, and thus we learn that the Ark has a biosphere of medical personnel complete with space ambulance. Why we haven’t seen them in earlier episodes where someone’s been injured or fallen ill, like “The Alien Oro” or “Lazarus in the Mist” is never explained, but oh well.

And yes, they know all about the Ark being off course, but they haven’t done anything about it because they’re doctors, not engineers, Jim. Which is ludicrous because 1) plainly not all of them are, the space ambulance crew aren’t for a start, and 2) it’s been centuries, you’d think some of them could retrain in that time.

Anyway, the story rapidly degenerates into a sort of parody of a medical soap, as the Young Handsome Brilliant But Heartless Surgeon could save Devon but is too obsessed with a distress call from an alien spaceship to try, leaving Old Overlooked But Moral Surgeon to step up to the plate. Of course the two reconcile in order to save Devon *and* the aliens.

Bill Kemp. He’s done better things.

One of the highlights of the story is Bill Kemp as the space ambulance captain. Canadians of certain generations might remember him as one of the stalwarts of The Wayne And Shuster Comedy Show (if you don’t, here he is playing the Hockey Hall of Fame Chairman in “The Unholy Goalie”, and as the Postmaster General in the Question Time sketch), and, probably because of his background in comedy, he is able to deliver frankly ludicrous lines with absolute conviction. Also, there’s some colour-blind casting in the ambulance crew, which is nice.

One of the lowlights is the alien makeup. The alien spends most of the story hidden behind a digital effect, and the reveal is supposed to be a “twist”, but, given how bad it looks, they might as well not have bothered.

Where to Buy Management Lessons From Game of Thrones

This is the management textbook you never knew you wanted, but now you know you have to have it. The hardback has a scary academic price tag, but the paperback has a nice friendly RRP of £20/$30 or equivalent.

Amazon UK link here

Amazon US link here

Buy direct from publisher here

Unfortunately Bookshop.org doesn’t seem to have it, so if you want to buy direct from your local bookshop (and please do) you’ll have to communicate with them directly: the ISBN is 978 1 83910 528 9.

The Starlost, Episode Ten: Mister Smith of Manchester

Our hero trio are trapped inside a biosphere called Manchester (yes, really), which seems to have no exits. Manchester is run by a strongman dictator, Mister Smith, and we learn that the biosphere was originally supposed to be a factory producing small arms for use on the new homeworld, but, when they escalated to larger weaponry, the rest of the Ark sealed the place off, and it’s now evolved into a paranoid surveillance state preparing for an imaginary war against imaginary enemies. And just when you’re thinking, “okay, so this is a satire of gun culture? And also the military industrial complex?” the story takes a turn into environmentalism, as it turns out all this gun producing is also turning the biosphere toxic.

Manchester has gone downhill lately

This episode definitely suffers from having too many ideas, as well as the usual character inconsistencies, e.g. the hero trio being pinned down in a warehouse by a cohort of armed guards, who then fail to shoot at them for long enough for the hero trio to arm themselves– and don’t get me started on how these supposedly peaceful farmers turn out to be dab hands with automatic weapons. I suppose it’s understandable that the hero trio trust Mister Smith for as long as they do, since it’s already been established that they’re naive and none too bright, but why does the nurse who treats Garth for pollution inhalation trust them enough to give them a huge exposition about how awful Mister Smith is, at some risk to herself? Particularly since this is supposed to be a paranoid society and they’re under suspicion of being spies. The premise doesn’t make much sense either– why have a whole biosphere manufacturing nothing but small arms?– but it’s possible Mister Smith was lying about that, so I give it a slight pass.

I’m trying to find something good to say about this one, but, bar that it passes the Bechdel test, I’m finding it difficult.

A knock-on problem from this episode is that the series’ writers start taking it as the basis for their formula, and from this point on we get a lot of stories where our hero trio stumble across a biosphere of people with a ridiculously narrow specialty, dominated by an alpha male type with a usually-female assistant.

Guest cast to watch out for: The actor playing the bring-out-your-dead man is Canadian comedy stalwart Les Rubie, who had roles in many 1970s/1980s-era episodes of The Wayne and Shuster Comedy Show. Unfortunately, none of the ones currently on YouTube (though you can see him in a non-speaking role in “I Was A TV Addict”), but if you can get your hands on a copy of their Trojan War parody, “The Best Little Warhorse in Troy” (and I wish someone would put that one on YouTube, it’s gloriously daft), he’s playing a Greek soldier named either Ludicrous or Ridiculous, I forget which.

The Starlost, Episode Nine: Gallery of Fear

The hero trio discover an art gallery staffed by a mysterious blonde, who tells them it all belongs to someone called Magnus. The Computer With The Good Beard (he’s so pretty! So pretty! So pretty! <click the link for the explanation>) is strangely reticent as to who Magnus is. Spoiler alert, it turns out we’re in the Rogue Supercomputer Episode. You just knew there was going to be one, what with Keir Dullea and all.

The Computer, and his Good Beard

So, yeah. Magnus was put on the ship to help the original bridge crew, has the power to cast convincing illusions, and tries to persuade the hero trio to remove the restrictions on his actions so that he can “help” them. Not being too bright, they almost fall for it, and would do so if Magnus himself hadn’t, rather stupidly, given them access to a projection of the Ark’s original commander who explains why Magnus was restricted in the first place (but who is otherwise completely useless, and can’t even tell them where the backup bridge is). Devon of course has to destroy Magnus, who manages to resist the temptation to sing “Daisy, Daisy” as he does so.

Continuity: for the last couple of episodes, the hero trio have been wearing the spacesuits they put on to go into the depressurised zone where Oro was, but now they’re back in their peasant smocks.

Also, the guest star’s performance is pretty good, adding more support to my hypothesis that everyone is directing themselves.

I’m in Foundation again!

I’m deeply honoured to have an article comparing “Doctor Who: The Mutants” and Nigel Kneale’s “The Stone Tape” in the 50th anniversary issue of Foundation, the oldest science fiction studies journal! In due course it will be available online, but if you can’t wait (and/or want to support the Science Fiction Foundation’s activities), you can get your copy by joining here.

The Starlost Episode Seven: The Alien Oro

.Walter Koenig turns up (hooray) as an alien, Oro, whose ship has crashed into the Ark. Enterprisingly, he starts cannibalising the environment he’s landed in for parts, and recruits one of the locals as an assistant. She is, of course, a beautiful woman named Idona, and Garth, whose job it is to fall for whichever woman is guest-starring, obliges.

The tension, such as it is, comes from the fact that Idona has a terminal disease which Oro’s people can cure, but she has to leave with Oro if she wants to live, meaning she’s got to choose between life and Garth, as it were. Some tension also comes from Devon being (understandably) a bit irked at someone coming along and treating the Ark as raw materials, and not even volunteering to help fix it in return.

It’s Chekhov’s Guest Star!

I say “such as it is” because this is an incredibly tension-free episode. There’s about fifteen minutes’ worth of plot, a couple of contrived attempts at peril, and otherwise it’s just people talking flatly at each other. We again get character swings, in this case Oro spending 90% of the episode saying he won’t fix the Ark because frankly it’s not his problem (harsh but true), and then, five minutes before the end, saying he wished he could have helped and he’ll ask his people once he gets home.

Once again we find out that women in Cypress Corners cook and sew and bake bread and that’s about it. This is the third time we’ve been told that– and since Rachel has encountered women with more technical roles since then, you’d think she’d be less surprised to find one.

Fun fact for non-Francophiles: the name of Idona’s home biosphere, where the men all die before the age of 18 and the only adults are women, is “Igreque”, which is the French word for “Y”.

The Starlost Episode Five: Children of Metheuselah

Devon finds what he thinks might be the auxilliary bridge, but it turns out to be staffed entirely by preternaturally intelligent, adult-acting children who can stun you with their brains. Straight away Rachel develops a simper and her voice rises an octave, because Women Like Children, and the children all gravitate to her, because Children Like Women. Ulgh.

The leader of the children is a teenager who rubbishes the hero trio’s story because the accident hasn’t shown on their screens and the computer gives them no evidence of it, but he’s scared enough to stage a show trial and attempt to get them executed (well, Garth and Devon, anyway, because Rachel Is A Woman and Children Like Women). Of course (SPOILERS) it turns out this is a training facility, and the reason why there’s no evidence of the accident is that they’re just running simulated drills. Once the hero trio demonstrates this to the kids, the old order collapses.

How many things are wrong with this story? Let’s count them…

This is an episode with a lot more wrong with it than just planklike acting from the entire cast and the whole Rachel as Mum thing. The children have apparently been given some kind of anti-aging treatment that has held them at their current ages for over 500 years: so if Earth technology could do that, why bother with a generation ship? The children’s ability to stun people with their brains is presented early on with a fanfare, but by the end of the episode they’ve forgotten about it. While it makes sense to have children training up to be bridge crew, shouldn’t there be some external monitoring, and why are they isolated from the rest of the ship? Etc.

There’s a very good scene where Rachel, upset by the children’s apparent inability to play, tries to teach them Blind Man’s Bluff, but is shocked to tears when the kids really don’t get the point of the game, or indeed play in general, and would much rather put on a VR helmet. It’s one point in the story where the kids really do seem genuinely eerie and alien, like they should. However, two scenes later and they’ve all spontaneously started playing and enjoying Blind Man’s Bluff, with no indication of why they changed their minds. That rather sums this episode up really.