Sunday, November 18, 2012

Cult-TV Blogging: The Starlost: "The Goddess Calabra" (October 6, 1973)



The third episode of The Starlost (1973) is titled “The Goddess Calabra,” and it arrives replete with a story credit from famed sci-fi writer Ursula Le Guin. 

Don’t let that factoid get your hopes up, however.  

Despite the presence of cult-television favorites Barry Morse and John Colicos in prominent roles, this story is mostly straight from the genre convention playbook.   Our heroes arrive in a corrupt, post-apocalyptic culture -- one populated only by men -- and must escape when the leader wants Rachel as his bride.  But to save Rachel and achieve his freedom, Devon (Keir Dullea) must battle The Governor (Colicos) in a fight to the death.

Yep, you’ve pretty much seen it all before…


“The Goddess Calabra” features two central points, and one comes across rather powerfully, while the other comes across as half-baked.

Let’s get the bad news out-of-the-way first.  

This episode involves the biosphere of Omicron, an enclosed world where, after years of devastating war, only men exist.  Since the XX chromosome has been lost to history, the men of Omicron mix their sperm with artificial eggs inside tiny, computerized machines.  “We bred out the weak, the soft, and the intellectuals,” the Governor reports to Rachel (Gay Rowan).  Only the “best and strongest” remain.

Love in this all-male culture is considered “unnatural,” the Governor also reveals, but the episode doesn’t go any further than that declaration, and that’s the problem.

In the total absence of women, one must wonder, what about sex?  Do the men of Omicron have sex with each other, or is that also deemed “unnatural?”  

The problem is that you can’t introduce a one-sex, human culture, and then avoid entirely the issue of sex drive, and how it is…satisfied.  This oversight might have been addressed simply by having the Governor accompanied at all times by a male partner.  Nothing overt since this was the 1970s just something to indicate that -- even in the far future -- human beings remain human beings.

Because “The Goddess Calabra” doesn’t explain at all many crucial aspects of this all-male culture, the scenes between the Governor and Rachel don’t really work as intended.  He seems to really fall in love with Rachel, but we must ask if this is a believable or likely development.  In a society with no women, where the “ideal” is male strength and power, would a citizen of that culture find a woman attractive in the slightest?  Wouldn’t he be conditioned socially not to find her so?

Again, it’s all just terribly half-baked, a high-concept post-apocalyptic culture that for not even a second passes the smell-test of realism. It’s a silly idea when rendered in such a neutered fashion.


Worse, in culture of all men -- where strength is prized -- Colicos is not even slightly believable as a governor who maintains his rule through daily combat and challenges.  He’s got a sizable gut, for one thing.  But in general, Colicos lacks the physique of a man who fights back enemies on a regular basis.  The scenes with the actor battling more physically-fit men (including Devon), just don’t ring true, and are terribly choreographed.  The story notes that the Governor is getting old, and worries about the day he will be defeated, but still it’s plain that the man is not in fighting shape right now. 

I appreciated much more in “The Goddess Calabra” the other sub-plot, the one involving Shaliff (Barry Morse), a monk who has dedicated his life to preserving the sacred scrolls in his monastery. 

These scrolls are actually technical schematics of the Ark, but I love the quasi-historical reference.  Shaliff and his dedicated flock are like the Irish monks who preserved Western history in the Dark Ages by laboriously transcribing and copying works of art.  Those works would have been lost for all time if not for their dedication.  I rather like the idea of this period in Earth Ship Ark’s history as a kind of “Dark Ages,” with the Omicron Monks preserving the blueprints and tech-sheets for future generations.  It’s a good touch in an otherwise dopey episode.  The preserved blueprints also serve a role in the series's story arc.  They reveal that in the "nethermost" dome, there is a back-up bridge, one that may still be functional.


The best scenes in “The Goddess Calabra” are those in which Shaliff (Morse), representing religion, and The Governor (Colicos) representing the State, battle for dominance, and discuss their long-standing friendship and competition.  It’s a pleasure to watch these two accomplished cult-tv actors interact, and some of the writing in these scenes is more nuanced than is usual.


As Starlost’s first visit to another biosphere culture, “The Goddess Calabra” is mostly a disappointment. 

Next week: “The Pisces.”

4 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:48 PM

    John this episode makes me wish that they had published an Earthship Ark Technical Manual book.

    SGB

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  2. Anonymous12:03 PM

    "Because “The Goddess Calabra” doesn’t explain at all many crucial aspects of this all-male culture, the scenes between the Governor and Rachel don’t really work as intended. He seems to really fall in love with Rachel, but we must ask if this is a believable or likely development. In a society with no women, where the “ideal” is male strength and power, would a citizen of that culture find a woman attractive in the slightest? Wouldn’t he be conditioned socially not to find her so?"


    Doesn't that depend on how "innate" human sexuality is? For example, in our society, male homosexuality has been rigidly proscribed for centuries, and men are brought up to respond to feminine beauty. Despite this conditioning, male homosexuality persists. Given the failure of our society to stamp out same sex desire, why would a male only society have any better luck?

    Clive

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  3. The episode, which I recently rewatched on the Roku Starlost Channel (yes, there is a such a thing) briefly hinted at the sex issue. When the captives are brought before the governor there are two young men dancing. He belows "you are not entertaining me, try calisthenics". I heard this as a older gay man taking out his annoyance on a couple of twinks trying to entice him.

    My broader annoyance is the failure of the episode to address how the X chromosone is lost. Yes, yes, he says the double X but given all double X in normal human reproduction one of the Xs come from the sperm this doesn't wash.

    Had it been cast as a choice to eliminate women as too fragile for the post-accident world (addressed via the radiation beyond the dome and which the episode implies women died out) I would have bought it. At a later finding themselves unable to create new women from a pair of male Xs for whatever reason would explain the evolution of the Goddess cult which makes no sense in the "no love; breed out the weak" culture.

    I would love to see LeGuin's story outline and compare it to the story in the script.

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  4. Anonymous9:16 PM

    I just watched this show, enjoyed seeing the two seasoned older actors brought together. When the Governor and Shalith (yes it's Shalith ;-) look deep into each other's eyes during a pause in their crucial conversation, and the Governor proceeds to put his arm around Shalith, it is evident that they were once long-time lovers. This could NOT have been stated in words on 1973 Canadian TV. However, Mr. Colicos made it quite clear without saying a word. Wonder if this was his idea or the director's.

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