Sunday, November 11, 2012
Cult-TV Blogging: The Starlost: "Lazarus from the Mist"
In some ways, “Lazarus from the Mist” -- the second episode of the 1970s Canadian science fiction series The Starlost -- plays like the second part of the pilot, “Voyage of Discovery.”
Here, our naïve protagonists Devon (Keir Dullea), Rachel (Gay Rowan) and Garth (Robin Ward) learn that the key to changing the Earthship Ark’s (collision) course may rest in forgotten documents and archives preserved throughout the ship’s domes, thus necessitating a dome-by-dome exploration of the vast generation ship. That dome-tod0ome exploration consists of the remaining fourteen episodes or so of the series.
In “Lazarus from the Mist,” Devon and his friends are still standing on the Ark’s ruined bridge when they detect an automated distress call apparently emanating from a command/medical section nearby. They attempted to find that section, but are promptly waylaid by primitive “Tube People,” service-personnel of the ark who, over the centuries, have developed a kind of nomadic society in the corridors. They have never seen sky, nor soil. They have never seen night or day.
While Garth holds the Tube People at bay, Devon and Rachel locate the medical section and a vast cryonic vault. There, preserved in stasis, are dozens of engineers and designers who may be able to set the Ark’s collision course right. Devon and Rachel awake one man, Dr. Gerald Aaron (Frank Converse) only to learn that he is dying from a “radiation virus” and doesn’t possess the knowledge they need to alter course. Instead, he explains to the duo about the documents, blueprints and schematics located throughout the domes.
Later Garth, Devon and Rachel use the medical bay’s advanced equipment to save the Tube People’s leader from a bloody wound, and peace is forged. The Tube People are led to an agricultural dome, where they begin a new life…
I must admit, I have watched this episode of The Starlost twice, and the first time I did so I found it virtually interminable. It’s slow-moving, and there's no real sense of danger or conflict. Much of the shooting-style remains unbearably claustrophobic.
On the second viewing, with expectations in hand, I began to register some of the episode’s more intriguing and interesting points. Among these, I count Rachel and Devon’s moral debate about waking up the engineer, Aaron. Rachel believes that such matters “should be left up to the creator” and worries that “we’re tampering with something we have no right to.”
By contrast, Devon argues that everyone on the Ark is going to die if they don’t get the information they seek, so therefore the risk to one man is justified. I tend to agree with Devon.
He makes a tough call in this episode, and shows some of the same spine he revealed in “Voyage of Discovery.” Speifically, Devon wakes up a man suffering from a (nebulous “radiation virus” with the direct knowledge that he is, in essence, sentencing him to death. And yet Devon makes a very human decision. Wouldn’t any one of us accept a death sentence if we understood that it would save the entirety of the human race?
I suppose my biggest problem with the episode involves the “tube people,” subplot. I love the idea of generational space travelers essentially going native over the long centuries, an idea well-dramatized in Space: 1999’s “Mission of the Darians” and also Pandorum (2009). But the actors playing the Tube People are encouraged here, for some reason, to act like mental case, or very young children. I don’t think this concept really works very well.
After all, the Tube People have had a hard life scavenging for food, in a world of no daylight and no darkness. They would be harder and tougher, I think, than the episode portrays them…and not so silly. At the end, when the Tube People happily wave goodbye to Rachel, Devon and Garth, the moment is wince-inducing. In another scene, they are depicted tossing around a ball to one another like pre-schoolers.
I also am ambivalent about the happy solution to the Tube People dilemma. The awakened engineer, Araon, reports of a conveniently-located “agricultural” dome very nearby, where they can settle and begin life anew. This works as a one-time solution, but if Starlost is to have any veneer of realism, it can’t just hand out vacant domes to every society Devon encounters. Hopefully the resolution won’t recur.
But for every questionable moment or plot solution like that one, “Lazarus from the Mist” also provides a good moment or two. Here, there’s a strong, emotional moment wherein Aaron watches listens to a video recording from his wife…made over five hundred years ago. It’s a very human, very moving moment, and suggestive of The Starlost’s approach to character. Devon, Rachel and Garth aren’t technical wizards and they don’t know a whole lot about theirown world (the Ark), but they do possess the capacity to remind the people they encounter and meet of their humanity. I think that idea comes through loud and clear in this second episode.
I also like some of the weird sets in this episode. The Cryonic Vault, for instance, looks pretty convincing, given the low, low budget of the series. I doubt it’s a set that will get any use again, but it is nicely utilitarian and therefore convincing. It compares not unfavorably to the “Ark in Space” set from vintage Doctor Who, in 1975.
Next week: “The Goddess Calabra.”