Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cult-TV Blogging: The Starlost: "The Pisces" (October 13, 1973)

It strikes me, at this relatively early juncture in the episode retrospective, that The Starlost (1973 – 1974) episodes that work best are those that don’t push too hard in terms of action, and the ones that don’t feature Devon, Garth and Rachel in diametric opposition to hostile cultures and foes. 

In part this is because our heroes aren’t trained warriors or scientists.  They boast no expertise in fact, and know relatively little about their world.  To believe that these farmers from Cypress Corners can overcome entrenched power in biosphere after biosphere stretches the imagination to its breaking point.

For whatever its flaws, “Lazarus from the Mist” avoided this problem.  That episode boasted a sense of grace and humanity about it.  The story was about a man awakened from a cryonic vault, reckoning with his own death, and with the death of all those he had loved.  Garth, Devon and Rachel needed only respond as caring, sympathetic human beings.

“The Pisces” is another perhaps better-than-average episode of The Starlost, and it follows the example set down by “Lazarus from the Mist.”  It’s a human tragedy, and there aren’t any real bad guys to fight or defeat.  There are no cultures to set right, either.   Instead, the episode is all about people confronting unpleasant reality.

Here, a small spaceship called the Pisces returns to the Ark after over four hundred years away.  Unfortunately, the ship’s crew -- consisting of Col. Garoway (Lloyd Bochner), Navigator Teale (Carol Lazare), and Janice (Diana Barrington) -- has been through a “time dilation,” and believes that only ten years 
have passed in its absence.  The crew is shocked to learn families, friends and all lovers are long gone. 

Devon (Keir Dullea) attempts to explain the situation, but finds that the crew is reluctant to face reality.  Soon, medical scans reveal that Garoway and his crew are also suffering deleterious biological effects from the time dilation.  They suddenly lapse into durations sleep because their bodies are, essentially, hundreds of years old.  Only by returning through the time dilation can this condition be repaired. 

And no, you shouldn’t make a joke about how viewers of The Starlost may also suffer from this sudden, unexpected narcolepsy while watching, though there’s a ring of truth to the observation…

Anyway, at episode’s end, the crew leaves the Ark aboard the Pisces, perhaps to return to Earth after all this time.

“The Pisces” sounds like a straight-forward story, and indeed it is.  Operating on a low-budget, perhaps it was wise of The Starlost production team not to stretch resources too much, and focus on basics.  Like “Lazarus from the Mist,” the story is impressive in the sense that it doesn’t feel the need to be about anything particularly grand or epic.

There are some continuity points worth noting, however.  As the episode starts, we see that Devon, Garth and Rachel have apparently taken up residence in a sort of quarters/apartment near the docking bay.  We never saw them find these particular quarters.  The episode just begins with them resting there.

Secondly, this is the first episode in which Devon and his friends actually leave the Ark.  They travel for a time aboard the Pisces (a new miniature for the series, by the way), and at last get to see Earth Ship Ark from a distance, including a destroyed reactor tank.

Other than the human elements of the story I’ve mentioned above, about the only thing that bears further comment here is that it is growing a little suspicious that no one from the Ark’s operational heyday, not Col. Garoway here, and not the doctor from “Lazarus from the Mist,” helps Devon right the Ark’s course and avoid a collision with that “class G Star.” 

This aspect of the series is becoming positively Gilligan’s Island-esque.

Next week: “The Children of Methuselah.”

1 comment:

  1. Grew up on the Starlost, mostly due to Canadian content laws on TV at the time. CTV never stopped running it.

    I remember watching this episode as a kid, the budget wasn't an obstacle as I was an avid Jon Pertwee Doctor Who fan at that time, it was the pacing.

    This episode has a "tense" scene where a crew member has a gun pointed at Devon, I remember thinking "shoot him already"!


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