Sunday, December 23, 2012

Cult-TV Blogging: The Starlost: "Gallery of Fear" (November 17, 1973)

In “Gallery of Fear,” this week’s selection from The Starlost (1973 – 1974) episode canon, Devon (Keir Dullea), Garth (Robin Ward), and Rachel (Gay Rowan) are pushed -- by an ill-wind, literally -- into a strange art gallery.

In this unusual gallery, the sculptures and other works of art seem to respond to those who look at them, and the threesome is promptly met by a gorgeous woman, Daphne (Angel Tompkins) who speaks to them meaningfully about a great mind called “Magnus” who rules the realm.

The unseen Magnus is able to conjure up life-like visions from Garth and Rachel’s past, namely of their parents, and soon only Devon seems immune from his terrifying powers. 

At long last, Devon realizes that Magnus is actually a super-computer constructed hundreds of years earlier in an attempt by the command crew to better handle problems on the Ark.  Devon also realizes that Magnus could set the Ark back on course (and avoid the collision with the “solar star”), but Magnus demands first that Devon re-program him to become more powerful…

Like “And Only Man is Vile,” “Gallery of Fear” is a very slow-paced episode of this cheap Canadian sci-fi series. 

Virtually all the action takes (tedious) place in one large gallery room, and again, much of the story doesn’t make sense as you or I would recognize it.

Why would Magnus -- the greatest mind in the galaxy -- believe for a moment that a denizen from Cypress Corners -- a Mennonite, essentially -- could successfully re-program him?   

Not only is Devon untrained in any computer sciences, he’s already proven his ignorance in all things technical since he can’t change the course of the Ark on his own.  In short, Magnus would have better luck if Daphne reprogrammed him, than if Devon did.  His demand of Devon is idiotic.

Considering the logic of this scenario, Magnus, it seems, should agree to change the Ark’s trajectory to assure his own continued survival, and then go about finding a denizen who could reprogram him, perhaps awaking the right technical personnel from stasis (as seen in “Lazarus from the Mist”) in the process.

Like so many episodes of The Starlost, “Gallery of Fear” makes almost no logical sense whatsoever.  I did enjoy the concept of a living gallery, where works of art respond to the input of those who gaze at them.  Also, I liked the setting...for the first five minutes.  Initially, the gallery has a sinister vibe, and some of the early moments where it is explored by the heroes are successful at generating a diabolical atmosphere.

Otherwise, this is your typical“evil computer must be destroyed!” episode, much like any we’ve seen on Star Trek (“Return of the Archons,” “A Taste of Armageddon,” “The Ultimate Computer”) or another series.  But having an uneducated (if focused…) individual such as Devon be the one to outwit the ultimate computer is so ridiculous in these circumstances.

In two weeks, we pick up The Starlost again with “Mr. Smith of Manchester.”   We're half way done with the series, at this point...


  1. Hi John,

    "... of this cheap Canadian sci-fi series."

    First of all, this was not a Canadian series; it was a co-production with Fox Television and NBC. Also, "cheap" doesn't mean "bad"... even though The Starlost is most definitely a miss-fire.

    The series is watchable, I think, because there was an attempt to do an intelligent SF TV series. And, it does not matter what Harlan Ellison says (and he is a star to me), The Starlost is not at all bad. (He uses more colourful language, of course.) Good lord, don't get me going on 'bad SF TV shows'...

    Anyway, keep up the analyses.

  2. Those pictures just scream "early 1970's" it!!! Happy Holidays Ken

  3. Anonymous6:45 PM

    It is almost like the writers assumed the viewer would like Devon (Keir Dullea) tangle with another troubled computer as Keir did with Hal9000 in 2001(1968).


  4. Anonymous7:06 PM

    I finally got the dvd set for "The Starlost" last month , so it's interesting to see your take on the series. I generally agree with your observations on each ep, though I seem to be enjoying the show more.

    I thought "The Children of Methuselah" was the worst ep so far (annoying child actors, unusually shoddy looking sets and lighting, and a house fly buzzing around in one scene to add to the air of tackiness). I rather liked "The Pisces". I liked "And Only Man is Vile" too. It seemed to be the sort of story that "The Outer Limits" used to do (rather better). "The Circuit of Death " was goofy but fun.

    Technically, the show improved a bit as the episodes progressed. More cuts, and even some limited panning shots for some of the chroma key efx scenes (such as the initial shot of the gallery in this ep). The zapping of the wine glass was one of the few effects in the series I could say were nicely done. In "Gallery of Fear", it came as a bit of a disappointment that 'Magnus' was visualised with a shoddy looking green video effect that looked like something out of a 'Dr Shrinker" ep. The outer space shots in each ep always seem to be random stock shots of the ark.

    The characters are a different matter . As you noted, Devin is almost Spock-like in possessing scientific and technical knowlege. Where did that come from? Certainly not Cypress Corners. He's also a bit of a righteous bore. Rachel is adorable though.