Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cult-TV Blogging: The Starlost: "Astro-Medics" (December 1, 1973)

This week on The Starlost, Devon (Keir Dullea) is injured while attempting to rescue Garth (Robin Ward) during repairs on the Ark.  Garth blames himself for Devon’s injury.  Even as Garth faces self-recriminations, Rachel’s (Gay Rowan) call for medical help is answered by the Ark’s Medical Corps/space patrol.

Devon is taken aboard the equivalent of a space ambulance with his friends from Cypress Corners, but the father-and-son doctors tending to his nervous system injuries must first contend with their own contentious personal history…

“Astro-Medics” is another one of those The Starlost (1973 – 1974) episodes that doesn’t seem a good fit for the established series format.

As you will recall, the series concerns a generational ship, the Earth Ship Ark, on a collision course with a star.  The people on the Ark -- separated in different cultures within different biospheres -- are unaware of one another for the most part, and also unaware that they are on board a spacecraft at all.  The series’ three protagonists, Devon, Rachel, and Garth constantly search for some person with the skill, knowledge and desire to change the ark’s disastrous trajectory.

In “Astro-Medics,” however, the audience learns that a fully-functioning medical corps is still at work half-a-millennium after the catastrophe that splintered the cultures on the ship, and still tending to medical emergencies on the Ark.

These fully-equipped, fully-trained doctors -- who must be the descendants of the original crew -- patrol in space beyond the perimeter of the Ark, and even offer medical assistance to alien life forms nearby.

The existence of this operational medical corps raises some very big questions in terms of story consistency.

First, other than folks like Garth, Devon and Rachel -- who know the truth about the Ark -- who is going to call for the Corps’ help?  Certainly the folks in Cypress Corners don’t call outsider (heathens…) for medical assistance.  Certain Mr. Smith of Manchester -- massing his army – isn’t calling them for help.

Secondly, if the people in the biospheres don’t call for help either because they are unaware of the Corps. Or because they don’t want the help, what calls (again, other than our heroes’) do these doctors respond to on a regular basis?  (And where were these doctors in “Lazarus in the Mist” when Devon and the others visited a medical facility and could have used a physician’s skills?)

Next, the question becomes: why can’t doctors fully trained in surgical procedures, spaceship piloting, and the use of highly-advanced instrumentation, change the ark’s deadly course?  As “Astro-Medics” reveals, all the doctors know of the collision course crisis, but have decided they can’t do anything about it.  Instead, they race about to help sick individuals, all while the whole of mankind is in dire physical jeopardy. 

This is roughly akin to treating a patient’s broken leg when he is undergoing cardiac arrest.

To put it even more simply, if a person can pilot a medical space ambulance around the Ark -- and to the location of a damaged alien ship -- then certainly he could at least take a crack at setting a new trajectory for the Ark, right?  

Couldn’t he or she at least…try?

The next issue raised by “Astro-Medics” is one of Devon, Garth and Rachel’s quest.  Their job, essentially, is to bring order out of chaos, to bring together the various and diverse biospheres so that they can combine together and save humanity.  Wouldn’t the existence of an organization like the Medical Corps – with their technology and medicine – make that quest infinitely easier?  Wouldn’t the threesome from Cypress Corners wish to avail themselves of that support?

Finally, I must second-guess the producers for highlighting this story, which in essence deals with a father and son -- both doctors -- learning to respect each other, while caring for their patients.  Why is this tale -- more at home on Marcus Welby, Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, or Trapper John MD --appropriate for inclusion on a series called The Starlost?

As I see it, “Astro-Medics” serves two essential purposes.  First, it sidelines Devon and thus gives Keir Dullea a break.  Week after week of carrying the lion’s share of the dialogue and action, I can see why this is useful.  Secondly, Devon’s absence allows Garth to step into the spotlight.  I must confess, as the series progresses, I’m coming to like and appreciate Garth quite a bit.  He shows real humanity, discipline and character in episodes such as “Astro-Medics” “The Alien Oro” and the upcoming “The Implant People.”  After many episodes in which the writers seemed at a loss about how to handle the character, Garth seems to be coming into his own as a character in this batch of shows.  He’s a lot less strident than Devon.

Next week: “The Implant People.”


  1. Anonymous1:37 PM

    This ep was disappointing in a number of other ways. Why was Devon so critically injured by the sonic chamber, while Garth who spent even more time in the chamber wasn't? Devon's injury setup a contrived moral dilema for the Astromedics of the type so endlessly done on "Star Trek: The Next Generation". The doctor's father was neither feeble or suffering from poor vision as the other doctors 'observed'. Even frail Dr. Goodfellow on "Buck Rogers" was deemed fit enough to perform surgery. A note on the acting: none of the actors were very convincing as doctors. The actual operation was incredibly lame. Keeping the 'alien' in a video blur (reminiscent of the alien's image in Star Trek's "Corbonite Manuever" for most of the ep was understandable. The make-up for the reptilian alien was awful. The Astromedics provide brilliant advice for the aliens -Turn down your heat! How such dim-witted aliens were capable of spaceflight is a mystery!

  2. Anonymous2:58 PM

    John, thoughful review, Starlost had so much potential that got lost due to the lack of good scripts.