Keir Dullea's (Star)lost Opportunity

  • Sharebar

For a short time there, Keir Dullea was going to be the face of science fiction in the 1970s. After starring in 2001: A Space Odyssey in 1968, Dullea went on to front an ambitious Canadian TV production - this was going to be the new Star Trek, the next big thing (four years before Star Wars), syndicated world-wide.

It was called The Starlost, and it was about a huge multi-generational ship, carrying the last remnants of humanity, in a collection of biodomes, each preserving a different Earth culture. It looks like there were 38 biodomes - each supposedly 50 miles across, making the ship some 300+ miles long (not 200 miles as stated in the publicity). Unfortunately, an accident has left the ship adrift.

Hundreds of years after the accident, a trio of “young people” are exiled from their biodome and discover that the ship is doomed to fall into a star. They spend the next sixteen episodes trying to save the ship even though they come from an Amish-style community (The blacksmith is considered to be the most technologically literate).

Keir Dullea, Gay Rowan and Robin Ward were the trio. It’s hard to call them ‘young’ but that was far from the TV show’s only problem. Originally conceived by Harlan Ellison (famed scifi write, famed cranky old man) and Douglas Trumball (The guy behind the special effects in 2001 and eventually Star Wars), the show had potential for some great storytelling and effects work.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

The production company cut the budget, decided to shot on video tape instead of film, deciding that sets could be green screened (Using the same technology as your TV weatherman) to save money and that story outlines written by a bunch of top scifi writers (like Ben Bova) were too expensive. Ellison walked and had his name removed. Then Trumball walked.

And Dullea was left to become the face of a quirky TV show that only lasted 16 episodes. Yes, he deserved better. As the season progressed, the trio continually met others much more capable of saving the Ark. Some were trying to, others were indifferent to the fate of the ship, or had their own agendas.

There were some interesting episodes - “The Pisces” was about a scout ship sent from the Ark before the accident to scout out habitable worlds for humanity. It returns to the Ark 400 years later, but the crew can’t assist in the Ark’s rescue because they’ve been infected with dementia on their journey. Walter Koenig (Chekov from Star Trek) had a recurring role as a self-centred alien who could probably help the Ark, but instead sees it as a parts repository to be plundered for his own needs.

Frustration seems to have been an underlying theme of this show. Solutions come, then slip away. I can’t help but think that that’s what the actors trapped in the show also felt. Producers Ellison and Trumball got out. Keir Dullea didn’t. His IMDB profile includes The Starlost credits, but his bio only states that he, “went abroad to seek film work in England and in Canada, but with lukewarm results.”

There have been rumours of a remake of The Starlost, but so far nothing has come of it. The idea had potential. If this is a new golden age of science fiction, can The Starlost be resurrected?