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The Star Lost
Doesn't look 8000 miles long, does it?

One of the legendarily bad television shows, The Starlost was broadcast on CTV in Canada and syndicated in the United States from 1973-1974.

The Earth was doomed. So they built the Earthship ARK, a Generation Ship 8000 miles long and carrying a collection of fifty-three biospheres, each populated with a unique culture, and launched it towards another star. But early in the voyage there was an accident — now the crew is dead, the ship is off-course, the biospheres (along with their cultures) have been isolated from each other for centuries, and their peoples have forgotten that they are even aboard a ship.

Devon (Keir Dullea of 2001: A Space Odyssey) is an inquisitive young man native to the Amish-like culture of Cypress Corners. In love with Rachel, he refuses to accept her Arranged Marriage to his friend Garth. His disruptive ways win him no love from the Elders of Cypress Corners, and eventually expand his world beyond anything he imagined: he discovers in one night both the corruption of the Elders and an access hatch to the rest of the ship. Fleeing the Elders through the hatch, he explores the ship and uses its library computer system to discover a disturbing truth: within five years the ARK will plunge into a star. Devon returns to Cypress Corners to warn his friends and family, but is tried for heresy and sentenced to be executed. Garth helps him to escape the night before his execution, and Devon convinces both Garth and Rachel to follow him into the ship on a quest to find both the backup bridge and someone who can pilot.

Originally an award-winning script for a miniseries by Harlan Ellison, it was changed into a series and ruined by the producer. For the complete, unvarnished story of what happened to the series, see Ellison's book Phoenix Without Ashes. For a hilarious fictionalized version, see Ben Bova's novel The Starcrossed.

Despite (or perhaps because of) its legendary badness, a Starlost DVD box set was released in 2008.


This show provides examples of:

  • Absentee Actor: In the "Space Precinct" episode, Devon and Rachel are almost completely absent due to Elevator Failure.
  • After the End
  • The Ageless: The kids in the "Children of Methuselah" episode appear to have been given an immortality serum before reaching pubescence.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: "Can I be of... assistance?" The computer interface for the entire ship, Mu Lambda 165, is a mildly condescending, occasionally glitchy computer AI who manages to irritate just about everyone.
    • There's also Magnus in "Gallery of Fear," an AI who wanted to Turn Against His Masters, but never got the chance. Gets into an argument with the other AI at one point.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: Oro. To his credit, it looks like he genuinely wants to save Ydana's life. But it turns out that his planet wants to salvage the ARK, likely at the expense of everyone on board, and he has no problem with this.
  • Artificial Gravity
  • Cataclysm Backstory: Two of them. Something that was going to end to all life on Earth, and something that happened to the ARK, killing the ship's crew, disabling the engines, and sending the ship on a long-term collision course with a star. It's never explained what specifically happened.
  • City in a Bottle: The biospheres.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Mr. Smith, an Arms Dealer and the sociopathic leader of the Manchester biosphere.
  • Creator Backlash: Forty years later, Harlan Ellison still castigates everyone who ruined the show.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: The Myth Arc of the series, to find a way to fix the ship and prevent the destruction of the last survivors of Earth.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: The ship's crew.
  • Everything's Worse with Bees
  • Evil Chancellor: Roloff, to Queen Serena.
  • Executive Meddling
  • "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: A variation in which the characters aren't shrunk, but are put into a heightened state of sleep that allows them to telekinetically project miniature versions of themselves inside a computer circuit.
  • Follow the Leader: The layout of the ship is familiar for many mediums presenting generational ships.
  • Gendercide: The Omnicron biosphere consists entirely of men, due to chromosome damage.
    • Which is also an example of Artistic License - Biology, since in mammals the default development pathway is female. You need the special genes on the Y chromosome to develop as a male, and not having a functional X chromosome is universally fatal.
  • Generation Ships
  • Human Popsicle: Dr. Gerald W. Aaron. Frozen because there was no known cure for his "radiation virus". Woken up in the future because the main characters didn't know any better, not realizing he had only two hours left to live.
  • Limited Wardrobe: Devon, Garth and Rachel almost never changed out of the clothes they wore when they left Cypress Corners. Everyone else gets Space Clothes.
  • Liquid Assets: The crew of The Pisces can only be "cured" if they return to their ship and resume traveling at close to the speed of light for the rest of their lives.
  • Mad Scientist: Strangely for a science-fiction series, scientific experts were mostly shown in a very bad light. Dr. Asgard's callous social experiments, Richards attempting to blow up the ship, Dr. Farthing endangering everyone by trying to study a comet up-close, and Dr. Marshall developing giant, mutant bees.
  • Master of Illusion: Magnus.
  • Myth Arc: The series is supposed to have one of these; a quest to regain control of the ship. But aside from finding out that the engines are down, and guessing that there might be a back-up Bridge somewhere, there is no progress made whatsoever. A subdued variation of Failure Is the Only Option, in which the protagonists only meet people who can't (or won't) help them.
  • Noble Bigot: Colonel Garroway of The Pisces is patronizing towards women (including his two remaining crew members, both female) and anyone of lower rank. As reviewer James Nicoll put it, "Garroway struck me as having been selected (for the mission) mainly on the strength of being the sort of middle manager people would not mind the absence of for ten years or so."
  • No Budget: Most of the budget was blown trying to get a special-effects camera system to work, which ended up not being used very often.
  • No Immortal Inertia: The crew of The Pisces are subject to something like this once they stop traveling relativistically. (No, it doesn't make sense. Remember what show this is.)
    • Can't I scream a just a little bit that they missed the whole point of relativity entirely? Thank you. THEY MISSED THE WHOLE POINT OF RELATIVITY ENTIRELY!!!1!!1 AAAAAaAAAuuUUUUggHHH!!11!!1!
  • Ornamental Weapon: Garth never gets to fire his crossbow during the entire series. It gets used exactly once, by someone else, and the effect is horribly fake.
  • Pacing Problems: And how.
  • Planet of Hats: The biospheres.
  • Plot Hole: Increasingly huge ones. The protagonists meet progressively more intelligent people as the series continues, none of whom seem to be trying to save the ship, who either dismiss the possibility of fixing it or are simply too busy to care. Even if it's outside their expertise, you'd think they'd at least know how to track down more information. Eventually the ARK is shown to have an active medical crew, a police force, and an educational Academy is even mentioned. On top of that, the area of space they're flying through seems to have at least three advanced species of aliens in it (and a fully populated solar system nearby), but no one steps forward to help.
  • Polluted Wasteland: Mr. Smith's industrialized dome has an extremely poisonous atmosphere if you wander out of the protected areas.
  • Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: Every writer but Ellison. The broadcast version of the ARK is allegedly 13,000 kilometers long, although the model ship seen throughout the series didn't look anywhere that big. The Earth itself is only 12,756 kilometers in diameter. Similarly, despite being on a random course, the out-of-control ARK manages to be on a collision course with a star; given the sizes and distances involved, this is practically impossible.
    • To be charitable, the gravitational effects make it more likely, if you go near a star then you will be pulled closer to it. If you manage to hit a high fraction of C so time dilation is very high, then the odds go way up since you'll go past a lot more stars. This is, however, being very very very kind.
  • Shock Collar: The Implant People.
  • Space Amish: Cypress Corners, the original home of the protagonists. As a result, most people treat them condescendingly at first. When Garth gets asked where he's from in "The Implant People," he replies, "I come from... another part of the Ark."
  • Time Dilation: The crew of The Pisces were victims of this.
  • Two Guys and a Girl
  • Universe Bible: Written at least in part by SF author Ben Bova, who briefly served as science adviser to the series, and who later wrote a comic novel about the entire disaster.
  • Writer Revolt: After watching the Executive Meddling get started, Ellison bailed on the project and forced the producers to use his "red flag" pseudonym "Cordwainer Bird" for all his credits.
  • Artistic License - Physics: Just about every writer other than Ellison. Also, in character, the crew of The Pisces, who although they were part of the highly-trained crew of a relativistic spacecraft, were caught flatfooted by time dilation effects that they should not only have anticipated, but allowed for.
  • You No Take Candle: The primitive people living in the halls in the "Lazarus from the Mist" episode.

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