Back when I was in grade school, I was captivated by a science fiction series on TV, even though I had only seen a handful of episodes before it disappeared. Years later, it popped into my head and I wondered why it had never been back on reruns. Since then I have thought about it from time to time and asked friends if they had ever seen it. I couldn’t remember the name or much about the plot and I never encountered anyone who recognized my vague description. I sometimes wondered if I was merely remembering a dream… until now.
In the past, there was no way to actively search for something like this. There was no internet or IMDB database. Asking friends was all I could really do. This past weekend was the first time I had thought about that show in many years and fortunately my curiosity lasted long enough for me to sit down and do a search. With current tools I actually found it quite quickly. The old sci-fi show I had seen back then was called “The Starlost”.
What Is It?
In the early 70s, Harlan Ellison wrote the original script entitled “Phoenix Without Ashes”. It described a generation ship that had suffered some sort of catastrophe which altered its course and killed its crew. The many communities living in various domes throughout the ship were, after their numerous generations within their domes, completely unaware that they were actually aboard a space craft. One of these villagers accidently discovered an access panel leading to the ship proper. After locating the bridge and accessing the computer, he discovered the truth of their situation and returned to enlighten his family and friends, only to be named a heretic and sentenced to death. With the aid of some of his friends, he escaped and they all fled through the access panel back into the ship. Their adventures consisted of exploring the ship and the other domes in hopes of convincing others of the truth and of locating the backup bridge so that they could regain control of the ship.
The original script was considered brilliant (Ellison received a Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Screenplay). Sadly, it was not used. The name was changed. The script was changed. The budget was slashed. Even my ten year old self new the production wasn’t very good. Yet somehow the original script still shown through. It was an exciting concept which is why that handful of episodes still haunts me forty years later.
I’ve ordered the DVD and am excited to see it. Hopefully the reality won’t completely destroy the memory. But there is a bonus. In looking this up, I discovered that the script was novelized (in conjunction with Edward Bryant) under the original name “Phoenix Without Ashes”. This book is available for Kindle on Amazon.
If I were to run a sci-fi campaign this is exactly the premise I would use.