First, there was the 1976 movie starring Michael York, Jenny Agutter, and Richard Jordan (and a heavily advertised Farrah Fawcett in a small role). As with all successful movies at the time someone decided to make a TV series, which starred Gregory Harrison, Heather Menzies, Randy Powell and Donald Moffat. Was it as successful? Hardly – it lasted 14 episodes. Read More to see why, although there is a spoiler for the end of the movie – but its been 31 years…if you haven’t seen it yet, you probably don’t care about this review.
Based on the novel by William Nolan (there are a number of differences, but I won’t get into that here), the premise was the same: In the City of Domes everyone lives in luxury, wanting nothing. The catch: everyone dies at age 30 as a form of population control. On Last Day (their 30th birthday), they enter Carousel, where they spin and rise up into the air until blasted. Everyone believes this is part of Renewal, in which they are reborn in the next generation. Well, not everyone.
Those who don’t believe in renewal and attempt to avoid Carousel become Runners. A whole separate subculture believe that a place called Sanctuary awaits them outside the city, if they can escape. They are hunted down by the Sandmen – the “police” of the city, who terminate Runners.
Logan 5 and Francis 7 are Sandmen and friends. When Logan becomes a Runner and escapes with Jessica, Francis hunts him down outside the city.
From there, everything diverges.
- Movie: Everyone has “life clocks” in the palm of their right hand. A crystal that indicates the relative age of the person. Clear at infancy, yellow during childhood, green as a young adult, and red towards the end. It blinks on Last Day, and after that turns black, and you are hunted down and terminated. On the TV series, no such thing.
- Movie: Logan is instructed by the City Computer to secretly infiltrate the Runners by becoming a Runner himself, but later realized the lie of Carousel. In the series, Logan begins to question Carousel and Renewal, and chooses to become a Runner.
- Movie: we learn that the City of Domes is near Washington, D.C. No real location is obvious in the series.
- Movie: the Sandman gun only had one setting we know of – blast. In the series, there is also a “stun” mode, which manages to catch a lot of people by surprise, despite the fact that was was slow enough to easily dodge. The guns still have the cool flame effect in blast mode though, which I believe was done with butane cartridges.
One major difference, that is series specific: Not everyone dies at 30. The City is administered in secret by a council of nine (I think) elders. This is never mentioned in the movie, although they do raise the question of “Who do you think runs the city?” They instruct Francis to pursue and return Logan alive, in exchange for which Francis will become a member of the council and live past Last Day.
The ending in the movie – where the city is destroyed – does not happen. They pretty much diverge at the point Logan and Jessica leave the city the first time, and pretty much stay out of the city (other than for plot points in later episodes) looking for Sanctuary.
From there, the series stories pretty much become a simple post-apocalyptic adventure plus a “man on the run” adventure in one, ala The Fugitive. Francis relentlessly pursues Logan (with a variety of other Sandmen, who don’t seem to question that they are outside in the “poisoned air” with no ill effects), while Logan and Jessica stop at various places looking for Sanctuary, and typically become trapped and have to escape. Unfortunately very formulaic.
Since two is not enough, early on they pick up a third from outside – Rem, played by the bushy-eyebrowed Donald Moffat, an android with no emotions who decides to accompany the duo in their search.
To get around faster, they discover a solar-powered hovercar. To keep up, the Sandmen come up with cars of their own – where from is never explained.
Some of the stories could have been from any TV show. “Capture” is a variation of the short story “The Most Dangerous Game”, where a hunter seeks better sport in humans. Been done many many times. “The Crypt”: 6 people have a terminal disease – there only enough cure for 3. And people start dying…and “Night Visitors” is a haunted house story with nothing to do with the series premise, especially given the fact that the spooky mansion managed to escape the apocalypse…
Apparently, it was felt that it wouldn’t be sci-fi without some aliens, so a few episodes feature them. Other cliches include time travel (albeit it was a decent episode), suspended animation, a robot society, people split into positive and negative personalities, and mental powers.
The two most memorable episodes for me, which means I remembered them after 30 years, were:
- “The Crypt”: Six people are found deep underground in suspended animation, having been frozen because they all suffered from a terminal illness that affected everyone after the apocalypse. The six were chosen based on their abilities to help rebuild society, and frozen in the hopes a cure would be found. A cure WAS found shortly afterwards, but a “power failure” prevented the people on the surface from reaching those below, so the six doses of the cure and a message were left above. Those still on the surface died anyways due to the toxic air. Rem is able to easily fix the problem and they go down to help. However, just as they get down there an earthquake hits, and the box with the cure is damaged – one of the vials – 3 doses – is crushed and lost. Now only three can be given the cure, and its up to Logan and Jessica to decide who (they don’t trust a machine – i.e. Rem – to decide) should survive. But then one dies under mysterious circumstances…
- “Man Out Of Time”: A scientist from before the apocalypse travels forward in time in an attempt to determine what happened, and then travel back to try and prevent it. Notable mostly because it reveals a bit about the creation of the City of Domes.
Acting wise, I think for the most part it was acceptable if not decent. The pilot episode really needed to do too much exposition since it was basically “rebooting” (as they now say) the story in far less time, so that was perhaps their weakest point. Rem was certainly convincing as the android with supposedly no feelings, but still with a personality.
Some may recognize Heather Menzies name other than the fact that she was married for a long time to the late Robert Urich – she was the second daughter, Louisa, of the von Trapp family in The Sound Of Music. Fellow von Trapp co-stars Angela Cartwright (Brigitta, but better known as Penny Robinson in Lost in Space) and Nicholas Hammond (Friedrich, also Peter Parker/Spider-Man in the 1978 The Amazing Spider-Man TV series) guest starred in separate episodes.
And the series had a number of notable guest stars (or bigger names now in bit parts back then). Just a few (look them up in IMDB if you need to): Michael Biehn, Mel Ferrer, Kim Cattrall, Soon-Tek Oh, Barbara Babcock, Gerald McRaney, and Mariette Hartley.
Technically, special effects were pretty lacking compared to the movie, although that’s expected on a TV budget. The psychedelic effects of the movie are all lost. Sets were mostly location shooting or otherwise fairly simple. A later episode with scenes in the City of Domes seemed to be shot in a typical suburban shopping mall with storefronts covered up by colored walls, and the escalators not only visible but used! “Wide” shots of the interior of the City were limited to the same limited shot of the model city and the tube car traveling between buildings, lifted from the movie.
In one particular scene inside the City, outside Carousel – you can see burn marks visible on the wall above the giant crystal – evidently they saved the set from the movie and reused it – but didn’t bother to touch it up after the “destruction” of the city in the movie!
Probably best forgotten in the annals of TV history as yet another failed attempt to capitalize on a successful movie, but like most things best forgotten, it still occupies one of those places in my brain where it keeps popping up with a nostalgic fondness…