Apart from a briefly naked Jenny Agutter, the greatest cultural contribution of the 1976 sci-fi film Logan’s Run was its premise: In the future, people have crystals in their palms, and when they turn 30, the crystal goes black and they’re scheduled for execution. While the rest of the movie is a goofy hodgepodge of youth-culture satire and heavily ironic science fiction, that central idea of a world where everyone has a built-in expiration date became nearly as iconic as Charlton Heston’s beachside run-in with the Statue of Liberty or his discovery of the secret ingredient of Soylent Green. It’s something of a shock, then, that the crystal is never referenced in the film’s TV spin-off. The short-lived series has most of its source material’s most recognizable elements—there are Runners and Sandmen, a City Of Domes, and the deadly Carousel—but the palms here are crystal-free. It’s a small point, but it speaks to the show’s determination to establish its own identity, largely by stealing from other sources.
Logan’s Run: The Complete Series sets up its structure early on. The 90-minute pilot streamlines the film’s narrative (which was loosely based on the novel of the same name) to the first 40 minutes. Logan 5 (Gregory Harrison), a Sandman tasked with hunting down and killing fugitives who attempt to escape their government-sanctioned death, has some doubts about his job. Within minutes of explaining these doubts to his co-worker Francis (Randy Powell), Logan meets Jessica 6 (Heather Menzies), a Runner who convinces him to flee the City Of Domes by her side. They escape into a world that looks suspiciously like California, full of rocks, trees, and dozens of potentially intriguing, dramatically symbolic post-apocalyptic societies. Soon after they make their escape, they find a car and an android named Rem (Donald Moffat), and with Francis hot on their heels, the three start their journey toward Sanctuary, the mythical safe spot sought by Runners for generations.
Every episode of Logan’s Run’s abbreviated first season covers the same basic ground. Logan, Jessica, and Rem will stumble over a group of people who are organized around some basic symbolic concept. They’ll clash with the group, defeat whatever evil is lurking around, Rem will joke about how happy he is to not be human, and then they’ll move on. It’s a structure that should be familiar to anyone who’s ever watched an episode of The Fugitive or The Incredible Hulk, and it’s a sturdy one, allowing the series to operate as an anthology covering a wide variety of subjects, from metaphysics (“Half Life”) to aliens (“The Collectors”) to mind control (“Fear Factor”), while still maintaining a basic continuity between episodes. This isn’t a serialized show, but Francis is a recurring villain, and there are enough references to Carousel and the City Of Domes to make sure viewers never entirely forget just what Logan and Jessica are so set on escaping. One of the stranger episodes, “Futurepast,” even implies that the psychology of a culture built around young death will haunt the show’s heroes no matter how far they run.
Sturdy or not, though, it’s hard to view these 14 episodes with too much regret over the series’ early cancellation. Logan’s Run is competent enough, with stories from Star Trek veterans and even some work by one of the original novel’s authors, but it never really gets above the level of a pleasant Saturday-morning time-waster. Harrison and Menzies, while likable, deliver rote performances of “cool hero” and “damsel in distress,” and the familiar rise and fall of the action never allows for much tension. The hunt for Sanctuary is so nebulous and ill-defined that it’s difficult to get too worked up about it, and Francis and his fellow Sandmen fail to make a credible threat; without the impending doom of Carousel, much of the suspense of the original story is lost. And for those times the danger does loom over Logan and Jessica’s heads, the perpetually poised Rem is always there to save them. Moffat’s low-key, likable performance is a reliable highlight, as he takes what might have been a grating comic-relief sidekick and turns him into the voice of mildly bemused reason. Rem, along with a small handful of episodes (“Man Out Of Time,” “Night Visitors,” and “Crypt,” with its story by Harlan Ellison), suggest a show that might have been but never entirely materialized: a charming, trippy, occasionally creepy sci-fi adventure series. In getting rid of those hand crystals and reformatting the original tale into something slightly new, Logan’s Run demonstrated a willingness to follow its own path. But it never got past those hesitant first steps.
Key Features: As nonexistent as Sanctuary itself.