If you were to pick one place, and one place only, to wake up, devoid of all your memories and sense of self, there’s a high likelihood it wouldn’t be aboard a largely powered-down, dead-among-the-stars spaceship whose only sign of life, and the term should be used loosely, is a blaring klaxon, flashing red lights and emotionless computer voice counting down to the cessation of all life support.
Am I right? Can I get a show of hands from would-be spacefarers out there? No? No one? Moving on …
Leaving aside the whole amnesiac thing, which frankly isn’t appealing on a whole number of different levels, the idea that you would be shaken awake from what could have been months, nay years, of hibernation sleep standing up in a translucent glass tubes (yep, not even a pillow, people, not one) only to find yourself in imminent danger of death would have to have the least wonderful way to commence a career in space.
Or to meet five other strangers, all of whom are similarly clueless about who they are, where they come from, and presumably their favourite brand of toothpaste.
And yet this is exactly where six strangers – or are they? Cue portentous music and sudden life-threatening sense of mystery – find themselves, suddenly dependent on other people for survival, people whose skills aren’t consciously known to them, emerging only as necessary, such as when, say, the spaceship you’re on is threatening to literally suck the air out from every compartment and crevice.
These six people – all of whom adopt numbers from one through six in lieu of the actual names they can’t remember – run the gamut from take-charge spaceship wrangler (Melissa O’Neil as Two / Portia Lin) to gung-ho weapons dude (Anthony Lemke as Three / Marcus Boone), eerily-good swordsman (Alex Mallari Jr. as Four / Ryo Tetsuda) to sweet-natured boy next door/defender of the innocent (Marc Bendavid as One / Jace Corso) and whippet-smart, tender-hearted muscleman (Roger Cross as Six / Griffin Jones).
Throw in an enigmatic possible deposed teenage princess who knows her way around a circuit board or three hundred (Jodelle Ferland as Five / Das), and a killer onboard android with a handy neural link to the ship (Zoie Palmer), whose security routines are disabled in the nick of time before she lays waste to everyone, and you have the strangest crew ever set forth upon a cruise since Gilligan and the ill-fated passengers aboard the SS Minnow set out for their ill-fated three hour cruise.
Oh, and give them a destination that none of them recognise, an independent mining world with links to a freedom fighter of sorts called Rothgar, threatened by the autocratic, militaristic Multi Corps, and you have the mother of all Sherlock-ian mysteries tied up with a glowing nebula bow.
You have to hand it to syfy.
When they announced a couple of years that they were going back into space form when their programming once came, and forsaking most, if not all (Sharknado, ahem, cough) of the B-grade shlocky crap they called content, there was some scepticism whether they really meant it.
But here we are with a real honest-to-goodness TV show set in space, from the people who helped to give us the wonders, dangers, and wisecracks of the Stargate universe, Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, based on a series of bestselling graphic novels, which were originally intended to be the TV series they have indeed now spawned.
And it is quite remarkably good.
Not sensationally, what-an-original-jawdropping premise good but still very, very good, a been-there-done-that kind of idea that is very well executed with well-differentiated characters, a palpable sense of mystery, and in the dying moments of the pilot episode, when the sarcasm-inclined The Android recovered a slew of recovered data files including some identity files (for everyone but person #5), some very necessary answers.
And I say necessary, not simply because we can’t call these people one through six for the rest of the show, but because while a dazzling mystery is a great way to begin things, you can’t keep it wholly intact for too long or viewers might go looking for a show where they do actually answer the occasional persistent, bugging question.
It’s the eternal dilemma of the modern, cryptic TV show of which there are many – do you give few if any answers until very late in the piece at which point loyal viewers go “What the f**k?! in agonised unison (Lost), reveal lots of stuff along the way until you suck all the life out of your story (Revolution), or do you apportion the hopefully non-red herrings out just so every episode so a delightful balance remains between What-the-f**kery and a satisfying sense that something’s been revealed (Wayward Pines, Grimm).
It appears, and granted this is based on one lone episode, that Dark Matter, possessed of a strong sense of what it is and where it is heading pretty much out of the gate, a testament one assumes of its long graphic novel-detoured TV gestation, is plumping for door #3 (as opposed to person #3), keeping us both satisfied and intrigued all at once.
If they have begun as they mean to go on then Mallozzi and Mullie look like they have a very fine show indeed on their hands, one with shades of Firefly (the eclectic crew, wild west galaxy, dictatorial bad guys), and Stargate (worlds upon worlds, full of baddies, goodies,and those who occupy the grey zone betwixt and between), and a real sense of storytelling purpose.
Again, it’s not the most original premise on the block but then most shows are in some way copies of those that have come before them; what matters is what they do with their inspirations.
On that basis, Mallozzi and Mullie are making most excellent use of that which has fired their imaginations, give us a crew of characters full of light and shade and the unraveling of true, possibly lethal identities, a conspiracy bigger than any of them, a sense of gee-whiz let’s zip around in space fun, and good, solid, engaging storytelling that should ensure the show is flying around syfy’s newly-re-star studded programming for a good while yet.