FREELANCE WRITER. JOURNALIST, AND SCRIPT READER – FAN OF SCI-FI AND CHOCOLATE DIGESTIVES – YSTV'S BEST DRESSED MEMBER 2013

Sunday, 25 October 2015


Now, this is how Steven Moffat’s “loose two-parters” format can work!

After the drawn-out imbroglio of Under the Lake/Before the Flood, episodes five and six have given us two clearly separate stories (set 800 years apart, in fact) with a connection; The Woman Who Lived sees the Doctor arrive in 17th century England on the trail of an alien artefact, only to bump into his immortal Viking buddy Ashildr, now an infamous thief who calls herself ‘Me’ – the first hint at how eight hundred years of life have changed her… 

Doctor Who’s often dealt with how the Doctor’s long lifespan affects his view on humanity (I always remember School Reunion – the Tenth Doctor melancholically explaining how companions come, go, and die to Rose – but there are more examples). Similar material was covered in Torchwood with Captain Jack’s immortality; I mention that because this episode’s writer, Catherine Tregenna, wrote some of the best Torchwood episodes dealing with those themes. And yet with The Woman Who Lived, Tregenna finds a new way into the theme – pairing the Doctor with a character who shares his immortality but hasn’t allowed herself companions, and so has become the cold, uncaring killer that he’s always been stopped from becoming (The Fires of Pompeii, The Girl Who Died, and The Woman Who Lived would make a cracking triple-bill). The dialogue recalling how she became like this is achingly good – “What could be worse than losing your children?” “I keep that entry to remind me not to have any more.” Peter Capaldi and Maisie Williams are extraordinary together, with Williams’ performance here very different to last week’s – cold, alone, determined to get by on her own but longing for new experiences. It's a far cry from the passionate Ashildr, a character much more rooted in one environment, and enough to shake off any criticisms that she was just doing another Arya Stark.

Of course, the Doctor manages to bring some of Ashildr’s passion back into Me, reminding her that, though human lives may seem fleeting, they do matter. There’s an interesting subtext there – Me’s privilege of immortality makes her, as the Doctor says, “desensitised to the world”, and she needs reminding how all life is equal. Intentional or not (and I think it is), doesn’t that resonate with modern Western life, in which the amount of atrocities on the news can make it easy to forget that every single life is important?


I like how the current format's able to ditch Clara for an episode (no offence, Jenna), without the need for a Midnight-style “I think I’ll stay by the pool” scene. Interestingly though, this episode was as much about Clara as any this series, with its theme of human mortality. We’ve all seen the signs, right? All the episodes this series (except, ironically, Moffat’s) have had a scene where the Doctor’s said something along the lines of “don’t go running off Clara, I wouldn’t want you to die” to the point that I’d be surprised if she didn’t kick the bucket in the finale. I am worried about how this’ll play out, given the unholy fiasco Steven Moffat has made out of companion “deaths” in the past (just go back to 1940s New York, Doctor, it’ll be fine), but the foreshadowing that Tregenna, Mathieson and Whithouse have planted is sublime. This episode’s final scene in the TARDIS, though it seems slight, is so good. The hug, the guitar slinging across his back, and more than anything, the tiniest change in the Doctor’s expression in that final shot, dread infringing upon his caring smile.

Where The Woman Who Lived falls apart, though, is in its actual plot – where it tries to do the things a Doctor Who episode usually does. It’s an odd counterpoint to The Girl Who Died, which also focused on building character but had enough original detail to the villains and enough genuine threat to allow it to stitch its character threads convincingly. Here, it all seems incredibly half-arsed. Quarter-arsed, even. The old Russell T Davies trope of the animal-headed humanoid villain returns, and what’s this lion-themed species called? The Leonians. Ho-hum. Whop in a reference to Greek mythology for good measure and we’re done. Still, no one can polish a turd quite as enthusiastically as Peter Capaldi - look at his grin when delivering “could it be that the mythology originated on another planet?” and tell me his delight doesn’t rub off on you. 

The comedy flops, too – Rufus Hound as Sam Swift needs to be a scene-stealing bit of comic relief (think Nick Frost in Last Christmas or even Michelle Gomez in Magician’s Apprentice/Witch’s Familiar), but, well, none of the jokes are very funny. The funniest line, the Doctor objecting to Swift’s puns and banter, is pretty much lifted from Robot of Sherwood


A disinterest in its own plot and shoddy humour may seem like major faults for a Who episode, but you know what? Ultimately, I don’t think they matter. What The Woman Who Lives lacks in excitement, it more than makes up for in introspection. Pairing the Doctor up with an uncaring mirror of himself is a very clever take on an old theme, and one that feels well placed at the midpoint of this season. 18-year-old Williams is compelling as the 800-year-old loner, and it barely needs repeating that 57-year-old Capaldi convinces as someone who’s filled up his 2000 Year Diary. The scenes between the two, with Tregenna’s staggering dialogue, are proper, original Doctor Who.

But what’s proper Doctor Who without some ludicrous campness? As well as the daft villain, we got these two lines, bound to go down as classics:

“Purple. The colour of death.” – No elaboration will ever be given on that.

“Sam Swift will ‘ang at Tyburn at nooooooon.” – It may read as boring, but go back and rewatch the bit part actor’s immensely camp delivery (it’s 29 minutes in). A masterclass in turning a tiny role into something amazing.

DOCTOR WHO SERIES NINE RANKING
  1. The Girl Who Died
  2. The Woman Who Lived
  3. The Witch’s Familiar
  4. Under the Lake
  5. The Magician’s Apprentice
  6. Before the Flood

Saturday, 24 October 2015

On 24.10.15 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments

Couldn't sleep, so wrote a comedy sketch based on this news story. Newsjack's not currently on, so the blog gets it.

“We’ve taken the time to look over your proposal, and we’re thrilled by your ambition. Really, we are.”

“Great!”

“But the thing is, we just don’t have as much funding as we’d all like, and infinite monkeys may be out of our budget.”

“OK, well, I thought you might say that, so I’m happy to compromise. Could you maybe manage a thousand?”

“Well, I’d love to say yes, but actually, you see, we can’t really afford monkeys at all.”

“Oh.”

“How about a chicken?”

“A chicken?”

“Yes.”

“One chicken?”

“Yeah, and the other thing is - timescale. Now that it’s only one chicken, as you can imagine, it would take quite a while to crack out the entire works of Shakespeare, so that’s going to have to be reconsidered too.”

“Sure, sure - maybe it could just do the three parts of Henry VI?”

“We were thinking more like a word.”

“Right… what word? Romeo? Midsummer?”

“No. Bum."

Wednesday, 21 October 2015


The latest issue of Starburst Magazine is out now!

This edition prints my reviews of Dark Matter and The Elimination Game, plus has a whole load of content celebrating the release of a much better reality TV-themed film with "game" in the title (in case you don't know, I mean The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part Two).

Buy online or from WH Smiths, Tesco or your local comic book emporium.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

*joke about how the arrangement of sword and shields is a bit phallic*

So Maisie Williams wasn’t the Rani, Susan, Jenny, or River Song (whew) and all the fan theories were wrong. Well, except that one fan who totally called Tennant and Tate’s cameo (yes, I was talking about newly filmed material, and it being the 1st October announcement, but still, not bad, right?).

Anyway, Flatline and Mummy on the Orient Express are two of my favourite episodes from last year’s series, and so I was glad writer Jamie Mathieson was invited back to write The Girl Who Died (it's officially co-written with Moffat, but, like last year's co-written episodes, feels a lot more Mathieson than Moffat – I get the impression Jamie did most of the work). The Doctor and Clara are captives of a Viking village, but when alien mercenaries the Mire steal all the village’s soldiers and feisty young Ashildr retaliates by declaring war on them, it’s up to the Doctor to train up the fishermen, blacksmiths and web designers into a fighting force.

On first glance, this is a farce episode, and a good one at that, pitting incompetent Vikings against pantomime villains. One of the funniest episodes of Who in a while, it’s interesting to compare its humour with the recent Under the Lake - whereas Toby Whithouse sprinkled his dialogue with witty lines, the best jokes here were visual - the jump cut to the burning village, the warrior wordlessly snapping the sunglasses. Best of all was the Doctor and Clara defeating the enemies using Benny Hill – only Doctor Who could make that moment actually work for the plot as well as be laugh-out-loud funny.

But The Girl Who Died is more than just a farce. Mummy on the Orient Express and Flatline both got better on repeated viewing (when I want to rewatch a series eight episode, I usually end up picking one of those two), and, based on having watched it twice already, so does The Girl Who Died. Mathieson captures the Doctor and Clara very well; their scenes together deftly develop series nine’s theme of the Doctor worrying about the thrillseeker he’s turning Clara into and the potential consequences, tying it into the plot without a single shoehorn required. And Clara gets a lot to do in this episode, which is great; her standing up to Odin on board the spaceship, trying to talk him into leaving Earth, sums up very well where she is this series – imitating the Doctor and loving it.

Mire morghulis

The standout character, though, is the eponymous Ashildr. Who needs Susan or the Rani? Cards on the table: Arya is my favourite Game of Thrones character, so I was already inclined to like Ashildr, but still, I'm struggling to think of anyone who could fit this character better than Maisie Williams. Her Ashildr is not just a one-dimensional warrior; she's afraid of the aliens and their bizarre invasion of her previously simple life, but able to turn that fear into feistiness and Viking strength. Credit to Mathieson too for the great “I’ve always been different” conversation – though solidly rooted in her Viking environment, Ashildr’s able to resonate with issues of identity and gender that are relevant today. Though if I have to pick holes in Williams’ performance, there is one line which stood out to me on both viewings as oddly overacted and unfitting – her panicky “I don’t understand, mashed up – what are you saying?” on board the spaceship. Did the microphone get into shot on all but the first take?

Another minor criticism: as much as I liked the Doctor remembering where he got his face from (I was worried that explaining Capaldi's previous Who appearance would be horrendously clunky, but they pulled it off), the Mire medical resurrection thingy was a bit deus ex machina – could it not have been set up somewhere? It makes you think that if it’s so easy for the Doctor to bring someone back from the dead, he’s been a bit heartless with all those other people who’ve died in Who history.

But those are, as I said, minor criticisms. My biggest criticism (and it isn’t that big, to be honest), is that the other Vikings weren’t so well developed beyond the Doctor giving them silly names, and I’d liked to have got to know Lofty, Chuckles, and ZZ Top. Now, how to fit in some extra characterisation? What I’d suggest is cutting some of the Doctor speaking baby... which was too daft when King of Daft Matt Smith did it and feels totally out of place in Capaldi’s episodes. Particularly when he does it for two scenes in a row, and we don’t even see the baby. Having the parent, holding the baby, being the one convincing the Doctor to change his mind, for example, could have gone a lot further to make us care about the people of the village.

ASHILDR'S ALIIIIVE!

The villains, meanwhile, weren’t in it much, but their scenes had enough details – the testosterone vials, the use of holographic trickery – to give them as much characterisation as they needed. Nice, too, that the trickery was turned against them as part of their defeat. There is one thing, though, that could have made the Mire so much better, and very nearly did. Prepare yourself for this. Odin was originally meant to be played by Brian Blessed, but he pulled out due to illness. With all due respect to David Schofield (whose performance did seem to be a Blessed impersonation at times – “TEST-OS-TERONE"), wouldn’t that have elevated this episode to a whole new level? Bollocks.

To make up for that crushing disappointment, one final positive point – after all the corridors we’ve had in the past two weeks, this was one of the best designed episodes of recent Who. From the chickens clucking around, to the vast opening vista complete with seas and mountains, the village felt alive and real, and a big shout-out must go to the production design, VFX, and sound teams who made it so. 

Less than a day after broadcast, The Girl Who Died is already growing on me. It’s an episode full of fun, but also full of lovely subtleties with the characters of the Doctor, Clara and Ashildr. I can’t wait to see how the newly-immortal warrior develops in Catherine Tregenna’s The Woman Who Lived. Jamie Mathieson, meanwhile, is cementing his place as one of the best new writers to join the Who roster during the Moffat years - long may he continue to contribute.

DOCTOR WHO SERIES NINE RANKING
  1. The Girl Who Died
  2. The Witch’s Familiar
  3. Under the Lake
  4. The Magician’s Apprentice
  5. Before the Flood

Tuesday, 13 October 2015



Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor has come a long way since his frock coat and long hair days – the recent Dark Eyes series brought him ever closer to the looming Time War. Doom Coalition 1, the first of four new box sets from Big Finish, picks up where they left off.

But there are no Daleks or Master this time; instead we get a new villain. The Eleven (Bonnar) is a Time Lord criminal with ‘regenerative dissonance’ – his mind is alternately controlled by all eleven of his incarnations so far. Imagine Gollum and Smeagol times five (and a half). When the Eleven escapes from prison, it’s up to the Doctor to track him down.

Not on his own, though; he’s still travelling with Liv Chenka (Walker), and British Museum scholar Helen Sinclair (Morahan) joins the team in 1963. Whereas Chenka has been through the wars, Helen comes to these adventures with a fresh enthusiasm – the two companions clashing as Helen gets over-excited about being in Renaissance Florence is a great character-building moment. 

The four stories are all very different, each with their own strengths; the way they're linked but distinct keeps Doom Coalition moving at an exciting pace. It’s also notable that, despite some clever connections (including to a First Doctor novel and to TV special The Day of the Doctor), this box set is less reliant on existing continuity than the Dark Eyes instalments – so it’s a great in-point for those wanting to begin their Eighth Doctor adventures.

With a brilliantly conceived and portrayed villain, two great companions, and the ever-enjoyable Paul McGann, Doom Coalition is a thrilling adventure and, as we’ve come to expect from Big Finish, Doctor Who done incredibly well.

Sunday, 11 October 2015


I quite enjoyed last week’s Under the Lake – a traditional base under siege story with an interesting angle on the Doctor and Clara. The second part of the story, Before the Flood, is a different beast – it drops "traditional Who with a sense of humour" in favour of "timey-wimey with a bit of arthouse".

Let’s start with that audacious opening scene – the Doctor explaining the bootstrap paradox to camera before accompanying the opening credits on his electric guitar. As a scene, considered on its own merits, people will love it or hate it. I loved it – I love the rock n’ roll side of Capaldi’s Doctor, I love the professorial side of him, and I’m always up for a bit of mucking with the format – but I understand if you feel different. What didn’t work is – why here, why now? Doctor Who has done similar paradoxes many times before without the need for a lengthy explanation. Plus, the events in this episode aren't even the same paradox as in the Beethoven story they're parallelled with – our hypothetical time traveller accidentally becomes Beethoven, whereas the Doctor knows exactly what he’s doing.

That question of ‘Why?’ recurs throughout Before the Flood if you stop to think. Why the scenes in which the Doctor goes back on his own timestream? They give some nice visuals, but add little to the story. And why spend so much time setting up the importance of Clara’s phone only for it not to be used again?

And, importantly, why not spend some of this time actually setting up those two relationships “paid off” at the end? I can’t have been the only one cringing at that final scene with the surviving base crew. They were all secretly in love with each other. Right. The only scenes that could have possibly set that up were those of Cass being protective of Lunn, but, you know, colleagues and friends are protective of each other too, probably more so when they rely on those colleagues to be able to communicate with the rest of the team.


Another thing that really didn’t thrill me was the reveal of the Fisher King. Nice name, but he’s ultimately a generic evil alien, a tall man in a silly suit. I kept noticing how unemotive he is – the Doctor would shout threats at him, and the Fisher King would wiggle those little red arse cheeks that are presumably meant to be some kind of mouth. If Under the Lake resurrected the old Doctor Who tradition of a base under siege, this episode brings back the old tradition of a very talented actor doing his best to maintain an ultimately hopeless tête-à-tête with a slab of rubber.

I feel I’m being too negative here. What did I like about Before the Flood? It used time travel as a plot device without becoming messy or confusing. There were some nice moments of characterisation for Clara and the Doctor (if not as many as last week), with Clara getting her own ‘companions’ of sorts and being called out on gaining the Doctor’s recklessness. If I’m being generous, I could say that O’Donnell’s death ties into this as a warning for Clara about the dangers of treating life with the Doctor as a thrillseeking experience. The fact that Prentis’ business card says “May the remorse be with you” made me laugh. And the scene with Cass being stalked by Moran was good horror stuff, while again allowing her to turn her disability to her advantage (though on second viewing, I did wonder whether she should have just looked behind her rather than feel for vibrations in the floor).



Put the two parts together, and you have a two-parter that’s… well, I’m not eager to watch them both together to find out. All the good stuff – the best jokes, the best characterisation, the most interesting parts of the mystery – were in the first episode. Would it have worked better as a single episode? Maybe the plot would have had fewer unnecessary tangents, but then again, Whithouse didn’t manage to give some characters the minimal development they needed with two whole episodes to do so.

Here in particular, the characters were flat, the villain naff, the plot drawn out – altogether, Before the Flood was a bit boring.

Next week: Vikings! Maisie Williams! Jamie Mathieson! If ever I wanted a Who episode to not let me down, it’s this one.

DOCTOR WHO SERIES NINE RANKING
  1. The Witch’s Familiar
  2. Under the Lake
  3. The Magician’s Apprentice
  4. Before the Flood


Wednesday, 7 October 2015


I bloody loved The Martian.

Watching Matt Damon’s stranded astronaut Mark Watney trot around Mars solving problems (running out of food, the comms equipment is knackered, etc.) is a delight, not dumbing down the science but keeping it fun, and the tone is pitched perfectly to keep it so – Drew Goddard’s script is very funny at times, tense at others, sometimes both. And it never drags.

Which is remarkable, as it's two hours and twenty minutes. But (perhaps despite surface appearance - he's planting potatoes!) every scene moves things forward, every situation adds new dangers, and there's a very solid dramatic structure keeping us hooked (the part of my brain that ticks off act breaks was very impressed). The disco music also works to keep energy levels up – extra points for the ironic choice of ‘Hot Stuff’ while he’s dealing with his heating problem.

The subplots back at home work too, with every character given their own little story as part of the larger effort to #BringHimHome. A particular shout-out to Sean Bean, who of course plays the straight-talking, no-bullshit Yorkshire wing of NASA, and to Donald Glover, who can science the shit out of me any day. Nice that everyone’s on Watney’s side, too – while there are some interesting arguments and the PR angle comes into play, the cliché of the villainous bureaucrat who plots to abandon Watney is avoided. It’s all very uplifting.

And its that optimism which really stood out for me. Downbeat sci-fi exposing the problems of the world is doubtlessly important, but cheery stuff has its place too - there's a kid somewhere who's been inspired into a career as a botanist, or even an astronaut, and isn't that wonderful?

All in all, it's so good to see Ridley Scott make a sci-fi film with a good script for the first time in ages. Scott's a very talented visual director – and indeed the Mars landscapes here look stunning – but he can't tell a good script from a Prometheus. When he teams up with skilled writers, amazing things happen. 

In short: Drew Goddard's brilliant, every American government agency should employ Sean Bean, Donald Glover's hot, you should go see The Martian. But you knew all that.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015


Being Human creator Toby Whithouse has been one of the more reliable Doctor Who writers of recent years. Look at his four previous episodes, for the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors – while none of them push the boat out too far, they all have engaging plots, an interesting angle on their leads, and well-developed side characters. They’re all episodes that I’d happily rewatch on a lazy Sunday, were my timetable organised enough to allow weekends to actually mean anything. 

Whithouse's latest story, the two-part Under the Lake/Before the Flood, looked set up to be much the same, taking on a very classic Who trope – the base under siege. Specifically, the Drum, an underwater mining facility on the site of a flooded military training town. The Doctor and Clara show up shortly after the crew have salvaged a mysterious spaceship, leading to the haunting of the corridors by the souls of the dead. It's a ghosts episode!

Cue lots of running around corridors. And I do mean a lot of corridors; this episode feels very visually restrained compared to series nine’s blockbuster opening. I personally found the ghosts not particularly scary, rather lacking in intensity, but maybe I’m just a tough nut to crack… I did like how they use objects from their environment as weapons rather than some ethereal power, which on the one hand allows for some grisly deaths, but on the other hand leads to the considerably less effective scene in which a ghost threatens five fully-grown adults with a plastic chair.



Nevertheless, Whithouse keeps the plot moving steadily along, with the second half of the episode seeing the Doctor take control of the situation and lead an investigation into the ghosts’ nature. I’m a sucker for the ‘sci-fi Sherlock Holmes’ stuff, and so, even if I do question whether Orion's Sword really does look like a a sword from any point in space, I did enjoy this building up of the mystery; Peter Capaldi seems to relish these deduction monologues, well suited to his more intellectual and authoritative Doctor.

What I also liked was the way Whithouse handles the Doctor and Clara’s relationship, telling us more about where they’re going this series in one opening scene than Moffat did in two whole episodes. Clara’s eager to run off into adventure and is reprimanded by the Doctor, who foresees the danger of her becoming too much like him. Rightfully, she tells him off for being a grumpy hypocrite, but the seeds are being planted for this series’ character arc – seeds which probably should have been planted in the opening two episodes. It’s also great to see them having fun together, and Whithouse sprinkles in humour that feels right for the characters and not over-the-top, yet is genuinely funny – the Doctor’s “Was it something she said? She does that” upon being attacked is lovely, and if you haven’t rewatched the scene with the cards yet and paused at each one, go and do so now.


It is a disappointment that some of the side characters are less well developed, given that this is usually one of Whithouse’s strengths (and Moffat rarely bothers with side characters at all these days). Pritchard is a very typical money-above-safety executive, and I’m not sure who Bennett is other than that he’s a bit more scared than the others. On the plus side, I really liked Cass, and think it’s great that there’s a deaf character in charge of the base, and not defined by her disability. Indeed, the Doctor describes her as the smartest person in the room, and the only time her deafness is relevant to the plot, it allows her to help solve a problem (lip-reading the co-ordinates) rather than being something that causes one – all of which must have been amazing for any deaf children watching. 

On a less positive diversity point, two stories in a row have featured the same unfortunate trope literally in their opening scenes. Whoops.

And so, to that cliffhanger – if you didn’t see it coming, go and stand in the corner. It does seem a bit soon after the last time the Doctor was doomed to die, doesn’t it? It’s only been, what, one story? Still, it’s a cliffhanger that encourages detective work – obviously he’ll get out of it, but how? That week spent theorising is one of the things I enjoy about two-parters, and it’s good to have it back.


There was a lot I enjoyed about Under the Lake – the detective work, the commendable diversity push with Cass, the joy of seeing a more confident, clear take on the Twelfth Doctor and Clara. But with other characters under-developed and a lack of intensity to the excitement, it’s not Whithouse’s finest work and doesn’t really stand out as much more than yet another base under siege. Nevertheless, the second part looks to be adding a more original twist to the formula, in going back to before the base became under siege, and so we may yet have another good’un on our hands…

DOCTOR WHO SERIES NINE RANKING
  1. The Witch’s Familiar
  2. Under the Lake
  3. The Magician’s Apprentice


Monday, 5 October 2015

On 5.10.15 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments


(Please don’t) stop me if you think you’ve heard this one before. A former government operative locked away for a massacre he didn’t commit is taken out of prison and thrown into a reality TV show, in which he must battle a series of themed killers in order to win his freedom. Yes, that’s the plot of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s cheesy 1987 actioner The Running Man. It’s also the plot of The Elimination Game.

The thing is, The Running Man had things to recommend about it – not least that it was ahead of its time. In a world where The Hunger Games has the dystopian reality telly thing covered (and has it covered rather well), this whole concept, particularly when nothing new is added to it, feels sadly old-hat.

Nor does The Elimination Game do a good job with this story. In Dominic Purcell, it’s found a star somehow less emotive than Arnie (he narrows his eyes at one point – that’s the extent of his acting) and without the cult appeal. The action sequences are unengaging, largely because Purcell’s Rick Tyler seems to put in little to no effort. The odds should be stacked against him, but he never takes a scratch and always seems to have the racial stereotype of the day lying dead before you realise the fight’s begun.

Making this worse is the fact that director Jon Hewitt and his writing partner Belinda McClory seem uninterested in exploring Rick as a character – with his backstory needlessly held back for a predictable (and yet totally unbelievable) twist, we’re given no reason to care whether it’s him or his opponents who inevitably end up dead.

The Elimination Game takes a story that has been told before and tells it again, badly. With a character-less lead character, action-less action scenes, and nothing creative to add to the genre, it’s a difficult one to recommend.
On 5.10.15 by KieronMoore in , ,    No comments


What with all the superheroes/zombies flying/shuffling their way around our TV screens, there’s not a lot of space sci-fi at the moment. Those missing the days of Firefly and Battlestar Galactica may want to check out Dark Matter, from Stargate writers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie.

It’s a neatly simple concept: six people wake up on a spaceship. They’ve all lost their memories and their shoes. They find the shoes pretty quickly, and soon after discover that they’re a mercenary crew composed of wanted criminals. Yet many secrets are left to be unveiled, not least who was behind the memory wipe…

These six characters name themselves after the order they emerged from stasis (One, Two, Three, etc… you’ve seen Sesame Street, you know how this works), which fits in nicely with how they’re basically a list of sci-fi clichés. There’s the gun-toting, selfish tough guy, the quirky, vulnerable kid with genius computer skills, the silent Japanese warrior who’s an expert at swordplay. It is nice, however, that it’s a female character, Two, who ends up in charge of the gang and who often gets to kick ass and save the day.

As the series progresses, the team take various mercenary jobs (gotta pay the rent) in between following up leads related to their forgotten pasts. Like the characters, several plots lack originality – a derelict infected by a zombie virus, a spacewalk to repair the ship, a suspiciously helpful ‘entertainment’ robot – and so this season, particularly in the first half, can feel like a slog. It doesn’t help that the interaction between the team is terribly clunky – attempts at Joss Whedon-style wit fall flat 95% of the time, and the less said about the unbelievably cringeworthy romantic subplot the better.

But behind all the tropes, there is something interesting fighting to get out, and Dark Matter improves towards the season’s end, as darker secrets threaten to tear the team apart. The final episodes bring to the fore every underlying conflict, and Dark Matter becomes a Reservoir Dogs-esque edgy whodunit, in space.

At its worst, Dark Matter is a clunky, unoriginal mess. At its best, it’s a tense thriller of trust and deceit. If space sci-fi fans can put up with the bad bits, the good bits may just be good enough to fill up this gap in the market.