Monday, 5 October 2015
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.
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