Television

Published on October 12th, 2015 | by JCDoyle

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Dark Matter Review

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Dark Matter opens in the depths of space where 6 crew members wake up from stasis to discover they have no personal memories at all. And so begins a voyage of discovery on a far from happy mercenary vessel, filled with anger and paranoia.

Spoiler warning: it’s difficult to talk about the show without giving some of it away. I have tried to be as spoiler free as possible but it’s not easy.

The premise of Dark Matter, created by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie and based on their comic of the same name, is pretty straight forward. A crew of 6 wake up with no memories except those talents that have become ingrained over time and kick in when needed. For example, Two (Melissa O’Neil) knows exactly what to do when she heads to the bridge amidst screaming alarms and warnings of Life Support failure. Without a second thought she is able to interact with the computer and take care of the problem. Throughout the series each of the characters, who adopt the order they woke up as their new name, One (Marc Bendavid) being the first awake and Six (Rodger R Cross) being the last, find they have hidden talents but it’s not always clear why they are able to do what they can do. Their personal rediscovery is also the viewer’s gateway into the characters and the world they inhabit. Not only does it serve as a wonderful starting point for this group of characters it also allows the viewer to become immersed in a world at the same rate as the cast on screen.

Dark Matter crew v.1

Over the course of the series quite a lot is discovered about the motley crew with a greater focus on some characters over others and this is the one of the shows strengths. From the opening scene in episode one to the very last scene in episode 13 the writers are revealing just who these people are and what they have done. There are twists and turns and when you think you have a handle on a character something comes along and knocks you for six. At the start all 6 of the characters are archetypal Sci-Fi constants; it could be the opening of any number of Sci-Fi movies or TV shows. You have the techie; the thug for hire; the drippy hero; the slightly off quilter, hippy type. But the writers don’t allow these characters to become typecast or clichéd, within a few episodes they are starting to break their moulds and become more rounded. The nature of the narrative allows them to have hidden secrets that even they don’t know about so the nice guy can actually be a cruel sadist without it going against his displayed on screen persona.

Even after only 13 episodes there is an essay ready to be written for each of the characters and they would probably read like a detailed psychoanalytical report. Depending on your tastes, some of the characters will be more appealing than others, personally I love an emotionally emerging android and Zoie Palmer’s portrayal of the only crew member who wasn’t in stasis at the start of the show is entertaining and surprisingly emotional. She is like a cross between the Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager and K-9 from Doctor Who; she holds the interests of the crew as her first priority but she also appears to be going through an emotional crisis. At some moments she’s as dead pan as HAL while at others she appears to be channelling the humour of Holly from Red Dwarf. In some ways, the Android (she doesn’t have a name) is a reflection of the entire crew, she’s a clean slate and her possibilities are endless but her actions are ultimately dictated by her programing and the outside influence of those around her.

It’s also worth mentioning that some of the guest stars are wonderfully adorable. Wil Wheaton has a creepy role as a mad scientist who in uncomfortably in love with his creation. He’s charming but only just as he boarders on the edge of sinister and he expresses his character powerfully, especially in his final scenes where he becomes impotent as his failures are laid out before him.  However, a second series is in the pipelines so I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.

Or of Torri Higginson and David Hewlett for that matter. Both brought over from Stargate Atlantis and both hamming it up in truly delightful roles. Each is devious and manipulating and they remind me of Mirror Universe characters of their roles in Stargate. If their performances were anything to go by, great fun was had when they were on set.

Dark Matter fight scene

The tone of the series is quite tense as the paranoia between the characters and their innate mistrust of everyone else forces them to behave in unexpected ways. There is a feeling that they all want to get along but as their pasts unravel before them they realise they weren’t very nice people and suspicion grows. Five (Jordelle Ferland) is ever the optimist but even her unwavering belief in some of her colleagues begins to waver and the viewer is taken on much the same journey as she is. Out of all the characters Five is the most relatable as she is the outcast on the ship, not being part of the original crew, and the one who wants everyone to be ‘the good guy’. Unfortunately you will have your trust shattered just as she has hers torn away and thrown in her face. The writers do not allow you to become comfortable during this series and even the occasional stand-alone story episode throws up a knee jerk or two. Think Firefly set in the grey, bleached world of Battlestar Galactica. There is humour, some very funny moments in fact, but there is also the constant sense of impending doom.

The tone is also followed up by the design work, especially on the spaceship where most of the action takes place. This isn’t the enterprise, all futuristic and bright, The Raza is flying juke heap although an effective weapon none the less. It reminds me of a Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy quote; “The ship <s> hung in the sky in much the same way that bricks don’t”. The Raza has that quality to it. Inside the space ship the set designers have gone for an Alien theme which comes across best when Five scuttles through the ventilation shafts. It’s all about the atmosphere and there is plenty of that created by the industrial style design.

Speaking of Industrial, the music has definitely been influenced by Trent Reznor as heavy electronic drum beats emphasise the tense setting. The mood is set up by the script but kept alive by the music.

The best way to describe Dark Matter is that it’s Farscape without the prosthetics. It’s a tense, psychological thriller doused with humour and superb acting. The narrative makes you question everything including what makes a person behave in a particular way; if you allow it to this show can get a little deep. But above all its pure adrenaline fuelled entertainment that will keep you guessing to the end. Guessing incorrectly for the most part.

Dark Matter The Raza

Extras

There’s not much on the extras front. There’s a short featurette to accompany each episode which are entertaining in small doses but don’t watch them all in one go as they become a bit samey.

Title: Dark Matter

Release Date: 12 October 2015

Certificate: 15

 

JCDoyle

JCDoyle

Lover of comics and Art and Sci-Fi in multiple media. Currently teaching my kids the ways of the Geek (while protecting my first editions)
JCDoyle

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