Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager, Battlestar Galactica, Stargate SG-1… there was a time when sci-fi space adventure ruled the genre TV landscape. Fast forward a decade or so and only Doctor Who remains as a true giant of small screen sci-fi. Marvel and DC Comics have rightly enjoyed enormous success with the likes of Daredevil, Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D., Arrow and The Flash – yet seemingly out of nowhere – Canadian channel Space and US cable stalwart Syfy has breathed new life into a genre many declared over as Star Trek: Enterprise limped out of existence in 2005.
Featuring elements familiar to anyone versed in Star Trek, Firefly, Blake’s 7 or even Guardians Of The Galaxy – Dark Matter smartly mixes the traditional trappings of space adventure (emotionless android, ragtag crew) with the modern storytelling techniques employed in today’s best drama shows. So while remaining reassuring familiar, Dark Matter can suddenly switch gear unlike any other ship-based show before it, and has emerged as a breath of fresh air in today’s superhero laden landscape. With an engaging cast, made up almost entirely of genre newbies, the series – which began life as Dark Horse Comic Book from the producers of the various Stargate series – has won many plaudits since its broadcast earlier this year.
Establishing an intriguing set up within the very first episode sting, six individuals wake from suspended animation aboard a starship – “The Raza” – with no memory of who they are, how they got there, or want they want. Unable to recall any information concerning their past lives, the crew assign names in order of their awakening from stasis “One“ to “Six“ and attempt to unravel the mystery surrounding their predicament. One of the joys of the show is discovering new nuggets of information as we progress, and while remaining as spoiler-free as possible, needless to say, The Raza crew soon realise they were less-than model citizens and have the might of the Galactic Authority on their tails. Quite early on we discover the crew’s memories appear locked in the subconscious of the youngest member of the team, and as “Five“ dreams, those memories begin to resurface providing key revelations.
Introducing the most engaging set of anti-heroes since Firefly, the series soars thanks to a winning, likeable cast and some fine plotting. Back stories are revealed, friendships and uneasy alliances are made and by the season’s end a traitor will be revealed. Introducing some smart new concepts alongside more staple sci-fi elements, the series ambition perhaps outweighs it budget on occasion, yet for what is essential a ship-based show – it presents a fully formed, believable universe. Given the success of Season One, Syfy and Space may see fit to allocate more resources to the show and allow the crew of The Raza to spread their wings more often.
Leading the cast as Two and self appointed Captain is Melissa O’Neil, this is the one-time Canadian Idol winner’s first major television role, not that you’d know. A real find, she nails the role from the get-go. Without giving too much away, the relationships aboard The Raza are nothing if not complicated and the entire cast enjoy their episode in the spotlight. Marc Bendavid’s One and Anthony Lemke’s Three are a great example; a slightly twisted version of Luke Skywalker and Han Solo could be an apt way to describe this pairing. Although initially presented as the biggest jerk in the universe, I suspect much like the Corellian smuggler, Three in particular will become a firm fan favourite. In fact there isn’t a single member of this crew you aren’t eager to hear more from – Alex Mallari Jr’s Four, Jodelle Ferland’s Five and Roger R. Cross’ Six all have their secrets and while I’m wary of spoilers, you can’t help but root for this mismatched crew, none more so than in Episodes Ten and Eleven. The programme isn’t afraid to do classic sci-fi either and while the Raza’s resident android ( the excellent Zoie Palmer ) may remind you of another famous artificial humanoid – she is introduced with a particular set of skills which hint at a darker, dangerous nature – much like the rest of the crew.
Overall then, a series which opens intriguingly and ends with the possibility for danger pushed to cinematic levels. If you’ve ever enjoyed a slice of TV sci-fi, or just love a good drama with winning characters set in an engaging environment – you’ll find plenty to enjoy and perhaps even obsess over here.
DVD Extras ***
While the DVD set is light on extras, there are twelve featurettes, each showcasing a particular episode, design aspect or character. Snippets from the cast and crew intersect with behind the scenes footage, but I’d recommend waiting until you have viewed the episodes before enjoying the final few featurettes. The best of which sees the cast discover the identity of the traitor in their midst.
Dark Matter season 1 is out on DVD from Monday the 12th of October.
Read more on why Syfy’s Dark Matter is well worth your time, here.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.