Episodes One and Two
Reviewed by Eddie
contained mild spoilers…
It’s unusual for a terrestrial channel to go to such lengths with “serious” science fiction, so the BBC must be encouraged, endorsed and applauded for attempting this six part story from the pen of Spooks writer Ben Richards. Indeed, that’s not the only Spooks link in this highly polished tale, as production company Kudos and former Mi5 bad girl Hermione Norris all play a huge part in the programme.
Set in a future where Earth seems to have torn itself apart, a fleet of refugees, or Expeditionaries, set up a new home on the planet they name Carpathia, and try to rebuild the human race. They are driven, passionate and grim in their task, each with a past and backstory revealed slowly in layers. The basic premise is, as ships where lost and the Expeditionaries originally ravished by a virus, can the human race make a better life for themselves on Carpathia, or will humanity destroy itself all over again?
The cast, it has to be said, is stellar. Liam Cunningham leads the outpost Forthaven as President Tate, a geneticist who has fallen into the role of leader but is grim and steady about his job, and he is joined by a core team of Security and Protection officers, including Ashes to Ashes Daniel Mays, the afore mentioned Norris and Battlestar Galactica’s Jamie Bamber, who at first seems to be very, very Apollo. This is a clever conceit on the part of the director, who plays with our perception of the actor and his character, along with the juxtaposition of Daniel May, for a nice eyebrow raising twist. Other Kudos favourites like Hustle’s Ashley Walters show up as other S&P officers, in a role much more suited to him than that of a conman, and all play a part in the rich tapestry of people who live in Forthaven.
But something is not quite right. Bambers Mitchell – a hero and pioneer – seems to know something that is deeply troubling him, Tate has had to make choices he wishes he could forget, and there is a transport ship approaching with more survivors – but do they really want these new arrivals on Carpathia?
The one thing the story does not do is talk down to its viewer. It starts the story with the society up and running, and we have to pay attention to discover who is who and what is happening. Things have gone on for quite a time before we get to Forthaven, so it’s up to us to get up to speed as events take a dizzying turn.
Episode two, after a shock end to episode one, begins to deal with the new arrivals, in particular Norris’s Stella’s daughter, and the ramifications of that, and the Evacuation Committee’s vice president, Eric Mabius’s Berger. Both will set events off in new directions, as Berger is not only looking for his old position back, but also seems to be now some sort of religious guru. And of course, there is also the secret that Mitchell discovered in the wilderness… something which drives him to extreme choices.
Now, to critique this isn’t hard. It’s polished, professional, well written and shot beautifully on location in South Africa. The special effects, such as they are, are slick and unobtrusive and not the the point. It’s about the people. The BBC seem to be promoting it as an action adventure, though, and if you tune in looking for that you might be disappointed, because it’s not. In places it’s slow and wordy and you really do have to be paying attention, as words and phrases are used which are common place to the characters but new to us. What is an AC for instance? This isn’t a complaint. It’s adult sci-fi drama where the sci-fi is the cause of not the setting too, and that is a good thing. Sci fi fans will like it. Will your regular Waking The Dead/Silent Witness folk though? Well, they went for Torchwood, so hopefully. It is relentless in its reality though, and with Bamber around it’s difficult not to compare it to Battlestar Galactica, particularly the episodes set on New Caprica.
Critically, it is a little grim. Everything is dirty, everyone is miserable, especially Norris’s Stella who is far too self indulgent for the position she holds in Forthaven. Jamie Bamber’s Mitchell however is a complicated and broken hero, and… well, spoilers…
I thoroughly enjoyed this and hope you do too. I can see it being head scratching for some though, and disappointing to the pointy shooty brigade, so it may struggle to find an audience. I’m hoping it doesn’t though, because more of this would be very, very welcome.