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Friday, 23 October 2015

Dark Matter

I'll be honest, I wasn't expecting too much from Dark Matter before it began. After all it didn't seem like it was exactly going to break new ground in terms of a sci-fi space drama - if one was being kind I would have anticipated it to be somewhat 'traditional' in format, if I was being nasty (Moi? As if!) I may have referred to it as being a potential derivative mishmash by-the-numbers space adventure. Well as it turns out, like many thoughts and decisions in this bloggers life, I was quite wrong.

Yes, there may well be a number of familiar elements contained within the series, For example we have; A disparate mix of individuals thrown together all with a skeleton or two hidden away on the closet, an android with distinct human aspirations and a whole heap of bad guys waiting for them around every nebula's corner. No, if truth be told, I wasn't expecting anything that I hadn't already seen on the criminally mis-treated (by the studio) Firefly, the classic of British Sci-fi - Blake's 7, Red Dwarf, Star Trek Voyager or even the wonderful Guardians of the Galaxy. Have yourself a look at the synopsis of Dark Matter below to see what I mean.......

"When the six-person crew of a derelict spaceship awaken from stasis in the farthest reaches of space, their memories have been wiped clean and they have no recollection of who they are or how they got there.  

The mysteries of their respective pasts take them on a journey to the deepest depths of space. Hounded by the galactic authorities, their former employers, ruthless corporations, rivals, bounty hunters, and former enemies – they only have each other to rely upon. All the while, the clock is ticking as there is a traitor in their midst, a mole who orchestrated their communal mind-wipe."

As i've said, it won't come as a surprise to anyone who knows me well that once again I was wrong, because as it turns out, Dark Matter takes all the aforementioned familiar well worn themes and instead provides a welcome and refreshing treatment of the space adventure sub-genre. Though don't just take my word for it, the 13-part drama was the  Syfy channel's number one rated show since it began airing and has subsequently been renewed for a second series. So it seems that it may not just have been me that was wrong.....or maybe I was just overly cynical to begin with.

So pray tell, Mr 5D blogger person, just what is the appeal of this show? Well sit down quietly and I will tell you dear reader person.

To begin with, the premise of having a group of people suddenly waking up from stasis with no memories between them, of who they were and why they are there, is inspired. This concept immediately enables the writers to slowly but surely piece together snippets of their past lives with a clever plot device (no spoilers here) which serves to provide a level of character development that would put many a more mainstream show in its place. Not only do we get to witness the piecing together of their pasts but also see that the information that they retrieve comes at a price, because not all they find out about themselves is exactly favourable. In fact some of their past deeds turn out to be downright terrible, for a whole number of reasons.  

This results in the formation of complex relationships amongst the newly formed crew. Trust mixes with distrust, friendships and fall-outs are intelligently given time to develop against some genuinely exciting and well designed set pieces.

The success of any ensemble acting group, particularly one set as an adventure in space, relies on the charisma and performances of the central cast involved. The mistake many programme producers make is to try and formulate an array of eminently likable characters, though this often simply ends in a collection of one dimensional cardboard cut-out personalities. The writers of Dark Matter have identified that not all characters have to be liked by the audience, but they certainly have to by empathised and understood at least. Considering that this is a collection of relatively unknown actors they should be commended in creating a collection of believable and engaging individuals, each with his or her own set of respective complexities. For me this always makes for more interesting viewing than an 'everybody loves and respects each other scenario'......boring.

Particular note should be made of Melissa O'Neil, who plays 'Two'. Apart from the fact that she plays a tough, aggressive and complex character which far belies her lack of acting experience. she is also quite simply gorgeous and quite likely to be the next Mrs 5D Blogger. I appreciate that she may not have a clue yet as to who I am, but I would say that the fact that she doesn't know me is actually something in my favour.

In truth there isn't one weak link amongst the core cast group.

The founder of the Behaviourist school of Psychology, John Watson, famously suggested that all humans as born with their mind as a blank slate, or 'Tabula Rasa". In other words, from the moment we are born all our thoughts, perceptions and behaviours are the sole product of our environment. There was no scope for genetically inherited behaviour, no such thing as free will. In essence, all that we know is determined for us by our environment. Based on the graphic novel of the same name by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul MullieDark Matter is ultimately a series about redemption and examines the debate of Nature vs Nurture...... The ship is referred to as 'The Raza'.......  Tabula Rasa....get it? Are people born bad or are they a product of their environment? And, more importantly, once they’ve followed a certain path, is there any turning back?....... Questions, questions questions. For some viewers who seem to need complete resolution in anything they watch or read, well some questions are answered for those saddos individuals. For those of us superior folks who are not interested in having everything explained and tied up in a pretty bow and actually like to think for ourselves on occasion, well many questions are left tantalisingly open.

I don't want those who haven't seen Dark Matter to be under the impression that the show is simply one long philosophical and psychological study into the complexities of the human condition. While it may not be that heavy, there is certainly an intelligent and well thought out approach to character development and plot. However the writers haven't forgotten that the show is supposed to be entertaining - and it has delivered that in plenty throughout the opening season. For me, the highlight of season one was the eventual revelation of the traitor amongst the group while holding back a whole plethora of insights and explanations of the motives and objective behind his/her/it's true intentions. 

The one minor quibble that I would have would be regarding the shows' budget which occasionally at times meant that the special effects, though entirely adequate, were not quite up to the high levels they could have been. Its budget restrictions also meant that much of the plot took place in the confines of the ship, and while this resulted in some nicely atmospheric interior set pieces, it meant certain external plot avenues were left unexplored. The fact that the series has now been picked up for a second season will hopefully see a more ambitious budget this time around.

If you like your science fiction intelligent, though provoking and bloody well exciting - then this is the show for you.

Dark Matter was released this week on DVD 12 October courtesy of RLJ Entertainment's Acorn Label.

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