FRONTIER
Australian Science Fiction Media Magazine

Farscape

July-Sept 2000 

Ryan Alexander looks at the new science fiction series with Australian connections and asks: is it for kids?

Let's get one thing straight: there are a lot of Muppets in Farscape. However, these remotely manipulated beings are hardly the cuddly porcine comedians of Pigs in Space. One is a pompous, exiled ruler of a planet. Another is a four-armed creature sharing a symbiont relationship with a living starship. And in the pilot episode, there's a creature with enough teeth to give Jaws a run for his money.

Of course, the aliens aren't the only creatures in Farscape. There's one alien who is very out of his depth, lost far from home, and not understanding very much at all what's going on—and he's the human.

It goes like this: astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder), brilliant and dashing, is conducting an experiment in his small space-plane when something (let's call in a wormhole) sucks him in. Suddenly, he's spat out somewhere he doesn't recognize, and right into the path of a fighter craft. The fighter ship crashes, but Crichton survives with merely a scratch. He's taken aboard a nearby ship, the Moya, a living prison ship being attacked by the fighter craft.

On board the Moya are escaped prisoners D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe of The Castle), a Luxan warrior; Zhaan, an 8l2-year old blue skinned priestess; and Rygel, the aforementioned exiled ruler, all of 26-inches in height.

As Moya escapes the fighter craft, it captures one pilot: Aeryn (Claudia Black), who, to Crichton's relief, appears almost human. However as a "Peacekeeper", she's born and bred to be a soldier and follow orders, and she's not entirely happy to be stuck with these space fugitives.

Crichton & BekheshOf course, the Peacekeepers track them down.

Unfortunately for the totally out-of-his-depth Crichton, the ship that he collided with happened to be piloted by the brother of the Peacekeeper commander, and vengeance in space is best served cold. However in order to save her own hide (Peacekeepers have hygiene standards and shouldn't mix with common aliens), Aeryn is forced into an uneasy alliance with the escapees and helps them escape the Peacekeeper clutches.

Learning curve

AerynDespite a frantic pace of introduced characters and action, viewers don't get lost. This is mostly due to Crichton, who not only provides an anchor to "normal" humanity, but is so lost himself that viewers identify with him and don't necessarily need to understand, because hell, neither does he.

This is one of the strongest themes of the pilot episode. Crichton is a human a long way from home and doesn't understand at all what's happening around him. An added bonus is that Crichton is a sci-fi fan. The only way he can deal with some situations is to relate it to something he knows from popular culture. While this helps him, it does nothing for his fellow fugitives—Star Wars references don't go down well. However, this relating helps the audience to understand the situation as well. Smart writing.

Writing is a very important part of Farscape. And the characters have been written well. Ka D'Argo could have easily been a Klingon clone and, in the beginning, appeared to be just that. However the quality of the acting and the careful control of how much is found out about these aliens keeps a certain air of mystery. D'Argo was incarcerated by the leaders of his people, but we don't find out why immediately. He's big, strong, and quick—but not without a brain.

As for Pa 'U Zhaan, the blue priestess, she could quite easily have remained in "ethereal" Troi-esque mode. Rather, as the series develops, we discover that she has a darker, stronger side. While she may appear all light and fluffy, she has her own agenda and the strength of will to carry it through.

Rygel XVI, the exiled Muppet, provides comic relief very well in the pilot episode, however we discover his depth as times goes on—sad, somewhat lonely, desperate to regain his throne from his cousin but aware that it's not necessarily going to happen.

CrichtonAnd then there's the ship itself, Moya, represented among the fugitives by the creature called Pilot. Four armed, multitasking, Pilot is connected in an almost mystical way with the living ship.

As for Aeryn, one moment the viewer is convinced she's going to fall for Crichton, the next she's going to rip his head off. She's one tough-bred soldier, packing a pistol and ready to fight.

Each character has their own agenda, which doesn't necessarily fit with any of the others. The starship Enterprise this is not. These people (aliens) don't necessarily get along harmoniously. In fact at some points, they're at each other throats. When an opportunity arrives in a later episode for each of them to find their way to their home planets, while avoiding Peacekeeper space, they are prepared to sacrifice each other (and one character's arm) to take it.

The journey's the thing

Crichton is on a quest, to find his way home. In the same way, Farscape shows that sci-fi in Australia is also on a new journey. The show is a collaboration between Hallmark, the Jim Henson Company, and most importantly the Nine Network here in Australia.

Why is the involvement of the Nine Network so important? Because it's a big step in Australian sci-fi. In this country, sci-fi has mostly been a children's genre- The Girl from Tomorro11-: Thunderstone, Ocean Girl, all high quality programes but aimed at children and teens. Previous attempts by Australian studios to create adult science fiction have not been successful -think Time Trax. However the series is highly rated in the US, and season three has been commissioned. This series Farscape, aimed at an older demographic, is definitely taking off. We can only hope it generates a similar following here.

And don't think the only Australian involvement is location and financial. In fact, the majority of the main cast members are Australia, as are most of the extras. And importantly, episodes are being written and directed by Australians.

AerynSo far the signs are good. Even in the relatively few episodes we have seen here in Australia (they are a fair way ahead of us in the US), we can see the development of the series. Writing is getting wittier, characters stronger, ideas better. There are still a few not-so-subtle social comments (episodes on drug use and genetic engineering come to mind) but by all accounts, the series becomes very, very good come the turn of the season.


No strings attached

So let's not hold the fact that there are Muppets in Farsape against the series. They don't look like the Muppets we're used to, and they sure don't act like it. No flying chicken stunts here. Instead we have the early steps of what could turn out to be a very fine, science fiction program, with Australian influences yet. And that can only be a good thing; for Australian TV, for quality shows in general, and for fans starved of something good to watch.    


 COMMANDER JOHN CRICHTON

Crichton.jpg (30805 bytes)Crichton is a 20th-Century American astronaut caught in a space accident that hurls him across space. His father was also an astronaut and a test pilot. Crichton received a doctorate in theoretical sciences, then trained with NASA as a mission specialist, until a one-man capsule he is testing  encounters a wormhole and takes him to strange new worlds, an organic prison ship called Moya and the alien prisoners who have taken over it. The accident resulted in the death of the brother of Peacekeeper Captain Crais, who is determined to seek revenge for it. Crichton's natural leadership and decision-making skills make him an important member of Moya's crew.

Crichton is portrayed by Ben Browder. The only non- Australian in the main cast, Browder was born and raised in he US, and received his acting training in London. He is most well known for his role as Neve Campbell's boyfriend in Party of Five, but has also appeared in films such as A Kiss Before Dying and Memphis Belle. Other television credits include Melrose Place, Grace Under Fire and Murder She Wrote


OFFICER AERYN SUN

Aeryn.jpg (20359 bytes)Aeryn Sun is a Sebacean Peacekeeper who becomes a reluctant member of the team on board the Moya. Sun was born to be a front-line warrior as a pilot for the Pleisar Regiment, but learning to survive on Moya amongst non-Peacekeepers has forced her to rethink her training and grow as a person.

During an encounter with a sadistic scientist, Aeryn was injected with Pilot's DNA and, although the transformation was reversed, she still retains some of that genetic material. She now shares a close bond with Pilot, in addition to having an innate, technical knowledge of how to operate the ship.

Sun is portrayed by Australian actor Claudia Black. She recently starred in the film Pitch Black, and also appears as he lead in the film Good Fruit. Black has appeared in many of Australia's popular TV series and movies. These include Good Guys Bad Guys, City Life, Police Rescue, Seven Deadly Sins, and she has also had several guest starring roles in Hercules. A finalist in the 1990 Globe Shakespeare competition, Black's theatre credits are extensive. She is also a skilled classical and jazz singer.


PILOT

Pilot.jpg (25147 bytes)Pilot monitors and maintains the systems of Moya (the living ship). He communicates with the other passengers on her behalf. Although he is a separate species from Moya, he is very much connected to her, and his upper-torso is an organic out- growth of the floor and walls of his Chamber, which is deep within the ship.

Pilot is voiced by Lani John Tupu, who also plays Captain Bialar Crais (the Peacekeeper who is after the crew of Moya for the death of his brother).

 


D'ARGO

D_Argo_2.jpg (26217 bytes)Ka D'Argo is a Luxan—a race of fierce, much-feared conquering warriors. He tends to shoot first and not bother with questions. He was wrongly imprisoned on the ship for the murder of his Sebacean wife. Captain Crais was aware of his innocence, but allowed him to be imprisoned as he felt that a Sebacean/Luxan pairing was an abomination. D'Argo lives to be reunited with his son, and to avenge the wrongs that have been done to him and his family. His relationship with Zhaan, in particular, has taught him that there is much that's mightier than the sword, and has learnt some degree of patience and under- standing.

D'Argo is portrayed by Australian actor Anthony Simcoe. He is best known here for his role as Steve Kerrigan in the movie The Castle. He has also featured in the Australian movie Mr. Reliable, and has been seen in television series such as A Country Practice, Home and Away and Water Rats. Simcoe has extensive theatre credits, which includes writing, and also lecturers at NIDA (National Institute of Dramatic Arts) in Sydney.


PA'U ZOTOH ZHAAN

Zhaan.jpg (8461 bytes)Pa'u (meaning 'Priest') Zotoh Zhaan is a Delvian. She's middle-aged for her race, at 812 years of age. Delvians are a highly spiritual race, and Zhaan has reached the 10th Plateau in the Delvian Seek, a search for perfect understanding and unity with all life. Zhaan is also very strong, and uses that strength when needed, but is also willing to use her powers of healing on those who others might find undeserving. Delvians are plant-based life forms, whose bodies do not consist of bones, but of plant tissues and fibers.

Zhaan is portrayed by Australian actress Virginia Hey. She made her film debut as the Warrior Woman in Mad Max 2: Road Warrior and has since appeared in the James Bond film The Living Daylights, as well as Mussolini and Signal One. Hey has also appeared in many overseas and Australian television co-productions, including Roar, Flipper, Mission Impossible, and Dolphin Cove.


RYGEL

RygelPic.jpg (30731 bytes)

Rygel, the royal sovereign to over 600 billion loyal subjects, was the victim of a coup by his evil cousin. He has been a prisoner for over 250 years. He is excessively concerned with his own self-interest, and floats about on his ThroneSled, looking down his nose at the other members of the crew. He often has to be "persuaded" to help when he is needed (often because his size gives him access to areas of the ship others can't reach). However, when it comes to the crunch he can't be faulted, and there's definitely more to him than meets the eye.

Rygel is voiced by Jonathan Hardy.  

 


CHIANA

Chiana.jpg (16219 bytes)Chiana was a late addition to the crew on Moya. She is a fugitive from a regimented society that saw her natural inclination for independent thought as a threat, and wants to reprogram her. Her survivor skills have left her with an acid tongue and a tough exterior which hides her vulnerability. She initially was only interested in Crichton and the others for what she could get from them. However as time passes, she begins to fit into her own niche on board the ship.

Chiana is portrayed by Australian actress Gigi Edgley. Edgley is best known as Erica Watson in the telemovie Day of the Roses and as Penny in the series Water Rats. Edgley has extensive theatre experience, including Romeo and Juliet, Picnic at Hanging Rock  for the Twelfth Night Theatre and Les Miserables for the Gold Coast Arts Theatre.


Farscape is owned by The Jim Henson Company, Hallmark Entertainment, Nine Network (Australia) and the Sci-Fi Channel. No copyright infringement is intended and no financial gain has been made by any of the staff of this web site.