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