I first saw “Farscape” on TV when I was about eleven or twelve (does anyone remember the good old days when they used to show a double bill of “Farscape” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” at 6pm-7:30pm on BBC2 once a week?). At the time, for some bizarre reason, I didn’t really like “Farscape” that much, or rather, I was fairly indifferent to it when compared to the timeless work of genius which is “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.
A while ago, I got the chance to rewatch the first season of “Farscape” and, quite frankly, my younger self was an idiot! It’s an absolutely amazing show which is easily as good as “Star Trek: The Next Generation”. However, it is a very different show in almost every respect apart from the fact that it’s set on a large spaceship and there are more than a few adventures.
(Ok, I should probably point out that this will be a fairly long review.)
*** Spoilers for episode one ahead ***
The first season of “Farscape” begins with John Crichton, a test pilot with IASA ( a space agency which is similar to NASA) who is piloting an experimental spacecraft that he designed. He intends to use the gravitational pull of the earth as a slingshot in order to test whether this is a viable means of propulsion. However, during his first test flight, a large wormhole appears which sucks up his craft and transports it to a far-flung corner of the universe.
When he emerges from the wormhole, he finds himself in the middle of a rather large and dramatic space battle between a military force called The Peacekeepers and a large and unusual-looking spaceship. After nearly crashing with one of the Peacekeeper fighter ships ( causing it to veer off course and collide with a nearby asteroid) the large spaceship locks a tractor beam (of sorts) on Crichton’s spacecraft and takes it into it’s cargo hold.
The large spaceship is like nothing which Crichton has seen before. For starters, it looks a lot more organic than most spaceships do. Secondly, when he reaches the bridge of the spacecraft, it is manned only by three very different aliens. One injection of translator microbes to his heel later, Crichton is able to learn that they (Zhaan, D’Argo and Rigel) are escaped prisoners who have commandeered a living “leviathan” prison ship called Moya from the Peacekeepers and are currently in the process of escaping. With little other option, he decides to join them.
But, before they are able to escape, Moya grabs a Peacekeeper fighter ship with her tractor beam and they capture the pilot. Since the crew is also suspicious about Crichton, since humans look remarkably similar to Peacekeepers, he is placed in a cell with the pilot of the fighter plane. Once they’ve argued and fought with each other (after the pilot of the fighter plane believes Crichton to be a Peacekeeper deserter), she removes her helmet and introduces herself as Aeryn Sun.
Eventually, the five inhabitants of the crew (along with Moya’s own pilot – a creature who is biologically linked to the ship) trust each other enough to be able to work together and evade the small Peacekeeper fleet who is trying to recapture Moya.
Meanwhile, on the Peacekeeper mothership, Captain Bilar Crais is informed that his brother died during the attempt to recapture Moya and the escaped prisoners. When he looks at the footage of the battle, he sees that his brother’s fighter ship crashed into an asteroid after encountering an unidentified vessel. Enraged, Crais swears to avenge his brother’s death….
…and, that’s just part of episode one…
There are so many great things to say about “Farscape” and it is unlike any other sci-fi series which I’ve seen (about the closest one I can think of is “Firefly” and even that is very different in a lot of ways) for a whole host of reasons. For starters, the aesthetic of the whole show and the set design is absolutely perfect.
Setting the series on a living spaceship means that it looks very different to 99% of other sci-fi shows and movies and it wouldn’t surprise me if the design of Moya was an inspiration for the design of the Tardis interior during the more recent series of “Doctor Who”. Moya is also maintained by a large group of small robots called DRDs, which vaguely reminded me of the scutters from “Red Dwarf” too (except, unlike the scutters, they actually work properly….most of the time).
Likewise the design of all the various aliens is truly excellent (and they were made by the Jim Henson company too) and, apart from a few short scenes (mostly when Rigel jumps or walks anywhere), there are next to no CGI creatures. They’re all made from models, animatronics and prosthetics. I cannot praise the originality of the alien designs and the general look of the show enough – it really is unlike any sci-fi series that I’ve seen before and “Farscape” is worth watching just for the design alone.
Set design aside, the strength of any sci-fi series lies in it’s characters and “Farscape” certainly doesn’t disappoint in this regard either. All of the main characters have their own motivations and most of them are delightfully flawed, and surprisingly believeable, characters too. Plus, unlike many sci-fi shows, Crichton is the only recurring human character and – to most of the other characters, he is an alien (this is explored further in episode four of season one – titled “I, E.T.”). This lends “Farscape” an atmosphere which is quite unlike a lot of other human-based sci-fi shows.
Whilst Aeryn looks human, she actually belongs to a species called Sebacians who are fairly similar to humans, but they have a slightly different history and several key biological differences (eg: they have no method for regulating body temperature and will slowly die, after becoming delirious, if exposed to high temperatures. This is a plot mechanic which features prominently in one episode of serson one).
Zhaan is a Delvian priestess who has the ability to share and remove the pain of others. She also goes into an ecstatic state of bliss whenever she is exposed to intense sunlight too (for reasons which are explained later in the season).
Rigel is a Hynerian who used to be the monarch of his people until his cousin overthrew him and handed him over to the Peacekeepers to be imprisoned and tortured. He is probably the “comedy” character of the series and he is hilariously aristocratic, solipsistic, greedy and amoral. He also travels around on a small hovering throne most of the time too.
Finally, D’Argo is a Luxan warrior (probably at least partially inspired by the Klingons from “Star Trek”) who almost always carries a rather impressive sword (which can double up as a rifle when necessary) who, although it is implied that he is fairly young, often seems to be one of the most experienced fighters on the crew of Moya (second only to Aeryn).
The ship’s pilot (called “Pilot”) is a six-armed creature who is biologically linked to Moya – although his character isn’t really developed that much in season one, he’s always worrying about something or other and he’s usually fairly mild-mannered (even when some members of the crew attack him in one episode).
Also, about fifteen episodes into season one, a new member of the crew called Chiana is also introduced. She is a Nebari rebel who is a fairly cynical, hedonistic and impulsive. Although, since she only appears in the last few episodes of the season, her character doesn’t have as much time to develop as the other characters. Like any sci-fi show, there are also larger plot arcs in the background too
Most of the episodes are extremely compelling and, although a few of the storylines are vaguely Trek-like (not that this is a bad thing…), the storylines are all fairly innovative and interesting. Yes, some episodes are better than others, but even the few slightly weaker episodes are still worth watching just for the characters and the dialogue.
My personal favourite episodes from season one are probably “Through The Looking Glass” (where Moya is split between several parallel universes), “PK Tech Girl” (where Moya’s crew discover an abandoned Peacekeeper spaceship and a Peacekeeper technician who has been sent to repair and/or investigate it) and “A Human Reaction” (where Crichton discovers another wormhole leading to Earth).
Another great thing about “Farscape” is the atmosphere of the show – it’s very different from most other TV shows and, although it is about ten times more cynical and dystopic than “Star Trek: The Next Generation” – it certainly has it’s fair share of humour and adventure which prevents the series from becoming depressing. Yes, it’s slightly darker, stranger and more violent than “Star Trek” – but, if you’re a Trek fan or a Firefly fan, then there’s a good chance that you will love “Farscape” too.
All in all, this is a great opening series for a great show. There really is nothing else like it. If you’re still uncertain about whether you want to watch it, then a Youtube channel called “Nerdist” has produced five-minute ‘Minisodes’ of each episode from season one (basically a heavily condensed version of the entire episode) which are each introduced by an actor from the show. You can find the minisode for episode one here .
If I had to give season one of “Farscape” a rating out of five, then it would get a six. If you like sci-fi in any way, then be sure to take a look at “Farscape”.