SyFyUK aired the first episode of its sci-fi comic adaptation, Dark Matter, this week and from the outset it’s gripping, but it’s not until half way through that it becomes apparent why, and it’s for a good reason. It got good enough for me to series link, I reckon it’ll be worth attention.
The set up is simple; six people wake up on a space ship, dead in the water, with no memory of who they are or why they are there. The opening scene is an inexplicable fight and while, yeah, this is an exciting start, I can’t help my reaction being one of bewilderment. Why is the first thing you do hitting a person with no provocation? Whatever happened to “Excuse me, do you know what’s going on?”.
This is TV though, so let’s roll with it; it’s well choreographed, credit where it’s due.
What our six people do know is that each of them brings something to the table. There’s the Computer Girl, the Mysterious Ninja Type, the Bookish Handsome Guy, the Loose Cannon, the Tech Savant and the Quiet Muscle. This is what happens when no one has a character background at the starting line – stereotypes.
Having woken up, they decided that the best way to identify each other is by number, thus naming themselves One through Six in order of who woke up first. I know, weird, right? We’re then treated to some trademark SyFy Terribly Good acting from pretty much everyone.
The exceptions are Lost Girl’s Zoie Palmer, who appears as a seventh crew member, and Roger R. Cross who genre fans will recognise from Continuum and Orphan Black, others from Motive on Universal.
Despite not saying much, Cross as Six is clearly Dark Matter‘s most experienced on screen actor, and though Palmer has already proved her acting chops, her performance here is quietly brilliant. Neither of them push too far, foreground or background, and their characters are believable regardless of necessary stereotyping.
Melissa O’Neil’s Two is hard to believe as the interim Captain of this little troupe. However, as the episode progresses so does she, mostly, but her CV is short and everyone starts somewhere. Anthony Lemke as Three seems to be attempting to channel Bill Paxton’s Hudson from Aliens, but is lacking the Paxton charm.
Marc Bendavid, O’Neil, Lemke, Alex Mallari Jr and Jodelle Ferland – One through Five – have been working the TV circuit for a while, though Dark Matter seems to be their biggest casting yet. For some it really shows, for others there’s potential, and while the whole show feels a little like someone is trying to catch the still desolate Firefly fans (you’re not Joss, don’t even!), the ensemble feels like it could work.
There’s a good story here; while they may not know who they are, this show does not choose to stay on the ship steeped in questions, which I feared it might à la Lost before it lost its mind.
Dark Matter takes the questions and runs off with a gun and nothing to lose, a planet of people with a precarious future and a set of doors that probably should be left alone but we hope won’t be. It looks good, with a decent budget, or at least an excellent Set Crew, and the episode cliffhanger is a worthy Good-vs-Evil-what-will-they-do effort.
I’ll be tuning in next week; I’m a big fan of the Terribly Good genre and space adventures, which Dark Matter delivers in SyFy spades, whether it meant to or not.