Once upon a time there was a scavenger known as Elida. She was good at her game but trusted none and had no friends because she could not risk anyone knowing who she truly was or the danger that would come to them if others found out her identity, the woman who as a child was crowned Eldaya Al-Feyr XXIII, Guardian of the House of Bel-ior, Empress of Arriopa and all her planets and Queen of Eternity.
On the run for eight years since the revolution which deposed her, she has since been hunted by the forces of the Republic of Arriopa led by Commander Ori Lazaro; like Elida, he has no friends, but for Lazaro it is because he is arrogant, intolerant of failure and as contemptuous of his subordinates as he is resentful of his superiors who are running out of what little patience they have left with his quest.
Then there is Isaac Stelling, a scavenger who was once a lawyer negotiating contracts in the Jovian system and preparing to return home to his wife, heavily pregnant with their first child, when an inexplicable cosmic event hurled him three million light years across space to another galaxy where, five years later, he still seeks a way home.
And finally there is the mechanic Amae Rali, her aptitude with ships, machines and robots as natural and genuine as her buoyant personality, always positive, always practical, lifting others and seeing the best of them, a trait she shares with her older brother Chaz who runs the bar on Xija Station, where one of his regular customers is the vagrant queen Elida.
Based on the comic book series written by Magdalene Visaggio and illustrated by Jason Smith, Vagrant Queen was adapted for SyFy by Jem Garrard who directed and wrote half of the ten episodes of the season including the premiere A Royal Ass-Kicking and the two-part finale All Old Things Must Pass.
Filmed in and around Cape Town, Garrard and her collaborators have created a whole galaxy (not yours), filled with imagination, wild plotlines, colourful characters and bizarre aliens, a connected society of intermingled species the likes of which Star Trek has rarely portrayed, instead preferring only humans and a few others to travel while all other races welcome guests to their home worlds by appointment.
The effects consciously retro, the visuals of Vagrant Queen channel the same glorious seventies ethic which informed Thor: Ragnarok, and while the budget is not plentiful it is used well, using practical costumes and prosthetics, varied locations and the principal set of the Winnipeg, the battered Troezan S900 which conducts the unlikely gang between the stars.
Led by Adriyan Rae as Elida, the vagrant queen is tough, self-sufficient and knows her mind, confident that the past is just that and with no wish to revisit it despite the pursuit and insistence of an underground faction of Arriopans loyal to the crown; initially tiresome, they become valued players even as they maintain their individual quirks.
A reluctant and unlikely hero in well over his head, Tim Rozon is Isaac, lacking the skills he needs to survive in a tough universe and consumed by memories of his life in a galaxy far, far away, and with a history of blood and bullets with Elida which has left her wary, while trying to hold the two of them together – and the Winnipeg – is Alex McGregor as effervescent Amae.
As spoiled as the surviving royalty he hunts, Paul du Toit is petulant as Lazaro, indiscriminate in his violence in his obsessive pursuit, but as the season progresses his character is the one whose backstory is revealed most slowly, making him no less of a monster but at least one for whom it is possible to feel sympathy.
Unapologetic in its influences, most particularly in space-set murder mystery No Clue which openly acknowledges its huge debt to Jonathan Lynn’s 1985 black comedy and the board game it was based on, the women are as capable and diverse as those of Wynonna Earp, the worlds are as ridiculous and steeped in bureaucracy as those of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, while the harsh reality of fragile mortality recalls Battlestar Galactica and the ride through the wild frontier is pure Firefly.
Paralleling that beloved and much-missed show, Vagrant Queen struggled to find an audience and at the time of home media release of what is labelled season one it is apparent that there is unlikely to be a second; by way of compensation these adventures cram in as much as many shows manage their whole lifetime. How much can happen to one set of characters in ten episodes? Turns out one hell of a lot.
Vagrant Queen is available on Blu-ray and DVD now from Dazzler