First aired: 29th November 1999
Ben Browder – Commander John Crichton
Claudia Black- Officer Aeryn Sun
Virginia Hey – Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan
Anthony Simcoe – Ka D’argo
Lani Tupu – Captain Bialar Crais
Kent McCord – Jack Crichton
Murray Bartlett – DK
Lani Tupu – Pilot
Johnathan Hardy – Dominar Rigel 16th
Synopsis: Cape Canaveral: Florida. John Crichton watches the sunrise over the Space Shuttle being made ready to launch. The shuttle is for him to perform a series of experiments with a module of his own design to test the theory he developed with his best friend DK that a ship can use a planet’s gravity to increase it’s speed to aid in off-world spaceflight. He walks to the shuttle with his dad, famed astronaut Jack Crichton, who tells him he’s proud of him and gives him a good luck charm given to him by first man in space Yuri Gagarin, because he knows his son is nervous. Then he’s off.
After a textbook launch and an easy departure from the shuttle in the module ‘Farscape 1’ John starts to make his planned spaceflight. As the craft inserts itself into the upper atmosphere, there is warning of an electromagnetic anomaly that envelopes the module and throws it through a series of spacial tunnels until it seems to come to a stop, still in space, but nowhere near where he was. There are several fighter plane-like spacecraft firing on a much larger ship. One of the fighters clips the module spinning both off course, the module recovers, but the fighter is slammed into a nearby asteroid and is destroyed. Crichton feels the module being grabbed and pulled towards the larger ship, which looks as much large animal as it does vessel. He’s brought aboard and after evacuating his pod (seemingly without checking there was air anywhere) is led to another chamber by an armed robot. In that room are three creatures, a small toad-like creature on a flying chair, a blue bald woman in robes and a large tattooed creature with facial tentacles and beaked nose. The tentacled creature (which we soon learn is called a Luxan) grabs John and only when one of the robots from earlier inject something into his foot can John understand anything being said to him, he can’t help and is thrown to the floor in anger. From what he overhears, it’s clear that they are escaping prisoners who have stolen this ship. The Luxan rips through wires on the consoles, which allows the control collar on the ship to disconnect from the body of the ship and allows the ship (which the vessel’s pilot calls Moya) to starburst away, forming and flying through a portal. The ship leaves, but one of the fighters (called a prowler) races ahead and is caught in the wake of the the starburst and when Moya returns to normal space, the prowler has followed. John wants to know what’s going on, but is knocked out by the Luxan’s tongue.
At the fleet Moya escaped from, on the bridge of the command carrier leading it, Captain Bialar Crais wants Moya found and wants to send his younger brother back to chase it, but his brother was in the prowler that crashed into John’s module and then crashed. Learning this, Crais takes the command carrier after Moya himself. On Moya, with the prowler pilot and John in a cell, the Luxan introduces himself as Ka D’Argo to his blue companion, the Delvian priestess P’au Zotoh Zhaan. She was something of an anarchist, whilst he was convicted of killing a senior officer and they were handed over to the Peacekeepers, the race of the command carriers, prowlers etc. They share a moment, pledging to help one another to keep this brief moment of freedom.
John wakes up in a cell. Outside the toad-like creature dismisses him, declaring himself to be Dominar Rigel 16th of the Hynerian empire, someone who doesn’t have to talk to him. He learns that he isn’t alone, the prowler pilot stands and removes the helmet. It’s a woman, human in appearance and she immediately attacks him, demanding to know why he is not in uniform. She is Officer Aeryn Sun, Ikaarian company, Pliezar regiment. Zhaan arrives and informs the pair that it’s time to eat.
Moya is in orbit of a commerce planet. Still treated as prisoners, Aeryn and John eat, while D’Argo and the others discuss supply issues and whether there is Peacekeeper presence in this system (not that anyone has any idea what system that is) and then we learn that Hynerians fart helium when they are stressed.
On the planet below, Rigel bargains for necessary supplies, while Crichton realises that the spacial anomaly must have been a wormhole. Officer Sun helps him out of his cell and the two prepare to get off Moya, Aeryn wants to sabotage the ship, but John talks her down, literally explaining the concept of compassion to her. Still out of his depth, he continues to follow her down to the planet, walking onto an alien world.
Pilot alerts the others to the escape and D’Argo soon finds John and Aeryn, just as Crais and a squad of Peacekeepers arrive as well to arrest D’Argo, John and when she tries to defend him, Aeryn, a bit of narrative irony that she is considered irreversibly contaminated, just for displaying some compassion. John outsmarts the guard and frees himself and offers to free D’Argo, if both he and Aeryn can come too. Aeryn refuses to go, believing that accepting her fate is best, since that’s all she is, a Peacekeeper. John convinces her “You can be more.” They make it to the ship and when all are aboard Moya heads off. In order to prevent themselves from being shot down, Moya has to put some distance between them and the command carrier, which John helps with, using his and DK’s theory of planetary friction and slingshotting, Using the commerce planet, Moya is able to speed away from the command carrier’s pursuit and into the Uncharted Territories, in which the Peacekeepers have no jurisdiction. Crais won’t be giving up that chase though. On an alien ship, full of prisoners and disgraced soldiers, far from home with the law on his heels and so far over his head he can’t see daylight, John dictates a message to his father he can’t deliver. He isn’t going to give up trying to come home.
Notes: This is a television program made between an Australian production company and Jim Henson’s company. This was never going to be Star Trek. The mostly Australian cast and crew give this a decidely non-America viewpoint, very much contrasted against the all-American Browder and it’s that idea of contrast that makes this show. This is very CGI heavy effects wise, but two of the main cast and the odd guest character are Muppets-esque puppets. There is a lot of traditional sci-fi trappings, but the tone is different from nearly anything else like it. This isn’t 100% original ideas here, there are shades of Buck Rogers, Marvel’s Starjammers, John Carter Warlord of Mars and a tiny pinch of Star Trek Voyager to be found. The original here is the tone and the cast. There’s a lot of silliness here, tongue very firmly in cheek, but the stakes feel high and deservedly so. We have themes of totalitarianism, suppression of identity and questions regarding who is the bad guy in desperate circumstances. But we also get the lead character wondering if he is going to be eaten and a main cast character who farts helium.
There’s no one in the cast not doing a great job. Lani Tupu is doing double duty as the squeaky voiced Pilot and the growly Crais and you can barely tell he is both. Virginia Hey plays Zhan as often highly amused by the turns her life has taken, comforted by her religious practices, but with a mischevious sparkle in her eye. Anthony Simcoe as D’Argo has the movie trailer voice and anger of a fighter held in chains, but is clearly too young and more than a little naive. Pilot is relatable, not for his multiple arms and connection to a living ship, but he’s put upon, under-appreciated and more than a little stressed, who can’t relate to that. Claudia Black isn’t given a lot to do, mostly to act as the potential love interest, but her disdain for Crichton’s lack of military thinking makes her his foil in most of their scenes. Ben Browder is very personable as the lost in space astronaut, playing shock and amazement in equal measure. This is an alien world, but he drops pop-culture references and colloquisms like they are going to run out, further showing his isolation from the rest of this universe. He is the familiar, against these aliens. The stand out character for entertainment value is Dominar Rigel XVI, who’s pompous and gross, but still you can’t help but like him. He’d stand out in the Mos Eisley cantina, he’d never be on the Enterprise, but this place? Suits him down to the ground. He is trying to retake his throne and to be honest, am rooting for him.
There’s more than a little slathering of cheese all over this series, but as a podcaster I know told me recently “Nothing wrong with a bit of cheese!” He’s right of course and just under that layer of cheese is the potential for a really good program that’ll go places that more traditional series wouldn’t or couldn’t go to. This is very much it’s own thing, but more than anything else it’s fun.
Fun, remember that? It’s that thing that TV should be. Too often TV get’s poe-faced and up it’s own rear end, but when you find something that’s just enjoying it’s own silliness and inviting you to do the same.
Does it work? Yes, because it’s a very singular thing, it can only stand on it’s own.
Does much need fixing? There needs to be more of a focus on character, now that the plot has been established.
Does it stand up? Despite being nearly 20 years old, this feels as fresh and interesting as it did when I first saw the show.
Do I want to watch the next one? It made me want to watch all of it, maybe show it to my son.
Did I enjoy it? Yes I did it’s as good as I remembered.
Overall: 5 out of 5 A strong start for a series that did Guardians of the Galaxy before James Gunn sat in the director’s chair.