Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Farscape and Doctor Who

I promised some posts on science fiction television series and one commentator actually encouraged me, so here we go. I want to start with two series that originate outside the US. Farscape is an Australian-American tv series. It stars an American actor, Ben Browder, and uses puppets created by Jim Henson to depict aliens that are just a bit more alien than the typical nose and forehead prosthetics we typically find on Star Trek. The creator was the American Rockne S. O'Bannon, but it was produced in Australia and was first shown on Australian television. As well, most of the cast are from Australia and New Zealand. There are a lot of really original ideas. The characters are first seen in the middle of an escape from a space prison in which they commandeer a living ship, who, with her Pilot, is a character in herself. An American astronaut, flung into the middle of this by an inconvenient wormhole, is our entry into a truly strange universe. Here are the main characters:

John Crichton, American astronaut
Played by Ben Browder, he is a heroic, but also bumbling comic figure.

Aeryn Sun, cold, pragmatic soldier (and later romantic interest)
Played by Australian actress Claudia Black. Both she and Browder reappear in later seasons of Stargate SG-1.

Rygel, exiled Dominar of the Hynerian Empire
One of the Henson creations. As a character, provides the narcissistic element.

Zhaan, a Delvian, who are a mystical species of humanoid plants
Played by Australian actress Virginia Hey (who also appeared in Road Warrior), Zhaan is a kind of earth mother.

Chiana, a rebel and thief.
Chiana is an escapee from an authoritarian society. Her makeup makes her look like a character from a black and white film from the 1930s.

These are just a few of the main characters and chosen largely because of their visual interest. Farscape is a really creative show in terms of both characterization and visual design. Its weaknesses are largely narrative. Some of the plots are just odd and absurd and certain themes are flogged to death. But it is certainly original and worth watching. Here is how John Crichton and Aeryn Sun first meet:

Doctor Who, a BBC program that originated in 1963, is actually the oldest series of all. It started out as a family and educational show and in its original form lasted until 1989, which must be some kind of record! The version that I am familiar with is the revival dating from 2005 and still going. It is an enduring part of British popular culture. The character of The Doctor (who has no other name) is one of the most intriguing ever created. The problem of an ageless lead character who has to be played by an aging actor (a problem particularly for Angel on Buffy and Angel) is solved in a unique way. The Doctor, the last of the vanished race of Time Lords, from time to time regenerates and re-appears in a different form. This device was taken up to solve the problem of replacing the original actor, who had fallen ill and was unable to continue, with a new actor. The character, an engagingly eccentric British one, remains the same, though played by different actors--twelve as of now with a new actor, the first woman, to be the thirteenth in future episodes.

All twelve versions of The Doctor in chronological order
Other unique elements are a TARDIS, a vehicle that travels in space and time, but has the outer appearance of a 1960s vintage police box, and The Doctor's ubiquitous "companions." These figures act as our entry into The Doctor's world and as a moral reminder to him. Companions come and go more frequently than The Doctor himself. In the revived series, the companions occupy a large narrative role and are usually young women. Here are the first two companions in the revival:

Rose Tyler

Martha Jones
Doctor Who retains its educational flavor with episodes in which the characters visit Shakespeare in the Globe theatre and Vincent van Gogh in Arles. I have to admit that I am far less familiar with this series than the other ones as I have only watched three or four seasons and only have two in my library. There are a lot of interesting themes and some interesting villains, though I have to say I find the Daleks ("Exterminate! Exterminate!") a bit tiresome. Perhaps the most unusual villains of all are the Weeping Angels who appear in the time-travel episode "Blink." The Doctor himself is so unusual a character that he almost carries the series by himself. I despair of finding some good clips on YouTube as there are too many to sort through and most of them are very dodgy collections of "best moments" that really aren't, plus larded with even dodgyer soundtracks.

No comments: