the spaceship drama finds it hard going in its second season.
UK Broadcast Syfy, finished US Broadcast Syfy, finished Episodes Reviewed 2.01-2.12
You know how in DVD making-ofs sci-fi scriptwriters will insist that their show is actually all about the characters and not spaceships, or zombies, or mutant giraffes or whatever? That must go tenfold for the writers of Dark Matter. Not because the characters are particularly great, but because outside of the charismatic main cast the show has very little new to offer. It’s just a greatest hits megamix of previous spaceshipbased shows with different faces.
Season one at least had the conceit of its amnesiac crew to stop it being a mere BattlestarTrek-Blake-lactica composite. But with season two a lot of the mystery surrounding their various backgrounds has been cleared up, while the remaining mysteries are being rationed in a way that suggests the writers’ room is well aware the show’s USP is in danger of vanishing down a black hole. So what we’re left with is a show that’s mostly about a motley group of rebels on a ship – including an android who wants to be more human – battling against corrupt BIG ORGANISATIONS. And, yes, halfway through the season the crew even acquires a handy new infinite improbability drive which makes their ship, the Raza, the most powerful ship in the galaxy.
It does all sound awfully familiar doesn’t it? The weekly plots have a similarly warmed-up leftovers feel (yes, we get the alternate universe episode with evil versions of the regulars!). And while the show’s familiarity doesn’t exactly breed contempt it does breed reaching-for-yourmobile-to-play-Solitaire-halfwaythrough-each-episode. You don’t want to switch it off, but it’s difficult to keep paying full attention.
Production design feels stuck in the ’90s
It doesn’t help that the production design and direction feel stuck in the ’90s. Okay, Dark Matter clearly doesn’t have the biggest budget, but the similarly low-budget Killjoys employs funky camerawork, punky designs and slick editing to paper over the cracks. Dark Matter instead retains a Star Trek: The Next Generation aesthetic; sets that look slightly too small, bland lighting and workmanlike cinematography.
There are some surprises. One (Marc Bendavid) – a major player in season one – is killed off in the first episode… and it isn’t a ruse! This leaves room for two new members of the crew, though one, Nyx, remains underused for most of the season while the other, a drug addict medic called Devon, just kinda gets forgotten about then left for dead. The acquisition of the blink drive – hoary old SF cliché though it might be – at least gives the show a new direction. And revelations about both Two and Four have you spluttering into your cocoa.
So the occasional plot bomb combined with the charm of the central cast keep the show watchable. It just rarely feels like essential viewing, especially now a lot of the mystery has gone. Season two replaces “who are we?” with “what do we do now then?” and doesn’t ever come up with a decent answer. The Raza flies through a series of disjointed adventures against a vague backdrop of conspiracy and intergalactic war between shadowy power blocs. Mini-arcs for each character try to fill the void – the android and Two go through some particularly fascinating developments – but they don’t hide the fact that the show lacks a sense of direction. The more the main characters remember the less memorable the show becomes. Dave Golder
Control your excitement, viewers – it’s mealtime!
Five (Jodelle Ferland) is loving every minute.
Corridors and brown clothes, ooh yeah.