SF Obscure: First Wave

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 First Wave was a Canadian action/Adventure SF series that ran from 1998-2001. It ran for three seasons on the Space Channel in Canada. Yay Canada!

The plot centers around Cade Foster who’s framed for his wife’s murder and is on the run to uncover a vast alien conspiracy. From what I gathered-it took a bit to put the pieces together-the aliens kidnapped him and made him part of an experiment to test emotions or responses or something. Anyway, Foster doesn’t become their pawn and goes on the run. He is helped along by Eddie, a guy who ran a paranormal magazine and does all the computer nerd stuff. They are later joined in their quest to stop the aliens by an alien assassin turned ally named Joshua.

The aliens are called the Gua, who eventually intend to take over Earth. The Gua come from a star system via wormhole travel by putting their souls into little silver orbs and inhabiting human husk bodies. (This saves on the make-up budget, I am sure.) Also, salt is a highly addictive drug to the Gua. (If the Gua are inhabiting human bodies why would salt have adverse affects? Nevermind.) Apparently, Nostrodamus was a Gua and his predictions of three waves leading to the destruction of mankind are part of the alien plot. Most of the episodes involve Cade and Eddie following strange, paranormal stories and then investigating them for the true alien link. Every once and a while, law enforcement tracks Cade or aliens try to kill him.

The lead actor Sebastian Spence was later on Battlestar Galactica. I didn’t recognize him from that, but I realized that I did recognize him from the infamous X-files episode Home. Roger Cross, who plays the alien Joshua is apparently in Dark Matter (which I haven’t seen) but was also in the very fine Canadian SF show Continuum. And Traci Lords who was quite famous/infamous in the 1980’s for her porn career and the whole debate about it; but later became mainstream actress.

 First Wave is a decent show. It’s formulaic and loses steam as the episodes go on. But it’s not a bad show and it was an interesting trip down nostalgia lane.

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SF Obscure: The Visitor

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The Visitor was a 1997-1998 series starring John Corbett. If you don’t know the series, you probably know John Corbett from lots of dramas, particularly if you’re of a certain generation. (Northern Exposure, Sex in the City, My Big Fat Greek Wedding). The Visitor lasted one season for 13 episodes. ( I have seen it listed as two seasons-unsure of how it was broadcast.)

Anyway, John Corbett stars as Adam McAuthur, a WWI pilot who went missing in the Bermuda Triangle. It turns out he was abducted by aliens and returns 50 years later. Adam hasn’t ages and now possesses special powers. Anyhow, Adam has been returned to Earth as a part of a mission to save humanities future. It’s premise is similar to the 4400.

In the pilot, The Visitor is similar to 4400’s human drama themes. The Alien ship crashes and Adam is on the run. He’s helped by a single mom and her son whom become attached to him as he reintegrates to the modern world. Adam uses his special powers and tells us all about how aliens want humans to reach our full potential; love one another; we’re all connected etc etc.  (It reminded me of the 1982 series The Phoenix, with Judson Scott. Anyone else remember that?)

The next episodes become more focused on a larger mission for Adam to seek out special people who will influence history to some mysterious end. It’s still feel good, but with a wider focus. It morphs yet again as a parallel plot line of ramps up with Adam pursued by government agencies. This is full on X-Files copy with hidden conspiracies; nefarious secret groups meeting in hushed voices and casting long shadows in vaulted rooms; classified documents stumbled upon and dossiers tossed importantly across desks; and, of course, black helicopters.

I liked the individual episodes well enough but I did feel as if the series couldn’t decide what kind of show it wanted to be. Family drama SF light? Conspiracy action show? A bit of both? There was a really neat Halloween/ War of the Worlds episode. Even though I was reasonably entertained by the episodes, I understood why it was cancelled. I don’t think all series need a story arc- but I do feel, especially in SF, series need a distinctive style or focus. The Visitor didn’t quite get there for me.

SF Obscure: The Tripods

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The Tripods TV series is a 1984-1985 YA SF series based on a series of books The Tripods by John Christopher. It ran for two seasons on the BBC. There are many changes from the books to the tv series though the basic concept remains the same.

The show begins in the future 2089. We see a pre-industrial version of England. Horse drawn carriages, family farms, etc. A young man in a suit is being congratulated by his friends and family for his “capping “ceremony. He takes off his hat to reveal his shaven head. Out of the sky comes a giant metal tripod, that lands in the lake and  pulls the young man up inside.

Apparently, the tripods are controlled by the Masters, an alien race that controls humanity through capping. When you turn 16 (14 in the books) you get a metal implant in your head-cap-that keeps you from independent thought. It gets rid of violence and greed and what not, but also free will. It also seems to dumb down society-hence the pre-industrial world. Humanity has largely forgotten technological progress. We later find out that many countries are now isolated to the point that no one travels outside their own country, learns another language, or even has the same currency. The caps create a xenophobia which prevents mixing with any ‘outsiders’ and this helps the aliens maintain control.

The focus is on two young men, Will and his friend Henry, who are almost at the age to be capped. Will is apprehensive about capping and what it does to people. They meet up with some of the uncapped/ those for whom capping didn’t work- who live as vagrants. One vagrant, Ozymandias, convinces them that they do have something to fear from being capped and need to escape. On their journey, they begin to figure out their idyllic world is based on mind control and they begin to resist it. There are also agents of the tripods, which chase the boys as Will, Henry, and a new friend  try to convince other young adults to join in and resist the Masters.

The books are a bit different-a prequel book explains the beginnings of the invasion and how the world came to be. The TV series ended without completing the book series due to budget issues.

On the whole, I found the premise intriguing. It does look dated…the clothes and dialogue are supposed to be pre-industrial but even then the episodes and dialogue can be a little stilted and slow. I don’t think a young adult would sit through it now especially with a diet of  faster paced shows.  It is interesting to watch if you want to round out your viewing of the cult classics- and the books hold up fairly well.

SF OBSCURE: BeastMaster

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BeastMaster the TV series ran from 1999-2002 for three seasons. It’s listed as an American/Canadian/Australian series. It was broadcast on Canadian TV initially and filmed mainly in Australia. I’m not clear who owns it. It was loosely based on the 1982 movie The Beastmaster . (Which also has some low budget sequels)

The series centers around Dar (David Goddard) who can talk to animals and protects them as well as saving villagers from various threats. His has a friend Tao (Jackson Rain) a healer whom he travels with. They are later joined by Arina (Marjean Holden) a warrior. Marjean Holden later played the medical doctor on the Babylon 5 spin-off series Crusade.

This is a sword and sorcery world. There are many scattered tribes, lots of lost cities and ruins, and of course, magic. Some of the episodes are action/adventure-with Dar and Tao taking on evil tribal leaders and saving villagers. Others focus on the nature aspect and Dar’s ability to communicate with animals. Later on we learn more about Dar’s past, legacy, prophecy…that kind of thing. There are lots and lots of sorcerers. Most of them are women with perfect make-up and fabulous hair who control some sort of natural object (birds, fire, etc.).

As much as it’s easy to tease it’s not a bad show. There is nothing particularly innovative in the sword and sorcery genre, but it delivers what most people expect of that kind of show. Dar and Tao grow on you; Arina is a cool warrior woman; and it’s general family fare. I started to really enjoy watching it. I can’t say I’d binge watch all three seasons, but it’s a cute show. It reminds me of Xena, Hercules, even Legend of the Seeker. I haven’t seen many shows of that type recently. I tried to watch a few episodes of The Shannara Chronicles, but the young adult hipster elves relationship problems tend to grate at me. I’m just too old for it.

SF/Horror Obscure: Beasts

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This series is awesome. And its more horror than SF, but it’s speculative.

I needed to recover from TekWar, so I decided to watch Beasts. I’d seen one episode a while ago, and was meaning to sit down and watch all six so here was my chance.

Beasts is a short run anthology horror show by Nigel Kneale, the creator of Qatermass.

(If you don’t know Qatermass it was one of the first serious SF TV serials and inspired Doctor Who among other things.) Nigel Kneale has a long and distinguished career in SF and horror.

Beasts originally ran in 1976 on ITV, as six episodes (50min). They are connected by a loose them of strange creatures and horrific circumstances, but the real power lies in the often unsympathetic but completely compelling characters. There are many recognizable actors in the series including Martin Shaw (Inspector George Gently!!!) and Micheal Kitchen (Inspector Foyle!!). I’m a huge fan of British TV mysteries-I’ve watched more of Midsomer Murders than is healthy.

One of my favorite episodes, Special Offer, stars an awkward, plump shop assistant who may or may not be responsible for calling up a poltergeist in the form of the shop’s mascot. Cans fall from shelves, packages of food are torn open and eaten, and items are knocked over with increasing frequency and violence. The worst part, however, is the store manager. He’s a handsome ambitious young man who comes across as smiling and friendly to the customers. He changes completely around the plump shop assistant-berating her, making fun of her weight and her looks. He shows his true self bit by bit as we watch his underhanded schemes and casual cruelty. Yet, as hard as it is to watch, the actress, Pauline Quirke, plays her part of the put upon shop assistant so brilliantly that you can see every bit of her pain, her humiliation, yet her possible power. She’s fantastic.

What Big Eyes has the same effect-taking a run down pet shop, an animal cruelty inspector, a discredited scientist and his daughter. The daughter believes her father to be a genius and a great man, even as he tells the inspector that he thinks her slow and largely useless. Like the shop girl in the earlier skit, we see a compelling, powerful portrayal of a woman who is put upon and victimized, yet it does not turn out as you’d suspect.

Beasts is…creepy, disturbing, hard to watch, yet almost impossible not to. The sets are small and simple, very much like a stage play, and the acting is effective.

SF Obscure: 1990

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This is a series I’d heard about in rumors, but hadn’t had a chance to see. It was released on DVD in March and came highly recommended. (However, it’s a UK release only as far as I know so borrow or buy a multi-system player) Series 1 and 2 are available.

1990, made in 1977, posits a future Britain run by the Public Control Department (PCD)- an all powerful bureaucracy in which government regulations turn into social control.  A few lone journalists walk a fine line between criticizing the government and being shut down.

It starts with an attempt at a military overthrow in the mid 1980’s in which the state took over.   Emigration, not immigration, is Britain’s biggest problem as those with skilled jobs and higher education seek a life abroad. As such, the PCD makes it extremely difficult to get a travel visa, so an underground system emerges to smuggle people out of Britain. There are also strict labor union codes which basically lock people into jobs; county estates are turned into ‘reeducation centers’ for those who are unemployed or the government thinks needs ‘reforming’; a whole series of codes governing arts, education, journalism, and what language is deemed appropriate.

There is a rather large cast of characters-but I found it to be more of a topical show than an character based show. There is continuing subplot involving spies in the PCD and the PCD infiltrating other organizations. ( A resistance cell?) Some of the discussions can be confusing if you don’t know much about the British political system. It’s a unique show in that it posits a slow slide to dictatorship rather than ‘one evil leader’ and raises uncomfortable questions about limits on speech and personal freedoms worth thinking about in today’s world.  The PCD’s belief that it’s ‘helping’ people when their actions show otherwise makes you question those who think they know ‘what’s good for you’.

1990 is a thinking show…if you want shooting and riots  this is not for you. I found it fascinating. I’m saving my pennies for Series 2. There are also novelizations of the series. Highly recommended.

SF Obscure: Night Man

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What do you get when you cross light jazz, Taylor Dayne, and questionable costume choices? And then you throw in special guest appearances by Jerry Springer and Donald Trump? Why you get Night Man, a show that surprisingly stayed on air for two seasons.

Night Man(1997-1999) is the story of Johnny Domino, a professional saxophonist, who is struck by lightning and earns a telepathic ability to see evil. It’s loosely based on an original comic. He also teams up with some scientists on the run who provide him with a special suit that allows him to deflect bullets and fly. It actually took a few episodes to figure out exactly what the suit does vs. Johnny Domino’s own ability- and I have the sneaking suspicion it was not entirely developed well by the writers.

Anyhow, most of the Night Man episodes are standard fare-evil bankers, evil corporations, evil scientists etc. It is an action adventure series, though a few episodes are definitely played for humor. And other episodes come across as humorous just because they are kind of silly. Johnny Domino’s father, Frank Domino,  is an ex-cop featured in Season 1 who is probably the best character if only because he does have personality. Whereas the show tries to have a common crime fighting them at the beginning, it starts to unravel a bit as the show goes on. We get a hodgepodge of alien invaders. alien villains, aliens, cursed Chinese ghost soldiers, witchcraft, evil sorceresses, and even a crossover episode with Manimal.

Matt McColm plays Johnny Domino, and he is a professional stuntman who had appeared in quite a few SF films and movies including The Matrix trilogy and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles.  He had a best friend named Raleigh Jordan, whose character is so replaceable they changed the actor between seasons 1 and 2. The owner of the club where Johnny performs is played by Felecia M. Bell, best known as Jennifer Sisko from Deep Space Nine. Actually, the fun of the show is watching all the guest spots by actors you see around here and there. (Tucker Smallwood, Daniel Dae Kim).

It’s…budget tv. There was a time when the only qualification for a show was to fill up the allotted minutes and get a few sponsors.

SF Obscure: Cleopatra 2525

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Hi out there!

Winter approaches…and so does holiday movie season.  Rogue One! Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them! Heck, maybe I’ll even go out and watch Dr. Strange. I finally got to see Star Trek Beyond and really enjoyed it. I think it’s the most traditional Trek of the reboot movies. Karl Urban really, really does an excellent job as McCoy. And it was nice to add a tribute to both Leonard Nimoy and Anton Yelchin.

So for this week’s post I decided to cover the half hour, SF/action show CLEOPATRA 2525.

The year is, uh, 2525. Humanity has been driven underground because the surface is controlled by giant floating robot armchairs (That’s what it looks like anyway) called Baileys.  Two fighters Hel(Gina Torres) and Sarge (Victoria Pratt) are resistance fighters who battle the robot overlords. helped by a mysterious voice called ‘Voice’ that taps into Hel’s brain. Anyway, Sarge gets hurt and needs a kidney so they go and get one at the local buy-a-body-part depot. Thus, the meet Cleo (Jennifer Sky), a women cryo-frozen in 2001 when her breast augmentation surgery went awry and she was stored until humanity had the tools to save her life. I am not making this up.

There’s a sexy, android guy who shows off his abs and makes stuff and Sarge is all hot and bothered for him. Hel, Sarge, and Cleo fight for humanity by hanging out in bars with cyborgs a lot. Occasionally, the go to the surface and fight some more Bailey’s. Cleo chips in with 90’s movie references. A  psycho telepath shows up to cramp their style. There is a more involved plot involving a guy named Creegan and the origin of the Bailey’s but this is not a complex show so don’t expect too much on that front.
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Despite all this, I like Cleopatra 2525 mainly because it never takes itself too seriously. It knows exactly what it is…30 minutes of futuristic looking entertainment. The in jokes actually make you chuckle; the costumes have be seen to be believed; and there is a sense of fun about it. The main characters Hel, Sarge, and Cleo are likeable. At the very least, you look at Gina Torres and Victoria Pratt and think, ‘hey, I need to spend more time at the gym.’  And even though it’s often a silly show, I kept watching episode after episode. Maybe part of me wished I could run around with weapons and sexy male bimbo androids fighting aliens. At least, it would be fun for a week or so.

 

SF Obscure: Children of the Stones

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Children of the Stones is a 1977 television drama for children produced by ITV network. I know of this show mainly because of the late Gareth Thomas. So, I decided to watch it because I had heard good things about it.

Astrophysicist Adam Brake and his son Matthew go to a village called Millbury which has a megalithic circle of stones in the middle of it. (It’s filmed on the prehistoric monument of Avebury) Things get strange as soon as they arrive. First of all, the housekeeper and neighbors all seem abnormally happy. Matthew has strange feelings of evil and is immediately hostile towards the new neighbor. His father chides him, but Matthew can’t help but feel something is wrong. We later learn that Matthew has some psychic abilities and this is why he reacts the way he does.

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When Matthew goes to school he soon discovers the other children are doing high level science and math well beyond the school years. Matthew makes a few friends at school who are still ‘normal’ like him. They warn him that the  neighbors are slowly being changed and this is connected to the stones and the mysterious town leader. There is a heady mix of black holes, time paradoxes, and weird paranormal history in a short miniseries. At time, Children of the Stones is frightening. There are only seven episodes but I had a good time watching it.

Sure, it’s rather low budget, (yeah, the clothes are dated) but it’s well-acted and the writing is solid. Plus, this is a show that treats children as if they are capable of understanding complex ideas. There is no dumbing down to sell something. At the same time, the father-son relationship is convincingly done.

There is also a novelization of the story which you can find in paperback and e-book.

SF Obscure: Moonbase 3

I haven’t abandoned SF Obscure. In fact, good things may be on the horizon.

But a short note about two shows set on space stations Moonbase 3 and Space Island One.

Normally, when I consider shows set on space stations I immediately think of my two favorites Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine. Drama. Humans. Aliens. Interstellar Wars. It’s space opera and the closest I am likely to come to a soap opera. And the relationships: Worf /Jadzia; Sisko/Yates;Kira/Odo. And the epic Babylon 5 romance of Sheridan and Delen.

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Moonbase 3  has no alien romance, I’m afraid, but lots of interesting science. This series was produced in 1973 by the BBC. The main reason I heard about it was because of the theme song by Dudley Simpson who also wrote the theme for Blake’s 7. It only lasted for six episodes-there wasn’t much  interest-but it’s good in the sense of looking back at how 1973 saw the future of space exploration.

The setting was 2003, in which several countries have various space stations. Moonbase 3 is the British moonbase, with a Russian and American base there also. Some of the plots revolve around the competing interests of the Russians, Americans, and British. The main character is Dr. David Caulder, Deputy Director LeBrun, and a psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Smith.

And is does present some interesting ideas. It is a slightly dark show-many of the episodes focus on psychological breakdowns of some sort-given the isolation from Earth; the stress of living conditions; hysteria that makes sense. Still, I can see how audiences would feel the show was somewhat of a downer compared to the usual SF fare.

It is dated, mainly in looking at gender relations. Lots of sexual comments that probably wouldn’t be given a pass nowadays; and one disturbing incidence of sexual assault which is never really confronted. Modern shows (new Battlestar) were direct in approaching the topic of sexual violence and was supposed to make you uncomfortable. This just made me uncomfortable because nothing was done about it.

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Moonbase 3 was the inspiration for a later series Space Island One. This 1998 series was a joint effort between UK and Germany that focused on a international group of scientist on a space station. Like Moonbase 3, it tends to be heavy on the science and the relationships among crew members in an isolated environment.

I wonder if it is possible to sustain a realistic series about a space station. Earlier I reviewed Star Cops, another short lived show with ‘real’ space travel. Although, I find it fascinating, the restrictions of real science do make it difficult to have the drama that one gets used to in more adventurous SF shows. Most of science fiction tv is fiction. But, without those fiction shows, it’s hard to get people supportive of real science and space exploration. Star Trek may not be real, but it inspires a lot of people.