Pop Between Realities, Home in Time For Tea 49.5: Farscape

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Logan Locksley helps fill in a needed gap.

The year is 1996. It's a leap year. As usual for a year on Earth, all sorts of things are happening. Independence Day, Twister, and Mission: Impossible are among the highest grossing films of the year. Musical hits include Breakfast At Tiffany's by Deep Blue Something, Virtual Insanity by Jamiroquai, and Amish Paradise by Weird Al Yankovic. In other news, a chess computer called Deep Blue defeats world champion Garry Kasparov for the first time, the Nintendo 64 console is released, and France performs the last atomic bomb test.

On May 27, the Doctor Who TV movie starring Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor airs in the UK. The film fails to result in a new American co-produced series for several reasons, but mostly because it isn't a very good movie. It kind of sucks, to be honest.

Hey there. I am, quite obviously, not Phil Sandifer. I'm not nearly as eloquent or erudite (am I using that word right? [Other than applying it to me, yes. - Phil]) as Mr. Sandifer, but I heard he was looking for someone to write a guest post and I jumped at the chance. He has graciously accepted me as a guest writer, and here I am. My name is Logan Locksley, and I'm here to talk about Farscape.

When were we? 1996. After the dismal Eighth Doctor TV movie, some other things happen, and 1996 comes to an end. Let's fast-forward.

The year is 1999. Once again, all kinds of stuff happens. But we're only concerned with one minor event. On November 29, a strange but endearing science fiction series called Farscape airs its first episode in the UK. Noted for its emotional poignancy, complex stories, and irreverent humor (as well as the use of puppets from Jim Henson's Creature Shop), Farscape generates a relatively small but fiercely loyal fanbase.

Again, let's fast-forward.

It is now 2002. In September, the Sci-Fi Channel opts to withdraw its funding of Farscape's fifth season, cancelling the series just before Season 4 begins airing. Fans are angry and disappointed, and the cancellation receives considerable notice by news media. Mere hours after star Ben Browder and producer Brian Henson announce the cancellation during an online chat with fans, a campaign to "Save Farscape" has begun.

On March 10, 2003 "Bad Timing" airs in the UK. Farscape's final episode ends on a truly bizarre, totally Farscapean cliffhanger, leaving many fans more than a little angry and confused. The fan campaign continues.

Fast forward to 2004. Thanks in large part to the massive "Save Farscape" fan campaign, several financial backers have given their support to Brian Henson. On October 17 and 18, a two-part miniseries called Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars airs in the US. The Peacekeeper Wars resolves the cliffhanger ending of "Bad Timing" and wraps up several unresolved plot threads.

For obvious reasons, 2004 is remembered as a noteworthy year for 'Scapers. (Star Trek has Trekkies, Farscape has 'Scapers.) Although The Peacekeeper Wars did not result in the hoped-for series revival, most fans still consider it a victory and a suitable conclusion to the narrative. If anything, The Peacekeeper Wars is a perfect demonstration of the fact that a TV show can survive cancellation and be brought back in relatively short order. In this case, a little over a year passed between the airing of "Bad Timing" and The Peacekeeper Wars. Comparatively speaking, a year isn't very long to wait. As you probably know, fans of a different quirky, emotional and tremendously entertaining science fiction series have been waiting even longer - this other series being Doctor Who, of course.

By this point in 2004, 8 years have passed since the mostly disappointing Eighth Doctor movie, and nearly 15 years have passed since the last Seventh Doctor episode. 2004 has been a noteworthy year for fans of Farscape. In much the same way (and to a far greater extent), 2005 will prove to be a pivotal year for fans of Doctor Who. So let's fast-forward one more time.

It is now 2005. On January 16 and 23, 2005 The Peacekeeper Wars airs in the UK on Sky1. On February 7, Farscape reruns begin airing from the beginning on BBC Three. And finally, on March 26, 2005, "Rose" airs on BBC One. This time, Doctor Who really is back.

In some ways, Farscape and Doctor Who share a similar history. Although the circumstances are very different, the fact remains that both Farscape and Doctor Who died and were resurrected. Both shows demonstrate the same principle - TV shows that have been cancelled or ended are quite capable of being rejuvenated. But let's talk about those different circumstances in a bit more detail.

Rewind to 1996 and the release of the Doctor Who TV Movie. The film wasn't a great success, but why not? And for that matter, why is the TV Movie considered less of a success than The Peacekeeper Wars? Neither film resulted in a revival of their respective series, so what's the difference? Part of me wants to say it was simply a bad movie and leave it at that, but the truth is there's more to the story. The difference lies not only in the relative quality of the two films, but also in their relationships to the rest of their series.

At this point, I should mention that not everyone likes PKW. Some fans didn't like the way the story turned out, or felt PKW was too rushed to be a suitable conclusion to Farscape's epic story. Other fans didn't like some of the altered character designs, which is understandable. One character in particular, Sikozu, is barely recognizable. And some fans found the portrayal of various characters hard to reconcile with previous characterization from the series. PKW is by no means perfect, nor is it universally loved. But in general, Farscape fans view it as a success.

Farscape's main run of episodes ended on a bizarre cliffhanger. PKW acts as a mostly satisfying conclusion to that cliffhanger and to the rest of the series. It fits in neatly with the rest of Farscape and most importantly it adds something to the narrative. The TV Movie, on the other hand, doesn't easily fit in with the rest of Doctor Who. It isn't a conclusion to a larger story, nor is it intended to be, but perhaps that's part of the reason it doesn't seem to add much of anything to the larger narrative of Doctor Who. It's not quite like Classic Doctor Who, but it's not really a reboot or a revamp either. It doesn't offer much in the way of fresh perspective, and it doesn't create many exciting new possibilities to explore. Yes, the movie does introduce a new Doctor and give him some endearing qualities and a few good lines - "These shoes fit perfectly!" - but beyond that it's just not very interesting. The film's largest sin is its bland mediocrity - it's not exactly painful to watch, but it's not very much fun either. Overall, the movie just doesn't feel like Doctor Who. It doesn't feel like Classic Who, and looking back now it doesn't feel like Nu Who either. It feels like a cheap American science fiction movie made in the nineties, and it suffers from the sort of weirdly understated acting you might expect from such a film.

Why wasn't the Doctor Who TV Movie a success? Why didn't it result in a revival of the series? Naturally there are a lot of factors, and this post hasn't covered all of them. But in my opinion, the main factor is the film's lack of connection to the rest of Doctor Who. Part of that disconnect is a result of the story it tells, and part of it is because the film doesn't feel like Doctor Who. It's not a reboot designed for a fresh audience, and it's not a simple continuation of the story. It's stuck halfway between those two options, and as a result it just doesn't fully commit to either..

When Doctor Who finally does return in 2005, it seems to have fully embraced its status as a new entity, mostly independent of the Classic series. In the first 5 minutes, the TV Movie expects viewers to know who the Master is, who the Daleks are, and what Skaro is. Nu Who does a much better job of briefly explaining these things as they come up. The TV Movie wants to be new and different, but it doesn't seem fully committed to that goal. As I said above, the film is stuck somewhat awkwardly between a reboot and a sequel and doesn't do justice to either. Nu Who seems to get the formula right - it has features of both a sequel and a reboot, but unlike the TV Movie, Nu Who balances those aspects quite well. The series starts off slowly, introducing us gradually to the Doctor and his universe and giving brief explanations to the basic concepts we should know. By the time viewers are introduced to concepts that require further explanation, like the Daleks (and much later, the Master) we already understand the basics of the show's universe. Of course, many viewers already know some of these things, but in the beginning Nu Who doesn't assume the audience knows too much.

If I were to make a long story short, I would say the TV Movie does a poor job of balancing the sequel with the reboot, while Nu Who is far more successful at doing just that.

When I began this post, I was talking about Farscape. Now that I've discussed at length the similarities and differences between The Peacekeeper Wars, Nu Who, and the Eighth Doctor TV Movie, I'd like to briefly compare Farscape and Doctor Who in terms of their narratives, which are similar in quite a few respects. Both have an element of exploration and discovery. Both shows have moments of darkness, as horrible and often terrifying things happen to the main characters, and yet the two series remain essentially optimistic. And obviously, both Doctor Who and Farscape feature travel through time and space along with a dazzling array of alien creatures.

Depending on your point of view, you may or may not view Doctor Who as just a little bit weird - well, maybe more than just a little. In my admittedly limited experience, fans don't find Doctor Who to be all that weird, at least partly because they're accustomed to it. On the other hand, Who can be all but incomprehensible to an outside observer. Personally, since I'm a fan of science fiction in general, I don't find Doctor Who very unusual - sure, there are weird moments and giant faces living in jars and ships that are bigger on the inside and so on and so forth. But to be honest, a sizable number of the tropes expressed in Doctor Who are relatively standard fare for science fiction on TV. Every show from Stargate SG-1 to Star Trek to Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda have features in common with Doctor Who - rubber forehead aliens, time travel shenanigans, and so on. So while Doctor Who may look weird from the outside and occasionally from the inside, for the most part - again, in my experience - Who is usually considered "weird" by non-fans or new viewers and not usually by avid watchers.

Farscape is a little different. Even the most loyal, die-hard, completely obsessed 'Scaper will agree that Farscape is totally frelling fahrbot - in other words, it's totally freakin' bonkers. You're bound to see some pretty bizarre things while watching Farscape. Would you like some examples? Of course you would.

The events portrayed in Farscape have a dramatic effect on protagonist John Crichton, breaking his mind into tiny pieces and driving him past the brink of insanity. At one point Crichton's brain is literally cut open and tinkered with by an alien doctor. As the series goes on, Crichton is cloned, mind-melded with, mind-probed, possessed by energy beings, turned into a caveman, sent back in time, sent forward in time, sent sideways in time, has an eyeball pulled out of its socket and put back in, turned into a statue and beheaded. Its enough to drive any man crazy.

As Crichton descends into madness, we're offered increasingly bizarre glimpses into his mind. We'll see a hallucination of Farscape's main villain Scorpius, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt over his black leather bodysuit, offer to share pizza and margarita shooters with Crichton. We'll see a cartoon Crichton fly through an animated landscape, fleeing Roadrunner-style from a cartoon version of his close friend D'Argo who takes the role of Wile E. Coyote to alien extremes, painting wormholes on rocks or transforming into a spider to capture Crichton. Later we see cartoon versions of Scorpius and Aeryn Sun, Crichton's love interest. And not all the strange things you'll see are a figment of Crichton's imagination. Another main character belongs to a species known for farting helium in times of stress. The ship Crichton and friends call home is alive. Her name is Moya and she doesn't always do what she's told, especially when she's pregnant. There are aliens with removable eyeballs, paintings that predict the future, bizarre alternate realities where each character is combined with another and no explanation is given, exploding urine, entire communities that mine for meat inside the dead bodies of colossal space beasts, a colony of literal space bats that live inside Moya and whose droppings are used to seal cracks in the hull, body-swapping experiences, strange genetic experiments, lie-detecting lobsters that gouge your eyes out if you speak a falsehood, worm-like aliens used to clean one's teeth in lieu of a toothbrush...do I really need to go on?

Farscape is weird. It's definitely much weirder than Doctor Who. And yet, many people who enjoy Doctor Who will also enjoy Farscape if they give it a chance. It may not be for everyone, but neither is Doctor Who. Farscape is an interesting show in its own right and isn't really like Doctor Who in terms of formula or content, but nevertheless there are three rather large similarities between the two shows - travel and exploration, fantastic alien life, and emotional complexity.

Both Farscape and Doctor Who focus to some extent on exploring the vast and beautiful cosmos. The Doctor once told Amy Pond that he travels with companions in part so he can see the wonder in their eyes as he shows them the universe in all it's glory. Naturally we come along for the ride, and Farscape is no different. On Doctor Who, we step into the TARDIS and follow him through time and space. On
Farscape, we're shot through a wormhole to a distant part of the universe along with John Crichton. Through his eyes, we see beautiful things, wonderful sights and amazing places.

Doctor Who is widely known for its aliens and monsters, which are always creative, usually unusual and sometimes incredibly scary. This is also true of the various creatures and alien species encountered by Crichton and the gang. (Yes, some of them are puppets. But they're puppets made by Jim Henson's Creature Shop! How cool is that?) There are reptilian humanoids, living starships, blue-skinned plant people, fire-breathing toad/dragon things as well as godlike aliens, energy beings and interdimensional travellers.

Doctor Who is also known for its poignant emotional content. There are plenty of poignant moments all throughout Farscape as well. Sometimes they're happy moments, and other times not so much. At times, Doctor Who makes you sad. Sometimes it even twists the knife a little. Farscape stabs you right in the emotional gut, twists the knife, pours salt in the wound and punches your heart in the face. And yes, I'm including that gut-wrenching sorrow as a reason to watch the show. Why? Because at its heart, Farscape is the most poignant, the most complex, and the most unabashedly human television series I have ever watched.

All that emotional complexity, that fundamental humanity, encompasses the entire spectrum of human feelings - just like Doctor Who. Both shows are equally as likely to make you laugh as they are to make you cry. They can make you angry, make you love, make you hate, lift your spirits, and make you ridiculously happy. And when you really get down to it, that raw emotion is clearly the biggest similarity between the two shows.

John Crichton and The Doctor aren't all that different, not really. They're both a little weird and a wee bit insane. Both are renowned within their respective realities as forces to be reckoned with, who often come out on top against overwhelming odds. Both John Crichton and the Doctor are intrinsically human, and they both take us on a journey through the universe, inviting us to "look upward, and share the wonders [they have] seen."

Comments

Alex Antonijevic 3 years, 7 months ago

You've just convinced me to watch Farscape. Well done!

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aka ETHER 3 years, 7 months ago

Thank you for posting such a beautiful handful of the reasons why Farscape is my absolute favorite show :)

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Ed Azad 3 years, 7 months ago

I still haven't finished Farscape. It's a challenging show; changing direction yearly; braiding camp with mawkish melodrama (very cult TV, this); breaking all rules of story convention and logic.

Claudia Black is a glue holding the show together. She's at the center of the narrative, the character with the most prolonged arc. Unquestionably the best and most versatile actor of the bunch. I get the sense the showrunners didn't quite grasp what they had on their hands in season one. Here's this pokey actress from Australian soaps with a repertoire theater background who specialized in dying messily in b-horror flicks. Once they realized they had caught lightning in a bottle, the whole show was transformed.

Personally, watched a few seconds of one of her featurettes on youtube and thought, "I've got to see this show."

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Doctor Memory 3 years, 7 months ago

"Crichton and the Doctor are intrinsically human, and they both take us on a journey through the universe, inviting us to 'look upward, and share the wonders [they have] seen.'"

Or, sometimes, look down:

"I love hangin' with you, man."

The thing I love about Farscape is that, more than any other series that I can think of, it successfully balances fist-pumping kiss-kiss-bang-bang action with a grounded sense of humanism and character. Watch Farscape and I think you're basically looking at what Eric Saward was, fumbling and failing, trying to do with the show back in the 80s. (It's no coincidence that Sil and Sharaz Jek, the only two memorable villains from the Saward era, both look like the could be slotted into a Farscape episode with very little alteration.)

Plus: muppets! It's basically Pigs In Space, only played straight. You can't go wrong with that.

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Doctor Memory 3 years, 7 months ago

Taking nothing away from Claudia Black, who was clearly the breakout star here, I'd say that the entire core cast of Simcoe, Browder, Black and Tupu were just an amazing discovery. (Victoria Hey, perhaps a touch less so, but it's hard to cast aspersions when her costume was quite literally killing her-- I'd've phoned it in too.) Signing Browder & Black the moment they were available was the single smartest thing the Stargate franchise ever did.

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BerserkRL 3 years, 7 months ago

I've never seen the show (though between the description and the sfx clip I'm strongly tempted to now) but I gather from the description that the writers have an obsession with eyeballs?

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jonathan inge 3 years, 7 months ago

This comment has been removed by the author.

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David Anderson 3 years, 7 months ago

I always think of Farscape as Blake's 7 done right. With muppets. I suppose there's an affiliation with Saward's aesthetic, in that Saward would probably have preferred Blake's 7. But I can see Farscape doing Kinda and Enlightenment whereas Blake's 7 couldn't.
I don't know that Doctor Who is significantly less weird than Farscape. It's weird less often. But the series has handled daleks, yetis, axons, zygons, and Morbius without feeling that it's got a bit too weird for the premise. The two aesthetics could merge far more easily than many other series.

There's an obvious dissimilarity between Peacekeeper Wars and any Doctor Who revival: wrapping up plot threads is an obvious aim for Peacekeeper Wars because Peacekeeper Wars is the story of John and Aeryn and friends. Whereas Doctor Who isn't the Doctor's story. At most it can be the story of a Doctor or a companion. The Doctor has infinitely many stories, but none of those stories can be his, which is his glory and his weakness.

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Assad K 3 years, 7 months ago

Being of a delicate disposition, the only annoyance I had about Farscape was that Crichtons transition from someone who didn't like to kill to someone who was pretty gun toting happened.. pretty abruptly (And yes, I know that the number of times Crichton gets mindfucked he probably is completely batshit insane). And the PK allies were definitely suffering from the Stormtrooper effect.
But at the same time.. Farscape is such a brilliant series, and so many times completely fearless in what it does. Cloning Crichton and keeping the clone, 'Revenging Angel', bloody well coming back to Earth and that too in a blaze of publicity, Harvey.. That was a production team that had balls of steel.
I enjoyed most of PKW but a resolution that involved both fleets except the flagships being destroyed seemed.. a bit much. Again, delicate constitution.
And where's the love for Bracca????

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ferret 3 years, 7 months ago

Not only does it manage to combine fist-pumping action with a grounded sense of humanism, it even manages to maintain the grounded sense of humanism while it's main human character is batshit insane: I love this clip of John and D'argo getting ready to make a big explosion while having a serious personal conversation, seen from John's perspective which is 50-50 reality and hallucination. Amusingly, the hallucination is quite mundane.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEeDUMJgdGA (ignore the first 7 seconds of someone location-spotting)

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Alan 3 years, 7 months ago

The Clone Arc perfectly sums up the brilliance of the writers and producers, IMO. I mean, we know what's supposed to happen when the main character gets cloned. There's some minor confusion as to who is real and who is a clone, and eventually the clone dies after either become evil or while proving his worth by heroically saving everyone. IOW, basically the plot of the Ganger 2-parter.

When Crichton gets cloned, OTOH, it is quickly established that because the process was instantaneous and the both have the same memories, it is absolutely impossible to tell which one is "real" and which one is "clone" and for all intents and purposes, they are both Crichton. Then, the episode ends without either of them dying. Instead, the entire cast is split with half forced to accompany one Crichton and the other half going with the other Crichton. Half the season thereafter alternates between two completely different storylines both of which feature "the real John Crichton" as the main character. One has Aeryn and deepens his relationship with her, while the other spirals into depression because "that other me" stole the woman he loved. Brilliant.

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Logan Locksley 3 years, 7 months ago

That's awesome. I hope you enjoy your journey.

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Garth Simmons 3 years, 7 months ago

Is anyone going to do an entry on Lexx?

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