Will Farscape reach 100?

Selected from Cult Times Special #18

Ben Browder as Farscape's Crichton, plus Virginal Hey's Zh'aanFar Reaching

Looking at the Cult Times mailbag, you seem to think Farscape’s got what it takes. But has it peaked too soon? We consider the show’s future prospects…

• Feature by Gareth Wigmore

A hundred 45-minute episodes would last 4,500 minutes. That’s 75 hours, more than three days’ worth. It’s a hell of a lot of television, an incredible amount of time for the viewer to invest in a series, watch much the same characters, actors and sets, and listen to the same voices, music and effects. If there is one reason why Buffy The Vampire Slayer has managed to reach the century mark so fresh and full of creative life, I’d say that it’s because it isn’t afraid to change its status quo…

The only other current Sci-Fi series that displays the same willingness to tinker with its format is the magnificent Farscape. You can say that you don’t like its Muppets; you can accuse it of having too many dull ‘character’ episodes that don’t do very much; you can recoil from its brutality. But you can’t deny the fact that when Farscape takes itself up a gear and does something special, it’s about as exciting as anything you could ever hope to see on television. Whether that means it’s got 100 episodes in it or not is another matter. Having racked up a mere 33 hours by the end of its second season – the third is now airing in AmericaFarscape would be well on the way to its fifth birthday before any centenary celebrations.

Though there’s no equivalent of Babylon 5’s five-year plan, what’s so exciting about the show is that it’s getting through carefully established plotlines at an incredible rate. So far, it’s shown no sign of flagging, and hopefully it won’t. The challenge for the producers, if they’re to last the next two and a half years and make it to the 100 mark, is to pull new rabbits out of the hat. Given the show’s basic premise, many of the most obvious storylines have already jumped out at them, often with some spectacularly entertaining results.

For example, the fact that Moya is a living ship suggests a whole barrage of plots, most revolving around the fact that, if Moya’s health is jeopardized, then the main characters’ health is jeopardized too as they’re dependent on the ship for life support and air supply. So it’s quite common for the ship’s Pilot to report that whatever phenomenon the crew are exposed to that week – Zhaan’s spores, for example – is affecting him and Moya as well.

The trouble is that, the more something like that happens, the bigger you have to make each threat to the ship. The climax of Season Two saw Moya ridden with parasites that were literally eating her away. The only way to save her and the crew that she carried was to torch the infected section of the ship. This is a prime example of the fact that the Farscape universe is not a cosy, comfy one, but is instead a place where characters often do dreadful things to each other, claiming that they have no other choice. The producers have surely pushed the envelope as far as ‘damage to Moya’ can go for the moment.

One of Farscape’s best ideas comes in Season One’s They’ve Got a Secret, when we discover that Moya is pregnant. The principle of using good ideas when they occur to you guarantees excitement and fast development, but the show was only half a season old when the plotline was introduced. Wasn’t having a living ship funky enough in itself to satisfy the audience for a while? In one sense, wouldn’t it have been better to have saved the plotline to spice things up if the show became a little sterile?

Like Moya’s pregnancy, the replacement of Crais as the series’ villain is a card that one almost thinks has been played too early. Crais was irrational and cruel when he was chasing Crichton over the death of his brother, but he never did anything that especially justified the ‘insane military commander’ tag. Maybe he was a deliberate red herring; maybe Lani Tupu’s performance just didn’t cut the mustard to make for a recurring threat. On the other hand, Scorpius has become as effective and chilling a villain as one could ever hope to see...

For the full feature, see Cult Times Special #18: available in shops or from VI Direct.

Cult Times symbolImages © The Henson Company
Feature © Visual Imagination 2001.
Not for reproduction