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In Association with
Space: Above And Beyond (1995-6)
Creators: Glenn Morgan and James Wong

review by Andrew Darlington

How do you get above and beyond space? Is there such a place? Can you glimpse it using the Hubble? Or maybe I'm reading the title wrong? Perhaps it means that space is the realm above and beyond what we know? Somewhere out over the sky? But the series title is only the first of the conundrums involved with Space: Above And Beyond. There were just 24 episodes, each running to 45 minutes, which debuted through Fox from the September 1995 two-part 'pilot', through to Tell Our Moms We Done Our Best in June 1996. It closes open-ended. The full story-arc was planned to span five seasons. But it was axed after just one.

Debuting on BBC2 here, repeat viewing opportunities on Sky and the Sci-Fi Channel built a resilient fan-base, but otherwise failed to convince. In the year 2063, after "150 years of calling out," humans assume they're alone in an otherwise lifeless cosmos, "the silence of the universe assures us that we are alone." Wrong! There are alien nasties out there, drawing up their dark plans against us. And soon a band of tyro first-year military cadets are pitched into interstellar war against implacable extraterrestrial foes.

Think of the movies Skyline from the brothers Strause, and Battle: Los Angeles from Jonathan Liebesman. With litigiously-close plot-lines both involving L.A. being systematically obliterated by vicious alien aggressors, the difference lies in the way the situation is interpreted. Although hardly a classic, Skyline uses a genuine SF premise with some creepy enigmas left unresolved. Battle: Los Angeles is blunt military techno-porn with lunk-head marines simply slugging it out with a different breed of terrorist. Now, if you compare and contrast Paul Verhoeven's Starship Troopers (1997) movie, with Space: Above And Beyond, you get a similar counterpoint. The movie uses its raw troopers and gleaming fetishistic Top Gun boys' toys weaponry to sharp satiric effect. The TV series takes its militaria straight.

This is simply a military campaign in which a jarhead platoon from the 'United States Marine Corps' just happen to be space-borne, with bigger explosions and tougher body-armour, and their adversary are not the Taliban, but alien Chigs. To call it 'gritty' would be to inflate its authenticity. There are bonus SF elements, and some neat touches. There are Starship Troopers style insert newscasts urging patriotism and planetary solidarity in the face of malign threat. Episode The Farthest Man From Home begins with a clip of President John F. Kennedy's "we choose to go to the Moon" speech. And there's an imprint of Neil Armstrong's first small step onto the Sea of Tranquillity on the operations-room backdrop.

Some of characters are 'tanks' - in vitro-gestated clones 'born' with 18-year-old bodies, the target of scorn and prejudice, which sets up internal conflict. There are also 'silicates', who are fugitive artificial intelligences who escaped from Earth to collaborate with the Chigs. Earth has established its first colony beyond the Solar system - the Vesta colony within the Epsilon Eridani star system, reached through a fortuitous alignment of wormholes. Then, in "days that will live in infamy," ruthless aliens attack with 'extreme intent' and obliterate the colony. Armoured like original-series Cylons, the Chigs next target is Earth itself. Surely the elite 'Angry Angels' will knock the aliens into Andromeda. They don't. They get whupped.

Instead, the "58th squadron of the Marine Corps Air and Space Cavalry," a band of politically-correct ethnic-gender-mixed untested fighter pilots, stands in their way. These space aviators include Nathan West (Morgan Weisser), who is cutely na´ve with the lovesick-puppy look over lost girlfriend Kylen Celina, who was one of the colonists. Dropped from the colony ship himself he enlists in order to rejoin her, then, when she goes missing presumed Chig-captive, his need assumes greater urgency. Then there's sultry 'Queen' Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke) who has attitude and a curl to her pouty lips. Her marine parents were killed in the earlier AI war. She has issues to resolve. And there's surly, rebellious Cooper Hawkes (Rodney Rowland) whose backstory gives him a grudge against the world. As a 'defective tank' he has no choice but to fight having been sentences by a judge to serve in the marines. He's also given to 'aggressive flatulence'. With them are bright and sassy Vanessa Damphousse (Lanei Chapman), and joker Paul Wang (Joel de la Fuente). They become the 'Wildcards', led by seasoned crop-haired 'in vitro' Tyrus Cassius 'TC' McQueen (James Morrison).

Through the coming episodes they must learn to rely on each other, bonding over their differences, and maturing their attitudes through a series of set-backs, hazardous missions, and perilous situations. First thrown together on a Mars exercise, they encounter a stranded Chig and, unintentionally, kill it by offering it a drink of water. Apparently water is lethal to Chigs, resulting in projectile-vomits of icky green spooge. Soon they "shuffle up the Wildcards, and deal 'em!" Blasting out Hey-Ho, Let's Go from a Ramones 'Blitzkrieg Bop' audio-disc - wrongly crediting it to Pink Floyd, they're launched into a dogfight in and around Jupiter's Trojan asteroid field.

But, largely, this is a slugfest with a moronically dull militaristic mindset. A shoot-'em-up, no questions asked, romp. The promo hype makes great play of it being "from the producers of The X-Files," but whereas Mulder and Scully were strong on cerebral enigma and mind-bending shenanigans, this follow-up project is straight action-adventure with zero moral dimensions. Creators Glen Morgan and James Wong penned some standout X-Files. Kristen Cloke was Melissa Rydell Ephesian in The X-Files episode The Field Where I Died (and she had roles in Millennium and Final Destination). Rodney Rowland was nasty Ed Jerse dating Scully (Gillian Anderson) in another episode, and Weisser was Lee Harvey Oswald in the Wong-directed Musings Of A Cigarette-Smoking Man. Director David Nutter is also on board, with a CV extending from Mulder and Scully into Star Trek: The Next Generation territory. And David Duchovny himself guests as the devilishly attractive 'Alvin' on the pleasure-ship 'Bacchus' in the R & R episode of Space: Above And Beyond.

Some psychological depth is injected via Shane Vansen being plagued by recurring nightmares about her parents' death at the hands of the enemy (in The Dark Side Of The Sun). When she's selected for a mission to protect a fuel-ore mining facility threatened by AI silicates, she gets the opportunity of finding out what really happened to them. And Cooper Hawkes' in-vitro motivations are explored in Who Monitors The Birds with him lost-awaiting-extraction on a high-risk assignment on planet Tigris. Delivered virtually dialogue-free, partially viewed through night-vision goggles beneath two moons, the episode resulted in the real-life Rowland being hospitalised due to stress-exhaustion brought on by the rigorous shooting.

Conveniently the Chigs conform to World War II battle-strategy bombing runs, infantry assault, hand-to-hand combat and dogfights, allowing analogies and references to Omaha Beach and the Guadalcanal campaigns to be thrown up at intervals. And, although there are impressively massive battleships and combat sequences, they are delivered with unconvincingly clunky period-CGI effects. Yet there are peak episodes within the main story contour. The Presidential assassination subplot in Eyes, the claustrophobic group-jeopardy of River Of Stars, and the two-part Never No More and The Angriest Angel in which the team face "Chiggy Von Richthofen," an alien bloody Red Baron fighter-ace.

The penultimate episode, And If They Lay Us Down To Rest... sees the five Wildcards reconnoitring Anvil, the moon of the Chigs' home-planet as prelude to the war's world-wrecking final decisive battle. It opens with a flash-forward brief history of the universe from the Big Bang on. There are other neat touches. Attempting to establish communications with an alien they encounter in the moon's jungle, they try the 'Close Encounters' hand-movement sequence, the alien responds, and they quip "guess it saw it too." Then Hawke's comic-book 'GI Geequed' provides the connection they need to overcome the language barrier.

Over the course of the developing series storyline the planetary defenders have discovered a new sense of species identity by becoming the 'United Peoples of Earth'. Even as the Chigs sow confusion by claiming that both races share the same amino-acid origins. Further suggesting Earth authorities were given advance-warning of the attacks on the Vesta and Tellus colonies, that they knew they were transgressing sacred Chig-space... but by then it's almost too late. It closes 'to be continued'. Not.

Instead, Space: Above And Beyond joins the growing list of TV sci-fi to fall foul of the network axe - from Star Trek: Enterprise to Stargate: Universe, from Fox's Firefly to the BBC's late unlamented eight-part Outcasts. In the long term, with cable, satellite and download repeats, as well as video, DVD, and blu-ray, re-issues - with the cast, sets and effects teams already in place, surely there's no way renewed commissions can lose?

Yet the final cliff-hanger episode has an alien envoy bringing ceasefire proposals. The first confirmed revelation of what a Chig actually looks like - pinkish-white reptilian with gills and, according to McQueen, "its eyes are so black, empty yet brilliant." In a hostage-exchange Nathan is briefly reunited with lost-love Kylen - she's number six on the list, before she's whisked back to Earth, and he's plunged back into war after the negotiations go disastrously wrong. So what happens during the "next hopeful hours" of ill-fated peace-talks aboard the USS Saratoga? What happens when the 58th are attacked by enemy space fighters, hopelessly outnumbered and outgunned? We never get to find out.

In the closing shot, with Wang missing - apparently sacrificing himself holding off a Chig attack to ensure the safe hostage-transfer, Vansen and Damphousse lost crash-landing on alien planet 2063Y in a wrecked ship, there's only West and Hawke left. As the injured McQueen points out - "this is either a new beginning..." or the end." Sorry, it's the latter. At least now we know what the series-title means. It means above and beyond the call of duty.

DVD extras include a new documentary Design For A Future War, cast interviews, some episode commentaries, galleries, and deleted scenes.

Space: Above and Beyond DVD boxset

Space: Above and Beyond cast

copyright © 2001 - Pigasus Press