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Farscape: season one |
The Peacekeper Wars
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Farscape: The Complete Series Four
cast: Ben Browder, Claudia Black, Wayne Pygram, Anthony Simcoe, and Gigi Edgley

Creator: Rockne S. O'Bannon

968 minutes (15) 2002
widescreen ratio 1.78:1
Contender DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Debbie Moon
"Previously on Farscape" (as the voiceovers say): US astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) was piloting an experimental shuttle when it was sucked through a wormhole to the other end of the universe. Hunted by the local evil empire, the Peacekeepers, he falls in with some escaped prisoners - noble warrior D'Argo (Anthony Simcoe), deposed despot Rigel, over-sexed innocent Chiana (Gigi Edgley), and feisty former Peacekeeper Aeryn (Claudia Black) - and their ship, a living being named Moya, but the Scarrans, reptilian rivals to the Peacekeepers, want Crichton's wormhole expertise. Pursued by half-Scarran Scorpius, Crichton has become the most valuable and dangerous man in the universe. And all he wants is to go home...

Season four begins with the crew scattered to evade pursuit after blowing up a Peacekeeper destroyer - and Crichton only discovering that Aeryn is pregnant with his child after she's gone... The first five episodes gather everyone back together in potboilers involving pirates and scrap merchants (though Lava's A Many Splendoured Thing has some hilarious dialogue), and a two-parter, What Was Lost. Our heroes search for the secret of a civilisation that resisted both the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans. Then Peacekeeper Commandant Grazer, a kind of Antipodean Servalan able to hypnotise men with her pheromones, arrives. Can Crichton keep Grazer busy long enough for D'Argo to plan an escape - and at what cost?

The fifth episode sees the return of Aeryn - who has brought the disgraced Scorpius aboard as a refugee after he saved her life. No one believes his claim that he's just here to protect Crichton - who can now, impossibly, predict the appearance of wormholes, and is on the verge of cracking their mathematical secrets. (I thought astronauts were mostly test pilots, not maths geniuses, but never mind...)

The next few episodes ramble along with stories of the week, as our heroes take to uncharted territory to evade Grazer. John Quixote (written by Ben Browder) dabbles with VR, with imaginative results, but finally unravels in slapstick and cod philosophy. I Shrink Therefore I Am is the best episode here: bounty hunters have seized Moya and the crew, and only Crichton and Scorpius remain free. The situation is complicated when the bounty hunters miniaturise their hostages and hide them in their armour... Sounds tacky, but works wonderfully, mainly thanks to the alliance between Crichton and the barely trustworthy Scorpius.

Then all that wormhole knowledge finally pays off (via some dull philosophical higher beings), and our heroes reach Earth. Kansas brings the crew to Crichton's hometown - but it's the 1980s, and Crichton's dad is about to be appointed to the doomed Challenger shuttle mission. Crichton teams up with his unwitting younger self to stop him, and a cop gets a shock on Halloween night...

Having suckered us into thinking there'll be no real homecoming, the episode then delivers the crew to Earth in the present - and to Terra Firma, the best 'first contact' episode ever. At first, Earth is welcoming to the varied aliens. Crichton tries to prepare humanity for the threat of the Peacekeepers and Scarrans without causing mass panic - but post-9/11 America is loath to share alien technology with the rest of the world. Soon there's xenophobia in the media, even Crichton's dad doesn't know whether to trust him, and his on-off relationship with Aeryn is disintegrating. Maybe the only safe thing John can do is leave... A moving episode about ethics, paranoia, and the disappointments of coming home, one of Farscape's real high points.

Back in Peacekeeper space, the season enters its final phase as Aeryn is captured by the Scarrans. The child she carries is valuable leverage to get Crichton's wormhole knowledge - and John will do anything, even ally himself with Scorpius, to save the woman he loves. A couple of the best standalone episodes crop up here too. A Constellation Of Doubt uses a TV broadcast picked up from Earth to unravel Crichton's dreams of alien-human cooperation; and Mental As Anything is a showcase for D'Argo (the always excellent Simcoe) as he finally confronts his wife's killer, only to begin doubting what really happened...

Finishing off with a rollicking three-parter as the crew gatecrash a Scarran-Peacekeeper peace conference with a nuclear bomb - and you've got to admire any series that would call its end-of-season three-parter We're So Screwed - the season winds down with the rushed but often moving Bad Timing: admirable for John's final chat with his dad, and a shock ending to beat them all...

This is a typical Farscape season: hugely ambitious, often shocking and moving, with a level of real adult emotion rare in SF TV, but hampered by tuppence ha'penny budgets that force repetitive, cheap storylines. The believable, fallible characters are among the best loved in TV SF, but the complexity of the backstory makes it impossible for new viewers to catch up. In short, it is what Farscape always was: too clever for its budget, for its kid's TV slot, and for its own good. But is that really a bad thing?

If you're a Farscape fan, you'll buy this anyway. If not, it might be wiser to start at the beginning - but wherever you start, do give it a go. Look past the weaknesses, and you'll find a truly original and startling show.

DVD extras: commentaries on five episodes, mostly one techie and one actor; various deleted scenes and outtakes; a talking heads on the cancellation of the series, a dictionary of alien terms, and a series of odd facts about various episodes, fun for anyone interested in the tricks of TV production.

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