• The cast of space mystery ‘Dark Matter’, from the creators of ‘Stargate’. (SBS)Source: SBS
Six people wake up on a spaceship with no idea who they are or how they got there. Then things get worse.
Anthony Morris

17 Jan 2020 - 12:19 PM  UPDATED 17 Jan 2020 - 12:19 PM

If you had to name the worst possible place to lose your memory, outer space would be at the top of the list. For the six people who wake up on board the starship Raza, this nightmare is their reality.

With no idea of who they are, what they’re doing in space, or what their lives were before waking up from stasis, they’ve got a lot of questions – and not knowing the answers just might get them killed.

Created by former Stargate writers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, and adapted from a graphic novel they also created, Dark Matter hits the ground running and only picks up speed from there.

It’s gripping viewing right from the start, in part because the storytelling displays a confidence that you don’t always see in mystery-heavy series like this. It’s not just that it feels like the show already knows the answers to the big questions; it feels like the pathway to those answers is clear – to the showrunners, if not the characters themselves.

With no idea of their real identities, the crew decide to name themselves in the order they woke up. There are a few twists here; One (Marc Bendavid) turns out to be the group’s moral conscience early on, while it’s the more pragmatic Two (Melissa O’Neil) who becomes the group’s leader. Three (Anthony Lemke) is the all-action tough guy who’s quick with the one-liners, while the sword-swinging Four (Alex Mallari Jr.) is your quiet but deadly warrior type. Five (Jodelle Ferland) is a teenage girl who has visions seemingly linked to the others, and Six (Roger Cross) is the ship’s all-rounder.

There’s also the ship’s android, helpfully named The Android (Zoie Palmer), who initially tries to attack them, but has a (slightly) more sociable personality after she’s deactivated and reset. Her attack is an early sign of just how hostile the situation they’ve found themselves in is. They’re promptly attacked by another spaceship before arriving at their pre-programmed destination: an independent mining colony under attack from powerful corporate interests. But was the Raza and its crew sent there to help them, or wipe them out?

Part of what makes Dark Matter so satisfying to watch is the way that it doesn’t let questions pile up. Some of the mysteries in the first episode are answered later in the same episode; others turn out to be questions that hang over the first season, and sometimes over the show’s entire three season run.

And no sooner are some questions answered than new ones come to the fore. What’s going on behind that mysterious locked door? Why is there a murdered teenage boy in the cargo hold? And most importantly of all, it’s clear that it was one of the six who tampered with their stasis pods and wiped their memories – but which one and why?

It’d be entertaining viewing even if it was just a bunch of misfits in a spaceship going it alone against a harsh and uncaring galaxy (it’s worked for everything from Blake’s 7 to Firefly). But at the heart of Dark Matter is an exploration of the conflict between who we are and who we want to be. It seems only natural for the crew to want to find out who they once were. But what if it turns out they don’t like who those people were?

Across the course of Dark Matter’s three seasons, the nature of identity is constantly examined and subverted. It doesn’t take long for the crew to discover who they were when they boarded the Raza, but it’s no spoiler to reveal that not all of them were telling all of the truth when they joined up. Characters who thought they were one thing discover they were something else: it’s a great way to spin off subplots, but it also underlines that what’s really important about them is who they are right now.

There are also space zombies and an encounter with a sexbot (played by Ruby Rose!) and some thought-provoking science fiction ideas mixed in with big space battles and plenty of corporate scheming. Even when they figure out their place in the galaxy, often that place is on the run or fighting a long list of bounty hunters, former bosses, bandits and even family who want them dead.

As the show develops in the first season, the crew are given more and more reasons to distrust each other, to the point where it’s hard to know whether the greatest threat to them lies outside the ship or within. If they can’t stick together against a galaxy full of people out to kill them, what chance do they have?

All three seasons of Dark Matter are ready to explore at SBS On Demand.

Follow the author here: @morrbeat

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