The Sci Fi channel became Syfy last night, with a network presentation to the press and advertisers that featured many of the channel’s new and recurring shows — and a screening of the series finale of Battlestar Galactica. Emblematic of BSG‘s traditional secrecy, Ron Moore led the screening audience through an oath not to reveal any spoilers about the last episode (backed up by NBC Universal reps making us sign little bits of paper to the same effect) so I can’t reveal anything about what to expect beyond a promise that it’s a wild ride that’s going to spark a lot of discussion. Check back with Science Not Fiction on Friday after the finale airs, and we’ll have excerpts from the Q&A that followed, featuring producers Moore and David Eick, as well leading cast members Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos, where we get some more answers about the deep background of the show. We’ll also have an interview with Kevin Grazier, BSG’s science advisor, about some of the science behind the rag tag fleet’s search for home.
If you can’t wait until Friday, come back tomorrow for coverage of tonight’s panel discussion at the United Nations, where the Battlestar crew will be joined by high level UN representatives to talk about the show’s take on human rights, terrorism, and reconciliation.
In other news, Eureka is still on track to return to our screens this summer, and the next season of Sanctuary is getting stuck into production this Monday. I’m also looking forward to Warehouse 13, which is set to premiere this summer and looks like a lot of fun.
Sanctuary finished up its first 13-episode run last Friday in classic cliffhanger fashion, with humanity on the verge of a war with the mostly hidden population of abnormals. The show had a strong first season (personally, the show had me when it brought on Nikola Tesla as a character. Tesla frequently makes cameos on science fiction shows as some kind of genius who turns out to be a century or two ahead of his time, but making him a vampire on top of everything else was a master stroke.) But turning back to the premiere, and the premise, of the show, there was an early scence where Helen Magnus, the central character of Sanctuary, tries to describe what she does to her bemused soon-to-be-protege Will Zimmerman. She claims to be a student of teratology, which she explains as the science of monsters. Now, in his recently published book Freaks of Nature: What Anomalies Tell Us about Development and Evolution, Mark S. Blumberg takes us on a tour of real-life teratology, and how understanding abnormalities is casting new light on the relationship between the genetic and non-genetic forces that shape us all.
The last episode of Sanctuary revolved around the test of aerosolized biological weapon targeted at abnormals, the extraordinary creatures that are the show’s raison d’etre. Science Not Fiction commented recently on some of difficulties involved in creating effective bioweapons, and the choice of an aerosol-based delivery mechanism by Sanctuary’s writers is spot on. The particular biological agent in question is a designer prion, and a nasty little buggers they are indeed.
Normally on Sanctuary, the action focuses on so-called abnormals, sentient creatures who either belong an entirely different species to homo sapiens, or who are human beings that are born with genetic mutations. Last Friday night’s episode was a little different: a shadowy group was kidnapping down and outs, injecting them with a drug that caused normal humans to transform into abnormals. In other words, cause their adult bodies to undergo the same kind of developmental changes that would happen to a natural abnormal in the womb (or, in this show’s case, possibly in the egg or chrysalis). Although not focused on developing an army of pliable thugs, the basic idea—changing the genetic cards that an organism was dealt at conception–is the goal of real researchers working on gene therapy, which is popping up all over the place in science fiction these days: for more on the actual science check out Science Not Fiction’s earlier post when Stargate Atlantis took a different tack on the same topic.
We’re a few weeks into the fall season, when new shows are either picked up for a full season — or join the ranks of the cancelled. So which shows are a franchise-in-waiting and which shows have had their brief lives snuffed out? Sci Fi Wire has the complete list, but here at SNF, we’re glad to see Sanctuary has done well, and Eleventh Hour appears to be pulling its weight.
On Friday’s episode of Sanctuary, Magnus and her team were faced with tracking down a thief with the ability to squeeze into the narrowest of spaces. Suspicious of a pipe that may have been used to make a getaway, our intrepid heroes break out a ROV — remotely operated vehicle — to peer where they can not.
Amanda Tapping is tall, which was a surprise to me, even though I’ve been watching her performance as Samantha Carter on the Stargate franchise for years. I suspect the kind of framing that has enabled Tom Cruise to gaze down at his various female leads. I got the chance to discover the truth about Tapping’s height last night at a preview screening for her new show, Sanctuary, which airs tonight at 9/8c on the Sci Fi channel.
The last installment in the amazingly brilliant Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog will be released at midnight tonight, and all three installments will be free to watch for a further 24 hours. After that, if you want to watch it, you’ll have to buy it from iTunes (and at a grand total of $3.99 for the whole ‘season’, let’s not hear any whining about corporate-overlord-price-inflation as a justification for piracy), or wait for the DVD which promises to be jam packed with extras, such as a musical commentary track.
For those who haven’t yet seen it, Dr. Horrible is a musical starring Neil Patrick Harris in the title role as a struggling-but-likeable mad-scientist supervillian. (If you’d told me, pre-Harris’s role in Harold and Kumar Go To Whitecastle, that that description was a recipe for filmmaking genius I would have thought you were mad, but there it is.) Directed by Joss Whedon of Buffy, Angel, and Firefly fame, Dr. Horrible was dreamt up during the recent Hollywood writer’s strike as a way to do something inexpensive but “professionalish” (to quote Whedon) outside the normal studio system.
It’s not the first show to try to drum up a paying audience by going direct to the web — Sanctuary, a show created by a lot of people behind the Stargate franchise, sold high resolution installments of of its pilot episode online, for example (Sanctuary has since been picked up by the Sci-Fi channel, and the Sanctuary website no longer sells downloads). But Dr. Horrible is certainly the most successful, shooting to the top of the iTunes bestseller list, and may represent the tipping point for a new breed of original and clever programming.