British sci-fi is possibly among the best in the world, simply for the fact that it focuses on storytelling — substance over style. I am looking at you Doctor (Who? Just ‘The Doctor’) but it would be quite indecent to bypass the oldest of academician in BritTV sci-fi: Professor Bernard Quatermass. Thoroughly human, yet living adventures equally as mysterious as the alien Timelord, he is in fact by many considered to be the superior of the two academicians (besides, his PhD is real). For those unfamiliar with this scientific Sherlock Holmes, his serials, movies and TV specials have been around since the early 50s — with the last installment in 2005 — making him actually the predecessor of the Timelord Doctor and is often cited as a direct inspiration and influence on the Doctor Who series. In fact, throughout the Doctor Who run they often referenced Quatermass and once even tried to make a crossover that failed due to copyright issues. While the impact Quatermass had on pop culture was nowhere near as successful as the other Doctor, his stories carry a charm that is undeniable to true sci-fi lovers. For any fan of the more complex Doctor Who mysteries, Quatermass is the next logical step.
And Quatermass is no doubt the inspiration behind Pioneer One, a Canadian made-for-streaming web show that focuses on a scientific mystery. It’s produced and distributed online through VO.DO and the DISCO network. It’s been downloaded almost 2,000,000 times and was the winner for Best Drama Pilot at the 2010 New York Television Festival.
Alike Quatermass it has a slow burn that keeps you hooked, and alike Quatermass each episode deepens the mystery. The acting is top-notch for the most part, as are the production values. The budget was minimal — the show is independently produced and financed with viewer donations — but like Quatermass before it, the story lies in the characters, the strange mystery and the reaction of the characters to the mystery. No doubt this is one of the higher quality web shows out there, and the love and dedication these creators gave it is mesmerizing. The show is thoroughly enjoyable if you love the slow-burn mystery entertainment. Don’t ever expect action along the lines of Doctor Who or even bumpy forehead-aliens. The story remains grounded in science, but still retains a level of suspense and mystery that harkens back to Quatermass.
But it needs to be said that Pioneer One is no substitute for Quatermass — although it would be unfair to say that it has to be. The characters are not as spellbinding as the good Professor and while the occasional banters and comedic give-and-takes do carry a charm, it does lag behind Quatermass story-wise.
My only beef with the show is the depth of the mystery. Each episode of a Quatermass serial would deepen the mystery with another strange and outlandish plot-twist, one weirder than the next, and each carrying its own issues and problems. Quatermass And The Pit is a prime example of a story that begins with a simply incident (the finding of a few bones) and gradually climaxes in a global incident (a near-annihilation of half of humanity by the other half), getting deeper and deeper and more complex. Shows like ‘Lost’ took their cues from this, yet Quatermass still makes a lot more sense.
Pioneer One does too, but I can’t help but feel disappointed at the fact that I can sum up the entire story and give away all of the plot-twists in just a few words. Most of the six half-hour episodes are filled with minor political intrigue among the characters that seems unnecessary and only distracts from the mystery. While in Quatermass the politics rode shotgun and the twists drove the plot, here it is the other way around.
That is not to say the mystery in Pioneer One isnt a good one. As I’ve said, the plot, story, characters, production, etc are great, and for anyone who enjoys slow-burn mysteries, a gem.
Burn Don’t Simmer
The problem is the burn often feels like a simmer, and it could be this over-snail-pace and lack of more plot-twists that may have lost a lot of viewers, refusing the show the success it deserves. A shame really. But in effect, this 3-hour movie (6 ep @ 30 min each) could have benefited a lot by cutting its story-length in half by foregoing some of the blabla and deepening the mystery. By the end of the show I still felt some of the questions had not been answered adequately, and much like some young Russian guy I had been left hanging. In space. Alone.
Oops, did I already give away a plotpoint? 😉