A group of female convicts make a run for it across the galaxy in British sci-fi action series Intergalactic, now available to stream on Neon. In a space usually reserved for a certain Doctor, Liam Maguren writes about the ways this show finds new territory.
When it comes to space-travelling British sci-fi shows, Doctor Who’s stranglehold on the market is a lot like Disney’s grip on superhero blockbusters. Showrunners Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat even beat the MCU to the punch by releasing their own crossover event—a dazzling season four finale tying in spinoff shows Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures—in the same year Nick Fury teased The Avengers in 2008’s Iron Man.
With a legacy spanning 58 years, Doctor Who’s dominance hasn’t left much room for other galaxy-hopping UK shows to flourish. However, with both the industry and modern audiences hungry to see more than just straight white guys leading TV, the long-running series contorted itself accordingly by casting a woman as The Doctor and having an openly LGBT+ character as her companion (a first on both accounts).
Intergalactic requires no contortion. Powered by a stacked female ensemble, Sky’s fresh on-the-run sci-fi makes its own space convincingly by putting a diverse cast forward without cynically marketing for Diversity Points.
Set in the year 2143, where global tensions stretch beyond the globe, the show follows straight-laced cop Ash Harper (Savannah Steyn) as she’s wrongly charged for treason. In this futuristic world, corrections facilities still act like many of today’s prisons—very shitty, not that interested in the “corrections” part, and dramatically worse to be a cop behind bars.
The key difference? They send their prisoners to space in a giant ball rocket.
Meanwhile, Harper’s mum Rebecca (ER great Parminder Nagra) and her fellow officers attempt to find the person who framed her daughter. While the culprit (revealed on the very first episode) comes as no surprise, their motive adds a much greater complication to getting Harper back.
To make things worse, Harper’s locked up with Verona (Imogen Daines), the complicated crim she only just arrested. That seems bad enough, but when the other unhinged cellmates pull off a mutiny, things become very hectic very quickly. These rogues include a manic lizard lady (Eleanor Tomlinson), a mysterious masked woman (Natasha O’Keeffe), a girl with Doc Ock dreadlocks (Diany Samba-Bandza), and her “mastermind” mother played by Dune star Sharon Duncan-Brewster—possessor of the galaxy’s most powerful stink-eye.
Yes, the show has a bit of a goofy side, but if you can stomach the talking raccoon with a Boston accent in Guardians of the Galaxy, this world should prove enticing. And there’s a lot of worlds Intergalactic is keen to show off with its handsomely budgeted production being evident right from the opening chase sequence.
That feverish pace never lets up, treating the audiences like tourists on a jet boat ride through this universe. It’s all fuelled and accelerated by the chaos of the situation, with the escaped convicts making impulsive decisions and bad mistakes in ways that remain true to their characters. There’s usually one wild card in these prison escape stories, but here, they’re all wild cards—including Harper.
It must be said: while many in the industry equate Strong Female Characters as heroic and faultless women, it’s damn refreshing to see a series like Intergalactic present Strong Female Characters who are also hugely flawed assholes.
At the risk of bringing up Guardians of the Galaxy again, there’s something oddly alluring about watching a bunch of A-holes in space. Ask any actor out there and they’ll probably talk at length about how much fun it is playing an asshole. That enjoyment can be felt through these performances, with the show’s biggest holes-in-the-ass proving to be the most watchable.
Unlike those Marvel films or Doctor Who, Intergalactic is very willing to splatter blood on the spaceship walls. Better yet, the show’s quite liberal with its swearing—especially of the British variety. And while there’s a lot to be said about Intergalactic being a product of a more liberal and progressive industry, it also gave me visions of more sci-fi fiction where beings from distant solar systems call each other twats.