Gene Roddenberry’s Andromeda will never be regarded as a classic TV space opera. Yet, to dismiss it as merely a Star Trek clone would be to ignore the fact that no show lasts five seasons without having some merit. 16 years after it first aired Andromeda has become an object of Noughties nostalgia but it’s weaknesses conceal hints that it could have taken Roddenberry’s signature sci-fi themes in intriguing new directions.
Andromeda’s debt to Star Trek is most evident in the Systems Commonwealth, a redressed United Federation of Planets that is built on another Trek trope: the tension between passion and progress (the latter is represented here by a genetically engineered race called the Nietzscheans). The twist is that this utopia fails in the first episode after the Nietzscheans do a Brexit and bring it down in a fit of jingoism.
This anarchic scenario is topical given the current real-world upsurge in intolerance but don’t expect Andromeda to say much that’s meaningful about that. What the show does do is put a Roddenberry-like positive spin on its formulaic elements. For example, the crew of the titular starship initially includes two strong women, a member of a hostile alien race and a Nietzschean. Ultimately, none of these characters is particularly memorable because the scripts don’t stretch them enough. Their combined efforts, however, carry the implicit message that there is value in setting aside differences for a greater cause.
The spirit of optimism is also at the heart of Andromeda‘s underlying premise. “On the Starship Andromeda, hope lives again”, declares Kevin Sorbo’s character, Captain Dylan Hunt, over the first two seasons’ opening credits. Finding himself projected 300 years into the future courtesy of a black hole, Hunt echoes Don Quixote in his noble but absurd quest to recreate “the greatest civilisation in history”. You can buy into it, though, thanks as much to Sorbo’s enthusiasm as his acting skills.
Had Andromeda’s producers stayed this course, Hunt and his crew might have made a bigger impact on the public’s consciousness. Unfortunately, Star Trek alumnus Robert Hewitt Wolfe gave up his showrunner role during the second season due to creative differences and thereafter the series stalled.
The biggest mistake of the post-Wolfe period was allowing Hunt to fulfil his improbable dream at the end of Season 2. With the Commonwealth restored, the series in general, and Hunt in particular, are robbed of their purpose. That’s not to say that each season doesn’t have well-written episodes or outstanding guest stars but these get fewer as time goes on.
For an independent show with a low budget, Andromeda builds up a complex mythology but its treatment of time travel is haphazard and the FX and make-up are a mixed bag. The Andromeda Ascendant is an impressive-looking ship inside and out. Conversely, though, the animation for slipstream, the show’s equivalent of FTL, looks like something from a shampoo advert and the recurring Magog – a furry race with fearsome bat-like faces – resemble Wombles from the neck down.
Like the series it showcases, this Blu-ray box-set is not everything fans of space opera were probably hoping for. The special features are lifted from previous DVD releases and there is no fresh material to sweeten the pill for anyone who owns the two seasons that are already available in HD. Still, due to Andromeda’s weaknesses and its concomitantly limited fanbase, this is probably the best we can ask for.