Turn Back the Clock
Sci-Fi Television Series / DVD Review
Space: Above and Beyond
Produced By: Glen Morgan and James Wong
First Aired On: The FOX Network
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
“We thought we were alone. We believed the universe was ours. Until one night in 2063, on an Earth colony 16 light-years away, they struck. Now we're at war. We fight when called, in space, on land, and at sea. To lose this war means more than defeat; to surrender is to never go home. All of us must rise to the call... above and beyond.”
In 1995, a brilliant new show began on the new FOX Network (Channel 5 for those of us in New York) called Space Above and Beyond. It was a step in a new direction for FOX television, a dramatic science fiction series with special effects that were, at the time, relatively new to television. Space: Above and Beyond, brought to us by the makers of The X-Files, was supposed to be a phenomenal success. However, the show only lasted one season before it got cancelled.
Was the show so horrible that no one watched it? Of course not! Neilson ratings be damned, this show had a cult following that still continues to this day. Fans cried out in disgust when Space: Above and Beyond was removed from the FOX lineup and shouted in glee when it was resurrected in repeats on the Sci-Fi Network. There were hopes that the Sci-Fi Network would take up the series where it left off, like it did with Sliders. However, those hopes never came to fruition, much to die-hard fans’ dismay.
Space: Above and Beyond takes place in the year 2063. The people of Earth had been exploring the universe for over a century and had come to the belief that they were the only beings in the universe. Colonies were begun on new planets and the citizens of these colonies happily accepted the challenges they faced in their new worlds.
Nathan West (Morgan Weisser) and his girlfriend, Kylen Celina (Amanda Douge), were to be a part of the Tellus colony, eager to being their new life together on a brand new world. However, circumstances prevented this dream from coming to fruition and Nathan was forced to give his spot on the Tellus colony ship to an In Vitro, an artificially gestated human. In an effort to be with Kylen any way he can, Nathan signs up with the Marines, hoping to become a colonial sentry.
Shane Vansen (Kristen Cloke) was a military brat, both parents being Marine officers. She was just a child when she was forced to take on responsibility as caretaker to her younger sisters after watching her parents’ brutal murder at the hands of AI (Artificial Intelligence) terrorists. Growing up, Shane knew she was destined to follow in her parents’ footsteps and, after a brief visit to the San Diego military base home where her parents were killed, Shane Vansen heads off to her knew assignment as a boot camp recruit for the Marines.
Cooper Hawkes (Rodney Rowland) was an In Vitro which made him an outcast. Taken from the “tanks” when he was 18 years old, Cooper disagreed with the teachings of the “monitors” assigned to train the In Vitros for service to the human race. Having run away from the In Vitro facility before his instruction was complete, Cooper is ill-prepared for the world and its challenges. Attacked by co-workers, Cooper fights back, only to find himself under arrest for attempted murder of a human. Cooper is sentenced to a stint in the Marine Corps.
Vanessa Damphouse (Lanei Chapman) was a young woman from New York with an uncertain future. Having graduated from Caltech with a degree in Nuclear Physics, Vanessa was uncertain what should come next. She signed up with the Marines in hopes of finding direction in her life.
Paul Wang (Joel de la Fuente) was a sports fanatic from Chicago with a quick wit and admirable sense of humor. He has one flaw – a lack of self-confidence. Perhaps this is the reason he decided to immerse himself in the rigors of military training provided by the Marine Corps. For whatever reasons, Wang embarks on this journey with mixed feelings of dread and excitement for the future.
At times of peace, it is easy for young cadets to take for granted the very rights they joined up to defend. While at boot camp, the various cadets find that they have little in common and often are at odds with one another. However, when word comes that an advanced alien civilization has attacked two Earth colonies, including the Tellus colony that Nathan West was to be a part of, the group rallies together and becomes an efficient and most effective fighting team. Their enemy: the Chigs, an alien civilization with vastly superior technology and a score to settle.
They take to the skies as the 58th Squadron, known affectionately as “The Wildcards,” led by Lt. Shane Vansen. Home base is a battleship known as The Saratoga. Their commanding officer is former Angry Angel, Lt. Colonel T.C. McQueen (James Morrison). The Angry Angels were once the most revered Marine squadron to ever hit space, but they were decimated in battle with the enemy. Lt. Colonel McQueen’s experience and guidance are priceless to the members of The Wildcards, and the fact that such a brave warrior is an In Vitro, comes as comfort to Lt. Copper Hawkes.
Throughout the 23 episodes of Space: Above and Beyond, viewers come to learn more about the personal lives of the members of the 58th Squadron. With each episode, the team becomes a closer unit, eventually becoming the best air/ground Marine squadron in the Corps. As the Marines fight on, friends are made and lost, hearts are broken, fears are faced and bonds are tested, yet, through it all, The Wildcards remain strong. Lessons are learned, some of them harsh and painful, yet all seem to add strength to the integrity of the officers of the 58th Squadron.
The fact that the 58th Squadron was a Marine Corps air/ground unit gave viewers variety. Their heroes weren’t always fighting ground wars with the enemy; there were spectacular dogfights to watch as well. The underlying love story of Nathan and Kylen gave the viewers something to hope for – that Nathan would find his lost love, presumably a prisoner of the Chigs. All of the cast members were happily easy on the eyes, yet it wasn’t the goal of the show’s writers to develop romantic relationships between the Marines. They didn’t want to create a Beverly Hills 90210 in space and they knew that their viewers didn’t want to watch one either.
The relationships that did take place between The Wildcards were that of leadership and friendship, honor and integrity. These were qualities that the viewing public was looking for in heroes. The show was centered on a Marine Corps fighting unit, yet the writers never forgot that their soldiers were human beings with differing personalities and hopes for the future.
Viewers became invested in the characters and their eventual outcomes. For 23 episodes, fans faithfully watched as Shane Vansen became leader of The Wildcards, faced the demons of her past, was promoted to Captain, became an aunt, and laid her life on the line for the people she cared about time and time again. They cheered for Lt. Nathan West as he grew closer to finding Kylen and cried with him as he mourned the loss of his brother. They watched as Lt. Cooper Hawkes grew from a jaded In Vitro to a dedicated soldier who had finally found a family in his Marine fighting unit. They shared Lt. Vanessa Damphouse’s confusion as she began to have strange visions on the battlefield and her pain at learning she had her boyfriend to her best friend, while losing her vision in the battle on the same day. They sympathized with Lt. Paul Wang as he was tortured by the AIs and how that torture affected him deeply throughout his career with the 58th Squadron. They cheered Lt. Colonel McQueen on as he fought to overcome his battle injuries to take on an advanced alien fighter ship whose skill at taking out whole squadrons labeled him the Red Baron of The Chig War.
Fans were so invested in the fates of these heroes of Space: Above and Beyond that, when the show ended the way it did in 1996, few could believe it was actually over. The war hadn’t ended and the fate of some of the characters was yet unknown. Seeing the repeated episodes on the Sci-Fi Channel only made fan outcry more intense. Where they were once able to buy comic books or novelizations of the show, they now had to settle for repeated episodes shown in haphazard order.
Then, in 2005, Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment released a five disc set containing all 23 episodes of Space: Above and Beyond. It was a fan’s dream come true, sold initially for $50.00 and eventually bottoming out at a very reasonable $23.00US. In edition to the 23 episodes which are supplied with brief synopses on the DVD covers complete with air dates, there is a Special Features section. Though fans would probably have liked to see director and actor commentaries, special effects, bloopers and the like, the only special features supplied are TV spots advertising the show and certain specific episodes. This was a tad bit disappointing, but fairly easy to overlook simply because the show was JUST THAT GOOD!!
Science fiction fans will love Space: Above and Beyond for its special effects, attention to detail, multiple storylines and more. Folks who are more story-oriented are going to love the subterfuge and surprises that are revealed along the way. Action, adventure, surprise, a love story without all of the sappiness…what more could anyone ask for! Space: Above and Beyond had it all and then some. Cancelled before its time, at least the episodes have finally been immortalized in DVD format for all the world to see and fall in love with all over again. Rent it, buy it, or just borrow it – after the first couple of episodes of Space: Above and Beyond, you’re bound to be hooked!