Reviewed by: Jane Fae

"On the plus side, this is a series targeted at a young audience, and it might just fill a niche of sorts." | Photo: The CW

Pandora is not Star Trek. Nor Farscape, or Lexx. Not even – and I say this as someone who never quite saw the point of that franchise: not even Battlestar Galactica.

No. Think Famous Five do Space Academy with sets that make Blake’s Seven seem, by comparison, as permanent and stable as Stonehenge and lashings of mostly vanilla rumpy-pumpy and some decidedly questionable ethics. Yes, one character has taken the meaning of pansexual to new heights, by sleeping with anyone and everyone, boy, girl, human or alien in pretty much any combination conceivable. Yet her current partner, in shot immediately after a night of fashion, is hopping round his own student bedroom with an entire duvet wrapped round his bits.

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And while pretty much any form of sexual coupling appears now to be allowed (it is 2199, after all), it still turns out that being married is the epitome of sexual responsibility. Who knew? Unless it turns out that your wife was spying for the aliens, in which case, just shoot her. Because no one will mind. Much.

As for the couplings of another significant and mysteriously long-lived character, one can’t help thinking that the scriptwriters did not quite think through the implications of them sleeping first with one of the big baddies of the show and then…with his daughter. “Gracious,” as the children of another era might just have said.

The premise of the show is simple enough. A young woman, Jacqueline “Jax” Zhou (Priscilla Quintana) just happens to be out hiking on a remote frontier planet, when a spaceship drops buy and genocides everyone else. Including her parents.

What’s a girl to do? Nothing other than enrol at the Space Training Academy where, happily, her closest surviving relative, Professor Osborn (Noah Huntley), just happens to be an honoured faculty member. Though it seems the academic workload has grown considerably lighter in 2199, since he does not appear to do anything so menial as lecture or teach - mostly because he is too busy being spy master to a pan-galactic intelligence agency. Think The Famous Five's Uncle Quentin, but with serious attitude and homicidal tendencies.

We know he’s a master strategist because everyone keeps saying he is. And because he plays chess. Characters sitting playing chess with him is used rather too frequently as metaphor for what is going down in each episode. Though the fact he has one of those fancy sets in which pieces resemble fabulous beasts, suggests an approach to the game that is more dilettante than serious. “Check mate, professor!”

Still, Jax swiftly settles down, establishing as diverse and eclectic a bunch of “homies” as it is possible to imagine. This time, think Star Trek run by teen/YA crew, but with all of the colours, and ALL of the sexualities. Including Ralen (Ben Radcliffe), son of the Zatarian ambassador, and a bit of an oddball (yes: he’s the Spock clone), who is either at the Academy to encourage reconciliation between his species and humans – or a dirty lying commy spy bastard. Also Pilar (Banita Sandhu), whose nano implants make her something of a cross between human and machine. (Data derivative, anyone?). Not forgetting Xander (Oliver Dench), the duty-bound special agent, whose main function seems to be to hang about making puppy eyes at Jax (Timmy? Really.)

As for backdrop, Earth and Zatar are still licking their wounds from a war that left both of them a bit tattered. There is the evil Parallax Corporation that would like nothing better than to restart the war because it is profitable. And the Hypatia syndicate, whose role is not entirely clear, but are a lot like the Mafia would be if it consisted entirely of young female models. There is a mysterious alien race out there whose intentions, apart from killing everyone they meet, are mostly unclear.

There is the mystery of who or what Jax really is. Also Pandora’s box, which did provide me one moment of gob-smacked hilarity. For some reason, I had convinced myself Pandora was nickname for Jax. So I pretty much spilt my tea when one character, Ralen’s dad, asked the Prof what he really wanted, and the Prof responded: “I want what is in Pandora’s box!” Fnaar!

And, of course, like all good adventuring quintets, our chums retire at the end of each episode to the Black Hole, proof positive that whatever else may change in two centuries, student bars do not.

The first series, out now on box set, runs to 13 episodes of approx 40 minutes apiece. It likely will not surprise you to discover that a majority of critics hated it for the plots, the dialogue, the effects. Well, let’s face it: they hated it. It is not hard to see why. The concept of a bunch of pesky kids bunking off lectures to warp it large round the galaxy , while taking on alien empires and evil megacorps with little more than phasers (set to kill!) is utterly ludicrous. Much like the fact that every single relationship ongoing rapidly descends into tragicomic love triangle.

The characterisation is wooden, the thinking bizarre. Like hey (minor spoiler), Ralen is always going to get hazed for being a dirty lying, etc. But after facing a court martial for allegedly sabotaging an inter-galactic battle cruiser, it’s straight back to the Black Hole and student indifference.

On the plus side, this is a series targeted at a young audience, and it might just fill a niche of sorts. Also, while individual episodes are ludicrous, it does grow on you. Just who are these aliens? Who is Jax really? And what does Pandora keep in her box?

Not a masterpiece, by any means. But…”mostly harmless”.

Reviewed on: 28 May 2020
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Science-fiction series about a young woman who enrols at Earth's Space Training Academy.


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