Around 22 years ago, in a small barber shop in Edinburgh, you could just make out Oasis’s new single Wonderwall playing through echoes of loud, hysterical laughter. The laughter was aimed at a 10-year-old me and was coming from my Dad and the hairdresser who I’d just asked to make me look like Fox Mulder.
It was 1995, which was a fantastic year for television. People were rushing home from work and school to catch classics like ER, Friends, multiple Star Trek series, NYPD Blue and of course the X-Files. It was everything this suburban milky bar kid needed in a TV show. It was scary, full of weird paranormal mysteries, conspiracies, and had FBI agents. I fucking loved it.
One night I was watching The Simpsons on our newly acquired Telewest Cable, when an advert appeared that made me spray my Angel Delight (not an odd sexual metaphor I promise) all over the place in excitement.
Space: Above and Beyond – it had space battles, colonial marines, aliens and was from the producers of the X-Files. I lost my mind, I literally jumped up and down on the spot, “I need this show” I screamed, “I ache for it”. My parents looked at each other in disbelief, there was discussion around the amount of sugary dessert products I was eating and talk of limiting my exposure to television. “Calm down and stop being a wee fud” came the eventual fatherly advice.
Set in the year 2063 it followed members of the US Marine Corp Space Aviator Cavalry 58th Squadron, the “Wildcards”. Planet Earth, led by the UN, in the belief that it was completely alone in the universe, had started setting up colonies on far away planets with the support of a shadowy corporation, Aero-Tech. One of these colonies was attacked by unknown aliens which leads to war.
The pilot episode drew me in from the start, it had amazing visual effects (for the time, remember it’s 1995) and an interesting world to build multiple story arcs from. We met humans who had navels on their necks called “In Vitro’s” that were bred in tanks to fight and serve as manual labourers. It had a small part for R. Lee Ermey (Gunnery Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket) and a training mission to mars. On this training mission our main cast come face to face with the alien antagonists of the show the Chigs (they look like chigoe fleas). It was 2 hours of sheer joy for me and I knew immediately it was something special.
As the series developed so did the characters. We witnessed them going from green rookies to hardened veterans as they experienced the horrors of war and the constant threat of being massacred by an enemy who appeared to be unstoppable. The Chigs were a terrifying enemy, for almost of all the series we knew nothing about them, they appeared merciless and often committed atrocities such as mutilating bodies of fallen soldiers and killing the wounded. They were clad in armour and we never even got a glimpse of what was underneath until the very end.
Star Trek aliens these were not. Glen Morgan and James Wong created truly Alien creatures that appeared to be nothing like us. Their bodies dissolved on contact with our atmosphere and at one point a captured Chig committed suicide by convincing one of our marines to give it a drink of water.
We learned from a colonist who had taken refuge in a burial cavern in one episode that the Chig fear their dead. A minor clue to their culture which also explains why they mutilate fallen humans. They had intercepted transmissions from earth and had taken our concept of an afterlife literally, they were convinced that fallen human soldiers were going to come back to life. We were as terrifying and alien to them as they were to us.
As well as mysterious space aliens the show also had“Silicates”, robotic humans who were created to act as everything from Soldiers to entertainers. They were infected with a simple virus that dared them to take a chance, leading to the AI wars 20 years prior to the Chig War, and the creation of In Vitro’s. These robots were more 90’s than MC Hammers parachute pants, they had cross hairs for eyes and massive hair styles. They gave off unsettling bleeping sounds, a signal that they send and receive almost like a radio transmission. I’m fairly sure the make up artists at one point had just sticky taped a stick of computer memory to the face of one of the actors, but at the time I was mesmerised by how unsettling they looked.
They were a key part of the 58th’s team leader Shane Vansen’s story arc. Her parents were in the Marine Corp and were murdered by Silicates while her and her little sister cowered in the attic of their family home. The Silicates lack emotion but completely understand how to use it to their advantage, relying on savage murders or terrorist attacks instead of directly fighting humans during the AI war. At one-point Vansen forced a captured Silicate to reveal why they attacked her family home, revealing it was on the toss of a coin. The Silicates were eventually defeated with the remnants fleeing into space before we find them aligned with the Chigs.
Space: Above and Beyond was like nothing I had ever watched before. It wasn’t scared to explore extremely dark themes like cowardice, fear, revenge and PTSD. It did not glorify the war it was showing, often characters were terrified and forced to go to extreme lengths to survive. For most of the season the humans are on the back foot and losing. It was bleak, gritty and far, far ahead of its time. It lasted one season.
Fox cancelled the show citing low viewer ratings as the reason and leaving it on an absolute cliff hanger. We are left with most of the main characters injured or dead and a massive counter attack by the Chigs leaving the success of the whole war in doubt. When I read it was cancelled I was absolutely gutted.
If ever there was a show crying out for a reboot it is Space: Above and Beyond. TV audiences tastes have changed and people enjoy complex, political and dark television. Modern audiences want Game of Thrones, House of Cards and the superb Black Mirror. I genuinely believe there is a place for this story in today’s television market.
The thought of Band of Brothers in space, created for a modern TV audience has me spraying my Angel Delight all over the place.
Space: Above and Beyond is available from Amazon here