UPDATE: We've added a gallery of exclusive concept art, showing off early designs of Dark Matter's spacecraft. Check it out below the interview.
For sci-fi fans who've been lamenting the drought of space-based episodic storytelling on television, hold onto your thrusters, because it's baaaaaaaaaaack! Syfy has several new shows framed around crews on spaceships, the first -- Dark Matter -- landing tonight at 10/9c.
Created by longtime Stargate TV universe writers and executive producers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie, Dark Matter is based on their own limited-run Dark Horse comic book of the same name. A twisty mystery, the series opens up with six humans waking up on a Phantom Class Marauder spaceship with no memory of who they are or what they're doing on the massive vessel.
From his production offices in Toronto, Joseph Mallozzi took a break from editing to enthusiastically talk about the long process of actually getting Dark Matter greenlit and crafting a story that doesn't take space so seriously, as well as the familiar sci-fi faces audiences can expect to see in Season 1.
Dark Matter as a comic book was published in 2012, but when did the actual kernel of the concept come to you?
Joseph Mallozzi: I've been sitting on this project for eight to 10 years. I was developing this show all the way back to Stargate: Atlantis, thinking, as soon as it wraps, I'll roll right into Dark Matter. But we kept getting picked up! By the 10th season on SG-1, I thought it was for sure when we would get picked up and then we did not. But having decades of development has let us flesh out the details and the stories and characters.
Since it got passed on as a series, why take it to the comic-book realm?
I got my start in development, so I'm a realist. I know that original ideas are so hard to sell, however if you are working off an established property, that makes it all the more enticing to buyers. Essentially, we went out to Dark Horse and pitched to them the idea, and they loved it.
Three years later, it's now the TV series you always intended, but how much of the show is based on the comic-book narrative that you crafted?
The first two episodes are pretty much the pilot we envisioned: dialogue for dialogue, line for line and almost shot for shot. A fan actually put up [online] a comparison of [the character] Three standing in front of these big metal doors and then a frame from the show, which is exact. So if you read the first two issues, that's what you will see in the pilot. The second episode covers the third and fourth issues, but they differ in some regard. There is more character detail in the episode and little additions. Like in terms of production concerns, the Wild West colony is more of a gritty mining community. But as of Episode 3, all bets are off, and it's all new stories.
The pilot episode is very ship-based and creates this air of claustrophobia for the characters. Will that be an ongoing aesthetic for the series?
The first episode is about the seven characters, the ship and a sense of mystery. Episode 2 opens things up in a fun way. One of the great things about Stargate was that every episode was like a mini-movie. You could be on the ship, or a forested planet another day, or a research facility another day. Essentially we have that with research facilities, a forested world, a mining community and more, so we want to offer up a great visual mix. We don't want the claustrophobia of always being in the ship. We'll get out and see different sites and worlds.
[Spoilers ahead] Let's go back to the characters. We meet them waking up on the ship, and in fact they name themselves based on the order in which they wake, because each of them has amnesia?
Yes! One of the things I love about the show is that audience knows as much as our characters know. As we progress, we know who the crew are, but we will have individual stories as well. There are some secrets that our characters may not share with the rest of the crew, but the audience will be privy to everything every step of the way. It's a clean slate for everyone, including the audience.
The pilot reveals the characters via their personality quirks until we finally get some real context by episode's end. What does this format allow you to explore as a storyteller?
I love to take on, I won't say reprehensible, but certainly sketchy characters, and redeem them. There's a great opportunity for that in this show, where we have seven very, very different characters. I've been thinking about this for years, and I have all of their journeys mapped out. You talk about nature versus nurture. Are you born bad, or a product of your environment? There are no easy answers, and it's different for different people. Some will succeed, and some will fail. It won't be a happy ending for everybody, much as it is in real life. Hopefully fans will get a kick out of that.
Talk about the cast, and what they bring to the table.
For the most part, I haven't worked with anyone in the cast. Melissa O'Neil, as Two, I describe as raw for television. She's incredibly talented, but this is her first TV show, yet she has a commanding presence. Anthony Lemke (Lost Girl) is Three, and essentially our Han Solo type. He is very experienced and brilliant. Alex Mallari Jr. is Four, and this is his first big gig. Zoie Palmer (Lost Girl) and Roger R. Cross (24) are veterans, but I've never worked with either of them. Jodelle Ferland (Monster), who plays Five, is the only one I've had the opportunity to work with. About 10 years, ago on an episode of Stargate: Atlantis called "Harmony," she played a spoiled princess, and I always remembered her performance. Now eight years later, we cast her in a very different role, and she's still brilliant.
Zoie plays the android who initially tries to wipe out the humans, but then becomes their liaison to the ship. Is she going to be all about the logic, or are their surprises with her personality?
Zoie plays a very different character from any android you've seen. We play with the archetypes like the logic but, on the other hand, she has an emotional subroutine that makes her childish at times, petty and sometimes arrogant. She's very endearing.
It's also clear that she's not in a position of superiority amongst these people, because they wipe her brains, too?
I love doing thematic parallels. So you have the crew that wakes up with no memories of who they are or how they got on board. Then, they get attacked by this android and, in order to make her more complacent, they have to reboot her, so she's essentially in the same boat they are, because she has no memories. [Laughs]
Will she eventually get a name?
In the writers' room, it was Paul Mullie, myself and Martin Gero, who is now running Blindspot for NBC, and we debated it. At the heart of the show is this idea of identity and who we are, and are people able to change. At the top of episode two, right after the big reveal, everyone leaves and it's just Two and Zoie's android. The android asks a question using Two's name, Portia. She says, "Don't call me that. It's not my name anymore. It's Two." From that point on, those are their designations of One through Six. It's interesting how quickly the actors have taken on their personae names. The same with the android, we just keep that her name in Season 1. Who knows if it will change in Season 2.
How important is the ship going to be to the narrative?
The ship is very much a character, so I wanted to make sure it looked great, and it does look great. There are very few ship-based shows, and fans are hungry for it, as well as a show with a sense of humor. Tonally, the stuff we did with Stargate: Atlantis is like this. Dark Matter will be darker, but always maintain that sense of humor, which goes such a long way to humanizing the characters and allowing the audience to connect with them on a personal level.
You've drafted quite a few Stargate actors for recurring and guest roles in Dark Matter. Are they playing against type?
Yes, we have actors from the SG universe like Torri Higginson, who is a very different character from Weir, or David Hewlett, who is very different from McKay. We also have Wil Wheaton, who was fantastic as a delightfully creepy character. Chloe Rose came up from Orange Is the New Black and did an episode, which is so much fun.
Is this going to be a serialized or more stand-alone, mission-based show?
The type of shows I've always loved are the one where you watch with one eye on the screen and one eye on the clock, going, "I can't believe there's only three minutes left!" And then, after you have to talk to other fans and can't wait for next week, so that's the kind of show we wanted to structure. Having said that, there are serialized elements and twists and turns, but each episode has a beginning, middle and end. I'm hoping it's the best of both worlds. Fans who invest will be rewarded, because we know exactly where we are going. We have the five-year plan.
How would you categorize the show?
At the end of the day, the operative word is that the show is fun. If you like Stargate, Firefly or Guardians of the Galaxy, then this is a ship-based show, sci-fi and a lot of fun.