I first heard about A for Andromeda in an unlikely, although not surprising, place. I had never heard of the original 1961 television series for two reasons, first, one can blame the fact that I am American and was born in 1982, secondly, one can look to the loss of most of the original program via the old BBC “who gives a crap” archival policy on filmed material. This was the very same policy that destroyed countless old Doctor Who episodes and many other historically important shows. There was a Documentary on a DVD set called Lost in Time, in which orphaned Doctor Who episodes were pulled together so that they could be released in some way. This documentary filled me in on this “junking” situation and mentioned more things lost forever, including a show called A for Andromeda, touted as being one of the first BBC science fiction programs. I must have gone to Wikipedia or some such, as I had quickly discovered that a remake was out there….and here we are.
The serial opens with a “zooming in on the earth” shot eerily similar to the one from Rose, a 2005 episode of the resurrected Doctor Who. This shot was re-used on that show, and its spinoffs, countless times in the last few years; this really makes me wonder if the BBC had to keep using it for some reason. Like maybe the BBC spent a ton of money for it and needed to make ends meet by using it hundreds of times? Maybe a test group rated it the best part of the program so that drove its implementation on every show? I think it’ll be one of the great mysteries of our time.
Much like 2005’s Quatermass Experiment (which I need to review as well), A for Andromeda has an inexpensive look and feel, and yet stays away from a “cheap” appearance. Shows like Hyperdrive go the opposite route and try to look “BIG!” on a budget, and end up looking incredibly dated and cheap in the process. The use of “shaky cams” and small sets gives it a far less cinematic vibe than Doctor Who, but makes each scene interesting. In many cases the camera is right in the middle of dialog, as if you are somehow part of a conversation taking place. This makes the production remind me of an independent film, and makes it more charming in many ways. If you’re one of those people reading this and asking “why should I watch a six-year-old TV special that looks like an indie film?” there might be something of interest here. The main character, John Fleming, is played by none other than a pre-muscular Tom Hardy. It’s almost comical seeing him play a scrawny scientist considering his “tough guy” roles he has been getting lately. This show really proves that he is a very versatile actor, and could easily become a superstar in the future.
The story of A for Andromeda follows a group of scientists that discover a microwave signal coming from the Andromeda Galaxy. Once decoded, this signal is turned into a computer program that could be a huge breakthrough for all mankind – or be its undoing. The plot is a fairly hard science fiction (as in scientifically sound) story without all the bells and whistles that decorate many modern productions. Most British science fiction relies on concepts and dialog rather than sheer spectacle, and I believe this very program is a good case for this distinction between British sci-fi and US sci-fi. While this story is one of the productions biggest strengths, it is also a huge fault in the grand scheme of things.
Hard sci-fi relies on realistic takes on the genre, so one would imagine dialog and concepts that show great care in “keeping it real”. Instead we get material in a similar vein to all those procedural crime dramas on U.S. TV. A scientist pounds on the keyboard, says some technobabble, and *boom* something amazing happens that is truly unrealistic to modern science. It is in this way that while A for Andromeda tries to be “hard sci-fi” it’s really more of a drama – Like sci-fi for the CSI crowd.
I really liked this show despite its over-simplification of things, and it’s resemblance to a type of TV that I really do not enjoy. The acting is great, the direction is good considering the budget, and the actors involved all do a great job. For me, the highlight really was seeing Tom Hardy playing something different from a gangster or assassin, and fans of his should really check this out.