Helix E1-2 (Channel 5)

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It’s been a long time since the SyFy Channel has its breakout mainstream hit Battlestar Galactica, and while it has done its best to repeat the success with the likes of Being Human USA and Haven along with last year’s ambitious Defiance, the truth is that the channel will probably actually be best remembered in 2013 for its notorious ‘so bad it’s good’ Z-list creature feature Sharknado. Perhaps as a need to redress the quality balance, SyFy has started the new year with a serious quality drama from executive producer Ronald D Moore, the man behind the BSG success.

helix1The basic story of the 13-part Helix series is that of a team dispatched to investigate a viral outbreak at a remote state-of-the-art scientific station in the Arctic. When they get there, they find something never before seen, a pathogen that turns its hosts into … Well, there’s no easy way of saying this: zombies, albeit the wilful and aggressive fast-moving zombies of the likes of 28 Days Later, World War Z and Zack Snyder’s 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake, not the slowly shuffling variety pioneered by George A Romero still to be found in The Walking Dead.

As well as seeking to tap into the current mania for all things zombie, Helix also cheerfully ransacks a whole slew of other science fiction movie classics. The early episodes and overall setting strongly evoke The Andromeda Strain while the growing sense of paranoia over not knowing who may or may not be infected but yet to show symptoms is very much in the same vein of John Carpenter’s The Thing, also sharing its ice-bound location. There’s a touch of Alien (and all the films it inspired) in the ‘haunted house updated with monsters for ghosts’ mise en scene, and ultimately I was reminded most strongly of all of the TV series The X-Files, which itself was never better than when it was cheerfully purloining from every SF and horror source it could find. In fact Helix rather resembles two episodes of that show in particular (“Ice” and “Firewalker”) as well as that programme’s series arc more generally with its underlying sense of a deadly military and business conspiracy behind the threat. Read the rest of this entry »