In the early 1970s, legendary Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry attempted several times to launch a new sci-fi TV series about the re-building of human civilization after a global nuclear holocaust. The series pilots went under the titles Genesis II, Planet Earth and Strange New World, and the first two remain widely beloved by fans today even though they didn’t lead to any regular series.
Three hundred years later, Hunt is rescued from his captivity (and the effects of time dilation) by a rag-tag scavenge crew that includes Captain Beka Valentine (Lisa Ryder), smart-ass engineer Seamus Zelazny Harper (Gordon Michael Woolvett), mysterious and purple-skinned space nymph, Trance Gemini (Laura Bertram) and a Magog man of God, Rev Beam (Brent Stait).
Upon his release, Hunt soon learns that the Commonwealth has fallen and that the galaxy has slipped into that long night, into a new Dark Ages.
Permanently separated from his beloved fiance, Sarah, Hunt asks the scavengers to join his cause and help bring order to chaos and restore the fallen, futuristic Camelot.
Along for the ride is a Nietzschean mercenary, Tyr Anasazi (Keith Hamilton Cobb), who boasts an agenda and world-view entirely his own.
The story begins when Trance makes a mistake piloting the Andromeda through the faster-than-light slipstream. Her navigational error causes the ship to travel backwards in time three hundred years to the Witch Head Nebula, the location of the climactic battle between the Systems Commonwealth and the Nietzschean Empire.
It was here that the Commonwealth fell. It was here that the Nietzchean Empire splintered. It was after this battle that the Magog found an opening to exploit — a weakened galaxy — and swarmed into Earth’s system.
Suddenly, in what might amount to a “cosmic joke,” Captain Hunt is faced with an unenviable choice. Should he intervene in the battle on the side of the Commonwealth, and attempt to stave off 500 Nietzschean warships? Or, as Tyr suggests, should Hunt intervene on the side of the Nietzschean fleet? By doing the latter, he would enable the Nietzscheans to remain strong enough to fight the Magog to a stand still, thus saving Earth from invasion.
The set-up may remind you a bit of the 1980 sci-fi movie The Final Countdown, which saw the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz travel back in time to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Her skipper had to make a similar decision: either fight the Japanese and change American history, or stay out of the way and let destiny unfold as it was “meant” to.
The commendable thing about Andromeda’s variation on this story is that it focuses very strongly on each character’s perspective about the debate. Harper grew up on a planet Earth ravaged by Magog and Nietzscheans, and claims that the Neitzscheans were far worse. When he sees that Hunt plans to leave the area without interfering in history, Harper secretly assembles a “fusion catalyst” to wipe out the Nietzschean fleet himself.
This is not a strategy you would see Geordi LaForge, for instance, attempting on Star Trek: The Next Generation. But the characters in Andromeda are not mere “aye-aye-sir” subordinates. Rather they are individuals with a point-of-view and agenda that, sometimes, we don’t find appropriate, well-considered, or right.
Meanwhile, Rommie — literally a warship herself — is upset that Dylan has selected to run away when so many other Commonwealth ships are in jeopardy. “I don’t like walking away from a fight,” she establishes, attempting to choose between her sense of loyalty to Dylan and her sense of obligation to her own kind.
Tyr faces the same challenge. If he warns the Nietzscheans of the coming battle at Witch Head, he could change his entire life. The Nietzscheans could remain united instead of splintered into competing, argumentative “prides.” Where does his duty rest in this situation? To the ship he calls home, or to the people who bred him?
These character moments arise organically and intelligently out of the time travel scenario, but then author Wolfe goes further and throws in an interesting narrative twist. The Andromeda is set to leave without interfering, when the Nietzschean fleet shows up not with five hundred warships, but with 1,500 warships. History clearly states that only 500 warships were present at the time of the battle, however, and so Dylan realizes that he is indeed destined to intervene. He must destroy 1,000 Nietzchean warships to maintain the flow of history that Harper, Beka, and the others know and remember.
Despite Dylan’s distaste for the Nietzcheans, the thought of killing 100,000 people in the coming battle sickens him. “Destiny demands your actions,” Rev Beam tells Dylan, indicating that the destruction of those 1000 ships is “God’s will.”
But Dylan isn’t impressed. He notes that human history is filled with incidences of people claiming God’s will as the motivation for terrible crimes such as murder and even genocide. I think it’s pretty terrific how Andromeda reaches this debate about fate/free will, when “Angel Dark, Demon Bright” could have easily been a fairly mechanical, fairly unoriginal “time trap” story instead. But this discussion of how humans reason and make life-altering decisions raises the material to an entirely different plateau. Like the best of Star Trek, suddenly we’re not merely pondering a space adventure, but our own experiences and history here on Earth.
Another, final bit of ingenuity in the narrative involves Tyr’s third act revelation of a Nietzschean legend, one concerning an “angel of death” at the Battle of Witch Head Nebula.
Again, it’s an impressive surprise, a twist on expectations, and proof positive that early Andromeda — though Trek-like — was bound and determined to chart a unique, original course.
I should add as well that the final battle in the nebula is splendidly realized, and done so on an epic scale, as I hope the images in this blog post reveal. The special effects in this action sequence are gorgeous and awe-inspiring.
I’ll be honest: Andromeda is a TV series of highly variable quality. Good episodes are followed by terrible episodes, and vice versa. Some of the alien make-ups are absolutely dreadful, and the sets boast a threadbare, cheap look about them. The performances range from incredibly poor to pretty good. But in the first season, at least, there was some stellar storytelling, as this episode suggests.
Both “Angel Dark, Demon Bright” and one of the following installments, “The Banks of the Lethe” are emotionally-charged human space opera stories that very much outstrip the rote, safe brand of storytelling that the Star Trek franchise was offering at the time on Voyager and then Enterprise.
Andromeda has a lot of rough edges — and a lot of star dreck — but in episodes such as “Angel Dark, Demon Bright,” this Gene Roddenberry-spawned proved itself quite adept at “rekindling” the familiar space opera format and adding several new wrinkles.