Pioneer One

Pioneer one is an Internet only Science Fiction series currently in production and with a somewhat infrequent release schedule…but when new episodes do come out they are worth watching. The series is distributed, mainly, via the American VODO network and utilises the BitTorrent P2P file sharing system to power its downloads.

Pioneer One relies on public donations to fund its production costs and, thus, has to manage with a budget that traditional productions companies would consider to be laughable…just as well then that all the actors and crew donate their time to it rather than being paid. The pilot episode was made for $6,000 and it won the award for Best Drama at the New York Television Festival with subsequent episodes having a budget of less than $10,000 each.

The premise of the series, thus far, is that American telemetry detects the arrival of a spacecraft coming to Earth from Outer Space and spewing a wake of radiation over rural Montana prior to coming in to crash land in Canada. This last point being highly inconvenient for the American Government who wish to take charge of the situation but have to do a deal with their Northern cousins and agree to a shared authority in the matter…worse still when they find that the debris of the capsule contains a human and he’s a Russian judging by the spacesuit he is wearing. At first the Americans had thought the landing to be a terrorist attack…some kind of “dirty bomb”…so their initial reaction was to deploy less than sympathetic forces but soon enough the pilot of the spacecraft is put in the care of more reasonable Americans and Canadians…though the Russians begin to catch on to some of what has happened and wish to be involved…as of episode three they aren’t involved yet.

Prolonged time in space has made the pilot suffer a high dose of cosmic radiation and he has cancer as well as being so traumatised he is mentally shut down. A note, written in Russian, is found at the site of the crash landing and it says that the pilot is the child of cosmonauts living at a base on Mars. The capsule is found to be a cold war era device and may be the remains of a long forgotten mission.

Speculation ensues and the most plausible theory put forward is that the Mars expedition was in similar form to a speculative idea put forward to NASA some time ago whereby a mission is sent to Mars with no return fuel and minimal supplies but with knowledge and equipment such that it might “live off the land” and replenish fuel reserves prior to a return leg.

So, enough plot and onto a review of the series. The low budget is noticeable in that scene changes can be jarring. In a typical TV production a director might show a cast member entering a room and give an, all be it minimal, view of a hallway or corridor but on this budget such extra set design would cost too much and, thus, we see almost no such character entrances giving a feeling that the characters almost teleport themselves into place. It took me a while to analyse why the scene changes seemed jarring but I think it’s this feeling of snapping characters from one spot to another that may be the root of it. Lighting is primitive at best and leaves some of the scenes with an almost 1970’s feel to them.

There is clearly no budget for special effects, absolutely none! This lack of monies means that the series has to talk about items rather than to show them on camera leading to a very “wordy” script. Seeing as I’m a Brit it especially reminds me of a low-budget, but at the time much loved, ancient BBC Sci-Fi series called Quatermass…they could almost have been made by the same crew and written by the same writers.

Due to the extremely low budget every set and every costume on the series is spartan…even the Spartans would be hard-core extra fundamentalist spartan were there some odd, and highly improbable, need to show an ancient Greek character.

The series can be a little slow to develop its major plot arc but it is well enough written and written by writers who love what they are doing, as one might expect given the lack of payments. While the actors may not be top calibre (and not every character is all that believable) they put their all into it and turn out an ensemble cast piece that is a credit to them. There is no real main star in the line up but the unselfish way in which actors bolster up one another’s performances makes for an overall excellent job…well done to them all. If you can trim your expectations to deal with the fact that this is an extreme low budget piece you won’t be too disappointed.

The overall impression I have of the series is that its deficiencies are all fairly minor and that the final product is enjoyable but not of a production quality one would find with regular broadcast matter. The premise of the tale is one I’ve not seen attempted before and it’s carried off with some considerable aplomb.

Visit the Pioneer One website for download details and other information:

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