Recommendation: National Geographic’s ‘Mars’ Miniseries

Netflix likes to recommend lots of things to me, with varying levels of success. Fortunately, a really successful recommendation recently has been ‘Mars’, a National Geographic-produced series about the colonisation of… well, Mars.

It’s a split between documentary and sci-fi drama. The documentary covers current (or at least, 2016) efforts to advance humanity’s reach across the solar system, whilst the drama covers a fictional colony of Martian settlers twenty years from now, and the challenges and frequent crises they must face as they try to establish a permanent colony.

The documentary is a lot of talking heads and archival footage, so nothing ground-breaking, but it covers a lot of interesting topics, from the economics of space travel and the necessity for cheap, reusable rockets, to the harsh realities of living in space for long periods of time, separated from gravity and loved ones. This section covered Scott Kelly’s twelve-month stay aboard the ISS, and was particularly touching as it covered the strain it put on his relationship with his adolescent daughter.

The dramatic segments are of mixed appeal. Production qualities are high and sets and costumes all look suitably authentic. Sadly, the drama is frequently let down by a distracting amount of “bobblehead syndrome” – several of the lead actors seem incapable of delivering a line without either shaking or nodding their head throughout. The more experienced thesps do a perfectly fine job, particularly Anamaria Marinca, who plays the mission’s exobiologist.

The show also manages a decent stab at representation, with women taking most of the prominent roles of authority. Indeed, the typical all-American white bloke who unsurprisingly commands the mission is replaced by a Korean woman in the second episode, which was unexpected and refreshing.

After four out of six episodes, it’s certainly been enjoyable and interesting in equal measure. The first three episodes lean heavily on tension and danger, but the fourth deals with more domestic concerns, before setting up another major crisis to follow. Fortunately, a second series is coming next year, so the crew should be safe for now.

If Mars colonisation is a topic that interests you, there’s also ‘The Martian’, pretty obviously, as well as the book it was based on, whose author, Andy Weir, appears as one of the interviewees in ‘Mars’. For more hard sci-fi, there’s the Mars trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson, but that emphasis on “hard” is there for a reason. The ludicrous amount of detail he puts into the practicalities of life on the red planet is great for a space nerd like me, but I abandoned the second book, ‘Green Mars’, after what felt like a thousand pages of intensely in-depth geopolitics and legislation of a burgeoning Martian civilisation. Even I have my limits.

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