Every once in a while, TVO likes to take the opportunity to look back on some of the lesser known areas of the back catalogue we love so well.
Take sci-fi sitcom Hyperdrive for example – which ran for two seasons in 2006 and 2007, yet never quite shook off the comparisons to sci-com behemoth Red Dwarf.
With own very own Stephen Evans and Kevin Eldon as series regulars, Waen Shepherd making frequent appearances, and guest slots from James Bachman and Clare Thomson, the show is ripe for revisiting – and TVO reader Adam Cooper has done just that, sending us this passionate plea for a show that arguably deserved more. Read on…
As a genre, science-fiction is a relatively unexplored territory in the British comedy world – barring of course Red Dwarf and gag-filled episodes of Doctor Who. Perhaps this is because it is notoriously hard to combine serious science with comedy. But for me at least, Hyperdrive found a way to do that. Written by Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley – who had previously penned episodes of such classics as Black Books, The Armstrong & Miller Show, Little Britain and Spitting Image – it was first broadcast in 2006 and commissioned by the BBC under the working title Full Power.
The show chronicles the adventures of the HMS Camden Lock in the year 2151. Britain has managed to get itself into space, ladies and gentlemen, and its aim is to bring Blighty to the rest of the Universe. Part of this plan includes getting intergalactic businesses to relocate to Peterborough, explaining to them how loyalty cards work and building Barrat Homes palaces for alien royalty.
HMS Camden Lock is controlled by the lazy but loveable Commander Henderson (Spaced‘s Nick Frost) – a everyday man its easy to relate to, and manned by a loyal crew of familiar faces. The Actor Kevin Eldon portrays authoritarian First Officer York: a character obsessed with order and efficiency almost to the point of madness. Alongside Eldon, Miranda Hart’s ditzy Diplomatic Officer Teal constantly lusts after Henderson, whilst Dan Antopolski and TVO’s very own Stephen Evans appear as Technical Officer Jeffers and Navigator Vine respectively. With Petra Massey as the ship’s Enhanced Sandstorm – a Cyborg-like creature who operates the ship’s controls but has no personality after her conversion to pay off student debts, the crew is complete, and occasionally augmented by Patterson Joseph as Henderson’s superior and former school mate Space Marshall Clarke.
Typically rather than solving problems amongst the stars Henderson and crew often seem to cause them. Cecil & Riley’s dialogue peppered with wit and character moments. Teal pines after Henderson, even to the point of removing the rest of the crew from the ship at one point in order to have a romantic dinner together; whilst Henderson & York’s bromance is contrasted by the odd couple of Jeffers & Vine, both of whom constantly vie for control of the ship whenever a landing crew of their superiors leave them behind.
Naturally, comparisons to Red Dwarf were made from the offset – though it could be argued it sets itself apart with a stronger sitcom setup, whereas Dwarf was more about a string of quick-fire gags. It also worked to develop it’s wider world in ways Red Dwarf did not.
Firstly, the show works well to portray Britain’s position in space as the red-headed step-child of the space faring civilizations – both human and alien. In one episode two fueding alien species refuse to listen to Henderson play the part of diplomat after learning that the Americans were coming to sort out the problem instead. However, many aspects of HMS Camden Lock go unexplored. We don’t find out how it works, it’s history or much about the back story of either the space-race or our regulars. References to the 21st century and famous names are often only played for gags (such as Gary Neville Day, which is celebrated after the famous footballer apparently came up with a working theory regarding Zero-Gravity).
The series does puts forward its own show-within-a-show – The Adventures of Captain Helix – an absurd take on Blake’s 7-esque sci-fi concerning the tales of the larger-than-life hero Captain Helix – brilliantly played by TVO regular Waen Shepherd – and his trust companion Robot, a parody of R2-D2. Commander Henderson loves the show and is very protective of it, with his crew often making derogatory remarks about the show and his obsession, possibly as a wider gag against Doctor Who obsessives!
Whereas Red Dwarf, on the whole, prided itself for having no aliens, postulating that humans were the only intelligent life left in the universe – and even that was questionable! – Hyperdrive turns this 0n its head by introducing a new alien species, or an inference to one in nearly every episode. With the likes of the Queppu, the Glish and the Lalakis (one of whom was portrayed by James Bachman) it’s an inventive part of the show, though if critics are going to find anything to complain about, it is perhaps that the show seems to rely on the use of these alien races as villains perhaps a bit too much. Still – the show is a science fiction series set in space… what else are they going to do?
Sadly, Hyperdrive was cut down in its prime. Cancelled after its second season in 2007 due to low ratings, Cecil & Riley maintain the BBC was proud of the show, and its small but vocal band of followers believe it was canned due to budget constraints and petition to bring the show back to this day. I fell in love with the series by looking past the Red Dwarf comparisons and seeing its own charms, and gladly signed the petition. If you liked it, please do the same.