The one element that helps Mars stand out from the long list of other science fiction titles out there is also its weakest link. Mars’ premise is certainly intriguing; documentary and drama styles blended to depict a fictional Mars colony being set up in the year 2033. The tricky weaving of both formats actually works reasonably well for the first episode but as the show goes on, Mars devolves into a constant struggle for power as the poorly acted, incredulous drama juxtaposes with the fascinating science in the documentary style.
The biggest problem with Mars is the credibility in the story. The pacing feels way off, with constant shifts between the documentary period in 2016 and the dramatised mission in 2033. The plot itself is okay, beginning with the six astronauts being briefed on the mission before being launched into space and fast forwarding to the descent onto Mars itself. Despite the below average acting and a few cracks appearing in the narrative, Mars chugs along at a decent pace but it all feels a little too casual and lacking in dramatic tension. The constant need to shift back to the documentary style in the middle of some of the most dramatic scenes occurring in 2033 is certainly an odd choice, resulting in some truly poor editing that make the show feel unnatural and jarring.
“The journey to Mars is an important one,” We’re told by one of the interviewed scientists, “This mission is as much about the mental aspect as much as it is the physical.” The expectations are set early on that a group of mentally stable, cool astronauts will be chosen for this mission. Fast forward a few episodes and we see the six astronauts that have been chosen bickering, irrationally emotional and all of them keeping secrets from one another including one hiding a life-threatening injury. “These are Earth’s best astronauts!” Another scientist tells us later on and this constant reminder through the episodes feels like a self-awareness from the show runners, knowing the drama isn’t quite up to scratch. Whilst this might sound harsh, being a fictional drama and all, the way Mars tries to stay grounded by showing such educational, scientific facts within the documentary parts of each episode makes the drama all the more important to get right, and realistically showcase.
Despite the poorly implemented drama and unbelievable actions and motivations from the characters themselves, there’s no denying that Mars is incredibly educational. The documentary parts of the show are excellent and make Mars worth watching for this alone, even if the plugging of Elon Musk and SpaceX is a little over the top. This part of the series explores everything from past ventures by explorers on Earth, the surface and topography of Mars all the way through to the scientific challenges involved in launching and landing a rocket. It really is fascinating stuff and it says a lot for Mars’ credibility that these periods of the show are actually more dramatic and interesting than the dramatised sections themselves.
It’s a shame that Mars is constantly at war with itself. The unique concept of merging the documentary and drama format is certainly an interesting one and with the right execution could make Mars be a big hit. The sloppy editing and poor implementation of the concept here upsets the pacing and tone of the show. The drama sections are bad, to say the least, but the documentary part of Mars is a shining light in an otherwise bleak landscape. With better acting, more believable characters and a smoother transition between the two formats, Mars could easily be one of the most innovative and unique science fiction shows out there but what we’re left with is a show in serious need of some polish and a better script for its second season.