While SyFy’s new show Nightflyers shares the same creator as the behemoth that is HBO’s Game of Thrones, beard enthusiast and lapsed author George RR Martin is really where the similarities between the two shows begin and end. While Game of Thrones trades in fantasy spectacle and high stakes soap opera intrigue, Nightflyers aims directly for horror, and from what we saw at the world premiere screening of the show’s first episode during New York Comic Con this week, it looks like it's dipping into the best of both classic and recent sci-fi horror films in its attempt to deliver on its scary premise.
That premise stems from a novella written by GRR Martin in the early 1980s. The year is 2093, and humanity is in trouble. Although settlements seems to have been made within the solar system (or at least on the Moon, according to a quick scene we glimpsed in the pilot episode), Earth desperately needs new resources. On the edge of the solar system, humans detect an alien vessel, but all attempts to communicate with it have been met with silence so far.
Enter the Nightflyer, a huge ship which serves as home for hundreds of crew, and its latest mission: to escort a group of scientists to the alien vessel, who then plan to use a human telepath as a last-ditch attempt to establish a dialogue with the aliens that may hold the key to humanity's survival. Of course, things go awry from the moment the Nightflyer leaves Earth's orbit.
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If you think that set-up sounds reminiscent of other trapped-on-a-ship-in-deep-space films like Event Horizon or Sunshine, then you’d be right on the money. Nightflyers, at least from its first episode, looks like it's happy to emulate the best space thrillers of the last 50 years, using familiar tropes and even specific visual imagery to elicit deep reactions. Claustrophobic metal corridors that suddenly become empty and menacing as a character walks through? Nightflyers has it. Creepy hallucinations that set the entire crew on edge? Check? Strange children who may or may not be dead suddenly appearing out of nowhere? For sure. There's even a direct visual nod to one of the most famous jogging scenes in sci-fi history included in this first episode (I'll let you guess which one).
That's not to say, however, that Nightflyers is all reference and no substance. There's enough tension and intrigue in this pilot to make it seem like the 10-episode run of the show will be a worthwhile watch, and there are plenty of mysteries (both with characters and plot) that will leave you wanting to know more. Just why does the ship's captain Roy Eris only ever appear as a hologram? Why does he have cameras installed all over the ship? What is the ultimate goal of lead scientist Karl D'Branin, and why is he keeping secrets from the crew entrusted to transport him to his ultimate goal?
But Nightflyers' best moments in this first episode stem from how the show treats human telepaths. People with psychic abilities in the world of Nightflyers are treated like extremely dangerous criminals, sedated for most of their waking hours and tucked away in remote locations lest they cause havoc on the population. So of course, the fact that one of the strongest telepaths ever is being brought on board sets tensions within the entire crew high, and the show milks it thanks to the creepy performance of actor Sam Strike as the telepath Thale. Thale is being set up as an extremely powerful and perhaps malicious character, although the mysterious events on the Nightflyer may not all be his doing.
Nightflyers is set to air on SyFy this December, with all 10 episodes being rapidly shown on all SyFy platforms within a two-week time period. The first five episodes will air nightly starting December 2 up until December 6, while the next batch of five will air from December 9 through to the 13th. There’ll also be weekend marathons broadcast.