|Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda:|
|The King Arthur Connection|
In the universe of the new science fiction adventure series, Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, there is a Systems Commonwealth that spans three galaxies and over one million planets protected by an elite military force called the High Guard. One of its member races, the Nietzscheans (who follow Nietzche's philosophy and believe in their own genetic superiority), launch a sneak attack against the High Guard fleet in an effort to overthrow the Commonwealth's government. Early in the battle, one of the High Guard's finest ships, the Andromeda Ascendant, is driven too close to a black hole and begins to be pulled in. Its captain, Dylan Hunt, orders his crew to abandon ship in escape pods while he remains on board. The crew escapes, but Dylan and the Andromeda Ascendant become trapped in the black hole's event horizon.
Three hundred years later, a salvage ship commanded by Beka Valentine finds the Andromeda Ascendant still there and pulls it out in the hope of selling it for a big profit. To her surprise, she finds Dylan still alive because the black hole's intense gravity had caused time on the Andromeda Ascendant to virtually stop. From Dylan's point of view, only a few seconds have passed, but he now finds a universe where the Commonwealth has collapsed to a distant memory, its member worlds in chaos, its technology forgotten, and its people suffering under the Nietzscheans and other alien invaders. As the last of the High Guard, Dylan decides that his mission will be to use the Andromeda Ascendant's power to restore the Commonwealth and manages to convince Beka and her crew to help him.
This has some interesting parallels to the tales of King Arthur. Consider the historical situation that gave birth to the Arthurian legends. The Roman Empire (i.e. the Commonwealth) had fallen, and Europe had collapsed into the Dark Ages. Barbarian hoards (Magog, Nietzscheans, etc.) were sweeping over everything while, on the isle of Briton, the various tribes were so involved with fighting each other that they could not mount any meaningful defense against these new invaders. Then along came Arthur. He pulled the sword from the stone (pulls the Andromeda Ascendant out of the black hole) and used its power to unite the warring factions and create the Golden Age of Camelot. (Of course, historically, the Roman Empire was not a utopian society, and the Europeans/Asians/Africans were certainly not happy being ruled by it, but this is where dramatic license comes in). The Dragon banner that Arthur carried was based on the one carried by the Roman cavalry (the High Guard) -- both characters calling upon the reputation of an extinct military order.
This situation also calls to mind the final tale in the Arthurian legend: after the last battle, Arthur was taken away to the Isle of Avalon whence it was promised that he would one day return during a time of greatest need. So Dylan Hunt is King Arthur returned from Avalon (the black hole), and the Andromeda Ascendant is his magic sword, Excalibur. This implies that Dylan's new crew will fill the roles of the Knights of the Round Table, and I cannot resist the temptation to try to figure out who is who. Even though there clearly are not direct one-to-one correlations, there are some interesting speculations to be made.
The Andromeda Ascendant is controlled by a sentient computer named Andromeda who appears to Dylan and the others as a beautiful woman on the ship's view screens, as a holographic projection, and, in later episodes, with an android body. This somewhat "supernatural" existence suggests the roles of several female characters that were themselves derived from various goddess traditions that fed the Arthurian legends. She is the Lady of the Lake, the being who bestowed Excalibur upon Arthur to signify that he alone had the right to be king (notice that in the opening episode, she refused to let anyone but Dylan control the Andromeda Ascendant) and who was with Arthur during his time in Avalon. The hint of an attraction between Andromeda and Dylan suggests another ancient tradition where the earth was revered as a living goddess (the Andromeda Ascendant might be viewed as a living spaceship), and the king would ritually "unite" with the goddess, symbolically portrayed by the high priestess, to represent the link between the land and the king -- an image that was adapted into the character of Guinevere. (Note that the disharmony between Arthur and Guinevere -- a rift between the king and the land -- brought about the fall of the Camelot). That any love between Andromeda and Dylan would be forbidden by High Guard regulations suggests the forbidden love between Guinevere and Lancelot. This association of Dylan with Lancelot as well as Arthur helps to make him seem twice as heroic. Another of Andromeda's progenitors would be Merlin's protege Nimue (a.k.a. Niniane, Viviane, etc.) who uses her magic to help Arthur and is occasionally identified with the Lady of the Lake (or one of several Ladies of the Lake).
Seamus Harper, the ship's engineer, can also be viewed several ways. With a name like Harper, it is tempting to associate him with Taliesin, the bard at Arthur's court, although he has shown no poetic or musical interests. Taliesin attempted to steal wisdom from the cauldron of the goddess, Ceridwen (who may have been the basis for the Lady of the Lake and whose name derives from the same root word as Guinevere), and ended up being chased and swallowed by her. This does parallel the scene where Harper tries to steal data from and gain control of the Andromeda Ascendant's computer, unaware that it is a sentient being. After conventional methods of breaking the computer's security fail, he plugs his brain directly into one of the computer's comm ports, which causes his consciousness to enter the computer's virtual reality world. But virtual reality is Andromeda's place of power, her "castle". She appears to Harper as a one hundred-foot tall goddess, outraged at his attempted violation of her. She holds him in the palm of her hand and, with a single puff of breath, blasts him back to the real world, nearly frying his brain in the process. In addition, his technological "wizardry" can link him with Merlin. It is he who eventually builds the android body for Andromeda -- which can be viewed as a Merlin-Nimue relationship -- but, in this case, the relationship begins with Nimue vanquishing Merlin instead of ending with it. Finally, Harper is used for comedy relief, so he can be compared with Sir Kay, who derives from the archetype of the trickster god (Hermes, Loki, Anansi, Coyote, etc.).
Trance Gemini, the purple-skinned medic, has also been used for comic effect, and plot developments have frequently implied that she is more than she seems -- both of which also bring to mind Sir Kay, who, in his earlier pre-Arthurian incarnations, was sometimes portrayed as having the power to change his shape. But a better comparison might be made to Sir Perceval, the innocent knight whose name suggests "Perfect Fool". He began as a country bumpkin with a sheltered upbringing, inexperienced in the ways of the world, and ultimately proved to be the only one who could find the Holy Grail and use its power to both heal the Wounded King and restore the Wasteland to fertility. Trance is the most naive and trusting of the group and has already displayed remarkable healing abilities (even being able to bring herself back from the dead). In a later episode, she also reveals that one of her special talents is the ability to "find" things. If the Commonwealth has become the Wasteland, this makes us wonder what role she might ultimately play in its restoration. A much too on-the-nose interpretation of her name would suggest that she contains more than one persona (Gemini) and has not yet awakened to her true potential (in a Trance). If we look to eastern philosophy, we find that "Buddha" is a name that means "Awakened One".
Rev Bem has the spiritual/mystical/philosophical personality and brings his wisdom to advise Dylan in these matters, just as Merlin advised Arthur. He follows a religious doctrine called the Way, but he comes from a savage, brutal species called the Magog, who have ravaged countless worlds. Thus his own devotion to peace and spirituality associates him more with Sir Galahad, the purest of the knights, who does not concern himself with worldly glory as the other knights do but rather devotes himself to the quest for the Holy Grail -- the vessel that contains God's forgiveness -- as he seeks redemption for the sins committed by his people. (His name is an inside joke; BEM is an old sci-fi term for Bug Eyed Monster.)
Tyr Anasazi, the gloomy, bad-tempered Nietzschean mercenary, might be compared to Sir Agravain, the grumpy knight who spends a lot of time in a bad mood (derived from the same root as the word, "aggravated"). In the legend, Agravain sided with Mordred and thus contributed to the downfall of Camelot. (The Nietzscheans caused the downfall of the Commonwealth, and Dylan's traitorous Nietzschean first officer could be viewed as Mordred). Tyr chooses to join Dylan's crew only because he has no place better to go and, of all the characters, is the most willing to defy Dylan, challenge his command, and even betray Dylan when doing so would be in his own best interest. Interestingly, he often wears a shirt made of chain mail that might be seen as evocative of Arthur's medieval setting. His name carries two associations: the Anasazi were a Native American tribe in the western United States who are currently the center of some controversy as to whether or not the were cannibals. The name is also a semi-anagram for "A Nazi".
This finally brings us to Beka Valentine who, although clearly intended to be the alpha-female of the group, has not yet been given any distinguishing character traits and seems to be currently less defined by what she is than by what she is not: i.e., not the purple, ditzy one and not the hologram. If we take the Arthurian analogy more literally, it is interesting to note that, technically, it is she who pulled the Andromeda Ascendant out of the black hole when no one else could, and therefore it is she who should be King Arthur. But where would this leave Dylan? Perhaps as the best candidate for Merlin, who mysteriously appeared to advise young Arthur the moment he pulled the sword from the stone. Merlin is usually portrayed as an ancient being with a vast knowledge of ancient lore, often associated with the druids, the pre-Roman priests of Britain. Some writers identify him with the historical person, Ambrosius Aurelianus whose Roman name links him to that vanished civilization. Some writers have even suggested that Merlin was an immortal survivor of the fall of Atlantis and that Camelot was his attempt to rebuild the Atlantean civilization. This Beka-as-Arthur context also strengthens the association of Dylan with Sir Lancelot who was cared for by the Lady of the Lake (Andromeda) and presented to Arthur when a hero was needed. Of course, all of this is not what the series' creators are intending since Dylan is clearly presented as the lead character (and portrayed by the most famous actor in the cast), leaving Beka in a somewhat ambiguous role. She does challenge Dylan's authority and decisions, but Tyr is already filling that role much more aggressively. If we really stretch it, she might be Sir Sagremor, the worldly knight who provided a contrast to Perceval's innocence. He was familiar with the ways of the world and, as a result, was less blinded by idealism than the others. If Dylan's quest to restore the Commonwealth keeps his head in the clouds, Beka can help to keep his feet on the ground. One also wonders if the name "Valentine" might suggest an ultimately romantic role.
Then again, I could be wrong. These Arthurian similarities do not seem to be placed in the series by design. There are just enough things that do not quite fit (although I have downplayed them in this essay -- with the exception of Beka) to suggest that the Arthurian archetypes are flowing unconsciously through the writers. But then again, that is just what archetypes do. Bidden or unbidden, the once and future king returns to us again and again.
(An earlier draft of this essay appeared in the letters column of Starlog Magazine, #285:10-11, April 2001)
Addendum, May 2002: The above was written after the first few episodes were broadcast. As of this writing, we're most of the way through the second season, and a lot of things have changed. Rev Bem has been dropped from the series, and Trance has been reworked from an innocent into a dark warrior. Even by the end of the first season, things were already drifting farther and farther from the potential I suggested above. Now it's gone off in a very different direction. Oh well, the dream was fun while it lasted.
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