Before Star Wars dumbed down science fiction to a puerile tale of good, evil and adorable puppets, the genre was a font of wondrous and bonkers myth-making. That tradition has been grippingly revived by the barking mad Raised By Wolves (Sky Atlantic). This Ridley Scott production is a chest-bursting interstellar thriller brimming with emotionally-conflicted killer robots, religious zealots wandering the wilds and a CGI snake-monster crying out for solid parenting.
With its first season, in 2020, Raised By Wolves leaned hard into the pre-Jar Jar Binks idea of sci-fi as a prism through which to explore the complications of the modern condition. And, if sure to baffle newcomers with its complex backstory, series two plunges deeper into a fascinating universe of religious conflict, machine-intelligence and strange beasts looming in the murk. Provided you’re willing to commit to the slow-burn pace and dense lore, it is hugely rewarding. Fans of the bleak style executive producer Scott perfected with Alien and Blade Runner will, in particular, be in dystopian heaven.
Recapping the plot would be a bit like trying to explain the end of Game of Thrones to someone who could not tell Daenerys Targaryen from chicken teriyaki. But, to simplify it massively: on the distant colony world of Kepler 22-b, killer robot Mother (Amanda Collin) has had her murderous programming wiped and is trying to begin life anew with synthetic husband Father (Abubakar Salim) and their flesh-and-blood son Campion (Winta McGrath).
Mother and Father have joined a community of atheists in Kepler’s lush tropical zone, who take their orders from a sentient lava lamp named The Trust. However, there are challenges for the settlers. The demon snake child Mother birthed last season in a fit of existential pique – a flying serpent christened Number 7 – is still out in the wilds, wreaking mischief.
There are parental woes, too, for colonist Sue (Niamh Algar) – whose son, Paul (Felix Jamieson), has worked out she is an imposter who killed his real mother back on Earth and then stole her face (if he wasn’t a moody teenager already, he certainly is now). Meanwhile, Sue’s former partner Marcus (Travis Fimmel) has become a radical convert to the sun-worshipping Mithraic sect that has sworn to wipe out atheism and is wandering the outback like a sort of violently deranged Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Scott’s Alien and Blade Runner aren’t the only influences on this gloomy saga. The ghost of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey hangs heavy while showrunner Aaron Guzikowski has clearly stayed abreast of contemporary science fiction and writers such Adrian Tchaikovsky and Jeff VanderMeer.
Best of all, the slathered-on cheesiness of Star Wars and Star Trek are nowhere to be found. This is a brutal fable full of moral ambivalence – can a lost soul ever be redeemed, and do any of us truly know our parents? It ripples with a genuine air of mystery as we spend time on twilight world of Kepler. A future-shock caper with real weight, it harks back satisfyingly to the sci-fi that existed before George Lucas fired up his lightsaber and ruined all the fun.