My name is John Crichton, an astronaut. A radiation wave hit and I got shot through a wormhole. Now I'm lost in some distant part of the universe on a ship, a living ship, full of strange alien...
Oh no, wait - that's not my life, that's the Jim Henson Company's prematurely cancelled cult sci-fi drama Farscape. I'm not an astronaut, I'm just an aimless wanderer with too much time on his hands, looking for ways to fill his last few days in Sydney.
Hang on, wasn't Farscape filmed in Sydney? I smell another pointless and frustrating challenge!
Look upward and share the wonders I've seen
All screenshots © The Jim Henson Company / Nine Network / Hallmark Entertainment.
Photos by me
I was a massive Farscape fan, but it's been quite a few years since I watched through it (I just cracked open Deep Space Nine again, don't rush me), and the thought of tracking down the local location shoots on the few episodes they ventured outside of the studio didn't even occur to me until I watched this fun video of a Ghostbusters tour of New York City and tried to think of anything I liked that was filmed in Sydney. I'd already been to Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park where they filmed Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, so I turned to Australia's second finest drama series.
I knew it was going to be a challenge, especially without a car and nearly a decade after the show finished. Farscape's niche appeal also means these sites weren't likely to be signposted for the benefit of a few nerds per year, unlike those historical places in South Korea that brazenly promoted their starring roles in period dramas. Hang on, didn't I criticise people for visiting somewhere just because it was in a TV show they liked? Well this is different - this is something I like!
I carried out research that involved searching through my own wine-fugged memories of university Farscape marathons with Ben, Pete and Kyran and searching the incomplete Farscape Wiki for keywords like 'filmed' and 'location.' I didn't set my sights higher than tracking down a few recognisable locations, I wasn't going to try to recreate the angles they filmed at or anything (that top one was a lucky accident). Or even actually go there if it was a bit far and expensive by bus, I have to retain some semblance of sanity. Here's how I got on.
Middle Head National Park
Portrayed: Unnamed planet, Gammak Base, Arnessk
Episodes: 'Throne for a Loss,' 'The Hidden Memory' (season one), 'What Was Lost, Part I: Sacrifice,' 'What Was Lost, Part II: Resurrection' (season four)
Notes: These dilapidated World War II fortifications in Sydney Harbour National Park were pretty versatile. They use the odd mottled wall and generic bushland a couple of times in the first season before showing the whole thing in season four, adding a few statues and covering up the yachts with pyramids. I'm not sure how well-known this heritage site is, but I like to think at least a few knowledgeable Sydneysiders were amused when they were asked to accept it as an alien world - that doughnut's pretty distinctive.
Stockton (not in Sydney)
Episode: 'Till the Blood Runs Clear' (season one)
Notes: The only non-Sydney location in this list (and the only non-Sydney location they ever used, as far as I know), this is as close as I got to Stockton myself. Thanks to Shana for pointing it out to me from Newcastle's Penis Tower - this wasn't actually the reason I travelled 120 kilometres to Newcastle, it was just a nice extra. As was the Penis Tower.
Episode: 'Jeremiah Crichton' (season one)
Notes: There's no such place as 'Manly Dam,' which is all I have to go on from the Farscape Wiki, and Google Maps brings up a load of unreliable possibilities that aren't even in Manly. If the lagoon stuff was shot in Manly, it was probably somewhere like this (Dobroyd Head pictured), though it looks more like the scenery further north up the Hawkesbury River. It doesn't matter, it was a really bad episode.
Portrayed: Everything that wasn't outdoors
Episodes: Every episode from season two onwards
Notes: Production moved to Homebush in the second season, but the studios were apparently converted into warehouses or something equally tragic immediately after the show wrapped. I read somewhere that these derelict studios are right next to the ferry wharf, which either makes it these charming buildings in the photo or some other ones around the estate. Now I know how those Christians I met in Israel felt, after making the pilgrimage to Bethlehem only to find a heavily fortified fence.
Sydney Olympic Park
Portrayed: Earth in simulated reality, IASA space center on real Earth
Episodes: 'Won't Get Fooled Again' (season two), 'Terra Firma' (season four)
Notes: 'WGFA' is one of the most insane episodes they ever did, which is saying something for Farscape, so anything goes there. But it's a little rich to pass off a sports ground as NASA - sorry, IASA HQ (they couldn't use the trademark) in the latter, serious episode. I mean, look at it! How is that not a stadium?
The car park scenes in 'Won't Get Fooled Again' and season four's 'John Quixote' (another crazy one) were supposedly filmed somewhere in the Olympic Park. I had a look for multi-storey car parks when I was walking around, but then I accidentally thought about how I was spending my day and stopped.
Portrayed: Unnamed planet, artificial terrain on Command Carrier
Episodes: 'The Locket' (season two), 'Into the Lion's Den, Part I: Lambs to the Slaughter,' 'Into the Lion's Den, Part II: Wolf in Sheep's Clothing' (season three)
Notes: The outdoor scenes with aged John, Aeryn and family were filmed around some trees or other and the toppling statue and pastoral chaos aboard the doomed Command Carrier were filmed at some pond or other. There are quite a few ponds here. These guys saw the magic happen.
Portrayed: Amusement park in Crichton's mind
Episode: 'Infinite Possibilities, Part I: Daedalus Demands' (season three)
Notes: John and Harvey's sort-of-metaphorical roller coaster ride (this show is amazing) was apparently the last ride taken on the Big Dipper before it was demolished. Either Crichton visited Luna Park once or his imagination is extremely specific, as you can see various tell-tale Sydney landmarks including the Harbour Bridge.
Shouldn't someone tell this guy Farscape was cancelled? You can go home
Portrayed: Fishing pier in Crichton's mind
Episode: 'Dog With Two Bones' (season three)
Notes: I didn't have the scene in my mind when I wandered around here, but D'argo and Crichton are walking around one of these piers. Crichton's inexplicably daydreaming about Sydney again, but at least he's crossed to the other side of the harbour (Luna Park's directly opposite).
Portrayed: Beach in Crichton's mind
Episode: 'Crichton Kicks' (season four)
Notes: That's a lot of people. I thought of seeking out a sunbathing pregnant woman to stand in for Claudia Black, but that would probably seem like I just had a fetish. As it would if I'd dressed up in a Scorpius gimp suit for the day.
Unknown national park
Portrayed: Unnamed planet in Tormented Space
Episode: 'A Prefect Murder' (season four)
Notes: I couldn't find out which of Sydney's 12,000 national parks they used, but the creators apparently felt that the devastation of the Black Christmas bushfires a year earlier made for a really cool-looking alien world. Nice to know that something good came from all that. Here are twisty trees in Berowra:
My horizons were mostly limited to the city and neighbouring suburbs, but there are a few locations to the south and further west beyond Homebush that I didn't make it to, including the aforementioned car park near the old studio (some amusingly lazy location-scouting there!), White Bay Power Station, which was the commerce planet in 'Premiere,' Abbotsford, home of the crew's hotel on Earth in 'Terra Firma,' and the Auburn Botanic Gardens used in the 'Look at the Princess' trilogy, so if I come back to Sydney I guess I'm obligated to finish what I started.
I can sort of cheatingly get away with a few locations around the airport, which show up in photos I took before landing in Sydney, according to diligent Google Maps analysis. Alright, they don't really count:
Portrayed: Royal Planet, Dam-Ba-Da
Episodes: 'Look At the Princess, Part III: The Maltese Crichton' (season two), 'Infinite Possibilities, Part I: Daedalus Demands,' 'Infinite Possibilities, Part II: Icarus Abides' (season three)
Notes: Sandy, barren Kurnell was a handier location for the desert planet Dam-Ba-Da in season three than Stockton in season one, and part of Aeryn's pointless rock-climbing B-plot in the Princess trilogy was also filmed here. As well as in a place the Wiki calls 'Darling Bay,' which also doesn't exist.
There's a Darling Harbour...?
Portrayed: Beach on LoMo
Episode: 'Scratch 'N' Sniff' (season three)
Notes: I'd already walked from the city centre to Bondi Beach (via Centennial Park) and didn't fancy the long walk down the coast to Maroubra, but then I remembered my plane photos again and sure enough, you can just about almost see where Maroubra Bay should theoretically be... alright, it's perilously close to cheating or just laziness, but a beach is a beach. Yellow and blue with white bits in-between, you've seen 'em.
Portrayed: Generic American suburb
Episode: 'Kansas' (season four)
And there are doubtless some other parks, lakes and car parks unaccounted for. Really, it's impressive that they got away with so little location shooting over four-and-a-bit years. That means all of those exotic worlds were created inside the same studios and with the help of CGI artists week after week (some more convincing than others).
This is the type of stupid, offbeat mission I really enjoy, a satisfying mix of urban psychogeography and guiltless fanboy immersion. It gets me out of bed at least. If I end up in New York I'll scope out the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man's destructive route, if I go back to London I'll swap a horse-drawn carriage for double deckers to trace the tour of occult landmarks from Alan Moore's From Hell and if I'm ever on Tatooine I'll track down Mos Eisley and the Sarlac pit. I can't believe I lived in Edinburgh for three years and never felt the need to shoplift some CDs and run down Calton Road like the opening scene of Trainspotting. What was I doing with my life?