Cleopatra In Space - Finally, Science in a Kid's Show!

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Cleopatra In Space - Finally, Science in a Kid's Show!

Post by chimericoncogene »

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Cleopatra in Space is a Dreamworks Animation show based on a reasonably pulpy kid-friendly premise: A 15-year old Queen Cleopatra VII, the last of the Ptolomies, is transported by a stargate from 55BC to an ancient-Egypt themed galaxy in the distant future (30,000 AD to be precise), where she must interact with her teenage classmates at a space high school while going on adventures to save the galaxy.

The concept sounds silly (and it is), but the execution is magnificent. While the action is so-so, the characters are likeable, and the plot, technical details, and setting... are among the best ever portrayed in children's television.

A quick viewing of the show makes it abundantly clear that the writers of Cleopatra in Space are more than familiar with the lexicon of modern science fiction and space opera, and know their science.

As the Atomic Rockets website notes, even if you bend the laws of physics fora story, it is desirable not to bend them all, and keep other elements of a story as true to scientific principles as possible. Many shows do not do this, deciding to toss all the rules of logic and basic science concept out of the window for no reason other than sheer laziness (and also extreme time pressures and tight budgets that preclude looking up stuff on wikipedia and/or reading an encyclopedia).

Cleopatra in Space is different.

The technobabble - the quasi-plausible technical explanations that fill in the gaps for the viewer - is expertly written and highly accurate, in contrast to other children's shows (Big Hero 6 is a particularly egregious offender), which suffer from completely meaningless and technobabble that is obviously wrong to the informed viewer.

The scientific explanations used in Cleopatra are in many cases reasonably accurate, and worthy of review and analysis by the viewer. One of the best examples of magnificent technobabble is from S1E1, where Akila notes that her species looks like humans "because of convergent evolution" - a process by which different species evolve similar traits and features independently because of similar environments. A good example of convergent evolution is sharks, dolphins and icthyosaurs, which, while completely different (sharks are cartilagenous fish, dolphins are mammals, and icthyosaurs were extinct airbreathing reptiles kinda like dinosaurs), all look pretty similar.

The plot elements are extremely sound, creatively put together, and highly logical, magnificently demonstrating the show's excellent writing, and are plucked from a wide range of modern and mid-century science fiction. The description of the "Blight" echoes the Blight of A Fire Upon the Deep, commonly regarded as the benchmark for modern space opera. The use and description of random events to build tension (the meteor shower with randomly sized rocks, one of which might be large, and might come at any time), malfunctioning AI (if I didn't know better, the fear of ghosts was plucked right out of Schlock Mercenary), realistic cyborgs who you can't use tranquilizer darts on because their skin is synthetic, and hacked holodecks as plot elements... the list goes on and on.

Cleopatra in Space brings tears to the eyes of this cynical reviewer, worn down by years of crappy science and way-too-old science-fiction tropes in cartoons and movies. This magnificent show, so obviously made with care, attention and love, is one of the most logically sound and scientifically respectful I have ever seen in children's television. I wish it the best of luck, and hope that it will serve as a model for future cartoons to follow.

I would like to thank the writers of Cleopatra in Space for making this amazing cartoon, and conveying reason and knowledge along the way.

They still get the population numbers wrong, though.
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