Ronald D. Moore explains why he's back on Syfy with Helix

Illustration for article titled Ronald D. Moore explains why he's back on Syfy with Helix

Battlestar Galactica's Ronald D. Moore is finally coming back to television, to bring us Helix, a show set in an Arctic research facility, studying a plague that could wipe out our planet. So how much of Moore's scrapped script for The Thing wound up in there? And why isn't he doing another spaceship show?


At Syfy's Upfront presentation, we got 4 minutes of face-to-face time with the Battlestar Galactica maestro. And we asked him everything we could about Helix, which is already filming a 13-episode season. But first, check out the official rundown:

A thriller about a team of scientists from the Centers for Disease Control who travel to a high-tech research facility in the Arctic to investigate a possible disease outbreak. There, they find themselves in a terrifying life-and-death struggle that holds the key to mankind's salvation or total annihilation.

How much of Helix was influenced by that The Thing prequel script you wrote?

Ronald D. Moore: Oh! God, I kind of forgot about the Thing script that I wrote, actually. Not much at all, because this script was actually written by someone else. Another writer, Cameron [Porsandeh]. He wrote it and developed it and it was sent to me.

I really wasn't into reading it, because I don't like medical things, and I'm not a disease person, or hospital shows. And I didn't want to do it, and they just said, "no trust us, trust us, it's a great script." And sure enough I read it, and it was a page turner, and I was pulled. [I thought] this was a great opportunity. My experience doing a version of The Thing movie was completely different, a best-forgotten chapter of my life. So it had no bearing on this.

Was it about the script that kept you turning pages?

It was smart, it was well structured, the characters grabbed me right away. And also it was an intelligent script. It didn't talk down to the audience. It didn't go for cheap thrills and cheap scares. It was playing at a level of realism that made it scary. I started getting a little uneasy and nervous because it was so close to reality that I was starting to get a little uncomfortable. And then I realized, "Oh shit, that's the goal, that's what it's all about."


How much of the script involves medical jargon?

It's in there, but it didn't overwhelm it. I didn't feel like I was watching a hospital show. I didn't feel like I was watching ER. There was enough of it to sort of make it believable and sort of under the basis of it. I didn't feel like I was watching ER. But I was never lost in it, there was never a point where I said, "I have no idea what these people are talking about."


What is it about plagues? They're very popular right now.

People have loved plagues since the Middle Ages! Plagues are always popular, there's always one coming around the corner. I can't wait for the next one, like zombies. I think maybe it's all about the end of the world — how fascinated we are with watching the civilization we know being destroyed in some way. We have some weird, sick fascination with our own demise. In the most spectacular and dramatic terms.


How gory is Helix going to be?

It will have some gore in it. There's some pretty nasty things that happen to some people who are infected with this, and the attempts to save them and so on. But it's not really the stock and trade of it. It's really more of a thriller. It's more of a character piece about people trapped in an isolated area. And trying to depend on each other, and realizing that some of them aren't telling the truth. Trying to figure out the truth is, and how to survive.


How many people are trapped in this Arctic area?

We're talking a few hundred people. It's not The Thing, where there are only 12 guys, or however many people they had. It's not quite that isolated. This is a facility where there's research going on. Where you had people maintaining equipment, mopping floors, and cooking meals. Scientists and assistants.


How was this show influenced by the actual communities that exist right now [in those areas] that have barbershops and bars?

Quite a bit. Cameron, who wrote the script, did a lot of research. He he had been to many of these facilities and he brought that sense of reality into the piece.


It was just announced that they're going to have a lot of spaceship shows on Syfy now. And Battlestar Galactica was one of the first shows to re-ignite that whole thing. But now you're coming back on Syfy with a non-space show, how does that make you feel?

Somehow it's not within me to be doing what everybody else is doing, I guess. I've always got to be the outlier. I've always gotta be on that crazy show that nobody thinks is going to work.

Illustration for article titled Ronald D. Moore explains why he's back on Syfy with Helix

Shortly after our red carpet chat, Syfy screened a teeny, tiny teaser trailer that I'm absolutely sure was just some sort of quickly-assembled images that will not be in the series proper. However this is what we saw, and the feel RDM was channeling. The shot opens in a snowy, remote nothingness, careening about through snow flurries. You see an Arctic research facility, where everything is pristine and white. A figure in a white hazmat suit sits at an all-white table in an all-white facility. They remove their hood. They're not really moving any more and as the camera slowly pans in you can see a trail of something running down the side of their face. Blood, black ooze, bile? Who knows. But that's all they showed.


Can't freaking wait.


Annalee Newitz

This interview makes me sort of love RDM . . . "People have loved plagues since the middle ages!"