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Familiar feeling

New Space series isn't the first to deal with cloning, but it puts a fresh face on the idea of multiple identities

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Poor Sarah just isn't herself today.

In fact, she's someone else altogether. Or perhaps several someone elses, all rolled into one.

Sarah, as sci-fi fans are about to learn, is the perplexed sort-of heroine in the new Space network series Orphan Black, which premières Saturday, March 30, at 8 p.m. She's a troubled soul, a disenchanted loner and a directionless orphan, right up until the moment she watches a woman commit suicide by stepping off a railway platform into the path of a moving train.

The thing is, just before witnessing the woman's death, Sarah (played by Regina-born actress Tatiana Maslany) caught a glimpse of her face. It was like looking in a mirror.

Sarah, something of a grifter and thief, senses an opportunity. As police and onlookers rush to extricate the body from under the now-stopped train, Sarah walks nonchalantly to the corner where the woman left her coat and purse in a neat pile. She grabs whatever's valuable and makes a hasty exit.

In the purse, she finds a wallet, cash, a couple of cellphones and the keys to an apartment. It occurs to Sarah that this woman -- this woman who, until the moment train met body, was the spitting image of Sarah -- had a pretty cushy life.

The best plan, Sarah concludes, is to dump her own crappy existence and assume the identity of Beth.

Of course, doing so is bound to be complicated; Beth has/had a life and friends and a boyfriend and a career and all the complications that being a person in a big city entails.

But it's more convoluted and dangerous than just that. There's another thing -- the thing that Sarah is forced to confront as she bluffs her way into Beth's world: the fact that Beth, a cop under suspension for shooting a civilian during an on-the-job gunfight, was on the verge of exposing a big secret that someone will go to great lengths to keep concealed.

There's a reason Beth looked so much like Sarah. And why a German stranger who conceals herself in Beth's car looks exactly like both of them. There's sinister science afoot, and Sarah is increasingly sorry that she ever stepped into Beth's world.

Orphan Black, a co-production of Space and U.S. cable's BBC America, doesn't exactly reinvent the wheel when it comes to multiple-identity/clone-experiment fiction, but it revisits this familiar ground with a style and modern attitude that make it feel fresh.

Maslany is solid, if not spectacular, in a role that demands her to explore multiple personalities and a variety of accents, and the supporting cast is strong -- Jordan Gavaris as her stepbrother, Felix; Michael Mando as her abusive ex-boyfriend, Vic; Kevin Blanchard as her demanding police-squad partner, Art; and Maria Doyle Kennedy as her stepmother, Mrs. S., who clearly brought Sarah and Felix to North America to escape something evil in the U.K.

Viewers demanding quick answers won't get what they want from Orphan Black, which doles out its secrets sparingly. But patience will be rewarded by a slow-to-unfold storyline that gets more intriguing with each episode. It might not make anyone's list of must-see shows, but this one certainly deserves mention as a "should-see" TV offering.

-- -- --

Also in Space's lineup is the return of Doctor Who, which resumes its seventh season (press materials call this Season 7B) on Saturday, March 30, at 8 p.m. Matt Smith is back as the Doctor in a new episode titled The Bells of St. John, which is set in the present and involves an evil presence that has infiltrated the Wi-Fi realm.

Jenna-Louise Coleman joins the cast as Clara Oswald (no relation, I'm pretty sure), the latest companion to join the Doctor on his time/space travels. Twitter: @BradOswald


Orphan Black

Starring Tatiana Maslany

Saturday, March 30, at 8 p.m.


3 1/2 stars out of 5

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 28, 2013 C3

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