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Cleopatra in Space

Entry updated 20 December 2021. Tagged: TV.

US animated tv series (2019-current). DreamWorks Animation. Based on the graphic novels by Mike Maihack. Directors include Jayson Thiessen and Scooter Tidwell. Writers include Lindsay Kerns and Belinda King. Executive Producers include Doug Langdale. Voice cast includes Katie Crown, Jorge Diaz, Lilimar Hernandez, Jonathan Kite, Sendhil Ramamurthy and Kari Wahlgren. 26 21-minute episodes. Colour.

In ancient Egypt the teenaged Cleopatra VII (Hernandez), desiring adventure and unhappy with the impending responsibilities of queendom, finds a hidden tomb whilst playing with her friend Kozi: a Time Gate within catapults her 30,000 years into the future (see also Time Travel), to the Nile Galaxy. Her arrival has been prophesied: she is to be the saviour of that Galaxy's Egyptian-like civilization, which is threatened by the forces of a world-conquering Galactic Empire; to make the parallels explicit, its Emperor's name is Octavian (Kite).

Cleopatra befriends students Brian (Diaz), a Cyborged young Scientist; Akila (Crown), an upbeat humanoid Alien fish-girl, and their tutor, Professor Khensu (Ramamurthy), a cat-like alien. The authorities, dubiously noting her youth and inexperience, send her to the P.Y.R.A.M.I.D. Academy for education and training, under Khensu's supervision. Octavian stole most of the Galaxy's digital information, destroying any other copies, so the Academy seeks to recover any surviving scientific and historic data.

Though likable, good-hearted and remarkably adept at fighting, Cleopatra is also impetuous, complacent and not a good listener – a sense of entitlement ("things always work out for me") is implied, but not yet explored. She is also homesick: the lack of historical records means she does not know if she ever returns to her own time. Cleopatra finds that she occasionally glows and absorbs energy, eventually discovering that using this power is the only way to kill the immortal Octavian.

Season One spends much of its time with one-off episodes, world-building and establishing character. Some Academy-based plots have a campus sitcom feel – evoking Galaxy High (1986), albeit better written. But overarching plot elements also appear: a spy lurks, and attempts to kidnap Cleopatra are made. There are also adventures on other planets, including accompanying the teenaged Pharaoh Yosira (Wahlgren), with whom Cleopatra bonds, on a diplomatic mission to secure alliances against Octavian (see Politics).

Subsequent seasons are more plot-focused, seeing a race between Cleopatra and Octavian to obtain the powerful UTA tablet; Cleopatra succeeds, but a highly placed traitor – believing this is the only way to save millions of lives – informs Octavian. The latter successfully attacks the Academy and is now effectively ruler of the Galaxy (though is upset that no one declares, "You won't get away with this, Octavian!"). Cleopatra learns he is Kozi, transformed and made immortal at the operation of the Time Gate, then shortly after abducted by alien pirates, gradually rising to his present position. Cleopatra and her friends escape through a wormhole, reappearing 63,000 light years away: Khensu tells her, "You're the Galaxy's only hope; you're the saviour." "So, no pressure then."

Cleopatra's personality is perhaps a little too generic, very much your feisty American teen, and Cleopatra in Space can occasionally be a little self-aware. More positively, details that similar shows might skimp on are at least acknowledged: the language problem is resolved by fitting a "neuro translation net" (see Universal Translator); Akila explains that her species' similarity to humans is a result of convergent Evolution; Cleopatra's differing cultural perspective is shown when, on noticing Brian's mechanical arm, she asks "are you some kind of talking statue boy?" There are some nice background details, such as flying video diaries being called Boswells. This is a fun series: amusing, brightly animated and engaging. [SP]

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