Mars series 2: Why the National Geographic hybrid docudrama is like nothing else on TV right now

Mars series 1 was the most watched programme in the history of National Geographic UK - and now it's back for a thrilling second series.

The first series of Mars was the most-watched programme in the history of National Geographic UK.

Now the hybrid TV show is back for a second series, and it's safe to say that if series one was about getting to the red planet, series two is about living - or should we say surviving - on Mars.

Mars is like nothing else on our TV right now, largely thanks to its unique and compelling format.

It alternates between scripted drama with actors, documentary sequences and interviews with experts to predict what life would really be like on Mars, based on events happening right now on Earth.

Read on to find everything you need to know about series 2 of Mars, and why you should watch it.

Mars series two airs on National Geographic in the UK, one of the extra entertainment channels available for BT TV customers, who can log in to the Player and watch season 1 of Mars now.

What is Mars about?

Executive produced by Brian Grazer (A Beautiful Mind) and Ron Howard (Apollo 13), the critically acclaimed series returns for a brand new season only on National Geographic.

The new season picks up in 2042 - five years after the end of season one. The astronauts have built a full fledged colony called Olympus Town but to fund their mission, they need the help of the private sector, and tensions are rising between the private industry and the scientific explorers.

The mission to form a colony on another planet comes with heavy adjustments, including how humans will cope with contamination, illness, death, natural disasters and even the first Martian baby.

Can we learn from past mistakes, or are we doomed to make the same flawed decisions on Mars as we did on Earth?

When does it start?

Mars returns Sunday, November 11 at 8pm on National Geographic (BT channel number 317/373 HD). The series consists of six one-hour episodes.

Who stars in it?

Jihae plays two roles: Hana Seung, Mission Commander of Olympus Town, and her twin Joon Seung, former Secretary General of the International Mars Science Foundation (IMSF), who resigns to fulfil her lifelong dream of joining her sister on Mars.

Jihae

The actress, who’s set to appear in the movie Mortal Engines later this year, was mainly known for being a musician before her starring role in series 1 of Mars. She returns to play Hana and Joon Seung for series 2.

Hana has effectively been solely in charge of a whole planet for almost a decade, and Jihae told BT TV that the next series would be a rollercoaster for the Mission Commander.

“For Hana, she learns the meaning of resilience in the biggest way. She falls and gets back up again, multiple times. It’s quite an emotional rollercoaster ride," she said.

“What I believed for Hana, and why she was there [on the colony], was that she really believed that what she was doing was bigger than herself and bigger than an achievement for her own personal goals, but that it was for a higher cause - for humanity to have a second chance.

“So she has sacrificed not only having a family, having a loved one... she’s sacrificed a lot to be in that leadership.”

Jeff Hephner plays Kurt Hurrelle, leader of the Lukrum mining colony.

Jeff Hephner

The US actor, who has appeared on TV shows including Chicago Med and Code Black, joins series 2 as the not-very-likeable Kurt, who clashes with many of the other characters.

Jeff told BT TV that Kurt's determined personality justifies his confrontational nature.

“When you think of a character you play as a real human, you justify some of their behaviour. For me, I saw a guy who gets something done… to do a job," he explained.

“He wasn’t looking for anything grander than that - other than to say he did it on Mars, which would be f***ing awesome!”

Anamaria Marinca as Marta Kamen, Olympus Town’s exobiologist and geologist who has spent years painstakingly searching for life on Mars.

Anamaria Marinca

The Romanian actress, best known for her standout role in Channel 4’s Sex Traffic, returns from series 1 in the role of Marta, but this time under mounting pressure to find more life on Mars.

Anamaria told BT TV that her character makes a major mistake this series.

“My character’s nature is to try and find life… I think she learns to say 'I’m sorry', which for this character is really hard. She learns to look around," she explained.

“I wouldn’t call her selfish. I think she’s able to sacrifice herself for an idea, but I think in doing this she overlooks the physical reality of the world and her own humanity, and she pays a price for it.

“I think it’s interesting for the audience to see a flawed character redeeming herself.”

Clementine Poidatz plays Amelie Durand, Mission physician and biochemist who seriously contemplates trading in her Martian scrubs to return to Earth.

Clementine Poidatz

The French actress, known for her roles in movies including Marie Antoinette, returns to the show as Dr Amelie Durand - but it's safe to say thatt she’s fed up after nine years on the red planet.

Clementine told BT TV that when an opportunity arises for Amelie to return to Earth, her character seriously considers it.

Teasing Amelie's dilemma, she says: “We’ve been on Mars for nine years now, under domes, no fresh air, no rain, no nothing, no clouds, no animals, no fresh food, and my character Amelie wants to go back home.

“I think boredom has set in, she’s just like ‘What’s the point?’ There is now a possibility to go back to earth, so she starts thinking about that, and at some point she says ‘Yeah ok, I’m going home’.”

Gunnar Cauthery as Lieutenant Michael Glenn, the newest addition to Olympus Town and second in command.

Gunnar Cauthery

Another new addition to the cast, British actor Gunnar - best known for his theatre work and roles in Genius and War Horse - joins the show as Hana’s second-in-command, and the pair inevitably clash.

"What I think he represents in this series is where we are with toxic masculinity in the modern world, because he thinks he should be in charge, and he disagrees about the way things are being done," he told us.

“Because his commander is a woman, he handles it in a way that is unfortunate. I think he would handle it differently if his commander was a man, so I think the character represents the entitlement of men who assume they should be in power.

“All he’s trying to do is make sure the scientific mission is protected.”

Cosima Shaw as Dr Leslie Richardson, who fills Joon Seung’s former position on Earth as Secretary General of IMSF after her husband Paul’s untimely death on Mars.

Cosima Shaw

Returning from series 1, Cosima - previously seen in films including V for Vendetta and The Danish Girl - plays Dr Leslie, whose husband has just died.

Cosima told us that Dr Leslie is desperately lonely this season as a result. “It was tough [this season]. I literally had to imagine myself sitting on a lonely rock somewhere," he said.

“I’m happy in solitude. I’m not someone who’s hugely sociable, there are some similarities between myself and the character... but for Leslie, she co-existed and collaborated with her husband, so when he goes, that’s pretty much the end of her inspiration and her purpose in a way.”

Akbar Kurtha plays Dr Jay Johar, a psychologist bringing his expertise to Olympus Town.

Akbar Kurtha

Akbar Kurtha, known for his roles in 24 and Syriana, joins the cast for series 2 as a doctor who plans to take over from Dr Amelie Durand, who intends to return to earth.

“My character arrives in episode two. He’s tested pretty much immediately, when somebody goes into trauma, and doesn’t survive," he explained.

“Then he arrives on Mars with this horrible news that one of his team has not survived.”

Big Thinkers - experts in the field of space exploration - appearing in series two include:

  • Stephen Petranek - author of How We’ll Live on Mars, upon which the series is based.

  • Andy Weir - author of The Martian, which was made into a 2015 film starring Matt Damon.

  • Elon Musk - CEO and Chief Technology Officer of SpaceX, whose goal is to reduce space transportation costs and enable the colonisation of Mars.

Where is it filmed?

Series two of Mars was shot mainly in Budapest, Hungary - a departure from series one, which was shot in Morocco.

Showrunner and Executive Producer Dee Johnson explained to BT TV that the switch of location was due to the extreme heat in Morocco. Not only did the high temperatures make it difficult for the actors, but also it didn’t reflect the freezing conditions humans would face on Mars.

Mars

“We shot everything with the principal [cast] in Budapest," she explained.

"We had a huge backlot that we converted. There was a lot of green screen, which of course is becoming more and more common, even in television.

“It was just hard to coordinate the Morocco part of it. Where we shot in Morocco, it was very remote. It was very difficult to film.

“We did shoot second unit there, so all our exteriors were shot in Morocco, but the principals weren’t shot in Morocco: we did doubles in the same Moroccan landscape.

“I wasn’t there for series one but I’ve heard that shooting in Morocco was very hot, and of course on Mars it’s freezing, so it’s very difficult to play freezing when you’re melting in those astronaut outfits!”

You'll love Mars if you liked…

Documentaries about space such as A Beautiful Planet, Orbit: Earth's Extraordinary Journey and Above and Beyond: Nasa's Journey To Tomorrow, or films and TV shows such as The Martian, The First, Apollo 13, First Man, Passenger, Gravity, Interstellar and Lost in Space.

Three reasons to watch Mars…

1. Mars is en vogue

The First on Channel 4, Away on Netflix, Mars on National Geographic... if there’s one planet that everyone’s talking about in 2018, it’s the red one. Showrunner Johnson (below) agrees that Mars as a topic in film and TV is coming back into fashion in a big way.

Dee Johnson

“For a long time the space programme almost fell underground, it fell off the radar, then all of a sudden there was this growing interest in Mars, whether it was movies or TV," she told BT TV.

“There’s another show that’s on Hulu [on Channel 4 in the UK] starring Sean Penn called The First and one coming to Netflix called Away.

“The fact that there’s three Mars shows coming up suggests that there’s sort of a collective interest there, whether people are consciously aware of it or not.”

Asked why that is, Dee reckons that Elon Musk - who appears in series 2 of Mars - is partly responsible, with his focus on getting to Mars making it a realistic prospect in our lifetimes.

"Maybe it’s just been creeping up on us," she explained.

“Certainly Elon Musk has shined a light on it because he’s got a laser focus on getting to Mars. That’s sort of out there in the public sphere.

“All those things have contributed to this interest in Mars, and it seems inevitable that we will get there. He’s determined anyway!”

2. It’s based on real facts

National Geographic's speciality is documentaries, so you know every single element of the show is going to be fact-checked by Nat Geo.

It’s not a coincidence that the show’s premise includes unscripted interviews with many experts in their field.

The result is an "uncommonly well-grounded science fiction story", according to Forbes.com.

Showrunner Johnson confirmed to us that the documentary team worked with the show’s writers to ensure that the facts were correct.

She tells us: “They [the documentary team] were in the room with us when we were breaking story.

“We broke story like you would ordinarily do on a scripted show, then we just had them there, and they were there every step of the way.

“Then when we did our outline, we talked about what we hoped to get from the documentary team, and try to place it in the story outline. We did the best that we could. It was interesting, very different.”

3. It’s a unique format

The docudrama genre is a unique hybrid that allows producers to convey complicated information in an entertaining way. Scenes flip between scripted drama with actors and documentary sequences and interviews with experts.

Mars

Mars isn’t necessarily the first show to do it, but it’s certainly one of the biggest in terms of scale.

Johnson told BT TV that she believes the format could be replicated for other genres, such as historical dramas, to offer a really interesting prospect for the future of television.

She says: “I’m curious if others will try it, and if there are other venues that this would work for. I think it would.

“Off the top of my head I don’t know, but I think it could be doable. It’s a fascinating way to get this sort of information out there.

“Even for me, watching how the documentary people put it together, it was an education. I may have known vaguely, but the way they did it was a really cool education in a lot of ways. You could do it for historical dramas.”

Is there a trailer?

Watch a sneak peek of Mars below:

Mars returns Sunday, November 11 at 8pm on National Geographic (BT channel number 317/373 HD). Series 1 of Mars is available to stream on Netflix now.

Discovery’s channels are part of the 60+ premium channels available on BT TV including Animal Planet and TLC.

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> Got BT TV? Explore the BT Player and watch season 1 of Mars now

Images: National Geographic

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