A new orphan: Spin-off of cult sci-fi hit Orphan Black stands on its own, but asks similar questions

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When the writers of Orphan Black: Echoes began researching the science behind the new instalment of the sci-fi series, they discovered the technology at the heart of the story is not all that far-fetched.

The series is a spin-off from the original Orphan Black, which premiered in 2013 and ran for five seasons. A critically acclaimed cult hit, the earlier show revolved around several genetically identical clones of protagonist Sarah Manning, played by Tatiana Maslany. The premise of Echoes is similar, but instead of involving multiple biological clones of the same woman, it is centred on the idea that the “clones” or “echoes” are printed out using a machine.

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“I did a lot of research about human-tissue printing,” says showrunner Anna Fishko, in an interview with Postmedia. “The imaginary technology is one that uses a very high-resolution scan to print people.”

The technology may be imaginary for now, but it’s not that far from what exists. While the show takes place in 2052 – 37 years after the original – Fishko wanted the premise to be at least partially grounded in what is happening in the field.

An expert in tissue printing from North Carolina’s Wake Forest University was brought in to work with the writer’s room as a consultant for the Toronto-shot series, which will have its Canadian premiere on June 23 on AMC and AMC+.

“It turned out a lot of the things we had been imagining are things they have already been doing,” says Fishko, who will be participating in a screening and master class of Orphan Black: Echoes on June 11 at Fairmont Baff Springs as part of the Banff World Media Festival.

“They are already printing little tiny hearts that can beat and they are printing brain tissue and it’s easier for them to print sloppier organs that don’t have to hold their structure. So they can print a bladder, for example. There have been some really exciting advances in that technology in the last couple of decades and he was very optimistic about how much better it was going to get. It didn’t seem all that far-fetched to him. It might eventually be something we can get close to doing.”

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As with a lot of science fiction, the question of how this technology is used becomes a central theme in Echoes. As is often the case, it enters a morally ambiguous zone.

The series begins with a young woman named Lucy, played by Breaking Bad’s Krysten Ritter, who has no clear memory of who she is. The first episode deals with an early escape from an ominous corporate building where she is being held, but not before Dr. Kira Manning, played by Keeley Hawes, attempts to explain where she came from. We fast-forward to a time when Lucy, still unaware of who she is but plagued by visions, is attempting to live a somewhat normal life but is suddenly and violently drawn back to her past. Other characters include Jules Lee, played by Vancouver’s Amanda Fix, an adoptive teen who looks suspiciously like Lucy, and Paul Darros, played by James Hiroyuki Liao, a self-made billionaire who heads the mysterious Darros Foundation.

Orphan Black: Echoes
Krysten Ritter plays Lucy in Orphan Black: Echoes. Photo courtesy AMC and Boat Rocker cal

“I was very interested in putting the characters in positions where the audience might make different decisions about how they felt about the actions people were taking,” says Fishko, who has also written for shows such as Fear the Walking Dead, Colony and The Bridge. “I wanted it to be sort of a grey area than so black and white about right and wrong. That goes for a couple of the characters. We show the Darros character, a tech billionaire who is co-opting the technology into something he genuinely believes to be beneficial to the world. It’s not entirely clear, I think, that it wouldn’t be beneficial for the world. I liked the idea that he was not motivated by self-interest or greed but this idea that he ought to do best for the world because he is in a position to do so.”

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Anna Fishko
Anna Fishko, showrunner and creator of Orphan Black: Echoes. Photo courtesy Banff World Media Festival. cal

This is part of the connective tissue that links Echoes to the original series, which offered similar questions about the moral implications of cloning as a backdrop to a thriller plot. Echoes also deals with the idea of identity and the “found family,” not unlike its predecessor. The main link, however, is Dr. Kira Manning. As fans know, she is the daughter of protagonist Sarah Manning from the original series. Fishko confirms some familiar faces will return from the original series, including Jordan Gavaris as Felix Dawkins and Evelyn Brouchu, who will reprise the role of Dr. Delphine Cormier.

There was a plan to have Maslany return as well. The Regina-born actress earned three Emmy nominations, and won in 2016, for her star-making performance in the series. Unfortunately, the scheduling did not work out.

“She was shooting something else at the same time we were shooting the show,” says Fishko. “It became an idea that we played with a lot and we actually had an episode that we were holding to figure out whether or not we would be able to have her come back and do a storyline. But the timing didn’t work out that year, so maybe in the future.”

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The original series was co-created by former Calgarian John Fawcett, who returned for Echoes as an executive producer and to direct the first two episodes and the finale. Fishko says he was the “keeper of the mythology of the old show.”

“He spent time with me just talking about what he imagined the evolution of Kira’s character had been after the first series: what might have happened? What choice would Kira have made given what she has been through,” Fishko says. “He was very instrumental in creating the look of the new show.”

Echoes has already aired in other parts of the world but will have its North American debut on June 23. For fans of the old series, there will be plenty of connections to that world. But Fishko says the new series has its own identity as well.

“It was important to me that the audience could come to the show and not have seen the original series and get along just fine and go for the ride,” Fishko says. “There is a clean entry point for a new audience member who is finding the show for the first time and maybe it inspires them to go back and watch the original show.

Anna Fishko will join the original Orphan Black co-creator John Fawcett and Fix on June 11 for Orphan Black: Echoes – Screening and Master Class as part of the Banff World Media Festival at Fairmont Banff Springs. Nick Nantell, head of scripted creative for production company Boat Rocker, and Courtney Thomasma, executive vice president of streaming for AMC  Networks Inc., will also be participating. The Banff World Media Festival runs from June 9 to 12. Orphan Black: Echoes debuts June 23 on BBC, AMC+ and AMC.

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