Space Precinct – tape 1951

Ah, Space Precinct. You promised us such happiness, but instead delivered only vague disappointment. I suppose Terrahawks should have been a warning.

It pains me that I didn’t like this series more. Or is it simply that I’m too old to fall in love with the show, like I fell in love with Thunderbirds or Space 1999. Or perhaps it’s because at this time there was a lot more TV science fiction, and a lot more good TVSF at that. Babylon 5 was starting, Star Trek The Next Generation was just coming to an end, so there was serious competition.

This is the pilot episode, Protect and Survive, written by Paul Mayhew Archer, a writer more comfortable writing comedy. It was directed by John Glen, veteran director of several Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton Bond films, so there’s truckloads of experience there. And the special effects, such a core part of any Gerry Anderson show, were handled by Stephen Begg and model maker Bill Pearson, both longtime Anderson collaborators. Most of the effects here look practical, so I would presume it’s mostly miniature photography, probably augmented by CGI for compositing.

The creature work is handled by Neill Gorton who, after some early work in The Revenge of Billy The Kid, a movie I’m sure he’d prefer to forget, although his work was perfectly good, he’d go on to be the go-to guy for prosthetics on Doctor Who and Torchwood.

The first episode concerns illegal immigration by aliens, compounded by a deadly disease brought in by them. Oliver Tobias plays a shadowy bad guy who’s bringing in the illegal aliens, and the great Burt Kwouk plays a police informer who leads hero cops Brogan and Haldane (Ted Shackleford and Rob Youngblood) to the courier.

Kwouk and Tobias

It’s nice to see that door locks on space cars haven’t changed that much.

Space Door Locks

Back at home, Officer Brogan’s son is rocking the Oculus Rift version 10.0, but for some reason he’s still using a wired gamepad.

Wired Gamepad

 

In the end, something about this show just doesn’t gel. All the alien characters with masks just serve to (ahem) alienate the viewer – because most of the dialogue is re-recorded, it puts distance between us. And the human characters aren’t much better. Brogan is the workaholic cop whose son is hanging around in the bad part of town, but he deals with that just by getting grumpier with him. Haldane just wants to lech after Simone Bendix’s Officer Jane Castle, and she appears to be permanently manning the precinct desk, rather than going into action with ‘the boys’. And after an argument over video-link with his wife, Brogan paces the room muttering ‘Stupid woman,’ which doesn’t endear him to me.

It’s the uneven tone which most jars, though. Much of it is light, seemingly aimed at a younger audience, and some of the acting definitely has ‘bad kids tv’ written all over it. Yet other parts seem to be trying to be more like Hill Street Blues. But in the end, it fails to be comfortable doing either thing.

One last thing is the music. The title music starts off promising, very kinetic, but then it goes into the main musical theme which is a clunky, half-tempo brass motif that woulds like it’s from a different show. It totally derails the music, which is a shame, because the incidental music is occasionally very good. They clearly spent money on a full orchestral recording, which definitely adds production value. But that ponderous theme really irks me.

 

After this episode, recording switches, and we’re treated (?) to some Coca Cola Hit Mix presented by Terry Christian.

Then, thankfully, there’s more Space Precinct. That’s not much praise, though, is it? “Space Precinct: Better than watching Terry Christian present pop videos”

The next episode on this tape is The Snake. An extortionist reptile with acid for blood is attempting to extort money from big corporations, and he puts four bombs on a large freighter, so the team have to try to disarm all four bombs before the ship explodes. This one has a nice plot, and the design for the Snake is very good.

The Snake

Next episode is Time To Kill. A police raid on a counterfeiting facility goes wrong when a cyborg appears and starts shooting everyone. The cyborg causes Brogan to shoot an innocent bystander, who then falls into a vat of acid and is horribly scarred, so Brogan naturally feels guilty.

The cyborg kills Took, Castle’s partner, in what would be a shocking scene, but it’s slightly undercut by the fact that Took was the character in jeopardy in the pilot episode, so my immediate thought was this is going to be a running gag, like Kenny in South Park.

The cyborg then does an odd thing – it injects the bystander who Brogan accidentally shot with some kind of drug, which they later discover has halted his tissue degeneration.

Things go from bad to worse when Brogan and Haldane have a mid-air shoot-out with the cyborg. Brogan ejects, but Haldane goes down with the ship, and is (we presume) killed.

Now, unless Space Precinct has suddenly become Game of Thrones, alert viewers might sense where this story might be going. it tips its hand somewhat when the cyborg attacks the police department, shooting loads of policemen, in order to get to someone who’s there for protection from this very cyborg. If this plot doesn’t strike a familiar note by now, you’ll surely get it when the cyborg, in a stand-off with Brogan, says “I’ll be back for you Brogan”.

Suddenly all is clear, and they’re doing Terminator. And because now, officer Castle is also dead, it’s not hard to see how this whole story will resolve itself. Let’s see if I’m right…

Ceasing to exist

Yep, that’s Brogan in the past seeing Brogan from the future and the cyborg ceasing to exist because he’s manage to correct the timeline.

Incidentally, this episode was written by Hans Beimler and Richard Manning, both of whom were on the writing staff of Star Trek The Next Generation, and who both have writing credits on Yesterday’s Enterprise, another time travel story in which major characters die before the timeline is restored.

So, this is doubly derivative. But it works fine, as there’s nothing like an alternate timeline story to add drama to a show.

Next episode is Body and Soul. Brogan and his son are on a Father-Son bonding trip into space when they discover a derelict spaceship, with a dead body on board. This story has some interesting twists in the way the story develops. First, the ship belongs to a big corporation run by a reclusive genius. When they are told of the discovery, suddenly the ship’s self destruct is triggered, and Brogan and Son barely escape. Clearly, the head of the corporation didn’t want the dead body to be discovered.

But when DNA analysis of bits of the dead body left on Haldane’s son’s hands shows the body was the reclusive company head, we find that his second in command had killed him, and replaced him with an AI hologram.

The twist comes because the AI was a) self aware and b) unaware he was a hologram. Lucky for him he’s a hologram that can fire lightning from his fingertips, and he kills his treacherous assistant. But then, he decides that he’d rather like to have a family, so he kidnaps Brogan’s son.

It’s not the predictable trajectory for this story, so I give it credit for that.

After this episode, recording stops, and underneath there’s some remnants of older recordings, with part of an episode of Cops.

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4 comments

  1. A sci-fi cop show isn’t such a bad idea, but the execution in this wasn’t great. Not helping was a sense of humour that makes Star Trek TNG jokes look like the height of sparkling banter.

    But don’t diss Terrahawks, that’s still very entertaining, it’s underrated in the Anderson canon, unlike this, whose missed opportunity reputation is just right.

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