The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
lthough Gerry Anderson is arguably best known for the television creations which feature his patented “Supermarionation” process, including “Thunderbirds,” “Joe 90,” “Fireball XL-5,” and “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons,” the resume of this much esteemed British producer, director and writer certainly isn’t without its entries in the field of live action. First and foremost, of course, would have to be “Space: 1999,” but beyond that, there’s also “The Protectors,” starring Robert Vaughn, and “UFO,” with Ed Bishop, Michael Billington and Gabrielle Drake. All of these series made it to DVD courtesy of the fine folks at A&E. For many years, however, one last Anderson production remained MIA, though its location was presumed to be somewhere in the vicinity of the planet Altor.
That series... is “Space Precinct.”
Though I’ve no definitive answer as to why the folks at A&E didn’t opt to release “Space Precinct” themselves (perhaps it was a licensing issue), Image Entertainment has stepped in to remedy the problem, kindly offering up a complete series set which features all 24 episodes of the series. It’s very possible, however, that you may find yourself of the opinion that one episode is quite enough.
The idea of creating a hybrid between a sci-fi series and a cop drama isn’t the craziest idea in the world – heck, Fox did it back in ’89 with their TV adaptation of “Alien Nation” – but Gerry Anderson kept the concept about as simple as you could get. So simple, in fact, that there are a lot of questions that never get answered. The basic conceit of the show is that two former NYC cops, Patrick Brogan (Ted Shackelford) and Jack Haldane (Rob Youngblood), have been transferred to the planet Altor, where they now carry a badge for the city of Demeter City. Brogan brings his wife and two kids with him, but Haldane’s swinging single, so he’s forever flirting with Office Jane Castle (Simone Bendix), who’s apparently a human from the UK, though unless I missed it, we never actually find out what brought her to Demeter City. (An exchange program with Scotland Yard, perhaps?)
Funny thing about the folks on Altor, though: although there are countless alien races inhabiting the planet, most of which have big heads and bulbous eyes, almost all of them speak colloquial English (many of them in decidedly Earth-derived accents), and wear more or less the same kind of clothing that your average New Yorker would.
There are certainly other sci-fi elements to the show, including criminals with extra-sensory perception and crooks who can transform from beautiful women into horrific monsters (there’s a PMS joke there, but I’m not going to be the one to make it), but as often as not, if you listened to the dialogue without looking at the screen, you’d think you were watching a normal cop drama. Of course, Anderson and company have spent a lot of money on “Space Precinct” – certainly compared to their usual budgets, anyway – to make the screen worth looking at, but when one does so, the effect of aliens dressed in police uniforms and doling out the kind of patter you’d hear on “Dragnet” or “Law & Order” is more than a little disconcerting.
Oh, who are we kidding? “Space Precinct” is weird. Weird, weird, weird. If you watched it on acid, it would, without question, break your brain. But what’s weird about the weirdness (if that mere phrase doesn’t break your brain) is the show’s insistence that what it’s showing you is perfectly normal. There is no “secret origin” episode. You’re just supposed to accept Lt. Brogan’s opening narration – “For 20 years, I was with the NYPD. Now? Well, let’s just say I’ve transferred to another precinct!” – and move forward. As the series only lasted for a single season, one presumes that many viewers were incapable of doing so. Beyond that, though, the show’s surface look, which comes closer to Sid & Marty Krofft than “Star Trek,” surely left many suspicious that adults were truly the target audience.
For my part, I find “Space Precinct” thoroughly fascinating. No, neither the effects nor the make-up have aged particularly well, but in addition to being an aficionado of the eccentric, the show’s tendency to bounce between the serious and the silly makes it a heck of a lot of fun. The melding of sci-fi and cop drama is decidedly imperfect, but its insistence on sticking to the concept through thick and thin makes “Space Precinct” imminently watchable and consistently enjoyable.
But still weird.
Special Features: Not a bloody one. This is one of those sets where you have to figure that someone said, “We know that anything with Gerry Anderson’s name on it will sell no matter what, so why bother spending extra money putting together any bonus material?” Fair enough, but it’s still disappointing. Last I heard, Anderson was still alive, well, and considering possible productions for the future. You’d think someone could have talked him into sitting down in front of a camera for a few minutes to discuss “Space Precinct.”