Complete First Season
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Reviewed by Will Harris
here was a time not so very long ago when sci-fi shows were a laughable breed – the type of series that had to stick to the barest of formulas because they didn’t have the budget to get as creative with their concepts as they might’ve liked. Look, for instance, at the sets of the original “Star Trek” series, the dinosaurs on “Land of the Lost,” or any number of “Doctor Who” serials. Or, for more intentional laughs at the genre’s expense, you can check out shows like “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace” or “Saul of the Molemen.” Since the advent of green-screen technology, the proliferation of sci-fi has been considerable, but few have taken it to the extreme of “Sanctuary,” where virtually all of the show’s sets are not built but, rather, created via CGI technology.
To watch “Sanctuary: The Complete First Season” is to see a show which has the opportunity to be as creative as it wants to be, but even so, it must suffer through the same growing pains of any series during its first season, spending a great deal of time introducing viewers to its characters, concepts, and conceits. Dr. Helen Magnus (Amanda Tapping) is a scientist on a mission to seek out various new and unique life forms – generally referred to as Abnormals – around the world, aided by a team which includes her daughter, Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), computer geek Henry Foss (Ryan Robbins), and, oddly enough, Bigfoot (Christopher Heyerdahl). Yes, that Bigfoot, though, you know, he’s really been misunderstood for all these years; it turns out he’s quite a talented fellow, which he proves by serving as the team’s butler, chauffeur, bodyguard, and general jack of all trades. And since any sci-fi show worth its salt needs someone to come from outside and look in at all of the weirdness, the first episode of “Sanctuary” also serves as the introduction of Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), a former police forensic scientist who’s welcomed onto the team by Dr. Magnus because of his empathic abilities.
Unto every show must come a villain, and here it is John Druitt, who is also played by Heyerdall, a luxury allowed to him because his face is hidden by makeup when he’s playing Bigfoot. If the name “John Druitt” sounds familiar to you, then you must have a taste for the macabre, as there was an actual person with the same name who was one of the primary suspects in the Jack the Ripper murders – and here’s where we start to talk about the show’s conceits, specifically its blending of fact and fiction. Those who are fans of Alan Moore’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” will immediately roll their eyes at the similarities between their beloved comic book and this television series, as “Sanctuary” enjoys both making sci-fi figures out of real people (Druitt and inventor Nikola Tesla) and borrowing existing public-domain literary characters (John Watson and Nigel Griffin, a.k.a. the Invisible Man) and bringing them into their storylines. Despite the obvious comparisons, however, it’s still quite fun to see how the show has written these characters into the history of their “universe,” and the episodes which spotlight the organization known as The Five are among the best of the season.
“Sanctuary” isn’t necessarily as awesome as it wants to be. It would be in no way surprising if some called the series a “Torchwood” knockoff, and like the aforementioned “Extraordinary” similarities, it’s all too easy to pick out the source material for many of the episodes, such as “Instinct” (“Cloverfield”), “Kush” (“The Thing”), and “The Folding Man” (“The Usual Suspects”). Even Tapping has conceded that “Nubbins” came about because a network executive asked that the show produce its own version of “The Trouble with Tribbles,” though it’s to the series’ credit that they put enough of a dark twist on it that it holds its own.
As noted above, every show has to suffer through a season of stage-setting, but “Sanctuary” has been picked up for another year, and there’s more than enough originality hovering amongst the borrowed concepts to hope that the sophomore season will see no slump in the show’s development.
Special Features: The best bit for longtime “Sanctuary” fans will arguably prove to be the inclusion of the original webisodes that led to the television series, but there are audio commentaries from the cast and crew on all 13 episodes, three making-of featurettes, a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, a blooper reel, and a sneak peek at the show’s upcoming second season.