Because I’m a completist and a masochist, I watched Gerry Anderson’s Space Police, the sort-of-not-a-pilot for Space Precinct, last night so you don’t have to. It’s on Disc One of the DVD set The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson, if you’re interested. The single episode is entitled “Star Laws”, and I see what they did there.
The most ambitious and head-trippy and yet strangely on-brand thing about it is the production. It is a series with almost no live actors in it. All the alien races are puppets: Shane Rimmer, as Brogan, is the only human, and he spends 90% of the story interacting with puppets through clever use of cutaways (and occasional humans in masks for when he has to stand by one, or when one has to walk). There’s another character who’s played by a human, sometimes, but she’s an android whose face is a holographic overlay or something and she turns back into an android for the puppets-only action sequences.
This works better and worse than you’d think. On the one hand, it means they can get more alien-looking aliens and more complicated action sequences than Space Precinct. On the other, it did sort of feel like a 1960s Anderson kids’ series that was trying to be grown-up and not quite succeeding. More on this later.
It’s got a similar sort of multi-species city setup as Space Precinct, only the main cop aliens are a kind of anthropomorphic cats, and one of them had a mask so different to the others I wasn’t sure if she was meant to be the same species as them. The bad guy is a fat Mafia slug that’s a clear riff on Jabba the Hutt, though he has the nice detail of eyes that change colour when his emotions change.
Also, Slo-Mo is a character in it, and a way more interesting one than in Space Precinct: he has TV screen eyes with which he conveys information, sometimes subversively (e.g. secretly telling his fellow cops the sportsball scores during a briefing, or flashing subliminal images at Brogan to induce him to drink a soda pop). The precinct is the 44th, meaning that the 88th in Space Precinct is probably a shoutout.
Good points: the production’s magnificent as always, and there’s some entertaining shoutouts to Blade Runner (e.g. a holographic billboard that closes its eyes in terror as a police car drives through it). The plot is pretty much nicked from an episode of Captain Scarlet (the bad guys, trying to strong-arm the cops into releasing their mate, cause a monorail carrying the President to run out of control), but Captain Scarlet is a good series so that’s okay. The integration between the puppet shots and the live action is near-seamless.
The soundtrack sounds like a cross between Vangelis and Wendy Carlos’ score for A Clockwork Orange, which is interesting even if I wasn’t sure it worked all the time.
The main problem the story has is that it can’t seem to make up its mind what audience it’s aiming for. Space Precinct reportedly had trouble with American executives thinking it was a kids’ programme (and then getting alarmed by all the sex, drugs and violence), but its writers and production people were clearly aiming it at the teens-and-adults demographic. Space Police, though, keeps segueing wildly between adult elements (mafiosi, seedy bars, murders) and kid elements (all the villains have cutesy names like I Ball and E Ville, there’s a robot dog named Megabite, there are excruciating puns and charismatic cat-people).
Before I watched Space Precinct, several people told me “it can’t make up its mind if it’s a kids’ or an adult show and the aliens are all puppets,” which, while it’s sort of true, is much more the case for Space Police. The aliens in Space Precinct are mostly people in masks, and, while it suffers from weird shifts in tone, it’s more that it tends to go from cop-show-in-space to WTF-did-I-just-watch. So I wonder if, as with the rumour that The Starlost‘s scripts came from a high-school writing contest actually originating in The Starcrossed, it’s one of those cases where a critique got started somewhere else and attached itself to the series.
As a coda, the second DVD contains a trailer for what seems to be a halfway point between Space Police and Space Precinct. Starring Haldane and Castle as well as Brogan, and also featuring what seem to be prototypical Creon and Tarn aliens (though the Tarn, interestingly, has Star Trek style latex prosthetics rather than an animatronic mask, and the Creon mask is way more animated than the ones we finally got), it also reuses puppet and effects shots from Space Police. According to an article on the official Anderson website, this was the pitch that got Space Precinct commissioned.