Bonus Gerry Anderson Content: “The Day After Tomorrow”

Since I’ve got two more Gerry Anderson failed pilots on the same DVD as Space Police, I thought I may as well carry on watching them So You Don’t Have To. This episode: The Day After Tomorrow.

The premise: humanity launches a near-light-speed spacecraft to Alpha Centauri. Since 30 years will pass on Earth before it gets back, it’s crewed by “families.” The “families” consist of two children (boy and girl), Brian Blessed, Nick Tate and Johanna Dunham. I think Nick Tate is meant to be a widower, but there is literally nothing in the story to suggest that Blessed, Tate and Dunham aren’t a polyamorous triple.

Everybody look really intense, on three!

(side point: I got to wondering why they’d have one of the men be a widower, and hit on the sadly obvious reason that they can then do girlfriend-of-the-week romantic subplots, as with poor old Gareth in The Starlost).

Sadly that’s pretty much the only interesting thing– this story’s main flaw is that it is incredibly boring. It isn’t badly written: Johnny Byrne did the script, and Charles Crichton directed it. The cast, well, I told you the cast, they’re all seasoned actors (oh, and Ed Bishop is also in it as a narrator). It’s also got some of the most beautiful model work I’ve seen in an Anderson series, and that’s a high bar.

However, it was clearly intended to be an educational/somewhat accurate series, so we get boring Fun Facts about red shift and time dilation (along with some not-so-factual things like an asteroid field out beyond Pluto; why they didn’t make it the Oort Cloud is something of a mystery). The characters, beyond their possible romantic arrangements, are flat and one-note, with the little boy sounding like he’s possessed by Chocky most of the time.

The ending of the story (spoilers: the ship flies through a black hole into an alternate universe) suggests they were planning a more WTF follow-up, but I can see why nobody picked them up on it. Apart from everything else, I think a story set in an alternate universe might have had dubious value as an educational programme, but a kids’ educational show would have been unlikely to pick up the sort of viewers who like series set in alternate universes.

It sounds like they were trying to turn the setup of Space: 1999 (humans far from Earth and adrift in a universe where anything is possible) into an educational show. Which could have ben a problem because the main artistic value of Space: 1999 (Season 1, at least, before Fred Freiberger came in and it turned into a peculiar action show with misogynous undertones) is its sheer psychedelic trippiness and the way it laughs in the face of science.

In sum, it’s like watching paint dry on an intricately detailed model.

Project Management Lessons From Rogue One: Part One– Star Wars and Project Management

The business school I work for recently started a new series of evening events called Management at the Movies. The idea is that students can watch a movie on a management theme with an introductory talk by a faculty member. Naturally I volunteered, and suggested Rogue One: A Star Wars Story for the movie I would cover. In part because I thought it would make a nice extra feature for the blog.

Star Wars is a series with ample opportunities for studying management, and project management in particular (and I’m far from the only one to have noticed this). The catalyst for action in the first and third movies is an Imperial construction project that largely takes place offscreen (i.e., the Death Star), and, while the rebels’ activities are less explicitly identified as project management, they certainly have the characteristics of a project.

It’s a project. It got managed.

In management studies, we define a project as “a task which has a beginning and an end”. It can repeat, of course, but it’s a temporary activity rather than an ongoing open-ended one. It’s frequently carried out by a team, although the size of the team varies by complexity of task (springing a rebel from detention, assassinating an Imperial engineer, acquiring a specific set of Imperial records), and on a large project (constructing a Death Star, storming an Imperial data storage centre) you can have several small teams coordinating towards a larger end.

Fairly obviously, that definition fits a lot of the plots and subplots of Star Wars movies. But one of the key reasons to focus on Rogue One is that it contains a number of examples of projects which are carried out, all leading up to a final climactic project: the formation of Rogue One and the storming of Scarif. And in the background, throughout, there’s the construction and unleashing of the Death Star.

It’s also very good at showing the cultural and political side of project management. Whether it’s Andor and Jyn learning to trust one another and form the core of the Rogue One team, or Tarkin skillfully sweeping the Death Star project away from Krennic as soon as it’s obvious it’s going to be a success, or Galen secretly working to undermine the very project he’s been brought in to manage, we can see numerous examples of good and bad project management practice. And the great thing about fiction is that we can use outrageous or extreme scenarios to explore issues that are a little closer to home.

In this series, I’ll talk about how the Rogue One team is formed, how the various projects in the movie are conducted, successfully and otherwise, and contrast the construction of the Death Star and the Battle of Scarif as projects. On the way, we’ll consider the lessons the story provides for modern management students.

Space Precinct Pilot: Space Police: “Star Laws”

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.

More alien-like aliens, but are they convincing?

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). 

Actually the cat people are simultaneously cute and creepy.

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.

I’m talking about storytelling…

This time, on a panel! Join me and colleagues Matt Raskovic and David Downs at GSU Ciber on 25 May at 3 PM EST, as we talk about storytelling in management education and policymaking, Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings and New Zealand’s unique brand!

Space Precinct episode 24: “Deathwatch, part II”

Catch up on Part I here! So it turns out the meteor is in two parts, they both need to be assembled for the alien to enter its breeding cycle, and the possessed MI officer is trying to get it to the farm and assemble the parts. For those of you who don’t want to watch the episode and haven’t already guessed, he succeeds, but our heroes are able to destroy the alien through a very gratuitously established Chekhov’s Gun.

As a finale for the series I suppose it succeeds inasmuch as it contains most of the familiar Space Precinct tropes, including Brogan trusting someone on incredibly flimsy evidence, Brogan going rogue in pursuit of justice, Brogan’s work-family conflict (it’s his wedding anniversary, of course), Chief Podly undergoing another violent character swing (having spent the past episode telling his officers not to get involved with the missing persons case, he’s now taking the opposite stance).

There’s some minor end-of-season development, too, in that Haldane and Castle admit their feelings for each other, though frankly there’s less chemistry between Haldane and Castle than between Castle and Took. Also Brogan’s family turn out to love him anyway and accept the vagaries of his job, though his wife still calls him “Brogan”. Carson gets a few more lines than usual. There’s also the only bit of location filming I’ve seen on this series, which is not a good thing as it makes the Creon and Tarn masks look really really fake.

Really unconvincing on location and so are the Tarn masks.

All in all, I’d say Space Precinct is the only series on record to have ended with a bang AND a whimper.

Space Precinct episode 23: “Deathwatch, Part I”

It’s Space Precinct’s final two parter, so are they going to go out in a blaze of WTF characterisation, overly ambitious plotting and exciting model work? Indeed they are.

An asteroid crashes onto a farm in what appears, from the characters’ outrageous accents, to be somewhere in the Southern US (but is apparently not too far from Demeter City). The farmer is possessed by the asteroid, murders a farmhand and turns up in Demeter City under a different name, purchasing a dilapidated block of flats and pressuring the tenants into selling up. Brogan and Haldane become involved when he hires thugs to start enforcing the message and one of the tenants, a fierce old lady, calls the police. Meanwhile Castle and Took are investigating the disappearance of the farmhand, only to find the farm under military guard. There’s also a sinister pair of military intelligence types (OR ARE THEY?!) blocking Brogan and Haldane’s investigation of the slumlord. The episode ends with the slumlord burning down the building and getting killed, the sinister military types acquiring the asteroid, and one of them getting possessed by it. Freeze frame, roll credits.

The story seems to be trying to turn Haldane into a more likeable character, having him make friends with the old lady and also finally admit to Castle that he fancies her. On the other hand Podly is off into sheer irrational territory, telling Brogan and Haldane to drop their investigation and implying the old lady’s making it up, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and likewise dismissing Took and Castle’s missing persons case as not police business (maybe it’ll turn out he’s being pressured too, but IDK, that sort of character inconsistency is normal for Space Precinct). We also learn that Romek lives with his mother.

The only woman in Demeter City that Haldane doesn’t sexually harass?

While the model work is good as always, there’s some really quite over-the-top violence in the scenes with the thugs intimidating the tenants. Piers Haggard is back behind the camera and he’s good with that sort of thing, so maybe that’s why. One of the tenants is surnamed Luton, which may or may not be an Anderson productions in-joke.

Space Precinct episode 22: “The Forever Beetle”

Strap in, buckaroos, this is another completely bonkers one.

Brogan’s childhood pal Murph turns up unexpectedly, crashes on the sofa, borrows Brogan’s car, etc. etc. Brogan, meanwhile, is busy investigating the theft of the titular beetle, a specimen of an endangered species which turns from a beetle into a butterfly (yes really) and which secretes a chemical in its womb (yes, really) that can help regenerate amputated limbs. `All those people involved with this series, and apparently not a single one was at school the day that science class covered insects.

Most of the writing and production team don’t know how one of these works: official!

Shortly after the audience (but not Brogan) learns that Murph is the one that stole the beetle, Brogan’s car blows up, apparently killing Murph, and two thugs burgle Brogan’s flat, failing to acquire the beetle but traumatising young Matt, who happens to be home. As if his sister and mother having PTSD wasn’t enough.

Young Matt then acquires a gun from somewhere, and we get a weirdly pro-gun message for a British show (even one two years pre-Dunblaine) as both of Matt’s parents tell him that they understand he was just doing it to protect the family and they love him, rather than adding “…but statistically guns in the household lead to increased rates of homicide and suicide, and this is clearly just a trauma response on your part, so maybe go learn karate or something instead.” Presumably they were still hoping to sell the series to the American market, though I’m not sure how well a series encouraging teenage boys to tool up would have gone down there either.

Anyway, it turns out Murph isn’t dead, of course, and Brogan has to face the truth about his pal, and it all gets resolved with everybody apparently forgetting about the beetle, which quietly turns into a butterfly and sods off.

The B plot this episode has Castle and Took breaking up a barroom brawl and arresting the main perp, only to discover that he’s a sportsball star so the entire precinct are willing to give him a free pass even though he’s plainly guilty. The twist is that he then gets arrested for domestic violence and all the cops who’d supported him turn against him, which I suppose ties in nicely with the Brogan/Murph plot about having to acknowledge that someone you like isn’t very nice, and it’s good to have an anti-DV message in a story like this, but still.

There’s also a subplot involving young Matt acquiring a tarantula, which I think was meant to tie into the beetle plot (maybe the thugs mistake the tarantula for the beetle? IDK) but just sort of fizzles out and suggests the story needed another editing pass.

Oh, and the Brogans’ animatronic pet is <shudder> back, though it doesn’t do very much.

Trivia point: when I searched for “The Forever Beetle” on YouTube, the third result down was the official video for “Penny Lane”.