Space Precinct, episode 10: “Seek and Destroy”

Buckle up, folks, because this episode’s plot is a *wild* ride.

A Tarn and a human are brutally murdered. They both work for the same company, they both own dogs, and a strange alien of the latex-prosthetics-and-human-eyes type was seen near both crime scenes. When Brogan and Haldane track him down, he kidnaps Brogan and tells him that his planet was invaded by some aliens called the Omeara (believe me, I keep wanting to put in an apostrophe), and Demeter City is next unless he stops them. For some reason Brogan actually believes this guy. After a third murder, Haldane and Brogan discover that all three victims were on the board of a company called Demeter Dogs, which claims to have developed a vaccine to protect dogs against Creon Fever, which is otherwise fatal to them (still with me?) and is now also selling Golden Retrievers to the people of Demeter City. As our hero cops work out that the dogs have a silicone chip implanted in their brains which can be triggered by a combination of the “vaccine” and a remote-control device, the O’Meara, sorry, Omeara, have identified Brogan and plot to murder him by giving his daughter one of the Demeter Dogs. The dog is triggered and it takes Brogan and Haldane far too long to hit on the idea of breaking the remote control, which they do before it savages the Brogan offspring of course. The bad guys are brought to justice and the vigilante strolls off into the sunset, but the Brogans can’t keep the dog because a) the vaccine was a fake, and b) episodic series have a reset button.

This one’s gone to the dogs.

I have many questions, of course, like, why bother with the fake vaccine at all and not just have the silicone chip trigger, and why everyone seems so chill with Vigilante Man who at the very least has obstructed police proceedings, and why the O’Meara, sorry, Omeara, are killing off people who are collaborating with them. But they will not be answered.

High points include learning that on Demeter City, rather than working up a sketch of a suspect from witness’ statements, they just get a Tarn to scan the witness’ memory and print off a picture. Which is sort of cool. 

The O’Meara, sorry, Omeara, look suspiciously like Lord Voldemort, though I can’t find any direct connections between the effects teams on the early Harry Potter movies and this one (the effects director on this series is Neill Gorton, later to do an awful lot of Doctor Who, but as far as I can tell he never worked on Harry Potter, or at least won’t admit to it on his CV). The attack dog puppet is hilariously fake-looking.

Also, I actually spotted a non-White extra in the police station, but it is still a bit of a mayonnaise festival around there. 

Lots Of Things on the BSFA Longlist!

No FitzJames and Moyo stories this year (though I have published one, “The Little Friend” in Fission #2), but Management Lessons from Game of Thrones and three short pieces, “Mnemotechnic,” “The Memory Spider” and “The Slow Deaths of Automobiles” are all on the BSFA Award Longlist! And two out of three of those are stories about Things.

Congratulations to all my fellow listees!

Space Precinct episode 9: “The Power”

That title just has me earworming the early 1990s Eurotechno top-twenty hit “I’ve Got The Power”, and now you have it too. #sorrynotsorry.

There’s a new energy company in Demeter City, promising cheap and eco-friendly power through the use of magic crystals, whoops, “Luxorian ice”. Meanwhile, a jewel thief turned security consultant and the security chief for said energy company turn up dead shortly after having been in the presence of a certain prostitute.

Let’s take a moment to forget how ridiculous all this is and just admire the model work. Isn’t it pretty?

Haldane is sent in as a honeytrap, in what I suppose would be a nice reversal of gender roles if it weren’t Haldane, and it transpires that the prostitute is also mind-probing her victims with a device that copies their minds and memories onto a little VR-type device. She evidently thinks copying Haldane’s will be useful because he’s police; little does she know the contents of his mind consist entirely of figuring out new ways to sexually harass Castle.

Anyway, spoilers, it turns out the prostitute is doing this to gain control of the magic crystal energy device on behalf of the rival power company, using the information in the mind probe to bypass security systems. All this leads to a climax where the energy device runs out of control and Brogan has to stop it using the mind-copying device.

B-plots this ep involve Brogan’s wife and son joining an ecological protest against the non-magic-crystal power company, and for some reason a rather awful “comedy” subplot where the two Creon officers try Internet dating. It feels as if the writer wasn’t happy with either, but couldn’t decide which to drop (word to the wise, it would have been the Internet dating one: the eco-protest one is naff and ever so Nineties in its “we have to save the planet by waving handmade signs!” earnestness, but at least it ties in thematically with the A plot, and it isn’t sexist as all get out).

Space Precinct episode 8: “Deadline”

Guest star alert: Steven Berkoff. Yes, the great stage writer and theatre director, known for pioneering an entire style of staging known in his honour as Berkovian theatre, is playing an organ transplant surgeon. At least he’s not wearing a google-eyed mask.

Brogan expresses his views about the thematic unity of the postmodernist masterpiece “Messiah: Scenes from a Crucifixion.”

The story this episode is the stuff of many an urban legend-based cop show– two Creon criminals are killing off street people and selling their organs on the black market, passing them off as being from legit donors– but is more than usually full of plot holes. For instance:

  • The police become aware of the scam when the criminals are caught speeding, and then firing the corpse of one of their victims, in a capsule intended for space burial, at an apartment building. Why, just… why. Why any of it.
  • Chief Podly dismisses as coincidence the fact that a street person disappears just before Berkoff gets a convenient delivery of organs from a deceased asteroid miner of the same species– but when Brogan et al. learn that no miners have died on that asteroid in the past few years, they don’t then go to Podly and say “slam dunk!” they instead stage a sting in which Castle pretends to be a journalist and confronts Berkoff with this. And of course get into trouble for it.
  • The Creon organ-leggers kidnap Brogan with a view to harvesting his organs. In broad daylight, from his home in a middle-class neighbourhood. This does not end well for them, but you’d think one of them would realise the obvious flaws in the plan.

We also learn that even Brogan’s wife calls him “Brogan” (to be fair, in other episodes she does call him “Patrick”, but not here), and also that when she’s naked in a hot-tub and inviting him to join her, he’ll say he’s too busy. How they’ve managed to have two kids is a very good question.

There’s a B plot with Brogan trying to source some peanut butter, rare on Demeter City, for his daughter Liz, and I’ll say this for Space Precinct, it is awfully good at marrying up the A and B plots, even if it is in silly ways (Brogan leaves his details with an underworld contact who might have some peanut butter, and this leads to the Creon organ-leggers finding out where he lives).

…okay, that B plot in full because it’s just too completely whacky: Brogan has promised his daughter she can have whatever she asks for if she gets 100% on her math test. She asks for peanut butter. Which turns out to be unobtainable. In the course of trying to catch the organ-leggers, Brogan meets a Gavroche type street child (friend of one of the victims) and on the off chance asks if he knows where to get peanut butter; Gavroche suggests a certain dodgy diner, where the server says they might have some in later, and Brogan leaves his details, and, as I said above, hijinx ensjue. As the denouement to the B plot, Gavroche turns up at the end of the story with a jar of peanut butter as a gift to Brogan for cracking the case.

And finally, a side note: apart from one pizza delivery man and one petty criminal, every human on Demeter City that we’ve seen so far is White. As I said in the introduction, this will change before long, and it’s also less noticeable if you watch in broadcast order rather than production order, because the team are savvy enough to mix some of the more-diverse later episodes back in with the less-diverse earlier ones. But I’m watching in production order, so it’s pretty noticeable to me right now. However, we do have a new alien race this ep: they’re purple and have four arms and must have taken a hell of a lot of work, but they never appear again.

On the plus side, there’s some absolutely wonderful model work, including a sequence of Brogan and Haldane crashing their police car into a diner which is just delightful.

Holiday Reading

It turns out I’m now in the happy position of having no less than three festive short stories available to read for free. And they also fit nicely with the various stages of the holiday! So if you’d like to read my festive fiction over the break, why not:

Christmas Eve: The Island of Misfit Toys

Christmas Day: Misrule

Boxing Day: The Egg Man

I suppose that means I’ll have to come up with something for St Lucia’s Day or Epiphany or something for next year.

By the way, I’m going to be an author guest at an online event for the launch of Maaja Wentz’s new Substack on December 29— see you there maybe?

Space Precinct episode 7: “Time to Kill”

As the deaths of regular characters mount up, connoisseurs of the Anderson oeuvre will recognise that we are already up to the Episode with the Reset Button– the one where everyone gets killed but it’s all a dream or an alternate universe or time paradox or something. Normally these work better later in the series when the audience has had time to become emotionally invested in the characters, but I’m not sure that really matters here.

He’s no Arnie.

Anyway, Brogan et al. are engaging in a routine raid on a counterfeiting organisation when suddenly a cyborg bursts in and starts shooting. This cyborg looks suspiciously like an off-brand T-800, and indeed says “I’ll be back” at one point in the story. During the subsequent firefight a young man who was an innocent bystander to the counterfeiting racket falls into a vat of acid, surviving but horribly burned and in a coma, and the viewer has already figured out who the cyborg is at that point. 

Of course, it takes Brogan another 40 or so minutes to come to that same conclusion and persuade it to go back in time and reset history, and I’m sorry to say that much of the entertainment factor in this story comes from watching Haldane, Castle, Tookie et al meet gruesome ends at the cyborg’s hands. Brogan’s wife also gets a clue and leaves him, though as with everything else in the Brogan family subplot she manages to time the announcement so it makes no emotional or narrative sense at all.

Space Precinct 6: “Body And Soul”

Since Brogan’s daughter got to be Taken To Work last episode, Brogan takes his son, Matt, out flying around asteroids for a little guy time. And it occurs to me that the lad seems to have no interests other than a) Sportsball and b) his (male) friend Alnasi, and I’m beginning to have serious questions about his heterosexuality.

Mind you, later in the episode, learning that Castle has bullet wounds, he asks if he can see her scars, but only Haldane seems to pick up on the innuendo (and yes, he’s back to sexually harassing her, so I guess the dinner date didn’t go well).

Anyhow, back to the plot. Brogan and son stumble across a derelict spaceship containing a corpse. “What do we do about it?” asks Matt. “I don’t know,” says Brogan, and you’d think, being a cop and all, he would. The ship turns out to be a prototype built by a corporation run by a former playboy turned germ-obsessed recluse named Humes.

Gratuitous Nineties computer imagery ahoy.

Before you can say “I see what they did there,” it, predictably, turns out Humes has been dead for years (indeed, it’s his corpse on the spaceship) and the company’s been run by his PA, using a hologram of Humes as cover. Less predictably, the hologram murders the PA once it learns it’s a hologram, and goes off on a vengeance spree that, back to predictability, Matt manages to talk him out of.

Incredibly, no buildings get blown up during this episode, though more than one spaceship does.

Space Precinct episode 5: “Snake”

The titular character is an alien with his own eyes (albeit under lizard contact lenses), who is a bomber and extortionist. Friends of mine who were paying attention at the time tell me that the Radio Times‘ coverage suggested he was going to be a recurring villain, and indeed he actually rated his own action figure. Both of these would turn out to be somewhat optimistic, but see below.

Clearly if they’re going to do an action figure of him, he won’t be just a one-off gimmick, right?

Anyway, Snake seems to be running two campaigns, one blowing up corporate executives who won’t pay his ransoms, and another placing bombs on a cargo ship belonging to the Talon Corporation. In an unexpected bit of anticorporate satire, the corporation refuses to pay up because it’s cheaper to lose the cargo and ship and kill the crew than to give in to the ransom demand, and Brogan and Haldane need to defuse the bombs before the timer counts down and blah blah.

Complicating this is the fact that Castle turns out to be a bomb disposal expert, only the last time she tangled with the Snake she got her squad killed, and that’s why she’s out here in Demeter City and more blah blah. Her former mentor turns up to help defeat the Snake, and we get to watch Castle’s highly predictable emotional journey as she regains the confidence to save the day. 

She also accepts a dinner invitation from Haldane, which might encourage any young men watching to believe that sexually harassing a woman for four episodes is a good way to win her over, except I’m pretty sure most people had stopped watching by this point.

Anyway, the surprise twist turns out to be that in fact the Snake isn’t running the second campaign, it’s actually, spoiler alert, Castle’s former mentor. It seems a bit unexpectedly cold that he’d be willing to murder two of his fellow officers, as well as the civilian crew of the freighter, but whatever.

In other developments, the DCPD’s cells continue to be the easiest ones in the galaxy to break out of; Brogan’s daughter’s annoying pet animatronic* apparently has the gift of prophecy; and the production team are scarily fond of making miniature buildings blow up.

*For those who aren’t actually watching along, this thing is a horribly fake-looking animatronic monkey-parrot creature that you just know someone thought would be a great idea and a hit with Merchandising, but actually none of the scriptwriters have the faintest idea what to do with it. Think N’Grath from Babylon 5, except cloyingly cute. Spoiler alert, the gift of prophecy thing basically goes nowhere and we see less and less of the creature as the series goes on.

Space Precinct, episode 4: “Flash”

After a decent episode last time, we’re now back to business as usual. Indeed, worse than usual. 

There’s a new drug on the streets in Demeter City: Flash. As we are painstakingly told at least twice (even though you’d think the cops would already know this), Flash gives its users massive confidence before causing them to burn up in, well, a flash, hence the name. It turns out it was developed by a legit pharmaceutical company, but never put on the market due to the above-mentioned toxic side effect.

And from there things just get more and more ludicrous. The person responsible for leaking it out to the streets is the CEO of the legit pharmaceutical company, who is also holding the chemist who developed it hostage and forcing her to develop a version without the side effect. Uh, why would he need to do either? Surely 1) he’s making enough money without needing to live-action-roleplay Breaking Bad, and 2) she would be more than happy to develop a version of the drug that does what it’s supposed to do? 

Also, four trained police officers, after stun-gunning the villain’s accomplice, simply walk away from the scene without cuffing her and taking her into custody, and they deserve everything they get from that.

The B plot this episode is that Brogan has to Take His Daughter To Work, and of course hijinks ensue. I wonder if this episode might not be one of the reasons American TV networks thought it was a kids show. We learn that Mrs Brogan (possibly even… Doctor Brogan?) works at a hospital, which makes her naïveté about what her husband does on the job rather puzzling.

“So you want to be a police officer, kid? First thing you’ve got to learn is how to put up with the constant tedious sexual harassment from Haldane.”

We also learn that Haldane is a country and western fan (it’s 1994 and there’s a craze on), and that no two actors can agree on how to pronounce his name. Also, referring to another 1994 craze, there’s a TV show called Demeter City Blue, clearly based on NYPD Blue.

Also for some reason you can really see the joins in the latex on the Creon masks this episode. Or maybe you could before, and I’m only noticing it now.

Space Precinct episode 3: “Enforcer”

Stop the press: This is a good episode. Repeat: THIS IS A GOOD EPISODE.

Interestingly, it’s because it focuses on the alien characters, and the (wooden) humans largely take a back seat.

There’s a vigilante on Skull Street, the dodgy neighbourhood where police chief Podly comes from. This vigilante is a Tarn who apparently has the ability to cause spontaneous heart attacks. But once he’s killed off the local gang members, he starts demanding protection money. And it turns out his powers actually come from a little alien girl he’s taken under his wing, convincing her that he’ll take her to her lost parents… as soon as they do this next murder… and the next one… and the next one… but don’t worry, dear, they’re all bad guys who deserve it…

And what we get is basically a story about manipulation, emotional abuse, grooming, and complex, stupid people.

E.g., we learn that police chief Podly was encouraged out of the ghetto and into his police job by an older Creon named Skefen. And when Podly goes back to talk to Skefen to find out what’s happening, the latter rails at him, accusing him of leaving his people behind. Maybe it’s bad characterisation? Or maybe it’s a reflection of the fact that people, even ones with fish eyes and no noses, are complicated? Maybe I’m being charitable but I’m inclined to the latter.

Spot the difference.

Even Brogan actually turns out decently characterised this week, as he and his family foster the alien girl and try to convince her that the whole world isn’t out to use her. And the alien girl is a makeup job without googly eyes, which helps.

Okay, we’ve still got the obligatory scene where Haldane sexually harasses Castle and I just want to throw things at the screen. And the dialogue is still stilted, and the acting still wooden, and the Brogan family pet looks like a Disneyworld animatronic. But on the whole– recommended!