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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
This is a painfully literal title, since the main plot is Brogan and Haldane having to protect an alien businessman who witnessed the murder of a police informant (Burt Kwouk, giving a pop-eyed pidgin-English performance that should make all but the most hardened racists cringe), and who is being stalked by assassins who don’t want him to survive to the trial date. Geddit? Generic-sounding but painfully literal titles will turn out to be something of a pattern for Space Precinct.
The person who murdered the police informant is wanted for smuggling illegal immigrants and spreading the space covid (really) and yet the trial seems to hinge entirely on the murder. It feels rather like the writer forgot about the earlier crimes by the time he’d got to the last fifteen minutes.
Elsewhere, Brogan’s family are angry at him and it’s no surprise, since he seems unable to communicate the slightest thing. E.g., would it kill him to say to his wife “I’m not refusing to eat dinner because your cooking is bad, it’s just that by coincidence I’ve spent the afternoon chasing a suspect through a slaughterhouse full of the very alien creatures you’ve just served to me as cutlets”? Or provide an actual reason to his son for why he won’t let him go downtown bar vaguely growling about how it’s bad down there? It doesn’t seem like it would be breaking too much confidentiality to explain “I’ll be away for a few days because I’m protecting a witness” rather than just vaguely saying he has to work late? Yes, Brogan, your wife doesn’t understand you, because you’re just not giving her the information.
B plots this week also include a comedy piece where various secondary characters play an online game to try to win tickets to a sportsball match and alien psychic police officer Tookie coming down with the space covid, though both of these actually work in that they provide a reason why the villain is able to learn where they’re hiding the witness (Castle asks Orrin and Romek how she can contact Brogan and tell him Tookie’s come round, and the Creons are so busy with their game that, rather than follow protocol, they just tell her which hotel they’re keeping the witness at).
Elsewhere, the alien-witness plot leads to a lot of heavy-handed comedy racism which seems a little inexplicable. Last week, Brogan and Haldane were living in a multi-species society so integrated that they didn’t blink at maggots as a pizza topping, and yet this week they find prehensile tongues and deep-fried mice beyond the pale.
Castle has two pieces of characterisation: 1) she doesn’t like it when Haldane sexually harasses her and 2) she really, really loves her partner Tookie and is very worried for her once she gets sick. The lesbian police officer was a solid trope by the mid-nineties (I think the earliest I’ve spotted it was in the late 1970s police procedural Strangers, though they generally pretended she was straight so as not to upset Mary Whitehouse), so it wouldn’t be too surprising if there was a subtext here. But there isn’t.
Finally, the acting is so stilted and wooden that I’m wondering if this isn’t secretly another Anderson puppet series on the quiet.
Right from the start, it’s obvious this series is really just a standard police-department drama, complete with all the cliches, albeit slightly transposed into the far future of, erm, 2040 (or maybe not; it’s unclear from the title sequence if that’s the year or just Brogan’s badge number. Considering that Gerry Anderson’s earlier series gave us an alien invasion by 1980 and a functioning moonbase by 1999, however, a near-future date is on brand).
The characters are all police-series cliches. We have our hero cop, Brogan, transferred in from New York to Demeter City with a trailing wife and kids struggling to adjust and make friends; our wise-cracking, womanising young smartarse cop, Haldane; our outwardly-cold but inwardly-caring woman cop, Castle. The city is multi-species, with humans rubbing shoulders with different sorts of aliens. Someone is apparently knocking off all the drug dealers of Demeter City, with a B-plot about a bag lady who turns up claiming to be alien royalty. In and of itself, that’s not terrible; so far, so NYPD Blue.
As well as the nice model work, there’s a teensy bit of CGI that’s not unconvincing.
Less good points: everything about it is boringly predictable. I’d guessed the murderer straight away (though admittedly I’ve also seen Space: 1999, which helped). Brogan suspects his teenage son is doing drugs with a dodgy friend… only of course it turns out, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine style, that it’s all perfectly innocent. The bag lady? Spoilers, she is alien royalty.
Much more seriously, we never actually learn what the murderer’s motivation is. And nobody seems to question it because, well, drug dealers are bad so it’s only natural someone would want to kill them. But I’d expect a little more: ex-junkie? Parent/sibling/child died of drug overdose? Home planet devastated due to drug extraction?
There’s a small role for a pizza delivery man, played by some British kid called Idris Elba. I wonder what happened to him? I should look him up on IMDB.
Saddle up, buckaroos: I’m about to watch Gerry Anderson’s Space Precinct, so you don’t have to!
First off, a shoutout to Alison Scott, who suggested I do this. She has many projects, but check out her most recent, the Octothorpe podcast for science fiction fans, at the link. It turns out Space Precinct is also coming out this autumn on BritBox, so those of you who do want to watch-along, can do so, at least for as long as you have the stamina.
Space Precinct was a live-action series by the co-creator of Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, UFO, Space: 1999 and other 1960s and 1970s series I love shamelessly. While his puppet series are fairly solid, Anderson’s record on the live-action front is always patchy: UFO and Space: 1999 both have moments of sheer brilliance, and moments of sheer WTF, and not in a good way. Space Precinct, unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), is almost entirely on the latter end of the spectrum.
In some ways it’s a victim of bad timing: coming out in 1994 meant that it just preceded the space opera boom of the late 1990s (Star Trek: Deep Space 9/Voyager, Babylon 5, Andromeda, Farscape, Firefly). But it’s got a lot more wrong with it than just that.
I would argue that throughout, its biggest problem is too much ambition. The plots are incredibly complex, and usually fall flat as a result. Most of the aliens have got complex full- or partial-head masks with animatronic eyes, which must have been very difficult to do (they blink! They roll!), but make them look weirdly muppet-like and don’t let much of the actor’s personality come through. There’s a tragic logic visible here: you can see the effects team thinking “everyone laughs at Star Trek because of the Cornish-pasty-headed aliens, let’s show them how it’s really done”, and yet Michael Dorn and/or Nana Visitor with a bit of crinkly latex are way more convincing.
About the only complex thing that consistently works is the models. They’re beautiful and brilliantly done, and there’s a lot of compositing that mixes models and live action work near-seamlessly. The effects team includes some big names, including Neill Gorton, who would go on to dominate the look of Davies and Moffat-era Doctor Who.
Also a shoutout to the alien makeup team. You can’t mistake any given Creon (or Tarn) for any other Creon (or Tarn). While they must have four or five masks they’re re-using in rotation, you can only tell if, like me, you’ve binge-watched the series in quick succession, suggesting the makeup teams are working overtime making each alien character look distinctive.
On to the setup! Our hero, Patrick Brogan, is a New York cop transplanted to the 89th Precinct of outer space settlement of Demeter City. The population is mixed-species, but dominated by humans and two particular alien species: Creons, who look sort of like bulbous-eyed fish, and Tarn, who are teal-skinned space-elves with a third eye that gives them telepathic and telekinetic powers. There seems to be some decent attempts at worldbuilding: e.g. the Tarns all have human names but the Creons all have names like Podly and Romek (possibly Tarn names aren’t pronounceable by anyone else) and the Tarn have a religion which requires household shrines. Everyone wears human-spec clothing, though everyone also seems to eat everyone else’s cuisine (which, having lived and worked in a few postcolonial places, does ring true).
Supporting human characters include Haldane, a wise-cracking smart-arsed young officer whose personality is entirely built around sexually harassing Castle, a female officer whose personality is entirely built around being female. Among the aliens, we have Took, or “Tookie,” a female Tarn officer who is best friends with Castle and in any other cop series would have a massive lesbian subtext, but it’s hard to do that with a googly-eyed muppet. There’s also Fredo, the Other Tarn Officer; Chief Podly, a Creon with an inexplicable Irish accent; and Orrin and Romek, two Creon officers who mostly exist to do the comic relief subplots. Minor recurring characters include Brogan’s wife and kids, who turn up almost every episode regardless of whether or not it’s relevant to the story; and, halfway through the series, someone in the Anderson operation apparently notices that the entire human regular cast and almost all of the human one-off cast is White, meaning the division acquires a computer expert, Carson, who happens to be Black. Finally, there’s Slo-Mo, the division’s robot, who reminds me of nothing so much as the awful “comedy Black sidekick” trope one gets in 1940s films, except the 1940s comedy Black sidekicks have more agency.
With all of that in mind, it’s time to enter… the Space Precinct!