SPACE PRECINCT FEATURE
Took. a female Tarn. with her lovely blueish grey complexion and cute pointy ears. Fine. I think: I‘m getting the hang of Altor‘s multi- cultural society. so I shake hands and say hello. Took slowly opens the third eye in the middle of her forehead and gives me a penetrating gaze. Once scrutinised. though. I’m invited to join them in the police station’s main control room. Space Precinct has two permanent sets in the Pinewood complex: one is the network of corridors that makes tip the station. the other depicts the living quarters of the cops and their families. For each individual episode. new sets — everything from nightclubs to hotel rooms to dark city streets — are built and dismantled in a third space. Twisting and turning along the steel grey corridors of Demeter City‘s law fortress. walking past small holding cells and flashing circuit boards into the main office with its twin levels.
‘The bug eyes and reptilian features of Captain Bexton Podly are a little disconcerting. However, it’s only polite to shake the mottled green hand he’s ottering.’
l‘m wishing I could strap on a laser body-pack and be let loose for the best game of Quasar ever. It’s immediately clear that Space Precinct isn’t skimping on either set construction or prosthetic make-up effects. The intricate model sequences that mark the series as very much a Gerry Anderson production are being supervised at Shepperton Studios. while an array of digital effects are added in post-production. To begin with. 24 episodes are planned with an overall budget of $36 million. That’s exceptionally high for a television series — each episode could fund a reasonably budgeted feature — and so for Anderson and his partners. the stakes are high. Anderson first came up with the idea in 1986 and tried it out in a pilot episode called Space Police. Funding a very American-style programme within the British television system was fraught with difﬁculties. however. as those with their hands on the purse strings insisted that the whole concept had to be Anglieised. Anderson stuck to his guns: the NYPD situation could never be Scotland Yard. For a while. he moved into theatre. producing the special effects
for the West End musical Return To The Forbidden Planet and supervising the
T/nuzderbirds RAB mime show. A few years ago. however. he teamed up with independent British television production company Mentorn Films
PCPD: where species isn’t an issue
(who have Challenge Anne/m and Today's The Day on their lists) and American distributors GTV. revising his original idea into Space Precinct. This is his first major return to live action production since Space 1999. shot at Pinewood two decades ago. and so it‘s litting that he ﬁnds himself back in exactly the same suite of offices.
‘With Space I999. I had a vision of the world where everybody would be progressively more healthy and people would keep their hair until they were 9().‘ he says. ‘Disease would be a thing of the past and everybody would live in spotless surroundings -- that sort of stainless steel feel percolated through to the people. And I felt that was a great mistake. so on this show I wanted to make the settings and the people very real. 'l‘echnically. of course. back then we didn’t have motion-control cameras or all the materials that allow us to create alien make-up; radio was in its infancy as far as controlling creatures was concerned. and we didn‘t have computers. We have been careful to avoid making this a demonstration of our prowess in special effects. The special effects are used to create the right environment to stage a damn good story.’
That may be. but on the evidence of the couple of episodes I‘ve seen. it's the stories that are the weak spots. The producers are adamant that this is. lirst and foremost. a police show and not sci-
ft television. and so it seems to wear its basic unoriginality on its sleeve. Sure. the location is different. but cop cliches are cop cliche’s the universe over. Anderson would like to see it run for at least four series and move into feature films. but he’s the first to admit that this ideal is also the history of Star Trek. Space Precinct will keep an audience in its early teens happily amused. but it‘s not in the same cult league as Kirk and Co.
At lunchtime on set. everyone‘s out of costume and eager to chat. Captain Podly has become veteran British actor Jerome Willis (whose first outing as a policeman was down the ranks in Softly. Soft/y). while Took emerges as Mary Woodvine (whose good looks make the appliance of a prosthetic head a crime to mankind). The English actors. despite the discomfort of their make-up — the limited vision. impaired hearing and extreme heat -— seem to be having a ball. relaxing into the fun of the thing. Their American counterparts — Ted Shackleford and Rob Youngblood (Lieutenant Brogan and Officer Haldane) -- come from a different school. and a PR person is always hovering nearby when questions are asked of them.
‘Twisting and turning along the steel grey corridors of Demeter City’s law fortress, I’m wishing I could strap on a laser body- pack and he let loose for the best game of Quasar ever.’
Knowing that Shackleford is a familiar face from his thirteen years spent as Gary Ewing in Dallas and its spin-off Knots binding. I ask if. as an actor. he has to look much more closely at long-term roles in order to be sure there is a chance to develop the character over an extended period. ‘Ehmﬁ he smiles. ‘I guess I would ifl was that aesthetically inclined. It‘s a job. It's not called “show art". it‘s called “show business”.‘ He‘s professionally and good- naturedly evasive. At one point. he mentions his family‘s British roots and the fact that his grandmother is a l-lathaway. as in Shakespeare‘s wife Anne. The cruel among us might suggest this is as close as he'll come to the Bard.
Soon it's time to go back to work. Technicians appear again on the fringes of the set. some wearing Space Precinct caps. It‘s the first sign of the marketing demon that makes or breaks an expensive series like this. In the run up to Christmas 1995. around 35 UK licencees will start filling the shops with over 150 separate Space Precinct marketing items. No doubt it will be the same all over the world. as the series has. to date. sold to 98 per cent of the planet.
An early disappointment. however. has been the American response: because the series began shooting in April I994 and was only able to deliver its first episode in July. it was too late for a properly organised US autumn launch and so was relegated to through-the-night time-slots totally unsuited to the material. Plans are afoot to double Episodes 2l to ’34 as TV movies for a relaunch. Gerry Anderson will always have his loyal British following. but unless Space Precinct takes off in the American market. Brogan. Podly. Took and chums might find themselves demoted and out patrolling the dark side of the moon. ’.J Space Precinct will launch as part ofthe BBC'S [995 autumn schedule, and is currently showing on Sky One.
The List 7—20 Apr I‘NS 13