If the name Gerry Anderson means anything to you at all, it’s likely the first science fiction work of his to spring to mind would be Space: 1999; a series credited as a cornerstone in setting the science fiction television precedent. If not for Space: 1999 or UFO, perhaps the name may be familiar to you on account of his mastery of marionettes as witnessed in shows like Stingray or Thunderbirds (“Supermarionation”).
Regardless of whether or not you are familiar with the British publisher, producer, director and writer’s works, it turns out that while audiences were swooning to Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 in the mid 90’s, Mr. Anderson was at it again with his own unique science fiction vision in Space Precinct 2040.
Called a blending of space opera and police procedural drama, SP 2040 was the result of lessons and techniques Anderson had acquired along the way and actually earns a spot as one of the highest-budgeted shows he ever produced. It involved live actors, miniatures, pyrotechnics and perhaps most interestingly, actors wearing complex make-up that included elements of puppetry. In fact, it is said that several of the production techniques would serve as precursors to the approach used in 1999’s Farscape.
The story of Space Precinct takes place in the year 2040 and features Ted Shackelford as former NYPD detective Patrick Brogan, now a lieutenant with the Demeter City police force on the planet Altor in the Epsilon Erandi system and his partner Jack Haldane (played by Rob Youngblood).
They, with a host of other interstellar officers, are out to protect the law-abiding citizens of Demeter City; a rough neighborhood rife with planetary felons, galactic gangs and alien extortionists.
If all of this sounds a little odd to you, oh rest assured, it is! However, it only takes an episode or two before the uniquely British feel of the production begins to grow on you (even if the actors clearly went the extra kilometer to master NY City accents).
Pacing is pretty darn perfect with each episode building a pretty interesting criminal case for our heroes to solve; sort of a CSI: Demeter long before such things were fashionable.
Now the all-important question- how do the effects hold up today? Actually they are far better than expected thanks in no small part to the fact that all of the designs were practical (rather than CGI). A few set exteriors and some of the miniatures have an unmistakably prop-like feel to them but the fact that the actors were always interacting with tangible cohorts (be they puppets, costumes or both), there is certainly a sense of realism lacking in today’s animation-heavy way of doing things.
Sadly the show only ran a single season (24-episodes) in syndication between 1994-95. The reason for the lack of staying power may actually come as a surprise to some though, apparently American broadcasters were quite uncertain at the time what to make of this imported series that, because of bright costumes, robots and so on looked on the surface to be aimed at children, yet actually featured adult-oriented storylines and science fiction gore. As a result, here in the States SP: 2040 was often scheduled in late-night/early morning time slots. Because of this it failed to generate sufficient American ratings for a second season to be authorized.
After years of being in “out of print” status globally and US releases relegated to a few ancient VHS tapes, the powers that be finally deemed Space Precinct: 2040 worthy of a full DVD box set in late 2010. Rather like greasy food, riding a moped, or calling your ex at 2:30am after a weekend bender, Space Precinct: 2040 is one of life’s simple pleasures that you may deny when your friends start asking questions.
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