In Review: Space Precinct Unmasked

Space Precinct Unmasked Cover

 

By Richard James
Publisher: Anderson Entertainment
Out: Now

The Book:

A thoroughly detailed, constantly amusing and heartfelt fly-on-the-wall-esque memoir…’ Screen Relish

‘The name’s James, Richard James. In 1994 I played a part in a TV series called Space Precinct. Now? Well, let’s just say I’ve written a book about it…’

Featuring contributions from cast members, missing scenes, candid photographs and original artwork, Space Precinct – Unmasked tells the story of one actor’s experiences working on the most expensive TV series of its time, from first audition to wrap party!

With a foreword from Jamie Anderson and a wealth of stories and memories from actor Richard James, Officer Orrin himself, this book is the definitive work on producing Gerry Anderson’s last live action series.

Space Precinct – Unmasked features 150 10×8 pages in full colour and over 70 photographs. Contributors include Simone Bendix (Officer Castle), Lou Hirsch (Officer Romek), David Quilter (Sergeant Fredo), Rob Thirtle & Will Barton (‘aliens of the week’), Phil Morrow (script editor) & Charlotte Serpell (assistant editor).

The Review:

Hands up those of you who remember Space Precinct? Come, on, admit it – after all, over two million people a week tuned into this often forgotten Gerry Anderson live-action project, used in the mid-1990s in the UK by Sky TV to draw in new subscribers and by the BBC to extend its science fiction programming on BBC2 beyond Star Trek reruns. And yet, sadly, Space Precinct – co-produced by Mentorn, funded and at the same time hamstrung by the demands of different backers, a series that never quite worked out what it wanted to be or its target audience – proved not to be Thunderbirds co-creator Gerry Anderson’s finest hour.

Broadcast from 1994 to 1995 on Sky One and later on BBC Two in the UK, and in late night first-run syndication in the United States, the series, springboarding from an earlier pilot called Space Police, was created by Gerry Anderson and was a mix of science fiction and police procedural that combined elements of many of Anderson’s previous series such as Space: 1999, but with an added dash of Law & Order and Dragnet, starring Ted Shackelford  as Brogan, a hard-nosed human police officer who becomes a lieutenant with the Demeter City police force on the planet Altor.

Among the regular cast, who included Nancy Paul as Brogan’s wife, Sally, and an unhappy Lou Hirsch as Creon Officer Silas Romek was a young, enthusiastic Richard James, the author of this insightful account into the series, as the Creon Officer Hubble Orrin (and who also appeared in other roles).

To the credit of both author and publisher, the latter with a vested interest in keeping Gerry Anderson’s memory alive, no punches are pulled in this account of the making of the show, told through Richard’s account of how he was cast, and his memories of the making of all 24 episodes. This was a show, it’s clear, that had great ideas and a talented team that included veteran James Bond director John Glen, as well as numerous production staff who’d worked with Gerry on his many other shows; but, as Richard relates, Space Precinct was a series hamstrung by its format and some of its production decisions that, had the series gone to a second season, might have been worked out and surmounted.

Sadly, for all involved, it was not to be and despite attempts to revive it by writer and producer Paul Cotrulia (who made the Space Precinct: Legacy documentary released last year), the series remains one of Gerry’s lesser-known and, for many, reviled shows.

There’s no doubt from reading Space Precinct Unmasked or the commentary of others on the web that the show had many faults, but it was not completely without merit, either. Richard rightfully points to episodes such as “Two Against The Rock”, arguing how good the show was when it did things right, and to this day remains positive about his work on the series, his first regular TV work as an actor.

While I’m not entirely convinced by the book’s design – the use of a background ‘watermark’ of the Space Precinct officer’s badge is a little distracting and the font choice is not to my taste – Richard offers an engaging, no-holds barred account of the making of this much maligned Gerry Anderson series, his account accompanied by many behind the scenes photographs and designs. He puts a brave face on the show’s difficulties, offering a candid insight into how one of the most ambitious SF series ever made in the UK went so desperately wrong, but despite its woes still generated what by today’s standards are respectable ratings.

If you’re one of those many secret Space Precinct fans out there who still have every issue of Manga Publishing’s short-lived Space Precinct comic (not mentioned in the book, its creative team led by editor Cefn Ridout included David Hine, Nigel Parkinson, Simon Jowett, John Higgins and others), then you’ll enjoy this account. Or, if you’re at all interested in the making of television in today’s era of multiple funding sources or simply how SF TV is made, Space Precinct Unmasked is well worth a look.

You can buy a signed copy of  Space Precinct Unmasked direct from Anderson Entertainment here from their official shop

• Richard James official web site is at www.richardjamesonline.com or you can follow him on Twitter @RichardNJames

• Here’s a trailer for the Space Precinct Unmasked

http://youtu.be/204OeWMdKj0

There’s more about Space Precinct on Wikipedia here

Author and TV producer John Fleming, who interviewed Gerry Anderson several times, offers a terrific background on the woes Space Precinct faced here on his So It Goes blog

Shaqui Le Vesconte documents the making of the Space Precinct here on the Complete Gerry Anderson Comic History

• There’s a trailer on YouTube for the Space Precinct: Legacy documentary from Paul Cotrulia (although the link seems a little flakey), who has just announced his own SF series, Infinite, is going back into production as a web series

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The founder of downthetubes, John works as a comics editor, writer, as Creative Consultant on the Dan Dare audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. Working in British comics publishing for over 30 years, his credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine. He also edited the comics anthology STRIP Magazine and edited several audio comics for ROK Comics. He has also edited several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War and “Dan Dare”. He’s the writer of “Crucible”, a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for digital comic 100% Biodegradable.



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