Space Precinct Audio Books

Stories about the police tend to make good television shows. There’s the potential for action, a good mystery, and real, interpersonal drama. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed several of these shows, including Barney Miller, Columbo, and Hill Street Blues. This drama also translates well into the past as we’ve seen in shows like Gunsmoke or any number of British historical mysteries. That said, police in the future seem less common. They do exist. Notable examples include Constable Odo in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Mr. Garibaldi in Babylon 5, but aside from the occasional episode, the police work is rarely the focus. Some of that is no doubt the fact that science fiction shows tend to focus on frontiers beyond the purview of law enforcement, but what might a science fictional police show look like? As it turns out, Gerry Anderson, creator of Space: 1999 and Thunderbirds, actually did produce a police show set on an alien world called Space Precinct.

Space Precinct tells the story of Lieutenant Patrick Brogan and his partner Officer Jack Haldane who transfer from the New York City Police Department to the Demeter City Police Department on the planet Altor. The planet is a colony world settled predominantly by humans, Creons, and Tarns. A big focus of the show is Brogan’s family life with his wife Sally and two children. Overall, the stories featured a nice blend of action, humor, science fiction, and family drama. It could be a little campy at times, but that was part of the show’s charm. Sadly, the show is not currently available on region 1 DVD or region A Blu-Ray, though you can find some episodes on YouTube. Fortunately, Richard James, who played a Creon police officer named Orrin in the series, has penned two sets of stories set in the world of Space Precinct. Both of these are available as audio books, which you can pick up from Big Finish Productions at: https://www.bigfinish.com/hubs/v/space-precinct

The first of the audio books is based on the unfilmed introductory episode of the series. In the audio book called Demeter City, we meet Lieutenant Brogan while he’s still in New York City. Brogan and Officer Haldane are on the trail of some gun smugglers who seem to be operating from the planet Altor. In the meantime, Brogan’s family see advertisements encouraging visits to the same planet. Tired of life in their small apartment, they try to persuade the Lieutenant to at least take a vacation and visit the planet. Brogan decides to apply for a police exchange program to Altor both to pursue the criminal gun runners and satisfy his family. While on Altor, Brogan and Haldane begin to unravel a criminal network that seems to have its grip on the planet while Brogan’s family do their best to make a life in an orbital habitat. As the investigation continues, Brogan and Haldane discover the biggest threat to their investigation may be within the department itself. All in all, it was a solid story and well narrated by Richard James. However, having watched a few episodes of the series, I found it pretty easy to guess one of the villains. One thing I did like in this story was that it clarified that the 2040 you see on the badge in the opening credits is Lieutenant Brogan’s badge number and not necessarily the year the story is set.

The other Space Precinct audio book at Big Finish is a collection of short stories called Space Precinct: Revisited. There are four stories in this audio book. “Kernel Panic” is told from the point of view of the station’s robot, Slomo, and how he helps the officers thwart a notorious gangster who threatens the 88th Precinct. In “Everything Must Go,” hundreds of people gather for the grand opening of a new orbiting shopping mall – only to find themselves held hostage by a gang of Human Future activists. “Point Blank” tells the story of a politician gunned down. When the weapon is found, there’s no sign of fingerprints or DNA evidence. I really liked that Officers Orrin and Beezle who normally serve as comic relief had a major role in solving this case. Finally, following a routine drugs bust, Officer Castle starts to behave very strangely. After placing Officer Took in extreme danger, questions are asked concerning her conduct.

Each of these audio books have a run time of a little over two hours and I had fun listening to them and learning more about the world of Space Precinct.

Neutrinos and the Day After Tomorrow

In Episode 178 of the Gerry Anderson Podcast, Chris Dale featured the film The Day After Tomorrow on his Randomizer segment. This is not the 2004 film about climate change. Instead, it was a 1975 segment of an American after school series called Special Treat, which offered educational programming aimed at teenagers. It appeared soon afterward on the BBC. The show was produced by Gerry Anderson and starred Nick Tate, Joanna Dunham, and Brian Blessed. The show was produced between seasons one and two of Space: 1999 and it shares models and props with the television show. One of the show’s goals was to introduce kids to Einstein’s theory of special relativity. Anderson apparently had the notion that he might turn this into a series, so wrote it in such a way that more episodes could follow the special.

I was intrigued by Dale’s discussion of the show on the podcast, so decided to seek it out. The episode is available on the DVD The Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson, along with several other one-shot gems produced by Anderson. The Day After Tomorrow reminded me of what Lost in Space might have been like without the Robot or Dr. Smith. Two families travel in a near light-speed craft to Alpha Centauri and beyond. Of course, this becomes our “vehicle” for discussing the effects of special relativity. Nick Tate, best known as Alan Carter in Space: 1999, is the captain and he travels with his daughter. Brian Blessed and Joanna Dunham play a husband and wife scientist team with a son. Like the Robinson kids in the early episodes of Lost in Space, these kids are smart, but manage to avoid crossing over into the annoying territory that kids in science fiction shows have been known to do. Since this is 1975 and well before Brian Blessed became known for “Gordon’s Alive!” in Flash Gordon, he delivers a subdued and believable performance as a scientist.

While I was prepared to see the cast to discuss the wonders of Einstein’s theories, there was a moment that truly surprised me about two-thirds of the way into the show. Joanna Dunham’s character, Dr. Anna Bowen, is observing a red giant star when she warns that she’s detecting “massive neutrino emissions from the red sun.” A moment later, the sun explodes into a supernova! As it turns out, the notion that a supernova would be preceded by a neutrino burst is a theory proposed by my graduate advisor, Dr. Stirling Colgate, in a 1966 paper. This theory would finally be demonstrated in 1987 when a neutrino burst was detected just before Supernova 1987A was observed.

Stirling Colgate at the Digitized Astronomy Observatory after the detection of neutrinos from Supernova 1987A

It’s hard to look at the special and say that it was full of groundbreaking or mind-blowing science. Mostly it seemed like a fun, action adventure show that tossed in some tidbits about special relativity. Still, writer Johnny Byrne had done some homework in astronomy to know that it had been theorized that a neutrino burst would precede a supernova explosion. As a science fiction writer, I know story and character come first, but I really do appreciate a moment like this when I see a writer going the extra mile to understand his subject matter.

The Magnificent Five

As I’ve noted in earlier blog posts, I’ve been listening to the Gerry Anderson Podcast, which distributes new episodes to various podcast platforms on Mondays. Recently, they introduced an audio book and novel by co-host Richard James called Five Star Five: John Lovell and the Zargon Threat. The audio book is available from Big Finish Productions and I downloaded it so the family could listen while taking my youngest child back to college a couple of weeks ago. Five Star Five was the name of a movie project Gerry Anderson was developing after Space: 1999 and I’ve often heard it called his answer to Star Wars. A script had been completed, studio space had been secured, and work on pre-production began when the project was abruptly halted because one of the major investors pulled out of the project. Unfortunately, the project was never finished.

That’s where Richard James comes in. He took the script and turned it into a novel this year, so the rest of us could finally learn more about Five Star Five. The premise is that the evil Zargon Empire plans to take over the peaceful planet Kestra. On Kestra, Colonel Zana seeks a champion to help save them from the threat. So far, this does sound a bit like Star Wars. The person she hopes to recruit is John Lovell, a freelance freighter pilot who reminded me a little of Han Solo, right down to his hirsute co-pilot Clarence. As it turns out, Clarence is a talking chimpanzee. At first I thought the character would put me off, but it turned out elements of the character hearkened back to both Planet of the Apes and Rocket Racoon from Guardians of the Galaxy.

Once Lovell is maneuvered into helping the Kestrans, the story becomes less Star Wars and more The Magnificent Seven as Lovell goes out to recruit a team to help him defeat the Zargon invaders. His team includes a powerful, but sensitive robot, a mystic, and a kid who communicates telepathically with his robot dog.

Unlike other Big Finish productions I’ve listened to, this one is an audio book with Robbie Stevens serving as the sole narrator. Music and sound effects are provided by Benji Clifford. Stevens’ narration is so well done and his voices for the characters so well thought out, I almost felt like I was listening to a full-cast audio drama. I do highly recommend the audio edition. The total runtime of the audio is 5 hours and 19 minutes, so it does feel more in-depth than a movie, but the action never slows down.

John Lovell and the Zargon Threat also felt very much like a first adventure in a series. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gerry Anderson would have produced more movies in the series if the first had proven a success. I suspect the movie Gerry Anderson would have produced circa 1979 would have have rivaled both the Star Wars and Star Trek franchises in effects quality. What’s more, I thought this was a more engaging take on the idea of “The Magnificent Seven in Space” than 1980’s Battle Beyond the Stars. It would be fun if the folks at Anderson Entertainment decided to give us more Five Star Five adventures.