Warning: there will be plot spoilers and you are recommended to watch the episodes first before reading further so as not to hamper your enjoyment of the show. It’s not difficult, they are all on youtube!
Firstly, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. The brainchild of undisputed genius Gerry Anderson, the visionary behind Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet, it was at the time one of the most expensive television series ever made in the UK. It is a unique combination of cop show and science fiction. Lasting only the single series of 24 x 45 minute episodes, it was a troubled production, largely due to the difficulties of trying to create a show that would appeal to both American and UK markets. I remember watching it on BBC2 during the mid-1990’s and there wasn’t really anything quite like it. The most impressive aspect of the programme is the alien creatures that were produced, designed by Neill Gorton who would later become director of Millennium FX and provide many memorable monsters for the modern version of Doctor Who. The Creons and the Tarns all have variations, making each unique and having a character despite having a consistent design. There wasn’t only the Creons and the Tarns however. Many of the most memorable episodes feature alien creatures with an outstanding design that sticks in the mind of the viewer. Every aspect of the show however is brilliantly realised. Using superbly detailed model work, everything from the Police cruisers to space stations and spaceships are convincing, as is Slomo the RSA unit. The show also featured early acting appearances from now famous names such as, Idris Elba and Ray Winstone, plus Steven Berkoff, Burt Kwouk, Frances Barber and even former Bond girl Maryam d’Abo. Keeping with the James Bond theme, John Glen who took the helm for 6 episodes of the series (7 if you include the second part of The Fire Within) had previously directed 5 James Bond films in a row throughout the 1980’s. This indicates the calibre of people who worked on the production, which is reflected in what comes across on the screen. Despite being made in the 1990’s the programme has not dated. The high standard of the effects and model work, the realism of all the creatures and the fully rounded characters makes it not just a thoroughly underrated television series but one which would be equally at home on our television screens today.
5. The Snake
This episode makes the list based largely on the villain. Snake is another brilliantly visualised character, an explosives expert with a flair for extortion and acidic blood. The costume, prosthetics and make up, plus the performance full of reptilian hissing, all come together to deliver an impressive creature. Where the episode does however fall into the trap of introducing a new character, with a short backstory designed to make the viewer less expectant of his not entirely unexpected betrayal. It is a pattern that does happen occasionally during the series, ‘The Witness’ springs to mind for instance. Despite this flaw however it is the tense conclusion to the episode of Brogan and co. deactivating the bombs coupled with the unique villain elevate the story, making it particularly memorable.
Final warning, I will be mentioning crucial plot points so watch the story first!
This is one of only two 2-part episodes during the series, the other being the conclusion of the series and the extended runtime certainly benefits the story. The beginning of the episode is of the usual high quality seen throughout the series, supported by an excellent set for the Pyrist temple. Although it is not a massive set, the lava and flames coupled with the great robes created by the costume team, give it a definitive look and feel which is subsequently why all the key action takes place in that set. It is clear that something strange is going on, you suspect the people who ultimately are proved to be responsible but you don’t truly appreciate exactly what is going on until the exciting and dramatic conclusion. The revelation that the temple is actually a spaceship stands out in my memory as a shock which I never saw coming. There are plenty of disturbing crimes throughout the series as a whole but the fact that these criminals would stoop to the level of convincing their congregation to give up all their worldly possessions, only to be murdered is one of the worst.
The other standout aspect of the story is the transformation of Jack Haldane. As a viewer you are convinced that he has been converted by the Pyrists and that he has killed Captain Podly’s daughter Samina. This is a drastic transition given he enters the story in a comedic way, cracking wise whilst everyone else is immersed in the seriousness of the situation. To then see that character turn, resign from the police department and coldly murder Samina is genuinely shocking.
3. Predator and Prey
One of the creepiest and disturbing episodes of the series, with an impressive villain, the appearance of which is simple, shrouded in black with a vampiric air. The method by which the first killing takes place is equally haunting, a stalking presence within the confines of a closed room. No real mystery about the murderer, we identify him immediately. The intrigue comes from Lt. Walker, who straight away antagonises Brogan and Haldane. There is then the curious autopsy report and when the assailant is named as Enil Kamada, we also learn that he is supposedly some form of boogie man who struck nearly a century previously, all of which adds further intrigue. All of these additional layers add to a more complex story than a simple serial killer preying on pretty ladies narrative. We are also treated to Simone Bendix dancing the night away in an attempt to trap the killer. Ultimately, the resolution to the story is very dramatic and effective. Also memorable in the episode is the sub plot with Orrin and Romek which provides some humorous light comedy relief to an otherwise dark and disturbing tale.
2. Double Duty
The big draw of this episode is not just the monster but the reveal of where the monster comes from. It is alluded to, all the evidence is put in front of you and the onion is slowly peeled until it ultimately dawns on the viewer and the characters under threat. The monster is used sparingly, which adds to the drama and makes it quite a scary episode for any youngsters watching. It is of the same high standard as all the other creatures used for the series, if a little influenced by Alien’s Xenomorphs. We also see the gruesome nature of the demises that people meet, some of this is supported by the reactions of those investigating, an important thing which is often overlooked in modern television and film in favour of actually showing the grotesque stuff instead. One of the most nauseating sights is actually the pizzas crawling with maggots; it will certainly put you off your lunch. It is also a very plausible way of delivering banned substances to customers if times get tough for Domino’s! Even in his small role Idris Elba is also quite memorable as a pizza delivery driver; I wonder what would become of him…
1. Time to Kill
This episode is largely notable for the brilliantly realised Cyborg. Now admittedly the plot isn’t exactly original. However, James Cameron’s film ‘The Terminator’ also had similarities to an Outer Limits story ‘The Soldier’ from 20 years earlier. What does make this story so great however, is what happens to the key characters during the episode. This is the 6th episode of the series, so you have already established the main characters, Brogan and Haldane, Took and Castle and so it hits you when they meet their demises and the way that impacts on their colleagues feels all the more real. The episode starts with a bang, even if the acid bath is a bit near the knuckle. After that opening the story becomes more and more intriguing, unidentifiable metal and with more deaths the Cyborg appears indestructible. When the story finally is resolved the plot falls into place nicely. Admittedly when the mask is removed it is not obvious who the person is but you are quickly enlightened. Given the futuristic setting a time travel revelation actually is all the more believable. At its best Space Precinct works when there are twists and turns but by the end of the story they are resolved in a logical and plausible manner and this episode achieves it beautifully.