Space Precinct Unmasked review

Kyle checks out a highly recommended new behind-the-scenes book on Gerry Anderson's Space Precinct, written by actor Richard James...

It’s hard to believe Gerry Anderson’s Space Precinct is already 20 years old. As anyone who read my recent retrospective feature will know, I have something of a soft (well, gooey) spot for the series: there’s still plenty of fun to be had in its blend of police procedural and extraterrestrial antics, with some solid writing, nice performances, and imaginative production values on display.

However, finding reliable background information on the show has been pretty hard for a long time now. Sure, there’s a few pages to be found here and there on the odd fansite, but definitive ‘making-of’ material has been thin on the ground.

Now, with actor Richard James’ Space Precinct – Unmasked, fans of the series and Anderson’s body of work alike can enjoy a comprehensive, witty insight into the show’s history. James (who played Officer Orrin) takes us through the entire series, sharing his memories in a relaxed, honest style, covering everything from his audition to the wrap party.

Space Precinct – Unmasked provides everything a fan could want from a behind-the-scenes book, including a wealth of on-set photos, concept art, script snippets, and contributions from other members of the cast and crew, including Lou Hirsch (the straight-talking creon Officer Romek) and Simone Bendix (Officer Castle). Everyone is happy to be honest in their opinions (none more so than Hirsch, who took something of a dislike to the claustrophobic prosthetics), which helps keep this an engaging read from start to finish.

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One for the fans

(Photo credit: Ralph Titterton)

While many ‘making of’ books are compiled by writers with no personal stake in a project, Space Precinct – Unmasked gives us an actor’s-eye view of the production, leading us through the entire series one episode at a time. James covers the whole process in great detail, stretching beyond his own experience in front of the camera to explore the complex work performed by those behind it. While this was clearly something of a magical time for James, he never lets nostalgia blur his memories – he’s more than happy to highlight the show’s highs and lows (even going so far as to offer a list of episodes to watch, and a list of those to miss). He also paints a vivid picture of the collaborative process which brought the show to the screen, and conveys just how much skill and effort goes into every aspect of each episode, even when the finished results aren’t as impressive as intended.

It’s always a shame when a series with potential and a small-but-firm fanbase ends without being given the time and consideration it deserves, but by showing the dedication and enthusiasm most of the cast and production team gave to the show, James highlights what helped to make the one series as beloved as it still is to fans. By the final page, it’s easy to feel saddened that we weren’t able to spend more time with the officers of the 88th Precinct.

James also manages to blend stories of his professional and personal life together beautifully, splitting his anecdotes between his time on set and the ways in which the series changed his life – we follow him on a journey as he goes from a struggling graduate of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School to enjoying a steady job he genuinely seems excited and grateful for. He also keeps the pace fast and his focus tight, ensuring each episode is given ample attention without becoming encumbered with technical information – it tells you everything you want to know about Space Precinct, from the writing to the final airing (even giving full transmission details and audience shares, which definitely thrilled this geek!).

A personal touch

James’ personal connection to the series helps add a special, sweet touch to the book that always adds to the focus without ever letting it stray into areas the average reader might not care for. This is a book for fans, clearly written by one, yet remains accessible enough for anyone relatively new to the series to dive in and enjoy. The book itself is beautifully presented, with the distinctive police badge featured in the series’ logo sitting subtly behind the text on each page, and plenty of photos interspersed throughout.

While TV shows are still prone to cancellation due to all kinds of reasons (some fair, others baffling), the landscape of small-screen production is a million miles away from that of the mid-90s: some of the best material is now to be found on television. After reading this, and getting a clear view of the making of Space Precinct, I can’t help but wonder if, had the show been made today, it may have fared better. Still, at least now, 20 years on, fans have this breezy, highly-entertaining insight into a unique show, which is sure to re-ignite their love for the series. Highly recommended.

Rating:

5 out of 5