When Space Precinct entered production at Pinewood Studios in 1994, it was the beginning of a year of work for its cast and crew – but also the culmination of an eight-year long journey by Gerry Anderson to get the series made.
The origins of what eventually became Space Precinct can be found in Anderson’s often frustrated attempts to sell Terrahawks to American broadcasters in the early 1980s, due to a perceived lack of popularity of puppet shows in the States among broadcasters. This seemed to make little sense to Anderson considering the phenomenal global success of The Muppet Show and various other successful movies that incorporated puppets, such as Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back or the titular E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Eventually he hit upon the notion that the executives he had been negotiating with had been referring only to puppet versions of human characters…so by extension, a production that used puppets only for bizarre alien creatures could potentially sell to America.
Inspired by the continuing popularity of American detective and crime shows, most notably Steven Bochco’s 1981 series Hill Street Blues, Anderson and his then business partner Christopher Burr devised a ‘Hill Street Blues in space’ concept that would allow human actors to interact with a variety of alien creatures, many of whom would be realised in puppet form. The result was the 55-minute long pilot film Space Police, which entered special effects pre-production in 1984 at Bray Studios alongside Terrahawks. After a co-production deal with TVS for a 65-episode series fell through, Anderson and Burr decided to finance the pilot themselves and filming finally began in May 1986, with the episode starring Shane Rimmer as Lieutenant Chuck Brogan. Commander of the orbiting police station house of Precinct 44 East over the planet Zar XL5, Brogan’s crew were almost entirely non-human; a trio of catlike aliens named Tom Dick and Harry, the robotic Slomo, the super-sensory special operative Bats, and the seemingly human Cathy Costello (Catherine Chevalier) who was later revealed to be some kind of robotic life form. These aliens would not only be realised by human actors wearing animatronic alien head masks, but also identical Terrahawks-style puppets capable of interacting with the story’s more outlandish alien guest characters also realised via the same glove puppet style, here dubbed ‘Galactronic puppets’.
Finally completed in the first week of 1987, Anderson began shopping the pilot around to potential investors with the hopes of securing financing for a full series. However, despite generally positive response to the pilot (particularly when screened at conventions), this financial interest failed to materialise. Frustrated, Anderson then created an abridged version of the episode that ran for just twenty-five minutes – a more conventional length for a children’s television series – but this also failed to attract investors.
Ultimately the Space Police pilot would be shelved until 1991, when Anderson collaborated with John Needham of Mentorn Films on a promotional film for the Birmingham Motor Show. Keen to work with Anderson on any projects he might wish to pursue, the Space Police pilot was dusted off and shown to them…with the result being strong interest and a desire to see the project move forward. Thanks to a recut two minute trailer of Space Police highlights, Mentorn entered a partnership with Grove Television to help raise capital to finance the series. Meanwhile, the incredible success of the BBC repeats of Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons in the early 1990s revitalised not only audience interest in the Anderson shows but also that of broadcasters, and the BBC agreed to finance a thirteen-episode series to enter production in 1993. This arrangement ultimately fell through almost immediately, but Mentorn and Grove Television had enough faith in the concept to commission another pilot film of their own to show off what they considered the stronger elements of the show’s now-revised concept.
This was to become known as Space Police Reloaded, a five-minute trailer directed by Paul Annett and narrated by Ed Bishop which combined all-new live action scenes with some of Space Police’s more exciting model footage. Shane Rimmer and Catherine Chevalier were not retained for this new short film, which would introduce several more prototype versions of familiar Precinct characters; Brogan would now be partnered with the wisecracking Officer Eddie Haldane, with other colleagues at their station house being Jane Castle (played in Reloaded by Chloe Annett) and the aliens Beezle and Fredo. The prototype Beezle was very similar to the Creons we’d come to know in Space Precinct, and although Fredo didn’t quite look as close to the standard Tarn he did demonstrate their same telekinetic abilities in a sequence that was later reused in the Space Precinct episode Protect and Survive. Another human character was Brogan and Haldane’s former boss back on Earth, rumoured to have been suggested for Telly Savalas in the Space Precinct series (had the character ever appeared there) but played in Reloaded by Bruce ‘Waldorf Salad’ Boa. Ironically, Anderson’s original motivating idea for creating the series in the first place (partnering live actors with alien puppets) was for the most part dropped at this point, in favour of utilising advanced animatronics to bring the show’s aliens to life – although Space Precinct would also occasionally feature puppet characters.
Relocating the action from Zar XL5 to Demeter City on the planet Allitorp, Space Police Reloaded was instrumental in finally securing the financial backing for Gerry Anderson’s ‘Hill Street Blues in space’ concept from the Gillman Securities Corporation, and with the originally-proposed thirteen-episode series now being expanded to twenty-four episodes produced on a budget on £20 million pounds at Pinewood Studios.
Many of the production team that brought Space Police and Space Police Reloaded to life were retained for the eventual Space Precinct series, including special effects director Steve Begg, puppeteer Christine Glanville, and creature designer Richard Gregory. However, only four members of the original Space Police cast would be invited to contribute to Space Precinct; David Healy (voice of Tom, as well as Reloaded’s Beezle) voiced Armand Loyster in Protect and Survive, Kate Harper (voice of Bats) voiced several minor characters and also played Iona Datch in The Witness, Jeff Harding (voice of Dick) played Doctor Eastman in the episode Hate Street, and Gary Martin (voice of V. Lann and Reloaded’s alien criminal) could be heard as the voices of Slomo and many other characters throughout the series. The original Space Police pilot would also be mined yet again for model footage for several in-universe television shows in the Precinct episodes Flash and Hate Street – the closest the original pilot has ever come to being broadcast on television, although it is now available (alongside Reloaded) on the Lost Worlds of Gerry Anderson DVD set!
There would still be future behind-the-scenes problems to address and resolve (including a last-minute change to the show’s title) but after eight years of false starts and failed deals, and an even longer overall gestation period, Space Police was finally in production as Space Precinct!