Friday 18 January 2013

1996: SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND Young Reader novels (Harper Collins)

Starlogged comes bang-up-to-date (relatively speaking) today with this set of four SPACE: ABOVE AND BEYOND Young Readers books, from 1996.

Published in the States, and not widely available in the UK, each gave a cursory adaptation of the relevant TV episode of the same name.  Competent enough, they're not the sort of thing you'd really want to read (and certainly not in public) but I think they're a pretty neat thing to have and the unique cover art is certainly distinctive.

They demonstrate the early belief that the show, created by Glen Morgan and James Wong (both formerly star players in THE X-FILES writing team), was going to be a hit for FOX.  However, the ratings were never that great and FOX pulled the plug after a single season.

The decision to cancel came just as another part of the Fox empire was preparing to usher in the first of the STAR WARS prequels (and we know how that worked out) which, in theory, could have led to another SF boom which S:A&B would have been in a good place to exploit if it had stayed on-air.

Around the same time, Harper Collins (another part of the Murdoch media conglomerate) also published several suitable-for-young-readers X-FILES adaptations.  Go figure.

There was also a standard paperback adaptation of the opening pilot movie (more on that in a moment) which I'm pretty sure I have in a box somewhere although I've never read it and I've not seen it in several years.  One day I'll stumble across it and post it here.

I've always had mixed feelings about the show.  The cast, and their characters, were likeable enough and they did a good enough job with the material (as an aside, I once knew someone who looked disconcertingly, in a good way, like Morgan Weisser aka missing girlfriend obsessed Nathan West) but the material itself was a little erratic.  

The feature-length pilot, shot in Australia (the series relocated to California), is a bit of a mess: packed full of cliched moments and stupid dialogue.  It does, however, feature an early US TV appearance of Jim Dale (aka NEIGHBOURS' Jim Robinson) in the opening scene.  I vaguely recall one of the UK SF magazines printing a fairly scathing early review, based on an incomplete edit of the opener, which incurred the wrath of the show runners.

The weekly series itself is much better although I always thought it should have had the writing quality of TOUR OF DUTY, albeit shipped into space, and it seldom managed to reach those heights.  The inspiration of STARSHIP TROOPERS (not yet adapted for the screen) was, in retrospect, pretty obvious, albeit scaled down for a TV budget.  Production standards were generally good although the CGI FX work looked pretty crude compared with what BABYLON FIVE was churning out, on a lower budget, at the time.  Making the fighters' cockpits detachable was presumably necessitated by the reality that the show couldn't afford more than one full-sized mock-up but it looked like the ace war heroes were clambering into a fleet of Sinclair C5's!

A season's worth of story lines (including Martin Jarvis in a tank!) dovetailed neatly into the impressive two-part end-of-season story, which closed-out with several cliffhangers which unfortunately went unresolved.

In the UK, the show initially premiered on satellite channel SKY TWO (I think) but may have transferred to SKY ONE when the companion channel was shuttered.  The BBC followed-up with a terrestrial screening, banished to a late-night Friday slot.  I remember thinking some episodes looked like they had been crudely edited which -if true - suggests that the cuts were made to run the show in a much earlier slot (possibly one of the 6-7.30pm weekday 'cult' slots) before the schedulers dumped it into an off-peak slot.  

Titan Magazines were certainly confident enough to launch a monthly comic based on the show (they were already publishing an X-FILES title) which reprinted the US strips briefly published by Topps Comics in the states.  The first issue came with a neat cover-mounted pin badge.  The fifth UK issue was announced as the last (presumably because it would have exhausted the last of the US reprints) but never actually appeared.  I have those four issues, as well as the US originals and Titan Books' trade paperback collection and I'll post them at some point.

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