Science fiction used to be nothing more than a novelty on Television, making periodical appearances in each decade since Buck Roger and Flash Gordon debuted in the 1950s. Not so much, anymore. Tonight, two sci-fi series premiered head-to-head, The Cartoon Network's Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Sci-Fi's Sanctuary. Both shows promised unique visuals: the video-game interstitial cut-scene feel of The Clone Wars and the CGI environments of Sanctuary. The latter was filmed almost entirely on green screen with the scenery added in afterwards. The strategy allows for a show that was originally designed for the Internet boast a setting the size of a fortress. So it seems a little strange that the featured locale for the two-hour premiere was an enormous atrium accessing cages of which we only could catch fleeting glimpses.
But if the inner worlds of the sanctuaries are only hinted at, the
mythology of the show is spelled out in the clearest of terms. Dr.
Helen Magnus (Stargate: SG-1's Amanda Tapping) is a 157-year-old
physician, protector and sometimes prison ward for werewolves, mermaids
and some kind of pirahnna-headed bi-ped. Her mysteriously funded
sanctuary just outside Manhattan is the size of Levenworth, but employs
four humans and a caveman-meets-the-Lion-from-The Wizard of Oz (as
bodyguard/driver/butler). The latest addition is a forensic
psychiatrist, Dr. Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), whose mother was killed
by a monster when Will was eight (explaining his initial trust issues
with the butler). The other two are Dr. Magnus' ultimate fighter of a
daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup) and IT/weapons expert Henry Foss (Ryan
There's not much new other than a look. Like Stargate, the show takes
existing human myths and offers fantastical explanations. Dr. Magnus is
a bit like Torchwood's Captain Jack Harkness, keeping people
safe from the monsters, but also protecting them from people and
keeping their existence a secret. The story lines (so far) are tidy,
and there promise to be many Buffy-esque fight scenes with young
Ashley. Will has been drawn to the FBI (where his nutiness got him
fired) as a way to explain away the things that have haunted him, and
he has a hard time coping with the realities revealed.
Tapping was a joy to watch in Stargate: SG1 and it's good to
have her back on TV, even it it is with a British accent and long, dark
hair. The series' creators Damien Kindler and Martin Wood both worked
on SG1, and Sanctuary feels more like the two Stargate
shows than anything. It's a formula that's worked for over a decade,
and Sci-Fi is banking that Stargate's many fans won't be tempted to see
what Samuel L. Jackson and Yoda look like as cartoon characters.