East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Space Rangers (1993)

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The first science fiction novel I ever read was Jack Williamson’s The Legion of Space, that my grandmother gave me as a gift on my tenth birthday, and that I probably read fifteen times in the course of the following summer. This to explain that I have a soft spot for old-fashioned space opera of the pulpy kind, and I am not ashamed of this fact: Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett and C.L. Moore are still very high in my personal list of favorites, and if you can give me mysterious planets, strange aliens and some kind of space adventurer, I’m fine.

Which leads me to Space Rangers, a very short lived TV series from 1993, that I found by chance – you find the six episodes on Youtube. The quality is not the best, but who knows, you might want to check it out.

The premise: humanity is colonizing the galaxy, and Fort Hope on the planet Avalon is the last outpost of what passes from civilization. It is also the port of call of captain John Boon and his crew of Space Rangers, a ragtag bunch of guys charged with keeping the peace on the frontier, and also do a bit of rescue and exploration and brawling and, you know, keep busy.

The series was canceled after the first episode aired, and of the six completed episodes only four were shown in the US, or so I am told. Apparently we Europeans got the whole six episodes run, but I am sure I never saw this thing on our videos at the time.
And it’s a pity.

OK, the production is cheaper than cheap, costumes and sets are amateurish, the stories are predictable, the special effects are often laughable (lots of filters, smoke and dripping goo) and the characters are straight out of central casting: unshaven, crumpled Boon (Jeff Kaake) leads a crew that includes a tall, sexy and sarcastic ace pilot (Marjorie Monaghan), an over-eager rookie (Danny Quinn), a grumpy engineer (Jack McGee), and a warlike alien (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa). Clint Howard is the nerdy scientist that sometimes tags along, and Linda Hunt is the boss of Fort Hope, and is called Chennault like, you know, Claire Chennault.

But what the heck, it’s pretty fun, in an easy-going, silly way. This is the same second-hand and dingy space civilization that Babylon 5 was offering more or less in the same years, only without the courage or the money to go where Babylon 5 (and Farscape, and Firefly) went. The stories are very much 1940s pulp, with an extra veneer of tech to appeal to the Alien/Aliens generation. But it is a fun diversion.

And OK, so sue me, while her characters is insufferable, Marjorie Monaghan is quite impressive, if somewhat Ripley-ish (with Vulcan eyebrows, because, the future).

As usual one wonders what could have come out of it had the series been successful and had it gained enough momentum to grow and develop. But given the premises, words like success, momentum and growth are out of question. It remains a weird little curiosity, a TV series that tried to do something different, even if not much, and disappeared.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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