01/08/2012. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
region 2 DVD: pub: 20th Century Fox 2545901000. 8 DVDs 1039 minutes 22 @ 42 minute episodes. Price: somewhere between £18.99 and £ 9.99 (UK) if you know where to look) cast: Gary Graham, Eric Pierpoint, Michelle Scarabelli, Terri Treas, Sean Six, Loren Woodland, Ron Fassler and Jeff Marcus.
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The ninety pilot episode of the TV series joined the dots between it and the 1988 film and the careers of detectives human Matthew Sikes (actor Gary Graham) and Tenctonese Newcomer George Francisco (actor Eric Pierpoint) as they began their TV adventures. Probably the most significant element at the start was showing what happened to Sikes' dead partner, Tuggles, was not because he was fired on by armed Newcomers but because of a different investigation. The transition of Sikes from being slightly racist to pro-Newcomers was sort of at a stationary level to get the viewers up to speed with him changing than start off at the point of the end of the film. It's an interesting contrast of what he did professionally and being uncomfortable in his off-time that was the biggest transition.
'Alien Nation' in many ways is less about alien racism but racism in general. If it isn't against the Jews or Blacks, then there will always be some other section of society that will be attacked for being different. This time alien slave refugees get it. It's a good thing there isn't open season on geeks or we'd be in serious trouble. If anything, it's a shame that they all decided to hang around Los Angeles rather than try other countries that might have been a little more tolerant.
Producer/director Kenneth Johnson tends to give excellent detailed audio commentaries and that of the pilot is no exception. He discloses that he went for 'Heat Of The Night' than 'Lethal Weapon' as his way to get a handle for the series rather than how the film version took it. The Tenctonese language as composed by his daughter Katie is actually English in reverse and the Newcomers themselves are a matriarch society. I did have a ponder on that as to why there were no female aliens on the police force or why George's wife, Susan (actress Michelle Scarabelli) isn't telling him what to do, although this does surface in the TV movies later. Oh and something I didn't know, the police station set was used in 'Cagney And Lacey' and Sykes' own apartment was that of Christine Cagney. Small world in the TV police business.
I'm not going to give a complete episode guide but I will pick out things that struck me. For instance, 'The Fount Of Youth' has a plot loosely similar to Norman Spinrad's 'Bug Jack Barron' where some humans are benefiting from a gland implant from dead Newcomers which rejuvenates them.
There's an odd contradiction in 'Fifteen With Wanda' where George says he was never allowed near his son on-board the starship, yet later in the series we discover it is the male who carries the foetus pod inside them and was with him for a few years after birth. This is qualified a little in 'Night Of The Screams' two episodes later but it does make me wonder how the Tenctonese women bond with their children, especially as the rituals are shown later.
An odd thought occurred to me watching 'Three To Tango', was how do the Binnaums, the third 'sex' of the Tenctonese, get born. Granted there aren't that many of them but without them, the Tenctonese would be extinct within a generation. Considering the Fransciscos have had relatively normal children, you would have thought there would there have been interest in having a Binnaum. There was a hint in a later episode that it rarely happens but even so, a species that depends on three to procreate, things would have been dicey has the Binnaums been killed. There is a hint from all of this that the Tenctonese slaves were only recently captured or how else would George have been married to Susan before they boarded the spaceship. When George and Matt see the Tencton homeworld through a Tenctonese relic, you have to wonder how these aliens were enslaved so easy considering how adaptable they are supposed to be.
Considering that the Tenctonese assassin in 'Night Of The Assassins' had the names of all the overseers, I was surprised this wasn't explored and all of them weren't picked up.
In 'The Game', George's Tenctonese name is given as Stangya and in 'The Touch', Cathy is given as Gelenna. It seems odd that the humans didn't allow them to keep some link to their origins rather than have to invent human names for them. Then again, maybe I'm too used to seeing unusual spelt names, Must be tough finding family names to connect everyone in Tenctonese - must be a spots thing.
Something that has made me ponder a bit is the Tenctonese back spots being their erotic zone, you would think they would also make them extremely vulnerable if someone hit them there. Yes, there is a more vulnerable place on their sides but even so, it does make me wonder why that was never exploited.
For an adaptable species, the Tenctonese take a long time to adapt, especially considering their reaction to salt water, need for a raw meat diet and assorted differences. The advantages are more intelligent and being very strong. Maybe the weaknesses is what keeps them in check. As witnessed when George passes his exams and becomes a second grade detective, there is also a strong amount of ego, which explains a lot of the problems with various Tenctonese felons. It's a shame that the series didn't go beyond one season as it would have been interesting to have seen whether or not their superiority would have seen them dominating mankind in the long term and how both species would have coped with it.
Lest we forget those pesky humans, Matt Sikes (Gary Graham)'s hair growth over the series makes me wonder if he works too much to have a haircut but fits in a hair dying over the season as his hair also becomes progressively darker as well.
One thing I was disappointed by was the DVD language choices didn't include Tenctonese. After all, after watching the Tenctonese dub of 'Gun Fight At The O.K. Coral', they are missing out on sells to the quarter of a million Newcomers in L.A.. What do you mean, it isn't real?
Even nearly thirty years later, the humour related to the language differences still holds up and there are plenty of surprises that are developed over the episodes. If you were too young to have seen 'Alien Nation' the first time around then this boxset will fill you in. Just don't forget to the follow-up TV movies boxset to see what happens next.
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