Sanctuary (TV, 2008)

A quirky treat, Sanctuary was an experimental show – born on the web, and created mostly in CGI. I enjoyed it, in fact, I thought it was a lot better than many more expensive shows of the same era, but not enough to go back to it regularly. It ran until 2012, so obviously the experiment worked. From
Death Ray 16.


Director: Martin Wood

Writers: Damian Kindler, Sam Egan

Low-budget, high-quality fantasy drama from a bunch of Stargate refugees.

Stargate‘s darling Amanda Tapping has gambled much on this series, turning down a furtherance of her cast slot as Sam Carter in the undying SG-1 franchise. Luckily, the gamble looks to be paying off. Originally conceived of as a web series, the finances didn’t quite work for Sanctuary online and it was picked up by the SciFi Channel as a regular series. Almost a regular series, the concept of Sanctuary is a little off the wall, but the pleasingly unusual set-up is not even the most original thing about it.

Tapping’s character Helen Magnus, a 157-year-old doctor, is at the heart of the series, capturing hidden creatures, supernatural entities and mutants for study. Our way into this weird world is Dr Zimmerman, an oddball forensic psychologist whose uneasiness with people sits alongside Holmesian deductive powers. He’s recruited into Magnus’ team, made up of a talkative geek, an apeman, and Magnus’ feisty blonde daughter. They all live in a massive mansion with a basement stuffed full of monsters, their biggest problem Magnus’ her time-travelling Victorian ex-fiance, who just happens to be Jack the Ripper.

Sounds a bit crazy, but it’s an intriguing set-up that plays like a cross between Beauty and the Beast and The X-Files.

So, back to the really original thing – most of the show is filmed on green screens a la 300 and Sin City. Because it does not exist outside of a harddrive, the show can be made on a low budget, yet manage the spectacular. The CG varies in credibility. In some shots fake is virtually indistinguishable from real. In many others it is patently fabricated, with game-level backgrounds and heavy lines round some objects. But then it sells itself as a form of hyper-reality, and the characters are engaging enough to keep the mistakes firmly in the background. Other effects are likewise variable, but include good prosthetics and costumes. The scripts are a bit weak here and there – how does the Russian boy in episode one know English? Why does Zimmerman not think about his mother being eaten by a monster when he first sees Magnus’ collection? Zimmerman’s too much of a straight-off take of Daniel Jackson, and there are various other minor niggles: liberties with history, bad accents and cliches like standing on the very edge of tall buildings or out in the rain to hold important conversations.

If this sounds like the show is a bagful of dreck then my apologies, there’s much to love about Sanctuary. Tapping is enough of an old hand at this kind of telly to slip easily into her role, and the whole it is an exciting watch. We reckon Sanctuary could be a bit of a fan favourite, and, who knows, perhaps  in its non-sets lies the future of television.


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