Originally starting life as an eight-part internet series in 2007 Sanctuary managed to impress the higher ups at the Sci-Fi Channel (as it was known at the time) who soon commissioned a full series which debut last year. Stripped down Sanctuary is pure, unadulterated pulp entertainment. It’s highly unoriginal yet at the same time truly innovative and groundbreaking.
The original web series was pretty much a side project for a trio of Stargate alumni, writer Damian Kindler, director Martin Wood and actress Amanda Tapping, something fun and new for them to do after nearly 15 years of gate travel. The two-hour pilot ‘Sanctuary For All’ effectively re-works the original web series into a stylish and engrossing story that manages to introduce the characters and set up all the relevant story arcs with ease. The following episode ‘Fata Morgana’ is also adapted from the web series but feels lightweight in comparison with the pilot.
Tapping stars as Helen Magnus, a woman 157 years old who leads the Sanctuary, a secret international organization that seeks out non-human intelligent creatures or Abnormals, as they are known on the show, and tries to help and learn from them, while also having to contain the more dangerous creatures. She is assisted by her daughter Ashley (Emilie Ullerup), a butt-kicking monster hunter, former police forensic profiler Will Zimmerman (Robin Dunne), a Bigfoot and Henry Floss (Ryan Robbins), their resident tech geek.
In many ways Sanctuary actually feels like a live-action comic book series and a less smutty (and Welsh) version Torchwood. The basic premise has shades of titles such as Men in Black, Planetary, B.P.R.D. The Middleman and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen only the tone is more overtly serious and Kindler and his writers lack the widescreen imaginations of Warren Ellis, Mike Mignola, Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Alan Moore. And while the overall quality of the series is consistently good most episodes are very routine and predictable while some are downright bad, the Fight Club wannabe ‘Warriors’ and Tribble tribute 'Nubblins' for instance. The central characters, despite being well played by the cast, all conform to established archetypes with Magnus as the wise and ancient leader, Ashley the action babe Henry the nervous geek and Will as the wide-eyed novice.
On a story front Sanctuary might be shamelessly derivative but on a technical front the series is ahead of it’s time. Making extensive use of CGI environments Sanctuary is able to transport viewers to another world, one like ours but different, a purely comic book world that looks absolutely nowt like Vancouver. Sometimes the effects are obvious but other times, as you’ll learn from the many commentaries, they are so subtle you’ll hardly notice. But while CGI sets are often impressive they do tend jar whenever the cast leave the studio and go out on location. Plus the creature effects and monster make-up for the Abnormals tend to let the side down on more than one occasion.
The series is also blessed with a strong cast lead by the wonderful Amanda Taping, although it does take a while to get used to the dark hair and British accent (she’ll always been Sam Carter to me). Christopher Heyerdahl, another Stargate semi-regular, is obviously having fun as John Duritt, Magnus’ former lover, Ashley’s father and, oh yeah, Jack the freakin’ Ripper. Dunne and Ullerup can both be rather bland most of the time but Robbins manages to compensate as Henry.
Rating: * * * *
Commentaries on all episodes
3 Making-of Featurettes
Sanctuary: Original Webisodes
Season Two Sneak Peek