SFX historical note: Missing In Action was a short-lived feature which looked at SF legendary projects that somehow never got made…
Missing In Action
Once again, MJ Simpson ventures into the “What ifs” and “Could have beens” of science fiction
Starwatch , if it had happened, could have been brilliant. Planned in the mid-late 1980s as “one of the most expensive family drama series made to date”, the series never got further than a promo tape and a snazzy brochure – despite the enthusiastic involvement of Jon Pertwee.
The man behind Starwatch was Chris Leach, who helped to set up Lionhouse Studios in Brighton in 1988: “A portfolio of projects was assembled for production, the first of which was Scott Saunders In Outer Space , written and presented by Patrick Moore from his own novels… and then Starwatch .”
The series had been invented several years earlier as a puppet show called Starguard , with Gerry Anderson music supremo Barry Gray on board. When Pertwee agreed to voice the main character, the show really took off. “At our combined suggestion,” says Leach, “Jon asked Patrick Troughton to voice a secondary character, to which he apparently agreed (though I never spoke with him directly).”
As Starguard mutated into Starwatch , with Leach writing a promo script and treatments for 13 episodes, two other big names expressed an interest: “Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks were purely onlookers at the start; they were to be brought in closer to the project once the promo was completed.”
The main shoot date for Starwatch – A Glimpse of Things to Come was 6 July 1988. Director Charles Marriott and a twenty-strong crew shot the 16mm promo reel on Jon Pertwee’s 69th birthday, and had a cake specially made in the shape of a Doctor Who dematerialisation circuit.
“Over the next few months,” explains Leach, “special effects footage was shot for the promo onto 16mm under the developing talents of technician (and my one-time college flatmate) Mike Goddard. Anyone in the know will recognise this as a pseudonym and may well have enjoyed reading the book he co-wrote with Sophie Aldred.”
The cast assembled for Starwatch was about as international as it could get, and so were the characters. Pertwee played Jason Havlin/“Black Arrow”, the founder and commander of Starguard. Swiss-born, Havlin was a former British ambassador to the UN who had retired to Peru. Robert Gillespie played the force’s scientific adviser Professor Patrick Caledon/“Early Bird”, a former gypsy with a mystical bent. Gillespie was born in France of Hungarian and Scottish-Canadian parents, but his character was Welsh!
Supporting characters included: Operations Controller Samata T’au-Ling/“Gemimn”, (Thai) played by Cecilia-Marie Carreon, a Chinese-Filipino from Australia; Mission Crew Leader Poul Kazinsky/“Vostok” (Russian) played by Tomek Bork, who was a household name in his native Poland; and Mission Crew Operatives Petar Andurrs/“Ranger” (Norwegian, played by Mark Conrad, a Londoner with Polish parents) and also Catherine Warwick/“Ariane”, played by Christina Barryk from, erm, Guildford.
Together with a couple of robots – Telstar and Proto – this team were Project Unicorn, operating from a secret base under a Marine Research Station in the Cornish village of Penvellan Cove. Project Unicorn was formed to solve problems caused by the malfunctioning of the Sentinel Crystal, an alien artefact buried under Stonehenge which controlled all aspects of Earth environment. Also in the cast, as the vicar of Penvellan Cove, was the great Colin Bennett, writer of Captain Zep and known to Hitchhiker’s Guide fans as the Great Prophet Zarquon.
So what happened to Starwatch ? Chris Leach explains: “1989 kicked off very well with the project taking the Cannes TV festival quietly by storm. However, the sharks were grouping, both without and within, and although many overseas deals were put into place, the lynchpin seemed to be in finding a UK broadcaster. TVS were eager, but we soon discovered that their interest was a deliberate delaying tactic so that they had time to promote one of their own SF dramas that, in fact, never saw the light of day either.”
The promo reel has been shown at a few conventions, but Starwatch has effectively been dead since 1990. However, its legacy lives on: “Keep an eye open for programmes called Sentinel and Stats Alpha ,” says Leach, enigmatically.