Nobody has ever actually entertained this question, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t get answered: What would happen if a bunch of Americans decided to imitate Doctor Who? Well, you’d get Sanctuary. It’s a two-hour pilot to a new series by the SciFi channel, being sort of like The Dresden Files, Doctor Who, and Buffy put into a blender. It could’ve been an episode of Torchwood: Vancouver.
The pilot centers around Will Zimmerman (played by Robin Dunne), a forensic specialist who got fired from the “Bureau” for trying to pin the Boogeyman as the perpetrator of nearly every crime. Apparently this is because Hillary Clinton—er, I mean, a scary scaly fish creature—killed his mother and hurt him when he was very young. While investigating a murder case, he does the same thing, and begins pursuing a child with a Goa’uld coming out of his clothing, up until Amanda Tapping hits Will with her car. In one of the absolute lamest “got hit by a car” acting sequences ever, Dunne basically flops onto her windshield, rolls off, and then goes “Uff,” and lays down. You have to see it to not believe it.
What follows is a relatively straightforward plot—with a few acceptable twists and turns—where Amanda Tapping, playing the dark-haired (WTF?) British (WTFBBQ?) Dr. Helen Magnus, recruits Zimmerman to work for a place called the “Sanctuary,” which takes in creatures to give them a place to live. (Or, in the case of the Geico caveman, a place to work. No, really, he’s her butler.) Emilie Ullerup plays Helen’s cute blonde tomboy daughter Ashley, and Ryan Robbins plays Henry, who might as well be that nerd from the Tomb Raider movies. Christopher Heyerdahl gives a top-notch performance as the bald British bad guy, John, delivering all his lines flawlessly. The only problem that I could find with his performance is that he wasn’t actually cast as God. Imagine, Chris Heyerdahl playing the main villain who happens to be God. BEST SHOW EVER. But I digress. Thanks to being filmed in Vancouver, Canada’s own little Hollywood, like every other SciFi channel production that isn’t complete bollocks, actors from other shows make appearances. Kavan Smith, who plays Major Lorne on Stargate Atlantis, plays the no-nonsense police lieutenant who, quite frankly, doesn’t know how to do a lineup, and Kandyse McClure from Battlestar Galactica (“Dee”) plays Zimmerman’s ex-girlfriend. Aside from Dunne’s laughably pathetic attempt to act out being hit by a car, everybody does really good acting.
The writing is okay, although you could see the major plot twist from, oh, say, New York. Granted, you don’t know the true true identity of bad guy John until the end, but his connection to Helen and Ashley Magnus is pretty clear. That’s not to say the plot is bad; it works well, and is creative despite its limitations. The real variable in Sanctuary was the mood—and I definitely got a mood watching it. I got the distinct feeling I was watching the BBC. It honestly has nothing to do with either Tapping’s or Heyerdahl’s accents, but more with the color of the show. Since 90% of it takes place at night, everything is dark and muted. Even when they do use lightbulbs, it looks like my closet before we got halogens. There are also the creatures themselves—I didn’t get a good look at many, because the bed post kept hitting the TV’s power button during the meet-n-greet scene—but they were halfway between the “lets be serious” attitude of most American shows and the cheesy, almost whimsical approach of British programming. This is the major reason why its so hard to say how the series will turn out. It has the potential to either soar high in the sky with the likes of Stargate and what-have-you, or it will bomb terribly, leaving a crater the size of the Gulf of Mexico over Vancouver.
Undoubtably, some will ask about its technical aspects. Sanctuary is based on a webseries of the same name that was filmed almost entirely on green screen, which is just like blue screen except it doesn’t piss off Al Gore. For many scenes, the green screen has been kept. I’ll be honest with you—I had a hard time noticing it. Many of the scenes were reshot with new actors, and those that did use the green screen worked out spectacularly. People who really don’t give a crap will be happy that nothing gets in the way between them and the movie, and those who do give a crap will be happy that technology has yet again advanced. I myself am pleased, if only because the green screen has the capacity to reduce costs by a significant amount, thus allowing more science fiction shows to survive, as well as allowing me to watch less advertising and more, you know, TV.
The pilot itself, though, is not all that bad, and definitely watchable. If a rerun ever occurs on SciFi, make sure to catch it. If nothing else, seeing Amanda Tapping playing a woman with a British accent is worth the price of the cable.