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Blaue Palais, Das

Entry updated 26 March 2021. Tagged: TV.

["The Blue Palace"] German tv miniseries (1974; 1976). Produced by German Bavaria Atelier Studios in co-operation with French Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française (ORTF). Created, written, and directed by Rainer Erler. Cast includes Peter Fricke, Dieter Laser, Evelyn Opela and Eva Renzi. Five 90-minute episodes, three broadcast in 1974 and two in 1976. Colour.

Named after the feudal mansion in Germany that provides its headquarters, the series' eponymous think tank the Blue Palace is staffed with an international team of Scientists who conduct cutting-edge research or investigate other scientists whose work promises – or threatens – to change the world. Working through a list of scientific concerns and social anxieties aligned with ominous Club of Rome predictions, individual episodes deal with the transfer of acquired skills through the transplantation of brain matter (#1 "The Genius") (see Education in SF); the development of a synthetic fertilizer that costs its inventor his life as free market forces ruthlessly compete for the Invention (#2 "The Traitor"); the possibility of Precognition and the ethical responsibility of scientists toward their human test subjects (#3 "The Medium"); the genetic creation of biological Immortality and its potentially disastrous consequences (#4 "Immortality"); and the uneasy entanglement of material science with the complex mechanisms of global corporations and markets (#5 "The Giant").

Though most scientists at the Blue Palace are recurring characters, individual episodes remain self-contained by switching characters between background and foreground. Each episode foregrounds a new member of the group as protagonist, dealing with a precisely circumscribed scientific issue and dramatic conflict. But this loosely arranged form of serialization can also generate continuity problems. The accidental release of a swarm of fruit flies Genetically Engineered to be immortal at the end of "Immortality," for example, ominously augurs Ecological Disaster, perhaps even on an apocalyptic global scale; yet the following episodes never address the disaster or, alternatively, its successful containment. Rounding out the series' overarching narrative by returning, once again, to its critical examination of science, the final episode "The Giant" ends on an ambiguous note that neither demonizes science as the root of all (future) evil, nor glorifies an independent or "pure" science as a remedy for the Dystopian potential of corporate technoscience. By revealing the Blue Palace's own embeddedness in the corporate structures it pretended to monitor and police, the series ends with Blue Palace members moving on to other assignments after the think tank is shut down.

Though the science posited in each episode required scant extrapolation from what would have been considered just around the corner in the 1970s, Erler's emphasis on each scientific breakthrough's effects on larger social, ecological, and Economic systems and processes – overwhelmingly with a cautioning dystopian undertone – moved Das Blaue Palais away from the corporate or scientific thriller and towards sf.

The series' scientists and sleuths – a diverse team whose work borrows from espionage thrillers and the police procedural – derives from the rich legacy of British and American Television series of the 1960s and 1970s. Evolving from charismatic single or double protagonists as in The Avengers (1961-1969), towards ensemble casts as in The Champions (1968-1969), Department S (1969-1970), Doomwatch (1970-1972), Mission Impossible (1966-1973), and the single import into West German television from Japan, Operation: Mystery! (1968-1971; original title Kaiki daisakusen), these series established a creative exchange between detective fiction or police procedurals, spy thrillers, and sf which Das Blaue Palais was to emulate. (For their blending of various genre elements, some have been labelled "spy-fi".) They also modelled the social and economic benefits of teamwork derived from the multicultural ideas emerging from the 1960s US counterculture and the post-war UK reorientation from Empire to Commonwealth. Das Blaue Palace in turn articulated and examined these new international and post-national structures for a West German audience now finding itself, together with its neighbours in France, at the centre of a new Europe moving rapidly toward integration. The central role science and Technology were to play in this process provided the subject matter for Das Blaue Palais. It also provided the lens through which the series would look at changing gender roles, generational conflicts, and a global stage beyond Europe where Asia and the USA would loom both enticingly and menacingly. Using up a substantial part of the series' production cost, location shooting brought these exotic locales to an audience at the cusp of newly affordable global tourism.

Rainer Erler also wrote the novelizations of the series, with a novel for each episode, all published in 1979 by Goldmann Publishers. [SHa]


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