The Star Cops make their way to the lawless frontier planet of Mars in the opening instalment of a new twin boxset audio serial from Big Finish. This sci-fi cop procedural has made the transition from 1980s cult TV show to the audio realm very effectively. With the property now well established, Star Cops Mars Part 1 reflects the growing confidence of the creative team working on the series, now fully at home with the setting and eager to explore some of the galaxy’s lesser known environments.
One of the recurring motifs of the original TV series is the idea of space as a kind of off-world “wild west”, a place for colonists, adventurers, entrepreneurs and, predictably enough, criminals and gangsters. On the moons and planets where humanity has established a bridgehead, phenomena like representative government, civil rights and the rule of law can all be tenuous things. The unforgiving conditions, the vast distances between human habitats, the impact of isolation and the sheer distance from Earth can overwhelm those building blocks of civilisation.
What makes the drama of Star Cops so effective is the disconnect between the scale of the team’s ambition and the pace of humankind’s spread across the solar system. That’s a daunting task for a small number of dedicated coppers. While they have access to cutting edge crime-detecting technology, they have to be extremely self-reliant, deploying a combination of initiative, intelligence and well-judged brute force. Doing so whilst having to confront wrongdoing at the very edges of an emerging human society is one of Mars Part 1‘s central themes.
Stalwart Big Finish scriptwriter (and former copper) Andrew Smith opens proceedings with “The New World”. After a gruelling six month journey from Earth, Commander Nathan, and Inspectors Devis and Kenzy arrive on Mars. Their mission is to win support for the establishment of the planet’s first Star Cops base. But despite the evident tensions between the researchers, business owners and tourists who populate Mars’ scattered colonies, there’s little enthusiasm for the idea. When thefts of precious water and an outbreak of violence expose the simmering conflicts, the Star Cops launch an investigation. Despite their crime fighting commitment, they have no jurisdiction and not everyone welcomes the intrusion.
Una McCormack picks up the action in the immediate aftermath of “The New World” cliffhanger in the action-packed “The Shadow of This Red Rock”. With the cop trio split up, Nathan and Kenzy try to contain their prisoner whilst escaping from pursuers closing in on them. It’s a struggle that sees them call on the reluctant hospitality of a loner living a solitary Mars life. After Devis launches a rescue mission, he finds that he’s the unwelcome guest of some equally independent-minded colonists.
Guy Adams’ “Whatever Happened to Gary Rice” offers a different take on unregulated enterprise on Mars. The team learn of the mysterious disappearance of staff members at a co-operative producing synthetic food products in vast underground vats. While Nathan seeks the expertise of a researcher in human nutrition, Devis and Kenzy are given a guided tour of the production facility. All of the Star Cops soon find themselves in desperate straits as a series of shocking truths, hidden allegiances and secret missions are brought to light.
This latest run of adventures serves the series’ core characters well, and there’s an opportunity for each of them to share the limelight – individually and in different combinations. Trevor Cooper is as fantastic as ever as the forthright, no-nonsense Colin Devis; Linda Newton blends the empathic and tough-nut sides of Pal Kenzy’s nature; and David Calder brings confidence and a real sense of presence as Nathan Spring. This still leaves space for some great guest performances. Oliver Dinsdale makes for a sympathetic and relatable colony leader (Jean Arnaud); Heather Coombs convinces as an absolutist rebel (Kristin Mendelson); and Issy Van Randwyck finds the sadness and the resilience that define one of the planet’s most illusive hermits (Barbara Holmberg).
Geography of Mars
The action keeps things on the move, with the scripts taking care to sketch a believable map of the geography of Mars. That sense of place is enhanced by the conflicts amongst the planet’s inhabitants, as humanity finds new ways to export its innate imperfections out into the stars.
The release of Mars Part 1 means that the cumulative total of original audio stories based in the ISPF solar system now exceeds the number episodes made for TV back in 1987. With the new single-voice Star Cops audiobook The Stuff of Life also released this month (which slots neatly into the timeline between the Mother Earth two-parter and the new Mars twin-set) the stars do seem to be aligning rather well for the International Space Police Force right now. Their efforts to tackle the murderous crime wave on the red planet will continue in Mars Part 2 released next June.
Star Cops: Mars Part 1 is available, in CD and digital download formats from the Big Finish site.