In the summer of 1987, the BBC transmitted a show which fused the genres of science fiction and crime; Star Cops followed Nathan Spring, a traditional copper thrust into space as the head of the nascent International Space Police Force.
Devised by Blake’s 7 script editor and Doctor Who scribe Chris Boucher, the show was a police procedural set forty years in the future and dealt with corrupt officers, political intrigue and corporate interests, as well as good old fashioned crime on the high frontier. Unfortunately, it was poorly scheduled and beset with behind the scenes friction, as well as industrial action, and consequently, Star Cops never fulfilled its potential.
Thirty-one years on, Big Finish have crafted a new run of stories, across two box sets, to form a second series. David Calder (Nathan Spring), Trevor Cooper (Colin Devis) and Linda Newton (Pal Kenzy) all reprise their roles, with the team augmented by two new officers: Rakhee Thakrar as Priya Basu, while Philip Olivier plays Paul Bailey.
One Of Our Cops Is Missing
Script Editor Andrew Smith reintroduces the show with a story which brings together the new team. As Nathan lobbies for new officers, a former colleague reaches out to him; Chief Superintendent Brian Lincoln has lost track of an officer, Paul Bailey, whose undercover work has taken on a lunar dimension. Meanwhile, Devis is despatched to the Rakesh Sharma, an Indian space station where part-time Star Cop Priya Basu has caused uproar as she investigates a near-fatal space suit failure.
Smith’s script is terrific and achieves plenty; centring on a drug smuggling operation with a twist, it also has pleasing echoes to the original Boucher penned episodes as well as introducing the threat from Mother Earth – a terrorist organisation seeking to halt humanity’s expansion from the planet. Honouring Spring’s idiosyncratic recruitment style, both Basu and Bailey are on-board by the story’s final moments, both having proven they have the right stuff in their own distinct ways.
Tranquillity And Other Illusions
Ian Potter writes the second story, focusing on a murder which takes place at the site of the 1969 Moon landing. With Nathan under pressure from the new Moonbase Co-ordinator Shayla Moss (Nimmy March), Priya takes the lead as the new team’s dynamics are still falling in to place.
As well as a clever murder mystery, there is a lot of fun had with the idea of preserving the site of Tranquillity base, National Trust style and constructing a themed venue around it. Some of Devis’s more lurid antics play into events and it is great to see his politically incorrect mouth getting him into trouble.
Writer Christopher Hatherall brings Nathan and Priya back to Earth for a conference, with Nathan at his grumpy best dealing with the political aspects of his job in addition to the threat from corporate security interests.
However, when Priya recognises a face, and the high-tech venue comes under threat from Mother Earth, Nathan is forced to take control. This is another tight, well-constructed story with multiple threads that dovetail into an exciting finale and it managed to keep us guessing.
The Thousand Ton Bomb
Guy Adams rounds out the set, with Paul sent back undercover as Nathan spies an opportunity to infiltrate Mother Earth when Devis accidentally foils a Moonbase bombing.
While Paul endeavours to prove his worth to the terrorists, Nathan deals with the imposition of an external counter-terrorism officer, Commander Simone Babin (Sophie Louise-Dann), from whom they need to conceal their actions.
Having cameoed in the first story, Kenzy returns here on top form to help save the day as events spiral out of control. We also enjoyed going undercover with Paul, especially the sequence where he assumes his identity by looking around the would-be bomber’s flat.
We had better address the elephant in the room – the divisive Justin Hayward song It Won’t Be Easy is gone, replaced with a smart new instrumental theme from composer Howard Carter. While we never quite understood the ire the original provoked (it was about as popular as Russell Watson’s theme for Star Trek: Enterprise), we mourn its loss. The new theme is perfectly serviceable however, with shades of Survivors in part, and is already starting to grow on us.
Originally, Star Cops was set in rooted 2027 but this continuation wisely eschews a specific date; though we have made ample technological advances, our space programme is sorely lacking! Gloriously, Nathan’s handheld AI “Box” remains a thing of wonder to those around him and even to our modern ears, despite Alexa and Siri, it retains a touch of Orac – and steals some of the best lines as it needles Nathan in his own voice.
David Calder returns effortlessly to the role of Nathan, the thoughtful, if eternally frustrated, copper who is not entirely comfortable in space. Trevor Cooper’s Devis remains utterly unreconstructed too, ever the blunt instrument, getting away with what he can and kept on the straight and narrow by Spring. There are some nice tensions between Devis and the two new arrivals too, challenging his prejudices on various fronts.
Though only in a minor role here, we loved hearing the spiky Kenzy back too and the extras reveal that Linda Newton will be more involved in the second box set, having recorded her contributions for this run remotely from Australia.
Of the new characters, Rakhee Thakrar’s Priya proves herself to be dogged and determined early on and she makes a great foil for Nathan in his grumpier moments. It is good to have an Indian character too, helping to maintain the show’s international feel. As the undercover man of action, Phillip Olivier entertains as Paul Bailey, although the character clearly has some issues with taking orders and we wonder if he is riding for a fall?
This new version of Star Cops offers a fresh lease of life to a great series and the production is tonally spot on, with smart scripts and strong characters. The stories are well directed by Helen Goldwyn and backed by excellent, era-appropriate sound design from Martin Montague. It may have taken over thirty years, but we are thrilled to have the Star Cops back!