The second series of Big Finish’s Star Cops audios takes the threat posed by the Mother Earth terror group into unexpected new directions, as the tendrils of the anti-space colonisation conspiracy introduced in series one are revealed to reach even further than Nathan Spring and his team had suspected.
The result is a strong and extremely well-crafted set of stories which, as members of the cast and behind-the-scenes crew are keen to emphasise, aim to build on the central conceit of Star Cops: telling human-centred tales of crime fighting, which just happen to unfold off-world. The writing team want to tell a “cop story with a sci-fi edge,” that is more “Bergerac in space” than it is Buck Rogers. While this is, quite deliberately, storytelling with an international orientation, these police investigations do share a sensibility and a tone that will feel very familiar to viewers of old-school British TV cop drama.
The three series’ leads reinhabit their roles so effortlessly, and the writing team find the characters’ voices in so genuine a way, that it’s hard to believe that so many decades have passed since the show’s television debut. The focused and professional Nathan Spring; the blunt and bull-headed Colin Devis and the passionate and independent-minded Pal Kenzy are all immediately recognisable.
Dead And Buried
Dead And Buried is a well-plotted space police procedural, which sees the team split to cover seemingly unlinked cases, which are later revealed as connected through some subterranean joins.
When wealthy entrepreneur Ben Alexander kills a burglar at his home, Commander Spring (David Calder) and officer Kenzy (Linda Newton) are immediately suspicious at Alexander’s dismissive and obnoxious attitude. After they learn that the victim is an investigative journalist, they become determined to break through the layers of deception. Fellow officer Devis (Trevor Cooper) is tasked with explaining a mismatch between death certificates and corpses in the plots of the moon’s exclusive and hyper-expensive graveyard run by Lunar Internments. It’s a grim job which he goes at full-tilt as he unearths some surprising finds beneath the moondust.
As the cases unfold, the story’s setting does a good job of extending a picture of what human settlement on the moon looks like, showing how clearly the social stratification of life on Earth (with clear distinctions of class, privilege and opportunity) have been replicated in this new environment.
The Killing Jar
In episode two, the Star Cops are drawn to a leisure station after an informer sends the team an encrypted data stick and promises to reveal a wealth of hidden criminal secrets. A suspicious death and the arrival of a journalist on the ship is the trigger for a series of acts of sabotage that could just have the hallmarks of a Mother Earth campaign. Marked by some high-tension set-pieces, well-drawn guest characters and an engaging plot, The Killing Jar shows writer John Dorney unfazed by the challenge of matching a complex police enquiry with the demands of storytelling centred on the imagined human colonisation of space.
While its drama unfolds on a vessel in peril, one of the successes of The Killing Jar is in capturing the mundanity and ordinariness of human life in space; especially for those toiling away in a floating tourist attraction which offers “surprisingly cheap rates” to its curious visitors. For those at the sharp end, there are few thrills on offer being stuck in an orb in space where life is shaped by boredom, corruption, and high risks for low rewards.
Roland Moore’s Moonshine is another well-rendered twin-track story, that’s particularly impressive in terms of its character development. Kenzy and Devis are despatched back to Earth to explore the case of a teetotal Australian worker dismissed for suspected alcohol abuse who died shortly after returning home. This mission provides the context for some excellent character interaction between Kenzy (who experiences an awkward reunion with an old flame) and Devis (with his trademark diplomatic skills) as they both clash with local law enforcement. Away from the close confinement of space work, a sense of mutual respect and of warmth in the dynamic between the pair becomes clear.
Back on the moon, Nathan has to endure a visit by an officious inspector from the European Space Liaison team. The timing of stickler Godfrey Miller’s arrival could scarcely be worse, as his presence coincides with a series of deadly mishaps, seemingly involving alcohol (an illegal substance off-world), which could cast doubt on the Star Cops’ crime-fighting credibility. Moore’s plot is strong on surprises, and he gets great mileage from the sparring between Spring and Miller, as the pair share a growing sense of impatience and mutual antagonism.
The very future of the Star Cops force appears to be in jeopardy as the events of the series endgame Hostage get underway. An explosion at a remote Moon outpost draws the attention of Spring and his crew, and gives the increasingly hostile Miller the excuse to launch a full-scale investigation of the team’s “failings”.
Events threaten to spiral out of control when outpost worker and suspect Mary Ward (a well-judged turn by Sarah Sutton – Nyssa from Doctor Who) takes a hostage in an attempt to bargain her way to freedom. But Ward’s associations with Mother Earth are quickly revealed as anything but straightforward, and others’ hidden affinities with the terror network are brought to the surface with some devastating consequences. Writer Andrew Smith pens a very strong finale, which delivers some powerful and well-judged payoffs, which director Helen Goldwyn (on fine form throughout) gets good value from.
Reviving what was a “near-future” show from the 1980s some thirty years later is fraught with obvious risks. The original hopes of the TV show’s creators, that they could attract sci-fi geeks and cop show fans in equal measure, were soon disappointed – amidst disagreement and recrimination. The eight-part Mother Earth audio serial delivers on the potential of the show’s imagined hard-science setting in a far more plausible and convincing way than the TV incarnation of the show was able to achieve in its disappointingly short-run.
With Smith very capably marshalling the talents of the show’s well-briefed scriptwriters, the original trio of characters and the two new officers introduced by Big Finish (Priya Basu and Paul Bailey) have been brought together in a cohesive expanded team. Things are looking very positive for the future of the International Space Police Force and, if Big Finish commission even one more series of the show, there’ll soon be more Star Cops stories on audio than were made for television back in 1987.