❉ “There is huge scope in this series.” The gamble bringing back cult sci-fi drama Star Cops onto audio has paid off, writes Michael Seely.
Thirty-one years after its brief nine week run, Star Cops has been brought back to life by those arch-resurrectionists Big Finish, whose track record in life after death productions has had a spectacularly high success rate. But tread softly Big Finish, for a series which only had a brief run in that mad summer of love in 1987, may not have an active fanbase, but we many few who watched it, absolutely adored it.
Nathan Spring was another grizzled and disgruntled cop, trying his best to keep up with the high technological world he found policing to have become during his career. He is unwillingly promoted and shuffled off out of the way and into space, to take charge of an outfit of star cops where the basic qualification to serve was to be a misfit. He discovered policemen who were out of place, or just plain corrupt. It was a gorgeous ensemble piece featuring sharp writing, smart-arse dialogue, complicated plots, profanities, and some startling lack of political correctness and empathy from its members, which even for 1987 was quite astonishing at times, but the police were still trying to deal with institutional racism.
The gamble bringing back Star Cops onto audio – and it is surprising how long it has taken for this to happen – has paid off. The writing could never match up to the television series because the original writers are not involved. I approached this with a open heart, but, you know… It is unfair to compare the two versions, but it is unavoidable. It’s a bit like comparing partners…
Things have naturally changed since 1987. For example, in those intervening years we have lost two of the actors who made the show alternatively sparkle and smoulder – Erick Ray Evans and Jonathan Adams, one of the original members of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The new cast members don’t seem to possess any character flaws to raise them above the average, and both of them could have been designed simply to challenge Colin Devis, played with force by Trevor Cooper, whose sexism, racial prejudice, male superiority, etc. made him an unrequited chest beating male in 1987. Plenty of them still about. Devis did try to soften his attitudes, but his prejudices were never far from the surface, waiting to pop up in some outburst , amusing or otherwise.
Here, Devis has to work with an Asian of equal rank, who quickly outranks him. Preya Basur is played superbly and warmly by Rakhee Thakrar. A gay character is introduced, Paul Bailey played by one of the Doctor Who main range’s best ‘new’ companions, the superb Philip Oliver. The sexuality is irrelevant, but Devis tries his best not to make inappropriate remarks, or clumsy enquiries, and puts his foot right in it. And promises never to do it again. To either of them. So welcome to the new twenty-first century, Colin. His foot is now firmly rebooted. He even comes close to having another sex scene. Neither of the new regulars appear to have any kind of character flaw, although Basur appears defensive towards suspected criticism in her operations during the second episode.
Why this need for character flaws? To make them as compelling and interesting as the gorgeous Linda Newton’s Pal Kenzy… She was always one of my favourites back in the day, high cheek-bones, and an extortionist who transformed herself by chance into becoming an unsackable hero. She then worked hard to prove herself to be a good Star Copper. She is a fantastic character, played with guts and vulnerability. Time has passed between series and she has not mellowed. In a nice twist of continuity, she only has the one scene in the first episode, as she did back in 1987. This effectively writes her out of the rest of the box set, but thankfully she returns for the finale and is in fine form. The new base co-ordinator is also underused, and seems to be as accident prone as her predecessor, who had an endearing habit in having for friends villains or psychotics. An Instinct for Murder guest star Brian Lincoln, played by Andrew Secombe, is resurrected for Andrew Smith’s Mother Earth, which expertly sets up the new series and beds in the new characters and reintroduces the familiar cast.
Mother Earth has a new theme tune. It is not quite the big dramatic ‘This is Drama and Don’t You Forget It’ type of the Dudley Simpson school of racket. Neither is it in the style of Howling Justin Hayward whose Tony Visconti-produced theme for the TV series made a refreshing change for a science fiction series.
The thread of the series, as its title suggest, is a terrorist outfit called Mother Earth who is set against the expansion of the space programme and wants the problems of the Earth fixed first. Perhaps one day there will be a Star Cops episode set onboard The Wheel In Space, a 1968 Doctor Who story which mentioned a similar organisation, only called Pull Back to Earth, or words to that effect. Mother Earth, as we hear in the four stories, are an anonymous outfit of gruff voiced men who like blowing things up, and Big Finish are always good with explosions.
The one thing which disappointed me, and this is more a matter of taste than some kind of damning criticism, was the lack of eccentricity among the guest cast. The original series presented a very stressed out set of characters, struggling to make their way in an alien and hostile environment, from miners, pilots, traffic control engineers, and scientists. Unfortunately in modern eyes that eccentricity sometimes expressed itself in foreign caricatures (some admittedly rather pleasing than others which made you wince even then). This is not replicated in Mother Earth. Ian Potter’s episode Tranquillity and Other Illusions does begin with a nice character piece from a hotelier and it was a pity he couldn’t contribute more to the story. It was a lovely scene set among what would probably rightly become a historical monument, the original NASA landing sites, preserved on the moon when the time comes. Potter does try to get under the skin of the type of people who work ‘out there’, but we don’t get to meet them. It would be nice to have more of a taste of the lawless High Frontier, and the struggles to introduce law and order, akin to the Wild West.
There is huge scope in this series.
The best episode of the four uses a familiar plot device, a siege, at a conference which is basically blaming the Star Cops for failing to stop Mother Earth’s antics. And guess who has turned the hi-tech security against them? A great script by Christopher Hatherall, with double bluffs, red herrings and ‘I never heard that coming’ moments, complimented by the loud bangs of good sound design and direction.
And as for the good Commander himself, played by David Calder… Oh, welcome back Nathan. Please don’t leave it so long next time. It won’t be easy – waiting for the second set.
❉ ‘Star Cops: Mother Earth Part 1’ is available now at £28 on CD or £25 on download. Don’t forget that each CD purchase unlocks a download option on the Big Finish app and the Big Finish website. Or you can save money in a bundle. Get Star Cops: Mother Earth 1 and 2 together for £50 on CD or £45 on download. It will be exclusively available to buy from the BF website until June 30th 2018, and on general sale after this date.
❉ Michael Seely’s biography of director Douglas Camfield was published by Miwk Publishing in May 2017. Click here to order.