The year is 2027, and several space stations are orbiting Earth, along with a series of moonbases established by various nations. Shuttle flights frequently ascend to space with minimal training required for passengers. Although costs are not explicitly disclosed, one might assume that inflation is not as severe in the future. The presence of a substantial population in space justifies the need for a small police force. Despite his initial reluctance, Chief Inspector Nathan Spring (portrayed by David Calder) is shortlisted for the position by his commander (played by Moray Watson) and secures it after a brief mission to investigate a case involving faulty spacesuits.
Scriptwriter Chris Boucher seems to express frustration in his audio commentary on the first episode, pointing out cost-saving suggestions he made in the script that were overlooked. This practice reflects the operational norms of BBC TV production four decades ago, when scripts were submitted and writers were largely sidelined, unless they held copyright—a rare occurrence. While I may not concur with all of Boucher’s viewpoints, I do wish there were additional insights into the rationale behind certain decisions. I agree with Boucher that the theme song does not align well with the science fiction genre. The decision to record the special effects footage and live action on video was made to minimize issues with graininess, a technique not commonly used except by a certain time-traveling character of the era. Surprisingly, the depiction of the space stations, with their subdued appearance, is quite effective. For those questioning the absence of stars, the reflected light from Earth would obscure them, similar to the visibility conditions on the Moon. Interestingly, this was intended to be a two-part episode, although Boucher does not specify whether these were to be 30-minute or 55-minute segments, nor does he detail what content was omitted. Additional features are available on this DVD, which I plan to explore after viewing the remaining eight episodes.
My recollection of the early episodes is somewhat hazy, especially regarding the introduction of Colin Devis (played by Trevor Cooper), apart from questioning why Spring would hire someone seemingly unsuitable for space missions. However, upon rewatching, it becomes clear that Devis’s actions are not always as foolish as they initially seem. The second episode, “Communications With The Dead,” unveils a complex scheme involving the murder of Spring’s girlfriend, intended to divert his attention from a rogue spacecraft. This storyline, enriched with clever details like relocating their headquarters to the Moon to benefit from gravity, remains compelling and plausible even by today’s standards.
I evidently overlooked the third episode, “Intelligent Learning for Beginners,” on my initial viewing, as it formally introduces the character of Australian Pal Kenzy (played by Linda Newton), whom Spring dismisses after an American officer informs his newly promoted second-in-command, David Theroux (played by Erick Ray Evans), of their corruption. Kenzy later reappears, advocating for a laser gun capable of adapting to different skin colors, which Theroux labels an ethnic weapon. Returning to their duties, Spring and Theroux visit a multimillionaire working on the Moon, who provides them with crucial intelligence on an imminent terrorist hijacking of a shuttle. Cooper is dispatched back to Earth undercover to probe into the gang’s additional activities. Upon his return to the Moon, Cooper unexpectedly finds himself seated next to the civilian Kenzy during the hijacking. This episode is detailed more than usual, as scriptwriter Boucher was notably prolific. The concept of affluent individuals living off-planet is presented here, predating similar real-world discussions. Boucher’s foresight is evident, as he envisioned a channel tunnel seven years before its realization, likely beyond the conceptual stage at the time. A peculiar moment involves a moon buggy navigating a narrow tunnel within the millionaire’s compound, managing to exit facing forward on two occasions, a likely budgetary constraint preventing a more elaborate depiction, despite the impressive effects for its era.
The fourth episode, “Trivial Games and Paranoid Pursuits,” explores the challenges of salvaging space wreckage. Notably, it features AI for informational inquiries. The narrative reflects a time when erasing someone’s digital footprint could effectively make them disappear, despite the expectation of backup files and other verification methods. The search for a missing scientist named Goodman underscores the plot, with the logical assumption that space flight passenger manifests would confirm his journey.
“The Case to Be Opened in A Million Years,” the fifth episode and the first penned by a different writer, Philip Martin, employs several clichés. Characters enter dark spaces without turning on the light and inexplicably taste unknown substances, leading to poisoning. These scenarios are presented to Chief Inspector Ethan Spring, highlighting the dangers of such actions.
Philip Martin offers an audio commentary for this episode, imparting scriptwriting tips without directly addressing these narrative shortcomings. He notes the sharper quality of modern scenes compared to those of the past.
The sixth episode, “In Warm Blood,” written by John Collee, revisits the theme of corporations acting with impunity in extraterrestrial environments. The Star Cops investigate unrelated deaths linked by identical symptoms. The discovery of mummified bodies aboard a spaceship, although scientifically questionable, adds a compelling element to the science fiction narrative.
“A Double Life,” the seventh episode, explores themes of identity and deception, incorporating DNA testing (referred to as chromosome testing) to unravel a mystery involving an individual with a seemingly perfect alibi being in two places simultaneously. The episode speculates on the effects of low gravity on conception, reflecting the nascent understanding of reproductive science at the time.
The eighth episode, “Other People’s Secrets,” employs a locked-room mystery set against the backdrop of an explosion causing an airlock breach, trapping characters in various compartments. This scenario, while minimally science fictional, effectively leverages the inherent dangers of space environments.
The ninth and final episode, “Let In The Green Men And Other Martians,” includes a commentary by Chris Boucher, which I am about to listen to. This episode is notably ambitious, unveiling Martian colonies—a concept that might have seemed far-fetched but allowed viewers a glimpse of Mars as envisioned in the 1980s. Despite the potential for media attention, journalists stationed on the Moon are depicted unfavorably, and much of the plot is considered a spoiler.
As a series, “Star Cops” portrays a future unaffected by rampant inflation, with regular shuttle flights to space, though the speed of these journeys to Mars, suggested by their taking the shortest possible route, implies remarkable velocities.
Chris Boucher’s audio commentary sheds light on his strained relationship with the producer but stops short of explaining why a second season was not commissioned. He acknowledges employing traditional plots in a novel setting and contends that while plots may not be new, their resolutions can be. His reservations about the character Anna Shoun stem from a lack of familiarity with her Japanese culture, a gap that seems surmountable considering the series’ setting 40 years into the future. Notably, three years from this future point, the absence of a space economy is one of the few discrepancies, along with Shoun’s initial deference to authority figures. The revelation that “Star Cops” was initially considered for a radio format is intriguing, especially given the success of radio-to-TV adaptations like “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”
The extras across the three DVDs were too extensive to consume in one sitting, leading to a staggered viewing. Released in 2004, this edition of “Star Cops” offers a look back some 20 years later, with continuity features cleverly grouped into three-episode blocks.
DVD #1 features a 15-minute introduction by Trevor Cooper, including an interview and highlights of his portrayal as Devis. Cooper’s dedication to his craft is evident in his nightly commutes for theater performances during the first five weeks of filming, marking “Star Cops” as his first regular TV role.
“It Won’t Be Easy – The Making Of Star Cops,” a 16-minute documentary featuring Chris Boucher and Trevor Cooper, touches on the series being cut short to nine episodes due to a BBC strike. Erick Ray Evans’ bout with chickenpox is mentioned, along with the directors’ previous work on “Doctor Who” and “Blake’s 7.”
The second DVD includes a 20-minute interview with Chris Boucher (1943-2022), reflecting on his career and minimal discussion on “Star Cops,” possibly due to the interview’s generic nature or editing choices.
“Lights, Camera, Inaction,” a 33-minute feature on episode 7, “A Double Life,” illustrates the challenges of achieving perfect shots and the limitations of technology at the time, such as the absence of ventilated spacesuits.
On DVD #3, Philip Martin (1938-2020) reminisces about the unaired ninth episode, “Death On The Moon,” and his broader work, offering insights into his contributions to science fiction and other genres.
“FX Lies And Video Tape – Designing The Future,” an 11-minute silent feature, showcases both utilized and unused footage, revealing the scale and ingenuity behind the show’s production.
With the dissolution of the Network company, “Star Cops” became a rare find, surfacing unexpectedly at auction, suggesting a dedicated fan base. Despite its flaws, the series offers a glimpse into a period of BBC science fiction that was scarce. It serves as a reminder of the essentials—never forget your spacesuit or the importance of lighting in unfamiliar settings.
(pub: Network. 3 DVDs 9*53 minute episodes with extras. Price: varies. ASIN: 7952244)
cast: David Calder, Erick Ray Evans, Trevor Cooper, Linda Newton, Jonathan Adams and many others