Monday, 4 December 2017

Star Cops Returns!

Well, here's a resurrection that I never expected: in May 2018, Big Finish is to release a second audio series of Star Cops.

Star Cops was a TV science fiction series that aired in the summer of 1987 that had low ratings and lasted only nine episodes. This might seem an unlikely candidate for resurrection, but actually the show is IMO one of the all time best telefantasy programs.

There are a number of reasons for thinking this. It was devised by Chris Boucher, who'd written three top rate scripts for Doctor Who in the 1970s, and was script editor for Blake's 7 all the way through. This meant that the stories and characterisation were mostly top notch. The production standards, too, were pretty high for a minuscule budget: the model work seems to me to hold up well in general and the set design is by and large good for the era.

It is set in 2027, when space has been colonised, there are bases on the moon and a Martian colony. Significantly, this scenario is referred to in the series as 'space exploitation' and not exploration; it's clear from the first episode that transnationals have major commercial stakes in space. The series is basically a cop show, with the 41 year old Nathan Spring as the chief of the International Space Police Force, solving various crimes in Earth orbit and on the Moon.

I rewatched some of the episodes over the weekend, and I found that they'd dated less than I'd feared. Politically, the series is a product of the last years of the Cold War: the Soviet Union still exists, for example, and remains communist. The UK in the Star Cops universe remained in the EU; Spring is paid in 'Eurodollars.' The world is largely at peace, although far right and anarchist extremist groups exist and the Mafia is trying to extend its presence to the Moon.

The ICT is rather mixed: they have interactive, voice activated flat wall screens and panels but no smart phones and the moonbase consoles have cathode ray screens. Spring has a portable AI called 'box' who responds like a somewhat more smart Siri. The culture of Boucher's 2027 has also become over-reliant upon AI in decision making, with computers making assessments on which case is worth following, partly for budgetary reasons. This rings very true today.

Although the extent of space exploitation and human space presence seems unrealistic for 2027, actually, the prospects for a significant cislunar human presence and possibly a Mars base look better now than they have for some time. The Chinese, for example, are to build a rival to the ISS in the 2020s and the Moon is once more being eyed as a destination. I suspect also that the major drivers behind a move into space will be private firms like Space X, who are building better, reusable space vehicles.

So a Star Cops style scenario might indeed be a possibility in the next thirty years, if not the next ten. I wonder how long it will be before there's a major crime out there....

Despite its quality, there are a number of reasons why Star Cops did not succeed as a TV show. It was in the summer death slot on BBC2; it was critically slated and it failed to pick up an audience to justify a second season.

However, it's important to remember the negative context in which it was made. Science Fiction was deeply unfashionably in the late 1980s in the UK. Doctor Who had narrowly missed being cancelled, and SF as a whole was often ridiculed on TV.

I was 13 at the time, and I loved it. I liked the series' realism, and the fact that the main action often happened on the moon and near-Earth space. To me, at the time, the near future was synonymous with an extended human presence beyond Earth.

When the show was cancelled, I never expected to see it return. Big Finish is being typically guarded in the information it's releasing re the revival. The new producer, David Richardson has stated in the company news feed that they have

"imagined a bigger budget, more action and a new theme tune, but we’ve also kept the scripts authentic to the original show. And they have a dangerous new adversary to fight, a thread which will weave throughout these episodes.”

So it will be great to hear David Calder, Trevor Cooper and Linda Newton reprise their roles. I only hope that the script quality can match the original series....

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