Big Finish: Star Cops - The Stuff Of Life Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Star Cops - The Stuff Of Life Review

Matthew Kresal catches up with the International Space Police Force.
In 1987, Star Cops aired on British TV for nine weeks at the height of summer. It was a series that, while flawed, showed plenty of promise it was never quite able to deliver upon, thanks to the BBC electing against a second season. Star Cops was gone but not forgotten, finding new generations of fans thanks to VHS and later DVD releases. So it perhaps isn't surprising that Big Finish, which has had great success with Cult TV properties including Doctor Who, Blake's 7, and The Prisoner, would be the ones to resurrect this overlooked gem. Fitting in-between the company's initial Mother Earth sets and the two Mars sets comes the audiobook The Stuff of Life, released in December 2019.

Written by Mike Tucker, who has a track record of Doctor Who novels and audio dramas behind him, The Stuff of Life is a compelling piece of work. One of the defining things about Star Cops has been that, for all of its near-future SF trappings, was that it was fundamentally a detective series. That's something Tucker doesn't lose sight of here to his credit, crafting an intricate plot that takes in everything from the submerged canals of Venice to the Moon and the Edgar Rice Burroughs. Perhaps taking a cue from Big Finish's take on the series, Tucker introduces a number of plot threads, all seemingly standalone, that gradually come together as the novel unfolds. There's also the series mix of a more-realistic SF approach on display, involving the issues of supplying colonies with fresh water and the inherent difficulties of its taking weeks or months to get between places in our solar system. As a piece of plotting, it's a well-written piece of work and one that moves at quite the pace despite its six-plus hour running time.

There's more to this audiobook than that, of course. The Stuff of Life fits neatly into Big Finish's work on the series. There are fleeting, knowing references to the events of the two Mother Earth sets and the echoing ramifications felt throughout the novel. There are hints of where the following Mars box sets would go, something this reviewer is looking forward to picking up as part of a catch-up on the series. Tucker even tosses in references to characters from the original TV series, who, either due to their passing away or being unavailable, haven't appeared in Big Finish's revival. Along with other references and Easter eggs for fans of the series (and the inclusion of Venice (something the TV series had to abandon for budget reasons), it shows off not only Tucker's attention to detail but anchors The Stuff of Life neatly as part of Star Cops as a whole.

Tucker's knowledge of the series is also evident in the characterizations. Of the established characters, everyone sounds as they should, from the world-weary Nathan Spring to the all too chummy ladness of Colin Devis and the forthrightness of Pal Kenzy. The supporting characters are equally solid, from Doctor Harris on the Edgar Rice Burroughs to undercover officer Paul Bailey's Italian contacts and, of course, the eventual villain of the piece. All of which adds to the richness of the tale Tucker tales.

The icing on the cake is the narration from Trever Cooper. Known to fans of the series as Devis, Cooper proved an inspired choice for the reader of The Stuff of Life. Not only does he capture Devis well, as he ought to, but those of his fellow castmates with a range of accents capturing his castmates, ranging from Australian to India and the Scouse tones of Paul Bailey. His take on Nathan Spring deserves special mention, with Cooper presenting an uncanny impression of David Calder at times. The only thing that might have boosted Cooper's reading would have been the presentation, which is barebones, rather than the "enhanced audiobook" format Big Finish has employed for Doctor Who, with in-story use of sound effects and music. Even so, Cooper's reading is worth the price of admission alone.

Though, if you're a Star Cops fan, you'd be missing out by not picking this up anyway. Mike Tucker's prose presents a compelling story in its own right, superbly brought to life by Trevor Cooper's reading. And as the link between Mother Earth and Mars, it also sits neatly between Big Finish's two "seasons" of Star Cops to date.

What more reason do you need to give The Stuff of Life a listen?

Matthew Kresal is a writer, critic, and podcaster with many and varying interests. His prose includes the non-fiction The Silver Archive: Dark Skies from Obverse Books, the Cold War alternate history spy thriller Our Man on the Hill, and the Sidewise Award winning short story Moonshot in Sea Lion Press' Alternate Australias anthology. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, or follow him on Twitter @KresalWritesHe was born, raised, and lives in North Alabama where he never developed a southern accent.

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