Big Finish: STAR COPS: MARS Part 1 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: STAR COPS: MARS Part 1 Review

After more than thirty years, the Star Cops reach Mars and Matthew Kresal is with them.
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. And after the success of their Mother Earth 1 and 2 sets plus The Stuff of Life audiobook, Big Finish took the series somewhere it had never been before: Mars.

The Red Planet, as well as being a source of fascination for centuries, also has a special place in the Star Cops canon. Famously, it was where creator Chris Boucher wanted to take the series in its never made second season on television, dropping the seeds for it in what became the series' final episode. After re-launching the series (no pun intended) with the Mother Earth sets and planting seeds in Mike Tucker's audiobook, the series touched down in December 2019 with this first trilogy of Mars-based episodes.

Opening the set as he had for Mother Earth 1 is Andrew Smith, the writer and former police officer who showed a knack for the series. Smith proved an ideal choice to take the Star Cops into The New World. And within a few minutes, it's clear that this will be a different experience for both the listeners and the series' main characters. For Commander Nathan Spring, with his trusty pocket computer Box (David Calder), Colin Devis (Trevor Cooper), and Pal Kenzy (Linda Newton have come to Mars to establish a law enforcement presence in this burgeoning colony world.

Except, it seems, very few want them there.

Smith's script does a fine job of turning the established rules of the Star Cops series on their head. As fans of the series well know, there's always been a sense in the series, both on TV and audio, of being set in a bit of a frontier setting. Yet Mars, millions of miles and months away from Earth, and the usual resources at the character's disposal, gives a new meaning to "the high frontier." Something that becomes apparent when they get involved, in a notionally advisory capacity, in investigating a series of water thefts in a colony based near Olympus Mons, the largest mountain in the solar system. There, they encounter a clash of cultures and temperments between hard-core settlers and ultra-rich tourists out for the trip of a lifetime. As is often the case with Star Cops, nothing is quite what it seems, and humanity's worst instincts have made their way into space with our best intentions. The results make for compelling listening with plenty of tension and an intriguing mystery at its heart.

Una McCormack picks up almost directly from the end of Smith's opener with The Shadow of This Red Rock. If the previous episode had established the Star Cops version of Mars as being analogous to the American Wild West, McCormack's script takes it even further. With Spring and Kenzy marooned with their prisoner, they find themselves pursued by their prisoner's confederates. But can they trust a newfound ally in the form of the mysterious Grace (Elizabeth Uter)? The Shadow of This Red Rock is a space western in every sense of the phrase, using many of its tropes in an alien landscape, right down to its climax above the Martian Grand Canyon, Valles Marineris. And if that wasn't enough, McCormack has Devis getting up to shenanigans of his own, helping push along another plotline running through this set. It's a packed episode and one that plays to the strengths of both the audio medium and the series format.

Guy Adams, whose scripts The Thousand Ton Bomb and Dead and Buried were highlights of the two Mother Earth sets, rounds off this trilogy with Whatever Happened to Gary Rice? Of this set, this is the episode that feels closest to the original series with Adams' tale of a cryptic message sending the Star Cops to visit a colony thriving off making cheap organic food to feed humanity's growing colonies. Except for no one there claims to have ever heard of Mister Rice. Injecting plenty of humor from Devis into this SF detective story, Adams offers up a compelling script where idealism and greed clash with the Star Cops caught in the middle. It's all building up to one heck of a cliffhanger, setting the stage for the second Star Cops: Mars set that followed in 2020.

As with previous Star Cops outings from Big Finish, Mars 1 has plenty to recommend it for beyond its scripts. Perhaps the biggest is its focus on its trio of characters from the original TV series, with Calder, Cooper, and Newton still feeling true to the three-plus decade-old series even when tossed into this new environment. All get moments to shine, from Calder in his more serious moments to Cooper's laugh-out-loud bits of comedy and Newton with her no-nonsense take on things. The supporting casts are equally strong, with plenty of solid female characters from Issy Van Randwyck as co-ordinator Barbara Holmberg, Uter's Grace, and Carla de Wansey as Dr. Julienne Grainger in the final episode. Production-wise, Helen Goldwyn's direction is first-rate, getting the best out of the cast from humor to moments of seriousness. Steve Foxon takes over from Martin Montague for sound design, presenting an immersive soundscape that brings this world of Martian bases and the sense of an otherworldly frontier. Finally, Howard Carter's music brings a cinematic underscore to proceedings, with his scores continuing to be one thing that the audio certainly has improved upon from the original TV series.

Mars 1 then proves an ideal continuation of Star Cops for Big Finish. One that delivers at last on a decades-old promise to take its characters from the Earth and its Moon out to the Red Planet. And as the final scene proves, this is only half the story, with Mars 2 promising a solar system spanning trilogy of episodes.

But that's for another review...

Star Cops: Mars Part 1 is available to purchase from the Big Finish website.

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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