Big Finish: STAR COPS: MARS Part 2 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: STAR COPS: MARS Part 2 Review

Matthew Kresal returns to the red planet.

Humanity's next frontier, according to generations of space agency planners and enthusiasts, with an eye on Mars since the Apollo missions landed on the Moon a half-century ago. Yet as Star Cops, first as a brilliant but canceled BBC television series and now as audio dramas and audiobooks from Big Finish Productions, the high frontier might also beckon some of our worst instincts as a civilization. That was proving to be the case with the first Star Cops: Mars set, released in 2019. The concluding half of this Martian season followed in 2020 and offered a worthy conclusion to the season.

Sometimes, however, moving forward means taking a step back. Andrew Smith, the writer and former policeman who acts as the series showrunner for Big Finish, takes this to heart with Bodies of Evidence which opens this set. Having ended Mars 1 on the cliffhanger revealing the presence of fellow Star Cops Priya Basu (Rakhee Thakrar) and Paul Bailey (Philip Olivier), Smith explores just how they came to be there. In doing so, Smith takes listeners back six months before the start of the earlier Mars set and delivers on references made to the powerful business interests of Lachman Research and Innovation (LRI). It's an episode with a lot on its plate, including picking up the story on Mars where it left off, and Smith superbly delivers on every front.

With Smith having reunited Priya and Paul with Commander Nathan Spring, armed with his trusty pocket computer Box (David Calder), Colin Devis (Trevor Cooper), and Pal Kenzy (Linda Newton), series director Helen Goldwyn turns writer for the middle installment. Human Kind is a twisty thriller of an episode, seeing the Star Cops involved in a struggle for their very presence on the Red Planet as LRI boss Byron Lachman (Mark Elstob at his slimiest) arrives even as their investigation crosses paths with scared medic Neve O’Connell (Jessica Regan). Goldwyn keeps the tension up as both writer and director, offering a sense of danger and that anything could happen as the plot unfolds.

All leading, of course, to the finale. Smith returns to the writer chair for The Highest Ground, which picks up the space western theme from the first Mars set once more. Indeed, with its tale of corporate conspiracy and action sequences in a near-future realistic SF setting, there is more than a faint hint of the underrated 1979 film Outland in proceedings. Like Bodies of Evidence before it, The Highest Ground is an episode with a lot going on, including tying up loose ends across five previous episodes across both Mars sets. Nor is this simply an action film on audio as Smith explores the consequences of the kinds of longtermism thinking driving not only the ultimate plot but some involved in current spaceflight efforts. The result makes this a fast-paced and most satisfying conclusion to a strong trilogy of episodes, all the more to the credit of Smith as showrunner.

The Mars 2 set isn't just a feather in Smith's cap, of course, but Big Finish itself. As with previous Star Cops outings from the company, it highlights everything that's made Big Finish an audio drama producing juggernaut. That includes the cast with Calder, Cooper, and Newton still feeling true to the three-plus decade-old series. 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, coupled with the welcome additions of Olivier and Thakrar. The supporting casts are equally strong, from Elstob's slimey but passionate visionary billionaire to solid female characters, including Issy Van Randwyck as co-ordinator Barbara Holmberg, Sarah Borges and Professor Amy Bell, and Regan as O'Connell. Production-wise, Helen Goldwyn's direction is first-rate, getting the best out of the cast from humor to moments of seriousness. Steve Foxon once more offers 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 something that these audios have improved upon from the original TV series, with him and Foxon being the undersung heroes of the Mars season, particularly its finale.

Put together Mars 2 is a more than worthy conclusion to this second run of Star Cops audios. Indeed it's even more of a showcase for Big Finish's work with the series to date. It may have taken more than three decades for the officers of the International Space Police Force to make their way to the Red Planet, but, in the hands of Big Finish's talented folks, it's been more than worth the wait.

Star Cops: Mars Part 2 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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