Big Finish: Star Cops: The High Frontier 1, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Star Cops: The High Frontier 1, Review

Matthew Kresal is here for Law & Orbit.
From the launch of Artemis I to the launches of SpaceX and space tourism beginning to take off, the oft-imagined dreams of opening space seem within grasp. Yet, even as humanity takes these steps out of its evolutionary cradle, we have to wonder if we'll take our worst instincts with those dreams. Thirty-five years ago, a short-lived but ahead-of-its-time BBC series, presented just such a vision with a mix of near-future SF and detective series. Star Cops has found a much-welcomed second life as audio thrillers from Big Finish, with this month's The High Frontier 1 being a showcase for the series.

After two box sets spent focused on the Red Planet, The High Frontier 1 brings Commander Nathan Spring and the officers of the International Space Police Force (ISPF) back to the Earth and Moon. It's a grounding that served Star Cops well on TV and the Mother Earth Big Finish sets. Indeed, from its opening minutes, this set feels like a belated sequel to the explosive finale of the second Mother Earth set, picking up on a strand of its story. Even so, this set follows its Mother Earth and Mars predecessors by coming across as newbie friendly, quickly (re)establishing the world of the series for listeners before diving in headlong.

Roland Moore kicks things off with Dead Air. A young woman dying from a space suit leak sparks a routine inquiry, one that sends the Star Cops into her audio diaries (handy for the medium in question) but also after a reclusive former TV personality who might have crossed paths with her. Except, of course, being Star Cops, things are rarely routine. Moore offers a compelling mystery highlighting the mix of grounded SF and detective series that makes this series what it is. Along the way, there's also some fine character development as events in the episode see characters taking on new responsibilities or making unexpected connections via their investigation. Moore also launches the story arc for this strand, neatly dovetailing it into the story he's telling. If there's a quintessential episode of Star Cops, this would be it.

Rossa McPhillips picks up the baton for the second episode, Hostile Takeover. Like the original TV series writers, McPhillips takes a real-world space exploration issue (in this case, space junk) and explores it in a thriller context. One that sees a Star Cops take on several classic tropes, from tensions between management and unions leading to potential crime to a corporate security head who might not be what they seem. The latter is Lynsey Murrell as Alice Okoro, a compelling character whose apparent singlemindedness hides a dark agenda. Or does it? McPhillips wonderfully plays with the ambiguity of Okoro as a character, even as the Star Cops take on three separate strands of a case. It can be a lot to follow, but the result is a rewarding thriller with plenty of tension and enough suspicion to keep listeners and characters guessing throughout its running time.

Last but not least is Death in the Desert. A number of the Star Cops cases on audio have taken on a personal dimension, but none more so than Sarah Grochala's script offers. In it, the Star Cops leader heads to the African nation of Chad after his murdered lover's sister's kidnapping, picking up on a strand from the TV series' earliest days. Except, of course, things aren't what they seem, as those left on the Moon discover when dealing with apparent drug smuggling. Taking advantage of the audio format means that Grochala can take her drama into the deserts of Africa, lunar bases, and orbiting space stations, which would have busted wide the series' 1980s BBC budget. That it does so while also presenting a compelling mix of action and personal drama as Nathan's past comes back into play is to the credit of Grochala, script editor Andrew Smith, and director Helen Goldwyn.

Indeed, the cast and production crew deserve full marks here. The trio of returning TV cast members, Nathan Spring with his trusty pocket computer Box (David Calder), Colin Devis (Trevor Cooper), and Pal Kenzy (Linda Newton), all still feel very much present and correct, like they were on the BBC TV Centre studio floor once more, with Philip Olivie's Paul Bailey feeling right at home beside them. Beyond the cast, Helen Goldwyn's direction is first-rate, getting the best out of the cast, from humor to moments of seriousness, while Steve Foxon crafts an immersive soundscape that brings a wide variety of locations to life. Last but not least, Howard Carter's music offers a more appropriate, even cinematic, underscore for the series than the original TV version, built around his strong opening theme.

All put together across three episodes, High Frontier 1 is another solid entry for Star Cops at Big Finish. With its compelling mix of SF setting, detective work, humor, and personal drama, it's a solid jumping-on point for those interested in the series but who missed out on earlier sets. Now's a perfect moment to do so since, as the final episode proves, there's more to this story yet to be told, with next April being a long way away.

Star Cops: The High Frontier 1 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 December 2022, and on general sale after this date.

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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