Big Finish: STAR COPS: THE HIGH FRONTIER 2 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Matthew Kresal catches his Collective breath.
Since before Sputnik helped usher in the Space Age, the dream of living and working in space has fascinated us from the realms of science fiction. Visions that, decades later, may well be within grasp at last. What else humanity might take on that giant leap into the unknown was something that the late Chris Boucher explored some thirty-five years ago in his short-lived but ahead-of-its-time BBC series Star Cops, presenting 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 its latest season reaching its climax in this month's The High Frontier 2.

Picking up on last November's first High Frontier set, this set picks up as Commander Nathan Spring and the officers of the International Space Police Force (ISPF) continue their investigation of the mysterious criminal organization known as the Collective. The Collective's reach made itself felt across the first set, but Alison Winter's Old Flame, New Fire takes things even further. In classic Star Cops tradition, Winter's script offers up two different strands, one set Earthside with Philip Olivier's Paul Bailey home in Liverpool once more while his colleagues investigate a spate of unauthorized items appearing on Moonbase, and crafts a compelling hour of drama out of them. More than that, the episode explores some of Bailey's background with the titular old flame (nicely brought to life by Martin Mednikarov) appears. The mix of elements, the detective story with the personal drama, intersect neatly and give Olivier some of his best material in the series. Not to mention getting the set off to a solid start.

The strands across the previous four High Frontier episodes begin coming together in Katharine Armitage's middle episode. Grandma’s Footsteps might seem like an innocuous title, but from the return of Lynsey Murrell as Alice Okoro with her boss and lover Russell Wolfe (Wilf Scolding) to Kenzy bringing in her pal Anya Selby (Laura Rollins) to help investigate, nothing about this episode is routine or what it seems. Armitage, the cast, and director Helen Goldwyn keep listeners on edge throughout with this twisty tale that picks up on the ambiguity of Okoro as a character that Rossa McPhillips brought to her introduction from the previous set to a variety of locations that would have busted wide the 1980s BBC budget for the series. It's both a showcase for Star Cops on audio and finely sets-up things for the finale.

And what a finale Andrew Smith's Escape and Evasion offers listeners! Smith, a former police officer and an accomplished writer in his own right, proved in both the Mother Earth and Mars seasons finales his knack for writing this series. This is another case in point, building upon events across the five previous episodes of the season to reach an action-laden, tense, twisty conclusion to the story arc. Escape and Evasion is a difficult episode to discuss without spoiling the twists that make it possible, but suffice it to say that Smith and all involved deliver another satisfying finale that hits all the right notes.

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, as if they never left the BBC TV Centre studio floor with Philip Olivier's Paul Bailey feeling right at home alongside them. Beyond the cast, Helen Goldwyn's direction remains first-rate, getting the best out of the performers, from humor to moments of tension, while Steve Foxon crafts an immersive soundscape that brings a wide variety of locations to life. The icing on the cake might be Howard Carter's music, offering a near-cinematic underscore for each episode, even if die-hard fans might still miss Justin Hayward's TV theme music.

The result, across these three episodes? Star Cops: The High Frontier 2 is another feather in Big Finish's cap (or is that space helmet?). One that continues to deliver, at long last, on the promise that Boucher's original TV episode presented all those years ago, realized now gloriously on audio. And there's never been a better time to start than now.

Star Cops: The High Frontier 2 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 May 2023, 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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