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Series / Star Cops

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Spacemen are ten-a-penny. What they need out there is a good copper.

Star Cops was a British science fiction television series created by Chris Boucher that was first broadcast on BBC2 in 1987. Set in the year 2027, the world of Star Cops includes five permanently manned space stations orbiting the Earth, as well as bases on the Moon and Mars, and approximately three thousand people live and work in space. The setting was influenced by the potential for greater access to space promised by the then new Space Shuttle programme, and by concerns about the militarisation of space through the US government's Strategic Defense Initiative (known as "Star Wars"), both of which were underway in the early 1980s. Space travel and life in space are portrayed in a hard science-fiction style, with fairly realistic depictions of weightlessness and low-gravity environments, lengthy space journeys of months or years, and hazards such as spacesuit failures and radiation exposure.

Law enforcement in the developing stations and colonies is provided by the International Space Police Force (ISPF), initially made up of twenty ineffective part-time volunteers derisively nicknamed the "Star Cops". A decision is made to put the ISPF on a permanent, full-time footing, and veteran detective Nathan Spring is appointed -very much against his will- to lead the force. Many episodes deal with the efforts of Spring and his team to establish the Star Cops as a credible organisation as he sets up headquarters on the Moon, recruits new staff, dismisses corrupt officers, and works to extend the ISPF's jurisdiction to the American space stations and Mars colonies. At the same time the team investigates the cases that come their way, many of which are new crimes arising from the technologically advanced future society the series depicts, and the hostile frontier nature of the environment.

In total nine episodes of Star Cops were made. A tenth episode, titled "Death on the Moon", was planned but industrial relations difficulties during production led to it being abandoned shortly before recording was to commence. A combination of factors, including conflicts in the production team and poor scheduling, meant that the series never found a satisfactory audience and was cancelled after one season. In recent years, Star Cops has undergone something of a critical reappraisal and is generally hailed for being a good attempt at a realistic "High Frontier" SF series.

A new audio series featuring some of the original cast was released by Big Finish in 2018.

Star Cops offers examples of a number of tropes, including:

  • Anyone Can Die: Nathan Spring's girlfriend Lee Jones was seemingly set up as a recurring character in the first episode "An Instinct for Murder" but killed off suddenly in the second, "Conversations with the Dead".
  • Blunt "Yes": A rather good one in "Intelligent Listening for Beginners" from Nathan after Kenzy demands to know if she's going to be a glorified secretary for the rest of her Star Cop career. It's not that he's noticeably sexist by the standards of the day, mind you; Kenzy was on the take but too politically well-connected to be fired outright or overtly Reassigned to Antarctica.
  • Bollywood Nerd: In "Intelligent Listening for Beginners", Dr. David Chandri, who turns out to have written a computer virus responsible for hundreds of deaths.
  • Bomb Throwing Anarchist: Dr Chandri in "Intelligent Listening for Beginners". How exactly blowing a chemical plant and causing a train wreck are supposed to help create the "society without leaders, not a society without laws" he claims to want is difficult to fathom, although he was demonstrably insane.
  • British Brevity: Only nine episodes.
  • Centrifugal Gravity: Most spacecraft and space-stations don't have artificial gravity, apart from the American stations which have rotating sections. The weightless environment is cleverly simulated with wires, camera angles and careful movement by the actors.
  • Colonized Solar System: There are bases on both The Moon and Mars.
  • Eagleland: In "Trivial Games and Paranoid Pursuits", the series indulges in the "Americans are jingoistic war-mongers" stereotype. Commander Griffin is a cigar-chomping, Soviet-hating hothead.
  • Energy Weapon : Handled realistically. The laser weapons only produce a green "muzzle flash" but no visible beam.
  • Evil Twin: In "A Double Life", Albi is an evil clone of the famous pianist James Bannerman.
  • Failed Future Forecast: "An Instinct for Murder" reveals that both the Soviet Union and the Cold War are still going strong in 2027. In "Trivial Games and Paranoid Pursuits", Griffin, the commander of the American space station the Ronald Reagan, claims that the British have always been soft on the Soviets.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Pal Kenzy. She's fired for taking bribes, and virtually blackmails herself back onto the team, but redeems herself by the end of the series.
  • I Want My Jet Pack: It's 2027 and we have bases on Mars, but no internet, mobile phones etc.
  • The Mafia: In "This Case to be Opened in a Million Years", the Mafia frame Spring for drug trafficking.
  • Multi National Team: The International Space Police in general, and the main cast (see Five-Man Band) in particular:
  • Mundane Dogmatic: The show tried very hard to depict a scientifically-accurate near future with solar system colonisation.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Pal Kenzy's Australian and Alexander Krivenko's Russian accents are wobbly. (Which is quite an achievement given that Linda Newton actually is Australian!)
  • Our Graphics Will Suck in the Future: The computers and displays look very eighties, including obvious IBM PC/AT keyboards, and there's not a graphic interface in sight. There are however desktop computers that resemble someone's attempt at building a tablet with the hardware of a mid-90s PC. (Insert your own Windows 8 joke here.)
  • Perp Sweating: Spring and Devis love to sweat the perps. Sometimes literally.
  • The Professor: Alexander Krivenko, the Russian commander of the moon-base where the ISPF is headquartered. A winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: In "An Instinct for Murder", Nathan ended up in charge of the ISPF because he's not very good at office politics, although you have to give him credit for making the best of a bad situation. It's also strongly implied that Theroux departed from NASA on bad terms, although we never find out the exact details.
  • Space Is Noisy: Averted. The only sounds heard in space are radio chatter and non-diegetic music.
  • Space Police: The entire premise of the series.
  • Surreal Theme Tune: "It Won't Be Easy" by Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues. Not surprisingly, it's actually rather good but has no obvious connection to the programme at all.note  Compare and contrast with the theme of Star Trek: Enterprise.
  • Talking Appliance Sidekick: Box, of course
  • Used Future: The first couple of episodes were a bit squeaky-clean, then the series switched to a less brightly-lit, used-and-cluttered style for three episodes, before switching back for the remaining four, due to two completely different production teams handling the different production blocks.
  • Whodunnit to Me?: "Conversations with the Dead" involves an investigation into an incident leading to the death of two astronauts — who are still alive, and able to take part in the investigation by radio, but stranded in space with no hope of rescue before their oxygen gives out. Experimental cryogenics equipment that just happened to be onboard was used in the hope of saving their lives when the inventor of said cryogenics technology just happened to overhear what was happening. Nathan put two and two together quite quickly, but couldn't actually prove anything, and the show ended before we could find out if the guy really did sabotage the ship.
  • Written-In Absence: Erick Ray Evans was ill during production of the final episode, which was explained by Theroux being on planet leave.