Review by Ian McArdell
It’s no revelation that I’m a massive Star Cops fan, right back to watching the show go out in the summer of 1987. While it failed to set the television schedules alight, due to a variety of factors including poor scheduling, behind-the-scenes trouble and a chilly climate for science fiction at the BBC, it won me over. The story followed traditional copper Nathan Spring as he was reluctantly transferred to command the fledgling International Space Police Force, known colloquially as the “Star Cops”. Created by former Doctor Who writer and Blake’s 7 script editor Chris Boucher, the show had smart scripts, witty dialogue and a winning cast; set in the near future, it was effectively a police procedural in space (on a BBC budget). While Star Cops only lasted for one run of nine episodes, I was thrilled to see it resurrected at Big Finish in 2018.
Surpassing its television tally, The High Frontier is now the third series of audio adventures, playing out across two boxsets. It reunites original cast members David Calder (Nathan Spring), Trevor Cooper (Colin Devis) and Linda Newton (Pal Kenzy), who are joined by Phillip Olivier’s Paul Bailey – although Rakhee Thakrar’s Priya Basu sits this volume out.
While Mother Earth saw the team deal with a terrorist threat, and Mars took them to the red planet, The High Frontier deals with the scourge of organised crime.
As acting Chief Superintendent, Kenzy is having her moment leading an investigation into an old Star Cops favourite – space suit failure. This time, the victim is Health and Safety assessor Sonia Garrett (Becky Wright). Handily, she was a committed vocal diarist, giving Kenzy plenty to go on and us lots of insight into her character.
Garrett’s recordings lead Colin Devis and Paul Bailey out to a decrepit space station, the Hattie Jacques, to meet with a potential suspect. Its lone resident is Xander O’Brien (Sean Connolly), a quirky former children’s entertainer turned meteorologist. However, his explanation for the death comes as a surprise – he believes Garrett was a shape-changing alien!
Roland Moore’s script sets up the new status quo, with Nathan Spring now covering the role of Moonbase Co-ordinator; it’s a long-running Star Cops gag that Moonbase Co-ordinators don’t last long in the job for one reason or another. As a pragmatist, Nathan chafes against the political aspects of the position, although it does have its uses.
As well as building to a tense standoff on the Hattie Jacques, and the reveal of an insidious new threat, we loved the relationship Kenzy develops with the late Sonia Garrett; as well as reminding us of the sheer excitement of working in space, it offers a glimpse at the softer side of Linda Newton’s usually hard-edged Aussie.
First there’s a rogue shuttle, nudged off course by a salvage station’s laser, which crashes on the Moon. Then a gangland boss meets a sticky end and there’s the curious case of an apparently kidnapped union boss, on that same salvage station, for whom no ransom has been demanded.
In an incredibly satisfying tale, three seemingly disparate incidents are drawn together into a deadly conspiracy.
Written by Rossa McPhillips, this story effectively ups the ante with all of the Star Cops well-employed. It introduces Alice Okoro, (Lynsey Murrell), the Senior Investigator and Head of Corporate Security for Wolfe International (the shuttle’s owners) who immediately butts heads with Devis as she tries to put her company’s interests before the law. The pair also take part in an exciting moon buggy chase, prompting a couple of cracking Devis one-liners. Meanwhile, Kenzy proves her worth once again on the Icarus, unpicking the kidnapping case to discover a clever scam.
Death in the Desert
Finally, Sarah Grochala’s episode sees a terrifying situation come to pass: with Kenzy on leave and Nathan called away,Devis is left in charge of both Moonbase and the Star Cops!
Nathan’s urgent ground-side trip links right back to the earliest episodes of the show, where his partner Lee Jones was murdered in an attempt to get to him. With her sister Kay, a research scientist now missing in Chad, he feels duty bound to assist – but not before an awkward scene where he breaks the news to his late girlfriend’s mother. In Chad, he reconnects with Alice Okoro, whose organisation employs Dr Kay Jones, and there is no love lost between the pair!
Meanwhile, Devis’ time in charge gets off to a bad start, as he and Bailey uncover a drug problem. It’s the leaves of a plant being trialled for use on Mars due to its drought resistance, but surely it can’t be as simple as arresting the project’s leaderProfessor Sani Habib (Jason Nwoga), can it?
Counterbalancing the action on Earth, there’s plenty of fun mined from Devis’ rocky period in charge of the Moon. Trevor Cooper is, as ever, hilarious as Devis finds the responsibilities equate to hard work!
The High Frontier 1 provides another excellent set of casesfor the Star Cops, feeling simultaneously faithful to the original but also bang up to date. While the spectre of organised crime is timeless, their methods keep pace with technology. The third story also sees the issue of climate change and its effects play a role. All three stories weave multiple threads together and provide satisfying twists and turns which kept me guessing.
With the excitement of Mars dealt with, it’s reassuring to have the Star Cops back on the Moon again and dealing with threats closer to Earth. The show always maintained an international feel and this continues here with the African exploits of the third story.
Now that the shadowy threat is out in the open, I’m looking forward to seeing how it resolves in the next boxset. Presumably, we’ll be hearing more from Alice Okoro too whose motives remain open to question – as do those of WolfeInternational, her employers.
Throughout, the production values are excellent, and Steve Foxon provides pitch-perfect sound design in keeping with the original series. For fans of the show, this comes highly recommended. If you’ve not yet discovered Star Cops, it’s also a perfect place to start.
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