Audio Review: Star Cops – Mars (Part 1)

Review by Ian McArdell

The television series of Star Cops ended with Commander Nathan Spring posing a question: “Anyone for Mars?”. Now firmly established from a base on the Moon, the ISPF’s remit was set to encompass Mars in a second series. While the show on television never quite made it, fresh from their investigation into the terrorist organisation Mother Earth’, Big Finish’s superb audio continuation of the show has finally made good on that offer.Across three stories, in the first of two volumes, we are introduced to humanity’s nascent colonisation of the red planet. Less centrally structured than the Moon, it boasts thirty-two colonies and outposts, with more than a thousand residents. Most are engaged in research for private industry, or working on long-term terraforming projects, and plenty live there with no expectation of ever returning to Earth.

The New World

Script Editor Andrew Smith opens the set just as Nathan, Colin Devis and Pal Kenzy, the legacy television cast members, arrive on Mars after a six-month journey. It is fair to say they do not receive much of a welcome at Barack Obama base. With many not seeing the need for police, and Mars not mentioned in their founding charter, the ISPF must gain the assent of the majority before establishing a presence.

Despite being forced to adopting the role of observers, and after surrendering their weapons, Spring soon spies an opportunity to prove the teams worth. With the apparent theft of strictly-rationed water at the Olympus Mons base, tensions between scientists and the tourists have boiled over into violence. Though the scientists might resent their presence, it is the tourist cash which keeps their operations financially viable.

This first tale admirably lays the groundwork for the series as we discover the dynamics of the Mars colonies through the Star Cops eyes and understand the scale of the task they face to win over the colonists.

The Shadow of this Red Rock

Returning from Olympus Mons with a suspect in custody, Spring and Kenzy find themselves embroiled in a dangerous game of cat and mouse on the surface. Pursued by those who wish to reclaim their comrade by any means, they gain an unlikely ally in Grace Kavanaugh, a Martian cartographer and one of the earliest colonists. Meanwhile Devis bungles a rescue attempt and finds himself calling on the help of a mysterious base run by the incredibly secretive research company, LRI.

Writer Una McCormack creates a compelling character in the reclusive Grace Kavanagh (Elizabeth Uter), who made Mars her home at great personal cost. We loved the scenes between her and David Calder’s Nathan, as they talked about the attractiveness of isolation.

Whatever Happened to Gary Rice?

Finally, a mysterious message draws the Star Cops into a potential missing persons investigation. Despite being listed as founding colonists for a highly profitable co-operative food production facility in the Argyre Basin, Gary Rice and four others have apparently never been heard of.

Following a fairly unfriendly reception, Kenzy and Devis take a through the caverns where the organic food source is produced in vats. Meanwhile, Nathan pursues a lead at the local LRI base, meeting the charismatic Dr Julienne Grainger (Carla de Wansey) who is working on a rival product.

Guy Adams’ story is an entertaining tale of mushrooms and murder, and sets the wheels in motion for the second volume with a killer cliff-hanger! I particularly enjoyed the scenes with Devis voicing his opinions on the myco-protein food, followed by the volte-face when he actually tried it… his suspicion of breadcrumb coatings and description of Chicken Kiev were hilarious!

In Conclusion

With a tighter, more interlinked narrative than Mother Earth, Mars has the feel of a mini-series, with hints of a wider story building in the background. For those who have heard the recent audiobook ‘The Stuff of Life’, set between the two audio series, its theme of life-supporting logistics is developed further here, looking at the supply and demand for both water and food.

This vision of Mars is a richly conceived world, both politically and environmentally, and it is great to have our heroes out of their depth and powerless, having to prove their worth. The depth of research shines through in the scripts, from Olympus Mons to the Mariner Valley (a canyon considerably grander than anything Earth has to offer), and it has been fascinating to look up the Matrian locations as they are mentioned.

With three central characters, each has plenty to do and the dynamics between them remain as vital as they were onscreen. The banter between the boorish yet loveable Devis (Trevor Cooper) and the smart and sarcastic Kenzy (Linda Newton) continues to amuse, while David Calder’s Nathan Spring remains rather detached and unknowable, partially for plot reasons. That said, we do explore a little of his loneliness in a touching reminiscence to his late girlfriend Lee.

American Barbara Holmberg serves as the representative of Earth’s Space Authority on Mars. Her co-coordinator role is slightly different to what we, and the Star Cops, are used to in an authority figure, and Issy Van Randwyck gives a great performance as a cooperative, if understandably wary ally. In the wider guest cast, Heather Coombs is excellent as scientist Kristin Mendelson across the first two episodes too.

Once again, under the direction of Helen Goldwyn, the Star Cops universe is brought to life with terrific sound design, this time by Steve Foxon, and a score from Howard Carter. While it is a shame that the Mars storyline will only fill six episodes, as a long-term fan it is a real thrill to have a second series – allowing audio Star Cops to exceed the meagre tally of television episodes.

Star Cops: Mars 1 is surely essential listening for any fan of the show, and we hope its mix of science fiction and detective drama is pulling in a new audience too. On the strength of the material here, it certainly deserves to. They might be some thirty years behind schedule, but it is great to have the ISPF finally make it to Mars; whether they survive the experience however, is something we will have to wait until June to find out!

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Check out the rest of our Big Finish reviews!

Audio Review: Star Cops – The Stuff of Life

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