Star Cops: the BBC’s forgotten greatest science fiction show?

The BBC’s ‘Bergerac in space’ 80s sci-fi series Star Cops was cancelled after just nine episodes. And it’s a show well worth rediscovering, Jeff argues...

1987 was a depressing time as a BBC sci-fi fan. Science fiction was definitely not cool, said the BBC, who only wanted gritty cop dramas, not series about flashy spaceships and robot sidekicks. In this anti-sci fi era, even the BBC’s flagship sci-fi show, Doctor Who, suffered, being shunted to a Monday 7.30pm time slot with a lead actor who used to shove ferrets down his trousers for a living.

However, perhaps the greatest crime to British sci-fi at this time was the treatment of little known, but fondly remembered series, Star Cops, known in some circles as ‘Bergerac In Space’.

As a nine-year-old at the time, Star Cops passed me by, which is probably just as well, as the series featured quite a few swear words, brutal murders and constant references to sex, thanks to the rotund Inspector Devis.

Ad – content continues below

So it was that, as an alleged adult many years later, I was reading an article in a magazine which stated Star Cops was a missed gem in the sci-fi circle and was not so much science fiction as science faction due to the way the series correctly addressed zero gravity and various other space-related issues.

One negative point the article mentioned was the theme tune by Justin Hayward of War Of The Worlds fame. In fact, the article was quite vicious about the poor chap’s musical offering, so much so that I just had to see it. The YouTube clip is at the bottom of this article, if you want to take a look (and listen).

It certainly wasn’t the typical science fiction tune and is not as dynamic as say a Blakes 7 or a Doctor Who theme, but yet, as I watched the clip I noticed it also featured the opening sequence of the first episode (An Instinct For Murder). Watching on, I saw a quite terrifying murder sequence in a lake, mirrored by a similar suffocation in space. I absolutely loved what I had seen, but I could only find the odd clip and snippet online.

A few months later, BBC4 showed a series entitled The Cult Of… featuring a retrospective on a number of classic cult shows such as Survivors, Adam Adamant and Blakes 7. However, it was The Cult Of Star Cops which really intrigued me. After watching the 30 minute tribute (featuring a very, very bitter interview with writer, Chris Boucher), I decided to buy the DVD.

Ad – content continues below

The series is fantastic. The writing and the plotting are tight and well structured and don’t rely on outer space sci-fi gimmicks (the final episode titled Little Green Men And Other Martians is a red herring, in this respect).

Nathan Spring is the commander of the ISPF (International Space Police Force, non-affectionately known as the Star Cops). He sets about creating a respected base of operations on Moonbase to investigate crimes, as the world below starts to spread its wings in the reaches of outer space. The job is one he doesn’t want. He is frequently getting space sick, has problems adjusting to zero gravity and is the kind of man who tolerates little. He reveals in the eigth episode that his first job as a fully fledged officer led to him having to arrest his own father for embezzlement. The casting of David Calder as the Commander Nathan Spring is the perfect marriage of character and actor.

The aforementioned Inspector Colin Devis (played by Trevor Cooper) joins the crew on Moonbase when he’s thrown out of the police after informing on his fellow officer, who frames Nathan for the brutal and horrifyingly casual murder of his girlfriend Lee in episode 2. Devis is undeniably the light relief and his un-politically correct stance on a Moonbase filled with Russians, Australians and Japanese is a highlight.

Linda Newton plays Pal Kenzy, the Australian officer who is sacked for corruption by Nathan in episode 3, but who later gets her job back in a mixture of cunning and a smidgen of blackmail. There is a love-hate relationship with these two (isn’t there always a love-hate relationship?) which certainly deserved to be developed further in a future series.

Ad – content continues below

The one weak link in the main cast is undeniably American Erick Ray Evans’ portrayal of Chief Superintendent David Theroux. I recall reading a review on BBC’s Waking The Dead series some years ago where it was criticised as being the one show where the main characters’ continually shouting at each other is mistakenly held to symbolise character development. Clearly, that reviewer is one of the many who had never seen Star Cops. Evans’ acting range is limited. Limited to casual wise guy and outraged innocent. His continual bursts of anger at the fellow cast are, at times, cringe worthy and damn right ludicrous. And talking of ludicrous, I haven’t even mentioned his hair yet.

Each episode adds a little flavour to the Star Cops and are genuinely engaging and gripping. Episode 2 (Conversations With The Dead), for me, is a definite highlight. Later episodes saw characters that add to the international flavour of the Star Cops with Russian Alexander Krivenko and Japanese officer Anna Shoun (played by Sayo Inaba,; clearly a graduate from the Erick Ray Evans school of acting).

Unfortunately, the series never found its audience and after nine brilliant episodes, the series left the air never to return. If you listen to Chris Boucher on the aforementioned The Cult Of Star Cops documentary, reasons for the cancellation vary between bad scheduling by the BBC, differences of opinion between Boucher and the producer Evgeny Gridneff (Boucher remarks their relationship “started out at the bottom and worked its way down”) and just a failure to capture the ratings needed to warrant a second series.

For me, it’s a lost opportunity. I would loved to have seen future episodes with Nathan Spring and company, but, unfortunately, it would never find its audience until years had passed and, by then, it was too late.

If you get a chance to watch the series, take it. I believe the DVD has now been deleted. You might have to do a bit of detective work yourself to track the show down.

Ad – content continues below

So, in many ways its taken the show full circle to the scheduling conflicts of 1987. A shame and a loss.

RIP Star Cops : 6th July 1987 – 30th August 1987.