Thursday, December 14, 2006

Star Cops (TV)

Star Cops(1987)
Created by Chris Boucher
Starring David Calder, Erick Ray Evans, Trevor Cooper, Linda Newton, and Jonathan Adams
IMDB Entry

Science fiction on TV tends to be fanciful space opera, fighting alien menaces and traveling through space, stopping for an occasional battle. Hard SF is almost absent.  That's understandable:  it's difficult to do hard SF well.

Star Cops is one of the few hard SF shows on TV.  Naturally, it was done in the UK, where SF is generally more adult, even when it's for kids (US science fiction springs from Captain Video -- a children's adventure; UK science fiction springs from The Quatermass Experiment -- adult SF horror).  It only ran nine episodes, but each was well thought out and cleverly done.  And, they all stuck with the self-imposed restraints of making the show as realistic as possible.

The show was set in 2047 (and the near future is rarely used in TV and film SF).  David Calder starred at Nathan Spring, a career cop who takes on the job of being the chief police officer of the International Space Police Force -- the "Star Cops."  Spring thinks that computers have taken over policing, and that there's still room for good old-fashioned human police work.  So he assembles a team and starts solving crimes in space and on the moon.

This is a police procedural in space.  Spring searches for the solutions to various crimes, and they usually have a hard SF twist.  For instance, the episode "Conversations of the Dead," has Spring talking to dead men to solve their murder.  No, it isn't zombies coming to life:  the victims' ship has fired its rockets, depleting all its fuel, and has sent them off away from the planets, where it's physically impossible for a rescue ship to get there in time.  Their oxygen will inevitably run out, but for now, they are still alive.

The show did its best to stick to the realism.  When people were in space -- even on a spaceship -- they were in microgravity.  No artificial gravity:  either you used acceleration, or you floated.  The effect was a bit crude, especially given BBC budgets, but at least they were trying. 

There were no aliens and computers acted like computers, with the exception of Spring's own proto-PDA, called Box.  And Box was pretty much just a sounding board for Spring's theories.  The show avoided mindless action for thoughtful characters and plotting.

The creator, Chris Boucher, had impeccable SF credentials, working on Doctor Who (he created my favorite companion, Leela), and Blake's 7 (where he was script editor for most of the run).  He did a great job of spinning out mysteries and tales of deceit and keeping them scientifically accurate.

The show ran nine episodes (a tenth was filmed, but never aired) to poor ratings (in a terrible time slot) and so-so critical reviews.  The BBC decided to leave well enough alone and let it drop.

Too bad.  It seems to be getting some recognition now, and certainly is more in tune with the hard SF bias of many fans today.  It worked hard to be intelligent science fiction, and deserves recognition.

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