Region 2 (UK) DVD - Reviewed by Ceri Laing

Directors:  Christopher Baker, Graeme Harper

Featuring:  David Calder, Erick Ray Evans, Linda Newton, Trevor Cooper

David Calder as Nathan Spring (from "An Instinct For Murder")

Trevor Cooper as Colin Devis


“Last time I looked up at the stars something nasty dropped in my eye…I think it was batshit…”


Star Cops was devised by Blake’s 7 and Bergerac script editor and Doctor Who writer Chris Boucher (whose other work includes scripts for Shoestring, Juliet Bravo and Home James!) Originally conceived as a radio series, it was commissioned for BBC 2 in 1986 and broadcast over the summer of the following year. Boucher’s concept was to produce a science-fiction series purely for an adult audience.

Set in the year 2027, the series’ nine-episode run dealt with the appointment of Nathan Spring as the new head of the ISPF, the International Space Police Force - dubbed the Star Cops - the space police for the variety of different communities that have a foothold in the ‘high frontier’. The Star Cops are a small team of people recruited from different backgrounds, who have their headquarters on Moonbase, after previously been located on the European Space Station Charles de Gaulle.

Spring is recruited from the British police force where he is working as a Chief Superintendent. Already in place are an American, David Theroux, and an Australian, Pal Kenzy. Along the way Spring recruits Colin Devis (a fellow Brit from the Metropolitan Police Force) and Anna Shoun (who is fired from the large Japanese company that the Star Cops investigate). Complementing things are Alexander Krivenko, the replacement head of Moonbase – the previous one having got the push for instigating a very dodgy experiment to prove his work. They are the core characters for the series, along with Box, a neat little gadget Spring inherited from his father, which is a sort of Blake’s 7’s Orac-cum-Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to Galaxy.

The initial episodes of Star Cops utilise a great deal of dodgy CSO and Kirby wire flying, but this is countered by some brilliant writing, a healthy amount of humour and some great model work. The Star Cops encounter cases involving big business; scientists who go to extreme lengths; anarchist groups (who utilise computer virus’s for their terrorism); cold war politics; the Mafia; kidnapping; the stresses of ‘high frontier’ life; and the supposed discovery of the existence of Martians.

The series was planned to run for ten episodes, but the ninth was unfortunately hit by strike action at the BBC and abandoned, so the tenth episode became the ninth and final one. Ratings for the series weren’t encouraging, and the show wasn’t re-commissioned for a second series.

David Calder led the cast, as Nathan Spring, and gives a superb performance. (He also provides the voice for Box!) Calder is perhaps best known for the ITV series Bramwell. More recently he’s appeared in Spooks and Hustle. His other genre credits include BBC 2’s brilliant Sleepers, Stephen Gallagher's Chimera and an appearance in Christopher Reeves’ first Superman film. Erick Ray Evans played David Theroux. Apart from a brief appearance in Supergirl, and guest spots in The New Statesman, Casualty and Stay Lucky, Evans film and TV career didn’t amount to much. He unfortunately died in 1999. Playing Pal Kenzy was Linda Newton. Aside from her appearance in Nicole Kidman’s legendary BMX Bandits, Newton hasn’t featured in much outside of her native Australia. The incomparable Trevor Cooper starred as the misogynistic, blunt Londoner Colin Devis, a character who’s always a joy when he’s on-screen. Cooper’s face is well known on British television, from a long career playing guest roles. His genre credits include the Doctor Who story Revelation of the Daleks (a part that landed him the Star Cops job); together with The Singing Detective and Our Friends in the North. Alexander Krivenko’s Jonathan Adams, who puts on a fair Russian accent, is another face familiar on British television screens. His genre work includes Bergerac, the 1984 BBC adaptation of The Invisible Man, Jeremy Brett’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (The Norwood Builder). Cult movie fans will know him as the narrator of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The last to join the Star Cops team, Anna Shoun was played by Sayo Inaba, who was someone else with a brief film and TV career, although prior to Star Cops she did make an appearance in Roland Joffé’s film The Killing Fields.

Guest stars for the series include Moray Watson (who’s had appearances in Doctor Who (Black Orchid), Miss Marple and Rumpole of the Bailey); Daniel Benzali (best known for his starring role in Murder One, but who also had recurring roles in LA Law and  NYPD Blue); the stalwart Geoffrey Bayldon (Catweazle, Worzel Gummidge and Doctor Who (The Creature from the Pit), to only touch the tip of his career); Maggie Ollerenshaw (Open All Hours, The House of Eliott, Lovejoy); and Roy Holder (Whistle Down The Wind, Ace of Wands, Sorry!)

The series had a core of three writers. Series deviser and head writer Chris Boucher wrote five of the scripts. Philip Martin, who is best known for his two Doctor Who scripts featuring the slug-like Sil (Vengeance on Varos and The Trial of a Time Lord: Parts 5-8), and his hard-hitting 1970s BBC series Gangsters. He wrote two scripts for Star Cops, but unfortunately, one of them was the episode hit by strike action and abandoned. The remaining three episodes were written by John Collee, who had previously contributed scripts to Bergerac and went on write the novel, from which he adapted the screenplay, of the Paul McGann and Amanda Donahoe hospital thriller Paper Mask. More recently he co-wrote the screenplay to Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

The producer of Star Cops was Evgeny Gridneff who had previously produced Blott on the Landscape and been script editor on To Serve Them All My Days and Tenko. He utilised two directors on the series - Christopher Baker, who was previously on directing duties for All Creatures Great and Small, The Gentle Touch and Boon, and the brilliant Graeme Harper, whose best known work includes the Doctor Who stories The Caves of Androzani and Revelation of the Daleks. It was on the latter that Harper met Trevor Cooper and, from that experience, recommended him for the part of Devis.

You also cannot discuss Star Cops without highlighting two things.

Firstly, the model work, which was expertly created by the visual effects team of Mike Kelt and Malcolm James. Their work is a tour-de-force of the show – in fact it sticks out like a sore thumb when compared to the effects work achieved in the studio (thankfully the dodgy CSO and Kirby wire antics were reduced after the initial episodes). Kelt and James’  Moon Rover buggies, and the different space ships they created, combined with the interesting camera moves that are employed through the motion control and green screen work, are really effective. It’s all superbly realised. Kelt had previously worked on The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy (doing Zaphod’s other head) and on Doctor Who: The Five Doctors (creating the new TARDIS console). He has recently worked on Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm, which is due in 2005, as special effects supervisor. Not much is known about James’ other work.

The other thing that needs mentioning is the music. Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues wrote and sung the theme – a song entitled It Won’t Be Easy, which was subsequently released as a single – and he and record producer Tony Visconti created the incidental music. It can’t go unmentioned as it’s completely awful! The theme is MOR soft-rock turgid rubbish (cf. Star Trek - Enterprise) and the incidental music is woefully inappropriate. It was cack when the show was first broadcast and it doesn’t improve with age. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good on one level to have something different as a score to a science-fiction programme, and you can see where Gridneff was coming from in trying to produce a different atmosphere and connect with a more adult audience. Unfortunately, in the entire nine episodes there is only a couple of music cues which I quite liked and found appropriate, mainly the guitar led ones which, in a way, echo Eric Clapton and Michael Kamen’s brilliant score for Edge of Darkness (1985) - possibly Gridneff’s inspiration for using Haywood and Visconti. In the hands of Clapton and Kamen it might have worked. However, the vast majority of the cues, particularly the synthesizer-based ones, are terrible and just betray inexperience.

Jonathan Adams as Alexander Krivenko

Erik Ray Evans as David Theroux

Linda Newton as Pal Kenzy


Network’s release presents all nine approximately fifty-minute episodes of the series uncut in their original 4:3 format, spread equally across the set’s three discs.

The episodes were assembled from a mixture of source materials – film titles and model work combined with VT studio and OB location work. There is also one sequence of film location work in the opening episode.

They haven’t been through the transform decoder as recent BBC archive releases have, to improve the chrominance balance of VT-based material; they were just transferred direct from the 1” tapes with some clean-up. The titles have been de-blobbed removing traces of dirt and drop-out and VT faults such as drop-out have also been removed. This clean-up has been done manually, so within the time and budget constraints it would be understandable for a few faults to slip through. There is the odd drop-out in the VT material, but this is only very occasional. The episodes do look very clean – the titles especially so. Being taped on 1” does mean the episodes do feature some degree of picture noise, but this is not really seen in Christopher Baker’s generally over lit episodes, more so in Graeme Harper’s better lit episodes, though it isn’t overly noticeable.

Overall the episodes look very good – highly presentable.

There have been some serious problems with a number of recent Network releases (The Life and Loves of a She Devil, The Adventures of Robin Hood and Ripping Yarns), but there are no issues with the sound on this disc. The series is presented in mono format. It’s believed that a stereo mix was created for the series, but, for whatever reason, was never added to the series’ 1” master tapes. The tracks apparently exist in private hands, and were offered to the BBC during their Treasure Hunt campaign, but the Corporation was unwilling to meet the owner’s terms for their return.

The episodes have an average bit rate of 4.65Mb/sec, with the lowest episode being 4.55Mb/sec and the highest 4.74Mb/sec. The special features are encoded mainly at the top end of this range, with the FX footage on the final disc reaching an average of 5.5Mb/sec. All three discs feature similar amounts of material, with three episodes and the special features.

The sound on the episodes is presented in 1.0 mono, at 192kbps.

The menus follow the same structure throughout each disc. The main menu features the opening title sequence, backed with the theme music, giving you options to Play All, Select an Episode or to go to the Extras. From the Select an Episode page you are taken to a chapter menu page for the episode.

Again there are no subtitles for the Hard of Hearing.


Three of the episodes feature commentaries (one per disc). Writer and series deviser Chris Boucher features on the first and last episodes of the series and writer Philip Martin features on his episode, This Case To Be Opened In A Million Years, the fifth to be transmitted. Each writer appears by themselves. Single person commentaries can be quite a struggle – for the commentator and the listener. The commentator can find it difficult to fill the length of time of a commentary and, for the listener, hearing just one voice can be quite difficult. Of the two Chris Boucher fairs better at keeping things ticking along: he has more to say, naturally so, as series devisor as well as writer. He gives lots of interesting insights into the production of the series – its conception, the casting, his plans for how the series should’ve gone on, and his feelings on directors, the producer and the music! Philip Martin finds it more difficult: he has less to say, but, to be fair to him, he has less experience of doing commentaries. He mainly just comments about action on-screen or giving unnecessary explanations to character motives.

 Occasionally he does comment on the writing process, but not very often. Overall these might have been better achieved with moderation, particularly Philip Martin’s. Apparently it was hoped to include an actor in each commentary as well, but unfortunately this didn’t come off.

There are three packages of Continuity and Miscellanea, covering the three episodes on each disc, featuring opening and closing announcements, with some surrounding material, sourced from off-air VHS recordings. These packages run to between one and a half and two and a half minutes. These are great to see and as ever help to put the series in a broadcast context and are a great nostalgia kick. One thing it does prove in my addled memory – Barbara Dickson was always on The Two Ronnies!

On the first disc there is an Introduction by Trevor Cooper which runs to nearly fifteen minutes. Introductions to certain episodes by guest stars have appeared on previous Network releases, and Cooper’s introduction follows in the same style, but in a longer and more detailed form for the series regular. He talks about how he was cast; working on the series; his fellow actors; the show’s directors, and the role of Devis. Throughout the piece, and all the other Trevor Cooper material (he provides voice-over introductions on some of the other extras, and additional parts of his interview appears in others), there is peak level distortion on the sound. Unfortunately, nothing could be done about this. Apparently the material was recorded by an outside company - problems with the radio mic used are suspected as the cause - and this was how the material was supplied. It’s shame because it’s a great piece and it’s interesting to here Cooper’s views, particularly as he plays one of the most fondly remembered characters of the series.

Rounding off the first disc is It Won’t Be Easy - The Making of Star Cops, which runs to just under sixteen minutes. Chris Boucher is interviewed about various aspects of the series (some of which he covers in his commentaries), including the loss of Philip Martin’s Death on the Moon episode. Footage from the Trevor Cooper interview session (with the sound problems) is also used. Un-restored clips from the series are used to illustrate the piece – highlighting how clean the episodes look, particularly the titles.

The second disc features a twenty minute interview with Chris Boucher (material from the session is used in the Making of piece) – I Had to Kill Blake – The Screen Career of Chris Boucher. In which the one-time Blake’s 7 script editor and writer of the final Blake’s 7 episode (where Blake is killed off) talks about how he got into writing, initially for comedy; his scripts for Doctor Who; the creation of the companion Leela, and how this led to him getting the script editing job on Blake’s 7 and becoming known as “the man who killed Blake”, together with his current and future work. Boucher is quietly spoken but is very engaging – a man who’s had an interesting writing career, and one that’s certainly worthy of a twenty minute piece about it.

A six minute stills gallery package is next, which is mercifully silent (the alternative might have been a looped version of It Won’t Be Easy!) This features publicity and on-set stills, the covers used for the BBC VHS releases from the early 90s and their original artwork.

Finishing off the second disc is Lights, Camera, Inaction – Behind the Scenes of Star Cops, just under forty minutes of the only surviving raw studio footage taken from the recording session for the episode In Warm Blood. The vast majority of the scenes included in the footage made it the broadcast episode, except the first one which didn’t make the final cut. Footage like this of course reflects the sometimes boring nature of television recording and all depends on how interesting you personally find raw behind the scenes material. I quite like it and the material doesn’t outstay its welcome, and the fact it covers an unused scene is an added bonus. Other viewers might not be of the same opinion, but as ever Network should be commended for including it!

The third disc features PM’s Question Time – Philip Martin Discusses His Career, which is similar to the Chris Boucher piece, and runs for just over eighteen minutes. He talks about his lost Star Cops episode, Death on the Moon, his hard-hitting Birmingham-based series Gangsters, which he created and wrote for the BBC in the mid-1970s and his Doctor Who scripts, in particular the complaints that were received for his Vengeance on Varos story. Again another writer with an interesting career, and this piece works much better, through the guidance of the interview format, than his commentary.

FX, Lies and Videotape – Designing the Future is a package of mute 35mm sequences from Mike Kelt and Malcolm James’ special effects sessions for the model work, running to a little over eleven minutes. It features a mixture of used and unused material, as well as some of the motion control green screen work. As this material is a highlight of the show itself it’s great to see these sequences, giving an insight into how they were realised.

Finally, on this third and final disc are a collection of Radio Times material and an article from magazine Starburst, all from the time of the broadcast. The Radio Times material features the cover and article which accompanied the first episode broadcast, together with the listings and subsequent features. The Starburst article covers an interview with costumer designer Lynda Woodfield. As ever it’s great that these have been included.

One person conspicuous from his absence from the special features is David Calder. Network contacted his agent, but unfortunately had no reply back. A big shame. It would’ve been interesting to hear is thoughts and experiences.

There are a couple of issues with the discs I haven’t mentioned yet, beyond the irresolvable sound problem with the Trevor Cooper material. These are check discs I have reviewed and there are a couple of problems with them which have been noted and have caused the discs to be repressed and release date to be put back. The two main problems are a sound drop-out fault running throughout the Chris Boucher commentary, on the final episode, and a corruption of the PDF file of Radio Times material. I’ve been assured that these faults been addressed for the repressing.

Unfortunately, there are a couple of other issues which were missed or were decided to be left. As these were felt not to be overly critical, rather than delay the release still further (it will have been delayed at least three times now) it has been felt best to live with these to get the release out. There is an example of the drop-out fault which runs throughout the Chris Boucher commentary during the Philip Martin one. Also the chapter menu for the episode Other People’s Secrets the episode is headed Other People’s Problems. Slightly more problematical is the layer change point on Disc 2, which is placed at the end of the first chapter of In Warm Blood, four minutes into the episode. It is irritating when layer points are placed in such a way, either just into an episode or a few minutes from the end, and the transition on this one was quite noticeable on my player – on other players it might be more seamless. Network have strict instructions with their authoring house not have layer points placed within episodes, but for some reason this didn’t happen with this particular disc. Rather than delay the release still further, and as it was felt that most players would probably have a more seamless transition, it was decided to leave the disc as it is.

Geoffrey Bayldon as Ernest Wolffhart (in "Other People's Secrets")

Roy Holder as Daniel Larwood (in "Little Green Men and Other Martians")

Daniel Benzali as Commander Griffin (in "Trivial Games and Paranoid Pursuits")


There are many faults with the series – the awful music, tacky studio-bound effects, some dodgy acting in places, the silly baseball caps in the costume design – which can add to the charm of other series, but put this particular viewer off when he tuned in to the first episode for its original broadcast. After fifteen minutes I turned off and never watched the rest of the series. When the series was released on VHS by the BBC in the early 90s I was keen to see what it was about the series that quite a few people had been raving about in the intervening time. What was it I had missed? I’d missed the superb acting of David Calder; I’d missed the wonderful character that is Trevor Cooper’s Colin Devis; I’d missed the great humour; but above all I’d missed the writing.

Yes, there are many faults, but the qualities far outweigh these. After seeing the series for the first time through the VHS releases I was left so disappointed it hadn’t been re-commissioned; that Philip Martin’s Death on the Moon episode had been hit by strike action, and that there could have been at least one more episode. It was a series hampered by many things – perhaps a different producer or different scheduling might have changed things? (Being put on during the summer months certainly didn’t help it’s ratings). But, even with all these flaws, Star Cops was a series I grew to love, and I could see why so many people had been keen to champion it.

Sit and watch an episode like John Collee’s Other People’s Secrets, and you wonder why they have put Geoffrey Bayldon in one of those silly baseball caps, and that it’s actually complete rubbish. But after half-an-hour you’ve been taken through the emotional rollercoaster of Moonbase de-pressurising and the small groups of people trapped in little pockets around the base; you get lost in the quality of these scenes through the writing and how they are played. Then you’ll know why this series is a gem.

So, what of Network’s release? Well, like the series it has it’s faults, but what you have to remember is that Network are a small team working flat out to get these releases out to a hungry archive TV market. The episodes, beyond the issue I had with the layer point placement on the second disc (which others might not find such a problem), look great and have had a large amount of work lavished on them, which is the most important thing when it comes down to it. On top of that there has been a lot of work on the release as a whole. Who else would put the series (which has never been repeated on terrestrial television) out on DVD in this day and age? (Perhaps DD Video…?) Who else would put together the extensive special features? (I’d doubt DD Video would stretch to as much as this). The bottom line is you can pick the release up online for the equivalent price of buying the three VHS releases in the early 90s, but you get them in DVD format, with the episodes cleaned-up and a raft of special features.

Star Cops is a series many people, myself included, have a great fondness for, and is worthy of the attention this release gives it. Network - you’ve gotta love ‘em!


With thanks to Network












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