After Nathan’s girlfriend, Lee, is murdered at Nathan’s home back on Earth, a distraught Spring returns to assist. But the officer leading the investigation, Colin Devis (Trevor Cooper), is very antagonistic towards Nathan. Does he believe that Nathan is implicated or is he simply enjoying the chance to needle a superior officer?
Meanwhile, the Star Cops have moved to a permanent base on the Moon. Theroux, now acting as Nathan’s deputy, has a strange case to deal with. A freighter bound for Mars fired its rockets too early which means there’s no way for them to regain their course – and with only a limited oxygen supply the two occupants face certain death. That is, until Professor Paton (Alan Downer) makes a suggestion …..
Conversations with the Dead manages to juggle two plots simultaneously and by the end of the episode Nathan has another new recruit – Colin Devis. He’s not someone who Nathan would necessarily have chosen if he’d had a free hand though. Earlier on, Nathan tells Theroux that Devis is “one of the department’s all time cretins. British, native and all-time record holder. A cretin’s cretin in fact “. After hearing this, Theroux ironically ponders if Nathan’s going to recruit him. But since Devis later puts his own career on the line to help Nathan, it’s obvious that he feels honour bound to offer him a job. So the “cretin’s cretin” does end up with the Star Cops after all.
The feeling that the Star Cops are something of a home for waifs and strays is further reinforced in the next episode, Intelligent Listening for Beginners, as Pal Kenzy cannily manages to manipulate the media in order to force Nathan to reinstate her. And later on in the series, Anna Shoun is another officer who Nathan recruits mainly because his investigation has caused her to lose her existing job.
Lee’s death is a jarring and unexpected moment and it puts Nathan very much on the back foot. Calder is, as might be expected, excellent throughout the episode – as Nathan gropes around in the dark for a reason why “the only friend he had” was killed. But whatever is happening seems to be targeting him as well, which is confirmed by an enigmatic message – “Lee Jones has been dealt with. You are next.”
His quest for the truth is hampered by Devis though and his hostility towards Nathan doesn’t quite ring true. If he’d had been part of the conspiracy it would have made sense, but since he’s not it just implies he’s not a very good copper (something he glumly admits at the end). Given this, it makes him even more of a lame duck appointment to the Star Cops.
Back on the Moon, Theroux is kept busy investigating the mystery of the malfunctioning freighter. It’s interesting that we never see the interior of the freighter – instead we only ever hear the voices of the two crew-members as the (admittedly very nice) model flies through space. Was this a budget choice or as scripted I wonder?
The freighter story is very much the “b” plot as all the action is still taking place on Earth, although some of it could have been staged better. I’m thinking particularly of the attack on Nathan in the park, which looks terribly unconvincing. But better is to come when Nathan returns to Space and is later joined by Devis’ assistant Corman (Sian Webber).
Lee’s murderer is heading for a top-secret unmanned American Orbital Station and Corman, along with Nathan and Theroux, are in pursuit. Since the police are politically neutral, they have a perfect right to approach the station and extricate the murderer. And boarding the station is exactly Nathan is supposed to do.
Lee’s murder took place for precisely this reason – to give a British intelligence agent (Lee’s murderer) a legitimate pretext to approach the station. Once on-board, he’ll attempt to learn everything he can about the installation before he’s arrested and taken for trial – later, no doubt he’ll mysteriously disappear. But Nathan isn’t prepared to be a pawn in anybody else’s game and his solution will ensure that the secrets of the station remain with the Americans.
Given Chris Boucher’s previous writings (especially Blakes’ Seven) it’s no particular surprise that Conversations with the Dead demonstrates a deep distrust of authority. Exactly who Corman works for isn’t made clear, but it’s obvious that she belongs to a shadowy part of the British government. The murder of an innocent (Lee Jones) appears to be regarded as a small price to pay for the intelligence that could be gleaned from the station.
The personal angle of the case, and how it impacts Nathan, is the best part of the story. Trevor Cooper’s first appearance as Devis is, as I’ve said, a little off – but over the next few episodes he’ll strike a better balance between portraying Devis’ less appealing character traits and his skills as an officer (especially when the core team are all together on the Moon).