Star Cops – Other People’s Secrets

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Living in an enclosed environment, like the Moonbase, can be highly stressful for a number of reasons.  Recognising this, Krivenko has invited Dr Angela Parr (Maggie Ollerenshaw) to the Moon.  Dr Parr is a psychiatrist who is working on a project about space psychology.  From Krivenko’s point of view it will allow Moonbase personnel to talk about any psychological problems they may be suffering from and Dr Parr will gain valuable research material.

But not everybody welcomes the idea of strangers snooping into their private lives.  Kenzy, in particular, is violently opposed to meeting a psychiatrist.  So when Nathan insists that all of the Star Cops have attend a meeting, it’s fair to say that Kenzy’s not best pleased.

But maybe Dr Parr has come at just the right time, since Moonbase has been suffering from a series of niggling technical breakdowns.  At first it just seems like wear and tear, but the increasing regularity causes Nathan to wonder if it’s deliberate sabotage.  Hooper (Barrie Rutter) is the highly overworked senior maintenance man who appears to be cracking under the strain of keeping the base operational.  Could he be responsible?

Also making a visit is safety inspector Ernest Wolffhart (Geoffrey Bayldon), who’s far from impressed with what he sees.  And when a major incident causes a decompression of Moonbase, there’s a real danger that lives will be lost.

Other People’s Secrets is the episode of Star Cops that most resembles Moonbase 3 (this is a compliment by the way!).  Because Star Cops was a more wide-ranging series (it made frequent trips back to Earth as well as several off Moon excursions) it lacked the claustrophobic nature of Moonbase 3.  In the earlier series it did seem that each week somebody was going to crack under the strain of living and working in such an unnatural environment.

This theme, full of dramatic potential, is developed quite well here.  There are several suspects as Nathan and Theroux hunt for the saboteur, but it’s not really a whodunnit as the guest cast is rather limited.  Barrie Rutter is very beardy and perpetually angry as the maintenance wizard Hooper.  He tends to vent his anger on the nearest available target, which in this case is his unfortunate assistant Beverley Anderson (Leigh Funnell).

Star Cops never really had a reputation of attracting familiar names as guest stars, but Other People’s Secrets is an exception as Geoffrey Bayldon (Catweazle himself) gives a lovely performance as Wolffhart.  Bayldon provides us with a good character study of a man who appears to live for his work (he’s already past retirement age, but he’s still working).  When we learn that he’s a widower, this seems to make sense – although it later becomes obvious that Wolffhart is a flawed man who shouldn’t be working in Space.

I wonder if the inclusion of Dr Parr was a tribute to Moonbase 3‘s own Dr Helen Smith?  I’d love to think that it was a genuine homage, but it’s probably just a coincidence, although they are similar characters in several ways.  Perhaps the most ironic similarity is that both of them find it impossible not to get involved with their subjects – Dr Smith had several dalliances, whilst Dr Parr is shocked to discover Colin Devis is amongst the Moonbase crew (they used to be married).

When the Moonbase decompression accident occurs, everybody has to find shelter in the nearest room, which is then sealed tight.  With only a limited oxygen supply, there’s nothing that the occupants can do except wait to be rescued.  Although Devis, who finds himself locked up with his ex-wife, has another idea.  “Fancy a game of hide the sausage?” he memorably asks her.

It’s perhaps predictable that Nathan and Kenzy find themselves trapped together, but sex isn’t on their minds (or at least it isn’t on Nathan’s).  Instead, in a key piece of character development he tells her about his father.  Nathan’s father worked as a computer salesman and was the best that the company, Recondite, ever had.  But it later became clear that he was stealing blueprints from his company and eventually he was caught by a keen young copper.  It’s never explicitly stated, but the inference is that it was Nathan who arrested his own father.  Both Calder and Newton are once again excellent in this scene.  Calder has the bulk of the lines but it’s Newton’s reactions that really help to sell the intensity of what we see.

Easily the best of the non-Boucher scripted episodes, Other People’s Secrets is memorable for several reasons – most notably the Nathan/Kenzy heart-to-heart but also for the fine guest appearance of Geoffrey Bayldon.

Star Cops – Little Green Men and Other Martians

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Why has the respected investigative journalist Daniel Larwood (Roy Holder) travelled to Moonbase?  It may have something to do with the persistent rumours that something has been discovered on a recent Mars expedition.  Is there really life on Mars?  Although possibly he’s more interested in a drugs smuggling ring that’s uncovered after a shuttle pilot is killed in a crash.

With Theroux on leave and Nathan soon to depart for Mars, it leaves the Star Cops rather stretched as they try and make sense of the various pieces of the puzzle.  But all this is forgotten when the shuttle carrying Nathan en-route to Mars explodes …..

After a run of four episodes by other writers, Little Green Men and Other Martians saw the welcome return of Chris Boucher.  Roy Holder is perfect casting as the crumpled journalist Larwood whose arrival is greeted with some dismay by Kenzy (the pair of them have history).  It’s implied they had a relationship when Kenzy was younger (Larwood at the time was writing an article about her and her friends).  The article clearly didn’t turn out well – Kenzy was upset to be painted as a student militant, although Larwood counters that Kenzy and her friends weren’t actually as radical as they appeared to be.

As the interest in the Martian finds increases, more journalists start to arrive.  Susan Caxton (Lachelle Carl) has a memorable first meeting with Nathan.  Unknown to him, she enters the office as he’s talking on the RT to Devis.  Colin is transporting two suspects in the drugs case in one of the Moon Rovers and Nathan is happy to play along with Devis’ suggestion that he takes them outside for a walk and leaves them there.  And since they’re miles from anywhere it’s certain they’ll die – so Nathan suggests recording their deaths as spacesuit failures

Afterwards, Caxton asks Nathan if he was joking, although Nathan’s completely unrepentant.  This firmly places him alongside old-school coppers like Jack Regan of The Sweeney who were perfectly happy to put whatever pressure they could on suspects in order to get the information they needed.  For Nathan, the rights of the individuals would appear take second place compared to the misery that drugs cause.  Carl’s first appearance in the episode was via a news report on-screen and many modern viewers would probably instantly recognise her since she had a similar newscaster role in numerous episodes of Doctor Who between 2005 and 2010.

The news that Nathan’s on his way to Mars to set up a new Star Cops base was clearly laying the ground for the projected second series (one that sadly never came).  But if it had, you could imagine this episode might have ended on a cliff-hanger showing the shuttle explosion and Nathan’s apparent death.

As it was, the shock of Nathan’s death doesn’t last very long before it’s revealed he wasn’t on-board the shuttle after all.  But before he returns from the dead it’s quite obvious how his “death” has affected Kenzy.  The increasing affection between the pair of them is also demonstrated earlier on when Nathan leaves for the shuttle.  Nathan, being typically British, offers to shake Kenzy’s hand but she decides she wants a hug instead.

It does seem strange that Nathan tells her he’ll be gone for several years.  If so, why isn’t he taking anybody else with him – how can he establish the Star Cops on Mars all by himself?  This does then seem to be contradicted at the end of the episode when Nathan asks the others if they’d like to come with him and set up the Martian base.

Star Cops had to contend with many difficulties and several of them came towards the end of the production block.  One whole episode, Death on the Moon, was never made to due to industrial action and this episode also had serious problems.  Erick Ray Evans succumbed to Chicken Pox shortly before the story was due to go into the studio, so the script had to be hastily rewritten – with virtually all of Theroux’s lines given to Kenzy.

This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it gave us one more opportunity to see the Nathan/Kenzy partnership in action – surely something which would have been developed even further if the Mars-based series two had ever gone into production.

Although Little Green Men and Other Martians was a complex and confusing story at times, it was still a strong closer to a series that has plenty to recommend it.  Alas, a summer BBC2 slot at a less than ideal time sealed its fate as ratings struggled to reach two million.  VHS and DVD releases (although now long deleted) helped to bring the series to a new generation and whilst the 1987 vision of 2027 is undeniably clunky at times, it’s still a programme which has aged remarkably well and is well worth tracking down.