Skip to main content

I thought it was about time I recruited some little green men.

Star Cops
9. Little Green Men and Other Martians

It’s one of those ironies that Star Cops feels like it’s really coming together just as it gets kiboshed (it was planned as the tenth episode, the ninth falling by the wayside due to strike action). Chris Boucher and Graeme Harper converge for a densely plotted, twisty little number that even tantalises with the prospect of aliens (proper science fiction!) showing up. That would be too far out, of course…


Spring: We’ve got drugs, Mayan sculptures, dead pilots. How many cases have we got going on here?

As Spring opines, there’s enough material here for an episode double the length of Little Green Men and Other Martians and, as with a couple of the earlier Bouchers, it feels like it’s rushing a bit to reach the finishing line. It turns out that the aliens are a big archaeological con, picking up on the Chariots of the Gods craze (Were the ancient Gods really astronauts?: a bit passé by 1987, but that makes it better for this kind of take on the idea, in a way).


A 2000 year-old Mayan sculpture has been planted on the Mars surface to create a revenue stream for the museum that will host it. Along the way, a picture leaks, and the instigators indulge in a spot of murder and sabotage to keep their tracks covered. This is a solid idea on Boucher’s part, since it doesn’t require fabricated evidence that would eventually be torn apart; the object itself is real, its just where it allegedly comes from that isn’t.


If I’m honest, some of the method seem a little OTT (blowing up a passenger freighter bound for Mars, having already dispatched several pilots), and ringleader Philpott (Nigel Hughes, about as threatening as Chris Addison and just as appealing), who has a profoundly rubbish name for a villain, is rather unconvincing in the lengths he is willing to go to (which include blowing himself and the Star Cops up with him). But with an episode as pacey as this, one you have to really concentrate on to keep up with, it’s a relatively minor failing.


There’s even a greater sense of scale than on previous super saver outings. Harper opens on an atmospheric shot of the Martian surface, with a suitably eerie soundtrack, and there’s a whole sequence in a convincing-looking shipping silo. There’s also a bustling flight control, and a very Boucher line in unshiny futures where under-resourcing leads to important details being missed. For a series doing its best at real science though, Harper’s decision to include an explosion sound effect for the sabotaged freighter is glaring.


A drug smuggling plotline appears in the mix, which turns out to be a red herring (“It’s a lot of trouble to go to for powdered beef casserole”), and there’s a knowing wink at the stereotypes of the nosey journalist. Roy Holder (a memorable Krepler in Harper’s The Caves of Androzani) comes on in a raincoat (“And another thing; it doesn’t rain on the Moon”) and equipped with a hip flask (it’s got water in it). He tries everyone’s patience, but his lead is rock solid and Spring would have been blown up with the freighter if it wasn’t for him. 


Throughout the episode, Spring is due to imminently depart for Mars, in order to set up a Star Cops base there. He’ll be leaving David in charge (Erik Ray Evans missed out on the final episode due to a dose of Chicken Pox; his lines we’re divided between the remaining regulars and, to be honest, I only missed him when I realised he kept being referenced without making a showing), and Pal is initially only concerned about getting the deputy spot.


So she says. Actually, she’s cut up about Nathan going (it’ll be a couple of years, which sounds about right), even more so when she thinks he’s dead. Theirs is a nicely low key, growing mutual respect, and I’m not sure how welcome developing it further would have been in a second season. Although, I’m sure some tension would have been eked out of the situation, this not being a happily ever after world.


Vishenko continues to be a sore thumb even here, however. It’s not Jonathan Adams’ performance per se, unlike some of the regulars, it’s that his character is just too broad for a supposedly grounded series. Perhaps he’d have been less involved in a season two, if they were at least partly Mars-based.


Ending Star Cops like it did at least resulted in none of the fall-out that followed the cancellation of The Tripods two years before. That was cut off before the grand finish, an act of sheer bloody-mindedness emblematic of a corporation that continually behaved with embarrassment over science fiction. Perhaps the strangest thing is that Star Cops was commissioned in the first place, although that may have had more to do with its niche slot on BBC2. Who knows the precise reasons for it being dumped at an unholy time (8.30, midway through any challengers on one of the other main channels) and season (the height of summer), but it’s suggestive that even if it had miraculously done well there was little inclination to follow it up.


Is that a shame? Well, it’s 50-50. Star Cops really needed Boucher’s direct oversight rather than that of producer Evgeny Gridneff, the man he saw as ruining it. The first four episodes, although not perfect, are consistent in actualising the touchstone of germane space-based detective work, and the finale very much picks up that baton. In between, the best we see is lip service to the setting, and one wonders if it wouldn’t eventually just have fallen apart, such that the not-at-all-what-it-sounds-like title became a more accurate depiction of the show, a Dempsey and Makepeace in space. There are glimmerings here of a more melancholy, Morse-esque series with a twist, one that with sufficient investment and disinclination to indulge inappropriate fireworks, could have been something special. A reboot of The Wild Frontier might do well in the current landscape even, if viewers were able to get past the misleading title.



Star Cops ranked:

1. Little Green Men and Other Martians
2. Trivial Games and Paranoid Pursuits
3. Intelligent Listening for Beginners
4. In Cold Blood
5. Conversations with the Dead
6. An Instinct for Murder
7. Other People’s Secrets
8. This Case to Be Opened in a Million Years
9. A Double Life







Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism

Now listen, I don’t give diddley shit about Jews and Nazis.

  The Boys from Brazil (1978) (SPOILERS) Nazis, Nazis everywhere! The Boys from Brazil has one distinct advantage over its fascist-antagonist predecessor Marathon Man ; it has no delusions that it is anything other than garish, crass pulp fiction. John Schlesinger attempted to dress his Dustin Hoffman-starrer up with an art-house veneer and in so doing succeeded in emphasising how ridiculous it was in the wrong way. On the other hand, Schlesinger at least brought a demonstrable skill set to the table. For all its faults, Marathon Man moves , and is highly entertaining. The Boys from Brazil is hampered by Franklin J Schaffner’s sluggish literalism. Where that was fine for an Oscar-strewn biopic ( Patton ), or keeping one foot on the ground with material that might easily have induced derision ( Planet of the Apes ), here the eccentric-but-catchy conceit ensures The Boys from Brazil veers unfavourably into the territory of farce played straight.

Yeah, it’s just, why would we wannabe be X-Men?

The New Mutants (2020) (SPOILERS) I feel a little sorry for The New Mutants . It’s far from a great movie, but Josh Boone at least has a clear vision for that far-from-great movie. Its major problem is that it’s so overwhelmingly familiar and derivative. For an X-Men movie, it’s a different spin, but in all other respects it’s wearisomely old hat.

I can always tell the buttered side from the dry.

The Molly Maguires (1970) (SPOILERS) The undercover cop is a dramatic evergreen, but it typically finds him infiltrating a mob organisation ( Donnie Brasco , The Departed ). Which means that, whatever rumblings of snitch-iness, concomitant paranoia and feelings of betrayal there may be, the lines are nevertheless drawn quite clearly on the criminality front. The Molly Maguires at least ostensibly finds its protagonist infiltrating an Irish secret society out to bring justice for the workers. However, where violence is concerned, there’s rarely room for moral high ground. It’s an interesting picture, but one ultimately more enraptured by soaking in its grey-area stew than driven storytelling.

Never underestimate the wiles of a crooked European state.

The Mouse on the Moon (1963) (SPOILERS) Amiable sequel to an amiably underpowered original. And that, despite the presence of frequent powerhouse Peter Sellers in three roles. This time, he’s conspicuously absent and replaced actually or effectively by Margaret Rutherford, Ron Moody and Bernard Cribbins. All of whom are absolutely funny, but the real pep that makes The Mouse on the Moon an improvement on The Mouse that Roared is a frequently sharp-ish Michael Pertwee screenplay and a more energetic approach from director Richard Lester (making his feature debut-ish, if you choose to discount jazz festival performer parade It’s Trad, Dad! )

Yes, exactly so. I’m a humbug.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) (SPOILERS) There are undoubtedly some bullet-proof movies, such is their lauded reputation. The Wizard of Oz will remain a classic no matter how many people – and I’m sure they are legion – aren’t really all that fussed by it. I’m one of their number. I hadn’t given it my time in forty or more years – barring the odd clip – but with all the things I’ve heard suggested since, from MKUltra allusions to Pink Floyd timing The Dark Side of the Moon to it, to the Mandela Effect, I decided it was ripe for a reappraisal. Unfortunately, the experience proved less than revelatory in any way, shape or form. Although, it does suggest Sam Raimi might have been advised to add a few songs, a spot of camp and a scare or two, had he seriously wished to stand a chance of treading in venerated L Frank Baum cinematic territory with Oz the Great and Powerful.

It’s always open season on princesses!

Roman Holiday (1953) (SPOILERS) If only every Disney princess movie were this good. Of course, Roman Holiday lacks the prerequisite happily ever after. But then again, neither could it be said to end on an entirely downbeat note (that the mooted sequel never happened would be unthinkable today). William Wyler’s movie is hugely charming. Audrey Hepburn is utterly enchanting. The Rome scenery is perfectly romantic. And – now this is a surprise – Gregory Peck is really very likeable, managing to loosen up just enough that you root for these too and their unlikely canoodle.

Dad's wearing a bunch of hotdogs.

White of the Eye (1987) (SPOILERS) It was with increasing irritation that I noted the extras for Arrow’s White of the Eye Blu-ray release continually returning to the idea that Nicolas Roeg somehow “stole” the career that was rightfully Donald Cammell’s through appropriating his stylistic innovations and taking all the credit for Performance . And that the arrival of White of the Eye , after Demon Seed was so compromised by meddlesome MGM, suddenly shone a light on Cammell as the true innovator behind Performance and indeed the inspiration for Roeg’s entire schtick. Neither assessment is at all fair. But then, I suspect those making these assertions are coming from the position that White of the Eye is a work of unrecognised genius. Which it is not. Distinctive, memorable, with flashes of brilliance, but also uneven in both production and performance. It’s very much a Cannon movie, for all that it’s a Cannon arthouse movie.

Farewell, dear shithead, farewell.

Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) (SPOILERS) I saw Highlander II: The Quickening at the cinema. Yes, I actually paid money to see one of the worst mainstream sequels ever on the big screen. I didn’t bother investigating the Director’s Cut until now, since the movie struck me as entirely unsalvageable. I was sufficiently disenchanted with all things Highlander that I skipped the TV series and slipshod sequels, eventually catching Christopher Lambert’s last appearance as Connor MacLeod in Highlander: End Game by accident rather than design. But Highlander II ’s on YouTube , and the quality is decent, so maybe the Director’s Cut improve matters and is worth a reappraisal? Not really. It’s still a fundamentally, mystifyingly botched retcon enabling the further adventures of MacLeod, just not quite as transparently shredded in the editing room.

Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?!

Blake's 7 4.13: Blake The best you can hope for the end of a series is that it leaves you wanting more. Blake certainly does that, so much so that I lapped up Tony Attwood’s Afterlife when it came out. I recall his speculation over who survived and who didn’t in his Programme Guide (curious that he thought Tarrant was unlikely to make it and then had him turn up in his continuation). Blake follows the template of previous season finales, piling incident upon incident until it reaches a crescendo.