Episode Two:
Conversations with the Dead
Written by:
Chris Boucher
Directed by: Christopher Baker
Episode Length: 51'30m
Originally Broadcast: 13th Jul 1987, 20:30
Ratings: 3.2m

David Calder (Nathan Spring), Erick Ray Evans (David Theroux) and Trevor Cooper (Colin Devis).

Gennie Nevinson (Lee Jones), Sian Webber (Corman), Alan Downer (Paton), Sean Scanlan (Fox), Carmen Gomez (Gina), Benny Young (John Smith), Deborah Manship (Traffic controller), Richard Ireson (Mike) and Rosie Kerslake (Lara).

Technical Personnel:
Gareth Milne (Stunt Arranger), Chris Boucher (Series Deviser); Ian R. Wallace (Production Associate); Gary Downie (Production Manager); Karen Jones (Production Assistant); Betsan Morris-Evans (Assistant Floor Manager); Robin Lobb (Video Effects Supervisor); Mike Kelt/Malcolm James (Visual Effects Designers); Trevor Wimlett (O.B. Cameraman); John Wiggins (O.B. Lighting); Ian Leiper (O.B. Sound); Peter Granger (Technical Co Ordinator); Garth Tucker (Studio Camera Operator); Charles McGhie (Graphic Design); Chris Ferriday (Properties Buyer); Dennis Collett (Videotape Editor); Jim Stephens (Vision Mixer); Chris Townsend (Studio Lighting/Director); Chick Anthony/Richard Chubb (Studio Sound); Lynda Woodfield (Costume Designer); Jill Hagger (Make-Up Designer); Justin Hayward (Theme Composer/Theme Sung By); Justin Hayward/Toni Visconti (Incidental Music); Joanna Willett (Script Editor); Dick Coles (Designer); and Evgeny Gridneff (Producer).

Character Development:
Nathan reveals he has known Lee Jones for around ten years, and also implies that he isn't an only child. ("My mother didn't have any stupid children"). Amongst other things, he drinks Taboo.

Lee's security codes are given, namely: Personal Identification Number C398LR9421 and Personal Code Jones, LJ, Systematics Z2. A confidential keyword of four letters is also entered into a keyboard. This is the first time we get to see the time period of the series confirmed, with Lee Jones's grave marked "Born 1988/Deceased 2027", making her 39.

Chief Inspector Colin Devis is introduced, while Theroux is the proud owner of a "Michigan Wolverines" T-Shirt.

The Crimes:
Nathan's long-term girlfriend Lee Jones is murdered by an unknown assailant. Meanwhile, an electronics freighter bound for Mars is in trouble after its rockets fired too early, with the crew due to run out of oxygen with no way to resume their course.

Future lives:
The International Space Police Force move their headquarters to the Moon. There is a European Space Colonisation Bureau, and a colony on Mars. America is operating an unmanned orbital station as part of a civilian project. Suspicions abound that the station is military, but America insists any attempt to penetrate its security screens will be seen as an act of war.
Back on Earth, Unicom is a communications company, and roller-skating "Urban Apaches" stalk the East End of London at night, while Devis identifies a "double F" as the computer code for a crime that doesn't warrant further investigation.

The Solutions:
Professor Paton, a biologist experimenting in cryogenics organised the freighter fault so that he could try out experimental cryogenics equipment that he had stowed on the Daedalus freighter.
Lee was killed by British agents trying to lure Nathan towards the top-secret American orbital station. With policemen being politically neutral, Nathan could have arrested her murderer - trying to board the station as an escape - and not face any ramifications. Devis was being unwittingly used in the case, and his decision to press charges against Sergeant Corman - who was part of the conspiracy - look certain to result in him losing his job. As a consequence, he asks Nathan for a new job as a Star Cop.

Things to look out for:
Nathan's chess set (seen 36'06m into the episode - well, this is an anorak's guide after all) has sides that are both black.* A nice touch, particularly bearing in mind this Nathan/Devis dialogue exchange: "Someone's playing games with me." "And a draw is the best you can hope for." Also an odd bit is where Nathan puts a bottle and a glass on a table, only for it to spin round after he lets go (26'57) - was this a mistake or intentionally "futuristic"?
* Actually, further inspection reveals the same board in An Instinct For Murder, too, though it's more meaningful here.

After asking about the significance of the freighter name, site visitor Simon Dragon (yes, really) wrote and told me that "Daedalus is the name of a character in Greek mythology. He is reputed to have designed the labyrinth at Knossos in which the fabled Minotaur was kept. King Minos, for whom he had worked, then imprisoned both Daedalus and his son Icarus in a room in a high tower. They built wings from feathers, wood and wax and flew to freedom, but Icarus flew too near the sun and drowned in the sea after his wings melted." The freighter was flying close to the sun, geddit? A very clever reference there, and one that I had no idea about. As Theroux says in this very episode: "Gee, I wish I had a classical education."

Nathan and David's Movie Buff Challenge:
The famous off-screen line "Ready when you are, Mr. DeMille" is uttered by Mike, one of the crew of the Daedalus. David also paraphrases a famous quote with: "He can run, but he can't hide". While referenced and parodied in many films, the quote is actually attributed to the heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis in 1941. (In fairness, David appears to acknowledge this, stating it's "like the old prizefighters used to say...")

An interesting influence, while not quoted by any of the characters, is that of Blade Runner. The design and sound of Nathan's futuristic handgun is practically identical to that used by Deckard in the SF movie. The scene where he also gets the gun knocked out of his hand bears a remarkable resemblance to the scene where Deckard gets his gun knocked out of his hand by Leon, before having Nathan's "seven shades of shit" kicked out of him, then being saved by a gun-toting woman. I wonder if this homage was conscious or not?

Lastly, Colin's lines in the final scene about "shining a light" was a conscious reference to the Hammer version of Dracula.

Viewpoint 2017:

"Sorry to be so melodramatic."

Conversations with the Dead is, on paper, one of the best episodes of Star Cops. Sadly, like a lot of the series, it can be overwrought and a little stagy, particularly with episodes which are, like this one, directed by Christopher Baker.

The problem with Conversations with the Dead is that is extends too far towards naked melodrama, with even the brilliant David Calder seeming to struggle in some of the more over-the-top scenes. On the DVD boxset Trevor Cooper recorded a special introduction interview to the series, and observed that "it was almost like we were doing it before we knew we were... and there were all sorts of decisions that hadn't been made [...] it was almost like we were making them up as we went along [...] in some of the earlier episodes we were still sort of finding our way."

This is the first episode to introduce Cooper as Colin Devis, there to investigate the murder of Nathan's girlfriend. Unbeknownst to Devis, he was deliberately picked as he's a dreadful policeman, though the Devis seen in this episode is a lot harder and wilfully nastier than the somewhat emasculated, "cuddly" version who joined the Star Cops. It's possible that Colin just responds to authority in the purest way, but he's very much a different character to the man in episodes 3-9, and Trevor Cooper, a great central cast member, hasn't quite got it down as he would do later.

One element that never really comes off in the series, and is quite jarring here, is the use of voice over actors to speak lines as if they're inside a space craft. Richard Ireson and Rosie Kerslake as the doomed Mike and Laura never really sound like they're actually inside the Daedalus but instead just sound like they're in a recording booth. But worse is the final confrontation scene on board a shuttle with Nathan and the treacherous Corman. The lighting on the incredibly cheap interior should have been turned way down to disguise its limitations, and the entire scene rejigged. While it works on some level, the garish mix of crass melodrama and exposition doesn't quite come off... it's a time where you feel for producer Evgeny Gridneff and his desire to get the scripts rewritten.

Ultimately, Conversations with the Dead is by far the most frustrating episode of Star Cops. David Calder brings a fleshed-out, striking performance as Nathan Spring, and the psychological torture he undergoes in this episode is a little hard to watch. But somehow the whole is less than the sum of its parts, and for every moment of genius - such as Nathan sitting in a restaurant with the memory of Lee - there's a scene which could have benefitted from a retake, or being restaged. For the plots and emotional content, it's a five-star episode, but due to a number of misfiring scenes, particularly the incredibly stagy scene on the shuttle, it's impossible to rate this as anything more than average television. It should be by far the best episode of Star Cops, certainly its darkest... Yet it never quite comes off.

Average Rating:

The first two times this episode was reviewed it received four stars, but ever since then, even though I've wanted to award it higher than average marks, I haven't been able to in good conscience. A maddening episode, in that its quality is drowned in questionable production, it averages a rating of 3.4 over the five reviews this site has ran.