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


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

Guest-Starring:
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 :
Has anyone noticed before that 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 son 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. 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?



Viewpoint 2008 :

"Sorry to be so melodramatic."

Since 2006 mainstream BBC audiences have delighted in the exploits of "unreconstructed male" Gene Hunt in Life On Mars and its follow-up series Ashes To Ashes. With this in mind, then it's another point in favour of the "Why wasn't Star Cops a hit?" school of thought with an episode that introduces Colin Devis. However, even in the late 80s then the attitudes of the racist, sexist boor that is Devis were still commonplace, and it was more the dissenting voices of those around him that seemed impossibly futuristic. Add to this a broad, slightly OTT performance from Trevor Cooper - who has admitted that the cast took some time to find their feet with the show - and it doesn't quite click as well as it should. In particular, Devis's almost sadistic taunting of Nathan is without realistic frame of reference... surely no one is that tactless and stupid?

As for the rest of this follow up episode, then it never quite takes off. This is where the series transfers to "Moonbase" - really an overlit set in BBC Centre that looks like it was assembled in IKEA for 68. The performances jar with the dialogue, the guest actors lacking the ability to convey the melodrama without sounding like they're in some kind of kid's panto, and the incidental music is an abomination that works against what's on screen. With a clever plot that's well worked out, it perhaps needed a second draft, the actors another take, the series another music team and the lighting crew the day off. Only in the final scene with Nathan and Devis gazing at the night sky does this one truly begin to reach its potential. Sad to say, but what was my favourite episode as a fourteen-year-old is somewhat amateurish and possessing an execution well beneath its potential. In particular, what should be the dramatic highpoint with Nathan confronting Corman on the shuttle sees even Calder become embarrassingly over the top almost in a bid to rescue the scene from the underachieving hands of his two co-stars. Conversations With The Dead holds on to an average rating by a bare margin... if in doubt, say it's for the quaint silliness of the least brutal assault ever depicted on television with Nathan and the "Urban Apache"...