Episode Three: Intelligent Listening for Beginners

Written by:
Chris Boucher
Directed by: Christopher Baker
Episode Length: 48'24m
Originally Broadcast: 20th Jul 1987, 20:30
Ratings: 2.6m

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

David John Pope (Michael Chandri), Trevor Butler (Leo), Thomas Coulthard (Ben), Tara Ward (Shuttle Hostess), Peter Quince (Shift Foreman) and Peter Glancy (Process operator).

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:
Pal Kenzy is properly introduced; a national figure in Australia with a background in engineering and a skilled poker player. Currently based on Coral Sea, the fixed orbit station run by the Allied Pacific Consortium. She is almost immediately sacked, along with Inspector Kirk Hubble, for being crooked.

Theroux is promoted to Chief Superintendent, the second-in-command position.

Colin Devis is revealed to have been married five times, while Sergeant Corman from the previous episode is now in jail.

Box is finally identified as a "multi-function self-selecting interface system". It was one of the prototypes, the series never having gone into production. Also, David and Nathan have a predilection for black coffee with no sugar.

Future Lives:
The Organisation of Pan-Continental Anarchists is referred to. The International Space Police Force go on a recruitment drive, and invest in two hundred laser pistols made in Canberra, Australia - pistols that can even select the skin pigment of their targets. Sleep circuits are available in rooms, including visual and aural stimulation, such as waves on a beach.

The Crimes:
Computer failure causes chaos in a chemical corporation and the Channel Tunnel. Also, a group of terrorists, "The Black Hand Gang", are hijacking a moon shuttle.

The Solutions:
The computer failures were instigated by Michael Chandri, a man in the shadow of his father. Chandri was a multi-millionaire and had one brother, Sajit. With the destruction of his own computer systems, he could pretend his new computerised listening device was a success.
Fortunately, Devis and Kenzy are on the shuttle when it is hijacked. Heroes, Kenzy uses the situation on a news bulletin to get herself reinstated.

Nathan and David's Movie-Buff Challenge:
Nathan uses Box to answer David's quote challenge - "A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do" - as coming from Shane. He also effects a hardboiled private detective voice along the lines of Philip Marlowe and Sam Spade to say "goddamn guesswork".

A few years back, on an earlier version of this site, I had what I thought would be a nice little in-joke... a pop-up on this page that read "O Rose Thou Art Sick". Unfortunately it just led to site visitors e-mailing me to say they thought my site had been hacked...

Things To Look Out For:
The scene where Colin first meets Kenzy as a Star Cop has a boom mike camera in shot, just over Nathan, around the 23'44m mark.

Viewpoint 2017:

"Just finish your business quickly and get out here, will you? We're spread a bit thin on the ground."
"Well, you will keep sacking people."
"Yes, do bear that in mind."

Star Cops' shortest episode is also the one with the most ideas... a predating of the internet, cyber terrorism and race-targeting weapons all fit within its meagre 48 minutes. Projecting the future from a contemporary standpoint, it's an episode that stands up better than any other now its 2027 reality is nearer to us than its 1986 production.

As always, there are distractions where the concepts haven't been brought to screen as they were written on paper. Apart from the too-bright sets and overall cheapness, the most obvious example is where Nathan uses Box to identify a film as a cheat in a game. In the scripts, Box was supposed to talk with Nathan's voice... although David Calder voices the machine, his voice is treated, so it doesn't really sound like him, and thus makes the entire sequence meaningless. It's a small point, but indicative of the lack of understanding the production often had.

This is the first episode to tone down the shaky "weightless" sequences (which reappear, to a very slight extent, in Trivial Games and Paranoid Pursuits/In Warm Blood) and the lack of floating does add more realism, at least until the climax where it again surfaces in all its Kirby Wire/Greenscreen glory. However, Nathan observing that it must have took Chandri a lot of money to move several heavy bookcases, books and ornaments to the Moon does rather flag up the artifice too heavily... just a few steps away from a character remarking that the ISPF's base looks uncannily like a cheap BBC set.

The actors playing Leo and Ben are the worst performers in the entire series, not helped by contrived dialogue for them both, but David John Pope is excellent as Michael Chandri (described, in this site's 2008 review, as "an Islamic Mastermind", despite the fact that he has a Hindu name... was I even paying attention nine years ago?) Chandri's motivations are highly suspect, but do tie in to the series' underlying theme of "daddy issues", and lead in to two pretty exciting twin plots, both of which are a race against time.

By some way the best Star Cops episode, it concludes with the best ending of the entire series.

Average Rating:

Despite the huge plaudits heaped upon this episode here, and in 2008, it's one of the instalments that's produced the most varied reactions on this site over the 17-18 years that it's been online. Quite unthinkably, given how it stands up in 2017, it also has the unfortunate distinction of being one of just two episodes (along with Trivial Games and Paranoid Pursuits) to ever be rated lower than average, way back in 2001. Overall it has an average of just 3.2. Ultimately it probably depends on what you're watching. If you watch this for great production values and a solidly-made television programme, you'll be found wanting. If you watch it for the script, ideas and some nice performances, it rewards.