Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.
Cally’s home planet is brutally attacked by Servalan…
Series C, episode 7. Written by: Roger Parkes. Directed by: Andrew Morgan. Originally broadcast: 18 February 1980, BBC1.
Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Servalan (17) is on the hunt for a ship from the planet Auron. Her crew capture a small craft (in a model shot reminiscent of the opening scene from Star Wars), then trick the solo pilot into thinking they’re friendly. In reality, they poison him with a virus then send him on his way. He’s dead by the time he reaches his home planet, and the virus soon starts to wipe out the entire population of Auron. Why has Servalan done this? Her plan has two aims. Firstly, she wants access to Auron’s secretive bio-reproduction plant. A scientist there has developed the process of single-parent conception and Servalan wants to create her own children. Secondly, she hopes to draw out the Liberator because she knows one of its crew is from Auron… Later, Servalan is uncharacteristically outwitted by an underling who tricks her into thinking a rival has substituted his genetic material for hers at the lab. As the Liberator crew are also in the lab at the time, she orders it destroyed – but then feels an awful jolt of pain as she realises she’s killed her own offspring.
* Cally (30) asks her colleagues why they’re heading for Earth. “Why not?” replies Vila. It’s actually because Avon has a mission of revenge in mind. Soon, however, that plan is abandoned when Cally becomes psychically aware that her planet is under threat. When the gang arrive at Auron, Cally, Tarrant, Avon and Dayna teleport down and find chaos – the few survivors have been infected by an alien pathogen. Then soldiers burst in: Servalan is behind it all and takes the Liberator crew prisoner. After they escape and race to the bio lab, Cally meets up with her sister, a science assistant called Zelda. (The character is played by Jan Chappell, who affects a fey manner to distinguish the character from guerrilla rebel Cally.)
* Zen (28) confirms the Liberator’s course a few times.
* Vila (33) is glad when the ship is heading for Earth (“The Himalayas are quite tall at this time of year…”), then while his colleagues go down to Auron he’s left behind manning the teleport machine. After they’re captured, Servalan attempts to trick Vila into betraying them and giving up the Liberator: she offers him a governorship, even of Earth, but he stands firm.
* Tarrant (7) is happy to go along with Avon’s revenge quest, and is then happy to go along with Cally’s mission of mercy. He’s easy-going this week.
* Avon (32) wanted to go to Earth in order to find and kill a sadistic para-investigator called Shrinker, who years earlier killed the love of Avon’s life. But when the crisis on Auron becomes apparent, Liberator democracy gets in the way: his plan is delayed on a vote of 4-1.
* Dayna (7) spends most of the episode aboard the Liberator. She looks after an Auronar man who’s teleported up to be cured of his infection and she outfoxes Servalan’s second-in-command, Deral, when he comes aboard to negotiate with Vila. Later, Dayna beams down to the planet to help the others when they’re captured.
* Orac (17) is switched on at one point and is his usual tiresome self.
Best bit: After Vila last week, it’s Cally’s turn to be the focus of an episode. She’s often felt like a short-changed character, one there just to make up the numbers. So it’s nice for her to have a bit of story. As mentioned, Jan Chappell also gets to play a second character.
Worst bit: The episode has a dreadful final moment. With the crew safely back on the flight deck of the Liberator, Avon cracks a lame gag and the others give the kind of hearty yet hollow laugh that only actors who have been to drama school can give. It’s like the ending of an episode of He-Man.
Review: It’s slightly odd to have a subplot about Servalan wanting children – where did that come from? – but at least it casts her as a person rather than a cartoon villain. (The moment when the bio lab is destroyed and her whole body aches with maternal pain is affecting.) There’s also a bit of drama with Servalan’s two lackeys – Deral (Rio Fanning, who looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights) and Ginka (a kitschy turn from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’s Ric Young), who have a fun bit of spiteful rivalry running throughout the episode. Meanwhile, the world of Auron is sketched quite lightly, as is often the case in these kinds of episodes. We see a busy control room, where RP actors bandy about protocol and call each other by their ranks, and a scientific laboratory that’s on film so feels cold and lifeless. But we don’t really get any sense of the society at large, which is a shame. It must said, however, that the production team found two terrific locations for a short outdoor chase sequence – a huge dam at Thruscross Reservoir in North Yorkshire and the brutalist architecture of Leeds Polytechnic.
Seven placentas out of 10
Next episode: Rumours of Death