In some ways this doesn’t feel like a Robert Holmes B7 script, possibly because there’s so little Avon/Vila banter. They, along with Soolin, spend the episode aboard Scorpio and therefore disconnected from the main plot.
All three do have a few bright moments though. For the first time we begin to see a little of Soolin’s character whilst Vila is gifted some nice Holmes lines, such as this one about Tarrant. “Right now he’s probably strung up by the ears while they thread red hot filaments through his nerve centres, if he’s got any”.
As for Avon, he has a classic end of episode line whilst his opening scene is mainly notable due to Paul Darrow’s idiosyncratic delivery. We’ll see a lot more of this as series four continues ….
Although classic Avon/Vila interaction is thin on the ground today, there is this one gem:
VILA: Blake would have been proud of you, you know.
AVON: I know, but then he never was very bright.
Tarrant and Dayna teleport down to the surface of Helotrix, but even they don’t do a great deal, except run around a rather unconvincing studio-based grassy knoll. And since the rebels on Helotrix are incredibly dull (this could be intentional on Holmes’ part though) most of the character interest comes from the Federation types.
Easy to tell that Colonel Quute (Christopher Neame) is a wrong ‘un – he has an eyepatch, a scar and jokes about using the Federation’s new pacification process as a date rape drug. His highly impressive shoulder pads aren’t necessarily a mark of evil, but they’re certainly a crime against fashion.
As for the General (Nick Brimble), he’s absolutely caked in make-up. The General receives some decent Holmes dialogue (when he starts chuntering on about cold steel, it’s impossible not to think of Corporal Jones).
There’s a fair bit of info-dumping in this story – we learn about Pylene-50, the death of Servalan and the fact that the High Council has now regained power. But anybody who’s a little sad about Servalan’s passing won’t be mourning for long – in one of the least surprising twists ever, she makes a late comeback.
The way the story attempts to eke out this “shock” reveal is done in quite a ham-fisted way. At one point her voice is disguised but it’s not disguised nearly enough. And why bother to do this anyway, who (apart from the audience) was listening in?
But it’s best not to worry about logic when it comes to Servalan’s (or Sleer, as we now must call her) barmy schemes. Given that Servalan must be incredibly well known, surely it’s going to be very hard to keep up this pretence for long? Indeed, after she dispatches the hapless Leitz, this is touched upon though (a delicious scene from Pearce).
And just when the story starts to flag (about thirty five minutes in) a cut-price Davros, in the shape of Forbus (Edgar Wreford), conveniently pops up to explain the plot to Tarrant and Dayna.
Easily the most disposable of Holmes’ four stories, it may be that he felt constricted by the elements he had to include (Holmes always worked best when he could create a story from scratch). But flawed as it is, there’s still some good moments and it moves at a decent pace, so possibly I’ve been too harsh about it. Maybe it’s because you tend to expect a little more from a Robert Holmes script.