Comics – Simply Media DVD Review

American comedian Johnny Lazar (Tim Guinee) recently arrived in the UK, observes a gangland killing on the streets of Soho. As a witness, Johnny finds he’s a person of interest from both sides of the law ….

Simply Media continues to trawl through the Channel 4 back-catalogue with this two-part serial from 1993, written by Lynda La Plante and produced by Verity Lambert.

Within the first few minutes Johnny’s character has already been deftly painted – he’s an uncontrollable loose cannon (shooting his mouth off on a top American chat show is one of the reasons why he finds himself unemployable in his own country).

Given the generous running time (two episodes each of approx. 107 minutes) it’s slightly odd that Johnny witnesses the murder so early on in the first episode. The story might have benefitted from having a little more time to set up the characters and the milieu.

But even though the first twenty minutes seems to fly by at breakneck speed, all the essentials are put in place. We meet some of Johnny’s fellow comics, such as the cynical Haggis (Alex Norton) and the firmly traditional Graham Redcar (Graham Fellows). Fellows, no stranger to comedy himself (Jilted John, John Shuttleworth) was a wonderful casting choice. Graham is a strictly old-school turn, dressed in a smart dinner jacket he seems very out of place amongst his shabbier fellow performers. His insistence that you don’t have to descend to gutter language in order to amuse (instead he puts his faith in his hand puppet) is another obvious way in which he differs from the crowd.

Whilst it’s true that Londoners are very phlegmatic, it slightly stretches credibility that somebody could be shot multiple times right in front of a crowd of people with nobody reacting. You’d have thought somebody might have screamed at least once ….

But then some of the plotting of Comics is slightly suspect. We see the murdered man, Johnny Fratelli, walking past Anthony Fratelli’s (Stephen Greif) car. Given that Johnny was shot on his cousin’s orders (and that a briefcase was the prize) why choose to murder him in such a public place? It would have been far wiser to dispose of him in secret, that way obtaining the briefcase would have been straightforward (whereas here it’s not picked up in the melee).

It’s always nice to see Stephen Greif and although he’s rather typecast as a villain, since it’s a role he always plays so well I’m not going to complain. A number of other familiar faces (some already established, others just making a start) also appear – such as Danny Webb and Lennie James.

Brian Duffield (Webb) thinks that Johnny has the potential to hit the big time. The culture clash between the two – Johnny’s never heard of the likes of Rik Mayal, Ben Elton or the BBC – is nicely done, leading us to the punchline where Brian proudly tells him that he should be able to get him a spot on the Des O’Connor show. Needless to say, Johnny’s never heard of Des either ….

One plus point of Comics is the way that it intercuts an examination of the comedy scene in the UK with a straightforward police procedural (as the hunt for Johnny Fratelli’s killer begins in earnest). There’s some spiky satire directed at the comedy world – Duffield, with his brick like mobile phone and his rampaging desire to make Johnny a star, is the archetypal manager whilst the appearance of Michael Aspel helps to anchor the serial to the real world.

Johnny’s meltdown on the Aspel show (launching into a routine about guns and sex which I assume was intended to be shocking but today seems rather tame) shows the way his mind is currently functioning, i.e. not very well. But with one of his fellow comics recently murdered (he was mistaken for Johnny) it’s possibly not surprising that he’s becoming increasingly flaky.

Tim Guinee had to tread a delicate line. Johnny is often boorish and monosyablic, but Guinee also has to make him sympathetic, otherwise Comics would be a slog with an unlikable character at its heart. Guinee succeeds in teasing out the more vulnerable side of Johnny’s nature from time to time, so overall he gives a very rounded performance.

Although a little unfocused in places, there’s still a great deal of interest to be found in Comics, especially the depiction of the seedier end of the comedy circuit featuring a disparate group of characters all dreaming of a chance to make it big. Having the likes of Graham Fellows in the cast helped to add a layer of authenticity and it’s interesting to learn that Jo Brand was also approached.

Comics features a female performer, Rebecca (Jenny Galloway), who has more than a touch of Brand about her. It looks as if the part was originally written with Brand in mind, as touched upon during this interview.

A favourite of LaPlante’s, Comics slowly ramps up the tension before climaxing with a more than satisfying conclusion (followed by a touching coda). Propelled along by a very strong cast, Comics is an intriguing drama from the earlier days of C4 and is well worth your time.

Comics is released by Simply Media on the 21st of May 2018, RRP £19.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Howard’s Way – Series Four, Episode Seven

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This episode pretty much picks up where the previous one finished, so we see Barracuda pulling into port with an ambulance crew waiting for Jack. Although the incidental music is still set on “sinister and anxious” at least he’s awake and is his usual cantankerous self (which is a good sign). “Where are you guys taking me? I’m not going to St Hilda’s. I had a wisdom tooth out there”.  Three guesses which hospital he ends up at …

I like the way that Tom later insists that Leo should stay with Jack at the hospital (Tom never seems to stop and consider that maybe he should stay). Leo is slightly whiny (“why me?”) but you know that since he’s such a good natured-soul he’ll be happy to do so. And so he does.

The way that the episode deals with Avril’s reaction to the news is very interesting. Tom calls her (she’s at Jan’s house – helping to investigate the saga of the stolen designs) and when she takes the receiver we see her face suddenly fall. But then we cut to Tom (“oh, no, no, Avril, it’s all right”) and we don’t cut back to Avril again.

What’s very notable is that after this moment Avril doesn’t mention her father for the remainder of the episode. All of her scenes are business related – jousting with Charles and Gerald, wining and dining new recruit Sarah – meaning that her father seems to be low on her list of priorities. Harsh? Maybe, but whilst we’re told that she does visit Jack in hospital, we don’t actually see it (whereas we are witness to Kate’s visit – where she dishes out a typical dollop of good old-fashioned common sense, much to Jack’s disgust!)

This foregrounding of Avril-as-businesswoman may have been intentional or it could just be the way the scripting turned out – but it does seem odd that we never learn what she thinks about her father’s hospitalisation (even Polly – hardly Jack’s biggest fan – is given a moment to react with dismay at the news).

Jack, you’ll be glad to hear, isn’t too bad at all. He does have an ulcer, but as long as he lays off the booze, cigars and adopts a healthy diet then all will be well. Yes, I can see three things wrong with that picture too.

Dr Bishop (Alexandra Mathie) is something of a tarter, but the fact she’s a woman (something which Jack can’t help but blurt out) seems to stun him the most. Has he not visited many hospitals recently? When she quizzes him about his habits, can you guess what he says when she asks him about drink?

“Oh that’s very kind of you, I’ll have a small scotch please”.

Predictable, yes. But it still raised a smile.

I can’t help but be intrigued by the fact that Alexandra Mathie’s fairly limited cv includes the film Paper Mask (set in a hospital) and television series such as Doctors, Casualty and Coronation Street (where she played a doctor). Was it just coincidence that she seemed to so often play roles which were medically based?

Abby and Polly are continuing to get on well, something which is slightly surprising (I’d have thought by now they’d have regressed to their usual habits). The question of William does slightly divide them, but once again Polly’s attempting to help, as seen when she later visits Charles and asks if he can intercede. This he’s disinclined to do – whatever else he thinks of his father, he knows that he’s more than capable of wresting William away from the Hudsons.  Although he does advise that if William arrives in the UK it would be advisable to prise him out of Sir Edward’s clutches. Abby doesn’t seem to have appreciated that Sir Edward may have an agenda for his grandson which is different from hers.

Things are not going well for Ken. He asks Sir John if the bank will front for him on Guernsey since he can’t apply for trading status directly. As he bitterly admits, he doesn’t wear the old school tie (an ironic comment, especially as he wasn’t allowed into Sir John’s club straightaway since he wasn’t wearing a tie). Ken’s status as an outsider – barely tolerated but never accepted by those he wishes to emulate – is never clearer than in this episode.

There are some fine cardigans on display in this episode. One is worn by John Reddings (Stephen Greif). Yay, Travis Mk1! He may lack the eyepatch, artificial hand and psychopathic tendencies of Travis, but Reddings is still dangerous in his own way.

Ken employs him to recover Jan’s stolen templates and we learn here that it was Ken who paid for them to be pinched in the first place. The rotter. But he’d intended that the designs would be destroyed, not taken to Taiwan and copied, which suggests that Ken wanted to ruin Jan a little, but not too much.  That sort of makes sense I guess (since he wanted to buy back into her company).

Reddings does the job, but at a price. He has a tape-recording of Ken’s admission he organised the theft and is unabashed at requesting hush money. A pity that Reddings doesn’t reappear, since an actor as good as Stephen Greif shouldn’t be wasted with just a handful of scenes.

Here’s something I never thought I’d see – Tom and Charles all pally. They too are sporting nice cardigans as they head off to Charles’ tennis court for a quick game. Charles is still attempting to woo Tom to accept the design job so it’s not entirely a pleasure trip, but the fact that Tom accepted shows that he’s mellowed (or that despite himself he’s interested in the offer). We only see the first point of the game – Charles thunders an ace past Tom – but it may serve not only as an indication of who won, but also Charles’ desire to win everything at any cost.

We don’t see much of Sir Edward. Apart from leaving yet another plaintive message on Jan’s answering machine, he doesn’t pop up until the last ten minutes or so. Am I the only one to find his constant endearments (“hello, my love”) slightly intimidating? The man’s not taking Jan’s “no I won’t marry you” as an answer, so has bought her a flashy sports car as a blatant bribe. Jan initially pulls a face (she’s standing by the sink, filling the kettle whilst he’s waggling the car keys behind her back!) but we don’t see her categorically refuse the present ….

Michael sets off in the Barracuda – one of a score of boats making a solo transatlantic crossing.

Sarah breaks the news to Ken that she’s leaving to take a plumb job at Relton. He doesn’t take it well. “That bitch doesn’t let the grass grow under her feet, does she?” he mutters, referring to Avril. And he doesn’t seem to rate Sarah herself any higher. “What the hell does Charles Frere want with deadwood like you?”

He then roughly prevents her from slapping him (holding firmly onto her arm) but although he’s physically stronger, it’s Sarah who seems to have won the business battle. He does tell her not to come crawling back to him for a job when Relton have no further use for her, but this just seems to be a case of Ken trying to keep his own spirits up. This year hasn’t been a good one for Ken, will his luck change anytime soon?

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Treasure Island (BBC, 1977) – Part One

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Treasure Island, an evergreen classic of children’s literature for more than a century, has generated more film, television and radio adaptations than you could shake a cutlass at.  But even though there’s many versions to chose from, this one (broadcast in four episodes on BBC1 in 1977) has to rank amongst the very best.

Like the majority of the BBC Classic Serials from the sixties, seventies and eighties, the adaptation (this one from John Lucarotti) displays considerable fidelity to the original source material, although Lucarotti is unafraid to build upon the original narrative.  In a way this isn’t surprising, since the book was told from Jim’s perspective it’s inevitable that it has a somewhat restricted viewpoint.

Lucarotti’s additions begin right from the start, as Jim’s father, Daniel (Terry Scully), someone who merited only a handful of mentions in Stevenson’s original, is fleshed out into a substantial character.  Scully excelled at playing people who suffered – he had one of those faces which could express a world of pain – and Daniel is no exception.  Daniel is clearly far from well and concern that he’s unable to provide for his family is uppermost in his mind.  So the arrival of Billy Bones (Jack Watson) seems to offer a chance to extricate himself from his financial problems.

Watson’s excellent as Bones.  With his weather-beaten face and the addition of a wicked-looking scar, he’s perfect as the rough, tough, seaman with a secret.  Bones’ decision to recruit Daniel (an invention of Lucarotti’s) is quite a neat idea, since it explains how Long John Silver and the others came to learn where Bones was (Daniel heads off to secure passage for himself and Bones to the Caribbean, not realising that Silver is monitoring the port for any unusual activity).

Lucarotti also elects to bring Silver and his confederates into the story very early, making it plain that Bones has absconded with something of great value that they’d all like back.  If you love British archive television of this era then the sight of Silver’s gang will no doubt warm the cockles of your heart (step forward David Collings, Patrick Troughton, Stephen Greif and Talfryn Thomas amongst others).

Alfred Burke’s Long John Silver impresses right from the off.  He doesn’t have Robert Newton’s eye-rolling intensity, nor does he have Brian Blessed’s physical presence – but what Burke’s Silver does possess is great charm and a rare skill at manipulating others to do his will.  But although he seems pleasant enough to begin with, it doesn’t take long before he demonstrates his true colours.

Bones’ run-in with Doctor Livesey (Anthony Bate) is kept intact from the original.  Bate is yet another wonderful addition to the cast and Livesey’s stand-off with Bones is a highlight of the episode.  Lucarotti’s subplot of Daniel’s doomed night-time misadventure slots into the original story very well, as it explains why his health suddenly took a turn for the worse, which then resulted in his death shortly afterwards.

A member of Silver’s gang, Black Dog (Christopher Burgess), arrives to confront Bones.  Burgess was a favourite actor of the producer, Barry Letts, so it’s maybe not too much of a surprise that he turns up.  He and Watson step outside (and therefore onto film) for a duel, which leads to Bones’ stroke.  Watson’s particularly fine as the bedridden Bones, suffering nightmares accrued from the horrors of a life spent on the high seas and dreading the arrival of the black spot.

David Collings’ nicely judged cameo as the malevolent Blind Pew is yet another highlight from a consistently strong opening episode.

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The Cleopatras – Episode Two

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The studio-bound nature of the series meant that it would have been difficult to illustrate battles or major upheavals convincingly, so The Cleopatras tended not to bother.  With Theodotus on hand to push the story along you just have to fill in the blanks yourself.

So at the end of episode one Cleopatra’s mother ruled Egypt, whilst Cleopatra and Pot Belly were exiles.  In the space of a few seconds at the start of this episode Theodotus informs us of a total reversal – Cleopatra and Pot Belly have regained the throne whilst Cleopatra’s mother is the one who now finds herself in exile – in Syria.

Needless to say, she’s not best pleased about it and Elizabeth Shepherd continues to wring every last drop of emotion from the role.  I can’t honestly say it’s good acting, but she’s highly entertaining.

One of the joys of the series is that there’s a constant stream of first-rate actors who pop up for an episode or two.  Due to the amount of fake facial hair (for the men, anyway) it’s sometimes hard to identity them immediately, but their voices tend to be a giveaway.  One notable new arrival is Stephen Greif as Demetrius, the King of Syria.  Greif’s excellent as the weak-willed king, easily manipulated by Cleopatra’s mother into attempting to invade Egypt and dispose Pot Belly.  It’s not a success, alas, and Demetrius finds himself deserted by his men and then executed.

Demetrius’ widow, Cleopatra Thea (Caroline Mortimer), is a chip off the old family block.  Her elder son Seleucus (Nicholas Greake) has automatically ascended to the throne, but this doesn’t please her.  Her younger son, Grypus (James Aubrey), seems to be much more malleable, so she decides to poison Seleucus.  She does so in such a blatant way that it’s more than a little surprising that nobody seems to twig.

Richard Griffiths continues to impress.  Pot Belly is a curious mixture of diplomat and tyrant (somewhat similar to Brian Blessed’s Augustus in I, Claudius).  He agrees to Cleopatra’s mother’s request to return as Queen for one key reason.  “The people are tired of chaos. Oh it’s fun for a time, throwing people out of windows, rioting, looting, burning, refusing taxes. But eventually the people long for peace. And what better symbol can there be of the return to orderly life than the reconciliation of those two great enemies, their King and Queen?”

A peculiarity of the series is that although years have passed since the events of the previous episode, nobody looks any older.  This is particularly noticeable when we see Cleopatra and Pot Belly’s children, who are now grown up. When Cleopatra’s daughters look as old as Cleopatra herself it’s slightly odd.  She does have a little bit of make-up applied in the next episode, when Cleopatra is an old woman, but Pot Belly (on his deathbed) looks pretty much as he did in the first episode.

Most amusing picture transition in the series so far occurs forty five minutes in, as the picture contracts into a ball and appears to disappear down Cleopatra Thea’s throat!

Dixon of Dock Green – The Job

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Sgt Wills fishes a barely conscious petty criminal called Phil Harvey (George Innes) out of the river.  It wasn’t suicide though – as Harvey was bound and gagged.  After he’s taken to the hospital Wills in unable to get any useful information from him.  DC Clayton is equally unsuccessful with Harvey’s wife, Jessie (Mela White).

The first breakthrough comes when Harvey’s car is found – close to the office of Stephen Gilles (David Lodge).  Gilles is a target criminal and therefore of special interest to the Serious Crimes Squad.  Dixon contacts DCI Bassett (Stephen Greif) who’s been keeping Gilles under observation and suggests they pool their resources.

There’s some effective film-work at the start of The Job as we see Wills rescue Harvey.  It once again shows that one of Dixon‘s strengths during this period was the dock-based location filming (which helps to break up the generally studio-bound, static feel of the series).  There’s not a lot of location work in this one but every little helps to open out the show a little.

The opening of the story also brings Sgt Johnny Wills a little more into the centre of the action.  Between 1960 and 1976 Nicholas Donnelly chalked up over two hundred appearances and was therefore as much a fixture at Dock Green as Jack Warner or Peter Byrne were.  Donnelly was able to give Wills a likeable, friendly air which fitted in well with the general tone of the series.

Here, he spends most of the story at the hospital – cadging endless cups of tea from a friendly young nurse (played by Glynis Brooks).  She only appears to have eyes for the dashing young DS Bruton though and later views Wills’ habit of listening at doors with a little disfavour.  Wills is unabashed though – if it means gaining information then it’s a legitimate tactic.

As ever, there’s a very decent guest cast.  George Innes (Upstairs Downstairs, Danger UXB) gamely opened the episode by being caked in mud and submerged in the river (kudos to him, considering the early hour the scene was shot and how cold it looked).  Mela White (best known as Diamante Lil from Bergerac) is gloriously vacant as his wife.  But is she really that slow on the uptake or is it just a way of concealing what she knows?

It’s possibly not a surprise that it’s Dixon (rather than Bruton or Clayton) who realises that Serious Crimes have been keeping tabs on Gilles which is confirmed after he arranges a meeting with DCI Bassett.  It’s another subtle demonstration that whilst he may be getting on, Dixon’s knowledge still remains formidable.  Greif’s scenes are rather distracting, thanks to his false-looking moustache, but his meet with Dixon is a good excuse to get Jack Warner out of the studio and onto film.

David Lodge, an actor with an impressive list of comedy credits (appearing alongside the likes of Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan), has a fairly small role but casting a name actor helps to make it a memorable appearance.

As so often with television of this era, it’s the period feel which makes it an interesting watch.  The Harvey’s house (especially the wallpaper) screams out that it’s the 1970’s and some of the film-work – as Bruton and Clayton tail Gilles down the local high-street – is also rather evocative.  This filming also highlights the somewhat ad-hoc way these programmes were made.  Often it appears that they’d just turn up and start filming, without attempting to close off the street.  Meaning that you’ll often see members of the public unable to resist the temptation of staring straight down the lens!

The second of Derek Ingrey’s five scripts for series twenty-two, it’s another effective, character-based story.

Blakes 7 – Orac

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The Liberator is en-route to Aristo, to deliver medical supplies to a seriously ill man called Ensor (Derek Farr).  He isn’t the only sick person though, as Avon, Jenna, Vila and Gan all display signs of radiation poisoning following their time spent on the planet Cephlon.  Since there aren’t any anti-radiation drugs on the Liberator they have to hope that Ensor will be able to help them.  Also travelling to Aristro are Servalan and Travis, who are keen to acquire the mysterious Orac, an invention of Ensor.

Orac was the second episode of a two-part story (a unique occurrence in Blakes 7).  Rather helpfully, for the benefit of anybody who might have missed the previous installment Blake spends the first few minutes recapping the events of Deliverance to Avon (and of course the people watching at home).  This is a rather obvious device (there’s no logical point for Blake to tell Avon what he already knew) but it sort of works.

The lack of anti-radiation gloves (sorry drugs) on the Liberator is hard to swallow.  It’s the most fantastically equipped ship in the galaxy and there’s nothing suitable?  Hmm, okay.  Even odder is that they make no attempt to stop off at any other planet before visiting Ensor, which means they pin all their hopes on the possibility he’ll be able to help them.  Yes, they know that Ensor’s life is at stake, but so are theirs – you’d assume they’d put their own interests first.

Derek Farr was a very familiar face with numerous television and film appearances to his credit.  On television he had decent guest spots in the likes of Bergerac, Rumpole of the Bailey and Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em whilst his film credits included The Dam Busters.  He also appeared with Gareth Thomas in Star Maidens, but I doubt that’s a credit either would have put at the top of their cv’s!  He’s rather good as the seemingly cranky and bad-tempered Ensor, who displays a much more human side when he realises that his son is dead.

CALLY: We went to the aid of a spacecraft that had crashed, one of the crew was already dead and the other man was dying, but before he died he asked us to get these to you.
ENSOR: Both men dead, you say?
CALLY: Yes.
ENSOR: One of them was my son.
CALLY: I’m sorry. He tried desperately to reach you. He did everything he possibly could.
ENSOR: Oh, such a waste. He had a good mind. Death is such a waste. You were with my son when he died?
CALLY: Yes.
ENSOR: It’s always too late, isn’t it? I wonder if he knew how much I loved him?
BLAKE: I think he did.
ENSOR: Oh I, I’m sorry if I snapped at you. It’s, it’s just my way. Thank you, for doing all you could to help.

Orac isn’t a story that serves either Servalan or Travis especially well.  Neither are central to the story and the sight of Jacqueline Pearce being mauled by a man in a rubber suit (one of the Phibians) isn’t one of her finest moments, although the concept of Servalan not being in control is an intriguing one.

It’s probably just as well that Greif’s role wasn’t especially large, as an accident meant he was unable to shoot the studio scenes.  A body-double was used and Greif dubbed Travis’ dialogue a few months later (though he was far from impressed with the actor they used, remarking that he had flat feet!)

Blake offers to take Ensor back to the Liberator so he can perform the operation that’ll save his life.  Travis’ arrival forces them to escape via the tunnels and Ensor dies before they reach the surface.  His death is rather perfunctory alas, but it’s necessary in story terms – since it allows Blake to take charge of Orac.

And once Orac is back on the Liberator, everybody is keen to test his limits.  They know it can draw information from any computer without a direct input (not very impressive in the modern internet age, but this was 1978, remember) but what else can it do?  Orac boasts it can effectively see into the future and demonstrates this by showing the apparent destruction of the Liberator ….

Thanks to Terry Nation, the first series of Blakes 7 had a consistent tone, although he would later admit that he found difficulties in finding ideas for some of the later stories in this first run.  So he fell back on some familiar storylines (radiation poisoning, for example) and also had to rely on Chris Boucher to take more of an active scripting role.

From series two onwards, Boucher’s voice in the series would be even stronger and he also bought on board a group of different writers (some better than others) who would take Blakes 7 into various different directions.

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Blakes 7 – Deliverance

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Approaching a planet called Cephlon, the Liberator crew comes to the aid of a stricken ship.  Avon, Jenna, Vila and Jenna teleport down to the surface to see if anybody survived the crash-landing.  Of the two-man crew, one of them, Maryatt (James Lister), is already dead, but the other, Ensor (Tony Caunter), is alive – although badly injured.

They teleport him back to the ship, but when the others realise that Jenna hasn’t returned, Avon, Vila and Gan return to look for her.  Ensor is insistent that they leave straight away (to the planet Aristo and his seriously ill father) and he forces Blake at gunpoint to comply.

This leaves the others stranded on a planet high in radiation and surrounded by distinctly unfriendly primitive types …..

Like several previous stories, Deliverance has two main plot-threads running throughout the episode.  The first, concerning Ensor and the deal he’s made with the Federation, is set up here, but won’t be concluded until the series finale, Orac.

Ensor and his father have enjoyed a long period free from Federation interference, but his father’s declining health has meant they now need to trade something to pay for the medical attention he desperately needs.  They offer the Federation Orac and in return the surgeon Maryatt travels back to Aristo with Ensor Jr.

There’s several major flaws with this.  Are we to suppose there’s no non-Federation surgeons available?  Even more ridiculous than this is Servalan’s plan.  She’s rigged Ensor’s ship with a bomb and once it detonates (killing both Ensor and Maryatt) she plans to travel to Aristo and take Orac.  Ensor Snr will be dead by then, since the medical attention he requires wouldn’t have arrived, so she foresees no difficulties.

The obvious question is why didn’t she simply detain Ensor Jr after he’d approached her.  Why go to all the trouble of allowing him to leave and with a top Federation surgeon who she needlessly sacrifices?  When she later discusses this with Travis, he expresses a twinge of conscience when he realises that Maryatt has been killed – he was the surgeon who saved his life.

Travis is more subdued in this episode, no doubt this has something to do with the loss of his command during the Project Avalon debacle.  After he enters Servalan’s office, she deliberately ignores him for a moment.

TRAVIS: You sent for me?
SERVALAN: You’ve lost some of your fire, Travis. Whatever happened to your pride?
TRAVIS: My pride, Supreme Commander?
SERVALAN: I ignored you. A calculated insult. You obviously recognised it as such.
TRAVIS: I did.
SERVALAN: And yet you remained silent. There was a time when you wouldn’t have taken an insult like that from anyone. Not even me.
TRAVIS: True. I want my command back. To get it I’ll do whatever’s necessary. If you think my silence is weakness, you mistake me.

Both Jacqueline Pearce and Stephen Greif are excellent in this scene.  Travis is more restrained and rational than we’ve previously seen – though he still has an intense desire to hunt Blake down.  Servalan’s murder of Maryatt clearly disturbs him, but he’s prepared to ignore that (and help Servalan steal Orac) if it means he’ll get his command back.  By now, hunting Blake is his sole motivation and he’ll do anything which will ultimately lead to Blake’s destruction.

As for Servalan herself, she oozes ruthless, smiling villainy in a way that would become very familiar over the next three series.  This is highlighted when she tells Travis that Maryatt will be posted as a deserter (ensuring that his family will be sold into slavery into one of the Frontier Worlds).

The second plot, on the surface of Cephlon, has its problems, mainly centered around the shambling, skin-covered primitives.  Once you’ve seen them, you know you’re in for a rocky ride – articulate conversationalists they’re not.  The most interesting game to be played when they pop up is to try and identity them, as the likes of Harry Fielder and Pat Gorman are amongst their number.

But the last fifteen minutes or so are livened up by the arrival of Meegat (Suzan Farmer).  She is convinced that Avon is an all-powerful Lord, sent from another world to aid her people.  “Counting yourself, that makes two people who think you’re wonderful” says Vila acidly.

Paul Darrow has some nice moments here.  He manages to show us that Avon is both uncomfortable and slightly flattered to be worshiped as a God.  And Avon lives up to his God-like status by reactivating a dormant spaceship, which contains genetic banks and brood units.

GAN: Do you really think we could launch that ship?
AVON: If the people who built it did their job properly, I don’t see any reason why not. And it does seem we have a reputation to live up to.
VILA: Oh, you certainly do, Lord Avon. I wonder why she picked on you?
AVON: Well, now, you are hardly the stuff that gods are made of.
VILA: And you are, I suppose?
AVON: Apparently.

On its own, Deliverance isn’t that impressive, since it’s mainly concerned with setting up the plot for the final episode (and the stand-alone part of the episode, with the grunting primitives is quite tiresome – although Meegat is some consolation).

The line about the high levels of radiation (always a favourite Terry Nation trope) on Cephlon seems to be merely a throwaway one – but we’ll see how it pays off in Orac.