Kerr Avon – Paul Darrow
Vila Restal– Michael Keating
Soolin – Glynis Barber
Del Tarrant – Steven Pacey
Dayna Mellanby – Josette Simon
Zen/ Orac – Peter Tuddenham
Servalan – Jacqueline Pearce
If you expected season 4 to either start or end happily has clearly no idea what this show was. The season started with the crew of the destroyed Liberator having being shipwrecked on Terminal. Their only way off was a booby trapped shuttle, the destruction of which destroyed the only shelter on Terminal, costing the life of Cally, who was killed off-screen. The crew are then rescued by a man called Dorien and his ship the Scorpio, controlled by the computer Slave. He brings them aboard and flies him to his home base on the planet Xenon. There they meet Soolin, a gun for hire working with Dorien, or maybe more. It’s a trap of course and Dorien ends up being more of a Dorien Gray sort of character. The team defeat him and get a base, a ship and with Soolin, a new member of the team. We also get new guns, new teleporter effects, new opening credits and a little bit more of status quo than the aimless wandering of the 3rd season.
The opening titles and production design tell us we’re very much in the 1980s, fitting since the first episode aired on September 28 1981. The team is now very much Avon’s group, with it being a looser group of people bound by experience and mutual interests. They are brigands for sure with heists and jewellery robberies as much the plot as anything rebellious. There’s a bit more focus on character, with Avon becoming more amoral and pragmatic, whilst the others are less trusting of him. The conflicts feel less forced and their more desperate actions making more sense. With Scorpio being less of a warship and more a high speed get away car, there’s less emphasis on space battles and more on running and the dangers of going up against warships and this increases the sense of danger to the cast, all but two of the original 7 having already being killed or driven off. As this band’s fortunes wane, Servalan crops up under a pseudonym to rebuild her powerbase as the Federation is once more expanding. This resurgence galvanises the team to get serious about dealing with them, the back half of the season being about getting resources and allies in order to oppose the Federation once more. This sort of gets full circle, with Avon taking Blake’s role, very much aware that no one is going to rally around him. When that all turns to chaos and disaster Avon turns to the one person he knows could lead this Rebel Alliance, Roj Blake. Blake has been busy, building an army of criminals, gunfighters and malcontents under the pretence of being a bounty hunter. He’s getting ready for his return just as Avon turns up, once again without a ship and his crew scattered. He believes Blake has betrayed him, but it’s Blake that’s been betrayed and the final episode of the season and the series as a whole ends in a shoot out. Well it was never going to be a happy ending was it?
With the pacing being 70’s and the effects being low budget 80’s the cast really had to do all of the heavy lifting. Paul Darrow is having a ball as Avon, all sarcastic Flash Gordon and Michael Keating is solid as the cowardly Vila, who is really only with Avon for safety, but even he as a bit of a hero moment in the last episode, not that it does him any good. Stephen Pacey’s Tarrant is only there as a necessary foil for Avon and we don’t really get to know Soolin too well, we are told she’s a gunfighter, but there’s little to show that at all. The real loser of the season is Josette Simon, who’s role as Dayna seem reduced to damsel in distress one episode and blank cardboard cut out the next. I could say that the female characters don’t do well in this season, were it not for Jacqueline Pearce taking chunks out of the scenery as the gloriously over the top Servalan. Much like the Scorpio’s crew, she has to come back from the abyss to rebuild her life and she does so with a large amount of gusto, owning the screen with the full knowledge of what kind of show she’s in, but having as much fun as Darrow in their scenes. Apart from the last episode, it’s very much Avon vs Servalan and the show works better when the pair of them are on screen.
Overall, I enjoyed this season more than 3 and feel that the show was just getting to grips with what it wanted to be just as it was coming to an end, the dour endings, the hopelessness of the battle against a vast enemy and the underdog natures of the good guys (we were never going to call them heroes, were we?) all made this something very different to what came before and it’s tone and scope wouldn’t have anything similar to it on screen for decades.
It was an interesting watch and I am glad I got to do it. I don’t know that I would ever recommend it to everyone, but if you were a fan of 70’s/80’s Doctor Who, you could do worse.
Once again, thanks to the host of the Palace of Glittering Delights podcast for getting me onto this program and please check his show out, it’s funny, honest and full of fun stuff that you may have forgotten about, or are glad that someone else remembers.
Ta Ta for Now internet people, work is a’calling and apparently they’re expecting me to earn my wages today.