Horizon gave us prior warning of what to expect from Allan Prior’s scripts, but his second outing plumbs new depths of banality. It’s not only the storyline that lacks an iota of originality but the cardboard characterisation, as if he’s on a mission to undo all the innovative developments Chris Boucher has encouraged in the first half of the season.
The opening passage is your usual “Liberator pursued by Federation pursuit ships” business.
The only scrap of interest here is that we see inside one of the attacking ships, where The Pirate Planet's Mr Fibuli (Andrew Robertson, unrecognisable performance-wise) is commanding some rather drag queen-looking Mutoids.
I’m not sure if it’s just the absence of the mushroom headgear or the decision to give them blonde wigs atop their pasty faces, but the kinky undertone of their season one design has been obliterated.
Vila: Cally, I could murder a relaxant. Any chance?
Cally: It’s for medicinal purposes only. Are you dying?
Vila: I’m thinking about it.
Vila comes off best from this rather rum episode, getting the majority of the good lines and a spotlight on his ingrained cowardice. Avon’s detection evasion shield has to have broken down in order for the Federation to be on their heels, and it’s mooted that they might have developed such a shield themselves.
The dull-witted trigger for the main plot is Travis’ announcement to Blake that he has kidnapped Ushton’s daughter (Ushton is played by John Aberini of Fury from the Deep, The Ambassadors of Death, Death to the Daleks and The Power of Kroll). Inga, his daughter (Judy Buxton) has a bit of a hippy savage vibe about her. They live on Exbar, where Blake spent some time growing up.
Travis tells Blake that if he doesn’t meet him she will die; he wants to talk about their future together as fellow fugitives (Travis actually wants the Liberator). Is Blake’s rather indirect explanation of his relationship with Inga a result of shame (he says that Ushton is his father’s brother – why not just say his uncle? Which makes Inga his cousin. Of whom Blake says “She meant a lot to me once.” So Blake was doing the nasty with his cousin?) And, of course, Jenna’s only reliable character trait is to show jealousy whenever Blake sniffs around some totty.
Travis’ crude arm twisting begs the question why the Federation didn’t just set up a situation like this a season back, if every time they threaten someone Blake knows he will come running. And Blake’s guileless manipulation of his fellow crew members is fairly objectionable. Avon tells him his decision to go after Inga is an unacceptable risk as it is obviously a trap.
Blake: If I can’t save her I may as well be a Federation slave like everyone else. As might you all.
Kevin Stoney (The Daleks’ Master Plan, Invasion, Revenge of the Cybermen) is rather wasted as Councillor Joban. He and Pearce clearly enjoy their scenes together but he has little of substance to chew on. It’s basically a recap of the concern the Federation has over the growing discussion of Blake (and Travis). Although, we do learn that there are such things as “Spacecasts”. Of course there are.
Vila: Just think what we’re missing on Exbar. All that cold, and shortage of breath.
There’s a very Tom Baker-like moment where Darrow sits in the foreground of a shot, immobile, staring into the middle distance, like he’s prepping for his Richard III performance in Timelash. He doesn’t stir until Jenna calls him, thus stealing the scene completely by doing nothing.
We don’t find out the reason for concern until later in the episode (he alerted Servalan to Travis’ presence on the planet in the hope that he’d be put out of action), and it’s about the only glimmer of interest or intelligence this episode can muster.
Bloody Ushton greets Blake by exclaiming, “You’ve grown”. Yes, and we just groaned.
Talking of growing, Blake’s hair has reverted to its Trial shorn status.
Travis’ lackeys are called – get this - Crimos. I suppose this is in keeping with the sub-Sweeney performance Croucher brings to the series. But this is the level of invention going on in Hostage. They’re called Crimos because they are intelligent criminal psychopaths. Who wear duckbilled face masks for some reason (they look vaguely like Bane in The Dark Knight Rises). To give credit where it’s due, James Coyle’s as Molok, one of the Crimos, particularly revels in unfettered psychopathy.
It’s little surprise (it’s that kind of script) that Ushton is working for Travis. What’s more disconcerting is the sheer ineptitude of the Liberator crew. First Blake is captured, then Avon. Avon has initially shown a few smarts by observing Ushton miraculously losing his limp when Blake leaves, but he then foolishly expects Vila to keep Ushton under observation and if necessary get rid of him.
Vila: Oh, marvellous. Kill Blake’s old uncle.
Vila really doesn’t need comedy music to reinforce his shtick, but he gets it when Ushton takes him prisoner.
Aside from Vila’s comic relief, though, this tedious stuff. They have to get captured so Travis can rant at them and then balls everything up. Oh, and so Blake can make judgements on their relative moralities (Travis would hate Ushton if he was in Blake’s position, but Blake is too high-minded for such thinking).
Why does Travis have to ask Ushton which of three crew members is the weakest? Hasn’t he spent the best part of the last two years devoted to bringing Blake to justice? Are we really supposed to think he’s so sloppy that he wouldn’t have detailed character profiles on each of the crew?
Compounding the ineptitude of Avon and Blake, Jenna teleports Molok on board when Vila screams “Teleport!” And Cally walks casually into the teleport room, her spider sense clearly not tingling. The only saving grace here is Jenna teleporting Molok into space, but the plot mechanics are verging on the painful by this point.
Things don’t improve when the old “Girl runs away drawing off Crimos so dad can release the crew” plan is put into action. Some of the location work is so badly staged its hilarious. Firstly, the actors playing the Crimos really can’t be arsed. Secondly, Croucher’s “Run away!” Monty Python reaction to a polystyrene boulder bouncing towards him is the unintentional comedy high point of the episode.
If Ushton can suddenly go all Danny Trejo on the Crimos now, I don’t know why he didn’t sort them out when they first arrived. He throws one of them over a cliff; a very unconvincingly editing together of locations, but a mirthful transformation of Crimo into flailing dummy bouncing down the cliff.
Avon gets shot in the arm and suddenly he’s all heroic. “Leave me!” he tells Blake. Where did that come from? I hope Darrow had words over being forced to perform such un-Avon-like gallantry. Perhaps he realised this episode sucked so badly he’d just have to ride it out.
And Blake deciding yet again to let Travis live has got to the point where his attitude destroys all believability.
Servalan turns up at night, while Travis is wobbling around like a prat, his arms still tied behind his back. You almost expect to hear canned laughter over the top. And they look into space and see the Liberator hanging there? Really? How thin is the atmosphere? Still, the promise by Servalan that if he helps her get Blake she will have
Travis officially listed as dead is at least some sort of development.
So it’s just left for Jenna, who looked on disapprovingly while Blake kissed his cousin (quite right too, Jenna!) to remain frosty back on the Liberator when Blake gives instructions on where to go next.
Dreadful. The first truly dire episode, and you have to wonder what Prior had on Boucher to continue getting jobs (after all, Pip and Jane Baker were available!) Apart from anything else, there’s a complete waste of a decent guest cast on this sloppy, uninspired mess. Vere Lorrimer also directs with a complete lack of enthusiasm.