Like Logopolis, broadcast almost exactly a year later, Terminalis not without script problems. There are a number of rather large holes in terms of plot and (more particularly) character that leave you, if not scratching your head, viewing what unfolds slightly askance. But, like Logopolis, where the episode really scores is in evoking a palpable atmosphere. Mary Ridge imbues the story with a sense of finality and doom throughout, only punctured slightly by some laborious exposition when Servalan inevitably shows up.
As has been the case both with his and Chris Boucher’s script this season, Terry Nation hits the ground running in his last outing for the series. Avon’s up to something; he’s occupied the flight deck, sending away any of his fellow crew who should happen on him. Tarrant must have been having a long nap, as Avon’s been there for 30 hours and he hasn’t mutinously sauntered by so far. Both he and Avon have newly fashionable studs in their costumes, although Avon’s look much harder as they festoon his gloves. Vila, by this point, is rarely seen without a drink.
As usual, Avon and Tarrant have a contras-temp, which results in a brief respite before Avon threatens Tarrant by pointing a gun at his gut. A protagonist acting mysteriously has been done before in the series, but badly (Voice from the Past). It was also done well by Doctor Whoabout two years previously, in The Invasion of Time. This recalls that story more. We know Avon must have a very good reason for his behaviour, or at least we hope he does.
But one of the sticking points in this script is the characterisation of Avon. We’ve seen him search for Blake before when it turned out to be a Federation trap (Volcano), and it is not a great surprise here that it turns out to be one also. But he had to find out for certain. In Volcanohe confided in his crew, but not here. And why does he feel the need to find Blake, who was the thorn in his side as far as freedom to use the Liberator as he wished was concerned?
Perhaps, as he suggests when “meeting” Blake, he does suffer an irrationality and failure in his otherwise pervading logic where his former “leader” is concerned. (He notes that he always expected that their deaths would be linked somehow, which may turn out to be true.) To some extent the episode is setting premise before character in a way that doesn’t sit quite right, though. Not in Avon’s willingness to do his own thing, but in terms of why he’d need to keep Blake to himself and why he’d have the appetite for the zeal he shows. The suggestion that Blake made a discovery that would make them “rich and invincible” sounds rather weak, almost as if Darrow voiced concerns over Avon’s motivation and Boucher hastily added something that would make his reasoning seem less noble than merely rescuing an old comrade.
It may just be me, but it always seems like a great deal of time has passed between Star One and our next sighting of Blake here. There’s a similar sense to the difference between seasons 17 and 18 of Doctor Whothat belies the mere months that separate them production-wise.
Again, as far as Avon’s characterisation is concerned, it causes him to act in ways he would never normally (just as the Doctor does in Invasion of Time). Avon refuses to listen to reason in terms of avoiding the cloud of fluid particles and instructs that the present course is maintained (at which point he pulls a gun on Tarrant).
Presumably he believes that following the coded direction to the letter is necessary, but it is through this behaviour that he brings about the destruction of his greatest prize, the very reason he held on in Blake’s company for so long. No wonder his manic grin at the end of the episode.
It’s possible, I suppose, that the absence of Blake has also exposed a flaw in Avon’s disposition to self-preservation at all costs, that there may be some logic to having a cause after all. Not due to any realisation of moral duty but perhaps because it provides greater intellectual stimulation than sitting safely in a high castle. Certainly, Avon is never more engaged than when interacting with those he apparently despises (Blake, Servalan) and he probably recognises the perversity and challenge that this attraction brings and on some level balances it against other considered courses (fleeing on his own in Horizon). Nevertheless, here he is not acting with logic and precision. He is off-balance in a way that we would more likely expect from Blake.
We’re signalled almost immediately that the ship is in dire straits, as Zen suggests there is no problem resulting from the cloud, but visual evidence tells us that the enzymes are eroding the hull.
Tarrant’s info dump on the history of Terminal could surely have been handled with a little more creativity; Pacey stares in to the middle distance as if reciting to class. We’ve had mysterious objects/planetoids on the edge of space/systems before, but Terminal stands out. Partly because it’s egg-like visualisation is arresting, but mainly because it is imbued with a personality. The constant heartbeat that can be heard on the surface turns a hill in Wales (or wherever it was filmed) into a unique character. It’s a shame such a simple device (Inferno keyed into exactly the same idea in its use of sound effects) has been ill-served in series generally in favour of wall-to-wall incidental music.
Avon’s caustic dismissal of the concerns of his fellow crew members, who attempt to appeal to his sense of solidarity, is a tipping point in his role as nominal leader. Certainly, he held a level of respect before this point. By the end of the episode they trail out after observing the destruction of the Liberator, each metaphorically shaking their head at where Avon’s headstrong lunge into the unknown has brought them.
Avon: One last thing. I don't need any of you. I needed the Liberator to bring me here so I had no choice but to bring you along, but this is as far as you go. I don't want you with me. I don't want you following me. Understand this: anyone who does follow me, I’ll kill them.
As usual with the series, the episode mixes fine design elements (the glassy, reflective entrance to the underground of Terminal) with the not so well-conceived (the rather Deon-looking blond wigs of the guards on the planet and the men in ape suit Links).
Actually, although the Links are a bit shit, and the reasoning for their presence doesn’t bear much analysis (the throwaway line about them being the future evolved state of humans sounds smart but isn’t really), as an element added to the overall grimness and dread they do work. And they surely intentionally parallel 2001, with ape creatures amassing around a mysterious, reflective structure that is incongruent with the surrounding environment.
Of course, Cally and Tarrant follow Avon down to the surface. They don’t really have a huge amount to do until the climax.
They trail Avon, fight a few Links (Tarrant elects not to save two guards from them on the grounds that it is too late, but I’m unconvinced that it was) but are mostly playing catch-up.
In contrast, this is a surprisingly good episode for Vila. Left with Dayna and an inoperable Orac (Avon has taken the key) he gradually works out what is happening to the ship and suggests a course of action that backs up the season’s earlier indications that he only pretends to be stupid. As the ship’s repair mechanisms cannot keep up with the spread of the fungus he instructs Zen to switch focus to analysing the problem in the hope that a solution can be found. As it happens, it’s too late but it’s refreshing to see the writers giving him initiative.
There’s perhaps a bit of a criticism that the effects of the enzymes on the ship are clearly evident before anyone notices (in particular, Servalan at the climax really ought to have a bit more concern at the gloop splattering the ship) but it’s one of those factors I’m willing to let slide as the dramatic possibilities are so well-realised.
Avon’s risk seems to be paying off when he finds a teleport bracelet and a read-out with an image of Blake suggesting that he is on life-support (using a black and white image put me in mind of the later use of stills of the expired crew of the Nostromo in Aliens).
The construction of the indoctrination of Avon to believe that he has met Blake is set out with enough skill that it is unclear until after he has “encountered” him and is then set back in real surroundings that he has been manipulated.
A few tricks may have been borrowed from The Prisoner here (A, B & C came to mind, with the needle marks on Avon’s wrist). The plastic body mould holding Avon is a strong visual too.
The encounter with a Jesus-like Blake (white robes, beard) within Avon’s mind is perhaps suitably perfunctory. And there are a number of points that a clear-thinking Avon would have blanched over.
How exactly is Blake supposed to have contacted him? Avon doesn’t ask; perhaps he knows the answer, revealed in the next, real, scene with Servalan (but following a real voice print is a slender thread to pin hopes on). And the idea that Blake would have any interest in something that would make them rich, let alone wish to share it, should have been a warning sign.
The reveal that Servalan is behind it all is inevitable and somewhat anti-climactic. In particular, her reasoning regarding Avon is something of a long-shot. This is perhaps tempered by the fact that her plan isn’t completely successful; Avon instructs Vila to flee in the Liberator, so Avon is not willing to exchange Blake for the ship. This, at least, is entirely consistent with what we know of him.
Suitably, as Avon has spent the episode ballsing everything up for everyone else, it is his fellow crew that ensure some meagre ground is recovered. In essence we’re seeing the reverse of Rumours of Death; there, Avon faced a deeper wound and through applying his clinical mind emerged apparently intact. Here he starts to unravel and, in the final analysis, can only smile at the absurdity of what he has brought about.
The scenes of Zen’s demise are, for a computer that has been obfuscating and unhelpful most of the time, genuinely touching. The slurred voice of Peter Tuddenham recalls the similar effect used for HAL being shut down in 2001, and Vila is put in the position of the audience in feeling for the poor computer.
Zen: I-- I have failed you.
Vila: He never referred to himself before. He never once used the word "I".
Zen: I have failed you. I am sorry. I have—
Vila: He's dying. Zen is dying.
Reuniting with Avon, Tarrant (with Cally) has no qualms over surrendering the ship to Servalan as Vila has already informed them that it is beyond repair. So Avon is truly on the back foot, hoodwinked by Servalan and less informed than his crew. And apparently the object of his death is no more.
Servalan: Blake is dead. He died from his wounds on the planet Jevron more than a year ago. I saw his body. I saw it cremated. Blake is dead.
Servalan’s explanation for the fake Blake is less than inspired, unfortunately.
Servalan: You saw nothing. Heard nothing. It was an illusion, a drug- induced and electronic dream. We spent months preparing it. We recreated Blake inside our computers, voice, images, memories, a million fragmented facts. When I was ready, I started sending you the messages, seeding the idea in your mind. I was conditioning you. And you were my greatest ally, Avon. You made it easy because you wanted to believe it. You wanted to believe that Blake was still alive.
Still, Servalan finally gets her Liberator and it’s nice of her not to shoot everyone dead. Again, it is Vila who makes the most important choices in terms of survival this episode. Picking up Orac (who we’ve not heard from at all) at the last moment and using low cunning to make off with him.
Vila: It's just a pile of junk, really, but it means a lot to me. I built it. It's a sculpture. You're not going to make me leave it, are you?
Interesting that there was a clear intention to suggest Servalan’s survival, if this had been the final episode ever. Unlike the similarly ubiquitous Master who is definitely about to die at the end of any given ‘80s story. In that sense, it’s a surprise that we didn’t see her bumming around Terminal in Rescue (although, that might have been too much of a repeat of Aftermath).
And if this had been the last episode, we’d have been left at a point of Avon as a (at least temporary) pariah from his crew members, filing to exit (Vila’s dismay with him being particularly evident) and Tarrant (with the last line) apparently taking the role of leader.
Tarrant: Let's see if we can't find a way off this planet. There's a lot to do.
I don’t fully buy into the characterisation of Avon or the calculation of Servalan in this episode, but that doesn’t prevent it being more than the sum of its plot elements. The first death of a crew member since Gan, and ironically a far more affecting one, this sees the loss of the series’ Fortress of Solitude. The crew is now exposed and vulnerable and, while I don’t think this would have been a completely satisfying conclusion to the series in the way that Blake is (did the writers intend for Blake to be dead as Servalan tells Avon he is, or was there always intended to be an implication that she might be lying?), it does make for Avon finding himself on the same hubristic plateau that Blake so often did.