This seemed like a stinker even when I was nine years old, and it has done little to rehabilitate itself in the intervening 30 years. Allan Prior has a rare knack for writing utterly tedious scripts, and this one ranks with Hostage as scraping the bottom of the barrel. Mary Ridge is delivered a prize turkey and she’s unable to serve up anything other than turkey in response.
The premise of a scientist engaged in genetic experimentation has Josef Mengele/Doctor Moreau undertones, but there’s no edge to Prior’s script. Even the romantic subplot is utterly insipid, despite there being good reason to suspect Justin’s mentoring of Dayna involved seducing a minor.
I doubt that Terry Nation would have called a leading character Justin; the name fairly accurately sums up the lack of bite here. Peter Byrne is also fairly chinless. The best we could hope for would have been an actor whose performance would break free from the half-hearted characterisation in the script and provide something memorable. Patrick Ryecart or Philip Madoc would have been fun. What we get is a slightly wet chap who can’t even put much passion into proceedings when he’s bigging-up his experiments.
It never bodes well to have an episode open with Tarrant and Dayna. If the weaker characters were put forward first so that the stronger ones came in later, that might be worthwhile, but this doesn’t happen. A laboured introduction sees Dayna transport down to Bucol Two while Tarrant comes under fire from our old-favourite B-plot device, Federation pursuit ships. Except that this episode’s B-plot ends up amounting to Vila cleaning out a septic tank; it’s not even as interesting as the usual unengaging secondary plotline. How come Tarrant’s flying prowess has deserted him this season? He doesn’t seem like a shit-hot space captain any more.
I have to admit it took me a couple of minutes to realise that there were no other crew members aboard Scorpio, forgetting that the rest of the ship is depressurised.
Dayna’s encounter with the titular characters is more “Where the Mild Things Are” than anything remotely disturbing. They look utterly ridiculous, like Sweetums without the charisma. What exactly were Justin and his colleagues splicing together? And did practicality just go completely out of the window? Radiation-proof shock-troopers with massive horns on their heads probably aren’t’ that sensible. Unless they’re supposed to double-up as battering rams.
Dayna: Who, what are you?
When Dayna meets with Justin in his protected lab (there’s an echo of Aftermath here, with the safe, enclosed environment sheltering a scientist with from marauding primitives) we learn that the brainiest animal is called Og. Og, for goodness sake!
To try and give Justin an edge, he’s written as a bit of an adrenaline and soma connoisseur (Vila should have visited). This works about as well as the ethical debate between Dayna and Justin regarding his experimentation on the animals (he operated on them, performing painful brain implants).
At first Dayna considers this disgusting, then she wavers, just like anyone without a strong moral compass would when confronted by their Lolita past. It should be noted that Simon hasn’t improved enough as an actress to carry the story, and Bryne is too bland to distract from her shortcomings.
Notably, Dayna’s revolted at the idea of the animals being used by the Federation to enter radioactive areas but her mission on behalf of Avon is to request Justin’s aid in developing a drug that will allow the Scorpio crew to do exactly the same thing (and to synthesise a counter to Pylene 50). Presumably she doesn’t consider that Justin would need test subjects for the crew’s drugs.
Justin also appears to have principles when it comes to working for Avon or the Federation. He’s quite happy to play the aging canoodler with Dayna if she wants to stay, though. The persuasion of Dayna regarding Justin’s activities is banal (every time she finds out some disturbing information, such as deserters being used in the experiments, she ends up looking weak and without principals as Justin smoothes over her concerns).
Some of the joining the dots in terms of Justin’s activities are reasonably drawn; the facility was abandoned towards the end of the Andromedan war and Justin was the only survivor. Justin’s scientist is very much of the ends justifying the means type that we see frequently in SF, and Dayna falls for this line to an extent.
We learn from Servalan (yes, she’s in this one, in one of her least memorable turns, basically there to torture Dayna and shoot the very person she wants to utilise the skills of) that this was a covert science project, the kind of off-the-books project that the CIA might shelter Nazi scientists for. While it’s understandable that there would be limited official information available within the Federation on the project, having the name “Justin” dropped in officially just seems like sloppy writing (what, doesn’t he even have a surname?)
It’s nearly twenty minutes before we see the rest of the crew, and then it’s only to engage in a bit of low-grade comedy banter concerning the need for Vila to repair a fault with the inertial guidance glycolene ballast channels. It feels like this episode is wall-to-wall filler. Even the scenes that aren’t are so laboured as to come across that way.
There’s a half decent scene between Kevin Stoney and Jacqueline Pearce where she prises out of him some secrets by threatening his family while he susses then regrets sussing her true identity (this is already a tiresome development the second time it has occurred). But we’ve seen Pearce and Stoney share a scene before, and we’ve seen Servalan be ruthlessly manipulative before. It’s all a bit by-numbers. Max Harvey, who plays Intelligence Commander Borr, was also Councillor Zorac in Arc of Infinity while William Lindsay, who plays Sleer’s Captain, was Zargo in State of Decay.
The decline and fall of the Mutoids is pretty much complete by this point. In Season One they were heroin-chic leather-clad vamps in rather stylish mushroom hats. By this point they’re wearing undistinguished costumes and have blonde bob haircuts (which makes for a strange effect when they are gas masked, but that’s about the only vague positive I have).
Dayna decides to try to communicate with Og, theorising that as she hasn’t abused him he will listen to her. Og promptly slaps her down a hill. Og’s not as stupid as he looks. It all might have ended happily for Og and his hirsute pals if that pesky Servalan hadn’t got hold of Dayna and milked her for information on Justin.
Servalan’s impassioned declaration of the importance of Justin’s research doesn’t really convince. She’s done this a couple of times with regard to scientific advances, and she’s always buggered things up somehow.
The interrogation scene is fairly unremarkable, while the conditioning of Dayna to hate Justin and enable the Federation to gain entrance to his lab once she has returned to him is another in a line of rather successful uses of mental-manipulation by the Federation. It makes one wonder why they haven’t consistently employed such methods to defeat the rebels.
Events on Xenon base have become no more riveting; Vila’s had to clean out the septic tank again. Every time we cut back to them we can see the writer biding his time in order to have the crew only arrive on Bucol Two right at the climax.
So Dayna gives up Justin, who has destroyed his work. This rather execrably amounted to hurling a couple of items across the room. We can only imagine that he hasn’t been doing that much, or has been keeping scant records. Apparently most of it survives in his head.
Which makes it unfortunate that Servalan manages to shoot him when Dayna is fleeing Servalan’s ship.
By this point Avon, Tarrant and Soolin have teleported down and Darrow has entered a room in the lab rather excessively, performing an action kick on a poor undeserving chair.
What to say about the final shoot-out? Well, Ridge throws in a few decent camera angles (the simulation of the ship lifting off over the main cast’s heads is rather good), and the staging around the base of Servalan’s ship is a nice idea.
Soolin shoots a few Mutoids. I haven’t really mentioned Soolin this episode, but she’s never far from my thoughts.
Oh, and Og gets killed, Poor, thick Og.
Servalan had Dayna deconditioned following dirty old Justin’s promise that he would co-operate if she did.
So now Dayna loves poor dead Justin again, which gives rise to an entirely unconvincing bout of histrionic wailing from Simon to finish the episode on an appropriately risible note.
Dayna: Justin, Justin, Justin, Justin, no, oh no, oh no.
Pretty bad. I think only Prior’s Hostage outstinks this one. A tale of thwarted romance against the backdrop of genetic experimentation really shouldn’t result in such anodyne drivel.