At last, a great wrong has been righted. A powerful female lead character has been humiliated by a very tall man in an unzipped tracksuit. Finally! I don’t know how the BBC let that state of affairs drag on so long.
Too long this series has been obsessed with images of flawed masculinity. Its hero, Blake, was an ineffectual fanatic who frequently risked his crew-members’ lives for the opportunity to rescue one of his friends or commit a minor act of sabotage. Gan was a liability. Vila is a side character from Open All Hours. Avon is a robot with a permanently curled lip.
But now we have Jarvik. Jarvik is a human being in a world of computers, a man in a world of mutoids, a Milk Tray man in a lactose intolerant age, in a tracksuit in an age of leather tabards and clingy evening dresses, on a space station, with a desire to see Tarrant zapped into the middle of next week and Servalan panting before him and telling him what a man he is.
Del Tarrant, incidentally, has suddenly become the hot name in Federation circles. He’s the man to beat. Blake – Blake who? Avon who, for that matter. It’s all about Tarrant. Maybe they’ve mistaken him for Dev Tarrant (last seen in The Way Back, betraying Blake to the Federation). Or Jill Tarrant (star of 1974’s Death to the Daleks).
Whatever the case, this is a story about humiliation. Jarvik’s first act when he is brought before the President of whatever-it-is-they’ve-got-going-since-the-Federation ended (it really might just be that one room of Servalan’s, we just don’t know) (I mean how big is that spinning space station we see in the establishing shots, after all? It could be the size of a bungalow and we wouldn’t know a darn thing) is to humiliate Servalan with dirty talk and an impulsive snog. He then calculatedly humiliates Tarrant.
Servalan likes being made to look and feel like an idiot, it seems. But what about Jacqueline Pearce? Is she gone by Season 4? I wouldn’t blame her in the slightest.
Of course, the person who feels really humiliated by all of this carry on is, well, me. After watching 45 minutes of this stuff, I felt like an utter fool. I could have had Tarkovsky on instead, or a BBC3 documentary. I could have been reading poetry or learning how to make pastry from a YouTube video.
I will say one thing for this story, and although it’s not about the giant flea monster, I will go easy on that (lest we forget, this story was televised a week after The Horns of Nimon, and years before the Plasmatons, the Ergon, the Garm or the Myrka reared their ugly heads). But there is a great scene with Servalan taking control of the Liberator – at last! – and Avon superseding Tarrant (hooray) for a little battle of wills with her. It’s nothing, really, scriptwise – but those characters go brilliantly together, and the actors have fantastic chemistry.
In the first series, I thought we could make do with three crew members and the talking computer. Now I think all you really need are Avon and Servalan. At the very least, they need to be at the centre of the series. Terry Nation knew that in the opening episode of this series, and if he has any sense, he’ll return to it. I was certainly pleased to see that Ben Steed wasn’t allowed to get away with making Jarvik and Tarrant the alpha males of the show.