So, a Gan-centric episode. Just what everyone has been waiting for! I’m rather grateful that Nation’s original premise for this never came to pass (an alien duplicate of Gan fights the mental giant, trying to take over the Liberator) as two roles for David Jackson is more than any episode could bear.
The first thirty minutes are Liberator-bound, and the snail’s pace suggests filler material was necessary at times (the examination of Gan’s bonce takes an age.) The rest of the episode is a massive step up from what preceded it, albeit not enough to completely make amends.
A nicely-lit model shot of the Liberator kicks the episode off, and then Gan starts going mental on the flight deck. Unfortunately Jackson’s not a good enough actor to make this dramatic; it’s actually quite funny until Jenna arrives and he starts strangling her.
To an extent I can see why the authors of Liberation were fixated on Gan being a sex offender, as Jackson’s much more convincing as a simmering psycho with a penchant for doing nasty things to women than a worryingly kindly type (a bit like Robin Williams in that sense).
Kudos to the stunt woman who enacted Jenna’s fall (to the extent I thought it might have been a dummy). And Gan being discovered, dragging Jenna away by her foot, adds a certain “What’s he got planned next?” vibe. The combination of Blake (decently) hitting him repeatedly on the head and Avon (indecently) kneeing him in the testicles has the desired effect.
The “Inflammation around the implant scar” is suitably grizzly, while Cally’s accusation that restraining Gan is barbarous is a rather unsubtle signpost that she will do something daft later. So much for her super-sensitive atunement to others. Blake’s suggestion that they might operate on him under Zen’s supervision gets short shrift.
Avon: There are quicker ways you could kill him but there are none more certain.
We find out that Avon has been thinking of his future beyond the Liberator, suggesting a “bolthole” on space laboratory XK-72 when other possible destinations prove unsuitable. It is financed by a consortium of neutral planets and researches weaponry and space medicine (the latter must be from Terry Nation’s pen!)
Avon: An interesting combination, don’t you think?
Of course, this requires traversing a prohibited zone of space (to fill up some running time). Except that Zen cannot identify what the danger is, so they press on through. Presumably it’s his temperamental logic coming into play but, since his prime directive sees Zen refuse to enter the zone, it’s a bit rum of him to then to turn off all primary and auxiliary computer functions and so put the crew in even greater danger.
Blake: Presumably Zen will come back to us when we are out of danger.
Vila: Sounds like a good idea. Any chance of joining him?
Another good Vila line:
Vila: I’ve just had a comforting though. We may all be dead before we find out why this is a danger zone.
Gan sets out on a HULK SMASH! rampage after Cally sets him free, the daft bint (“I thought he was normal again”). By which point the ship is being sucked into a gravitational vortex!
The rhyme or reason of Gan’s destruction derby is indistinct, as he sets upon Avon (trying to override the computer controls) and starts smashing up equipment in the computer room. He pulls something apart, but it doesn’t seem to have done any lasting damage in the next scene, where control is back with the crew and Gan is restrained. Flying straight for the centre of the vortex doesn’t make much sense (surely it would just crush the ship, rather than allowing it pass through to the other side) but it does set up a subplot of the episode. Avon is thoroughly pissed off at Blake.
Avon: In the unlikely event that we survive this, I’m finished. Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable.
Blake: Now you’re just being modest.
Cally again shows limited judgement skills when she questions Blake as to why he won’t persuade Avon to stay. Why would he? Avon thinks everything he does is dumb and has zero respect for him.
Finally, it’s time to get out of the ship, and the welcome introduction of Count Scarlioni (Professor Kane, played by Julian Glover of City of Death and The Crusade). Glover delivers a tremendously memorable turn in the 20 minutes remaining. And it’s a clever touch that the first scene between him, Blake and Farren (Ian Thompson, The Web Planet and The Chase) makes Kane seem honourable and sympathetic and Farren appear to be a tiresome bureaucrat. If Farren isn’t completely rehabilitated by what follows, the roles are to some extent reversed.
Kane is impressed by the teleport and the shift of the audience to suspect his motives is only gradual; he asks lots of questions and, shown Gan, asks Cally why he has a limiter implanted…
The subplot concerning Avon’s intention to leave picks up steam, as he decides to spend some time on the space lab (he has already questioned Vila on why he stays with Blake, who replied that he likes their leader and he has nowhere else to go.)
Christian Roberts as Dr Renor (Tim Redman in UFO’s The Long Sleep) makes the most of a minor part, and again we see that first impressions aren’t justified. He arrives on the Liberator very much the ladies’ man doctor (“Hello hello hello!” he greets Jenna, then asking “Do you believe in love at first sight…”) but is immediately repelled by Kane’s decision to twiddle his thumbs rather than operate, while the Federation sends some pursuit ships to intercept the Liberator.
Likewise, we expect Farren (being apparently by-the-book) to turn Avon in when the latter offers his services (and the secret of matter transmission, amongst other tech) and identifies himself. Instead, he is annoyed by Kane violating the neutrality of the station and tells Avon about the approaching ships.
This is the real strength of the last half; characters are called upon to behave in interesting or unexpected ways. We learn that Glover’s motivation is borne out of seeing stability as an absolute requirement, one he considers the Federation to provide. Without stability there can be no progress. In this sense he is the classic apolitical scientist, whose allegiances bow to wherever and whoever sustains his work. He refers to Blake and co as “Maniacs, killers, mindless destroyers. They are destroying the greatest force of order in the known universe.”
His view is not shared by either Farren (who considers the lab’s neutrality as a point of principle – it represents a form of order in terms of his microcosm) or Renor (who is evidently non-plussed by the Federation – he considers brain implantation to be objectionable, whereas Kane regards it as better solution for a dangerous psychopath than execution). Glover is quite masterful at essaying Kane’s utter disregard for any moral imperative in saving Gan, casually picking his nails with his feet resting on a crate.
And it’s Vila, not Blake, who has cottoned onto Kane’s duplicity. He orders the doctor to operate, at gunpoint, although it’s fortunate that Avon arrives to back him up as I’m as dubious as Kane that Vila could have followed through. It’s Blake who shows the most intuitive understanding of Kane in the end (almost as a slap down to Vila previously telling Kane how Blake’s conscience would prevent him killing the doctor), threatening to destroy his hands if he doesn’t complete the operation on Gan in 20 minutes. “Animals!” responds Kane.
Blake: Is there any way we can thank you?
Kane: You could try getting caught.
The most extraordinary scene of the episode, though (well there’s another, but not in a good way) comes with Kane and Farren confronting each other. Kane calls for weaponry to be trained on the Liberator and Farren admonishes him for violating the lab’s neutrality. Accusing Farren of striking his hand, Kane proceeds to strangle, and then bludgeon, the official in a brilliantly unhinged piece of scripting and performance.
Having a plasma bolt directed at the Liberator hit the lab is much too unnecessarily tidy (and it would be more interesting if Kane got off without consequence for his behaviour.)
There’s further damage to the credibility of the episode in having Gan (drinking from a Liberation plastic beaker again) greeted by his fellow crewmembers. Why Blake saying, “Welcome back” to him results in everyone dissolving into peals of laughter is beyond me. But it’s really, really, awful.
It begins looking like it might be an inconsequential nadir of the season, but a last third change of scene and commanding guest star save the day. Lessons to be learnt here; don’t give Gan anything significant to do. He’s a big lummox. And never have the crew laugh everything better in the final scene.