It’s never easy…
The action begins on a space liner…
Sue: I like the set – it’s massive. Oh, he looks familiar… Eh? What’s happened to Tarrant’s perm?
I pause the DVD while Sue tries to come up with a good reason for Tarrant’s catastrophic hair failure. They include: Tarrant in a flashback, Tarrant in a flash forward and Tarrant working under cover (but still using his real surname).
Sue: It could be his brother. But they wouldn’t do that because they pulled that trick with Cally not so long ago. They wouldn’t be that stupid.
I press Play.
Sue: Has Avon got a twin? I could live with that…
There’s a lot for Sue to process during this episode’s cold opening: Tarrant has a double, there’s an assassination attempt, an act of war, Stuart Fell falls over, and we’re treated to some barely comprehensible chat about a Summons to Justification.
Sue: I haven’t got a clue what’s going on, Neil, but it’s very good. I even like Tarrant’s hair – it really suits him.
Sadly, she can’t say the same about Avon’s latest trip to the Liberator‘s wardrobe.
Sue: You can tell that this was made in the 1980s – look at the size of Avon’s shoulder pads! Oh no, I don’t like this look at all. It looks like he’s trying to hide a tiny pair of wings.
Vila manages to convince the crew that if they don’t take a relaxing break soon, everything will go tits up.
Sue: I thought Cally was in charge of Health and Wellbeing on the ship?
Tarrant requests some information from Zen, but not before he checks with Avon first.
Sue: He’s finally showing Avon the respect he deserves. There’s hope for Tarrant yet.
The long and short of it is that Vila wants to visit a war zone.
Sue: Who flies to a war zone for a ****ing holiday? That’s why Thomas Cook don’t offer package tours to Syria, you numpties.
Cally and Dayna are just as confused as Sue (which reassures her slightly), and then the penny finally drops.
Tarrant: Two men fight for the honor of independent planetary systems of maybe twenty million people each.
Sue: Right, I get it now. It’s The Hunger Games.
Funnily enough, Channel 4 are broadcasting The Hunger Games as we watch this episode. Serendipity and all that.
Sue: This is basically their version of the World Cup, isn’t it? And where did all the booze and nibbles come from? Did they stop off at the shops on the way there? They should show the Liberator with a planet’s flag tied to the back of it.
After a very amusing exchange, in which Avon basically tells Orac to shut the **** up, the computer agrees to stream a viscast to the Liberator‘s view screen.
Presenter: “Space, the final frontier” as it was once called…
Sue: First they rip off the logo and now this…
The viscast previews a selection of artificial arenas where two contestants will fight each other to the death.
Sue: That looks like a links golf course… Hey, this really is a lot like The Hunger Games, you know. Or I should say, The Hunger Games is a lot like this. Even the hatches they have to walk through look exactly the same. And this bit with the media reporting the event is very similar, too. Did Chris Boucher take legal action?
Sue loves it when the presenter gets into pissing contest with the show’s director via the studio’s talkback system.
Sue: This is what I have to put up with at work. I really like this episode. It’s funny and it’s smart, especially when you consider when it was made.
Deeta Tarrant, First Champion of the United Planets of Teal, shares a ride with his friend, Max.
Sue: If this is Tarrant’s clone, or brother, or whatever the hell he is, and he has to fight in this arena thingy, then his friend must be Woody Harrelson.
Me: It’s Jo Grant’s husband, actually. Although the last time you saw him he had long hair and was Welsh.
Sue: This is why I’ll never be a fan. I wouldn’t have got that in a million years.
Deeta Tarrant’s opponent has mysteriously turned up out of the blue to represent the Vandor Confederacy.
Sue: I bet it’s Travis. He hasn’t been in an episode for ages.
Me: That’s because he’s dead.
Sue: Yeah, of course he is, Neil.
The contest is overseen by two partisan arbiters and one neutral arbiter.
Sue: OH NO! **** off! I don’t believe it! So Servalan’s an X-Factor judge on her days off now, is she? I bet she’s the Sharon.
The presenter’s commentary is beginning to get on Avon’s nerves.
Avon: All this breathless solemnity is beginning to irritate me.
Me: It could be worse, Avon. You could be listening to Clive Tyldesley.
When the viscast features footage of the contestants, the Liberator‘s crew are knocked for six.
Vila: I know him, don’t I?
Me: Welcome to my life, Susan.
Tarrant recognises his brother immediately.
Sue: Well, that clears that up. I’ll tell you what, though: the actor who plays Tarrant is much better than I thought he was. His performance is subtly different; I think the other Tarrant is supposed to be older and wiser – he’s not as cocky. It’s a massive coincidence, but what the hell…
Deeta Tarrant’s opposite number isn’t Travis, after all.
Sue: He looks like an accountant. Is he really the best fighter the other planet’s got to offer? They must be shitting themselves.
Deeta is fitted with an implant that lets Max see and feel Deeta’s thoughts and actions.
Sue: Even The Hunger Games didn’t go this far. Actually, this reminds me of a short film produced by my students this year.
Me: Are your students closet Blake’s 7 fans?
Sue: I doubt it. There are some similarities, though. It’s about a reality show where you can see what the contestant sees, and it all goes horribly wrong. It’s very good:
Me: Chris Boucher should take legal action.
Del Tarrant meets Max.
Sue: Tarrant should swap places with his brother. That way they could kill the crap Tarrant and then they could replace him with a slightly better Tarrant. That’s what I would do.
Avon decides to visits a “sick friend”.
Sue: Ha! Brilliant. I should have guessed that he meant Servalan.
It’s a flirt-fest.
Sue: They should get a room.
Me: They’ve already got a room, Sue. OK, it looks like a freezer section in the back of a supermarket, but beggars can’t be choosers.
Avon has correctly surmised that Servalan plans to disrupt the contest with an unexpected rule violation. However, the President assures Avon that she doesn’t pose a threat to him.
Servalan: I don’t think of you as an enemy, Avon. I think of you as a future friend.
Sue: He keeps ignoring her friend requests on Facebook. He’s playing hard to get.
Not hard enough it seems, because Avon and Servalan are suddenly snogging each other’s faces off. Sue laughs and gasps at the same time.
Sue: Cally will be furious!
Still cradling Servalan in his arms, Avon contacts
his girlfriend Cally back on the ship.
Avon: I’m ready to come up now.
Sue: Yes, I bet you are!
Sue completely fails to notice the most exciting part of this scene: Avon is walking backwards when he teleports!
Sue: I worry about you sometimes, Neil.
Deeta Tarrant is all ready for combat in a shiny, silver space suit. Max asks Deeta how he feels.
Sue: Like Gary Glitter about to open for The Sweet.
Sue has a bad feeling about this.
Sue: Tarrant is going to die. The good Tarrant, I mean. They’re going to kill the wrong Tarrant. I like this Tarrant. This isn’t fair, Neil.
The contest is about to begin…
Sue: What happens if they shoot each other straight away? All this hype and build-up for what? Ten seconds of action?
Me: At least the England football team managed to drag it out for three hours.
The arbiters each place a disc on their foreheads: green for Teal (or should that be teal for Teal?) and blue for Vandor.
Sue: So what does Servalan do? Does she place a different coloured disc over each eye? Does she get to see it in 3D?
After an extremely tense build-up (Sue’s already biting her nails), the contestants finally step into the arena. Where will they find themselves? An exotic beach? An alien planet? A jungle, perhaps? What do you think?
Sue: It could be worse, I suppose. It could be a quarry. And it does look like a level from Call of Duty, so there is that.
If the location is disappointing, the direction more than makes up for it.
Sue: The camera work is great. The direction has been pretty good so far but it just went up a notch.
Me: You hated Gerald Blake’s direction last time.
Sue: I don’t care. This is excellent. Ooh, POV shots as well… very nice.
If only Vinni posed more of a threat.
Sue: He doesn’t strike me as a Vinni. He’s more like a Malcolm or a Keith. Tarrant should be able to take him, no bother.
To prove this point, Tarrant successfully sneaks up on Vinni, only he can’t bring himself to shoot his opponent in the back.
Tarrant pays the ultimate price when Vinni draws his gun with preternatural speed.
Sue: What the…? How the hell did that happen?
You can hear a pin drop as Deeta tumbles to his death in slow motion. After what seems like an eternity, Sue utters a single word:
Deeta Tarrant is dying and Del feels every agonising second. Sue’s bottom lip is quivering a little bit; slightly more than Del Tarrant’s, actually.
Sue: **** me.
Me: Are you surprised?
Sue: I’m surprised the director could afford a crane. Look at this shot – it’s amazing!
Avon is determined to know how Servalan violated the rules. Orac suggests that Vinni must be an android.
Sue: Ah-ha! So that explains why he looked so normal – he was supposed to look like that. That’s clever. It was the only thing still bugging me. Excellent.
Avon has something special planned for Del Tarrant.
Sue: Give him a break, Avon. His brother just died. You only thought your girlfriend was dead and you were upset for years. Avon can be incredibly insensitive sometimes.
Tarrant agrees to challenge Vinni to a duel; it’s the only way they can stave off an intergalactic war.
Sue: They won’t kill two Tarrants, will they? I don’t think I could handle that.
Me: I thought you wanted Tarrant to die?
Sue: Shut up, Neil.
Me: Do you need another tissue?
Sue: I’m warning you, Neil…
Dayna interrupts Vinni’s post-match medical and gives Servalan a fright.
Sue: Shoot her in the face! Damn it. At least there’s a good reason for sparing Servalan’s life this week, but the crew need to be more ruthless. They need to start shooting people in the back.
Thanks to Avon and Orac cheating the system, Tarrant gains the advantage over Vinni in the arena, which takes the form of an observation gallery of a deep space liner.
Sue: It’s a level from Unreal Tournament.
Trust me, Sue was unbeatable at Unreal Tournament in the early 2000s.
Sue: HEADSHOT! Come on, what are you waiting for?
Once again, Tarrant refuses to shoot Vinni in the back.
It’s a close run thing but Vinni is eventually vapourised.
Sue: Bloody hell, that was tense. I haven’t got any nails left, you bastard.
Avon convinces Max to re-stage the contest again without any interference from Servalan. And then Tarrant does a runner before he finds himself back in the arena.
Sue: It took a while for me to get to grips on what was going on, but once I did… Well, I just can’t fault it. Even Servalan didn’t do my head in. A fabulous script, years ahead of its time; great performances; brilliant direction… I don’t know what else to say… And I’ve completely changed my mind about Tarrant.
If you’d like to ask Sue a question about Series 3 (or her hopes for Series 4) now’s your chance. The best question will receive a signed copy of our book. Please send them via our Contact Form. Deadline for your questions: Monday 30th June. Cheers.
PLUS: If you happen to be in London on Wednesday 16th July you might be interested in a FREE event where you can meet some real authors – and me – talking about Doctor Who books at Blackwell’s, Charing Cross Road. Tickets are limited so you’ll have to get your skates on.
Warning: Glen’s video trailer includes MASSIVE SPOILERS for the next episode: