Season Three Episode 4- Dawn of the Gods
(1980) Writer: James Follett / Director: Desmond McCarthy
The Liberator is pulled off course into what at first appears to be a black hole. Once inside they find they are at the heart of a world controlled by the Thaarn, a supposedly mythical being from the legends of Cally’s people, the Aurons.
Novelist James Follett steps up to the plate to deliver what is easily the best of the first four episodes of season 3. Perhaps approaching the series from a different perspective to that of the other writers he pushes the established boundaries resulting in an episode that is packed with incident and weaves its mysteries to the end. There is more than a hint of both Star Trek and Space 1999 about some of the ingredients but this is to its advantage.
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Follett’s theme seems to pit the hard science of Orac’s certainties against the myths of Cally’s people and while this never flows through to the end as it should, it’s still a different sort of take for the show. It would have been interesting for these viewpoints to have directly challenged each other and Follet never really does get to the root of how a supposedly fictional being actually turns out to be real. Perhaps that’s for us to work out; after such a satisfying episode as this you don’t so much mind the odd unanswered question.
Director Desmond McCarthy imbues the episode with a style that perfectly suits the odd things that happen complementing the slow burn script. Follett introduces the danger in a casual manner and builds a credible menace while the Liberator’s increasingly risky trajectory is shown by McCarthy with the use of slow motion and on screen distortions. When they arrive on the other side the landscape is even more startling for its simplicity. A totally black setting lit very subtly for maximum impact achieves a lot and even the slightly juvenile looking defence machine with shark’s teeth drawn on is made to look threatening. Meanwhile the presence of the Thaarn’s voice in Cally’s head further adds to the atmosphere.
The first half is definitely the better one managing to keep us guessing as each development opens up the story. While the inevitable explanations of their surroundings do pall the surreal qualities to some extent – and having the whole thing controlled by a lever is a very cheeky nod to sci fi cliché- the guest cast impress in their brief scenes. Terry Scully is particularly strong as Groff whose decision to help the crew escape plays convincingly when in several previous episodes this sort of thing has seemed too arbitrary. You do get the sense he’s been waiting on this opportunity for years.
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Of the regulars, there is some amusing sniping between Avon and Tarrant; as Avon seems to resent the younger man’s assumption of being of charge. It’s good that Orac is treated as a character this week too; his testy responses and covert actions are so much more memorable than a super computer might otherwise have been. Peter Tuddenham excels with his dual voice work for both Orac and Zen – you would never know they were brought to life by the same actor.
Vila gets good camera time this week. His early portrayal of Vila as a one note character has now expanded considerably and he is able to carry scenes with a deadpan wit that acts as a counterpoint to his more serious faced comrades. Jan Chappell shows that given more to do than fly the ship or become the de facto nurse (Dayna gets that role this week) she can rise to the occasion. Her encounter with the Thaarn is well judged and the unveiling is very effective. It’s a shame the end is a bit rushed with no real explanation as to how he got here and it would have been interesting for the two to engage in more than a moment’s on screen encounter. Perhaps The Thaarn’s escape at the end indicates a sequel was planned?
`Dawn of the Gods` is a very good episode though and shows the advantages of taking the series in directions other than rebels vs Federation territory.