Season Three Episode 12- Death-Watch
(1980) Writer: Chris Boucher / Director: Gerald Blake
Seeking the “ultimate entertainment” advertised, the Liberator crew find themselves embroiled in the machinations of a war between two races that is decided by single champions, one of whom is Tarrant’s brother.
Chris Boucher always seems to get the best out of the series and `Death-Watch` is another example of his skill in doing so. It does hinge on one unlikely contrivance though which turns out to be less necessary than you’d think. Donning a wig, Steven Pacey plays Tarrant’s older and more suave brother Deeta who for reasons unexplained is the champion of one of two races, Teal and Vandor, who decide their wars via a televised combat for two; “war without destruction” as someone puts it. It’s like The Hunger Games with adults, in fact it seems that book mined the same inspiration as Boucher as this is something of an established sci-fi cliché. For the most part Boucher handles it well, choosing to focus as much on the procedure and build up as he does the actual conflict.
|Nobody would suspect him disguised as Engelbert Humperdinck
This turns out to be a good thing, as anyone who has seen Captain Kirk’s tussle with the Gorn will concede; in fact almost every established telefantasy series has done something along these lines. Boucher seems more interested in the minutiae of what makes the whole thing tick. There are a couple of frivolous scenes involving a reporter and an unseen director, while we spend a lot of time with Deeta and his assistant discussing the oncoming scenario and it’s amusing to hear what the Liberator crew think the contest will be like compared to the reality.
Servalan’s involvement as a supposedly neutral judge whose intent is to manipulate the scenario and cause a war sends matters off at a tangent leading to a fun scene between her and Avon that underscores the mixture of attraction and loathing between them. The real surprise of the episode though is Boucher’s idea of the Sensor Net, in which the vision and emotions of the two competitors can be accessed by anyone watching- this turns out to be the `ultimate entertainment`. Vila’s crestfallen response to what he was expecting to be a big party is a picture! Boucher pre-figures electronic combat games by some years and yet having created such a good idea, he doesn’t really use it to its full potential.
It is 35 minutes then before we see any combat and perhaps inevitably this is an anticlimax in two ways. For one thing, having boasted about the grand environments in which the contest might take place, it turns out to be a dilapidated warehouse! The weapons they use? Wild West style guns. Considering what is at stake- the losing side will cede whole planets and a space fleet- this seems rather low tech and straightforward lasting all of three minutes. Then during the second bout we’re back on exactly the same set where the episode began which you’d think they’d redress a bit more to disguise it.
|The spaghetti meal caused a few problems
Secondly, Del’s reaction (or lack of reaction) to his brother’s demise and the fact that Deeta’s rival turns out to be an android seems muted and uninvolved. The hot headed character that has been built up over the season is absent and though he does step in to challenge and beat the ringer, it all seems a bit of a letdown. There is a touching scene where we hear Deeta’s last thoughts about Del but we haven’t been given enough to really invest our interest. By the end it seems like Avon and Tarrant are just beaming away from another adventure, the significance of which is already forgotten. Steven Pacey does his best and differentiates well between the two brothers but perhaps for technical reasons they never meet so you don’t get a sense of the relationship between them.
Despite this, the general tone of the episode is strong and there are two good guest stars, Stewart Bevan’s loyal but concerned assistant Max and David Sibley’s blasé tv reporter who could have done with more screen time. The edgy camaraderie between the crew is back after a couple of week’s absence and director Gerald Blake handles what is a fairly talky episode well, though a few more point of view shots during the combat would underline the whole Sensor Net set up. The story flows easily after an intriguing opening sequence and Boucher manages to successfully balance exposition with sprinklings of wit and rivalry but falls short of the fraternal story he perhaps intended to tell.