(Robert Holmes) reviewed by Marian de Haan


Weak and uninteresting, with the padding actually being the best part - that trip to the casino, although entertaining, has nothing to contribute to the plot. The search for Docholli is rather tame, more could have been done with the race between Blake and Cevedic to find him first. It's nowhere explained how Travis got away from the troopers at Atlay. (Judith: I thought he was working for Servalan in 'Voice From the Past'?) Servalan's scheme is so intricate that she needs a singularly stupid companion for the exposition, and still fails to make sense.

Manipulating Krantor into getting hold of Docholli's secret in order to bring him onto the High Council's death list must rank among the silliest murder plots ever invented. And wouldn't it bring the risk of the Council suspecting Servalan to have learned the secret too, and putting her beside Krantor on the death list? Considering she's already unpopular with the Council it seems like a golden opportunity for them to get rid of her. Likewise, why should the destruction of Freedom City be of such paramount importance to her that she wants to pursue it against the Federation's wishes? (Judith: Well, if you ignore 'Assassain' then you can assume she has that kind of puritanical mind that wants to ban all gambling, prostitution, etc.)

Writing good parts for the female crewmembers is not something Robert Holmes seems to want to be bothered with. In Killer he managed to ignore them almost entirely and here he's solved his problem by using them as Blake's escort. [I suppose that, since for once they're *not* relegated to teleport duty, we should not complain.] Servalan fares better in the number of lines allocated to her but is saddled with her dumbest scheme ever.

The only other female character, Chenie, is competently written but no attempt is made to lift her above the stereotype tough but gold-hearted barmaid. It's also notable that in both his S2 stories, Holmes keeps the two male leads firmly apart. No brooding, leaden confrontations between Blake and Avon, but that's compensated by the glorious Avon-Vila interaction. Although probably not intended by the writer, the scam serves as a reminder that Avon and Vila are unrepentant criminals. Yet because they're cheating a casino instead of robbing a blind widow of her meagre pension, we can enjoy their foray. It's still a crime, but one we're inclined to admire for its audacity. :-)

This episode brings out a few new facets of characters we thought we knew through and through by now. Timid Vila reveals himself as a daring gambler while ice-cold, logical Avon seems distinctly ill at ease in the casino. Another deviation from the standard characterisation is Avon being bored; up to now that was Vila's prerogative, Avon keeping himself happily occupied tinkering with his gadgets. And Blake, who we've seen to be ruthless but never vicious, suddenly develops a sadistic streak in denying his enemy the mercy of death. It's one of his most chilling moments.

Watched for the first time, the scene of Blake interrogating Docholli who's about to disconnect Travis's artificial arm (and trigger the alleged bomb) brings terrific tension but of course that works only once. For the rest, the story is mainly carried by Robert Holmes's talent for writing double acts: Avon and Vila, Krantor and Toise, Servalan and Jarriere all have their amusing moments. Still, Krantor and Toise balance on the verge of ridicule; it's only the background of festive decadence that prevents them from becoming total caricatures (like Egrogian and Pinder in 'Orbit', another Holmes script).

Personal Appreciation: **

I love the scenes with Avon and Vila but not much else. And even that scam causes some nagging doubts about the probability of Avon, who may be selfish but is not irresponsible, leaving the Liberator unguarded and endangering the lives of the others for a risky raid into a well guarded casino. Greed can hardly be a motive, considering the contents of Liberator's strongroom. [By now he must have a large portion of that wealth siphoned away to numerous bank accounts on neutral planets. :-)] Maybe we can put it down to the appeal of the challenge or his wish for getting his own over Blake for once.

Still, it's fun to see those grown ups pout like a pair of dissatisfied schoolboys. Orac shrinking is good for a laugh, although I can't for a moment believe it's possible. [But since I can't believe in teleport either I won't grumble too loudly. :-)] Never having managed to grasp even the basic principles of chess, those moves are lost to me, but I like the accompanying tune.

The decadence of Freedom City comes over well in the fancy dress and overall carnivalesque atmosphere in the casino. The croupier (that elderly women dressed up as a chorus girl from a cheap cabaret) makes me shudder in repulsion.

Seeing a drunken Vila embrace Avon is sheer fun, as is Avon spitting out his ice cream on hearing about Vila's challenge. [Initially it seems to have been scripted that he got sick from overeating the stuff but I'm glad they changed that.] The end, with Avon and Vila playing the innocents while Orac pops back to its original size is amusing too, but they're doing it so badly that I can't see the others falling for it.

Nice to see Cally and Jenna having dressed up for the occasion; they make Blake in his plain daily outfit look like their bodyguard. [But maybe that's the intention so he can wear a gun. :-)] Cally looks quite different with her hair done up. Servalan's dress defies description and Travis looks dashing in that hat and cape. Vila looks much better in brown than grey and I'm glad to see Avon in his silver top again. [It doesn't look like leather to me - more like tinfoil ;-) - but I willingly bow to Judith's superior knowledge.]


How does Travis know that Blake is hunting Docholli? And why can he be caught so easily by Krantor's "rubbish collectors"?

"Pass me a nitro grenade..." Useful gadgets to carry around in your handbag; no lady should travel without one. :-) It's a nice touch to have both Servalan and Krantor muse about what they'll do to the other. Jarriere is a far cry from Servalan's usual decorative staff officer. Is he a relative she's stuck with, or a favourite of the president she has to entertain? I can't see her willingly putting up with a dim-witted man unless he's exquisitely handsome. :-)

That poor pussy of Krantor doesn't seem to enjoy itself. Maybe Krantor's silver make up puts it off. <evil grin>

What kind of electricity causes the speed-chess loser to be not merely electrocuted but also vaporised?

Cally the telepath is now a mind reader as well. [Avon had better watch out, she'd already almost sussed him out in 'Hostage' but there she must have been still developing. :-)]

Avon and Vila using their own names in front of Krantor seems rather risky, even in neutral surroundings. And why is Avon allowed to keep his gun in the casino? [No, I don't buy that he could have made them believe it was merely a curling iron - Blake might have got away with that but Avon hasn't the hair for it! :-)]

"Are you feeling particularly merciful?" No, let him live so he can shoot you in the back two episodes later!

What Could Have Been Done To Improve It:

- Provide a better plot.

- Replace the croupier or give her another outfit, make her act less over the top and force her to drop that silly French accent.

- Give Servalan a reason for putting up with Jarriere.

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