Sunday, 26 October 2014

The Two Tarrants

In Death-Watch Steven Pacey plays both Tarrant and Tarrant's brother Deeta Tarrant. The wig he wears as Deeta allows us to tell which is which, but it is also a distraction away from the subtle but clever way in which he plays the two characters differently.

I have watched Death-Watch a few times now, so it is easy for me to forget that it is not obvious from the start that Deeta is Tarrant's brother - he could be Tarrant in disguise. It is not until Tarrant sees his brother on the main screen and confirms it to both the other characters and the audience that we know for sure.

Avon is wearing large shoulder pads today. Maybe because he thinks he is in a different kind of Deathwatch
or maybe it is just because of the 1980s.

Avon hasn't kiffed anyone since Sarcophagus (a whole three episodes ago!) so he pays a visit to Servalan while they are both in neutral territory and aren't allowed to kill each other.

This somewhat mirrors the situation in Aftermath when they last kiffed, even though a lot has happened in season 3 since then. Servalan doesn't try to persuade Avon to join her side, she just says:
"I don't think of you as an enemy, Avon. I think of you as a future friend."

And after he teleports away Servalan looks very happy. As you would if you had just had kiffs with Avon. Purr.

Playing an important role in this episode is Stewart Bevan as Max. He is called upon to give a lot of exposition so the Liberator crew, and us, can understand what is going on, but he is also the character who interacts most with Deeta and, through him, we get to see the similarities and differences between the two Tarrants.

The action centrepiece of Death-Watch is the duel between Deeta Tarrant and Vinni. It is filmed on location and excellently directed, walking the fine line between camp (because of the contrast between the fabulous, shiny costumes and the grimy, industrial location) and dramatic perfectly, culminating in the slow-motion shootout.

Deeta gives up his chance of winning easily to go for an honourable shootout, but in that situation the fact that Vinni is really an android means he has no chance so he loses.

There is then a poignant moment that makes good use of the sci-fi setup, as the dying Deeta's last words (thoughts) to his brother are being overheard by millions of mannys when they should have been private between the two of them.

While Vinni is a small part (and his name isn't exactly very dramatically appropriate, seeming oddly out of place in Blakes 7), his actor Mark Elliott makes good use of his scenes to convey that there is something not quite right about him - backed up by other characters' dialogue - before he is revealed to be an android.

Death-Watch belongs to Steven Pacey, with him playing both Tarrants really well; his best performance in Blakes 7 except for Powerplay. As Del Tarrant, his reaction to Deeta's death (not just having seen it, but felt and experienced it too thanks to the sci-fi death-watch device) is wonderfully underplayed, showing the grief in his face and in the simple line:
"He should have killed him when he had the chance. Deeta never was very practical."

But later we see that Tarrant can't just shoot Vinni in the back either.

The direction in this story really is very good overall, not just in the location scenes. Here we see Avon from Orac's point of view.

Avon smiles when he comes up with a plan to defeat Servalan. Purr.

Death-Watch is a very good episode. Written by Chris Boucher, he once again demonstrates that he understands the characters and the universe of Blakes 7 better than anybody, perhaps even Terry Nation.

As well as the good points I have already mentioned, there is also a subversion of Star Trek present here. Not just from the line
"Space, the final frontier... as it was once called."
but the Teal-Vandor war being fought by proxy champions is a variation on the computer-simulated war in the episode A Taste of Armageddon. That story is an allegory for the Cold War in which Captain Kirk interferes in the status quo between two planets, forcing them to either fight a real war or make a real peace. Here the crew of the Liberator leave the Teal/Vandor situation as it was before they arrived, only having stopped the Federation interference.

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