Headhunter

Written by: Roger Parkes
Directed by: Mary Ridge
Episode Length: 49’33
Original UK Transmission Date: 2/11/1981
Original UK Ratings: 8.9m
Original UK Chart Position: 64
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Starring: Paul Darrow (Avon), Michael Keating (Vila), Steven Pacey (Tarrant), Josette Simon (Dayna), Glynis Barber (Soolin) and Peter Tuddenham (Orac/Slave).

Guest-Starring: John Westbrook (Muller), Lynda Bellingham (Vena), Douglas Fielding (Technician), Nick Joseph (Android) and Lesley Nunnerley (Voice).
Crew: Ralph Wilton (Production Manager), Frank Pendlebury (Production Associate), Valerie Turner (Production Assistant), Josephine Ward (Assistant Floor Manager), Fintan Sheehan (Film Cameraman), John Tellick (Film Sound), Sheila S. Tomlinson (Film Editor), Jim Francis/Andy Lazell (Visual Effects Designers), Francis Smith (Properties Buyer), Robin Lobb (Video Effects), Sam Upton (Videotape Editor), Dick Bailey (Graphic Designer), Terry Brett (Technical Manager), Dave White (Senior Cameraman), Mary Kellehar (Vision Mixer), Warwick Fielding (Studio Lighting), Malcolm Johnson (Studio Sound), Elizabeth Parker (Special Sound), Nicholas Rocker (Costume Designer), Suzanne Jansen (Make-Up Artist), Dudley Simpson (Music), Terry Nation (Series Deviser), Chris Boucher (Script Editor), Graham Lough/Roger Cann (Designers) and Vere Lorrimer (Producer).

Story: Vila and Tarrant are on a mission to recruit Muller, an old student of Ensor’s (see Orac) and a brilliant cybergeneticist. However, what they unknowingly bring back aboard Scorpio is Muller’s robot with Muller’s severed head on top. When they return to base, the robot kills Vena, Muller’s partner, and attacks the crew in a bid to link up with Orac.
Fitted with a circuit influencer, the robot can control electronic artefacts and exerts control over Orac. Together they plan the total enslavement of organic life. However, rigging up an electric charge on a bridge, they temporarily stun the robot, while Avon attaches its limiter. Avon falls unconscious from static feedback, only to wake to find Tarrant and Dayna destroying the robot, much to his chagrin.

Scorpio: Scorpio has a medi-capsule.


Viewpoint:
“Oh, you’ll have to do better than that, Orac, if you expect me to kill them.”

Apologies for another Bob Block analogy so soon, but with the crew on the runaround from a medieval-looking headless robot there’s more than a touch of Rentaghost about this one.

When I first saw season four it was in a random order, so it didn’t seem as bad. Seeing it sequentially (particularly right after the first three, far superior, seasons) its weaknesses are ever more obvious. It’s six episodes in and Soolin still hasn’t got a personality. One minute she’s drawing her gun, boasting how she’s a killer for hire, the next she’s left stranded in a three-line ghetto; her role never referred to. She does get more to do than usual this episode, though she’s such a crap character it makes you pine for the glory days of Gan.

Season four was Jacqueline Pearce’s least favourite, one in which she claimed egos caused clashes both behind and in front of the cameras. As Avon and Vila are now every inch the stars, the token girls functional at best and Tarrant a neutered tom cat then maybe this tells us something? The greyness of it all is depressing, too, though at least Avon’s retro spacesuit has gold shoulderpads. Tacktastic!

Storywise, then this is pure fanwank slop, involving one of Ensor’s old students, a killer robot that wants to unite with Orac and the mum from the Oxo ads. Dayna’s gasp of “she’s dead!” isn’t an expression of surprise at her death - it’s an expression of disbelief at her chronic acting.

There are nice touches of dialogue here and there (probably written by Chris Boucher), but generally the “gags” are smug and passé. Note, though, how an episode about an unstoppable robot sees Avon say, “I’ll be back!” almost three whole years before The Terminator. The robot itself does raise some interesting questions: like why does it grow a foot taller when its head’s been knocked off? How can it see and speak with no head? And for a superpowerful android then why it is so slow?

The (anti) climax sees Paul Darrow valiantly lead his troops on his personal ham-o-rama while the robot practically says “Fe-fi-fo-fum.” Virtually plotless and virtually pointless, this really is very poor indeed. All that remains for me to do is list the Orac innuendoes, rude-sounding comments from a computer who’s very saucy this week: “There is nothing very original about domination.” And, to Soolin: “We can fulfil your every desire.” To which she replies, taking off his plastic access key and placing it in her pocket for use later safe keeping: “you wouldn’t know where to start.” Funny, but hardly worth fifty minutes, is it?