Sand

Written by:
Tanith Lee
Directed by: Vivienne Cozens
Episode Length: 48'50
Original UK Transmission Date: 23/11/1981
Original UK Ratings: 8.3m
Original UK Chart Position: 87

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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: Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan), Stephen Yardley (Reeve), Daniel Hill (Chasgo), Peter Craze (Servalan's Assistant), Jonathan David (Keller) and Michael Gaunt (Computer).

Crew: Henry Foster (Production Manager), Frank Pendlebury (Production Associate), Christine Fawcett/Julia Hanrahan (Production Assistants), Kevin Mann (Assistant Floor Manager), Fintan Sheehan (Film Cameraman), Stuart Moser (Film Sound), Sheila S. Tomlinson (Film Editor), Malcolm Banthorpe (Videotape Editor), Jim Francis/Mike Kelt (Visual Effects Designers), Robin Lobb (Video Effects),
Dick Bailey (Graphic Designer), Francis Smith (Properties Buyer), Bob Warman (Technical Manager), Dave White (Senior Cameraman), Nigel Finnis (Vision Mixer), Warwick Fielding (Studio Lighting), Richard Partridge (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), Eric Walmsley/Ken Ledsham (Designers) and Vere Lorrimer (Producer).

Story: Orac has intercepted Federation transmissions that relate to the planet Virn. After an expedition there five years ago that killed scientist Don Keller, the Federation has finally dispatched an investigative team. The team is led by Servalan (all of whom have taken broad spectrum shots to try to fight off any infection), who meets with Tarrant as both parties try to discover the secret of the planet. It transpires that the planet is made up of living sand that can possess and destroy any occupants. The sand allows any females and dominant males to live, believing they will breed new food for it to consume. As Tarrant is the strongest male out of himself and the three crewmen Servalan had with her, he is allowed to live and he and Servalan kiss.
Back aboard Scorpio, Avon realises that water will destroy the sand after Vila spills a drink on it. He flies Scorpio within Virn's atmosphere to generate an electric charge, then rain. With the sand dispersed, Tarrant teleports back aboard Scorpio, allowing Servalan to go free. The ship then leaves the planet's atmosphere before it produces more sand, leaving Servalan aboard her own ship to reflect on how she didn't kill Tarrant… yet.

Servalan: Servalan reveals how she escaped from the destructing Liberator in Terminal: a fault caused a stray pulse in the circuitry, allowing her to momentarily use the teleport. Servalan describes the Federation presidency as being "stolen" from her while she was out of action, though claims she'll recover it. She also tells Tarrant that when she was eighteen her lover was Don Keller, though he left her. Heartbroken, she began to get addicted to power. Tarrant is uncertain as to whether he believes her, though he takes pity on her as a result.

Tarrant: Is Tarrant a virgin? It would explain Avon's comment that his being the last man in Servalan's life is "ironic". It would also explain Tarrant's testosterone-fuelled attitude and ability to fall for even the sappiest of women, as in Assassin.

Soolin: Soolin references the entity that possessed Cally (Sarcophagus), the destruction of the Liberator (Terminal) and Cally's death (Rescue).


Viewpoint:
"Sand. You've been sitting much too long."

Okay, it's not actually a quote from the episode, it's Sly and the Family Stone's Stand but it always comes into my head when I see this one for some odd reason. What is it about Sand that not only makes it a good episode, but also means it effortlessly eclipses the previous run of eight episodes before it?

One thing you have to be aware of is that Sand is cheap. In fact, it's possibly the cheapest episode ever made. Servalan's ship looks exactly like the set it is, while awful CSO and modelling makes up the planet. It kind of reminds me of Doctor Who's The Web Planet, with its two-dimensional landscapes and painted backdrop skies. Add to this the "living sand" which appears to be coloured crystals blown along by a hairdryer and you have a very surrealist work.

What makes it so special is that it has such a good script, something that dragged all of Blake's best episodes above its bargain basement origins. No, what makes it special is seeing a more psychological side to Servalan. No, in fact, what makes this episode so special is that indefinable "something." The X factor, as it were.

Even back on Scorpio, possibly with Tarrant out of the equation, there's more of an edge to things. The crew have become too comfortable with one another, and the encroaching sand and darkness lend much. Okay, it's still miles away from the full-out mutual hatred of season three, but it's nice to see that they do still think of Cally, even if they don't talk about her. Vila drunk and abusive is hilarious, and I loved him having a go at Avon: "Vila! Get up!" "Get lost!" In fact, nearly all the one-liners are pretty sharp this time around, almost as if the cast knew they were in an above-standard work for the first time in two months. I smiled at the exchange of "Oh, I trust you, Avon" "I must be slipping", and loved all the Tarrant-Servalan banter. And, while Jacqueline Pearce is still far from her best, she does give a stronger performance here than in any other season four story. Does this mean that the ego clashes she spoke of were largely between her and Paul Darrow, explaining why Steven Pacey got what you would have presumed to be Avon's role? Their conversation and relationship isn't as deep as you'd like it to be, but it's nice to get one at all.

In another season this would just be one of the three or four strongest stories. In season four it's nearly classic.