Countdown

Written by:
Terry Nation
Directed by: Vere Lorrimer
Episode Length: 51’04
Original UK Transmission Date: 6/3/1979
Original UK Ratings: 6.9m
Original UK Chart Position: 72

DVD Availability: Try sendit.com or Amazon

Starring: Gareth Thomas (Blake), Sally Knyvette (Jenna), Paul Darrow (Avon), Jan Chappell (Cally), Michael Keating (Vila) and Peter Tuddenham (Orac/Zen).

Guest-Starring: Tom Shadbon (Grant), Paul Shelley (Provine), James Kerry (Cauder), Lindy Alexander (Ralli), Robert Arnold (Selson), Geoffrey Snell (Tronus), Sidney Kean (Vetnor) and Nigel Gregory (Arrian).

Crew: Leslie Crawford/Peter Brayham (Stunt Co-Ordinators), Geoffrey Mantor (Production Assistant), Sheelagh Rees (Production Unit Manager), Mat Irvine/Peter Pegrum/Andrew Lazell (Visual Effects Designers), Max Samett (Film Cameraman), John Gatland (Film Recordist), Sheila S. Tomlinson (Film Editor), Brian Clemett (Studio Lighting), Malcolm Johnson (Studio Sound), Elizabeth Parker (Special Sound), A.J. Mitchell (Electronic Effects), Barbara Kidd (Costume Designer), Anne Ailes (Make-Up Artist), Dudley Simpson (Music), Terry Nation (Series Deviser), Chris Boucher (Script Editor), Gerry Scott/Stephen Brownsey (Designers) and David Maloney (Producer).

Story: The Federation have sent in a Space Assault Force (made up of crack troops) to quell a revolt on the planet Albion. With uninhabitable poles and a population of six million, it was conquered about a century ago in “the last calendar” by the Federation. Unable to stem the revolt, the Federation sets off a timer detonator to destroy the area.
The indigenous race has hired an assassin to aid in their struggle. Del Grant, the brother of Avon’s old love, Anna, arrives on the planet and reminds Avon how he’d promised to kill him for letting Anna die. However, they have to teleport to the southern pole of the planet in order to defuse the explosive device, and, after Avon saves Del’s life doing so, Del forgives him.

Star One: A Federation officer tells Blake that the location of Star One can only be obtained from a Cybersurgeon known as Docholli.

Avon: Avon had an ex-love known as Anna Grant. He had arranged to buy some exit visas so they both could leave Earth, though he was shot by a treacherous dealer and was unconscious for more than thirty hours. When he returned, Anna had been captured by the Federation and was tortured, dying a week later.

Blake: Blake shows a protective instinct for Avon, warning Del, Anna’s brother, “If anything happens to Avon, I will come looking for you.”


Viewpoint:
“That thing is ticking away the lives of everybody on this planet.”

Continuing season two’s big budget mentality (though not reality), this one starts off with a six minute uprising. Of course, being the BBC this involves pop guns, sparkler explosions and a not inconsiderable amount of polystyrene.

This being Terry Nation then it’s no surprise to see a story of bomb countdowns, people with surnames of one syllable and “space heaters”. Why is it Terry Nation seems to think everything in SF has to be prefixed with the word “space”? Space Heaters, Space Hours, Space Assault Force… if Vila went to the toilet would it be a space poo?

One thing I do like about Terry Nation’s scripts is that it makes it easy on me when I have to do the Anorak’s Guide. One plot strand, straightforward character backgrounds? Cheers Tel! This is still watchable in an average, nearly-two-stars kind of way, but it’s easily Nation’s weakest post-season one script. And the idea of having an episode set entirely in real-time is a nice one, though ultimately fails to generate any tension, because you know it will all end with just seconds to spare. Yawn. True anoraks might also note that the “999” countdown actually takes 2646 seconds to run, so the real-time bit is an extended fallacy anyway.

The Del Grant/Avon situation (brilliantly expanded on by Boucher in season three’s Rumours of Death) adds some interest, though cynics might like to claim Tom Chadbon sounds like he’s reading his lines from the script. And do Jenna and Cally ever get to do anything this season other than operate the teleport? No wonder Sally Knyvette legged it.

The episode slumps to a halt with stock footage of Antarctica and heaters that are solar calculators on the wall. And I love the way Avon’s Black & Decker makes holes in the tube before he’s even switched it on. Now that’s what I call a space drill!