Four episodes in and it’s clear where most Chris Boucher’s work is going. With a laughable budget, fag-packet script outlines but two charismatic leading men, the script editor puts a lot of work into the interpersonal dynamics on board the Liberator – and it shows in Time Squad.
Blake is forced to admit that in setting course to blow up a Federation communications centre he has taken the initiative without the promised ‘thorough discussion’, over the protests of Avon and even Jenna. “I don’t follow you,” queries Vila. “Oh, but you you do – and that’s the problem!” snarls Avon in return.
But Avon knows he’s been outmanoeuvred. Blake commands the ship – and consequently loyalty of the others. If they want to leave, they can. But they know the Federation will only ever be a step behind. It’s Blake or death for the crew, all of whom him a debt of gratitude.
Still Avon manages to needle Blake out of his usual composure. Gan gets in his own dig at Avon, but the clever man has another ready quip when the former asks how the Federation will track them down deaf, dumb and blind. “I’ll sure Blake will manage it somehow.”
On finding an apparently abandoned space capsule Jenna warns Blake of the obvious risk of a trap. Vila doesn’t like it either. But true to form Blake waves it away with a smile. “Why didn’t Zen warn us?” demands Blake. But, as Jenna points out, he did.
In Time Squad we see the first example of Zen’s mercurial nature, struggling to warn the crew against endangering themselves by teleporting to the capsule. It’s as if Zen has his own limiter, suggests Gan, or is the Liberator’s computer at the mercy of some other unseen: someone or something?
It may be handy plot device – like the Sonic Screwdriver being unable to unlock certain doors – but the viewer is left to puzzle over the in-universe reasons for Zen’s intermittent awkwardness.
Sure enough, within minutes Blake and Jenna’s lives can only be saved by the skills and quick thinking of his shipmates. Blake repeatedly puts his own life in danger and offers the crew a choice: save him or walk away and let him die. They must repeatedly demonstrate their loyalty to him and, by inference, their subservience. He is an arch manipulator of people.
In Time Squad we get the first insight in the background of Olag Gan – and more evidence of what a nuanced character the big man could have been.
Played intelligently by David Jackson there’s something genuinely moving about the way he explains about his vulnerability, caused by an inhibitor in his head, and how he came to have it.
There are many readings of what this might amount to. Has Gan undergone a lobotomy of some sort? Or is even darker than that? There are definite hints in Time Squad that there’s more to it than Gan might be letting on.
In Time Squad he explains that the limiter makes it impossible for him to kill, but we have already seen him engaged in mortal combat in Cygnus Alpha, where he is clearly seen driving a spear into one of Vargas’ henchmen. He also leads an armed rebellion on the London in Space Fall, where he implies he might tear off a guard’s hand.
Yet here, alone on the Liberator with Jenna and with little obvious direct threat, his limiter renders him helpless. This has inspired various fan theories about the true nature of Gan’s crimes – and it’s not unreasonable to infer an altogether different reason for neutering Gan’s violent urges.
There will be more hints later in the series, but whether Nation ever intended there to be a true pay-off is never clear.
Down on the surface of Saurian Major Blake finds the resistance wiped out by the Federation and only an awkward, telepathic warrior woman, Cally. With Avon and Vila also at his side we get the first example of the classic Liberator smash-and-grab raid, utilising the crew’s various skills and Liberator’s superior speed to outwit the Federation.
There’s also a last-second escape from the inferno, more by luck than judgment. Vila and Avon silently chide Blake with challenging stares when it appears they may not make it.
Back on board there’s time for Cally to accept a role in the crew, while Jenna registers her sexual jealousy. As ever Blake smiles off his crew’s various gripes and complaints. As he pointedly tells Avon, he trusts them as long as he knows they are all useful to one another.
While he holds the balance of power over Avon, none of them can escape him.