PLOT Vila has picked up a signal on the communications system, and relays the message to the rest of the Scorpio crew: “Utiliser to Cancer. Utiliser to Cancer. Domo the 9th. 5 subjects.” The message comes from none other than Servalan.
The crew work out that the 9th is a date, while Domo is a planet that has now been colonised by a band of space pirates, who attack undefended ships, capture the crew and passengers and then sell them off at auction. As for Cancer, Avon reveals that he is an assassin that kills people for a great deal of money. With the Scorpio crew as targets, Orac suggests that they find Cancer first by visiting Domo – and if Servalan happens to be there with a down payment, they can kill her, leaving Cancer no choice but to depart.
Avon and Vila teleport down to Domo. Avon spots the pirates, and pretends to be the only survivor of a wrecked spaceship. The leader of the pirates, Benos (Peter Atard), goads Avon for being too skinny, at which point Avon attacks the man and the others, but is overpowered, and his teleport bracelet confiscated. Vila teleports back up, unsure if Avon still has the bracelet or not…
Avon is thrown into a cell with an old man called Nebrox (Richard Hurndall). Nebrox explains that he is up for auction and that this will be his last time before he is killed. Nebrox tells Avon that Servalan arrived, and afterwards a mysterious black ship also touched down. Nebrox adds that “the woman” was the only one allowed on board, and afterwards, went into one of the slave huts and bought a member of an entertainment troupe. Nebrox claims to have a plan, although Avon suspects a bluff as they are paraded for auction.
Avon is brought before Servalan, a tipsy old woman in charge of the auction called Verlis (Betty Marsden) and the auction panel. Benos begins the bidding for Avon, but Servalan wins the bid. Nebrox creates a small diversion, in which he gets Avon’s bracelet back from Benos. Dayna teleports down with another bracelet, and along with Avon and Nebrox teleport back up to Scorpio (having shot Benos in the process of escape).
On board Scorpio, the crew are tracking the black ship (bearing a crab crest) that Nebrox mentioned. Avon and Tarrant teleport aboard. On board the dimly lighted ship, they cautiously approach the bridge, where a makeshift dummy has been set up as a decoy. Avon and Tarrant storm the bridge where they are confronted by Cancer (John Wyman) and a terrified, timid young woman called Piri (Caroline Holdaway). Cancer declares that the two men are his prisoners, but Piri launches herself at Cancer, allowing Tarrant and Avon to overpower the assassin.
As Soolin, Vila and Nebrox teleport aboard, Piri explains to Avon that she was bought by Servalan to help Cancer celebrate his victory. Avon decides that the best plan is to wait for Servalan to make the rendezvous, or at least broadcast a message. Cancer is locked up in the hold, Vila teleports back to Scorpio, while Piri waits in her new quarters. Nebrox pays her a visit, explaining to her about the woman he saw. Nebrox promises to look at Cancer to make sure he hasn’t escaped. However, when he reaches the hold, Cancer isn’t there, and is instead, attacked by an unseen figure, causing him to scream in terror.
Avon’s impatient vigil by the console is interrupted by a hysterical Piri, who has found Nebrox’s body. The cause of death is unknown, although there is a curious red mark on the dead man’s hand. Avon proposes that they lock themselves on the bridge and barricade themselves there until they reach their destination – a good plan until Cancer switches off life support.
With only two hours to find Cancer and reverse the process, Avon, Tarrant and Soolin split up, leaving a protesting Piri in the hold. Soolin thinks about how Cancer could have freed himself, as an unseen hand puts a crab-like spider just by her. Before it can attack, Soolin rushes off, having worked it out. She meets Tarrant in the hold, where Piri has gone – and what’s more Avon has gone missing too…
Having been knocked out, Avon regains consciousness – tied up – where he is face to face with Cancer – who turns out to be dead. Piri – now less demure – reveals that she killed him, and more to the point, reveals that SHE is Cancer.
Soolin tells Tarrant that Piri/Cancer stole the key from his pocket while he was comforting her and replaced it again afterwards, and then again from Soolin when she pleaded with her not to be left in the hold. “Cancer” was in fact the actor bought by Servalan. Piri/Cancer explains to Avon that she killed Nebrox after he was becoming suspicious of her. Avon surmises that the whole thing has been a setup, and sure enough, Servalan’s voice comes through on the communicator, saying that she was the one that switched life support off.
Piri/Cancer prepares to kill Avon with her venomous crab spider creature, which has magically transformed itself from her crab badge. The crab spider makes for Avon, but Tarrant and Soolin enter. During the confusion, Soolin knocks the crab spider away from Avon where it lands on Piri/Cancer instead. The crab spider bites Piri, who is slowly and painfully killed by the deadly venom. The spider is then shot into tiny pieces.
Servalan orders her captain (Mark Barratt) to make for Cancer’s ship and open fire on it. The captain obliges, but Avon, Tarrant and Soolin have teleported back to safety. Gratefully downing wine, the crew relax on board, as Vila wonders what happened to the sweet little girl. Soolin replies that all sweet things have a tendency to make anyone sick…
ANALYSIS As far as whodunnits go, Assassin is a bit of an odd one in that we know whodunnit right from the off. As Servalan smugly orders on the intercom, Cancer’s out to get the Seven – well, the five anyway, and as we’ll see, Cancer will also manage to bump off the old dude who went on to be Hartnell’s replacement in Dr Who’s Five Doctors.
However, it’s not quite as simple as that would sound. Although we’re later introduced to Cancer – yes, that’s the Noel Edmonds lookalike skulking around looking like a shifty bat – it turns out that Cancer isn’t quite what he seems…
Lots of great twists and turns pepper Assassin, which is another strike for the burgeoning season four. This is the lone contribution from actor-turned-writer Rod Beacham (who has something in common with the next episode’s writer in that they both had blink ‘n’ miss it parts in the fifth season of Doctor Who), and altogether he turns in a fine script that combines humour and suspense to great effect.
The script again harks back to the season one style of storytelling in that it’s essentially two tales in one. The first half chiefly concerns Avon getting out of his self-induced predicament on Domo, while the second part concentrates on the hunt for Cancer aboard his gloomy ship.
The Domo sequences are quite amusing, both intentionally and unintentionally. Paul Darrow does a sterling job in pretending to be the weakened sole survivor of a fake crash, and altogether, carries the episode well – even if there are some really hammy deliveries here. “He kills people. For a. Great. Deal. Of. MMMOONNEEYY!!!” is followed swiftly by “He will pack up his toys. And. Go. HHHOOMMME!!!!”
Unfortunately, the whole auction subplot is really naff, and a trifle camp, even by Blake’s 7 standards. Verlis is a drunken old goat, who looks like a wizened peacock and sounds uncannily like a 60-fags-a-day bloke down the pub during last orders. If that’s not bad enough, the auction panel look equally ridiculous, with the head honcho decked out in his granny’s necklace and curtains. At least Servalan looks like she’s enjoying herself for the first time this season – although she’s slipping more into parody with her quasi-dominatrix request to be called mistress and her cringe-inducing response to Cancer: “You’re a credit. To our sex.” Unfortunately, the controlled, convincing Servalan of season one is now but a distant memory.
However, the second part of the story manages to build up the tension again, and it’s aided by some excellent lighting on board Cancer’s ship. Before long, Nebrox has been bumped off, although quite why he just stands there going: “WUUHHHH!!!! WAAAHHHH!!!!” rather than running away when confronted by a pathetic wallflower is a mystery. Richard Hurndall is very good as Nebrox though, and is probably the best of the guest actors.
Of course, the other guest character to make an impression is Piri or Cancer or whatever she calls herself. It’s a neat bit of blind-siding as to the real identity of Cancer, and looking back on it, there are plenty of subtle clues laid throughout Assassin to suggest that Piri is not all that she seems. There’s the crab badge, and the way in which she looks puzzled at the mention of Mangon stew (which looks like someone’s puked into a bowl). And of course, no one could be that whiny and shrieky.
But sadly, Caroline Holdaway’s below par performance makes the Big Reveal less impressive than it should be. Poor old Holdaway has received something of a bad press, not least on the accompanying commentary in which her performance is not received that well by Jacqueline Pearce and even Paul Darrow. To be fair to Holdaway, she does quite well initially as the screamy damsel in distress, which is a difficult job for any actress to do convincingly anyway. Regrettably, her attempts at being the baddie are less successful, and smack of ropey amateur dramatics. Shame, although her prolonged death throes and screams are very convincing, if a little OTT.
Steven Pacey was reportedly less than impressed with Assassin because it made Tarrant look a fool by being easily duped by Piri’s feminine wiles. Of course, the line “I don’t like clever people” may have had something to do with Pacey’s aversion to this episode, as it basically shows Tarrant up as a thick lunkhead. But surprisingly, Glynis Barber’s Soolin is really coming into her own after a very shaky start. Soolin gets some great lines (“When did you get religion?”) and also does what I suspect many viewers wanted to do, which was to slap Piri round the face after her OTT bawling became too much for any sane person to bear. Barber is very good here, and it’s a relief that she’s afforded some opportunity to show off her acting skills after Soolin had so little to do in the first half of the season.
David Sullivan Proudfoot may have a tendency to go overboard with his Star Wars-esque screenwipes, but altogether, this is his best directorial assignment of the season. In particular, the silent sequence in which the trio hunt for Cancer is handled very well, complete with an excellent score from Dudley Simpson.
Assassin may have its flaws, but for atmosphere and wit, it scores highly on both. Just ignore the crappy Full Circle crab spider thing, that’s all.
Check out our review of season 4 episode 6 here.