Hidden Persuaders Review
For a longtime fan of Blake's Seven, one of the initial, though incidental, pleasures of listening to Kaldor City was to speculate as to the true identity of Kaston Iago. However, such speculation is rather like wondering just how close Harrison Ford's portrayal of Deckard is to his Han Solo. Similarly, although the Doctor must exist somewhere in this universe (or these universes), to introduce him would not necessarily add to the finely-crafted, self-sufficient world of intrigue Kaldor City presents. Imagine if the alien fleet in Star One really had turned out to be the Daleks. Blake's Seven would have lost its credibility. Here, the amount of crossover is judged just right with neither series being used for what would amount to borrowed interest, and leaving Kaldor City as a discrete entity. A pleasing echo, however, is the reprise of Alistair Lock's theme from "The Logic of Empire" in the title music.
As with the other releases in this series, the first thing one notices about "Hidden Persuaders" is that, in terms of production, it makes great television. All you have to do is close your eyes. Listening in the dark, as I was, one's mind is allowed the luxury of really expensive sets and special effects. But for all the technical excellence, the standout elements are the writing and the performances. Jim Smith and Fiona Moore have crafted an action-packed story that parallels events in the world today, with media manipulation in the service of the state, a leader using the actions of terrorists to further his own power and curtail freedoms, and daily atrocities setting the scene for a future in which Security feeds on insecurity.
In "Hidden Persuaders," the cast have truly settled into their roles. Russell Hunter builds on his portrayal of Uvanov as someone who does not necessarily take pleasure in the casual, cold-blooded pragmatism required of his position as a Kaldor City politician, because it is just the way he is. His attitude to power is of one to the manner born, yet he has a sense of humour that understands that the world is cruel and he might as well make the most of it. The other members of the Company board are as ruthless and self-serving, but in the world of Kaldor City, such traits are essential for survival. It is not a nice place to live, or to die.
Iago revels in staying one step ahead of the game. Paul Darrow again plays him with an even growl that is Kaston Iago. A curiously likeable anti-hero, Iago is somehow sympathetic, even as he kills. Did someone say Dirty Harry?
Patricia Merrick as Justina gives a fine performance, too. She is not just a foil for the others (Iago's love interest) but a strong character in her own right, with her own motivations. She's fiery and outraged when Cotton sees her naked, and later, furious at Iago for leaving for a day without telling her.
Tracey Russell as Blayes gives good rebel, tough as they come. She's a match for Iago, and keeps both sides guessing as to her intentions until they become explosively clear.
Scott Fredericks brings a feline grace to the character of Carnell, a man you'd find it very hard to trust personally, even as you were relying on his conclusions. What he does is barely understood by most of the other characters, and he takes full advantage of that.
Brian Croucher and Trevor Cooper as Cotton and Rull, respectively, are Kaldor City's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Croucher fleshes out Cotton's underdog personality. There are some nice comic moments between Cotton and Uvanov.
David Collings makes a welcome appearance as Paulus, the rebel leader with, curiously, the same voice as a character with a similar name from "The Robots of Death." Nicholas Courtney and Jasmine Breaks do their best Sky News reporter impersonations as the kind of media presenters all too recognisable from today's television.
And the story? The script of "Hidden Persuaders" is perhaps the most intricate of the series so far, with humour to the fore, and the political machinations of Uvanov in the background. An eerie Voc chorus, reminiscent of a better-produced Sirius Cybernetics Corporation sales brochure, begins the story as, at the funeral of a Firstmaster killed by terrorists, Uvanov and Landerchild hypocritically mourn his passing. It soon becomes clear that...well, things aren't as clear as they seem. An organisation known as The Church of Taren Capel plans to attack Oxygenator 4, with the intention of causing mayhem. But who is really in control of the rebels? And how does their campaign actually play out in the greater scheme of things? Uvanov has his own agenda, as does Carnell. Who is working for whom, and to what end? Iago protects Uvanov from attack, but also from bad news "There are death threats, and there are death threats," he observes. He coolly makes use of the situation to further his own ends, ingratiating himself with his insecure employer. Landerchild seizes on the actions of the terrorists to criticise the government but Carnell and Uvanov may be manipulating him. In the end, someone said, winning is the only safety. And in the end of "Hidden Persuaders," the situation is resolved in surprising ways.
Along the way, there's a delicious joke concerning an acronym, and, in a nod to the author of the book The Hidden Persuaders, Breaks and Courtney's news reporters are called Vance and Packard. Little touches like this, indicative of the care and attention lavished on the production by everyone involved, add to the continuing layering of a believable world. The writing, production and acting all give a sense that we are in a real environment in which we can become immersed. Listen to it in the dark, as I did, and you experience the opposite of one of those meditation tapes that take you down into your relaxing secret garden as you fall asleep. You have a journey into a world that you wouldn't like to live in, but it's a thrilling place to visit.