After 14 straight episodes from the pen of Terry Nation B7 finally gets another writer - script editor Chris Boucher. Of course, Boucher had written substantial chunks of the first series, from dialogue retooling to entire subplots, and that he wasn't credited as co-writer for half of them was down to the archaic segmentation of BBC process. But this is the first one written by Boucher from the bottom up and while the quality isn't necessarily a seismic shift the mood and depth of it all certainly is. "Shadow" is technically a standalone episode but really it's the first step on Season 2's over-arching plot and themes, most notably the question of the lead character's fallibility.
Up until this point there's no question that as far as the show is concerned Blake is right, an honourable idealist in a world of bad men. But for the first time here the series puts him in one of the grey areas a revolutionary against the system would have to inhabit, the old question of whether the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Here he's planning to use the Liberator's stores of wealth to pay for the services of the Cosa Nostra, i.e. organised crime. It's made blatantly clear that the latter aren't chummy old thirties Warners gangsters either but pushers of the titular drug, and we're even given some addicts to see the damage it does.
Drug addicts and criminal organisations are something of a return to the harder edge seen in early episodes where Blake was accused of child molestation but it doesn't feel like a forced attempt to darken things but a logical extension (curiously, just as "Redemption" foreshadowed "Destiny of the Daleks" and its' computer warfare this one comes a few months before Doctor Who had its' own attempt at introducing drug issues to eight year olds in the dreadful "Nightmare of Eden"). The whole storyline raises some discussion and for the first time the show's daring to suggest the hero might not be doing the right thing. It's a question Season 2 will ask a lot and louder than this. Blake justifies his stance via necessity and by claiming the crew merely intend to use the Cosa Nostra; most of the crew are ambivalent towards this, only Gan belatedly developing a character and questioning it. This is interesting as Gan's characterisation up to this point has been of that of a loyal, stupid and amiable dog who doesn't object to anything, even being the repeated butt of Avon's rudest side, but here he's not happy about the proposed alliance.
The episode makes a point of not really answering the quandary, though it's perhaps a shame the plot eventually goes on to take the grey areas out by showing that the Cosa Nostra and shadow itself are controlled by the Federation. Which works in an Orwell-lite Party/Brotherhood way to underline the Federation's omnipresence, though you'd have to wonder why they bother with illegal drug operations when they keep so much of the population sedated anyway while the early episodes on Earth showed there was plenty of space for personal vices if you were high enough up the system, but still.
The secondary plot concerns the attempts of a disembodied force trying to take over Orac from a different dimensional plain, also involving Cally. It's not a bad plot line exactly, just a little bit big sci-fi and not really addressed properly beyond a bit of jeopardy for poor Cally - though she gets a scene of glory with her telepathy and then controlling the Liberator when the bulk of the crew are held hostage by Nostra member Largo, Jan Chappell even pulling off having to talk to herself for no good reason during it (she looks better with straighter hair too). In fact most of the crew get good stuff; there's the first sign of Vila's penchant for sin when he bails on Cally in order to fuck and drink on Space City, with the show making it fairly obvious as to what he's doing even via radio transmissions. Jenna again gets to show off her smuggling contacts and has some good lines, playing especially well off Avon. Gan however has to trade off his conscientious role by also being along as a crap lookout during the negotiations with Largo and does basically nothing after that. Orac meanwhile spends much of the episode possessed, though this plays better with the computer in only its' second full appearance with its' exact motives and capabilities adding some confusion.
Guest cast includes addict Hanna and her brother Bek, who dresses the same (is the silver paint a sign of shadow addiction or a fashion thing?) but is just pretending to be an addict in order to rob Largo and get the pair of them away from Space City. Largo himself is an enjoyable wideboy. Karl Howman, about a year from The Long Good Friday, overdoes things wildly as Bek but the character survives helping the crew. His reward is to be packed back off to Space City with Blake either believing he can raise an army that will be of some use to him in a year or just not wanting to share a bathroom with someone who looks like he should be playing keyboards for Visage.
The episode does largely retain the shinier feeling from "Redemption" too. It's cheap (a gunship assault on the Liberator takes place entirely from the point of view of the ship's bridge with dialogue from Cally and Zen, while Space City's interiors are represented by a couple of bright white rooms that seem broadly similar - though the model's not bad) but well-shot not to give the game away. It's got a warm slightly dreamy atmosphere that fits the theme, notably the brief location footage of Zonda. The whole show feels that bit less functional while Mary Hodge's costumes include the first appearance of Avon's silver baggy tunic. It's not big and it's not flash but there is a subtly more flamboyant look to the second season which adds to a general feeling of freshness.
"Shadow" isn't a classic but neither is it bad, even if the ideas are better on paper than on-screen. It's more an interesting harbinger of the shades of grey which would define the second series and an ongoing staging post in the series' subtle refresh, giving new direction and new hands on a concept which was beginning to show its' limitations towards the end of the opening series.