Arts

Cult Movie: Jacqueline Pearce was a TV role model and inspiration for sci-fi fans

Jacqueline Pearce in The Reptile (1966)
Ralph McLean

Jacqueline Pearce, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 74, had an acting CV crammed with cult classiness.

RADA trained, her dark good looks and slightly sinister onscreen demeanour saw her grace both The Avengers – she lit up a mighty fine 1966 Emma Peel episode about student insurrection called A Sense Of History – and Dr Who – she was a memorable villain in the Colin Baker-era highlight The Two Doctors.

She also brought a bold and sensual presence to two of the finest British horror films of the mid 1960s, The Plague Of The Zombies, where she made for a truly beautiful member of the undead before getting her head hacked off with a shovel by Andre Morell for her trouble, and The Reptile, where she played a sultry outsider given to turning into a human-sized lizard when the mood took her.

For me The Reptile alone is reason enough to grant her celluloid immortality. Knocked out by director John Gilling on the kind of budget that would barely cover catering costs on a modest TV production today, that 1966 chiller remains one of the strangest, most alluring tales ever to emerge from the house of Hammer – all Eastern oddness and repressed sexuality – and Pearce's central role one of the most mesmerising and haunting in all horror cinema.

She did lots more besides, of course, and even wound up propping up a lesser Carry On caper in the shape of Carry On Don't Lose Your Head in 1966, the same year she lost her noggin with those aforementioned Hammer zombies, bizarrely enough.

Such memorable movie moments and televisual treats pale into insignificance, however, when compared to the role she landed in 1978.

As Supreme Commander Servalan in Blake's 7, she was the embodiment of science-fiction villainy. All monochrome style and outrageously overblown evil, she delighted in the role of the ruthless leader, seeming to savour every morsel of ripe dialogue and wonderfully intense drama.

Like all good thespians, she realised pretty quickly that the bad guys get all the best lines and she seemed to relish every moment the character afforded her with a sneering, maniacal zeal all her own.

All feather boas and industrial shoulder pads, she was an instantly iconic figure for everyone who loved that cheaply produced but wildly inventive BBC serial.

Between 1978 and 1981 she ruled the small screen galaxy with a rod of iron and a throne of best BBC cardboard. Flippant as it may seem to say now, she did indeed provide a truly strong and powerful role model for women on telly. In fact, to this day, it's a performance of power and strength that's rarely been bettered.

For young, pasty faced males watching on for their weekly fix of sci-fi magic, and I include myself in that callow-faced clan, let's just say she was an inspiration on many fronts and leave it at that, shall we?

Servalan may be gone but she'll never be forgotten.

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