It’s been a while since I looked back at Beast Wars, my all-time favourite of all the Transformers shows. So picking up from where I left off last time, it’s back to the first season and Episode 13 as I take a closer look at “Dark Designs”…
Dark Designs – Synopsis
Dark Designs, written by Ian Weir, starts off with a typical beginning for an episode of the series. The Maximals are off searching (unsuccessfully) for Energon, when they are ambushed by the Predacons. While Rhinox manages to save the day initially, Megatron sees potential in the Maximal and has Taratulus capture him.
While in Megatron’s clutches, Rhinox is reprogrammed and converted into a Predacon, much to the horror of the Maximals. But it’s not long before Megatron’s plan backfires…
The notion of a character being brainwashed and changing sides is nothing new. In a way it’s an overused trope and something we’ve seen far too often in sci-fi and fantasy and I’m sure we can all think of numerous instances where we’ve seen it in all our favourite shows. In most, it has been done as a straight personality swap, but Dark Designs has added something quite interesting to the mix.
As Rhinox starts to wreak havoc on the Predacons, we see Primal realising that his theory that Rhinox’s darker and more aggresive side would come to the surface. Normally a quieter member of the Maximal team, this side of his personality is something he keeps well under control but once unleashed it beomes deadly for Megatron and his cronies. What’s interesting here is that it acts as a subtle prelude to Rhinox’s transformation in Beast Machines when he becomes Tankor. Even when his real identity becomes known, he relishes in his new role allowing his inner anger to take control. And as much as I dislike Beast Machines, this call back to Beast Wars is welcome.
As with many of the older shows, there were a couple of things that stood out with Dark Designs from the writing/production side. The animation for the initial battle at the start did seem a little juddery and while I usually love the work Mainframe did with Beast Wars, I’d say this was more down to the excessive camera shaking and use of Rhinox’s machine guns than anything else.
The other was a line of dialogue at the end that dated the episode – very badly! Once rescued, Cheetor asked Rhinox, “What’s it like being a Pred?” to which Rhinox replied “Like you’re 3 gigabytes of attitude on a 2 gig hard drive”. Even in 1996 a 2Gb drive wasn’t that big, but now listening to that line sounds quite pitiful!
Despite featuring some light hearted moments and a few one-liners, Dark Designs is mainly a serious episode and is all the better for it. It’s refreshing to see a new side to Rhinox and Richard Newman played this dual aspect of him superbly. As with the rest of the series, it’s another cracking story though and even though it’s almost 30 years old, it still holds up to repeat viewing.