The Highwayman

Season 1 Episode 0

Terror on the Blacktop

Aired Friday 8:00 PM Sep 20, 1987 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

Write A Review
out of 10
5 votes
  • Mysterious Highwayman is after biker gang The Bullets. But when the gang's leader is jailed after a bank robbery, Highway is certain the man has been set up, and falls foul of the corrupt local Sheriff as he investigates. Patchy Pilot to a great series...

    There were so many great US action-adventure series around in the 1980s (check out some of my other reviews; or my profile for my website). Coming very near end of the era of those types of shows, 'The Highwayman' looked set to continue in that tradition, but was sadly short-lived, which I've always felt was a real shame because the concept was great.

    It was shown here in the United Kingdom in 1988/9; it was one of those (stupid) cases where each ITV region showed it in their own slot, and not all regions took it. Most areas, such as London Weekend Television for me, showed it late Saturday nights (some areas late Fridays). I remember when the Pilot first aired, my father caught it, almost by chance, and went on the next day about how good it was; "and his lorry turns invisible, too!". Being only 9 or 10 at the time, I was always in bed sound asleep by the time it was on in it's late-night slot, but my Dad recorded most of the episodes, for me to watch the next day (though occasionally steered me away from a couple of the more comic-book-violent ones). While some of them survived, he often taped over them after watching them once, little realising that the series would never be repeated; others wound up frustratingly incomplete, where other things had subsequently been recorded on the same tape and ran over into the start of Highwayman episodes.

    For well over a decade after, I asked around many friends and contacts to see if they had any recorded episodes; many of them too remembered the series fondly, but didn't have any recordings – though in several cases, I ended up doing private copies of the episodes I did have, for them! Eventually, by the mid-2000s, thanks to the internet, I tracked down not one but two private DVD copies of the entire series. The quality isn't that sharp on many of the episodes, but finally I was able to re-watch this great, criminally short-lived series. (And yes, if this series is ever officially released on DVD, I'll gladly pay for it! Sadly, it doesn't look like it will be officially released any time soon.)

    Anyway, this is the Pilot (later titled as 'Terror on the Blacktop' to be shown as a stand alone movie, I believe), and although many Pilots feature characters and elements that would be re-worked for the following series, in the case of 'The Highwayman', it's very little like the regular series, with only Highwayman himself and his truck being the only recognisable features.

    The story is so-so, but for the most part very patchy, and in places a little hard to follow just what exactly the plot is. Even beyond the obvious necessary introductions of a Pilot and allowing things to find their footing, the pacing isn't that great; for a tighter, standard-length episode this one might have worked, but as a two-hour movie, it drags a bit in places.

    Of course, the setting this Pilot was heavily altered for the superior but short-lived series the following year. The "stealth" feature that allows the truck to become invisible was dropped (probably wisely, in my opinion; BTW, I hate that horrible, cutesy penultimate scene with the kid 'accidentally turning the truck invisible'), and most other elements were heavily reworked. I kind of like the character of Dawn, who doubles as radio presenter and Highway's boss-of-sorts, but it's hard to see how truck maintainer Toto would have worked if the character had stayed on for the series.

    Of note is that, while with a futuristic edge, this Pilot adventure seems to take place pretty much in the (then) present day; whereas the following series was set sometime in the (then) near future, sometimes with a vaguely post-apocalyptic feel to proceedings.

    Maybe I'm sounding a bit too harsh; as a Pilot, and indeed as a stand-alone TV movie, 'Terror on the Blacktop' is pretty good (pacing problems and blurry plot aside). But it's not a patch on what made those few episodes of the excellent regular series so enjoyable. I give this one a reasonable but not outstanding 8/10.