Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Project Avalon!

It feels highly appropriate for Blake and his pals to be running around on an ice planet. It couldn't happen every week: those thermal parkas look ridiculous. But every character in the show is, to some degree, rather glacial. Blake and Jenna might share the occasional joke about Avon being a bastard, but the rest of the time they're deadly serious about combating the Federation.

Gan and Cally occasionally try unconvincingly to get in on the whole 'mates' thing, but you never actually see them having fun, relishing the adventure, cooking dinner for everybody. After that things slowly move chillier and chillier, from Avon (who'd definitely be treacherous underfoot) to Travis (the social equivalent to frostbite) to Servalan (who ought to arrive in this episode carrying a magic wand, in a sleigh drawn by reindeer and driven by a dwarf).

Then there are the Mutoids. Good to see them back, by the way, though a pity there's not a return appearance from Carol Royle. Did she object to the script or the plastic hair? Either way, she could have made a chilling companion for Travis had she stayed. Her role – if not necessarily that of Kia-Ora herself, who one must imagine being jettisoned into space by Travis in an attempt to suppress bad PR – is taken by a promising young actress called Glynis Barber.

At the start of the show, when the Mutoids impassively zap a load of people in parkas, I got the idea that they were always and only women. I was trying to come up with theories about this, and the idea that women in the future can only assume powerful roles if they sacrifice their identity, when I spotted a couple of male Mutoids hanging around in the background of a scene. Is it the case that Travis is only accompanied by female Mutoids, while Servalan tours around with the boy vampires?

I'll have to keep an eye on this.

The story itself moved at a fairly glacial pace. Considering Nation wrote for squillions of other 45-minute episode shows, it does seem odd that he can't manage the pacing on this series. Really only about four things happen in this story, and it feels like they happen in real time.

A very good cast, on the whole, including this week's
David Bailie
who did have me on for a while that he was the traitor in the Avalon plan.

It was wonderful therefore to see Servalan again, and pretty much fully formed already: dropping her furs for her servants to pick up, toying with Travis by running a fingernail over his black leather carapace, at one point rocking a pair of 'space glasses' that received – and presumably needed – no explanation. She's quite rightly getting tired of Travis limping after Blake and co., and coming back with weak explanations like "I was abducted by two psychic sorceresses who made me chase Blake and Jenna with a pointy stick".

And at the end of this episode – shock! horror! – she actually relieves him of command. I like that things are moving relatively quickly, for backstory. I'm really hoping we do actually end the season with some narrative progression.

I do have a nasty feeling that instead the Liberator is just flying around in space doing the occasional good deed. Like the power in their spaceship's engines, the power of the Federation and its rebels feels essentially meaningless. Blake and his crew are taking Avalon to 'a safer planet' (and she's not in the following episode) but what does it mean in the long run?

Perhaps the best thing that can be said is that the show is gradually getting more personal: if we're not going to see Blake making any meaningful difference to the people of Earth, at least we'll see him battling Servalan and Travis. Nation needs to unleashed the show's suppressed soap opera urges.

Or perhaps it's sit-com I'm detecting. Everything that Villa does seems to deserve a laughter track. But I can't see that really working without Servalan and Travis recast as Patricia Routledge and Clive Swift respectively.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015


 I do worry that this blog sneers at Blake's 7 rather more than I'd like. It's so easy to laugh, so easy to hate something that tries to create its own style, albeit one modeled on the films of Flash Gordon and the strips of Dan Dare. Whatever the budget allocated to this show, it wouldn't look like it was made by Stanley Kubrick. I try not to write these reviews in wilful ignorance of that.

And this story, it should be noted, does its utmost to create something evocative and dynamic, the results being fairly unpredictable (until, I would say, the final conclusion). It deals in tragedy on a planetary scale, powers of a celestial nature. We get a lot of crazy video effects representing the slowing of time, telepathic communion, and a sort of sci-fi freakout induced by
Patsy Smart
to make Blake vulnerable, or perhaps more angry and liable to attack.

And blessings be upon my black PVC trousers, but Travis is back, and never was a King Rat more boo and hissable. Travis is commanding one of three pursuit ships, but he's more than happy for Blake to destroy the other two if it makes him vulnerable to Travis. Not only that, but he surrounds himself with space vampires with plastic hair (an intended call-back to Madeline Issigiri of The Space Pirates?).

The Mutoids are Terry Nation's more sultry version of the Cybermen. Human beings who have sacrificed their identities to be physically adapted to perfection, and now must prey on their fellow beings. There is an exchange between Travis and his Mutoid companion, when he taunts her with her previous identity ("You were Kia-Ora") and she doesn't raise to his bait, better than pretty much any Cyberman scene Blake's rival show has managed.

I wasn't too surprised to find that this story was directed by Doctor Who's A-Grade Director, military enthusiast, curly-haired sex symbol and pre-Hartnell incarnation, Douglas Camfield. From the opening scene, with two blue women bickering gnomically on a blasted heath made of jabolite, a minimal bit of sci-fi scene painting is made alive and intriguing. The story is strange and ultimately oblique (by which I mean, no real explanations by the end) but it's also got momentum. We may not understand exactly what has just happened, but we want to know what'll happen next – particularly when it might mean Blake being impaled by Travis or Jenna being eaten by a Vampire.

And credit where it's due, as well as Camfield, this is due to Nation's skill. This is a story written precisely for the 45-minute format, a story that works with and not against its meagre budget. There are good lines for Blake, Travis and (of course) Avon: "Blake is up a tree, Avon is up another tree – unless they plan on throwing nuts at one another, I don't think we'll see much of a battle before morning." This is also the moment where Avon even admits, in the terms of a computer programmer who is subtly altering code under the nose of his employer, or indeed a politician, that he cares for Blake and/or Jenna.

But even with all this said, I find this story sadly lacking, precisely because Avon's comments are so satisfying and yet so minimal compared to the slow-motion fighting and stick sharpening. Nation takes an interesting step in having the crew watching and commentating on the action below: he could have had them all frozen in time. There's a really promising moment when Jenna tells Blake the Federation will catch them in the end, and Vila and Gan have a little argument about it.

But that's it. We cut back to Jenna and Blake and they're laughing together like a couple in an advert for life insurance. I've said it before, but this show has far too many characters competing for a bit of the action. More than that, they are an interesting show in themselves but keep being diverted to take part in dumb 'stories of the week'.

Let's kill a few of them off, eh, Terry?

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Mission to Destiny!

A couple of weeks ago I was mean about Terry Nation and his episode titles, but perhaps I spoke too soon. The Web was nice and spooky, as well as literal, and Seek – Locate – Destroy was quite playful in referring both to Travis's mission and Servalan's command. And now we have a really cheesy title, but pretty soon we find it's perfectly adequate: there is a mission, and it is to a planet called Destiny.

Avon's having none of it, to everyone's great pleasure. The fungal infection Destiny's crops (all of them) have been suffering lately could, if he was involved, literally just mushroom. But there's a mystery surrounding the tools of the mission – a murder mystery, with an element of the locked room and the lead piping about it. Instead of Miss Marple, however, we have Cally and Avon.

Avon, like Sherlock Holmes, proves to be an aloof but alert judge of character, as well as a man capable of reading the desperate bloody scrawl of a dying man. Cally holds her end up in the business by managing to unerringly walk past people while they are doing suspicious things, without being seen. To be honest, the pair of them (along with Blake) do very well not to be arrested and/or executed within the first five minutes as the most suspicious bunch of people you could wish to find on a crime scene.

It feels almost unfair that this story should hinge upon the release of sleeping gas upon a spaceship. I'm not going to fall for such a lazy metaphor. However, this is an exceedingly dull story, which not much to recommend it beyond the strong showing from Avon throughout, a fine performance from Avon. If Blake isn't necessarily meant to fear for his position in this story, Gareth Thomas probably should have been.

It's crushingly disappointing, coming after the arrival of Blake's murderous ex-boyfriend and Avon's equally villainous future girlfriend (or do I have that wrong?) in the previous story – not to mention a story with a lively momentum and some real lawbreaking for the Libertor's crew of vigilantes. In this story, Blake and his friends explore an abandoned spaceship out of the goodness of their hearts (Blake obviously tells Avon they're just there to loot the place, but his conversation with Jenna beforehand suggests otherwise), and then embark on the titular Mission to Destiny, despite the fact they nearly all die when they run out of petrol in a very heavy hailstorm.

I'm not saying they wouldn't, just that it's a bit too nice of everybody this early in the season. At the very least, it should have been clearer that Blake is helping the Destinettes (or whatever they're called) to avoid having to join the Federation after their farming woes.

The major diversion of this story, however, is the low-key appearance of one of Doctor Who's most beloved companions. I really wish I'd kept a running tally of Who star guest appearances – we've had representatives from Revenge of the Cybermen, Robots of Death and most recently, Genesis of the Daleks itself (and please let Peter Miles have a recurring role, particularly in scenes with Servalan and Travis). But in this story we have K-9 himself in a key role.

He should be unrecognisable, being as he's a human being here and not a silver box with ears and a tail. But if you'd been told that K-9 was onscreen somewhere, you'd point immediately at John Leeson. He's not as up himself as the robot dog itself, but he's just as adorable. It's reassuring to think that in the distant nightmare future, there are still men who can be played by John Leeson.

It's just a shame he doesn't (as I hoped) turn out to be a bastard underneath the cute facade – but then, this show never has been particularly true to life so far...

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Seek – Locate – Destroy!

It's her! Finally!

And just as excitingly, though meaning a lot less to me, it's him, too!

Terry Nation makes us wait for Travis. We hear a lot about him from Servalan and from Servalan's cute young squaddie friend. He tells her that he won't serve alongside Travis, that he's a butcher and a villain who is, basically, not merely licensed to kill but driven to it as well. We hear about his ruthless effectiveness, so ruthless that (even in the nightmare future of memory wipes and random killings that we have already seen, the world in which children are abused in the name of justice and lawyers gunned down in cold blood, not to mention wet weather) there was somebody somewhere raising an eyebrow and saying, 'Ooh, bit much, I think.'

Servalan really couldn't give less of a shit. In fact, she seems to have personally intervened to ensure Travis wasn't dismissed from the security ranks. Was that because she thought he was useful to her? Did she know about Travis's history with Blake and choose him because of it? Or is she planning on using him in various future campaigns in which she can, if she needs to, deny responsibility for the outcome? Does she know what she's got in Travis?

She joins the episode's writer in making us wait for Travis, but she does it to show him who's boss. She sends a clear message for him to wait in reception. But leafing through old back issues of Bella and The People's Friend is evidently not on his agenda. He refuses her show of power. He demonstrates his maverick tendencies direct to his boss.

So even in this opening episode, there is a game of cat and mouse going on even between the aggressor's. I like that. There's flirtation too, of course, and how could there not be? Servalan and Travis are sex kittens who have found themselves in the most sterile environment you can imagine, beasts of the savannah in a future where the wilderness has been paved over. But do they want to mate or kill one another, or something else...?

Servalan finds Travis's missing eye 'displeasing'. Travis, I suspect, is not much of a ladies man ('I'm always in the market for a rough analogy,' he purrs at a male technician) and only has eye for Roj Blake. After all, as neither of them can forget, he waited for him for two days, in a basement and, what's more, presumably in that skin-tight black PVC outfit. No wonder he was so aggressive when it came to it: nobody likes to be stood up, and that outfit must be a very snug fit. When Servalan comes across him, seated in front of some giant blow-up photos of Blake in pain, he can, we assume, barely contain his excitement.

What does she make of it all? We know everything about Travis, from his criminal record to his hot temper, not to mention the missing eye and the gun in his finger (are the Kraals the great evil behind the Federation?). Servalan is onscreen from the get-go, but giving nothing away. She asks the questions, gives the orders, even gives the episode its rather Dalek-tastic title. Yet we barely catch her job position, hardly understand her power or her plans.

What with the nifty pacing at the start of the episode, it all adds up to a rather satisfying episode. There's not enough for Avon to do – to be honest, there's barely enough for anybody to do: "Blake's Three" would have been a much tenser ensemble, but there you are – but at last we have more characters of his calibre.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this develops.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

The Web!

Being as I'm currently Googling images for this blog, reading reviews  and background (such as the aforementioned Alwyn Turner biography of Terry Nation) and of course the wonderful and hilarious Wife in Space blog,  not to mention having conversations with people who don't know what I don't know, it's hard to avoid spoilers for Blake's 7. Simply through a process of osmosis, I know what happens at the end of the series. I know that Servalan is FINALLY in the next episode. I know about Gan, but not where and when.

But somehow, I sure as hell wasn't expecting whatever this was.

Early expectations were, strange as it may seem, that this might be co-opted somehow into the history of Doctor Who's Second Doctor-bothering Great Intelligence, perhaps the even older Animus, based on their capacity for snatching down spacecraft out of the ether with an unearthly and indestructible cobweb (making The Web a partner with The Web of Fear and The Web Planet respectively) (and there is a precedent in Who fandom for weaving together the respectively gauzy tendrils of the Great Intelligence and the Animus as some sort of Lovecraftian interdimensional evil being).

Then, of course, there was a slow pan through what looked like the New Forest after a Zorbing day out gone horribly wrong. A camera explores a proper sci-fi-looking base, with people wrapped in bacofoil sleeping on very uncomfortable-looking futuristic sun-loungers. A whispering voice – like the Animus!, I thought, like the Great Intelligence! – and then: Saymon.

Cut to Roj Blake, all in his déshabillé, perhaps to arouse the viewer, perhaps to symbolically represent vulnerability. Blake's crew seem peculiarly incurious about the mysterious spaceship they've stolen, more preoccupied with its physical trappings: Jenna's blouse, Avon's jewels, and this time Villa's first words onscreen being a gawky, 'What do you think of the outfit?', to which Cally (whose shimmery green gear is presumably also 'off the peg' in the Liberator's wardrobe room) responds with a heavy object to the head.

The clunky technobabble jeopardy that takes up a great part of the first half of this story – "Standard drive plus auxiliaries can be sustained for ninety hours. Each neutronic discharge reduces that capacity by three hours." Aarrgh! – seems a long way from the sinister meta-psychological stuff we saw in the opening episode, where brainwashing was the most fundamental nightmare of the future dictatorship. But we do see a survival of those themes in Cally: the huge physical prowess of the auto-repairing ship can be invaded and overpowered through the vulnerable and mysterious mind.

There's a first note of something interesting with Cally's alienness, when Avon cites it as a reason not to trust her, and the strange description of her as a 'daughter' of the exiled Auronar scientists. Ham-fisted as the story is, and it's really another issue of wonky pacing, Nation was clearly being strategic about its placing: a new crew member on the ship, but can she be trusted? Does she share the common creed of the crew? Do they have a common creed?

Unfortunately, despite a veritable buffet of interesting characters to play with, Nation makes us starve for interpersonal drama. Instead, he reformulates some of the highlights of Genesis of the Daleks, with arch-villain Davros replaced by what looks like a cheap gimmick from a very outre cabaret act. Hard to describe what the Daleks are replaced by. 'If someone pointed out a child dressed as a woodlouse carrying a spear, and told you that that child dressed as a woodlouse carrying a spear would grow up to be utterly evil...'

 Thank goodness for not knowing: that when I put this in the DVD player last night, I would see this. I still can't quite believe that I saw it. (And I bet Terry Nation couldn't, either. Another potential 'new Dalek' idea, up in smoke.) But how sad to know. To know that Servalan is on her way. To know that Saymon is not coming back. Not the returning villain who becomes the iconic epitome of Blake's 7.

And if he is, and he does, I'm telling you now: keep it to yourself.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Time Squad!

This weekend I had the pleasure of reading Alwyn W. Turner's excellent biography of Terry Nation. As well as emphasising the dramatic flash and sociological wallop of Nation's drama, Turner acknowledges certain Nation motifs: countdowns, automated cities, 'a virus that would wipe out all life...' He doesn't mention one of the more endearing hallmarks of a Terry Nation script, and one that somehow creates a picture of the great writer as the cogs begin to turn. We're at his elbow in an office in Shepherds Bush, there's a deadline ringed on his calendar and a cup of coffee half-consumed.

A sheet of paper in the typewriter. Clackety-clack. 'THE END OF TOMORROW' ... 'THE WAKING ALLY' ... 'THE DEATH OF TIME' ... Yes, that's the title out of the way. Better than 'The Ordeal' or 'The Rescue'. Now, let's get the episode done. Has it anything to do with the title? Who cares? We're in the jet age. We're linear and progressive types. We don't linger or look backwards. 'THE WAY BACK', 'SPACEFALL'. Sound great, don't mean much. Bit of a wild card with 'CYGNUS ALPHA', but we're on track again here.

Given Nation's long acquaintance with Doctor Who and the 'thrill-a-move race through time and space!', the prospect of a 'Time Squad' can't help but set the heart a-beating. Things get going with a nice slow scene about technobabble, but whoosh, soon enough we're off with a mission. We're going to bomb a strategic radio signal booster; it's on a planet that happens to have an active cell of anti-Federation rebels: we're going to make contact with them too. Now there's a mysterious space capsule with two mysterious aliens in cryogenic suspension. Let's get them defrosted while we're at it...

I must say, I'm still finding Blake a little too sober and earnest, and the way he plans this particular mission (as though they were heading over to the Lake District for a bit of shoplifting in Keswick, oh and we can meet up with these students round there who like to party; hang on, there's a camper van parked in the lay-by off the A591 with two men (probably murderers) asleep under a tartan rug: let's investigate that too, it's on our way) doesn't help.

As with the previous week, though, there's a nice mix of genres. Running about on the planet (an orange quarry contrasting last week's blue one) would be a fun sci-fi story in itself, but it's nice to counterpoint it with a rewrite of Blood From The Mummy's Tomb up in orbit. It's good to know the show isn't afraid to use a variety of styles and genres, while maintaining its world of Federation insurgencies and telepathic computers.

The drama of Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. scampering around the Liberator in pursuit of Jenna and Gan, is hokey but effective. I'm already a fan of David Jackson (though his fruity vowels sound a bit Matt Berry at times, particularly, 'They killed my woman...') and particularly Sally Knyvette, who manages to put sincerity of drama into a variety of tense situations this week, whilst dressed as a children's entertainer booked to perform at a pig farm.

And what's actually going on with Zen? Four stories in is early for him to be behaving in a scary, suspicious, unknowable way. Out of all the Seven, he's currently the most intriguing one.

The story on the planet's surface is okay, if you can convince yourself you don't know who Cally is (perhaps start by telling yourself it's Kate Bush). I like Jan Chappell, and there's something exotic about her telepathic powers, not to mention the fact (not dwelled on here) that she's not human. But the narrative is just too straightforward. We're really wanting some sort of figurehead for the Federation, a villainous leader who can personify the evils of the state and provide a proper opponent to Blake and his (increasingly numerous) gang. Perhaps she could wear the occasional nice frock.

To instil a last note of drama, Blake and co. light the blue touch-paper without checking if it's possible to jaunt away, for the second time this episode and already third in the show itself. Let's hope they've learnt their lesson by now.

But what can you do when there's a 'time squad' of some sort on your case. Or is there? No, somehow I don't think there was in the end.

And on balance, I'm glad.

PS: I'm making an early acknowledgement of this wonderful website, which I will be using to illustrate my postings in future. That should make things easier for me, and better for you...

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Cygnus Alpha!

You may have noticed the minor typographical improvement I've added to this week's episode title. It's an exclamation mark. I feel like Blake's 7 calls for exclamation marks: frankly, there should be one at the end of the series title (and an apostrophe) but I will settle for one in the title this week. And every week henceforth.
            Justifiable especially in this case, I think, because after a week on Earth and another in a series of grey boxes, we've arrived at our first alien planet:
            Cygnus Alpha!
            Well, it's unprepossessing, I must say. A bleak, quarry-like vista. Could this perhaps be the beginning of a theme? I don't want to make too many presumptuous statements, otherwise why watch the show at all – and it was still exciting to see, even from space, looking like a great wintry blue moon.
            Swirling mists. Ghastly misshapen corpses. Beautiful silent women in long capes. A mysterious fortress. Oh yes, this episode has it all.

            Three episodes in, and I still don't know who Blake's 7 are. I presume an assortment of glamorous space pirate and arch computer hacking psychopath, and some of those prisoners we rescued at the end of this episode. It would be nice if the seventh member of the gang was a Jack Russell Terrier, like in Enid Blyton's Famous Five (surely a direct inspiration to the series).
            Maybe a psychic Jack Russell Terrier?
            But whoever they are, they arrive separately on the remote prison planet of Cygnus Alpha. (I wonder what happened to the Lunar Penal Colony with the blue silk pyjamas, in Colony in Space? Or has that not happened yet?) Vila and Gan (who are definitely in the seven) have the worst of it, I think. Poisoned and brainwashed into thinking they're dying of an incurable space disease, there's a horrible moment when they say they can't leave the sinister citadel and its medication. They look like they'll happily lynch lovable Roj Blake, simply to stay alive in this grim hell-hole.
            Meanwhile, Blake's Two are up on their new spaceship, behaving like people who've just arrived at an Air B'n'B holiday rental: they go through the cupboards, fiddle with the Wi-Fi, experiment with the teleport and try on someone else's clothes (what's all that about, with Jenny putting on some random blouse she's found?) (and a nasty blouse, to boot).

            This aroused my interest. I always assumed the Liberator was some standard-issue bit of human technology. After all, episode two shows it has the same squishy sofas that Evil Morag was parked on in episode one. Instead, it's the mysterious technology of an enigmatic people, mysteriously adrift in the depths of space. It's not even called the Liberator until its wonderfully smug-sounding computer makes telepathic contact with Jenna and reads her unconscious thoughts.
            Basically, Blake's 7 is a much more interesting show than I ever gave it credit for. Is this ship from the future? Or does it belong to a super advanced people – and this is the first contact with the human race, having their spaceship stolen by three sarcastic vigilantes with nice hair?
            It's also an opportunity for some more really lovely dialogue between the three leads: 'Don't philosophise with me, you electronic moron!' 'I don't think it likes you.' 'I may have to reprogram this machine.' 'That still won't make you likeable!'
            Once the story-of-the-week gets going, things are a little less interesting, especially for Blake who is strapped to a chair and shouted at by Brian Blessed. Yes, Brian Blessed! Another reason for an extra exclamation mark! And people told me I shouldn't get used to the dour, cerebral tone of the opening episodes...

             I don't want to sound dopey (or like I wasn't paying attention), but exactly how long have Earth been using Cygnus Alpha as their prison planet if Brian Blessed's family (The Blessed's, if you will) have lived there for generations? Long enough to found the society he refers to? What does this society do, besides knit capes? What do they eat? Are there cornfields over the hill? Does Cygnus Alpha look nicer in the light?
            But these are details. In fact, this whole episode – though it ends in a punch-up and Blessed shouting himself to death – was promising. The interplay between the leads is fun, the mystery of the ship is tantalising, the fact we can have 60s-style SF with telepathic spaceships side-by-side with a world of Hammer Horror extras, is reassuring.
            Maybe we can risk pushing on – to Episode 4...!

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

The Way Back / Space Fall

So we begin with two gripping episodes in the life of Roj Blake. Its themes of repression and corruption realised through some impressively nightmarish imagery, this is a solid ninety minutes of sci-fi adventure. 1984 retold with the possibility of hope (if you're not dead in a puddle by the end of episode one).
            A little voice tells me these stories will prove to be, how to put it... atypical?
            We begin on what I presume was Earth; the talk of outer worlds does more to tell us this is 'home' than the episode itself. But immediately we have a sense of scope. The Federation's control is felt not simply across the globe, but on untold far flung worlds: that's quite an ambitious conceit.
            It does make me wonder exactly how such control is exercised. We know the Earth population are subdued by drugs in the tap water. Is the rest run on propaganda? I suppose you could point at a culture of oppression shown being played out at practically every level: abuse of children by proxy, corrupt medical archivists, prison guards gleefully gunning down hostages.
            That said, there's mystery around the ruling members of the Federation. Who are they? What do they want? What are they afraid of? Why can't the populace go outside? What was the cataclysm?
            I'd have liked to see a little more of Earth, especially as we won't be going back there. For the most part, all we ever get are city streets, or rather, corridors (the rebels meet in another set of corridors, without the paint job). One could assume this what the human race have come to: brainwashed into walking up and down corridors all day, looking busy but without destination. It's only the elite who get to sit down on squishy leather sofas.
            The closest we get to seeing actual life on Earth is the rather peculiar bedroom scene between Blake's defence lawyer and his girlfriend ('Ooh, nothing turns me on more than discussing the trial of a paedophile I'm defending...'). I think this is why, of all the characters introduced in these opening episodes, the one I warm to least of all is Blake himself. We know Jenna is a notorious smuggler, Villa a professional conman, and so on. But what was your life before you were lured outside, Blake? What exactly did you do in the resistance?
            The other characters are fun, more for the work of the cast than the script (understandable at the beginning). I'm not sure who the rest of the '7' are going to be, and that does seem a lot of characters for one TV show. I'd have settled for Avon, Jenna and Villa, with Blake's brain in a box. Or something.
            But like I say, this is clearly not a series which does things by halves.
            In 'Space Fall', the corridors are replaced with grim looking cells, pokey control rooms and (hooray!) a ventilation duct. When the crew of the prison ship London are being bounced around by the turbulence of an unexplained space battle, it does look a bit like a bunch of hikers in a camper van going over a badly tarmacked road having taken the wrong turning out of Rhosgadfan, especially with the space thermos wobbling on the dashboard.
            But all of this looks in retrospect like calculated preparation for the revelation of the Liberator flight deck. Evil overlords in a dystopian future Earth, corridor acting, ventilation ducts: it all sounds so Doctor Who. But compared with the Tardis console room (which, lest we forget, had until recently resembled Captain Nemo's private reading room) the Liberator ship looks halfway to Hollywood.
            And it's not simply the physical size and grandeur of the set, but the way the crew plan to use it. They're going toward something. They're on something of a mission. We're not simply whizzing about aimlessly, stumbling upon Satanic covens in 15th Century Spain or angry green plant monsters in Antarctica. There's a sense of linear narrative drive to add to that broad canvas.
             It's going to be hard to maintain this sense of grandeur, seriousness and mystery as the series develops. I won't be too disappointed if some of them drop out of the equation as we go along. I suspect that if the series had been four years of The Way Back and Spacefall (both titles, by the way, meaning what?) the show would not be remembered with the affection currently held for it.
            So, where next...? 


Nick Campbell

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

The Way Forward

The Amazon man cometh. He knocketh on my front door very loudly because the doorbell has gone (in actual fact, it's gone peculiar: yesterday, with nobody at the door, it rang itself, not with a Big Ben chime but a burst of saxophone). The Amazon man handeth me a parcel.

Sandwiched between layers of cardboard: a bold new future!


I've never watched 'Blake's 7'. It's become increasingly clear that this is as an oversight on my part, perhaps even a serious character flaw. A bit like being a committed churchgoer who's skipped a great wodge of the Bible, or an enthusiastic carnivore who's never tried sausages.

I've been a 'Doctor Who' devotee since I was 10 years old; being nearly 33 (though still looking, I like to think, a beardy 29) that not only makes me a fan of 20-odd years standing but, if you do the maths, a fan who spent his formative years in the wilderness between TV shows. I'm dedicated; I put in the hours.

Besides 'Doctor Who', I have written 'Avengers' fan fiction (we're talking Mrs Peel, of course) and would happily recreate the Sapphire and Steel intro for you with singing and interpretive dance ('Space:1999' and 'Ace of Wands' also available on demand).

But I've never watched 'Blake's 7'.

It's not true to say I've never seen it. In my teenage years, I borrowed the odd episode from Dulwich Library on VHS. I remember a couple of details from Gold – well, I remember the title. And about five years ago I tried to watch the Pilot Episode. Got bored. Switched it off.

And here it is, in my house, on my kitchen table right now. Some sort of Dutch collection which gathers all four seasons together like a stack of silver pancakes with a delicious, tempting aroma. What will it taste like?

Will I be captivated? Will I be bored? Will it feel like watching hours of the opening scenes in 'Doctor Who' episodes before the Tardis arrives? Will it all be in Dutch?

What do I think it will be? Judging by the Pilot episode, rather serious for the first season. Probably with some nice terse angry exchanges when Chris Boucher is writing, and a few cynical loners when Robert Holmes takes over. I don't know when Jacqueline Pearce turns up, but I reckon it changes the whole series when she does, and I think I'll be rooting for her, the way one does Roger Delgado's Master – or Michelle Gomez's Master, come to think of it.

I expect to find the Liberator crew rather earnest and awful, like the Archer family members in 'The Archers', while most alien planets will be populated by the Grundy's. I'm fairly certain there has never been anyone like Servalan in 'The Archers', but please do write in.

Will there be anything as gorgeous as a Dalek, as lovable as Alpha Centauri, as cherishable as Beryl Reid in Space?

I'm going to found out, and I'm going to try and blog about it. You out there – you just wish me luck.


PS: You may wish to read my exploits with theSecond Doctor, or the Third Doctor, or just ogle my reading blog. Grab a cup of tea and a sponge finger and settle back.

All the best,
Nick Campbell