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...!

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