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


  1. I've only just realised... the Liberator is designed for a crew of five, not seven! Looking at your picture, though, there are five flight consoles and five seats in the "coffee" area. It's like even the ship is saying to Terry Nation: "Seven? Seven? What are you thinking, man?!"

  2. Are there only five bedrooms? Does someone have to share? I bet it's Villa and Gan!

  3. I like your description of the 'coffee area'. I suppose it could be crewed by five pilots and one captain who stays down on the front. It is rather mind boggling that there are so many controls. And they're so far from each other. Lots of shouting required.

    I would, however, like to imagine Villa and Avon in bed together, a la Morecambe and Wise. I'm not sure who's who in that analogy, though.