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.

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