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, http://www.framecaplib.com/b7lib.htm which I will be using to illustrate my postings in future. That should make things easier for me, and better for you...

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