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.

1 comment:

  1. You gave me a Christmas chortle with your glacial character sketches. Especially the last three. Supreme Queen Servalan is obviously the best thing in it, dropped furs, dropped Space Commanders and all. This was always an episode I was especially fond of, partially for having tracked down the book from a far-off library and read it onto cassette before I had to give it back, but mainly from when the first VHSs came out and I replayed the closing scene over and over again to see Servalan taking charging, leaving Travis on the floor and ordering a fanfare for the fly-past. Fabulous.

    I think you may be onto something with how “essentially meaningless” Blake and Avalon’s rebellion seem in the long run… My biggest problem with Project Avalon is always the title character. She’s given nothing like as zingy a part as Servalan, admittedly, but it shows how much Jacqueline Pearce did for the show. Here you’ve got a potential mirror-Servalan, a young woman leader who could have been a fiery Joan of Arc fanatic on the ice planet. But instead, no wonder nobody can tell when she’s synthetic or not. I can’t see the insipid actor as a demagogue inspiring so many to fight to the last. Jacks, yes.

    As for the ‘space glasses’ – it’s nice that the BBC made two pairs of fPods. Travis and Servalan could so easily just have used the same pair in different scenes, but they accessorise with matching black and white ones.