Friday, 26 February 2016


I write this listening to John Miles' 1975 classic, 'Music Was My First Love'. I've seen the first season of Blake's 7 in its entirety and I'm in a party mood. If you're wondering why this particular track should take my fancy, I suggest you bung it on your hi-fi now and listen along with me.

The best thing about this end of season party is that I really enjoyed Orac! Having spent the rest of this blog bellyaching about stories that go too slowly or do nothing with the characters or are just Genesis of the Planet of the Dalek Invasion with 'DAVROS' tippexed out and 'PIPE-CLEANER-MAN' scribbled over the top, I found this engaging throughout.

I love little worlds, little created environments with their own peculiar atmosphere, and Professor Ensor's little pied-à-terre (or should that be pied-sous-terre?) beneath the acid seas of Aristo, a hop, skip and a slither away from the forgotten underground cities and phibian-nests, with plants, clutter and electronic birdsong in a gilded cage, was somehow tantalising and cosy at the same time.

I suppose the Liberator itself is a little flying world. One of the problems with the show is the fact you really can't believe they all knock about that big ship together in-between stories. They don't seem to have duties, hobbies, books, sexual relationships, random arguments. Cally was watching Youtube on the space goggles last week, but that's it.

Not even four dimensional chess. People are always playing four dimensional space in the future. Never five dimensional billiards or six dimensional Mousetrap. Chess. But on the Liberator, not even that.

After my closing comment of last week's blog, I was excited to see the story begin with the crew all looking the worse for wear, but it turned out to be only radiation poisoning. Are we ever going to see this bunch cut loose? Robin Hood and his Merry Men were always hitting the mead and sack.

I can't believe that Gan and Phil don't get pissed together now and then. But that's a different area of the internet...

So yes, the crew actually suffer the effects of last week's over-extended visit to the wintry parts of Skaro, and there was I thinking Terry Nation had just forgotten he'd ever mentioned the radioactive atmosphere by the end of his script (after all, Destiny of the Daleks – which must surely have been made around this time...? – skates over this bit of the story with no backward glances). You do have to wonder exactly why none of the crew checked the effects of the radiation before nipping off to Aristo at the start of this story.

Then you have to put it out of your mind and get on with the story.

Blake and Cally beam down to the planet and, due to a force-field that takes five hours to switch off, can't beam back up until they've navigated the buried city and evaded the slimy phibians and the even slimier Travis and Servalan. We've seen a lot of that this season: someone teleports down, and then something arrives to chase either the teleport-operator or the ship away so the teleportees can't escape until the absolute nick of time. But I thought it worked really nicely this time – it was a race against the enemy, a physical battle – and it actually felt quite tense at times.

But the best bit of the episode, and perhaps the whole season, was the moment that Avon rouses Villa from his sickbed, and the pair of them defy their horrible space hangovers to go and help Blake and Cally. It shouldn't have worked, because of the four crew-members up on the Liberator, these are the least heroic pair. But somehow Avon's self-interest and Villa's cowardice were important here: they were survival traits, and they came from a cynical and pragmatic place. Gan and Jenna have too much faith in Blake to make it back from the planet alone.

At the same time, though he hides it under a thick facade of Paul Darrow-ness, the audience can see Kerr Avon's fondness for Blake – whether it comes from pity, envy or genuine respect, we can't quite tell. It's a heroic moment when the pair of them teleport down and save the day – just as Blake's decision to humiliate and undermine his enemies, rather than gun them down in cold blood, is a fantastic end to the series.
Except it's not the end. There's a cliffhanger – and a new member of the crew! The scene where Orac arrives and gets tetchy with EVERYONE – and actually makes Avon laugh – is weirdly satisfying. The crew are all on the back foot, all riled. And I'm thrown too.

I know Doctor Who had two K-9's, but at least he had the decency to have them one after the other. You can't have a show with both Zen and Orac, can you? Never mind too many lead characters, that's too many of the same character!

Or perhaps it works wonderfully?

Perhaps this is where it's all going to happen?

Perhaps Season 2 is where the fun really starts?

Here we go again...

Friday, 19 February 2016


I don't know about you, but I've lost track of the number of different versions of Skaro we've had in this opening season of Blake's 7. There have been versions with little woodlouse men, versions of Patsy Smart having a giggle, and last night in my house there was a version with men in furs throwing rocks, and a woman who worshipped Avon and had a rocket hidden in a cave.

Perhaps they're all just different regions of the same planet? Is this wintry version just Skaro in December? I think the answer must be yes. And at some point the panels are going to wheel back from Zen's big dome and we'll see that he's the Dalek Emperor from the Tv21 Comic Strips.

Now, I'm feeling a real need to acc-cent-uate the positive at the moment, because I sincerely went into all this with a very open heart toward this show, and at the moment I'm really not enjoying it very much. It moves slowly, I don't care much about the characters, and although some scenes are very sharp and witty, they tend to be compressed into one scene, like a big expensive special effect they don't want to repeat too often.

The scene with Servalan and Travis being a superb example. Nation obviously loves these characters, they're perfectly cast, they're out for themselves but they're also needy – they really want sex and power and death and glory all at the same time. In this story, both characters are somewhat on the back foot. Servalan is being supremely devious. Travis has been publicly humiliated.

Their scene together is electric. But it lasts about nine minutes, and it's surrounded by very earnest, rather directionless space action.

But I have been promised, this very day, that Season 2 is a big improvement. Moreover I have been told that Season 4 is space panto. I'm not a man who'll turn down the chance of a space panto. So I'm sticking with this show.

There is actually more of worth in this story than the Travis/Servalan scene. There is, after all, a very important little Avon/Blake scene at the beginning, when Avon virtually announces that he's ready to take Blake's place as Captain. And Blake's expression when Avon's adventure goes wrong and Jenna goes missing – for the first time this series, despite all the stories which saw him hunted through a radioactive forest by his arch enemy or ordering his crew to fly through a purple space hole vortex to risk saving Gan's interfered-with bonce, for the first time I think we see real fire in Blake's character. Ready to ignite.

And then there's the moment where he inadvertently refers to himself as a messiah. Once again, it's during a conversation with Avon. Suddenly I feel that I know Blake even less than I did before – and I suspect there's much more to Kerr Avon than I hoped. I feel that Avon might just challenge Blake in ways the great curly-headed symbol of freedom hasn't experienced before.

Maybe the issue is, Servalan and Travis get drunk while they're chatting, and hence their conversations are a bit freer and naughtier. I'm not sure what it is, that vibrant green liquid, but someone needs to smuggle some aboard the Liberator. A couple of drinks inside that crew, and it'd be the messiest Christmas party the galaxy has ever seen.

Meanwhile, here comes the season finale – and here comes Orac...

Sunday, 14 February 2016


Something that only bothered me last night: Roj Blake, Kerr Avon, Olag Gan, but Jenna Stannis and Cally – well, just Cally according to the internet. To confuse things, there's Vila Restal. Isn't this a bit like having a crew referring to each other as Bond, Smith, Jones, Emerson and Jennifer? And Phil? It's easy to forget Blake isn't his first name, and nobody (so far) has turned round and called him 'Roger', presumably because any suspended disbelief would immediately crash to the ground in flames.

What are we supposed to read into the name thing? Especially given that the only male member of the crew (Phil) exists almost solely for the running joke that he's the precise obverse of an alpha male – not just a coward but a clown coward. And that the two most powerful characters in the series so far (and probably forever) are Servalan and Travis? Unless we find out somewhere down the line that Servalan is her first name, and that her passport actually says Servalan McGee. Servalan Diamond. Servalan A-Ding-Dong.

The good thing about this names question is that women do pretty well in Blake's 7 in this season. There's not that many of them, but Servalan is the boss to rule all bosses. Patsy and Isla in Duel are super-super powerful and rather disdainful of Travis' posturing in his black leather underwear. The Mutoids are cool, Avalon is a valuable ally, there's a callous villain in Mission to Destiny and Cally, although not massively proving useful so far, is a tougher cookie than Phil and his sonic screwdrivers.

And Jenna is practically the lead character of the whole shebang. She knows how to drive the Liberator, and there are hints of complexity to her, perhaps more than any of the other crew, in her relationship with Blake and Avon.

In this story, we get a character from her past turn up – and for maybe ten seconds the audience might believe that Jenna has sided with the enemy and is selling them all out. She gets at least one brilliant scene with all the crew hating her guts. 'Avon, I didn't know you cared,' she says, coldly. 'He didn't,' says Phil,' and he was right!'
Naturally, the audience is never in any doubt of what Jenna's real plan is. Nation makes it very clear for us by having the dastardly villains of the piece dark-skinned, dressed in vaguely Middle Eastern robes, practically twirling their moustaches as they work. Which is a pity, because outside of this random throwback to the mores of 1960s telly,  I thought this was one of the best stories we've had this season. I loved the way the story played with our heads by having President Sarkoff

T.P. McKenna
playing dress-up and driving about in a fancy car, in the middle of a wood on a nameless planet in the middle of nowhere. There's some chutzpah in the visual incongruity of a folly, a recreation of a folly at that, surrounded by Federation troops, with a heart of silver – and then a vintage gramophone.

And if I liked this story for stirring memories of Doctor bloody Who, the show played upon that by making its flamboyant exiled hero (with a young family member as his companion) a man in retreat, cynical and sad and content with his fancy car. It's almost the Terry Nation UNIT story we never had.

Not that we know that Tyce is his daughter until the eleventh hour. Perhaps there is something in that ambiguity over women's names, that we are supposed to assume for 40-odd minutes that Tyce is her surname, when it's just an unfortunate-sounded first name. And her position in questions of power fluctuates rather oddly throughout the story, too – is she shielding Sarkoff, manipulating him, perhaps ignoring her own responsibilities?

Overall, this was one of the show's more substantial episodes. Nicely paced, nicely written, just a little bit horribly racist in the final quarter of an hour.

And Phil – reluctantly going off to enter the fray and face terrible danger – got a good scene. Which is probably a first!