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!

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