Friday, 4 March 2016

Season Two!

Oops. I seem to have missed, oh, thirteen weeks of the blog. Did you miss me? No, don’t answer that: I’m more sensitive than I appear…

How did it happen? Well, I lost faith in the show, and I didn’t want to write about it: nothing’s going to corroborate negativity more than writing a blog about it. And who’d want to read it? I couldn’t stand a blog on any season of Who where every entry began: “Oh Christ, let me tell you about this one…”

Get a bloody life!, I would say. I quite often shout this at the mirror, in fact.

The sad thing being that, like Season 8 of Who, I have no record of what I thought of Blake’s 7 Season 2. No chronicle of my growing respect for the production team, as they drew together the threads of Blake and Servalan’s stories, tangled them in knots round the innocent Liberator crew and accursed Travis, dragging them up and down the universe, through all the Skaro’s and even to the space cabaret that Doctor Who extras go to after death.

I’m not saying this season’s perfect. I couldn’t love anything that was. The first six episodes made me consider faking my own death and forging a new persona as a sports fan denying all previous association with the world of British sci-fi telly and its fruity lead actors. Those stories are full of great characters (like Carnell the psycho-strategist) drumming their fingers while events revolve around them like a doddery baggage carousel.

And you have to say it: Scott Fredericks, Peter Miles, Kevin Stoney. One story each. Their only/last appearances in the whole series. What?!

But I must say, once Gan’s dead and Blake’s come back from his weird sojourn on the living planet with the English-speaking chicken-lizard-lady and Servalan’s double-crossed (or is it triple-crossed?) New Travis, and the Liberator has ram-raided the Federation, things begin to steadily improve.

To start with, there’s Robert Holmes’ first contribution to the show, Killer. It’s got a fabulous Saturday night vibe: you know where you are, then you’re surprised, then there’s a race against time and a twist and even a surprising, tragic ending that no amount of silly flappy PVC tabards can undermine. After Hostage, about which we will not speak, comes a story which is almost a reversal of Killer: there’s an old ally of Avon’s, and certain death in the offing. The Liberator crew could fly away to safety, but instead they battle on to the last second to demonstrate what ideals they hide beneath their chilly exteriors. It’s got pace, it’s got backstory, it’s got mad staring eyes: excellent.

The remainder of the series takes us from the sublime to the ridiculous and back again, at least once a week. We have the production team writing to the show’s strengths and just a little beyond the budget: best of all, Servalan and Travis going seriously off-message. By this point, we know who everybody is and what they want, but we don’t know what they’re going to do about it.

Voice from the Past, hardly the best story, is still full of surprises. Blake’s gone mad, baddies have gone good, there’s a sort of Bonfire Night guy speaking with a weird unpredictable accent: who can you trust? Nobody, it seems. Servalan becomes a cinematic image, which feels very 1984. The watcher was Travis all along. The pace is fast and the style is totally unpredictable.

And if you’ve been wondering how to peg me as Blake’s 7 fan, it may help to know that I don’t think anything will ever match up to Gambit

By this point, the crew are actually going somewhere again. Sometimes unwillingly, yes, but they’re on the move, making plans, even making plans for after. It’s not drowning in continuity – to be frank, I couldn’t tell you what Servalan’s agenda was from one week to the next – but we have a destination.

We also have The Keeper, which is appalling but at least in an interesting way. If you can’t enjoy a ranting Bruce Purchase as a yellow Visigoth in a mauve leather miniskirt (you should have heard me gasp) then really you must shun this era in television history. Go and read Tolstoy instead.

But ultimately there is a season finale, in an era when I didn’t think they did season finales, and the big secret everyone’s been going on about, and just when you think you know what you’re getting and you’re prepared to be disappointed, they only go and turn the tables on you. At least once before you even know you’ve done it, and then again.

It’s a brilliant cliffhanger. The Federation a ruin, Travis dead, Servalan abruptly the empress of chaos, and the freedom fighters standing by to defend everybody against goodness knows what. Should it have ended here?

Let’s find out.

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