Friday, 27 May 2016

Dawn of the Gods!

I’m not really sure what happened here.

The title has a fantastic ring to it – definitely reminiscent of the golden age pulp action that makes up so many rungs of Blake’s 7’s DNA. It suggests colour, drama, people swinging on chandeliers, booming disembodied voices.

It turns out that the god in question is something out of the myths of Cally’s planet. So you would think it would be, for the most part, Cally’s story. She certainly deserves one, having been absent for episode one, on a couch for episode two, and standing at the back throughout episode three.

The big drama of the story comes when the Liberator flies unerringly into the heart of a black hole and everything goes marvellously mirrorlon. I mean, that never fails. And then, in a masterstroke, we find out that Orac has taken them through the black hole on purpose. He’s gone slightly nuts! But nobody really gets very angry at him. They just stare at one another in bemusement.

Soon afterwards, Vila goes on a great big spacewalk into the unknown blackness. Exciting! But then he falls onto the floor. He is attacked by a giant unknown something... but survives because there’s a breathable atmosphere.

It’s as if James Follett is trying to undercut every expectation we have about where the story is going. He’s successful for the most part – although we do get a big booming disembodied voice, who is, as expected, much more earthly than a god. But it does sometimes feel as if everyone’s making things up as they go along.

There is, at least, an acknowledgement that great telly depends on great visuals. What more could you want than a spaceship plunging into a black hole, or a world of darkness with a monster coming out of the shadows, or a sinister Willy Wonka type with a sonic cane, or nefarious types sawing the Liberator decks into lumps before being zapped by a psychic computer?

Except that after that, it’s
Doctor Who Guest Star
Terry Scully
with a sun visor and a pack of HB pencils in a random engine room set. Meanwhile, Cally is lying on a sheepskin rug surrounded by curtains being menaced by the voice of Thaarn.

Which is nothing to what happens when she does peek behind the curtain.

Like I say, it’s really not easy to say what happened when this story was made. Nobody comes out of it well: not Cally, not Avon, not Orac, definitely not Thaarn, and not the man with the sonic stick and the top hat. Poor old Terry Scully blows himself up (the second time in a row that we’ve had that story) but it’s not really very clear that he has to.

All I can say with some confidence is that in early 1973, James Follett happened to tune into the tenth anniversary story of another TV show, where the regulars are transported through a black hole into a world of strange imagery, where the will of a godlike being was absolute, a being who belonged to the myth of the show’s only alien character, who had a booming voice but turned out to be strangely impotent when it came down to it.

And he thought, “What this needs is a bloke with a big head behind a velvet curtain…”

I photographed the Radio Times listings from copies held by the British Library. Other screencaps are thanks to this amazing website:

Friday, 20 May 2016


Oh. So Servalan is President again. What’s she the President of? Season 2 ended with Blake throwing everything he had against the nerve centre of the Federation. Avon was making plans for his retirement. Servalan was going nuts trying to prevent it happening. After all this, there was an alien invasion – and some sort of civil war, judging by some of the dialogue in this story: the planet Obsidian remained safe and neutral because of its terrible secret.

On top of all that, Star One was actually destroyed, despite the best efforts of Blake’s 7 and a hapless guest star (guest star one?).

In episode one of this series, Servalan was stranded on one of those planets of Space Vikings that seem to litter the universe. She was radioing for help but nothing much was doing. Avon rejected her advances and whipped his laptop out from under her clutches. In episode two, she was just about managing to gain port on a hospital ship – and probably only because they thought she’d make a good organ donor.

But now she’s back on her space base, which she’s had time to refit entirely from beige and white to matt black. She’s got pursuit ships and designs on the Liberator and as many men under her as any evil Villain could wish.

It really should feel more fun like this. Last season, there was so much double crossing and duplicity and playing of long games that Servalan could have got a part time job in her spare time. It ought to be more cartoonish fun for her to be constantly on the Liberator’s tail, but instead you just feel that something more interesting has been sacrificed.

And naturally, I don’t mean Brian Croucher.

We at least have a thread of continuity with Avon and crew chasing rumours of Blake on this mysterious world of volcanos, peaceniks and cocktail waiter robots. It doesn’t make any sense for Avon to be trying to find Blake again, but at least they haven’t just stopped talking about him. And they need some reason to keep flying around, after all.

Lovely to see Michael Gough in the show, of course. That’s a Doctor Who guest star and a half – in fact, we should get double points for him, plus an ‘accelerator’ for being Anneke Willes’ ex-. He’s even an Avengers guest star, twice over, including the creator of the Cybernauts. In short, he’s a past master at dignifying camp nonsense with a bit of Old Vic glamour. Even he’s under a heck of a strain in this role, though.

Why do the peaceful inhabitants of the planet blink in and out of existence when walking across the moors? Why does Michael Gough kill his son for breaking their peaceful ways? Why are all Michael Gough’s (invisible) citizens slowly dying, and do they get any say in his heroic act of self-sacrifice/genocide?

It’s fair to say that after a great start to the season I was let down by Volcano. It might have been better if a couple of roles had been swapped, by which I mean Servalan’s new ersatz-Travis (Malcolm Bullivant) and Michael Gough’s rather cuddly looking cocktail waiter robot.

Servalan needs an android as her right hand man. Come on, Blakes 7. You’ve got one and a bit seasons. You can make this happen for me.

I photographed the Radio Times listings from copies held by the British Library. Other screencaps are thanks to this amazing website: