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:

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