I remember, during the Eleventh Doctor’s memorably final, unforgettably naff adventures with Amy and Rory Pond, that some fan commentators postulated the theory that the Doctor was experiencing these adventures in a different order to his companions. That the stories were, in fact, being seen out of order by the audience for some very interesting purpose. This, obviously, came to nothing. But I would be tempted to resurrect the theory and apply it to the adventures of the Liberator in season 3.
Character development seems to go backwards and forwards. Sometimes Tarrant is the Captain, sometimes Avon. Sometimes Avon is having a relationship with Cally and sometimes with Dayna, and most of the time, with Servalan, but that’s all done via WhatsApp so nobody knows. Is Cally exiled from Auron? Does anyone ever remember that her twin has died? Does Dayna remember that Servalan killer her father? Does anyone remember the aliens who were invading at the end of last season – or that guy called Blake?
At the start of this story, the Liberator is once again flying randomly through space. It encounters a mysterious object that looks a bit like a Sontaran scout ship and a lot like a mirror ball. In fact, when Cally is telepathically possessed by it – for the umpteenth bloody time – it actually manifests as a mirror ball. We get some bright lights flashing. We really ought to cross fade to Tina Charles surrounded by dry ice, but sadly that never happens.
The Liberator crew decide to teleport down and rescue her, after a bit of argy-bargy between Avon and Tarrant that makes no reference to any of their other rescue missions for Cally. Perhaps, the ship being psychic, it requires its crew to have an argument before it can power up its teleport circuits. Perhaps the entire Liberator is powered by its occupants’ internal discord. Maybe it’s inducing these arguments.
Anyway, they all head off except for Vila, who has become a complete imbecile who wants to tell Orac stupid jokes. Stupid, stupid jokes about ‘parking meteors’. The fact that this then comes to be an important factor in the plot makes me even more suspicious of the psychic ship and oracular Orac. I think Orac could see what was going to happen and got Zen to control Vila and make him behave like a numpty, in order to rescue the crew at the eleventh hour.
Why wouldn’t Orac just tell them what they need to do? Well, this is the same computer who deviously flew the entire ship into a black hole a couple of episodes prior to this. Once you accept that Orac and Zen are in control of the ship, the mass of ridiculous coincidences that power Blake’s 7 begin to make sense, as do the crew’s unstable character motivations. They’re basically action figures in the metaphorical grip of two electronic giant children.
But I digress.
My big shock this week was that as soon as the blue men arrived – yes, you remember the blue men: they’ve strapped Cally down and they’re feeding her mental powers into ‘the Core’ – I realised I had seen this story before. Cue a wibbly wobbly flashback to the young teenage Nick, drunk on The Avengers and Doctor Who and excited to find a Blake’s 7 VHS or two in his local library.
‘Ultraworld’ was on one of those videos. (The other had ‘Gold’ and ‘Orbit’ on – it’ll be interesting to see those again.) I’d completely forgotten seeing this, it all came flooding back: the disgustingly baggy giant pus-coloured brain that is the core, and the inevitable soggy explosion of the same. On the available evidence, I can see why I didn’t immediately succumb to this series. (Interestingly, and I’m stretching that definition, this story was preceded on that VHS by ‘Sarcophagus’, which I had absolutely no memory of seeing. Which means I was even more bored by that story than I was by this load of old rubbish.)
I’m happy to have a giant brain, three balding blue men and a plan to steal everyone’s minds and put them in a giant mirror ball. I’m happy for the day to be saved by telling the supercomputer stupid jokes. But Trevor Hoyle obviously sent this through to the wrong production team. This is a Doctor Who story through and through.
Of course, in Doctor Who it would make a bit more sense. Cally wouldn’t be possessed – she would teleport down to Ultraworld out of curiosity, despite Tom Baker’s boggle-eyed warnings. Then the Doctor would travel down to the ship with the crew, who would be picked off one by one – but only after he had got the chance to explain the plot to at least one of them.
We’d have a nice slow build-up to all of this, and the blue men wouldn’t be after the Liberator – I mean, what’s that all about? – but the TARDIS. Lalla Ward and K-9 would be dodging blue men – who would probably be a bit scarier, maybe they would have weird blue contact lenses in or something? And they fire blue lasers out of their eyes and turn other people blue…
You get the picture.
But instead, for no good reason, Tarrant knows everything. Exactly like the Doctor, exactly unlike Tarrant or anybody else in the show, except perhaps Orac (again, suspicious). And not only that, but Dayna knows nothing. Every time the camera cuts to her, Dayna is saying, “What’s that?” and “What do you mean?” She manages to blow something up precisely once. Apart from that, she might as well be Dodo Chaplet. She even gasps in horror at the sight of – some men. With their eyes closed.
Well, I did say it. 'Rumours of Death'. 'Sarcophagus'. There had to be a bad story on its way. But I must say, watching a story like this is dispiriting. It’s tempting to give up on the whole show. But I must not think like myself at thirteen.