Friday, 26 August 2016


            “Blake would have been proud of you,” sneers Vila.
            “He probably would,” replies Avon coldly. “But then, he always was an idiot.”
            The story of Kerr Avon in Blake’s 7 is rather surprising. For a while you’re certain he’s going to mutiny. His main reason for getting up in the morning appears to be critiquing Blake. In fact it sometimes feels like it’s only because he’s curious how far Blake’ll go that he’s holding back: he’s like the companion figure in Doctor Who, a viewer surrogate. He even talks like a disdainful Gogglebox viewer who’s somehow got through the screen into the story.
            And one of the people he’s watching is earnest, hot (and curly) headed self-appointed leader, Roj Blake. We rarely see Avon’s moments of heroism when he’s isolated from the crew, but there are a couple of crucial episodes in the first two seasons where Avon heads off to rescue his hapless leader at risk to his own life when he could as easily take off in their psychic spaceship.
            Throughout the Star One narrative, Avon criticises Blake’s judgement pretty often (this is because the script editor’s role is somewhat lax, to the extent that we get the same storyline a few times with different looking tabards) and he does say that after the last vigilante action he’s off.
            Well, things go a bit weird then. Blake doesn’t die that this point, although he makes sense that he would, narratively – but anyway, Avon is in charge of the ship, and the adventures continue. He’s a changed man, partly because he’s been watching Blake, partly because he’s been watching another character: Servalan.
            At the start of last season, in what might therefore be read as an extreme fanboy fantasy moment, she tells him she wants him to rule the Universe with her. They’ll zoom around in the Liberator, drinking bright green drinks and laughing at the little people. Avon rejects her, but he does take twenty seconds aside for snogging her like a sixth former on the back seat of the bus. He’s certainly capable of being seduced by Servalan, just as he is by Blake. The common factor would seem to be power. Avon has presumably lived his life in the growing shadow of the Federation, and now that he’s a free man, he finds himself reproducing its operations. Organise, direct and control.
            Now we hear that Avon’s set up a base from which to manage his operations, in a story he begins by being specifically concerned that the Federation are moving in on colonies across a series of worlds. He’s starting to think tactically, perhaps. And if he happened across one of those dissident worlds that Blake was obsessed with, would Avon go that bit further than his erstwhile leader did and take charge? He’s certainly more likely to than his crew, who are all (in this story at least) soldiers, with even Vila arguing that Tarrant won’t do the right things and ask the right questions. Tarrant is enjoying himself too much for Vila’s liking, but as such he serves Avon’s purposes. And things do work out for them: Tarrant and Dayna throw themselves heroically into things, meet the rebels and the traitors and the mutant scientist in the bunker (I imagine Terry Nation phoning his agent during this story, just to check that he hadn’t written this without realising it).
            They also spot an old enemy, now seemingly more of a desperate fugitive than the Liberator crew ever were. Are the roles beginning to reverse for Avon and Servalan?
            I like the idea of Servalan on the run, living on her wits and manipulating Federation captains on a personal level. The scene where her unmistakable shadow falls across the body of her victim – as she blasts a full-length Andrew Skilleter print of herself out of recognition – is delicious.
            The rest of the story, unfortunately, is about as turgid as this show has ever got. I thought it was bad last week – and it was – but at least we had a bit of telepathy thrown into the mix. Holmes, one of the greatest TV writers there will ever be, somehow fails to make anyone say anything interesting or entertaining. Christopher Neame gets some good moments in the opening scenes, but with no thanks to the script. It’s criminal that he gets no big scene with Servalan, whom he strangely resembles.
            I hear people saying that this series still has good stories to come. One of them had better come along soon, because I’m losing the will to watch – and it would be a shame to give up when I’ve come this far. Particularly when, as I have tried to suggest, the strange relationship between Blake (dead), Servalan (back from the dead) and Avon (dead behind the eyes) has such strange, torrid and tragic potential in it.

Friday, 19 August 2016


I let out an involuntary groan as the name ‘Ben Steed’ appeared on my screen. After last week’s episode, which rewrote Dayna as Jo Grant, disposed of the only other season regular as if she was a bunch of carnations that had gone past their prime, and featured the new regular, Soolin, as something of a Bond girl, ostensibly deadly but (within those 45 minutes) mostly decorative, we have an adventure from the author of The One Where Servalan Gets Humiliated By A Bloke In A Tracksuit and The One Where A Glove Puppet Disguised As A Computer Orders Men to Molest Woman As Punishment.

I am, perhaps, a little unfair. The interesting thing about Steed is that he is determined to make misogynistic violence a theme. Servalan’s awful boyfriend is, ultimately, just Steed trying to write Travis – he’s a villain and he doesn’t survive the story. Moloch and the Federation baddies are greedy, ineffectual fascists – the one eyed hand puppet symbolises them neatly. In this story, the woman-hating Hommicks are stupid primitives, fighting a bunch of beautiful women so clever they’re telekinetic.

The subtext of these stories is a giveaway, though. Jarvik, in 'Harvest of Kairos', turns out to be a brilliant strategist and fighter precisely because he’s such an unreconstructed MAN. Servalan is led into trusting him because, deep down, she’s all WOMAN. In 'Moloch', the women of the Liberator have little or nothing to do with the plot proper. The only female characters in the story are victims of the Federation’s brutality: that’s the only reason they’re there, and it’s hard to see where they fit into the rest of the history of the planet. And in this story, well, where to begin? The downtrodden wife who self-righteously, heroically, calls herself a woman, rather than a Seska? Avon’s battle of wills with Pella, and the big life lesson that “men will always be stronger”…? Followed by a snog?!

To be honest, though, it saps the will even to write about this story because it’s so incredibly threadbare. They only have 45 minutes an episode, but have to contrive a convoluted plotline involving the riddle of a locked door to which Avon knew the resolution to all along, turning up in the nick of time to sort it out. Steed is so determined to tell his doomy tale about the battle of the sexes that the entire planet is represented by six people by the end (I don’t just mean represented onscreen – the Seska population is just five women, and they’re all dead by the end of the story). Steed can’t think of anything to do with Soolin for the story so just has her hide under a table somewhere.

In addition to which, we seem to have arrived back again with the tribes of the future middle ages that seem so ubiquitous in the universe of Blakes 7. Where are the ludicrous excesses of yesterseason, the lurex and leather and wild eye make-up? Has this show grown so embarrassed about its visual appearance that it’s decided to just play things down – because if so, it’s going to be a very long season. In Doctor Who we’ve just had the Argolins, the Vampires, the Tharils, Trakenites and Logopolians. Blake's 7 could at least have nicked some of their costumes.

Come on, guys, it’s your last season. Stop worrying about what everybody else thinks. Live a little!

Friday, 12 August 2016


There’s something strange about seeing these characters back again. Perhaps it’s because the show itself doesn’t go in for character development (e.g. ‘Dayna vows to kill Servalan! ... they go to a random planet… Dayna meets Servalan again – doesn’t kill her … they play Space Monopoly…') so when they have a big season finale narrative shift, it takes you by surprise.

Or maybe it’s just surprising that the series got renewed again.

I must say, having leafed through a copy of the Radio Times looking at listings for season 3, I’m impressed it had the success it did. Radio Times does nothing to promote it, even when they’re bigging up all the other New Year New Season shows. And why on Xenon wasn’t this on at Saturday teatimes? It’s almost literally made for it. The first season even has a Flash Gordon, Saturday-morning serials aesthetic. It should have had the Doctor Who slot. What did they put on instead? Flipping Wonder Woman!

Doctor Who was between seasons (and Doctors) when this went out. I don’t know the background details but for the first time B7 went out in the autumn instead of the spring. That means two things: it could have gone out in the Doctor Who slot – instead of Juliet Bravo, or at least The Paul Daniels Magic Show – and the production team had longer than ever to prepare this season.


One thing you can say, they’ve taken the jibes about the look of the thing to heart. The series gets off to a bang when the ship given to Avon and friends explodes in an impressive fireworks show, bettered immediately by one at the underground base. In Kevin Jon Davies’ documentary we see Mat Irvine saying the design of the Liberator made it hard to fly (for him, that is, not Jenna) and the new ship looks less interesting but zips along beautifully. Some of the most watchable sequences of this story are model shots, and there is something really beautiful about the craft and dedication that went into them.

The new computer, Slave, also looks good, and the new flight deck… I could get used to it. Let’s just say it’s a very 1981 approach to the concept. Perhaps they’ll redesign Orac while they’re at it. Pop him in an android, maybe?

Dorian and Soolin’s house looks fairly solid but it’s awfully boring. The spiral staircase into the monster’s cave, however, I did like – simple, nicely shot, fantastic sound. It makes perfect sense for the dull suburban grind to be going on upstairs, and the man to have a monstrous secret down in his dungeon, particularly a man who wears as much hair gel and foundation as Dorian does.

Sense is made a little less perfectly in the episode as a whole. To be frank, I’m not sure what happened. Dorian’s two hundred, lives with a gunslinger, pretends to be a galactic rag and bone man, wants the B7 crew because they care about each other – and that’s an odd reputation they’ve got, considering – because there’s a vampiric force in his cellar which purifies him…

On top of this, the Sea Devils are involved somewhere along the line. I suppose it makes sense if they live underground. Perhaps seconds after Vila’s quip about staying off the drink, three pterodactyls and a stegosaurus come lurching out of the dark too.

And what has happened to Dayna? Within five minutes, she’s twisted her ankle and has to be rescued by Avon. She falls down a cliff and has to be rescued by Dorian. Later, she throws her gun ineffectually at a Sea Devil and has to be rescued (and cuddled) by Avon. Is Ben Steed the new script editor? Dayna’s a warrior and technician. She’s the coolest cucumber in B7 – or was.

Much as the sentence may look odd in the context of B7, this episode is a case of style over substance. Boucher’s written some amazing episodes based on a series of reversals, and the mirror-monster-vampire-thing is reminiscent of his Face of Evil. But this story goes out of its way to trip up the viewer so many times it pulls a hamstring and stumbles about for the second half looking ridiculous.

And how could they kill off Cally so perfunctorily? If that’s all we’re supposed to care about one of the main crew dying, how are we supposed to root for the remaining bunch…?