Sunday, 16 October 2016


Always believe in your soul
You've got the power to know
You're indestructible

This little blog post should really be entitled ‘Why On Earth Wasn’t Roy Kinnear Ever in Doctor Who?’ But we’ll get to that. I need to preface everything by saying that this story was hugely enjoyable. It’s the perfect fulfilment of, I like to imagine, Terry Nation’s vision for the series: that is, an ITC Saturday night drama of the kind he spent many years scripting improbable adventures for: The Avengers, Department S, The Baron, The Persuaders. All these shows are crime dramas with a fantastical twist, bold characters but little continuity, and a healthy respect for the intelligent viewer. ‘Gold’ perhaps overestimated the intelligence of this particular viewer – I got a bit lost amid the triple crossing and whether the booty was legit or not – but it was all great fun. Four series of this sort of episode would make total sense: amoral professionals get into a con, react smartly to every development, and narrowly escape a show-down with the perpetual villain.

Glad that you're bound to return
There's something I could have learned

But like I said last week, Blake’s 7 is never at its best when it behaves like it should. There’s something inconsequential about ‘Gold’: it entertains you, you go home, and what was it about again? Its biggest problem is how it handles Servalan: at one point Avon reads Roy Kinnear’s curriculum vitae and sees that he did some work for ‘the President’. “But which President…?” snarls Avon to himself. This is like a production of Cinderella where Baron Hardup and the Ugly Sisters, on receiving an invitation from the Prince, turn to the audience to say: “But which Prince…?” (Perhaps the Wicked Queen from Snow White would have been more appropriate.) ‘Gold’ could at least play with its audience’s anticipation of Servalan, rather than making it a plot twist that immediately untwists itself with some sexual tension and a quadruple cross.

I hope you find a little more time
Remember, we were partners in crime

It’s a great scene though. The leader of the rebels meets the dark heart of the establishment, and magnetic waves are whirling. Will they draw irresistibly together, fly apart, combust? We’re into the home stretch of this series, and I find myself wishing it was all about these two. Kill the Scorpio crew now: then where would our stars be, what would they do? If there was no chance of Servalan becoming President once more and she was just like Avon, on the run with a small gang, subsisting and seeking revenge or just money and sex. What an amazing, unpredictable conclusion to their four-year arc that would be: it makes you long for a remake, to do it ‘properly’. But they can’t remake it, not really. The secret of this show is, however good the ideas and scripts are, if it wasn’t Darrow and Pearce it wouldn’t really be Avon and Servalan.

The cast has always been central. If Blake, Gan or Cally are sometimes dull, you know it’s nothing to do with the casting and everything to do with scriptwriters struggling to provide material for ‘nice’, ‘principled’ and ‘sensitive’ characters. Even the more interesting characters only truly come alive when, say, Sally Knyvette or Michael Keating get to play outside of their ‘type’. (Decades later, Russell T. Davies talks in ‘The Writer’s Tale’ about ‘turning’ characters, but you see instances of it in all the best Blake’s 7 episodes). ‘Gold’ benefits from having the characters undercover and out of their comfort zone. It’s another great showcase for Glynis Barber as Soolin: probably the best ‘goodie’ the show has produced, besides Avon.

The man with the suit and the pace
You knew that he was there on the case

The guest cast has been top throughout this series, though once again, they’re frequently under-served. Kevin Stoney, Valentine Dyall and Michael Gough are all amazing character actors, miscast as worthy heroic figures. Female guest stars are relatively thin on the ground (correct me if I’m wrong) but we do have some treasurable appearances by Betty Marsden and Sylvia Coleridge. But if this story sticks in my memory, as I think it will, it’s all down to Roy Kinnear. It’s a brilliant performance: it feels totally natural, but it’s heightened enough for him to be in conversation with the other characters without breaking the thread that the audience’s suspended disbelief is dangling from. Right from the start, you’re fascinated by him, entertained, suspicious. He’s pitiable and deadly at the same time.

It had me checking back over Kinnear’s screen history. He’s one of those faces, one of those names, but I could only think of one thing I’d seen him in (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory). Then of course there was Help!, alongside the Fab Four and the even fabber Eleanor Bron and Victor Spinetti. Lots and lots of TV comedy. The Three Musketeers. Taste the Blood of Dracula. Watership Down (yes, Watership Down). Superted. And much much more. So why wasn’t he ever in Doctor Who? What was JN-T thinking? Imagine him in ‘The Leisure Hive’, ‘Meglos’, ‘The Keeper of Traken’, each of them instant classics. Imagine Tom Baker’s deep joy at sharing the screen with him.

My love is like a high prison wall
But you could leave me standing so tall

So, Servalan and Avon (and Tarrant). The President Sleer storyline. Robert Holmes. Blake. Dayna’s father. I think I’ve got three episodes left. What will they be? Bronze? Silver? Gold? See you next week…

Once again, blurry snaps of the Radio Times are by me (thanks to the British Library). Screencaps are from this excellent site (thanks to Lisa).

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