Sunday, February 4, 2007

Blakes 7: The Crap Episodes - Edition First

Having kinda-recently purchased the Series 4 boxset of Blakes 7, everyone's favourite 70s sci-fi show about dystopic futures and bitchy rebels, I've been seeing some eps I've been keen to see for a while: the ones everybody hates. I have a morbid curiousity for crap. Which would explain two of my favourite youtube videos. But in this regard I have to say the beginning of Series 4 took me aback by being of reasonable quality. Seeing as absolutely everyone trashes it. The different views:

1. The whole season is crap
2. The first six episodes are crap
3. Whether an episode is crap or not depends on if its an odd or even episode. (There's always one who uses this stupid system)
4. IT'S ALL CRAP AFTER BLAKE LEAVES IN S2! (See the 'Top Ten TV sci-fi' clips to see how popular this view is)

But I don't fit into any of these simple pigeonholes. No, I can never be that simple. I'll have to review the first five eps INDIVIDUALLY.

D1. ZOMG THEY'VE GIVEN US ANOTHER SEASON!!!

(aka. "Rescue")

This one has a truly dire reputation, which amazed me because it's by Chris Boucher. The Chris Boucher. How can he do wrong? Well, giving him a completely impractical shopping-list is one way. This is the episode that shows just how impossible the task of a fourth season was made by the third season finale: the gang are stranded on an isolated, desolate planet, with no ship, no friends, and no plans. To actually get back to the idea of the show (Five/Six people cruising the universe in a kick-ass ship, righting wrongs whenever they feel like it) you have to do a lot of plot acrobatics. Oh, and we also have to kill off a member of the team off-screen because she signed up for another job.

Boucher deserves a lot of credit for this, though. I mean, he must have had cold sweats when the continuity announcer came up over the end of Terminal saying "But don't worry, Avon and the others will be back next year in a brand new series of Blake's 7!". "What? Nobody told me!" By the end of the night his typewriter had probably melted.

Cally gets accidentally sealed in the underground lab as Servalan's hidden bomb goes off and is killed horribly, Avon and Dayna fight monsters, Tarrant and Vila are injured. It looks bleak until a bloke named Dorian just happens to rock up in a rusty old planet-hopper named Scorpio. But is he who he seems? Of course not. The beautiful bird with the gun named Soolin is extremely female and therefore Cally's replacement, and a story that's spent it's budget on new sets for the ship can't have a big cast so Dorian is the Bad Guy. And quite a good one at that, when he isn't giggling evilly.

And, as smarter people than me will have realised as soon as he mentioned his name, he's an allegory of Dorian Grey. Only instead of a painted imbued with satanic powers he has a basement that absorbs his sin and allows him to live forever. The only problem? His sin has taken the form of a SEA DEVIL! Yeah. Weird huh? And the SEA DEVIL IS HUNGRY. So he's forced to drive around in his ship looking for stranded people so he can pretend to rescue them and feed them, allowing him to keep his life going, and get a leg over Glynnis Barber. The dastard!

Put like that, the plot doesn't make much sense. But it worked well-enough when I watched it, which I guess is all part of Boucher's odd little skillset. The only problem I found with this story was that there was a bit too many scenes of everyone standing around and talking, creating a bit of a slow pace for a season opener. And the fact that nobody at all cares that Cally cops it. And the fact that Soolin isn't really introduced properly in this story. But aside from that it's all good.

Best bit: Vila once again deciding to get pissed rather than do anything constructive, which ironically leaves the door open for him to unwittingly save the day.

D2. This Will Piss off the Feminists

(aka "Power")

The title I've used says it all. Ben Steed, I think, is a reasonable writer. Harvest of Kairos is actually quite a strong plot, just with bloody awful production values and, unfortunately, showcases how unfamiliar Steed was with the characters. Moloch is, erm, not very good. But when I heard about the conditions he wrote it in, I felt he deserved commendation. It definitely has some good moments in it.

But Ben Steed has a terrible reputation. Why? Because all three of his stories have sexism as a theme. I'm guessing this was an issue that Steed felt very strongly about to somehow work it into three completely different storylines - the result, unfortunately, is that he is seen as sexist himself, just like the Goodies when they did episodes lampooning (and imitating) the casual racism seen through The Black and White Minstrel Show. So reviewers like the eminently respected Ms Marian De Haan who are exceptionally female can quite a lot of offense.

Generally, it's a bit difficult to see why they should take it so badly: in Harvest the sexist bastard is Jarvik, who is presented as an unhinged, backward soldier and himself is very nearly defeated by Dayna in a fight. Then in Moloch women are cannibalised and raped, but the presentation leaves no doubt that the men perpetrating these crimes are nothing but complete scum and that Our Heroes are in every right to blow their brains out once they get a chance. In Power, though? There's actually a society that destroyed itself by starting a battle between the sexes. Yeah, it's easy to see how this could be taken the wrong way.

The guys became the Hommicks: they are big, strong, kickass guys in medieval get-up who enjoy nothing more than proving just how hardcore they are. They also shun technology and live in dark caves. Then there are the Seska: they have powers of telekinesis and teleportation, can possibly read minds, can hack and understand any tech. But they're weak and easily overpowered by the Hommicks in a fight. Male and female. I can see why women would be offended, especially when Avon tells Pella "it's your strength, and however you use it, a man's will always be greater. Unfair, perhaps, but biologically unavoidable."

The thing is, though, that what Avon's saying is basically true. In simple scientific terms the female is physically weaker. A lot of women don't like to believe this, however. The perfect example would be this certain 14-year-old IMDber who believes she can beat any male in a fight, using an ingenious method:

If your so tough, why don't you find a girl and ask to fight, no weapons but anything goes. and you'll find out once she hits you there [in the testicles], you won't be able to fight anymore, leaving the girl the easiest of victors. And I'm sure you wouldn't want a rematch in fear of getting them hurt again. rope, punch, squeeze and twist...watever it all will bring you to your knees like a sack of potatoes

It takes all types.

Aside from the controversial "Males can beat up females if they need to", there is a lot to enjoy in this episode. Personally, I was amazed by the setup as I assumed after Rescue we'd be back to cruising through the galaxy in their (relatively) kick-ass new ship with the bad-ass blond gunslinger in tow. Nope. They're stuck on a door the other side of their ship and, just to make it more interesting, the door has a bloody massive bomb built into it. This is perfectly believable as the sort of security system that massive arsehole Dorian would build into his house. Disappointingly, though, Soolin has gone for a stroll into some nebulous area of the planet so has nothing to do with this story. Hmmm.

Vila struggles to find a way to open the door and defuse the bomb, and has absolutely no luck. Meanwhile Avon is on the hunt for some crystals that are apparently all that's needed for Dorian's teleport system to work in a comparable way to their old one. Unfortunately he does that thing where our heroes get captured in the first five minutes.

Say what you want about Power (and, believe me, everyone does) you can't say that nothing happens in it. There's an awful lot going on in it and Steed once again shows his love of action. I'd say the best thing about this story is the amount of subterfuge in the narrative: Gunn-Sar, the chief of the Hommicks, is played by a fat, ugly, Johnny Vegas-sound-a-like, and appears to us as at first as a drunken wife-beating homicidal maniac. Can you say 'badguy'? But wait! We later see him practising embroidery and lovingly embracing his wife. His tough guy routine is all an act! The actual villain is the ultimate two-faced bitch in pink Pella, who first appears to give Vila a helping hand in opening the Door of Death. And not to mention Orac, everyone's favourite laptop, who refuses to answer any questions from Tarrant and co about the door. We think he's just being an arsehole as usual, but it turns out that sly bastard Avon has worked out the whole thing and isn't letting Ori clue the others in just incase they steal the ship and leave him stranded. He's back to trust-nobody mode - maybe seeing how little the others cared when his girlfriend Cally bought it has hardened him? Well, hardened him further...

Really, this episode has too many great moments for me to think of it as anything other than a triumph. Avon's ultra-dry bravado is a highpoint -

"Choose your weapons."
"May I choose a neutron blaster?"
(Gunn Sar looks to Cato. Cato shakes his head)
"No neutron blasters."
"Very well. I choose... a single glove."

(The way he says that has to be heard to be believed)

Furthermore, the real 'WTF?!' moment where Avon appears to have shot Cato mid-sentence for absolutely no reason, the revelation of Pella's powers and villainy, Dayna killing Gunn Sar (not by herself, which is a bit of a shame) and the scenes with Nina are all just brilliance. Ooh, and when the timer on the door's counting down to zero:

"Orac, we need to do something!"
"Yes, you need to move me to a distance of no less than 280 metres away from that door!"

And the end of the episode is the biggest highlight, a real "Yay!" and punching the air moment for all true-blue nerds out there as Avon finally gets that crystal in, kicks the brand spanking new teleport into gear and lands on the escaping-Scorpio to blast Pella away. You almost expect him to tell Tarrant "That bitch is dead" over the comm. Classic Avon.

Then to round off this most kick-ass of endings everyone goes across the teleport - except Vila. Naturally. As he stands alone, having been rejected for the quintillionth time he groans "Why is it always me?" miserably. At once the answer comes from Soolin, summing up her personality and `tude nicely: "It's pretty obvious from where I'm standing." Vila, naturally, shits himself.

Yes, Soolin's finally back from her constitutional and joins the crew. And in spite of being absent from 48 minutes of the episode, leaves her mark when she does show up, by pulling a gun on Avon right at the end just to show off. Make no mistake, Soolin's smart, sassy, and very, very, very, very, very dangerous. Just the way we like them at B7 central.

In short, I guess what I'm trying to say is that I loved this episode. By the end of it the crew are back in a cool ship with a new team member that rounds the total up to 7 (including computers) and ready for action. Truly, we're back in classic Blake's 7 territory. Pity about the next ep.


Let's Throw Some Actors at the Camera and Hope It Works
(
aka, "Traitor" by Robert Holmes)


Pay attention. Because this may be the only time you see me bag out Robert Holmes, even slightly. Ever. The man is a damned legend. Doctor Who fans are known for being the bitchiest bitches outside of Trek fandom, but there's one thing we all agree on: Robert Holmes was a brilliant writer. I guarantee you, every fanfic writer gets bogged down and thinks "What would Robert Holmes do?"

The problem with Holmes, though, is that he is so suited to DW that when it comes to writing B7 he has trouble with the format. And important thing in B7 is the fact that there are 7 characters. They all need something to do. However Holmes loves his guest characters, so in his stories there'll be a max of 2 characters who actually get anything decent to do in the script. (This one is Dayna and Tarrant - yay.)

And guest cast? Hoo-boy. I think this must've been a DW story at one stage. There are so many bloody characters that... ah, what the hell I'm going to have to admit it sooner or later. I had no friggin' idea what was going on in this story. It didn't help that at the time we were watching I was also trying to keep a great-dane-cross under control in my living room, but jesus christ this one has too much going on.

The basic plot has, erm, something to do with some mind-control drug that the Federation are using. To... pacify rebels, that's it. And the rebels are trying to kill everyone in the Federation. But they've instated a new native President. But he gets killed. By Servalan, who's returned from the dead. And has a secret plan to... do something. And Dayna and Tarrant beamed down to... I don't fucking know. Just be helpful? Not that they do much.

The story has a recurring theme of Holmes' work: pastiching Victorian-era attitudes of the British. Why exactly he thought it would be a good idea to do this is a dystopian sci-fi is beyond me, but it's there. The Federation baddies drink tea in fine china and smoke cigars while talking about them demmed natives and god it just feels wrong because none of this happens in any other story involving anyone from the Federation.

And who is the 'Traitor', anyway? Forbis? Or that double-agent bloke? Or Servalan?

Watching this one, I ended up trying to guess casting to amuse myself. Was the rebel leader a young Robert Lindsay? Was Forbis actually Peter Tuddenham? I was wrong on both counts. Bitches. But, when I saw the actual credits, a rude shock was in store for me.

CHRISTOPHER NEAME WAS IN THIS! As 'bloody useless tea-sipping officer #1'. Man, the guy's a good actor. And he ends up in an episode where he has no room to breathe for all the other actors chewing scenery. He deserves better. I might have to see The Prestige again just to work out who he plays in it.

ANYway, where was I? Oh, yeah. This episode sucked. I'm guessing a combination of Holmes having an unreasonable time to get this script finished, and unrealistic production demands. Because, of course, this is the episode that sees the return of Servalan. And to have the return of Servalan you need to get Our Heroes into a place where they can conceivably bump into her to realise "OMFGWTF SHE'S STILL ALIVE!!11!" That's why they all rock-up in the middle of a warzone and run around like they've got nothing to lose.

Frankly, Servalan's return never should have happened. The character had a full arc in Seasons 1-3, and seemed to destroy herself at the end of three in a wonderfully ironic way. Yes, they had her fucking running away to the teleport in that story, but the ship was blowing up, she didn't know how to use the teleport and the only close planet BLEW UP in the very next story. So the idea of her coming back is not only stupid in narrative terms, but impractical. The idea of her ditching the identity of President and instead adopting the less impressive title of Commissioner Sleer (WHY?!?) is far more stupid and warrants an explanation. The idea of her then systematically killing every single person who realises that their former dictator is still alive, just with more make-up smeared over her face and more glitter on her dress is so unspeakably retarded I struggle to think how Boucher thought this could be achieved without looking terribly camp and idiotic. Did they sign Jacqui Pearce up for another season before thinking of any sensible way to handle the character? Regardless, Servalan has seen her day and is just tired in this episode.

To discuss the good points about this episode... well, it's just the dialogue, really. Not all of the dialogue, really, there's definitely patchy moments, but some of it at least. Mostly the stuff between Soolin, Vila and Avon - their scenes are the best in the whole thing, which is a shame as they all sit on Scorpio doing absolutely nothing. Which really sucks considering we haven't really been given a chance to get to know Soolin yet. Most of the episode is with Dayna and Tarrant, who I'm guessing Holmes didn't find too interesting - they're awful goody-two-shoes hero types in this one. Which is a bit odd, seeing as they've both been incredibly bastardly and selfish in the past.

BEST BIT IN ENTIRE EPISODE: The General telling an unconscious Colonel Quute "I told you they were good hand-to-hand fighters, old boy!" right before Dayna beats the crap out of him.

So, really this story revolves around one moment: the bit where Tarrant glimpses Servalan through the crossfire. This leads to the end where Avon tells him "I want to kill her myself!". Of course we all know that's not going to happen so the supposedly gripping threat becomes yawn-worthy. The fact that this moment represents a line of thought that I despise, and that it's after a myriad of craptastic moments like scientific hard-man Forbis banging on about how he'll blow himself up to kill Servalan because he's got nothing to live for and is a totally hard wild bastard, before meekly saying "Please don't kill me, miss" in the end. That was beyond pissweak.

Only for The Bitch in White's absolute biggest fans.

Sorry Rob Holmes. 1 out of 10.

MORE NEXT WEEK (Or something)
I've already watched the next three... and they ARE kinda crap...

6 comments:

Youth of Australia said...

"So he's forced to drive around in his ship looking for stranded people so he can pretend to rescue them and feed them, allowing him to keep his life going, and get a leg over Glynnis Barber. The dastard!"
I'm reminded of Dylan Moran's "HOW DISGUSTING! HOW COULD HE? I'D NEVER DO THAT! I've never had the chance..."

And I'm relieved you twigged about Gunn-Sar. Significantly, the only time he acts like he's going to thump Nina is when Avon asks him a question he can't answer and even then doesn't actually hurt her.

I liked Traitor, though all your comments are valid. It also feels wrong to see Neame in an eyepatch when a) he looks scarier without one and b) the eyepatch isn't like Travis's eyepatch.

And Davros makes his second appearance in Blake's 7.

"That's why they all rock-up in the middle of a warzone and run around like they've got nothing to lose."
Which they do because none of the Pacification Police have GUNS. Just p50 rays. The only reason the fifth column have guns is because the rays would have stopped working by the time they reached the camp.

"The idea of her ditching the identity of President and instead adopting the less impressive title of Commissioner Sleer (WHY?!?) is far more stupid and warrants an explanation." Well, there IS one. Before Terminal, Servalan was chucked out and lost control of the Federation. So her attempt to get the Liberator in Terminal was the last possible chance to reclaim the empire. As Proctor notes, Servalan's army was wiped out with Geddon along with her body double.

"hard-man Forbis banging on about how he'll blow himself up to kill Servalan because he's got nothing to live for and is a totally hard wild bastard, before meekly saying "Please don't kill me, miss" in the end. That was beyond pissweak."
Editing, dear boy! You see, as Forbus was blubbing, he was reaching for the TNT - he was just distracting her. THEN Servalan blows his head off, and Lietz (who IS the Traitor of the title) was being serious when he says she did it in self-defence.

And yes, the next three... not so good. But the third has Darrow commentating, so enjoy!

Youth of Australia said...

Oh, and Boucher DID have them care about Cally... well, one of them able to admit it... a cut scene... well, edited heavily.

(A small campfire. Vila puts some wood on it. He wipes away a tear from his eyes. Avon is toying with Orac. Dayna is trying to revive Tarrant with a cold cloth to his head. Tarrant opens his eye.)

Tarrant: What happened?

Dayna: Take it easy. Vila got you out.

Tarrant: VILA rescued me?

Avon: (not looking up) YOU were injured trying to rescue CALLY. VILA rescued you.

Tarrant: Where IS Cally?

Avon: Cally's dead.

(Pause.)

Tarrant: Are you sure?

Avon: (looks at him) Yes, I'm sure.

Dayna: He went back in.

Tarrant: You wanted to be a hero too?

Avon: We need Orac. We still do.

Vila: Orac got a bit dented. For which he blames me. It seems I rescued the wrong one.

(Tarrant stares at Avon.)

Avon: Nothing personal. It's just that Orac could have sent for help. You couldn't.

Tarrant: Nobody's perfect. What about the ship Servalan left?

Dayna: That's a bit dented too.

(Vila suddenly bangs his fists against his knees, furious.)

Vila: AND WE'RE STUCK! STUCK ON THIS MISERABLE PLANET FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES!

(A link screams in the distance.)

Vila: (bleakly) Not that that's likely to be very long.

(Vila puts more wood on the fire. Avon, looking tired, gets to his feet.)

Avon: There was nothing you could have done, Vila.

Vila: (quiet) Thanks.

Avon: First light tomorrow we'll make for the high ground to the south.

Tarrant: Is it worth the effort?

Avon: Are you ready to lay down to die?

Tarrant: (rubs head) I think I already have.

Vila: (stares into the fire) Liberator's gone. Cally's dead. There's no way off this armpit of a planet. He may have the right idea.

Avon: Well, you must please yourselves, of course. But tomorrow moroning I head south. And I'm taking the gun with me.

(The links scream again.)

Vila: (sighs) You just talked me into it.

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

"I liked Traitor, though all your comments are valid. It also feels wrong to see Neame in an eyepatch when a) he looks scarier without one and b) the eyepatch isn't like Travis's eyepatch."

Man, Quute's eyepatch looked too gay to feature in The Pirates of Penzance...

"Which they do because none of the Pacification Police have GUNS. Just p50 rays. The only reason the fifth column have guns is because the rays would have stopped working by the time they reached the camp."

Weren't they unaware about the Pacification stuff before they rocked up?

"Well, there IS one. Before Terminal, Servalan was chucked out and lost control of the Federation. So her attempt to get the Liberator in Terminal was the last possible chance to reclaim the empire. As Proctor notes, Servalan's army was wiped out with Geddon along with her body double."

Really? Was that in this story? Because I can't remember any of that at all.

"Editing, dear boy! You see, as Forbus was blubbing, he was reaching for the TNT - he was just distracting her. THEN Servalan blows his head off, and Lietz (who IS the Traitor of the title) was being serious when he says she did it in self-defence."

Well that must have been bad editing - I couldn't see him reach for anything and pegged him as "Most worthless bastard to ever appear in B7". He should have just gone for the bomb as soon as she walked in the door. Damn Seveners and their obsession with Mexican stand-offs...

"And yes, the next three... not so good."

Yeah. Obviously I'll expand on that but they at least all have their good points...

Youth of Australia said...

"Man, Quute's eyepatch looked too gay to feature in The Pirates of Penzance..."
Speaking of which, I loved that version with Captain Jack from Pirates of the Carribean as the Pirate King. I swore I was tripping when I saw that.

"Weren't they unaware about the Pacification stuff before they rocked up?"
Uh, who were unaware?

"Really? Was that in this story? Because I can't remember any of that at all."
Um, they discuss Servalan's loss of the empire when Proctor and Lietz see the painting of Servalan.

"Well that must have been bad editing - I couldn't see him reach for anything and pegged him as "Most worthless bastard to ever appear in B7". He should have just gone for the bomb as soon as she walked in the door. Damn Seveners and their obsession with Mexican stand-offs..."
There is a lot of stuff in RH's script that never saw screen. Like Vila's quest to grow bread, the rebels using a university toilet block as their base, and Tarrant and Dayna enjoying a drink at The Adapted Arms, Helotrix Public Bar.

"And yes, the next three... not so good."

Yeah. Obviously I'll expand on that but they at least all have their good points...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

"Uh, who were unaware?"

Y'know, the main characters of the series? The ones who sit in a spaceship for half the episode...

(Ooh, I'm feeling bitchy today!)


"Um, they discuss Servalan's loss of the empire when Proctor and Lietz see the painting of Servalan."

ISTR them just talking about her 'death' on Liberator... I know, you're the expert. At that point I was pre-occupied just trying to work out what was going on in general...

"There is a lot of stuff in RH's script that never saw screen. Like Vila's quest to grow bread, the rebels using a university toilet block as their base, and Tarrant and Dayna enjoying a drink at The Adapted Arms, Helotrix Public Bar."

Sounds like they cut out all the best bits. Good work.

I only wish that Bob Holmes could have adapted to writing for half the Doctor Who length...

Youth of Australia said...

"Y'know, the main characters of the series? The ones who sit in a spaceship for half the episode...
(Ooh, I'm feeling bitchy today!)"
OK... I'm getting confused.

OK. The Federation use pacification guns, not ordinary guns. So if the pacification guns aren't effective, the Federation are stuffed. Ergo, the Helotrix rebellion was successful because most of the weapons were rendered useless - and the rebels had all the normal guns that worked.

"ISTR them just talking about her 'death' on Liberator..."
No. No one bar the seven and Servalan herself know about the Liberator scheme.

"I know, you're the expert. At that point I was pre-occupied just trying to work out what was going on in general..."
I'll put the plot up on my blog, but the scene goes:
PROCTOR: Supreme Empress Servalan!

LEITZ: Servalan? Is your excellency certain?

PROCTOR: Of course. I knew her well in the old days. Killed in the rear-guard action at Geddon, I believe.

LEITZ: I knew she was REPORTED dead, sir. I never heard any details.

PROCTOR: There was a great deal of confusion when the High Council was restored to power. Most of the Old Guard were killed in the fighting. They remained loyal to Servalan right to the end.

LEITZ: And a lot of them were executed later, weren't they, sir? All the leaders were purged.

PROCTOR: The penalty for choosing the wrong side, Leitz. I myself was under arrest... for a short time.

LEITZ: Well. I suppose it's better to die bravely on the field than to face execution...

"Sounds like they cut out all the best bits. Good work."
Mostly it was change of location - so instead of meeting up at a pub, the rebels meet up under a dead tree in the jungle, and they base their operations in mudflats rather than the bombed out university...

"I only wish that Bob Holmes could have adapted to writing for half the Doctor Who length... "
He manages in Orbit, but he's a rare writer that needs MORE space for his ideas, rather than less to keep it focussed.