Kaldor City: A Critical Response
Byte I: Occam's Razor
"Paul Darrow >= Chuck Norris"
It seems fairly ironic to me that the opening episode's distinctly pretentious title should be the same as the form of logic that dictates that Kaston Iago is not Avon and that the series, therefore is not really a sequel to B7. This is, of course, because Kaston Iago has a completely different personality and significantly different motivation from Avon, has a different voice, and other biographical differences such as Iago being an expert on robotics (Avon isn't) and having belonged to a guild of assassins.
The Assassin's Guild stuff, more than anything else, destroys the idea that Iago and Avon are one and the same, due to the fact that their attitude to killing is so completely different. When Jenna asks Avon whether he could kill somebody his response is somewhat uncertain. Of course, this is an arguable continuity error because we find out that he killed an unnamed gangster who was supposed to supply him with an exit visa, but the retconning means that Avon is guardedly lying to Jenna. He does, of course, want Jenna on his side but why does he think she will disapprove? Vila acknowledges that they are all travelling with murderers "and they're the nice ones" and Jenna explains that she's dealt with most of them as a smuggler. To make sense of it, it seems logical to assume that Avon considers the murder a dirty little secret of his own.
In Shadow, significantly by a different author, Avon can be read as taking pleasure in a killing when he throws that Federation soldier down a cliff and deadpans "Next please". A moment that seems to have been the deciding factor in the scripting of every single line Iago ever utters throughout the series. Noticeably Paul Darrow doesn't smile when he says it - that tells us that Avon does not enjoy it. It doesn't necessarily tell us that Avon dislikes killing, of course, if anything suggesting that he sees it as a means to an end (which gels with his emotionless dispatchment of three Fed troopers in Harvest of Kairos), a purely functional pursuit. And when he says that line, he's asserting himself as stronger, quicker, and better at killing than anyone the Federation can send at him. They can send the next man. Because it will make no difference to him. That's what Darrow's reading suggests, anyway, and I think that if anybody knows Avon it's him.
Darrow also declared that Iago and Avon are not the same, in his view, which is why he also acts the role entirely differently and takes us back to... Occam's Razor. Checkmate, mofo.
Occam's Razor is as I'm sure everybody on the internet knows a smart-arse way of saying "Simple as that", because the idea it presupposes, that the simplest solution to explain an anomaly is almost always the correct one, ultimately seems quite simple to have such an obtuse title. It is a weighty and portentious title to give the story, and seems utterly inappropriate for the ensuing tale is neither easy to take seriously, nor very logical.
Uvanov finds a dead body of a fellow Boardmember and Firstmaster in his office. Then another one shows up. He goes crawling off immediately to Carnell for help... let's pause again here.
How does Carnell survive in Kaldor City? Why Kaldor, of all places? It becomes a plotpoint later on that Carnell realises that Iago is from off-world because he knows what a psychostrategist is (another point against the Avon theory seeing as he never meets Carnell nor even hears of him) and he 'must be the only person on the planet' to do so. An odd claim to make, seeing as his services are apparently open to whoever has the money and his customer base of Firstmasters do a lot of talking and Carnell constantly asserts himself as a psychostrategist. And the obvious conundrum of why anybody who has no idea what a psychostrategist does should be interested in paying them massive sums of money. Added onto this AGAIN is the fact that Carnell screws over his client base, seemingly for his own amusement. In a city where people are murdered with unfeasible regularity for the most insignificant of transgressions, this really is unbelievable. Then there's the matter of somebody who relies on an ordered existence so much picking one of the most chaotic places in the Universe for a business retreat.
Anyway, Carnell deduces that the murders are without an apparent motive, and the logical step is to investigate newcomers into Kaldor. A quick sweep finds the records on Kaston Iago, whom he know as a newcomer because the cold open featured him booking a room and delivering what was apparently a one-liner but only works if you imagine that this television and not radio. Uvanov immediately decides to set his security attack dogs, Rull and Cotton, onto him. So far, so good.
Iago overpowers Rull with minimal effort, because he called the lift to a lower floor and blasted his fellow officer the instant the doors opened. How exactly he achieved this is not explained, and we are left to assume that it was either psychic powers or he eschewed the luxury of his room for sitting in an armchair by the lift with a gun. He beats Rull senseless and gets him to call of the guards, before breaking into Uvanov's quarters. With a gun, naturally. He then demands that Uvanov makes him his bodyguard.
Are you seeing the flaws in the story's logic here? Uvanov accepts - how about now?
Right after Iago has outwitted the crack personal police force-cum-army of the most powerful man on the planet through unclear means, he screws the firstmaster's personal assistant, and discards her just as quickly, moving on to discovering who the murderer is with as many corny one-liners as possible. It's at this point a cynical person like myself may just suspect that Iago isn't really intended as a continuation of the character of Avon at all, but is in fact a Mary Sue created by a frustrated author, living out his warped fantasies of alpha-male paradise through unbridled sadism and hedonism in a world of clueless rich people willing to pay him large sums of money for no return, oblivious to his genius.
This streak continues as Iago makes the most ridiculous list of expenses possible for Uvanov to pay in order to effectively coat his office building in concrete and put springs in the basement. Okay, not really THAT but just about. I think the excess is supposed to be a piece of humour but, like many of Kaldor's forays, it falls flat, due to the schizophrenic nature of delivery. When Kaldor is serious, it is relentlessly serious, throwing swearwords, dead bodies, and generally 'grittiness' as the term is understood by Terrance Dicks at the audience with all too gay abandon. When it is trying to be funny, the jokes are pieces of strange absurdism and bouths of sketch-show behaviour from established characters which feels like breaking the first, second and third walls, let alone the fourth. The upshot of this is that Kaldor is generally funnier when it's trying to do it straight... in the Stevens/Moore episodes at any rate..
Anyway, the story moves on with Uvanov being called to a meeting of The Boardmembers. Get used to this as it happens a few times in the series and we're meant to take it as some sort of portentous occasion each time. From memory there are four speaking members - a guy to pad out the numbers, Uvanov, Devlin (she dies at the end) and ... LANDERCHILD!
Landerchild is the most boring and pointless character in the series, but is also ever-present. I am at a loss as to what the intention was. He stands in direct opposition to Uvanov and Iago at all times because they are what stands between him and Chairholder status which, in this sorry and rather perverse society amounts to Dictator of the Planet. So, his role is logically that of the villain. But.. he is not villainous. He behaves precisely the same way as everybody else does in the planet. If anything he's less of a bastard as Uvanov - consistently being shown as having a smaller staff and less connections - but it's constantly presented as dramatic when Landerchild comes close to getting his end (which only happens once or twice because he really isn't particularly competent)
To add insult, Landerchild doesn't even seem to have a personality. He is a cliched cipher of a standard upper-class snob*, yelling insults at Iago the moment that he realises that he isn't a well-born noble. And that's all that exists to his personality. It's as if the fact that he was played by the brilliant Peter Miles meant that nothing more had to be added to the character, but the result is that Miles glides through on auto-pilot, adding to the sheer, relentlessly dull-nature of all things Landerchild. I think the name is the only thing about him that I actually like.
Anyway, Iago gets full authority to investigate the killer. His method of doing so is going to a party where all the Firstmasters will be gathered, because obviously the next murder will occur in a place where the highest possible number of witnesses will be gathered together. (I'm being disingenuous here - there was probably a threatening letter or something in the story...) And Iago will just have to wait until somebody dies. Not prevent it, obviously, do you realise which series this is? Beforehand, though, he cleverly asks Carnell who will be killed. Carnell suggests two possible people, and going by the voting record, whoever is killed will suggest who the killer is...
And stop here. This is a little odd, is it not? A big chunk of the plot revolves around Carnell struggling to find patterns for the murders. Wouldn't one clue be that they're all Firstmasters, so this could be some sort of working-class uprising against the massively corrupt and massively stupid bastards governing the state? It certainly doesn't stretch my suspension of disbelief. And also the fact that Carnell is basing this all off voting records. There could be so many possible other motives for the killings..
So, yes, back to Iago at the party when somebody dies. A somebody who I don't think ever got any lines, but whomsoever it is it is the candidate that suggests that Devlin is responsible for the murders. Naturally, because this entire story is written with a very unimaginative and supremely stupid end-point in mind there is no consideration to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, our 'heroes' have been monitored during any of the dozens of conversations that they've had about this plan and the murder of Faceless Character #43 is a deliberate red herring to get them to assume that Devlin is the murderer and thus trap them. Although Kaldor plots are convoluted, they are also oddly narrow-minded in their convolutions, frustratingly avoiding something that could be potentially interesting at many, many turns. This could be part of Alan Stevens' goal, as this is afterall meant to be a series about manipulators being manipulated (insofar as it is about anything.. this shall be addressed later..) but I think I am giving him too much credit for lacklustre storytelling by even voicing the possibility.
So, progressing with what's left of the plot... as soon as whoever was killed is killed Rull and Cotton gatecrash Devlin's mansion in an APC and kill her entire security force. While Iago breaks into her house and shoots her in her bed. Now, you may think that this would have some repercussions, but in Kaldor City it does not. In fact, I was extremely confused at the fact that the city doesn't seem to have any police at all, let alone any semblence of law. And then small matters like, for instance, a spate of murders of Firstmasters in the city, which ends with Uvanov's goons killing a Firstmaster in a very public way. They've only got Uvanov and Carnell's word that Devlin is the murderer!
And then for the shock twist ending. She wasn't the murderer. Taa-daa. It was Iago.
There is, I'm sure, dramatic irony in spirit here seeing as Iago was the original suspect who Carnell guessed at, but the problem is that the lack of a personality or presence to Devlin does rather rule out the idea of her being the murderer and the simple fact that there was never reason to doubt that Iago was the killer.
Iago's reasons are explained... he wanted a job. To do this he created the illusion of a conspiracy against Uvanov and the Firstmasters by murdering completely random people and dumping a body or two in Uvanon's headquarters. He and Carnell do not know one another, and Carnell is the only psychostrategist on the planet - so how could Iago know that anybody would pick the pieces? How did he know the pyschostrategist would not find out that he himself was the killer? How, for Heaven's sake, could he know that nobody would be a witness to him commiting any of these half-dozen-odd murders? How did he know that Uvanova would take him on as a ridiculously over-paid bodyguard at the end of it all anyway? The plan is astonishingly ill-thought-out, overcomplicated and risky. Just like all those plans Avon shot down in B7.
As Carnell says in the close of the story "Of course, what you see as the most obvious, may not be the same as I do"**
Couldn't put it better myself.
*When I say 'standard upper-class snob' I by no means imply that he behaves like the standard upper-class snob you would meet in everyday life. Rather the standard upper-class snob as portrayed in poorly-characterised fiction (c.f. Rixton in The Voyage of the Damned), which means that he's really a mentally mal-developed, spiteful, obsessive-compulsive, socially-retarded man who reaches near sociopathic levels in his fascist elitism. This character appears with worrying regularity as a trope. Did Joachim Von Ribbentrop have a lot of kids?
**Or words to that effect. Kinda liking these footnotes.