Skip to main content

I think they wanted us to escape.


Blake's 7
1.9: Project Avalon


As far as polished-looking episodes go, this is one of the first season’s shinier baubles. Michael E Briant, back in Wooky Hole following Revenge of the Cybermen, makes the most of his locations and gives us a few convincing snowy exteriors. The script isn’t quite up to what he brings to the table however, despite a few half-decent twists along the way. Blake’s mission this week if he’s prepared to accept it Jim is to make contact with and evacuate resistance leader Avalon from a planet (I must have missed the name.) But, of course, Travis gets there first and sets his own trap for Blake.


So the set-up already feels like the series is descending into repetition; Blake versus Travis and only so many variations on how they can lock horns. Travis doesn’t have even the potential of the Master (and he’s fairly limited himself) to get involved in various schemes, so it’s a wise decision to bring to a head his sanctioned  vendetta here rather than carry it on ad infinitum.


On the surface of the planet (which we are told it is descending into an eight and a half year winter, with temperatures dropping from -120 degrees to -180 during the episode), Travis is accompanied by sexy new Mutoid Glynis Barber (Travis’ “I find this planet... unnerving” is almost showing himself vulnerable).


Blake: Does it support any intelligent life?
Avon: Does the Liberator?

There’s a strange reference to the inhabitants being Subterons (creatures living in the caves), but since we only see humans (on Avalon’s side) I’m not sure if I misheard them as being creatures or we never see them. Apparently the Federation mines the planet for ice crystals to be used in lasers.


Travis abducts Avalon in fairly short order, thanks to a traitor amongst her ranks; presumably it’s Stuart Fell who does a rather impressive stunt fall after being clouted by Travis. It looks like it hurt.


Blakes arrival with Jenna (whom Cally smiles at before she leaves, trying to break the ice?) and then Vila sees them about to be set upon by none other than The Robots of Death’s Taren Capel (Chevner, played by David Bailie, who I hadn’t realised was Cotton in Pirates of the Caribbean – check out his imdb mugshot, rather alarming). Also in this episode; John Baker as a scientist (also seen in The Visitation and Colony in Space) and John Rolfe as Terloc (seen in The Moonbase, The Green Death and The War Machines). There’s a large additional cast of extras as Subterons and Federation troops so I won’t go through all their Who appearances.

Briant’s location work is atmospheric and of-a-piece; the transitions from surface to caves to Federation complex feel like they are on the same planet.


Avalon is revealed wearing nowt but a couple of silver restraining strips. Alas, Julia Vidler who plays her really isn’t up to much performance-wise as a fearless resistance leader. More like a simpering plank. She provides some interesting exposition, commenting that 30 planets in the sector are defying the Federation and more will join.  Travis’ strategy is to ensure that the Federation obtains Blake, the crew and the undamaged Liberator.


Vila: I’ve got a weak chest.
Avon: The rest of you’s not very impressive.



Servalan’s arrival in snow gear (is this Blake’s 7’s Hoth sequence? I wonder if Georgey-boy saw it?) is just in time to see Travis experiment with the Phobon plague on an unsuspecting prisoner. The disintegration into muddy clay before becoming a skeleton is intriguingly achieved, as I was unsure what exactly it was doing to him. Briant’s tricks learnt on The Robots of Death are in evidence here, as the plague ball uses the same effect as the Laserson Probe in that story.


It appears that the tide is turning against Travis already, and the critics include Servalan herself. His operation has been costly and there have been no worthwhile results, while Servalan has escaped two attempts on her life. She says that she blames Blake, but her manner indicates that she’s not going to defend another blunder by Travis. Travis’ response, that he could have killed Blake twice if it wasn’t for the insistence on capturing the Liberator, is a bit weak (since we’ve seen two occasions of his outright failure). Servalan’s unabashed comment that she never approves anything until it is a success is refreshingly blunt. Travis has her full support unofficially; officially he has her presence and her attention.


Fantastic! The return of the Shitbot, now showing that it has illuminated features in the darkened caves. Publicity photos suggest that the clunky bumbler was considered a big deal, but it’s difficult to see why.


Contributing to the slight feeling of “Been there done that” in this episode is the de rigueur Liberator sub plot. Just for a change they are pursued by Federation craft while the main action continues.

Servalan is obviously a hip chick, grooving away to the latest hits like the chap in The Way Back, complete with visor. It’s their era’s ipod. Glynis Mutoid gets directed out of the way of a monitor screen before Travis lets her report, so he’s clearly as dismissive of them as ever.


The breakout of Avalon (during which Blake appears to snap a guard’s neck when saving Vila) is well shot by Briant. Appropriate, since it has all been staged, unbeknownst to Blake. It means the reaction of “How come the guard’s weapon didn’t kill him?” makes sense. They escape to the Liberator just before the Shitbot spurts liquid flame at their spot. Poor old Shitbot.


Gan seem overly keen on carrying Avalon about the place, and certainly pays her a lot of attention when she “recovers”. Limiter or not, he exudes an Uncle Creepy vibe.


The assumption that Chevner must be the person the Federation planned to put on board is a bit iffy; it can’t be Avalon because Blake recognises her. But since he was brainwashed, why not her (indeed, I thought this would be the case before she turned out to be a robot)? Avalon’s casting is a distinct weak spot in this story, as there’s no weight to her character, or to the threat posed when she is revealed.


Fortunately she is disabled and Avon asserts that it is the best robotic engineering he has ever seen. Come on, it looks rubbish. Taking her back to the planet in order to aid breaking out the real Avalon is a nice touch (Avon thinks he can reprogram a few minor functions), and the stand-off with Travis and the sphere is a marvellous scene (there are three triggers, a word, a sound and a movement).


Blake says that the robot will crush the sphere if any of the triggers activates it, when in fact it drops it (Travis would make a fine fielder, catching it before it hits the floor). I suppose we can put this down to Avon’s uncertainty over reprogramming.


So we’re left with Travis relieved of command and a full inquiry about to be launched. Travis episodes seem to end with his pronouncements of vengeance, and this is no exception (if it takes all his life he will destroy Blake).



Like his earlier episode The Web, Michael E Briant contributes immeasurably to this being as watchable as it is, but there’s a definite sense of fatigue setting in to the storylines where Blake attacks the Federation/the Federation try to trap Blake. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Why would I turn into a filing cabinet?

Captain Marvel (2019)
(SPOILERS) All superhero movies are formulaic to a greater or lesser degree. Mostly greater. The key to an actually great one – or just a pretty good one – is making that a virtue, rather than something you’re conscious of limiting the whole exercise. The irony of the last two stand-alone MCU pictures is that, while attempting to bring somewhat down-the-line progressive cachet to the series, they’ve delivered rather pedestrian results. Of course, that didn’t dim Black Panther’s cultural cachet (and what do I know, swathes of people also profess to loving it), and Captain Marvel has hit half a billion in its first few days – it seems that, unless you’re poor unloved Ant-Man, an easy $1bn is the new $700m for the MCU – but neither’s protagonist really made that all-important iconic impact.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.

Sorry I’m late. I was taking a crap.

The Sting (1973)
(SPOILERS) In any given list of the best things – not just movies – ever, Mark Kermode would include The Exorcist, so it wasn’t a surprise when William Friedkin’s film made an appearance in his Nine films that should have won Best Picture at the Oscars list last month. Of the nominees that year, I suspect he’s correct in his assessment (I don’t think I’ve seen A Touch of Class, so it would be unfair of me to dismiss it outright; if we’re simply talking best film of that year, though, The Exorcist isn’t even 1973’s best horror, that would be Don’t Look Now). He’s certainly not wrong that The Exorcistremains a superior work” to The Sting; the latter’s one of those films, like The Return of the King and The Departed, where the Academy rewarded the cast and crew too late. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is the masterpiece from George Roy Hill, Paul Newman and Robert Redford, not this flaccid trifle.

I don’t think you will see President Pierce again.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs (2018)
(SPOILERS) The Ballad of Buster Scruggs and other tall tales of the American frontier is the title of "the book" from which the Coen brothers' latest derives, and so announces itself as fiction up front as heavily as Fargo purported to be based on a true story. In the world of the portmanteau western – has there even been one before? – theme and content aren't really all that distinct from the more familiar horror collection, and as such, these six tales rely on sudden twists or reveals, most of them revolving around death. And inevitably with the anthology, some tall tales are stronger than other tall tales, the former dutifully taking up the slack.

You had to grab every single dollar you could get your hands on, didn't you?

Triple Frontier (2019)
(SPOILERS) Triple Frontier must have seemed like a no-brainer for Netflix, even by their standards of indiscriminately greenlighting projects whenever anyone who can’t get a job at a proper studio asks. It had, after all, been a hot property – nearly a decade ago now – with Kathryn Bigelow attached as director (she retains a producing credit) and subsequently JC Chandor, who has seen it through to completion. Netflix may not have attracted quite the same level of prospective stars – Johnny Depp, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Tom Hardy and Channing Tatum were all involved at various points – but as ever, they haven’t stinted on the production. To what end, though? Well, Bigelow’s involvement is a reliable indicator; this is a movie about very male men doing very masculine things and suffering stoically for it.

Our "Bullshit!" team has unearthed spectacular new evidence, which suggests, that Jack the Ripper was, in fact, the Loch Ness Monster.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987)
Cheeseburger Film Sandwich. Apparently, that’s what the French call Amazon Women on the Moon. Except that it probably sounds a little more elegant, since they’d be saying it in French (I hope so, anyway). Given the title, it should be no surprise that it is regarded as a sequel to Kentucky Fried Movie. Which, in some respects, it is. John Landis originally planned to direct the whole of Amazon Women himself, but brought in other directors due to scheduling issues. The finished film is as much of a mess as Kentucky Fried Movie, arrayed with more miss sketches than hit ones, although it’s decidedly less crude and haphazard than the earlier picture. Some have attempted to reclaim Amazon Women as a dazzling satire on TV’s takeover of our lives, but that’s stretching it. There is a fair bit of satire in there, but the filmmakers were just trying to be funny; there’s no polemic or express commentary. But even on such moderate terms, it only sporadically fulfils…

Everything has its price, Avon.

Blake's 7 4.1: Rescue

Season Four, the season they didn’t expect to make. Which means there’s a certain amount of getting up to speed required in order for “status quo” stories to be told. If they choose to go that route. There’s no Liberator anymore as a starting point for stories; a situation the show hasn’t found itself in since Space Fall. So where do they go from here? Behind the scenes there’s no David Maloney either. Nor Terry Nation (I’d say that by this point that’s slightly less of an issue, but his three scripts for Season Three were among his best).

What lit the fire that set off our Mr Reaper?

Death Wish (2018)
(SPOILERS) I haven’t seen the original Death Wish, the odd clip aside, and I don’t especially plan to remedy that, owing to an aversion to Charles Bronson when he isn’t in Once Upon a Time in the West and an aversion to Michael Winner when he wasn’t making ‘60s comedies or Peter Ustinov Hercule Poirots. I also have an aversion to Eli Roth, though (this is the first of his oeuvre I’ve seen, again the odd clip aside, as I have a general distaste for his oeuvre), and mildly to Bruce when he’s on autopilot (most of the last twenty years), so really, I probably shouldn’t have checked this one out. It was duly slated as a fascistic, right-wing rallying cry, even though the same slaters consider such behaviour mostly okay if the protagonist is super-powered and wearing a mask when taking justice into his (or her) own hands, but the truth is this remake is a quite serviceable, occasionally amusing little revenger, one that even has sufficient courage in its skewed convictions …

Do you read Sutter Cane?

In the Mouth of Madness (1994)
(SPOILERS) The concluding chapter of John Carpenter’s unofficial Apocalypse Trilogy (preceded by The Thing and Prince of Darkness) is also, sadly, his last great movie. Indeed, it stands apart in the qualitative wilderness that beset him during the ‘90s (not for want of output). Michael De Luca’s screenplay had been doing the rounds since the ‘80s, even turned down by Carpenter at one point, and it proves ideal fodder for the director, bringing out the best in him. Even cinematographer Gary K Kibbe seems inspired enough to rise to the occasion. It could do without the chugging rawk soundtrack, perhaps, but then, that was increasingly where Carpenter’s interests resided (as opposed to making decent movies).