Skip to main content

May you die alone and silent.

Blake's 7
1.4: Time Squad


Oh dear, unfortunate that we kick off with a cut-out animated Liberator against a starry backdrop. Captain Zep would approve. I don’t know why they couldn’t just keep reusing the same model shot.


Team Liberator learning the controls and bantering sets the scene for their first mission proper, and firms up the dynamics of the group. Gan damply follows Blake’s every suggestion, Vila trys to chicken out and Avon acidly puts down any proposed action from their self-nominated leader.

Vila (to Blake): I don’t follow you.
Avon: Oh, but you do. And that’s the problem.

The mission proposed is your fairly bog standard affair; land on a planet (Saurian Major), infiltrate a Federation structure that does something terribly important (in this case an all-redirecting transceiver), blow structure up. And contact any rebels skulking about the place. Fortunately we have a B-plot to keep things lively, although this also has its clunky aspects.


Avon is right to expose the lack of democracy on the ship; all actions are supposed to be agreed, but Blake’s giving instructions as a fait accompli. And the opt-out option is basically that if you don’t agree with Blake, say goodbye. I also have the same icy contempt for goody-two-shoes Gan that Avon does.

There’s some very clumsy exposition/plotting in this episode, mainly involving shipboard matters. Gan throws in a comment about Zen having a limiter (as the computer is failing to explain matters in relation to the craft that has put out a distress signal), signalling that this will be important later. As for Zen’s unforthcoming, stuttering approach it’s never clear why he acts this way. It’s not alien tech causing it and the final discussion on the point (that his attitude somehow relates to the cell bank) is dissatisfying. Are they suggesting that Zen has a moral imperative to want to preserve the cell bank so he won’t warn the crew of the threat from the guardians? If so, it’s vague (the comment comes after discussing how a single cell could grow to adult in 1.6 minutes). And clearly it’s nonsense, as Zen only decodes the navigation computer that reveals this information a significant way through the episode. The answer really is that Zen didn’t tell them of the risk because the plot required him not to.


The B-plot concerns aforesaid craft, with occupants in suspended animation (and pronounced veins covering their faces). The escalation of problems requiring Avon to manoeuvre the Liberator around this craft (now also supporting Blake and Jenna, running out of air) is involving, even if it relies on a number of things going wrong (Zen being uncooperative, the teleport burning out), and the model work is quite effective here (so why not in the opening shot?)


The comment from Avon that, “They weren’t planning on coming back. All instruments are set for landing. There’s nothing for take-off” doesn’t make enormous sense. The guardians must have taken off from somewhere; how do the crew know they won’t just retrace their course at some point? And the line noting that they have no weapons so either they are going to a civilised destination or “we are missing the point entirely” eludes me as to meaning. I mean, yes, it turns out that they are fighting-tough but I’d have thought they’d be better armed in order to defend the brood bank.


Sally Knyvette’s arse, in skintight purple jeans, is afforded significant coverage throughout the episode, but I’ll only mention it this once.


It was a good decision to give the de rigueur BBC quarry a pink tint (doubling as Saurian Major), and a few triffid-esque plants dotted about. Pennant Roberts is again competent holding the reins of this story, so maybe he just has problems on Doctor Who.

Blake: Some of the plants even have an intelligence rating.
Vila: Well that’s a comfort. I should hate to be eaten by something stupid.

The tiresome plot thread concerning Gan’s limiter continues (he just about gets to the point of explaining all to Jenna but is too exhausted to continue, slumps and we see the bits in his skull – it’s telegraphed with all the finesse of a bludgeon). His explanation that he killed a security guard “who killed my woman” makes him sound a bit Neanderthal in attitude (why not his “special lady friend”, why so possessive, huh, Gan?) I guess this does give a reason for him being a “yes man” to Blake (when discussion turns to the option of leaving Blake, he tells Jenna that he can’t be on his own due to the limiter). He’s more a massive moron than a gentle giant, however.


The scene where Jenna gets attacked by Kim Newman in the docking bay is marred slightly by Kim trying really hard to lunge at a slow enough speed to hit his marks. But it’s mostly quite atmospheric. Gan’s wet blanketness in the next scene (maybe we shouldn’t judge them, maybe they’re scared) is too much, though. Jenna’s not so smart either, as she elects not tell Blake of the incident when he calls in. Useless bloody crew.


Jan Chappell’s jawline is as impressive as Knyvette’s arse (okay, I mentioned it again). I’ve never been that keen on Cally. I know she is (or was) a fan favourite but once you’ve got “telepath” on your CV it replaces the need to work much on character development. Anytime you need a plot where someone’s sensitive or possessed or spooky, just go straight to Cally with her big jaw. The fracas with Blake is good fun, during which Cally wishes the blog post title on him, as is Avon’s insistence on being top dog (“I’ve had a gun on you the whole time. You were dead as soon as you broke cover”). Has Boucher drawn on Leela for some of Cally’s speech patterns/phrasing?

Cally: You fear death?
Vila: I plan to live forever. Or die trying.

There’s an interesting audio effect for Jenna’s distorted voice on the intercom (calling to dozy Gan, who’s gone and got himself clobbered/brain-fried/whatever – it’s hard to tell as for the rest of the episode he seems to have aches and pains all over his person). And Jenna answers the question she posed during Cygnus Alpha regarding killing someone, shooting first one and then another of the Guardians.


Frankly, Gan’s limiter is a stupid plot device. He surely doesn’t need to have the intention of killing the guardians, just a desire to restrain them (as in Space Fall, or punching people in Cygnus Alpha). He even says, “It’s not possible for me to kill now” so I don’t see what the problem is. And how does he know to tell Jenna “They kill anyone who isn’t theirs”?


The Federation don’t have very advanced locks, so it’s no wonder Vila is such a shit-hot thief. The industrial refinery location sets the standard for grim places to film “futuristic” bases in Blake’s 7. The tension is effectively ramped up, despite the drab surroundings, with the quartet trapped in the control room for the paraneutronic (!) generator. Which is rigged to blow. And they are unable to contact the Liberator (Gan, all useless achey-pains, has terrible difficulty reaching the controls). Admirably cheap of the production to opt for a white-out for an explosion rather than blowing up a model. Did the planet blow up too? Or was the explosion we see from space just a BIG one on the planet?


Blake’s arrival just in time to save Jenna from the extra guardian (Zen piping up that there’s four of them just the moment another is revealed) is a bit of a “well that’s what heroes do” kind of moment.  Still, Jenna killed more than you Mr Leader.  The Blake-endorsed decision to dump the craft in deep space seems a bit mean-minded – why not set it down on a planet somewhere (I don’t like to agree with Gan, but he has a point in his objection – he also grew enough of a pair to have his own opinion).


Jenna coming over all jealous of the newly joined Cally is a lovely touch (the craft encounter “should have taught us something about the wisdom involved in bringing aliens aboard”). Meow. And Blake spells out who the seven are; Zen is included but since the series isn’t called Blake Is One of Seven, I’m still counting the Liberator in there.


A victim of clumsy plotting throughout, this nevertheless a lively episode courtesy of having equal A and B plot strands. The more we get to know Gan the less I wish we did, while Cally makes a big (jawed) debut. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

Isn’t it true, it’s easier to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?

The Razor’s Edge (1984) (SPOILERS) I’d hadn’t so much a hankering as an idle interest in finally getting round to seeing Bill Murray’s passion project. Partly because it seemed like such an odd fit. And partly because passion isn’t something you tend to associate with any Murray movie project, involving as it usually does laidback deadpan. Murray, at nigh-on peak fame – only cemented by the movie he agreed to make to make this movie – embarks on a serious-acting-chops dramatic project, an adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s story of one man’s journey of spiritual self-discovery. It should at least be interesting, shouldn’t it? A real curio? Alas, not. The Razor’s Edge is desperately turgid.

Schnell, you stinkers! Come on, raus!

Private’s Progress (1956) (SPOILERS) Truth be told, there’s good reason sequel I’m Alright Jack reaps the raves – it is, after all, razor sharp and entirely focussed in its satire – but Private’s Progress is no slouch either. In some respects, it makes for an easy bedfellow with such wartime larks as Norman Wisdom’s The Square Peg (one of the slapstick funny man’s better vehicles). But it’s also, typically of the Boulting Brothers’ unsentimental disposition, utterly remorseless in rebuffing any notions of romantic wartime heroism, nobility and fighting the good fight. Everyone in the British Army is entirely cynical, or terrified, or an idiot.

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

It’s not as if she were a… maniac, a raving thing.

Psycho (1960) (SPOILERS) One of cinema’s most feted and most studied texts, and for good reason. Even if the worthier and more literate psycho movie of that year is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom . One effectively ended a prolific director’s career and the other made its maker more in demand than ever, even if he too would discover he had peaked with his populist fear flick. Pretty much all the criticism and praise of Psycho is entirely valid. It remains a marvellously effective low-budget shocker, one peppered with superb performances and masterful staging. It’s also fairly rudimentary in tone, character and psychology. But those negative elements remain irrelevant to its overall power.

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

You know what I sometimes wish? I sometimes wish I were ordinary like you. Ordinary and dead like all the others.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) (SPOILERS) Bryan Forbes’ adaptation of Mark McShane’s 1961’s novel has been much acclaimed. It boasts a distinctive storyline and effective performances from its leads, accompanied by effective black-and-white cinematography from Gerry Turpin and a suitably atmospheric score from John Barry. I’m not sure Forbes makes the most of the material, however, as he underlines Séance on a Wet Afternoon ’s inherently theatrical qualities at the expense of its filmic potential.