Skip to main content

They are destroying the greatest force of order in the known universe.


Blake's 7 
1.10: Breakdown


So, a Gan-centric episode. Just what everyone has been waiting for! I’m rather grateful that Nation’s original premise for this never came to pass (an alien duplicate of Gan fights the mental giant, trying to take over the Liberator) as two roles for David Jackson is more than any episode could bear.


The first 30 minutes are Liberator-bound, and the snail’s pace suggests filler material was necessary at times (the examination of Gan’s bonce takes an age.) The rest of the episode is a massive step up from what preceded it, albeit not enough to completely make amends.


A nicely-lit model shot of the Liberator kicks the episode off, and then Gan starts going mental on the flight deck. Unfortunately Jackson’s not a good enough actor to make this dramatic; it’s actually quite funny until Jenna arrives and he starts strangling her. 

To an extent I can see why the authors of Liberation were fixated on Gan being a sex offender, as Jackson’s much more convincing as a simmering psycho with a penchant for doing nasty things to women than a worryingly kindly type (a bit like Robin Williams in that sense). 

Kudos to the stunt woman who enacted Jenna’s fall (to the extent I thought it might have been a dummy). And Gan being discovered, dragging Jenna away by her foot, adds a certain “What’s he got planned next?” vibe. The combination of Blake (decently) hitting him repeatedly on the head and Avon (indecently) kneeing him in the testicles has the desired effect.


The “Inflammation around the implant scar” is suitably grizzly, while Cally’s accusation that restraining Gan is barbarous is a rather unsubtle signpost that she will do something daft later. So much for her super-sensitive atunement to others. Blake’s suggestion that they might operate on him under Zen’s supervision gets short shrift.


Avon: There are quicker ways you could kill him but there are none more certain.


We find out that Avon has been thinking of his future beyond the Liberator, suggesting a “bolthole” on space laboratory XK-72 when other possible destinations prove unsuitable. It is financed by a consortium of neutral planets and researches weaponry and space medicine (the latter must be from Terry Nation’s pen!)

Avon: An interesting combination, don’t you think?


Of course, this requires traversing a prohibited zone of space (to fill up some running time). Except that Zen cannot identify what the danger is, so they press on through. Presumably it’s his temperamental logic coming into play but, since his prime directive sees Zen refuse to enter the zone, it’s a bit rum of him to then to turn off all primary and auxiliary computer functions and so put the crew in even greater danger.

Blake: Presumably Zen will come back to us when we are out of danger.
Vila: Sounds like a good idea. Any chance of joining him?

Another good Vila line:

Vila: I’ve just had a comforting though. We may all be dead before we find out why this is a danger zone.


Gan sets out on a HULK SMASH! rampage after Cally sets him free, the daft bint (“I thought he was normal again”). By which point the ship is being sucked into a gravitational vortex! 

The rhyme or reason of Gan’s destruction derby is indistinct, as he sets upon Avon (trying to override the computer controls) and starts smashing up equipment in the computer room. He pulls something apart, but it doesn’t seem to have done any lasting damage in the next scene, where control is back with the crew and Gan is restrained. Flying straight for the centre of the vortex doesn’t make much sense (surely it would just crush the ship, rather than allowing it pass through to the other side) but it does set up a subplot of the episode. Avon is thoroughly pissed off at Blake.


Avon: In the unlikely event that we survive this, I’m finished. Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable.
Blake: Now you’re just being modest.

Cally again shows limited judgement skills when she questions Blake as to why he won’t persuade Avon to stay. Why would he? Avon thinks everything he does is dumb and has zero respect for him.


Finally, it’s time to get out of the ship, and the welcome introduction of Count Scarlioni (Professor Kane, played by Julian Glover of City of Death and The Crusade). Glover delivers a tremendously memorable turn in the 20 minutes remaining. And it’s a clever touch that the first scene between him, Blake and Farren (Ian Thompson, The Web Planet and The Chase) makes Kane seem honourable and sympathetic and Farren appear to be a tiresome bureaucrat. If Farren isn’t completely rehabilitated by what follows, the roles are to some extent reversed.


Kane is impressed by the teleport and the shift of the audience to suspect his motives is only gradual; he asks lots of questions and, shown Gan, asks Cally why he has a limiter implanted...


The subplot concerning Avon’s intention to leave picks up steam, as he decides to spend some time on the space lab (he has already questioned Vila on why he stays with Blake, who replied that he likes their leader and he has nowhere else to go.)


Christian Roberts as Dr Renor (Tim Redman in UFO’s The Long Sleep) makes the most of a minor part, and again we see that first impressions aren’t justified. He arrives on the Liberator very much the ladies’ man doctor (“Hello hello hello!” he greets Jenna, then asking “Do you believe in love at first sight...”) but is immediately repelled by Kane’s decision to twiddle his thumbs rather than operate, while the Federation sends some pursuit ships to intercept the Liberator.


Likewise, we expect Farren (being apparently by-the-book) to turn Avon in when the latter offers his services (and the secret of matter transmission, amongst other tech) and identifies himself. Instead, he is annoyed by Kane violating the neutrality of the station and tells Avon about the approaching ships. 


This is the real strength of the last half; characters are called upon to behave in interesting or unexpected ways. We learn that Glover’s motivation is borne out of seeing stability as an absolute requirement, one he considers the Federation to provide. Without stability there can be no progress. In this sense he is the classic apolitical scientist, whose allegiances bow to wherever and whoever sustains his work. He refers to Blake and co as “Maniacs, killers, mindless destroyers. They are destroying the greatest force of order in the known universe.




His view is not shared by either Farren (who considers the lab’s neutrality as a point of principle – it represents a form of order in terms of his microcosm) or Renor (who is evidently non-plussed by the Federation – he considers brain implantation to be objectionable, whereas Kane regards it as better solution for a dangerous psychopath than execution). Glover is quite masterful at essaying Kane’s utter disregard for any moral imperative in saving Gan, casually picking his nails with his feet resting on a crate.




And it’s Vila, not Blake, who has cottoned onto Kane’s duplicity. He orders the doctor to operate, at gunpoint, although it’s fortunate that Avon arrives to back him up as I’m as dubious as Kane that Vila could have followed through. It’s Blake who shows the most intuitive understanding of Kane in the end (almost as a slap down to Vila previously telling Kane how Blake’s conscience would prevent him killing the doctor), threatening to destroy his hands if he doesn’t complete the operation on Gan in 20 minutes. “Animals!” responds Kane.


Blake: Is there any way we can thank you?

Kane: You could try getting caught.


The most extraordinary scene of the episode, though (well there’s another, but not in a good way) comes with Kane and Farren confronting each other. Kane calls for weaponry to be trained on the Liberator and Farren admonishes him for violating the lab’s neutrality. Accusing Farren of striking his hand, Kane proceeds to strangle, and then bludgeon, the official in a brilliantly unhinged piece of scripting and performance.




Having a plasma bolt directed at the Liberator hit the lab is much too unnecessarily tidy (and it would be more interesting if Kane got off without consequence for his behaviour.)


There’s further damage to the credibility of the episode in having Gan (drinking from a Liberation plastic beaker again) greeted by his fellow crewmembers. Why Blake saying, “Welcome back” to him results in everyone dissolving into peals of laughter is beyond me. But it’s really, really, awful.


It begins looking like it might be an inconsequential nadir of the season, but a last third change of scene and commanding guest star save the day. Lessons to be learnt here; don’t give Gan anything significant to do. He’s a big lummox. And never have the crew laugh everything better in the final scene. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

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…

Your honor, with all due respect: if you're going to try my case for me, I wish you wouldn't lose it.

The Verdict (1982)
(SPOILERS) Sidney Lumet’s return to the legal arena, with results every bit as compelling as 12 Angry Men a quarter of a century earlier. This time the focus is on the lawyer, in the form of Paul Newman’s washed-up ambulance chaser Frank Galvin, given a case that finally matters to him. In less capable hands, The Verdict could easily have resorted to a punch-the-air piece of Hollywood cheese, but, thanks to Lumet’s earthy instincts and a sharp, unsentimental screenplay from David Mamet, this redemption tale is one of the genre’s very best.

And it could easily have been otherwise. The Verdict went through several line-ups of writer, director and lead, before reverting to Mamet’s original screenplay. There was Arthur Hiller, who didn’t like the script. Robert Redford, who didn’t like the subsequent Jay Presson Allen script and brought in James Bridges (Redford didn’t like that either). Finally, the producers got the hump with the luxuriantly golden-haired star for meetin…

He mobilised the English language and sent it into battle.

Darkest Hour (2017)
(SPOILERS) Watching Joe Wright’s return to the rarefied plane of prestige – and heritage to boot – filmmaking following the execrable folly of the panned Pan, I was struck by the difference an engaged director, one who cares about his characters, makes to material. Only last week, Ridley Scott’s serviceable All the Money in the World made for a pointed illustration of strong material in the hands of someone with no such investment, unless they’re androids. Wright’s dedication to a relatable Winston Churchill ensures that, for the first hour-plus, Darkest Hour is a first-rate affair, a piece of myth-making that barely puts a foot wrong. It has that much in common with Wright’s earlier Word War II tale, Atonement. But then, like Atonement, it comes unstuck.

Who are you and why do you know so much about car washes?

Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018)
(SPOILERS) The belated arrival of the Ant-Man sequel on UK shores may have been legitimately down to World Cup programming, but it nevertheless adds to the sense that this is the inessential little sibling of the MCU, not really expected to challenge the grosses of a Doctor Strange, let alone the gargantuan takes of its two predecessors this year. Empire magazine ran with this diminution, expressing disappointment that it was "comparatively minor and light-hitting" and "lacks the scale and ambition of recent Marvel entries". Far from deficits, for my money these should be regard as accolades bestowed upon Ant-Man and the Wasp; it understands exactly the zone its operating in, yielding greater dividends than the three most recent prior Marvel entries the review cites in its efforts at point scoring.

Dude, you're embarrassing me in front of the wizards.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018)
(SPOILERS) The cliffhanger sequel, as a phenomenon, is a relatively recent thing. Sure, we kind of saw it with The Empire Strikes Back – one of those "old" movies Peter Parker is so fond of – a consequence of George Lucas deliberately borrowing from the Republic serials of old, but he had no guarantee of being able to complete his trilogy; it was really Back to the Future that began the trend, and promptly drew a line under it for another decade. In more recent years, really starting with The MatrixThe Lord of the Rings stands apart as, post-Weinstein's involvement, fashioned that way from the ground up – shooting the second and third instalments back-to-back has become a thing, both more cost effective and ensuring audiences don’t have to endure an interminable wait for their anticipation to be sated. The flipside of not taking this path is an Allegiant, where greed gets the better of a studio (split a novel into two movie parts assuming a…

The simple fact is, your killer is in your midst. Your killer is one of you.

The Avengers 5.12: The Superlative Seven
I’ve always rather liked this one, basic as it is in premise. If the title consciously evokes The Magnificent Seven, to flippant effect, the content is Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None, but played out with titans of their respective crafts – including John Steed, naturally – encountering diminishing returns. It also boasts a cast of soon-to-be-famous types (Charlotte Rampling, Brian Blessed, Donald Sutherland), and the return of one John Hollis (2.16: Warlock, 4.7: The Cybernauts). Kanwitch ROCKS!

I freely chose my response to this absurd world. If given the opportunity, I would have been more vigorous.

The Falcon and the Snowman (1985)
(SPOILERS) I suspect, if I hadn’t been ignorant of the story of Christopher Boyce and Andrew Daulton Lee selling secrets to the Soviets during the ‘70s, I’d have found The Falcon and the Snowman less engaging than I did. Which is to say that John Schlesinger’s film has all the right ingredients to be riveting, including a particularly camera-hogging performance from Sean Penn (as Lee), but it’s curiously lacking in narrative drive. Only fitfully does it channel the motives of its protagonists and their ensuing paranoia. As such, the movie makes a decent primer on the case, but I ended up wondering if it might not be ideal fodder for retelling as a miniseries.

Everyone creates the thing they dread.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)
(SPOILERS) Avengers: Age of Ultron’s problem isn’t one of lack. It benefits from a solid central plot. It features a host of standout scenes and set pieces. It hands (most of) its characters strong defining moments. It doesn’t even suffer now the “wow” factor of seeing the team together for the first time has subsided. Its problem is that it’s too encumbered. Maybe its asking to much of a director to effectively martial the many different elements required by an ensemble superhero movie such as this, yet Joss Whedon’s predecessor feels positively lean in comparison.

Part of this is simply down to the demands of the vaster Marvel franchise machine. Seeds are laid for Captain America: Civil War, Infinity Wars I & II, Black Panther and Thor: Ragnarok. It feels like several spinning plates too many. Such activity occasionally became over-intrusive on previous occasions (Iron Man II), but there are points in Age of Ultron where it becomes distractingly so. …

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …

Gloat all you like, but just remember, I’m the star of this picture.

The Avengers 5.11: Epic
Epic has something of a Marmite reputation, and even as someone who rather likes it, I can quite see its flaws. A budget-conscious Brian Clemens was inspired to utilise readily-available Elstree sets, props and costumes, the results both pushing the show’s ever burgeoning self-reflexive agenda and providing a much more effective (and amusing) "Avengers girl ensnared by villains attempting to do for her" plot than The House That Jack BuiltDon't Look Behind You and the subsequent The Joker. Where it falters is in being little more than a succession of skits and outfit changes for Peter Wyngarde. While that's very nearly enough, it needs that something extra to reach true greatness. Or epic-ness.