Skip to main content

What do you want to be? Rich or dead?

Blake's 7
1.3: Cygnus Alpha


Well, the quality couldn’t last. Vere Lorrimer does a solid job directing this one, and the night shooting adds atmosphere in spades. Unfortunately the religious cult on a prison planet just isn’t that interesting (notably, big Brian Blessed was about the only well-known British thesp who wasn’t cast in the similarly themed Alien 3).


It’s Who-central from the off with lovely lovely lovely Kara (Pamela Salem – The Robots of Death and Remembrance of the Daleks) and the Caber, I mean Laran (Robert Russell, Terror of the Zygons) noting the incoming London. Which reuses a shot from Space Fall (the spinning object is a planet, clearly one with an unhealthy speed of rotation).

The length of journey issues in this story don’t bear much analysis. It’s now four months since the events of Space Fall, and poor old Leylan has clearly been affected badly by what went down. But he’s only now sending his report? Useful for the wayward viewer, but a bit slack otherwise.


So... On the Liberator how much time has passed? They’ve not done much investigating, as they’re only now discovering the hand guns (“single function isomorphic response” smartarse Avon advises), G-force inducing “negative hyperspace” (whatever that is) and, lo and behold, Zen (Jenna seemed to very much enjoy having her mind probed). Presumably Zen only calls himself Zen for his own amusement at the expense of the Terran plebs. Well, I hope so. The extended discussion on computer sentience and Avon’s desire to turn the screws to make Zen talk is entertaining enough (far more so than the later Cygnus Alpha scenes), but giving Zen co-ordinates for the planet (at standard speed, which is obviously very quick compared to the London) exposes how ill-thought out the timeframes are. It’s amusing that Avon spends most of these scenes armed, almost nonchalantly so.

Poor old Leylan really is depressed, refusing to allow Artix to stretch his legs and letting his thoughts replay the report he sent. It’s quite sad; a man with no recourse other than to accept the situation he’s been involved in. And we never find out what happens to him.


The discovery of the transporter area is just another example of Nation loading up goodies for the motley rebels. It’s clear from discussions (aquetar?) that the Federation is far from such technology.  Blake and Avon were both involved in the project (small world).

Jenna: I didn’t work on it.

Avon’s (unscripted?) look in response is pricelessly dismissive.

Nation/Boucher establish a nascent crew dynamic as we see Zen being, er Zen (“Wisdom must be gathered. It cannot be given”), Avon’s instant belligerence in response and Jenna’s amusement.


On Cygnus Alpha, Arco (Peter (“I aven’t got strength to lift a toby!” Childs from Mark of the Rani) doesn’t much care for Vila’s sour humour, but Keating is served some choice quips:

Arco: What’s that smell?
Selman: It’s like something rotting.
Vila: Dinner probably.

Unfortunately, none of the business with the cult is very intriguing. But Blake’s run around on the planet is energetically involving because there are other factors at play (will the transporter work, will the hoodies get him) and Jenna’s hug on his return is further indication that she has a thing for him.

Meanwhile, line of the episode goes to Vila:

Gan: It’s a building.
Arco: Cosy.
Gan: What do you think it is?
Vila: The architectural style is early maniac.


I don’t blame Gan for being instantly smitten by Pamela Salem, or Vila saying what everyone else is thinking (“I like God’s taste in servants”) but it doesn’t exactly dial up the tension.


Brian Blessed. Wearing trainers. Nice white trainers too. He’s always tearing a chunk out of the scenery is Brian, and this is no exception. The whole Curse of Cygnus bit is rather laboured (SURPRISE: It’s not real!)



As noted earlier, the Liberator sequences are far more interesting in this episode, with Avon overtly expressing his disinterest in his fellows throughout (first at spurious gunpoint, then telling Jenna she is on his list to get rid of after Blake). This exchange is interesting:

Jenna: Would you kill someone? Face-to-face?
Avon: I don’t know, could you?
Jenna: There’s one sure way to find out.

For starters, it suggests neither have (though Avon would be unlikely to admit it anyway). Secondly, is Jenna suggesting she’d kill Avon if he did the nasty to Blake? Notably, it’s Vila’s who has killed someone by episode’s end (but stabbed in the back).

Blake’s further planet-bound encounters, with Gan & co, then Vargas (Blessed), don’t muster up much vitality. We learn that the transporter bracelets are of dreadful workmanship if Blessed can break them in his hands. Brian is predictably loud. THIS IS WHAT GIVES ME THE RIGHT TO RULE. POWER! THEY WORKED HARD! Etc.


The best scene in the episode follows Avon’s return from the “treasure” room (he and Jenna have also changed into different clobber). There’s millions in there, almost as much as in the Federation banking system. His persuasive tone with Jenna is entirely understandable. They could leave now, buy their own planet.

Jenna: What about Blake?
Avon: What about him?

What follows is remarkably accurate in predicting the fate of Blake’s gang. Avon labels him a crusader, “He’ll look upon all this as just one more weapon to use against the Federation. And he can’t win. You know he can’t win. What do you want to be? Rich or dead?” Jenna ultimately gives Blake an hour, but it’s canny to set the stakes so overtly like this so early. Canny to give rein to a character such as Avon who you can see forming his own life before the eyes of Boucher and Nation, likely beyond anything they initially envisaged.


There are some reasonably energetic fight sequences following Blake persuading Gan and co to rebel (Gan is laid on a slab, but it’s a set up, thanks to handy hoodies) Of note is that David Jackson does a convincing impression of a horse and poor Pammy gets stabbed. Vila (convincingly shocked) saves Blake by stabbing a hoodie.


The various altercations end when Vargas, Gan, Vila and Blake are transported to the Liberator, Vargas foolishly manages to get himself transported (and exploded) into space. In his nice white trainers. This answers Jenna and Avon’s hypothetical earlier conversation about transporter range, at any rate. These weren’t the best of parts for either Salem (covered up) or Blessed (he doesn’t beg for nuance but his role was particularly was one-note).

And so we end with the Liberator pursued by Federation ships, which will become something of a stock device.


Story-wise, it’s a bit of a duffer. We’re engaged by the discovery of functioning of the teleport and the capacities of the Liberator. But Cygnus Alpha, despite Blessed and Salem, is atmospheric yet boring. Nevertheless, by the time the credits roll Blake has a crew of four. And Zen. The Liberator too, if we’re being generous. So Blake’s 6. He needs another. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

Never lose any sleep over accusations. Unless they can be proved, of course.

Strangers on a Train (1951) (SPOILERS) Watching a run of lesser Hitchcock films is apt to mislead one into thinking he was merely a highly competent, supremely professional stylist. It takes a picture where, to use a not inappropriate gourmand analogy, his juices were really flowing to remind oneself just how peerless he was when inspired. Strangers on a Train is one of his very, very best works, one he may have a few issues with but really deserves nary a word said against it, even in “compromised” form.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

You’re easily the best policeman in Moscow.

Gorky Park (1983) (SPOILERS) Michael Apted and workmanlike go hand in hand when it comes to thriller fare (his Bond outing barely registered a pulse). This adaptation of Martin Cruz Smith’s 1981 novel – by Dennis Potter, no less – is duly serviceable but resolutely unremarkable. William Hurt’s militsiya officer Renko investigates three faceless bodies found in the titular park. It was that grisly element that gave Gorky Park a certain cachet when I first saw it as an impressionable youngster. Which was actually not unfair, as it’s by far its most memorable aspect.

I don’t like fighting at all. I try not to do too much of it.

Cuba (1979) (SPOILERS) Cuba -based movies don’t have a great track record at the box office, unless Bad Boys II counts. I guess The Godfather Part II does qualify. Steven Soderbergh , who could later speak to box office bombs revolving around Castro’s revolution, called Richard Lester’s Cuba fascinating but flawed. Which is generous of him.