Skip to main content

The system is infallible.


Blake's 7
2.1: Redemption


Terry Nation originally intended to write five episodes for Season Two, which is pretty much the formula adopted by nu-Who’s showrunner. In the event (due to Nation’s general shoddy-delivery rates, no doubt) he didn’t, and we were also spared the dubious delight of a Pip & Jane Baker script. The running order for the first half of the season changed quite significantly, and I will note this in respect of later episodes in due course. As for the season opener, it’s the first without Nation’s name on it, although with script editor Chris Boucher at the quill it was in safe hands (especially since he likely ghost wrote significant chunks of the first season). It’s also a fairly typical example of how many people remember the series; the crew running about in a power station while guards dressed in black shoot at them.

The first half, from that point of view, is much more satisfying – and more cerebral. Dealing with the aftermath of Orac’s prediction of the ship’s destruction, we hear some rather dubious conversations on the subject combined with the gradual realisation that the Liberator is out of the crew’s control.


In the space of a few hours, many of the crew have also undergone costume changes. Blake favours a brown leather coat and boots, while Avon has joined a gay biker gang, head to toe in black leather (and studs). He appears to have had the most spent on his wardrobe, as befits the most popular character. Gan dons a cape/jacket looking affair, while poor Vila is left with thrift shop tat. Cally doesn’t look that glam either, whereas Jenna always does.

Blake’s obsessing over the demise of the ship is like some poor Joe who’s just had a bad Tarot reading.

Blake: Why won’t you give us the background to that prediction?
Orac: Because that would invalidate the prediction.
Blake: And if we knew the future in detail we could change it, so it wouldn’t be the future.
Orac: Correct. That is the paradox of prediction.

To which my response is, so what? Surely that’s exactly the desired result and Orac shouldn’t be so bloody-minded about his calculations. The obverse view would be that he knows it isn’t Liberator and if there was any actual danger he would give Blake the lowdown. But that isn’t the way it comes across.


The next part of the scene, as Avon tells Blake what a pranny he is, just rubs in how the writers see the nominal lead. No wonder Thomas wanted to shove off. Avon tells Blake he’s been looking at the wrong things as he’s a complete doofus. Avon isn’t even inclined to explain further.

Blake: If we’ve missed something I want to know what it is now, Avon.
Avon: Well, now, all you had to do was ask.

Avon’s subsequent lecture on the nature of prediction uses logic to disassemble any mystical trappings to Orac’s prophecy. Humans can predict the short range future with reasonable chances of success.

Avon: For example, imagine you are standing on the edge of a cliff.
Blake: As long as you’re not standing behind me.

I like that Boucher is willing to chance the series with such a slow, verbose opening sequence; sure, it all changes in about 20 minutes, but it’s not what you’d expect. Predictions are based on known facts (a number of possible alternate futures) and computers are no different, such that (Avon believes) the prediction is not an immutable fact. If Blake didn’t go near the cliff in the first place, he couldn’t fall of it. And so Avon reveals that the image of destruction clearly showed the sector of the galaxy involved (the twelfth.) Blake asks Avon why he didn’t tell everyone earlier.

Avon: All they had to do was ask. Perhaps in future they won’t rely on you to provide all the answers.


The reaction to being attacked by what look like mini, single arm Liberators is a bit duh. They have no idea what they are. Use your eyes! The fast-travel effect (moving backdrop behind the ships) isn’t the most dazzling we’ve seen, but far superior to the cardboard cut-out Liberator.  With the ship apparently damaged (Blake is again shown to be a bit of simpleton next to Avon’s honed intellect as he considers their escape lucky), Blake gives instructions for repair.


Blake: Avon. Concentrate on Zen. Give priority to the detectors and the navigational systems. And then see if you can get us some scans.
Avon: Is that all? What shall I do with the other hand?

And then:

Vila: When you get Zen working, ask him to prescribe something for a headache, will you? I’ve got a shocking pain right behind the eyes.
Avon: Have you considered amputation?

Avon relishes being right throughout this episode. Which is fair enough, as everyone else is dull-witted to varying degrees (Orac excepted). So he realises that they were allowed to escape well before anyone else.


The System obviously digs chicks, as it puts two in charge. Alta One (Sheila Ruskin, Kassia in The Keeper of Traken) and Alta Two (Harriet Philpin, tomboy Bettan in Genesis of the Daleks) wear nice tight blue body stockings, but as an example of alien costume design they’re decidedly lacking, with cheap transparent plastic accoutrements. Their guards are decidedly gimpish, clad in black body stockings and visors disguising their faces. Still, Ruskin and Philpin embrace the robotic in their performances.


The attack on Blake (attempting to shut down the drive) by an antagonistic cable recalls Death to the Daleks, and for the most part the scene is quite effective (except when it goes into snakelike concentric coils).


Again, Avon’s ahead of the game; don’t go near the teleport he warns (so, of course, dense Gan ganders down there).  He’s summoned to help Blake, and is given status reports by the rest of the crew.

Avon: I shall tell our fearless leader.
Vila: If it ever comes to a showdown, my money’s on Blake. Well, half of it. I’ll put the other half on Avon.

He saves Blake, of course (“Don’t worry. At the right time I will remind you of it”), and the scene where he distracts the coil is well-sustained and tense.


I’m not sure the System needed to pick off the crew one-by-one, other than it adds an edge of tension in the episode. They could clearly transport a shed load of gimps on board and make short work of them.


Perhaps it’s because he’s a newbie crewbie, but the set-up of Orac being asked to give priority to bringing Zen back under their control as Avon, Blake and Jenna are led out works very well in terms of what happens later. And it’s a nice touch to have Alta One shoot an inquiring look at the whirring Orac before she leaves the flight deck.

Blake’s penchant for pointless heroics sees him on the receiving end of several resounding punishments. Gimps administer “force levels” on him for interrupting and generally making a nuisance of himself. But it’s one of those situations where he keeps getting told not to push it, yet when he goes that extra step they don’t carry out their threats to kill him.


Some decent model work for the station, but a woeful decision to use airport runway-at-night stock footage for the docking of the Liberator. And they use it again later when it leaves! It’s this sort of thing more than anything that screams cheap.


So, the power station. Well, it’s big. It allows for a stuntman to do an impressive high fall later on. Blake helping a particularly wretched slave (Roy Evans, of The Daleks’ Master Plan, The Green Death and The Monster of Peladon) is there to highlight how noble he is, but as mentioned it makes the System seem like it doesn’t follow through on its threats.

The increasing flow of information on the “disturbance in the control program” as Blake is interrogated makes an intriguing, building indication that something is afoot, and tells us that we should not underestimate Orac (although we don’t yet know this is what is going on). Blake is told questions are not permitted, then he asks what the System is and they tell him. Where’s your sense of discipline, System?  The System is the supreme power of Space World (a jigga-jig-ah), so Terry Nation must have given Boucher notes somewhere along the line here. A complex of infallible machines, and the Altas are computer-controlled. I think we’d realised that, though (so Roy Evans going into even further background later is a tad unnecessary). Orac’s causing Alta One’s sphere to smoke!

Blake: It’s nice to know computers can have their bad days too.
Alta One: The system is infallible.

Oh come on, just kill him for his impertinence.


Avon takes a bit too long to note the star pattern out of his cell window, since most of the audience would have spotted it straight away. So he’s slightly behind for once in the episode. His punching Vila in the stomach as he opens the door to rescue him and Jenna is predictable but funny nevertheless.

With the crew reunited, it’s time for first Roy Evans (“Destruction level”) and then Blake to get sadistic with their captors, putting the submission sticks against Alta Two and a gimp’s necks.


Perhaps as punishment, Roy Evans has little to do but then die. For no apparent reason he decides to stay and close a door, presumably because he’s a bit too unattractive to join the Liberator?


Some frankly lousy extra work as two of the gimps, about to throw grenades into the Liberator, are teleported back to System HQ and throw them at Alta One. Not quite the stunning explosive climax hoped for.


And, of course, we discover the exploding Liberator was actually a sister ship.
Orac: I took the precaution of scrambling the launch system. It pre-detonated their missiles. Had I not done so, my prediction would have been inaccurate.
So there’s an amusing touch of vanity to his saving the day.


And as usual, we end with a Blake/Avon stand-off. Avon questions returning to Earth sector for “unfinished business with the Federation” as staying in the 12th sector is not the only alternative. His look at Blake in response to “Go back to your position” is of the “I’ll shoot you repeatedly in the guts one day.”



Okay, the fireworks of the last half are a bit on the run around, blow shit up, side of things, but the story maintains interest throughout. And credit is due for serving up Blake's 7 aliens wearing blue body stockings. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

Maybe I’m a heel who hates guys who hate heels.

Crimewave (1985) (SPOILERS) A movie’s makers’ disowning it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing of worth therein, just that they don’t find anything of worth in it. Or the whole process of making it too painful to contemplate. Sam Raimi’s had a few of those, experiencing traumas with Darkman a few years after Crimewave . But I, blissfully unaware of such issues, was bowled over by it when I caught it a few years after its release (I’d hazard it was BBC2’s American Wave 2 season in 1988). This was my first Sam Raimi movie, and I was instantly a fan of whoever it was managed to translate the energy and visual acumen of a cartoon to the realm of live action. The picture is not without its problems – and at least some of them directly correspond to why it’s so rueful for Raimi – but that initial flair I recognised still lifts it.

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

You cut my head off a couple of dozen times.

Boss Level (2021) (SPOILERS) Lest you thought it was nigh-on impossible to go wrong with a Groundhog Day premise, Joe Carnahan, in his swaggering yen for overkill, very nearly pulls it off with Boss Level . I’m unsure quite what became of Carnahan’s early potential, but he seems to have settled on a sub-Tarantino, sub-Bay, sub-Snyder, sub-Ritchie butch bros aesthetic, complete with a tin ear for dialogue and an approach to plotting that finds him continually distracting himself, under the illusion it’s never possible to have too much. Of whatever it is he’s indulging at that moment.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef