3.4: Dawn of the Gods
A bit of a Star Trek-sounding title for one of the daffiest Blake’s 7episodes yet. Indeed, it’s probably the most peculiar story since The Web. As usual when weirdness is foregrounded in the series it’s Cally whom the writers fall back on as a key ingredient in the mix (it’s quite amazing how Auron casts its influence so far and wide).
James Follett’s first script for the series delivers a fairly intriguing, scene-setting first half, before falling apart when the mundanity of the premise is revealed. Even then, the bizarre variety of elements makes for something of an enervating car crash, the zenith (or nadir, depending on how you look at it) comes with the crew menaced by a golf cart with pointy teeth painted on it.
It’s never a good sign when we are introduced to the crew relaxing (Voice from the Past being the most recent example) and here we have them playing Space Monopoly. I quite like that Space City gets namedropped as a location on the board (although you’d have expected Vila to be more enthused at the offer to stay at Dayna’s hotel, all his favourite extras thrown in). It’s all a bit too cosy. Wouldn’t Avon rather be on his own, reading some weighty tome?
But it’s Tarrant who’s not interested in idle relaxation, while Orac continues the nefariousness suggested in Volcano. Clearly the bomb planted in his innards in Shadow has failed to convince him to behave, as he redirects the Liberator in order to discover more about a black hole that shows an absence of x-rays. One might argue that nothing happens in the first half of the story; Orac acts suspiciously, and only eventually do the crew cotton on, Cally comes under Tarrant’s interrogation concerning what her people may be up to (although, to be fair, it transpires that there is a connection).
Finally, we’re treated to coloured lights and distorted mirrors as the ship is pulled into the black hole.
Desmond McCarthy’s obviously been watching 2001, trying to match the black hole effect with (Tarrant’s?) an eyeball (and the effect itself appears to utilise photographed fluids, always a good choice for trippy visuals).
Establishing friction between Avon and Tarrant is a relief, as I was beginning to get concerned at how well they seemed to be getting along. Tarrant takes offence at Avon trying to clamber into a space suit (frankly, his “We’ll all die together!” attitude deserves Avon’s abject disdain).
Avon (referring to Vila): Our hero lives.
Tarrant: At least he didn’t try to get into a spacesuit.
Avon: I look upon self-interest as my great strength. Vila.
Tarrant: One day, Avon, I may have to kill you.
Avon (smiling): It has been tried.
Funniest moment in the episode (well, intentionally anyway) is Vila’s POV of Avon trying to bring him round.
Vila: I’m in hell. And it’s full of Avons!
It’s at this point that Cally begins hearing the voice of the Thaarn, a character from Auron nursery rhymes. What’s being built up has the potential to go, well, almost anywhere more interesting than the route it eventually takes. Recovering from her delirious stay in the resuscitation chamber, she gets an incredibly clunky bit of dialogue.
Cally: Why would I talk about a mythical creature from children’s stories?
Sending Vila outside in a spacesuit (something about the external teleport transducers being damaged) gives Keating a nice spotlight, although the reasoning (something about doors being welded shut) is rather weak. And these scenes, before the appearance of the toothsome golf cart, are rather effective and mysterious.
The spacesuit isn’t bad either (significantly different to the one Blake wears in Voice from the Past, more like they’ve been inspired to do Alien suits on a budget). The complete failure to include any coherent logic regarding the hows and whys of ending up here is okay by me (hey, they went into a black hole!). It’s the being brought back down to earth with a bump that hurts, when we find that the Thaarn wants a boring old metal (Herculaneum –geddit?- the strongest known metal in the universe, which the outer hull of the Liberator is made from).
The fake-out concerning Vila’s death is a decent moment (Tarrant turns all noble, saying that he will have a burial in space); you can almost see the wind knocked out of Tarrant’s sails when he discovers that he’s still alive.
It’s strictly bargain-basement after this, as Avon, Vila, Cally and Tarrant have their version of robot wars against the shit golf cart.
Avon: It would seem that this crude device is intended to frighten primitive people from underdeveloped worlds.
Vila: It’s doing a pretty good job on me.
Events get increasingly Trekkie when the Caliph of Krandor appears, dressed like someone from the BBC Costume Department’s Classic Serials cupboard, for no other reason than that’s what aliens dig. I start warming to the Caliph when he uses his neuronic whip on the permanently teeth-gritted Tarrant.
That said, Tarrant’s deceit concerning the identity and nature of Orac is the most fun to be had during the second half (although Dayna gets in there first. I particularly liked, “A bald dwarf shouldn’t be too hard to find”).
There’s also Cally’s tale of the “dawn of the gods” of the title, which proves to be remarkably accurate (Thaarn was one of the seven gods that brought Auron great gifts, then he turned bad and was exiled from space and time (a bit like Omega then)). Avon overtly parallels the legend with ancient astronauts, so one must assume that Follett had Chariots of the Gods in mind (but an Auron version).
And, even if this seems to be turning into a “Dawn of the Gods is actually okay” review, I also liked Zen repelling the salvage party that has boarded the ship (Orac charitably warns them not to mess with the defences).
Groff (Terry Scully, Fewsham in The Seeds of Death) makes a benign impression as the resigned head of the Thaarn’s operations. But sets Avon and Tarrant to work with paper and pencil. The scenario really is sosilly that it almost works, but it needed to be completely unhinged; in actuality it nudges into the dull-witted. The Groff informs the duo that Thaarn allows no superior intellect to his around the place.
Avon: Perhaps he had an uncomfortable experience with a computer.
Tarrant: Haven’t we all?
What follows – Avon and Tarrant conclude that if they switched the gravity generators in reverse they could cause Krandor to blow up, but they need to turn off the energy isolators first, which Thaarn controls, while Cally somehow comes to a similar conclusion – doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Cally’s been laid out on a furry rug while a little bald bloke behind a screen moans pathetically at her. She persuades him to turn off the isolators, shoots randomly about the room, and somehow this seems to work.
Lord Thaarn is a bit miserable, you see. He’s all alone, and Cally has spurned him. Poor little blighter. Cally certainly seems to feel sympathetically-enough towards him not to tell anyone that he looked like a little pipsqueak. With designs on ruling the universe.
Fortunately for Cally, she escapes (and rescues dozy Vila) before the Liberator lifts off (again, there is a nice visual of the black hole). Why Thaarn was allowed to escape the destruction of his planet is unclear (I can’t believe they were thinking of having a rematch, although Orac is pissed off not to be able to encounter this intellect).
Groff is last seen on the receiving end of a blast of the Caliph’s neuronic whip, having reversed the gravity generator; setting course for Xaranar to inform his family that he loved them is quite sweet, I suppose.
Tarrant: We promised to take a message there. Didn’t we Avon?Avon: I suppose we owe Groff that much.
Tarrant: I’d say so.
A hare-brained mess that, after a watchable first half, turns bat-shit crazy but not in a particularly good way. As with Volcano this didn’t bore me, though. On a scale of the weakest episodes so far it’s not quite scraping the bottom of the barrel.