Skip to main content

You fight well. But you're still a woman.


Blake's 7
3.5: Harvest of Kairos


There’s something so awesomely shit about Harvest of Kairos, I have to wonder how much of it is intentional and how much is Ben Steed just being a straight-up terrible writer. Whether it’s Jarvik – hands on hips - extolling the virtues of manliness, the Liberator crew being made fools of and getting boarded (again), Tarrant flying a lunar landing module or Servalan acting like a completed idiot (the odd line aside) the script is as holey as a Swiss cheese. And that’s even without the terrifying insects menacing Dayna. But... In its favour Avon spends a whole episode fascinated by a rock, completely disinterested in Tarrant’s bout of piracy. Perhaps Chris Boucher was suffering from Space Madness when he commissioned this?


Beginning with a conversation between Tarrant (wearing a shell suit) and Dayna makes this rather hard work from the off; brash meets plankish. Tarrant’s characterisation in this one is peculiar; he’s made very much the Blake-like protagonist, both in being presented with a battle of wits against an old colleague and in the way that Servalan treats him as if she’s known of him and his abilities for years. Pacey undercuts this to some extent (you’d never see Blake punching the air with glee), and it almost works set against Avon’s aloofness to macho goings-on around him.  


Talking of whom, Avon and Vila are visiting a planet while the Liberator is under threat from, yes, Servalan (who is supported by stooge Dastor – Frank Gatliff, Ortron in The Monster of Peladon).


But didn’t Servalan announce that she couldn’t be arsed with the Liberator for the time being in Volcano? What’s changed? She’s not restored order throughout the Federation. The poor use of her character is beginning to become rather de rigueur. In this episode she often comes across as weak, or even stupid. 


Her reaction to being told that a construction worker has been mocking her failure to deal with Tarrant (and why is it all about Tarrant? It makes him sound like he’s the new leader of the crew) isn’t to have him ejected into space (as would likely have happened in Season One) but to indulge him, allow him to undermine her in front of her inferiors, and then to apparently get all moist for his maximum beefcake. On one level this is quite funny, but it’s utterly incoherent in terms of character. Particularly if we are to try and believe that the President is intending to maintain any grip on her power.


I don’t think Andrew Burt (Vanguard in Terminus) is taking Jarvik especially seriously, but I don’t blame him given the dialogue; he’s almost Pex-like (Paradise Towers) in his over-brawn (“Woman, you are beautiful”, he announces to Servalan before informing her that she doesn’t know Tarrant; “He’s a man. He thinks and acts like a man. Not a machine”). Out of this insight into the male psyche, Jarvik miraculously intuits that Tarrant is headed for Kairos.  If I was to be generous, I’d say that Steed may be positioning Avon (who spends his time thinking and acting like a machine) in the real heroic role here, as it is his insight into the properties of Sopron that ultimately enables the crew to regain the Liberator.


Yes, Avon has retrieved a silicon-based rock/life form with unusual properties. Avon’s all-encompassing interest in Sopron is most amusing, delaying Tarrant from retaliating against the Federation threat by asking Zen to analyse it (“You can carry on now”, he tells Tarrant). If it wasn’t for his acid wit surfacing every so often, you’d think he’d switched characters with a batty old professor, oblivious to the world outside of his science experiments.


The evasion of the Federation is quite effective, but in terms of Jarvik’s staged attack lulling the crew into a false sense of security (so that Tarrant thinks he can carry out his plan to rob the Federation of Kairopan), we’ve been here before with Travis and Project Avalon.

We learn that no one who has ventured on Kairos outside of the seven day harvest period has lived to tell. This is frankly ludicrous. A planet at “the heart of Federation space” and nobody’s left a video monitor to record what transpires? Or sent one of those shitbots from Season One to check out the real story?

Jarvik tells Servalan that “Tarrant delights in doing things people think he can’t”. He’s quite a guy. Eric Saward must have seen this episode, as I can just hear Davison asking the Cyberleader, “When did you last feel the warmth of the sun on your naked back?” Jarvik boasts he could take Tarrant down with just one ship. At least he’s such a massive cock that you’re engaged enough to want to see what will happen. Servalan gets a redeeming line of dialogue relating to Jarvik’s impertinent kissing of her earlier (this after battering a couple of guards – none of which saw him disciplined.)

Servalan: But first, there is the question of that degrading and primitive act to which I was subjected in the control room. I should like you to do it again.

Oh, bravo.


Kairos looks like a Welsh field. Which it probably is, so it doesn’t make for a very exotic locale. The callousness of the Federation is highlighted here (although, to be fair, Captain Shad Thames – Anthony Gardner, from The Macra Terror – seems to be thinking about dumping some of the crop rather than the pickers) as Servalan gives the order to leave the labourers behind. A nice touch that the shuttle takes off without one of the guards who has just been beating on them.


Bit of a know-all, aren’t’ you”, asks Vila of know-all Tarrant. And gets a cheesy smile in reply. Tarrant’s doing his best to become a bit of an irritating tit. Which kind of fits with Ultra-man Jarvik, pushing Servalan onto a couch and telling her, “Sit down and shut up”. 


Maybe Ben Steed is right, and Servalan has secretly always wanted to be dominated by a man with an enormous cock. I didn’t really get that impression of her before now, though.


Avon indirectly causes the Liberator to be shot in the arse, as he has requisitioned Cally to communicate with Sopron. Tarrant accuses him of allowing the Sopron to warp his reasoning.

Avon: I understand that this ship is the most powerful in the galaxy and that you are the most astute space warfare commander.... Or so you keep telling us.


I’ll have to assume the Sopron really has warped Avon’s reasoning, as he misses the second most obvious possibility when he rescues the rest of the crew after they hijack the shipment and find themselves at the mercy of Federation guards. Surely the most obvious possibility would be a bunch of men hiding in the man-size crates.


So that’s the third time this season the Liberator has been captured by the Federation. In only five episodes. Despite its ebbing power. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times; even Blake wasn’t immune at the tail-end of Season Two. It’s a nice touch that we don’t see the take-over, rather we learn that it has taken place by fact of Captain Shad Thames teleporting to Servalan’s base.


The shuttle guards are about as convincing as the Vardans in The Invasion of Time. Appropriate, since Gerald Blake directed both stories. Although I quite like Blake’s work on Invasion, there’s not a lot to distinguish it here.


Servalan addressing Tarrant just seems wrong when she arrives on the Liberator. She’s said bugger-all to him before now. She played tonsil hockey with Avon a couple of weeks back but he’s left playing Number Two? Fortunately, he eventually turns the tables, kind of, by ensuring that Zen only obeys her commands after she has teleported the crew down to a planet with a breathable atmosphere. Which is Kairos. Oops! Still, Avon’s had Sopron on his mind.


Down on the surface, Avon heads off alone (“I’ll work out my own salvation”) and discovers a proto-space age landing module.  


There’s no good reason for this to be here. But we’ve just had an episode featuring a golf buggy with teeth, so nothing is too surprising by this point.


Servalan couldn’t let it lie, as Steed has written the story into a corner and he needs a way for the crew to escape. At least vaguely legitimately. Which this isn’t. So she bizarrely requests that Jarvik proves himself by confronting Tarrant face-to-face, retrieving the crew’s bracelets. And because he’s all-man he agrees.


The craptastic giant insect beggars belief. The designers on this show really can’t do creatures, can they? 


And then Dayna finds herself about to be killed by one (they’ll devour anyone who smells of Kairopan), is saved by Tarrant, who then has to fight Jarvik, who wins and then fights Dayna, who is doing pretty well until Jarvik teleports her back to the Liberator. 





There’s a studious ineptitude to this sequence. Only the no-less-bizarre Avon plotline holds out any hope. There must be some reason he’s so into this bloody rock.

Avon: This happens to be the most sophisticated life form it has ever been my pleasure to come across, present company not excepted.


The solution is to cram aboard the lunar module and set off for the Liberator (narrowly avoiding Servalan strafing this area of the planet). Luckily for them, Sopron is revealed to be a “distorting mirror” and Avon has managed to build an artificial Sopron into the module (don’t ask how).


Previously, Zen, Orac and Cally all came up with different ideas of what it was and now Zen describes the module as a craft with assault capabilities greater than the Liberator. 


I like the essential idea of this, but I’m with Jarvik when he bursts into hysterics, not remotely believing that the image of the module corresponds to Zen’s description. Yet President Servalan believes it. Presumably because they need someone to act as much of an idiot as Travis used to, now he’s gone.


It’s nearly the end of the episode so Jarvik is called on to get in the way of Shad Thames shooting at Dayna.


Tarrant: He was a special sort of man.
Avon: Spare us the eulogy. He was a Federation thug.
Tarrant: No. No, that isn’t what he was.

Tarrant’s right, he wasn’t a thug. He was a demented caricature of masculine prowess. But I’m not sure to what end.


Not as conceptually deranged as Dawn of the Gods, but definitely up there with it in terms of plotting and characterisation. Yet quite entertaining, for all that. However, it has become a bit of a bore to keep encountering the Federation and Servalan without any thought going into their presentation; if it must happen at last it’s increasingly off-the-wall. 


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

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…

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

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 …

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a nourish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

There are times when I miss the darkness. It is hard to live always in the light.

Blake's 7 4.12: Warlord

The penultimate episode, and Chris Boucher seems to have suddenly remembered that the original premise for the series was a crew of rebels fighting against a totalitarian regime. The detour from this, or at least the haphazard servicing of it, during seasons Three and Four has brought many of my favourite moments in the series. So it comes as a bit of a jolt to suddenly find Avon making Blake-like advances towards the leaders of planets to unite in opposition against the Federation. 

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013)
(SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.