Skip to main content

You have a reputation for straightforward villainy that’s second to none.


Blake's 7
3.6: City at the Edge of the World


After three episodes delivering variations on “It’s so bad, it’s good”, Season Three finally pays off on the promise of the first couple of stories. This is Chris Boucher’s first of the run, and like any good script editor he focuses on areas that other writers would be unlikely to consider. The “area” in this episode is the much misused character of Vila, and you have to wonder if he hadn’t made a mental note that there’d been far too much “Vila the idiot” creeping in. Certainly, this redresses the balance. Perhaps Keating had been whispering for a while that he’d like a Vila-centric episode too (edit: apparently Keating had suggested this to Boucher).


It also helps that Boucher chooses a plotline that takes advantage of the more expansive universe of Season Three, since there’s a feeling of unpredictability here. An ancient city with mysteries to unlock may echo Death to the Daleks, but this doesn’t feel derivative. 


Part of that may be the distracting element of Colin Baker slicing up the ham and spitting it over every corner of the screen as Bayban the Beserker/Butcher. Baker’s performance really isn’t that far from the preening self-importance of the Sixth Doctor and, if the leather gear and earring suggest that Colin’s been miscast, Boucher’s dialogue is never less than certain that they’ve picked the right actor for the role. Indeed, he’s one of the episode’s most enjoyable excesses. 


Far better used than the rather redundant Black Guardian (Valentine Dyall as Norl), who gives good vocal gravitas but has rather a one-note role.


Every so often the series so completely nails an opening scene on the Liberator that you’re slightly sad to have the story proper begin. This is one such, with Tarrant the tool coming over all schoolyard bully with poor Vila. He even hits him in their first minute of screen time. This is the production team still trying to figure out what to do with the character. Last week’s space jock is this week’s simpering wanker. He’s more in line with his portrayal in Dawn of the Gods here, actually. A bit of a jerk to everyone, with designs on leadership. Vila as much as says he’s being treated like he was in the playground.

Vila: All my life, as long as I can remember, there’s been people like you.
Tarrant: And I thought I was unique.
Vila: You’re not even unusual.

Vila’s quite right to say he was on the ship first, but Tarrant barracks him into doing his bidding; he has to help some people on a planet in exchange for crystals for the Liberator’s weapons (a feeble MacGuffin, but that’s not so important). It never becomes clear just how Tarrant made contact, probably because Boucher knew that it would be difficult to answer that one.


Boucher does pay attention to internal logic in terms of Vila going off on his own, though; Avon’s attempt to get to him to carry a tracer doesn’t work because, no doubt as it was at Federation school, he doesn’t trust the bullies.

Avon: It’s perfectly harmless. It dissolves eventually.
Vila: Are your hands clean?


Ironically, but fittingly, Avon lays down the law with Tarrant, threatening to kill him. If anyone’s going to mistreat Vila it’s going to be him. After all, they have a special rapport. Asked why so protective, he responds.

Avon: He’s irritating, but he’s useful. We can easily replace a pilot, but a talented thief is rare.


Boucher’s generous with his lines all-round in this episode, though. Cally and Dayna don’t have very large roles, but their lines are mostly quite good. Asked, in reference to the Liberator, if she likes being helpless, she tells Tarrant, “I don’t know. I’ve never tried it.” Although I never much liked Cally when I first saw the series, she can be a decent character – and Chappelle engaging – on the occasions where the writers make a bit of effort with her.


The promised crystals turn out to be a booby-trapped box, so Avon and Cally go down to look for Vila (leaving a sulky Tarrant on the ship, where Dayna has no sympathy for him).


Vere Lorrimer’s the most frequent director of the series (which may explain his eventual producership) and never the most stylish. But his work ranges from can’t be arsed to entirely competent. This is definitely in the latter camp. He’s helped by some decent interior sets in the titular city (and appears to borrow George Spenton-Fosters “light it in different colours to indicate different places that use the same set” trick from Pressure Point).


Keating is great with the nervous/insulting lines written for him; calculating that he can get away with rudeness as he represents an asset. And he definitely has chemistry with Carol Hawkins playing Kerril, one of Bayban’s crew. Although the latter’s withdrawal into girlishness once she puts on a dress is a bit difficult to swallow.

Kerril: Lost your nerve?
Vila: That’s right. Pity I didn’t lose my sense of smell as well.
Kerril: What’s that supposed to mean?
Vila: You should try taking a bath sometime. You smell terrible.


Colin Baker is thrown a whole kitchen sink of OTT lines to wolf down, and you can see he’s enjoying his feast. He’s also well-aided by that reliable player of sidekicks, John J Carney as Shem (Bloodaxe in The Time Warrior). Boucher gives Bayban the Blusterer the most ridiculous lines he can think of to make him the ultimate caricature of would-be villainy.

Bayban: It’s an honour, sir.
Vila: The honour is mine.
Bayban: That’s what I meant.


The dialogue in this episode is probably its greatest joy, although there’s a fair bit of dexterous plotting on Boucher’s part too. On being Number Two to Blake on the Federation’s most wanted list:

Bayban: I was working my way up that list before he crept out of his crèche.

The contempt for Blake’s “criminality” gives us an irreverent window on the exploits we’ve been watching for the past few seasons. Bayban “didn’t take any political shortcuts” to get where he is.

Vila: You have a reputation for straightforward villainy that’s second to none.


Norl’s cryptic explanation that behind the door Bayban wants Vila to unlock there is “this world and the next” sets up the mystery to solve, but it also emphasises an increasingly metaphysical bent in this season (“religious mumbo-jumbo” as Bayban calls it).


A solid amount of time is given to Vila being portrayed as a craftsmen, referring to the designer he’s up against as his opponent, and Boucher has worked out his theory of force fields convincingly, such that it doesn’t appear to have any logic holes in it (I’m not so sure about the later suggestion that air can get through a force field, though – who knows?)

Bayban recounting his relationship with his mother is particularly amusing.

BaybanOh yes. I had a mother. Wonderful woman. Truly evil person. She had a saying. "Baybe," she used to say. She called me Baybe. "Baybe," she used to say, "treat every hour as though it's your last."


Avon and Cally also have some nice banter, looking for Vila.

Avon: It’s a pity we aren’t all as reliable as Zen.
Cally: But I thought you were.


It’s an effective additional layer to learn that Norl, whom we thought of as a hostage, is actually intent on Bayban succeeding in breaking through the door.


Sherm: You’ve 25 minutes left.
Vila: Who told you that?
Sherm: Captain Bayban.
Vila: I didn’t think you could have worked it out yourself.

It might be suggested that Avon could be given exactly the same lines, also to humorous effect. And that’s true. It’s all in the delivery, but there’s an edge in giving them to Vila because he’s only willing to be so insulting because he knows he’s indispensible.


It’s rather touching when Kerril appears all dolled-up, and Boucher times Vila being disarmed by her as the force field giving way effectively.


The transportation to the star ship is achieved via a visual that looks a bit like something out of the Tegan’s mind sequences in Kinda.


A great raft of exposition threatens to swallow us at this point, but Boucher’s set up an intriguing puzzle for an intelligent man to solve (Vila). It’s lucky for him that the star ship has landed or he and Kerril would have suffocated. But I suspect they would still have canoodled before they expired.


Tarrant’s such a legend that he’s actually met Bayban before. To be fair to Pacey, he’s not afraid to play the character as a complete cock. Everyone leaves Orac to operate the teleport, and there’s much despatching of Bayban’s men (including a remote controlled bomb courtesy of Dayna – Boucher trying to keep a grip on the skills set up in Aftermath with this and the gun she gave Cally earlier). Eventually they discover Bayban, intent on using his massive laser on the doorway.


Cally: You’d have to be insane to use it.
Bayban: Maybe that’s it. Maybe I am insane.

You’ve gotta love Bayban!


What did I say about Lorrimer doing a good job? He feels no inclination to make the planet Vila and Kerril find themselves on remotely convincing. For a start, it appears to have no atmosphere and consist of a couple of houseplants and a foot spa. 


Oh, and exactly the crystals the Liberator needs to power its lasers. But there’s a certain knowing fun in the corniness of this development, and Kerril’s upset that Vila won’t be sharing Home/Vilaworld with her even gives them their first (and only) fight. The playing and writing of this really is quite sweet, and works far better than it has any right to.


Cally: Vila, we thought we’d lost you.
Avon: But every silver lining has a cloud.
Vila: I’d say you got it wrong, except I know you didn’t.


All very well written and performed, Avon’s disdain betraying that he’s quite pleased to see him and Tarrant’s meal of saying how happy he is to see him being dismissively acknowledged by Vila. As noted earlier, Dyall’s thrown a load of slightly unnecessary exposition at this point (we’ve already got the gist of it).


Boucher makes the climax both neat and satisfying; Bayban returns to wreak laser carnage, but all he does is destroy a dead city, its inhabitants (and Keril) already transported to a new world. 


And Vila, having decided not to go there with Kerril but teleporting away in the nick of time, allows despondency turn to perverse hope after a heart-to-heart with Orac.




Vila: I think I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my life.
Orac: In the light of your previous record, that seems unlikely. I would predict that there are far greater mistakes waiting to be made by someone with your obvious talent for them.
Vila: Shut up, Orac. Still, it's a comforting thought. Let's hope they've all got good legs.


The increasing tendency to attempt to raise a smile in the last scene has mixed results; in general I preferred the attempts to finish on food for thought or conflict in the first season. But here it’s entirely appropriate to the episode, in a bittersweet way.


A magnificent return to form for the series in an episode that effectively combines broad comedy, intrigue and romance. And makes Michael Keating the star player. One of the “Do you remember the... “ episodes, but in this case the “legend” is justified.




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…

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…

I don't like bugs. You can't hear them, you can't see them and you can't feel them, then suddenly you're dead.

Blake's 7 2.7: Killer

Robert Holmes’ first of four scripts for the series, and like last season’s Mission to Destiny there are some fairly atypical elements and attitudes to the main crew (although the A/B storylines present a familiar approach and each is fairly equal in importance for a change). It was filmed second, which makes it the most out of place episode in the run (and explains why the crew are wearing outfits – they must have put them in the wash – from a good few episodes past and why Blake’s hair has grown since last week).
The most obvious thing to note from Holmes’ approach is that he makes Blake a Doctor-substitute. Suddenly he’s full of smart suggestions and shrewd guesses about the threat that’s wiping out the base, basically leaving a top-level virologist looking clueless and indebted to his genius insights. If you can get past this (and it did have me groaning) there’s much enjoyment to be had from the episode, not least from the two main guest actors.

An initiative test. How simply marvellous!

You Must Be Joking! (1965)
A time before a Michael Winner film was a de facto cinematic blot on the landscape is now scarcely conceivable. His output, post- (or thereabouts) Death Wish (“a pleasant romp”) is so roundly derided that it’s easy to forget that the once-and-only dining columnist and raconteur was once a bright (well…) young thing of the ‘60s, riding the wave of excitement (most likely highly cynically) and innovation in British cinema. His best-known efforts from this period are a series of movies with Oliver Reed – including the one with the elephant – and tend to represent the director in his pleasant romp period, before he attacked genres with all the precision and artistic integrity of a blunt penknife. You Must Be Joking! comes from that era, its director’s ninth feature, straddling the gap between Ealing and the Swinging ‘60s; coarser, cruder comedies would soon become the order of the day, the mild ribaldry of Carry On pitching into bawdy flesh-fests. You Must Be Joki…

When two separate events occur simultaneously pertaining to the same object of inquiry we must always pay strict attention.

Twin Peaks 1.5: The One-Armed Man
With the waves left in Albert’s wake subsiding (Gordon Cole, like Albert, is first encountered on the phone, and Coop apologises to Truman over the trouble the insulting forensics expert has caused; ”Harry, the last thing I want you to worry about while I’m here is some city slicker I brought into your town relieving himself upstream”), the series steps down a register for the first time. This is a less essential episode than those previously, concentrating on establishing on-going character and plot interactions at the expense of the strange and unusual. As such, it sets the tone for the rest of this short first season.

The first of 10 episodes penned by Robert Engels (who would co-script Fire Walk with Me with Lynch, and then reunite with him for On the Air), this also sees the first “star” director on the show in the form of Tim Hunter. Hunter is a director (like Michael Lehman) who hit the ground running but whose subsequent career has rather disapp…

Luck isn’t a superpower... And it isn't cinematic!

Deadpool 2 (2018)
(SPOILERS) Perhaps it’s because I was lukewarm on the original, but Deadpool 2 mercifully disproves the typical consequence of the "more is more" approach to making a sequel. By rights, it should plummet into the pitfall of ever more excess to diminishing returns, yet for the most part it doesn't.  Maybe that’s in part due to it still being a relatively modest undertaking, budget-wise, and also a result of being very self-aware – like duh, you might say, that’s its raison d'être – of its own positioning and expectation as a sequel; it resolutely fails to teeter over the precipice of burn out or insufferable smugness. It helps that it's frequently very funny – for the most part not in the exhaustingly repetitive fashion of its predecessor – but I think the key ingredient is that it finds sufficient room in its mirthful melee for plot and character, in order to proffer tone and contrast.

Ain't nobody likes the Middle East, buddy. There's nothing here to like.

Body of Lies (2008)
(SPOILERS) Sir Ridders stubs out his cigar in the CIA-assisted War on Terror, with predictably gormless results. Body of Lies' one saving grace is that it wasn't a hit, although that more reflects its membership of a burgeoning club where no degree of Hollywood propaganda on the "just fight" (with just a smidgeon enough doubt cast to make it seem balanced at a sideways glance) was persuading the public that they wanted the official fiction further fictionalised.

Like an antelope in the headlights.

Black Panther (2018)
(SPOILERS) Like last year’s Wonder Woman, the hype for what it represents has quickly become conflated with Black Panther’s perceived quality. Can 92% and 97% of critics respectively really not be wrong, per Rotten Tomatoes, or are they – Armond White aside – afraid that finding fault in either will make open them to charges of being politically regressive, insufficiently woke or all-round, ever-so-slightly objectionable? As with Wonder Woman, Black Panther’s very existence means something special, but little about the movie itself actually is. Not the acting, not the directing, and definitely not the over-emphatic, laboured screenplay. As such, the picture is a passable two-plus hours’ entertainment, but under-finessed enough that one could easily mistake it for an early entry in the Marvel cycle, rather than arriving when they’re hard-pressed to put a serious foot wrong.

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.

I didn't kill her. I just relocated her.

The Discovery (2017)
(SPOILERS) The Discovery assembles not wholly dissimilar science-goes-metaphysical themes and ideas to Douglas Trumbull's ill-fated 1983 Brainstorm, revolving around research into consciousness and the revelation of its continuance after death. Perhaps the biggest discovery, though, is that it’s directed and co-written by the spawn of Malcom McDowell and Mary Steenburgen (the latter cameos) – Charlie McDowell – of hitherto negligible credits but now wading into deep philosophical waters and even, with collaborator Justin Lader, offering a twist of sorts.