Skip to main content

If a woodchuck could chuck wood, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?


Blake's 7 
3.10: Ultraworld


The episode that lent itself to an Orb track, Ultraworld is serviceable and run-of-the-mill. Which is to say that it’s probably accurate to cite this one if you’re talking about the average Season 3 episode. The series in exploration mode, which means that there’s a conspicuous echo of Star Trek in contacting new worlds and civilisations. The difference here is that the crew of the Liberator aren’t on a mission; they’re stumbling from encounter to encounter. Indeed, Avon’s (intellectual) interest in investigating Ultraworld is the sort of thing Blake would have been more likely to suggest in previous seasons (if they’d happened upon such craziness in the first place) and it would be Avon who’d suggest caution.


While the enormous brain may have had a strong impression on Alex Patterson and Tom Fehlmann (A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld), it was the Vila sections of this story that remains one of my formative Blake’s 7experiences. 


Indeed, these stand out as the highlight of the episode, with Avon and Cally somewhat sidelined and the ostensible leads Tarrant and Dayna proving that they don’t have the charisma or personality to carry a story. At least, not one like this where Tarrant has the role of explaining (like the Doctor) and Dayna of asking questions. 

What’s most glaring about this is that Tarrant’s character seems to be stretched by the writers into whatever the requirements of the plot are this week. While his antagonism with Avon is intact (and a bit for-the-sake-of-it here), his role of logical deduction concerning the workings of Ultraworld is a much better fit for Avon (I wouldn’t be surprised if Trevor Hoyle originally had him in mind for this role).


The opening scene counts as one of the more clumsy Liberator establishing sequences. Agreement is reached just to observe Ultraworld at a safe distance, then everyone conveniently goes off to get some rest so that Cally can be abducted by the Ultra. The only relief is Vila telling jokes to Orac (also of note, Dayna is incredibly bitchy to him in this scene).

Avon: Vila is teaching Orac? No, it doesn’t make sense.

Certainly, some of Vila’s jokes are more successful than others. His opening “parking meteors” gag is a particular groaner.

The decision to go after Cally results in the usual Avon vs Tarrant power games, which feel by-the-numbers here.


With Vila willingly left aboard the ship, Avon, Dayna and Tarrant meet the Ultra. Their design is simple but effective. Ultra 2 is played by Stephen Jenn (Secker in Nightmare of Eden) and Ultra 3 by Ian Barritt (Professor Peach in The Unicorn and the Wasp). 


The outline of the functioning of Ultraworld could be from a rejected Star Trek OST script, with a humanoid crew serving an unseen master on an apparent quest for knowledge. As usual in these scenarios, what appears to be a welcoming environment turns out to be anything but. The explanations for Cally’s “treatment” are not believed but Avon points out that if they wished to the Ultra could overcome them instantly (although the necessities of the plot end up showing this not to be the case).


Orac’s developing fascination with Vila’s jokes is winningly portrayed. Indeed, it seems strange in retrospect that the series took so long to develop the character properly. Perhaps Boucher noted the rapport between Tom Baker and John Leeson and decided he’d have some of that. Certainly, there’s immediate comic chemistry between Keating /Vila and Tuddenham/Orac.

Vila: All you're interested in is the idiotic tintax or something.
Orac: That's very clever.
Vila: It is?
Orac: For idiosyncratic syntax you substituted idiotic tintax. Yes, very good.
Vila: Is it?
Orac: Another one, please.

It should also be noted that Vila does a Tommy Cooper impression during his invisible man joke, so presumably he saw a black market copy of the now banned and subversive comedian’s material.


One minute in this Tarrant is explaining in great detail the workings of Ultraworld, the next he’s acting like a dick, brandishing his gun. There’s little consistency to him other than that Pacey makes him reliably brash in manner. 


More sensibly he’d have used the information he heard through eavesdropping (that Cally’s memory would be wiped, placed in a tube and then she would be absorbed by the core) to hatch a plan.


Avon’s rather sidelined once he’s succumbed to the fight against sleeping, so it’s left to Tarrant and Dayna, and Vila and Orac, to win out.


The effects work for the core, the brain at the centre of Ultraworld, isn’t as effective as either those in The Keys of Marinus or The Brain of Morbius. Probably this is partly because in both those cases there was material refracting the design; the glass cases in Marinus and the liquid in the tank in Morbius.


The request by the Ultra that Tarrant and Dayna engage in a “human bonding ceremony” is all the evidence you need that Trevor Hoyle’s been taking notes from Star Trek. It’s a silly sequence, seemingly designed to give yet another pairing of the crew a titillating liaision. Pacey seems to work his tongue in there with Simon. It does give us a Roger Moore Bond film-level joke as Dayna sets off an explosion to initiate their escape.

Ultra 1: Has the bonding ceremony begun?


But it’s Vila’s struggle to resist the Ultra on the Liberator that forms the dramatic engagement of the episode. “Help, I’m being got at!” he exclaims, as a close up of disco ball signals that his mind is being attacked. We know that Orac is encouraging Vila to continue to recite jokes and limericks in order to resist the Ultra, but we don’t know why exactly. It’s an effective scene, dramatic and amusing at once.

Vila: If a woodchuck could chuck wood, how much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?
Orac: Encore.



It looks as if Vila has succumbed to the Ultra, with the Liberator being brought into dock and secured. And it appears that the explosions in the conveyor room are a result of Tarrant’s fight, but we must later conclude that this is a result of the resistance put up from the ship. Indeed, the brain starts cracking and spurting green snot everywhere as a rather frantic evacuation of the planet is initiated by Tarrant and Dayna. 


They rescue Avon and Cally and re-implant their memories (there’s a brief concern that they may have mixed the cylinders up – fortunately this isn’t nu-Who so they didn’t go down that hilarious route).


The actual escape of the Liberator, manoeuvring to twist and bend the bars holding it secured, is presumably possible because of the general failure of integrity. 


Certainly, the Ultra meet rather flaky ends (Tarrant shoots two of them down).


It’s an enjoyable trump card for Vila to be able to lay claim to saving the ship and crew and, for once, the jokiness of the final scene works extremely well, providing explanation for how they escaped in concise form and it is funny.


Avon: Tell me, Orac, how precisely did Vila confuse and distract Ultraworld?
Orac: Quite simple. With a series of random and illogical brain impulses. The planet was programmed to assimilate orderly coherent thought patterns. Anything else confused it.
Vila: Eh?
Avon: You mean Vila spouted nonsense.
Vila: I resent that.
Avon: Oh, I wouldn't if I were you. Orac is saying that a logical rational intelligence is no match for yours.


A fairly humdrum premise, but enlivened by the antics of Vila and Orac. Like the earlier Volcano, though, it whiffs strongly of “What can we think of to do this week?” rather than any genuine inspiration. 

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.

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…

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…

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.

Well, who’s going to monitor the monitors of the monitors?

Enemy of the State (1998)
Enemy of the State is something of an anomaly; a quality conspiracy thriller borne not from any distinct political sensibility on the part of its makers but simple commercial instincts. Of course, the genre has proved highly successful over the years so it's easy to see why big name producers like Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson would have chased that particular gravy boat. Yet they did so for some time without success; by the time the movie was made, Simpson had passed away and Bruckheimer was flying solo. It might be the only major film in the latter's career that, despite the prerequisite gloss and stylish packaging, has something to say. More significant still, 15 years too late, the film's warnings are finally receiving recognition in the light of the Edward Snowden revelations.

In a piece for The Guardian earlier this year, John Patterson levelled the charge that Enemy was one of a number of Hollywood movies that have “been softening us up f…

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.

You're going to need a nickname, cos I ain't saying that every time.

Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018)
(SPOILERS) I had a mercifully good time with Solo: A Star Wars Story, having previously gone from considering it a straight-up terrible idea when first announced, to cautious optimism with the signing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller, to abject pessimism with their replacement by little Ronnie Howard, to cautious optimism again with the advent of various trailers and clips. I have numerous caveats, but then that's been par for the course with the series ever since Return of the Jedi, whichever side of good or bad the individual entries end up falling. The biggest barrier to enjoyment, judging by others’ responses, seems to be the central casting of Aiden Ehrenreich; I actually thought he was really good, so the battle for my allegiance was half won right there. No, he isn't Harrison Ford, but he succeeds admirably in making Han Solo a likeable, brash, smug wannabe scoundrel. Less so at being scruffy looking, but you can’t have everything.

It looks as i…

Whoever comes, I'll kill them. I'll kill them all.

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) There’s no guessing he’s back. John Wick’s return is most definite and demonstrable, in a sequel that does what sequels ought in all the right ways, upping the ante while never losing sight of the ingredients that made the original so formidable. John Wick: Chapter 2 finds the minimalist, stripped-back vehicle and character of the first instalment furnished with an elaborate colour palette and even more idiosyncrasies around the fringes, rather like Mad Max in that sense, and director Chad Stahleski (this time without the collaboration of David Leitch, but to no discernible deficit) ensures the action is filled to overflowing, but with an even stronger narrative drive that makes the most of changes of gear, scenery and motivation.

The result is a giddily hilarious, edge-of-the-seat thrill ride (don’t believe The New York Times review: it is not “altogether more solemn” I can only guess Jeannette Catsoulis didn’t revisit the original in the interven…