Skip to main content

Og. I mean no harm, Og. I want to help. I am your friend, Og.


Blake's 7
4.5: Animals


This seemed like a stinker even when I was nine years old, and it has done little to rehabilitate itself in the intervening 30 years. Allan Prior has a rare knack for writing utterly tedious scripts, and this one ranks with Hostage as scraping the bottom of the barrel. Mary Ridge is delivered a prize turkey and she’s unable to serve up anything other than turkey in response.


The premise of a scientist engaged in genetic experimentation has Josef Mengele/Doctor Moreau undertones, but there’s no edge to Prior’s script. Even the romantic subplot is utterly insipid, despite there being good reason to suspect Justin’s mentoring of Dayna involved seducing a minor.


I doubt that Terry Nation would have called a leading character Justin; the name fairly accurately sums up the lack of bite here. Peter Byrne is also fairly chinless. The best we could hope for would have been an actor whose performance would break free from the half-hearted characterisation in the script and provide something memorable. Patrick Ryecart or Philip Madoc would have been fun. What we get is a slightly wet chap who can’t even put much passion into proceedings when he’s bigging-up his experiments.


It never bodes well to have an episode open with Tarrant and Dayna. If the weaker characters were put forward first so that the stronger ones came in later, that might be worthwhile, but this doesn’t happen. A laboured introduction sees Dayna transport down to Bucol Two while Tarrant comes under fire from our old-favourite B-plot device, Federation pursuit ships. Except that this episode’s B-plot ends up amounting to Vila cleaning out a septic tank; it’s not even as interesting as the usual unengaging secondary plotline. How come Tarrant’s flying prowess has deserted him this season? He doesn’t seem like a shit-hot space captain any more.


I have to admit it took me a couple of minutes to realise that there were no other crew members aboard Scorpio, forgetting that the rest of the ship is depressurised.
Dayna’s encounter with the titular characters is more “Where the Mild Things Are” than anything remotely disturbing. They look utterly ridiculous, like Sweetums without the charisma. What exactly were Justin and his colleagues splicing together? And did practicality just go completely out of the window? Radiation-proof shock-troopers with massive horns on their heads probably aren’t’ that sensible. Unless they’re supposed to double-up as battering rams.

Dayna: Who, what are you?
Animal: ROOARGH!


When Dayna meets with Justin in his protected lab (there’s an echo of Aftermath here, with the safe, enclosed environment sheltering a scientist with from marauding primitives) we learn that the brainiest animal is called Og. Og, for goodness sake!


To try and give Justin an edge, he’s written as a bit of an adrenaline and soma connoisseur (Vila should have visited). This works about as well as the ethical debate between Dayna and Justin regarding his experimentation on the animals (he operated on them, performing painful brain implants).

At first Dayna considers this disgusting, then she wavers, just like anyone without a strong moral compass would when confronted by their Lolita past. It should be noted that Simon hasn’t improved enough as an actress to carry the story, and Bryne is too bland to distract from her shortcomings.


Notably, Dayna’s revolted at the idea of the animals being used by the Federation to enter radioactive areas but her mission on behalf of Avon is to request Justin’s aid in developing a drug that will allow the Scorpio crew to do exactly the same thing (and to synthesise a counter to Pylene 50). Presumably she doesn’t consider that Justin would need test subjects for the crew’s drugs.

Justin also appears to have principles when it comes to working for Avon or the Federation. He’s quite happy to play the aging canoodler with Dayna if she wants to stay, though. The persuasion of Dayna regarding Justin’s activities is banal (every time she finds out some disturbing information, such as deserters being used in the experiments, she ends up looking weak and without principals as Justin smoothes over her concerns).
Some of the joining the dots in terms of Justin’s activities are reasonably drawn; the facility was abandoned towards the end of the Andromedan war and Justin was the only survivor. Justin’s scientist is very much of the ends justifying the means type that we see frequently in SF, and Dayna falls for this line to an extent.


We learn from Servalan (yes, she’s in this one, in one of her least memorable turns, basically there to torture Dayna and shoot the very person she wants to utilise the skills of) that this was a covert science project, the kind of off-the-books  project that the CIA might shelter Nazi scientists for. While it’s understandable that there would be limited official information available within the Federation on the project, having the name “Justin” dropped in officially just seems like sloppy writing (what, doesn’t he even have a surname?)


It’s nearly twenty minutes before we see the rest of the crew, and then it’s only to engage in a bit of low-grade comedy banter concerning the need for Vila to repair a fault with the inertial guidance glycolene ballast channels. It feels like this episode is wall-to-wall filler. Even the scenes that aren’t are so laboured as to come across that way.


There’s a half decent scene between Kevin Stoney and Jacqueline Pearce where she prises out of him some secrets by threatening his family while he susses then regrets sussing her true identity (this is already a tiresome development the second time it has occurred). But we’ve seen Pearce and Stoney share a scene before, and we’ve seen Servalan be ruthlessly manipulative before. It’s all a bit by-numbers. Max Harvey, who plays Intelligence Commander Borr, was also Councillor Zorac in Arc of Infinity while William Lindsay, who plays Sleer’s Captain, was Zargo in State of Decay.

The decline and fall of the Mutoids is pretty much complete by this point. In Season One they were heroin-chic leather-clad vamps in rather stylish mushroom hats. By this point they’re wearing undistinguished costumes and have blonde bob haircuts (which makes for a strange effect when they are gas masked, but that’s about the only vague positive I have).


Dayna decides to try to communicate with Og, theorising that as she hasn’t abused him he will listen to her. Og promptly slaps her down a hill. Og’s not as stupid as he looks. It all might have ended happily for Og and his hirsute pals if that pesky Servalan hadn’t got hold of Dayna and milked her for information on Justin.


Servalan’s impassioned declaration of the importance of Justin’s research doesn’t really convince. She’s done this a couple of times with regard to scientific advances, and she’s always buggered things up somehow.


The interrogation scene is fairly unremarkable, while the conditioning of Dayna to hate Justin and enable the Federation to gain entrance to his lab once she has returned to him is another in a line of rather successful uses of mental-manipulation by the Federation. It makes one wonder why they haven’t consistently employed such methods to defeat the rebels.


Events on Xenon base have become no more riveting; Vila’s had to clean out the septic tank again. Every time we cut back to them we can see the writer biding his time in order to have the crew only arrive on Bucol Two right at the climax.


So Dayna gives up Justin, who has destroyed his work. This rather execrably amounted to hurling a couple of items across the room. We can only imagine that he hasn’t been doing that much, or has been keeping scant records. Apparently most of it survives in his head. 


Which makes it unfortunate that Servalan manages to shoot him when Dayna is fleeing Servalan’s ship. 


By this point Avon, Tarrant and Soolin have teleported down and Darrow has entered a room in the lab rather excessively, performing an action kick on a poor undeserving chair.


What to say about the final shoot-out? Well, Ridge throws in a few decent camera angles (the simulation of the ship lifting off over the main cast’s heads is rather good), and the staging around the base of Servalan’s ship is a nice idea. 



Soolin shoots a few Mutoids. I haven’t really mentioned Soolin this episode, but she’s never far from my thoughts. 


Oh, and Og gets killed, Poor, thick Og. 


Servalan had Dayna deconditioned following dirty old Justin’s promise that he would co-operate if she did. 

So now Dayna loves poor dead Justin again, which gives rise to an entirely unconvincing bout of histrionic wailing from Simon to finish the episode on an appropriately risible note. 



Dayna: Justin, Justin, Justin, Justin, no, oh no, oh no.


Pretty bad. I think only Prior’s Hostage outstinks this one. A tale of thwarted romance against the backdrop of genetic experimentation really shouldn’t result in such anodyne drivel.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I never strangled a chicken in my life!

Rope (1948) (SPOILERS) Rope doesn’t initially appear to have been one of the most venerated of Hitchcocks, but it has gone through something of a rehabilitation over the years, certainly since it came back into circulation during the 80s. I’ve always rated it highly; yes, the seams of it being, essentially, a formal experiment on the director’s part, are evident, but it’s also an expert piece of writing that uses our immediate knowledge of the crime to create tension throughout; what we/the killers know is juxtaposed with the polite dinner party they’ve thrown in order to wallow in their superiority.

They'll think I've lost control again and put it all down to evolution.

Time Bandits (1981) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam had co-directed previously, and his solo debut had visual flourish on its side, but it was with Time Bandits that Gilliam the auteur was born. The first part of his Trilogy of Imagination, it remains a dazzling work – as well as being one of his most successful – rich in theme and overflowing with ideas while resolutely aimed at a wide (family, if you like) audience. Indeed, most impressive about Time Bandits is that there’s no evidence of self-censoring here, of attempting to make it fit a certain formula, format or palatable template.

You must have hopes, wishes, dreams.

Brazil (1985) (SPOILERS) Terry Gilliam didn’t consider Brazil the embodiment of a totalitarian nightmare it is often labelled as. His 1984½ (one of the film’s Fellini-riffing working titles) was “ the Nineteen Eighty-Four for 1984 ”, in contrast to Michael Anderson’s Nineteen Eighty-Four from 1948. This despite Gilliam famously boasting never to have read the Orwell’s novel: “ The thing that intrigues me about certain books is that you know them even though you’ve never read them. I guess the images are archetypal ”. Or as Pauline Kael observed, Brazil is to Nineteen Eighty-Four as “ if you’d just heard about it over the years and it had seeped into your visual imagination ”. Gilliam’s suffocating system isn’t unflinchingly cruel and malevolently intolerant of individuality; it is, in his vision of a nightmare “future”, one of evils spawned by the mechanisms of an out-of-control behemoth: a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. And yet, that is not really, despite how indulgently and glee

Oh, you got me right in the pantaloons, partner.

The Party (1968) (SPOILERS) Blake Edwards’ semi-improvisational reunion with Peter Sellers is now probably best known for – I was going to use an elephant-in-the-room gag, but at least one person already went there – Sellers’ “brown face”. And it isn’t a decision one can really defend, even by citing The Party ’s influence on Bollywood. Satyajit Ray had also reportedly been considering working with Sellers… and then he saw the film. One can only assume he’d missed similar performances in The Millionairess and The Road to Hong Kong ; in the latter case, entirely understandable, if not advisable. Nevertheless, for all the flagrant stereotyping, Sellers’ bungling Hrundi V Bakshi is a very likeable character, and indeed, it’s the piece’s good-natured, soft centre – his fledgling romance with Claudine Longet’s Michele – that sees The Party through in spite of its patchy, hit-and-miss quality.

I'm an old ruin, but she certainly brings my pulse up a beat or two.

The Paradine Case (1947) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock wasn’t very positive about The Paradine Case , his second collaboration with Gregory Peck, but I think he’s a little harsh on a picture that, if it doesn’t quite come together dramatically, nevertheless maintains interest on the basis of its skewed take on the courtroom drama. Peck’s defence counsel falls for his client, Alida Valli’s accused (of murder), while wife Ann Todd wilts dependably and masochistically on the side-lines.

A herbal enema should fix you up.

Never Say Never Again (1983) (SPOILERS) There are plenty of sub-par Bond s in the official (Eon) franchise, several of them even weaker than this opportunistic remake of Thunderball , but they do still feel like Bond movies. Never Say Never Again , despite – or possibly because he’s part of it – featuring the much-vaunted, title-referencing return of the Sean Connery to the lead role, only ever feels like a cheap imitation. And yet, reputedly, it cost more than the same year’s Rog outing Octopussy .

Miss Livingstone, I presume.

Stage Fright (1950) (SPOILERS) This one has traditionally taken a bit of a bruising, for committing a cardinal crime – lying to the audience. More specifically, lying via a flashback, through which it is implicitly assumed the truth is always relayed. As Richard Schickel commented, though, the egregiousness of the action depends largely on whether you see it as a flaw or a brilliant act of daring: an innovation. I don’t think it’s quite that – not in Stage Fright ’s case anyway; the plot is too ordinary – but I do think it’s a picture that rewards revisiting knowing the twist, since there’s much else to enjoy it for besides.

Do you know the world is a foul sty? Do you know, if you ripped the fronts off houses, you'd find swine? The world's a hell. What does it matter what happens in it?

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) (SPOILERS) I’m not sure you could really classify Shadow of a Doubt as underrated, as some have. Not when it’s widely reported as Hitchcock’s favourite of his films. Underseen might be a more apt sobriquet, since it rarely trips off the lips in the manner of his best-known pictures. Regardless of the best way to categorise it, it’s very easy to see why the director should have been so quick to recognise Shadow of a Doubt 's qualities, even if some of those qualities are somewhat atypical.

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.

Sir, I’m the Leonardo of Montana.

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (2013) (SPOILERS) The title of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s second English language film and second adaptation announces a fundamentally quirky beast. It is, therefore, right up its director’s oeuvre. His films – even Alien Resurrection , though not so much A Very Long Engagement – are infused with quirk. He has a style and sensibility that is either far too much – all tics and affectations and asides – or delightfully offbeat and distinctive, depending on one’s inclinations. I tend to the latter, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by the trailers for The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet ; if there’s one thing I would bank on bringing out the worst in Jeunet, it’s a story focussing on an ultra-precocious child. Yet for the most part the film won me over. Spivet is definitely a minor distraction, but one that marries an eccentric bearing with a sense of heart that veers to the affecting rather than the chokingly sentimental. Appreciation for