Skip to main content

There was a great deal of confusion when the High Council were restored to power.


Blake's 7
4.3: Traitor


I can only think that Chris Boucher secretly wanted to cause Bob Holmes some grief. So he told him to put Tarrant and Dayna front and centre in his third, and least impressive, script for the series. He’s so clearly a natural for Avon and Vila that it seems like a cruel act to have him relegate them to the sidelines (if, indeed, that is what happened).


As for the plot itself, it’s a mixture of the witty, the intriguing, and the banal. Like many Federation-centred stories, their characters are by far the most interesting aspect. And like other Holmes stories involving rebel movements (The Sun Makers, The Power of Kroll) Bob seems to find inspiration elusive when depicting them. It’s curious that there’s a very definite colonial vibe to the depiction of the Federation here (although the imagery is ultra-fascistic) as the rebels are almost absurdly identified as staunch Brit commandos hell-bent on knocking the stuffing out of Jerry. Certainly, that’s how Dudley Simpson sees it, with his archly military incidental music.


There’s some solid casting for the Federation types, whereas the rebel Helots make little more than a staid, stiff upper lip impression. First up is Christopher Neame (Skagra in Shada) as Colonel Quute, complete with eye patch and facial scar. 


We get Nick Brimble as the General, one of those actors you think must have appeared in Doctor Who but never did.  There’s also Practor, a puppet dictator Helot. Brimble’s General represents the colonial type who has a grudging respect for the natives, their persistence and fighting tactics, in contrast to Quute’s disinterest in them.  


There’s also Leitz, the aide of the mysterious Commission Sleer. Malcolm Stoddard is very good in this role and he looks a little bit like Agent Smith from The Matrix.


The interest from the Scorpio crew is in the mysterious rapid re-expansion of the Federation, and we eventually learn that the pacification of worlds is occurring by way of the influence of a drug known as Pylene-50.

While the basic idea is strong enough, the plotting and execution is very variable. Indeed, the first scene with the Scorpio crew feels rather unnatural, as if Holmes is forcing them into a Season Two story. Avon’s desire to discover what’s going on is extremely Blake-like, and this doesn’t go unnoticed.

Vila: Blake would have been proud of you, you know.
Avon: I know, but then he never was very bright.

On one level, it’s probably a good move to have the crew regain their direction but, on another, more build-up wouldn’t have gone amiss in pushing them towards such a position. The above line is after we return to the Scorpio, and Holmes makes a significant recovery in the dialogue between Avon and Vila about Tarrant leading the mission to the planet. You can’t help but think that they are accurately summarising Holmes’ view of the character.

Vila: That idiot's looking forward to it. He can't wait to go snooping around Helotrix.
Avon: He's good material, is Tarrant. One of the best.

And then, with Darrow camping it up to the max:

Avon: Ah well. Tarrant is brave; young; handsome. There are three good reasons for anyone not to like him.

That this scene is the best between any of the crew in the episode wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t all so forgettable elsewhere. Orac and Avon have a decent repartee, with Orac positioning the crew for later problems by not being arsed to work on the problem Avon has set him (of improving the ship’s boosters; he gives it to a Federation computer to sort out).

Orac: I passed the program to computers specialising in engineering design.
Avon: You mean you can't handle it yourself?
Orac: The art of leadership is delegation.


Three episodes into the season and the limitations of the Scorpio deck compared to the Liberator’s are already being highlighted in the most demeaning way possible. Soolin and Avon sit on deck chairs in front of the seating area. Whose bright idea was that? And didn’t anyone think how silly it looked?

Holmes drops in nice little touches throughout the script, as he’s want to do. For example, the suggestion that everyone (human, presumably) comes from Earth originally, and this proves a cause for debate between Vila and Soolin.


David Sullivan Proudfoot chooses a distinctive location for the exteriors, and then blunders all over the place with the horribly fake studio “exteriors”. For a series that has made a feature of extensive outdoor work it comes as quite a shock to see Dayna and Tarrant stomping around a crappy set with a few bits of shrub to show it’s outside. 


It wouldn’t matter so much if what we were seeing was engaging, but it’s mostly rather laborious. They meet up with rebel leader Hunda who announces his plan to infiltrate the Federation base and are sent on their way in their search for the drug. The appearance of Leitz is the one bright spot here, as he’s apparently working with the rebels. Then he informs the General that he’s a double agent and, right up until Servalan offs him, he’s a consistent study in self-preservation and working whoever he’s in the presence of at that time.


As I said, the best material in this story is Federation-related and Holmes’ economical but evocative exposition tells us much about what has been going on while Avon and co have been slumming it in the back of beyond. Servalan was killed in a rearguard action at Gedden.


Practor: There was a great deal of confusion when the High Council were restored to power. Most of the Old Guard were killed in the fighting. They remained loyal to Servalan right till the end.


This means a lot appears to have happened in a very compressed period of time (unless there’s a significant period between Power and Traitor).


The stealthy way that Servalan enters this story is at odds with the implausibility of the one-time President passing herself off in a role of relative importance elsewhere in the Federation. It’s scarcely conceivable that Servalan (portrait being shown about the place liberally or not) would go unchallenged and unrecognised by most people, not just personal associates such as Practor. 


That being the case, she will have to commit a lot more murders to cover her tracks. Leitz raises this with her just before he’s killed by her.

Leitz: After all, how many people've you killed to conceal your secret?
Servalan: You mean now? [She jabs a crystal dagger into his neck - he falls] 26. So far.

Although, drawing attention to the flaws in something doesn’t necessarily deflect attention from it. Presumably co-incidentally, this is the second episode where 26 comes up; it was also the number of victories Gunn-Sar claimed to have won over challengers.

Hunda: You're off-worlders! Who are you?
Tarrant: You got us right the first time. We're friends. Of anyone fighting the Federation.


I quite like the vague sense we get here that there’s no status or legend to the crew now that Blake is out of the picture. Tarrant doesn’t announce himself in any kind of defined manner, and there’s little doubt that the reaction to their presence would be entirely different if it was Blake making contact.


I’m not clear why Tarrant and Dayna have a costume change halfway through this (because it’s cold at night?) nor why the former appears to be wearing Avon’s leather hand-me-downs. Further to this, an extra appears to end up donning it at one point. 


Leitz’s scheming carries a very good scene where he explains that he is a double-agent to the visibly dazed General, effectively making the latter look like someone with no authority and even less awareness of what is going on under his nose.


I suspect some may accuse him of terrible ham, but I really like Edgar Wreford’s Forbus, eccentrically presented and performed. Holmes comes up with a fairly twisted situation for him, compelled to work for Servalan in manufacturing Pylene 50.

ForbusIt is the extract of Pamporanian fungi, it cripples and eventually kills. Death is agonizing and there is no cure. I have Pyrellic poisoning - Sleer's doing. There is an antidote that prevents the poison spreading. As long as I take it daily I get no worse, but Sleer, of course, controls my supply.


He’s a character you could imagine Holmes featuring much more strongly in the story, and that’s part of the problem. This is almost the anti-Gambit. Holmes is buttoned-down here, and too much of the story feels like it’s written to a specific edict (much like The Power of Kroll). Who knows, maybe his abandoned Season Three script was too off-the-wall and as a result Boucher gave him an outline?


If Forbus (eventually killed by Servalan as he attempts to detonate the explosives on his person) is a highlight, then the set-bound set-to between rebels and Federation is probably the weakest sequence in the episode. 


Characters unconvincingly plod about a confined space attacking each other or getting killed. It rather beggars belief that so many senior ranking Federation officers end up on manoeuvres just to get offed too.


Dayna and Tarrant leave with the necessary information on the drug; it’s been one of the least memorable episodes in terms of the crew’s involvement. Only the news that Servalan is still alive brings a spark back to their interplay, with Avon at first refusing to consider that she’s still alive and then uttering a classic final line.

Avon: All right, I believe you. I didn't want her to die like that anyway. I need ... to kill her myself.


A mixture of solid elements in respect of the Federation characters and tedious ones involving Tarrant, Dayna and the Helots. But even a Bob Holmes misfire has characters and scenes to recommend in it. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I added sixty on, and now you’re a genius.

The Avengers 4.3: The Master Minds
The Master Minds hitches its wagon to the not uncommon Avengers trope of dark deeds done under the veil of night. We previously encountered it in The Town of No Return, but Robert Banks Stewart (best known for Bergerac, but best known genre-wise for his two Tom Baker Doctor Who stories; likewise, he also penned only two teleplays for The Avengers) makes this episode more distinctive, with its mind control and spycraft, while Peter Graham Scott, in his third contribution to the show on the trot, pulls out all the stops, particularly with a highly creative climactic fight sequence that avoids the usual issue of overly-evident stunt doubles.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

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…

Where is the voice that said altered carbon would free us from the cells of our flesh?

Altered Carbon Season One
(SPOILERS) Well, it looks good, even if the visuals are absurdly indebted to Blade Runner. Ultimately, though, Altered Carbon is a disappointment. The adaption of Richard Morgan’s novel comes armed with a string of well-packaged concepts and futuristic vernacular (sleeves, stacks, cross-sleeves, slagged stacks, Neo-Cs), but there’s a void at its core. It singularly fails use the dependable detective story framework to explore the philosophical ramifications of its universe – except in lip service – a future where death is impermanent, and even botches the essential goal of creating interesting lead characters (the peripheral ones, however, are at least more fortunate).

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.

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.

Yeah, keep walking, you lanky prick!

Mute (2018)
(SPOILERS) Duncan Jones was never entirely convincing when talking up his reasons for Mute’s futuristic setting, and now it’s easy to see why. What’s more difficult to discern is his passion for the project in the first place. If the picture’s first hour is torpid in pace and singularly fails to muster interest, the second is more engaging, but that’s more down to the unappetising activities of Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux’s supporting surgeons than the quest undertaken by Alex Skarsgård’s lead. Which isn’t such a compliment, really.

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

You think I contaminated myself, you think I did that?

Silkwood (1983)
Mike Nichol’s film about union activist Karen Silkwood, who died under suspicious circumstances in a car accident in 1974, remains a powerful piece of work; even more so in the wake of Fukushima. If we transpose the microcosm of employees of a nuclear plant, who would rather look the other way in favour of a pay cheque, to the macrocosm of a world dependent on an energy source that could spell our destruction (just don’t think about it and, if you do, be reassured by the pronouncements of “experts” on how safe it all is; and if that doesn’t persuade you be under no illusion that we need this power now, future generations be damned!) it is just as relevant.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…