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

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…

Right! Let’s restore some bloody logic!

It Couldn't Happen Here (1987)
(SPOILERS) "I think our film is arguably better than Spiceworld" said Neil Tennant of his and Chris Lowe's much-maligned It Couldn't Happen Here, a quasi-musical, quasi-surrealist journey through the English landscape via the Pet shop Boys' "own" history as envisaged by co-writer-director Jack Bond. Of course, Spiceworld could boast the presence of the illustrious Richard E Grant, while It Couldn't Happen Here had to settle for Gareth Hunt. Is its reputation deserved? It's arguably not very successful at being a coherent film (even thematically), but I have to admit that I rather like it, ramshackle and studiously aloof though it is.

Never compare me to the mayor in Jaws! Never!

Ghostbusters (2016)
(SPOILERS) Paul Feig is a better director than Ivan Reitman, or at very least he’s savvy enough to gather technicians around him who make his films look good, but that hasn’t helped make his Ghostbusters remake (or reboot) a better movie than the original, and that’s even with the original not even being that great a movie in the first place.

Along which lines, I’d lay no claims to the 1984 movie being some kind of auteurist gem, but it does make some capital from the polarising forces of Aykroyd’s ultra-geekiness on the subject of spooks and Murray’s “I’m just here for the asides” irreverence. In contrast, Feig’s picture is all about treating the subject as he does any other genre, be it cop, or spy, or romcom. There’s no great affection, merely a reliably professional approach, one minded to ensure that a generous quota of gags (on-topic not required) can be pumped out via abundant improv sessions.

So there’s nothing terribly wrong with Ghostbusters, but aside from …

You kind of look like a slutty Ebola virus.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
(SPOILERS) The phenomenal success of Crazy Rich Asians – in the US at any rate, thus far – might lead one to think it's some kind of startling original, but the truth is, whatever its core demographic appeal, this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel taps into universally accepted romantic comedy DNA and readily recognisable tropes of family and class, regardless of cultural background. It emerges a smoothly professional product, ticking the expected boxes in those areas – the heroine's highs, lows, rejections, proposals, accompanied by whacky scene-stealing best friend – even if the writing is sometimes a little on the clunky side.

They make themselves now.

Screamers (1995)
(SPOILERS) Adapting Philip K Dick isn’t as easy as it may seem, but that doesn't stop eager screenwriters from attempting to hit that elusive jackpot. The recent Electric Dreams managed to exorcise most of the existential gymnastics and doubts that shine through in the best versions of his work, leaving material that felt sadly facile. Dan O'Bannon had adapted Second Variety more than a decade before it appeared as Screamers, a period during which he and Ronald Shusett also turned We Can Remember It For You Wholesale into Total Recall. So the problem with Screamers isn't really the (rewritten) screenplay, which is more faithful than most to its source material (setting aside). The problem with Screamers is largely that it's cheap as chips.

Well, we took a vote. Predator’s cooler, right?

The Predator (2018)
(SPOILERS) Is The Predator everything you’d want from a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator (or Yautja, or Hish-Qu-Ten, apparently)? Emphatically not. We've already had a Shane Black movie featuring a Predator – or the other way around, at least – and that was on another level. The problem – aside from the enforced reshoots, and the not-altogether-there casting, and the possibility that full-on action extravaganzas, while delivered competently, may not be his best foot forward – is that I don't think Black's really a science-fiction guy, game as he clearly was to take on the permanently beleaguered franchise. He makes The Predator very funny, quite goofy, very gory, often entertaining, but ultimately lacking a coherent sense of what it is, something you couldn't say of his three prior directorial efforts.

My pectorals may leave much to be desired, Mrs Peel, but I’m the most powerful man you’ve ever run into.

The Avengers 2.23: The Positive-Negative Man
If there was a lesson to be learned from Season Five, it was not to include "man" in your title, unless it involves his treasure. The See-Through Man may be the season's stinker, but The Positive-Negative Man isn't far behind, a bog-standard "guy with a magical science device uses it to kill" plot. A bit like The Cybernauts, but with Michael Latimer painted green and a conspicuous absence of a cool hat.

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

The possibilities are gigantic. In a very small way, of course.

The Avengers 5.24: Mission… Highly Improbable
With a title riffing on a then-riding-high US spy show, just as the previous season's The Girl from Auntie riffed on a then-riding-high US spy show, it's to their credit that neither have even the remotest connection to their "inspirations" besides the cheap gags (in this case, the episode was based on a teleplay submitted back in 1964). Mission… Highly Improbable follows in the increasing tradition (certainly with the advent of Season Five and colour) of SF plotlines, but is also, in its particular problem with shrinkage, informed by other recent adventurers into that area.

What a truly revolting sight.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge (aka Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) (2017)
(SPOILERS) The biggest mistake the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels have made is embracing continuity. It ought to have been just Jack Sparrow with an entirely new cast of characters each time (well, maybe keep Kevin McNally). Even On Stranger Tides had Geoffrey Rush obligatorily returning as Barbossa. Although, that picture’s biggest problem was its director; Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge has a pair of solid helmers in Joachim Rønning and Espen Sandberg, which is a relief at least. But alas, the continuity is back with a vengeance. And then some. Why, there’s even an origin-of-Jack Sparrow vignette, to supply us with prerequisite, unwanted and distracting uncanny valley (or uncanny Johnny) de-aging. The movie as a whole is an agreeable time passer, by no means the dodo its critical keelhauling would suggest, albeit it isn’t even pretending to try hard to come up with …