The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

The Laughing Gnome

The latest in an occasional series of reprints of Blake's 7 reviews from 2002.


Featuring the bloke out of The Armageddon Factor [the one who isn't Drax and who wasn't in Bob And Rose] - struggling gamely with his miscast role in proceedings - and the woman out of 'Full House' [a sitcom featuring the one out of Only When I Laugh who isn't Wilson, Bowles or Bolam and who doesn't seem to have worked much since]. It also features Deep Roy, the famous diminutive table-tennis playing actor from Peking/Rekjavik.

There's not much to say about this one. The story is poor and nothing we haven't seen before several times over. The dialogue is rubbish. The sets are feeble. The characterisation is... well, I'm not sure whether Vila and Tarrant are supposed to be mates or not. Avon certainly seems protective of Vila; not sure why, because Vila is suddenly very annoying again. Apparently Servalan's Federation - which was 'growing at a rate' last week - is non-existent again.

At its heart, the story has a big science-fiction idea - a magic box of tricks which can replicate things. Except living things, which die. Unless they're living things in a life-support system, in which case they don't. As each new science-fiction development is introduced, its inherent stupidity is explained away by ever more desperate technobabble. Until, in the end, nothing makes much sense. Oh, and Avon spontaneously deducts the whole plot sans evidence. Apparently some sort of creature from millions of years in the future is being created to live under a dish.

The most interesting thing about the story is how each successive special effect proves to be even worse than the preceding one. We begin with a Jackanory picture of a planet, so obviously we're starting on quite a low level, about Voice From The Past. Then there's some bits of Matt Irvine model-work , which is quite nice, although it's shot from the wrong angle. Then we see the dead professor floating in the fridge - he looks like a startled white gonk. Astonishing. But then it is topped by the show's big monster. The big twist. The big revelation. The ultimate evolutionary future for mankind. The Small Incredibly Feeble One-Eyed Chicken Gnome That Rules From Under A Dish On The Surface Of Sardis [*].

There isn't even a proper ending. The Small Incredibly Feeble One-Eyed Chicken Gnome That Rules From Under A Dish On The Surface Of Sardis just teleports itself, forgetting to bring its life-support-system dish with it. A bit stupid, that.

Not for the first time does a Blakes's 7 episode end with Paul Darrow saying, 'Let's get out of here.'

Moloch? Molochs, more like.

[*] Very obscure b-side by The Orb.


You can tell it's a Chris Boucher script, because it begins with two spaceships talking to each other. 'Vector roger to tango seven, imperial cruiser ship entering quadrant space'. 'Wilco copy and over, imperial cruiser, quadrant space now matrix a-okay.' And the models float shakily by, accompanied by some booming, imperious Dudley Simpson march.

They pulled off the trick in Children Of Auron - get one of the regulars to play one of their relatives - so they decide to go for it again; this time we meet Del [*] Tarrant's brother, Ace Rimmer, space explorer. Ace is just like Del in all respects, except he has a wig on.

This episode features 'you silly young goat you' from The Green Death. I vaguely recognised a couple of the other actors but I'm not sure whether they had ever been in Doctor Who, or in an early-80's sit-com. Still, 'you silly young goat you' has been in Katy Manning, so that's quite a strong Doctor Who connection.

Deathwatch does one of those fully-formed-society-with-an-astonishingly-improbable-backstory-and-system- of-laws that Blake's 7 does so well. And so frequently. Whenever these two planets, whose names I forget, have a war, they select two champions and get them to fight in one of their space caves. And they all watch, because it's a bit like Tomb Raider / Doom - you get different levels - Derelict Warehouse From Secret Army, Redressed Space Cruiser Set etc. The space cruiser set is very good, nice big windows, looks very good in its first scene. Anyway, so Ace Rimmer is one champion, and some bloke is another.

And Servalan is an adjudicator. Let's ooooh just oooh crowbar Servalan oooh into the plot shall we. It's a small universe. I'm surprised the Liberator crew don't all slap their heads on each occasion - who is this mysterious Federation ambassador who will be adjudicating the contest? It's Servalan. Again. It's always bloody Servalan. Servalan and her costume designer and make-up artist, that's all that's left of the Federation. But she's in quite subdued form this week. No arms aloft stuff at all.

There's some very good location filming, including a great shot where we go up in a cherry picker wheeeee. Didn't recognise the director's name, presumably he was Too Good For Doctor Who. It's starting to get conspicuous, though, that schedules won't permit them to have all of the regular cast on location at once - they alternate between having two or three each time, don't they?

Of course, it turns out that Ace Rimmers's opponent is a robot, planted by Servalan, because - although there is no evidence for this - as Avon explains, it's the sort of madcap, implausible thing she would do. What better way for starting an interplanetary war than creating a robot stooge? It's elementary, my dear Vila.

Luckily Del steps into Ace Rimmer's shoes - which, unsurprisingly, fit him perfectly, because they're both the same bloody actor, the West End's glamorous Stephen Pacey - and does the honourable thing. Del won't shoot someone in the back, oh no. That would be cowardly. No, he does the brave thing. He shouts out their name and shoots them as they're turning round. Clever.

This sort-of illustrates the problem with the story - Chris Boucher hasn't quite thought through the story logic. People can use discs to read other people's minds - and yet these discs work on an android too, apparently. And they don't use the discs at all when it's Del versus the robot bloke, oddly enough. And there's some business about using Cally's telepathy powers to help Del defeat the robot, though in the end, that never really happens, so it feels like a pointless last-minute addition to give Cally something to do.

But it's quite a good one. I'm warming to Season 3 - the second half of it is all, Moloch-aside, pretty decent I think.

[*] Not really a space name, Del. But then, nor was Roj. They're bloke-down-the-pub names. Kerr, now *that's* a space name.

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