The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Scorpio Rising

The latest in an extremely irregular series of Blake’s 7 reviews dating from way back in 2002. Smell the youth!


Terry Nation's back, and he alone knows what the show is about.

I started watching Blakes 7 as a kid at some point during Season 3 – I had vague memories of City At The Edge Of The World, and very clear, fond memories of Ultraworld and Terminal. And it's fab. Even the incidental music is good; a sort of constant heartbeat. There's a real sense of impending doom.

The planet is a weird oval shape. How peculiar.

All the actors are on top form. Darrow is at his best; he's on his own a lot of the time, and not speaking, which helps his performance a great deal. Vila is sympathetic, too, as he chats with the dying Zen - he's likeable when he's out of his depth, he's annoying when he's being drunk and stupid and cowardly for no reason. I like the way he gets Orac off the ship, too. Tarrant - he's not doing hands-on-hips acting for once. Cally - boring as usual, but inoffensive. Dayna – I never quite 'got' Dayna. Blake - has put on weight and grown a beard.

Anyway. Avon says that he always thought that his death would be linked with Blake’s. A very ingenious bit of foreshadowing, considering that this was supposed to be the last episode ever.

There are only two problems. Problem one; the subplot about the Links isn't really necessary, and doesn't come much as a shock. I thought we were all supposed to evolve into Small Incredibly Feeble One-Eyed Chicken Gnomes like Moloch anyway? Servalan's big revelation about the ultimate future of mankind gets a bit lost amongst other, much more interesting and significant events.

The other problem is Servalan. She's the surprise villain AS USUAL and her plan is overcomplicated and ridiculous AS USUAL and she's waving her arms about as though she's trying to dry her nail varnish AS USUAL and she's making sly, naughty, secretive smiles towards the gays at home AS USUAL.

So she's got Avon to come to Terminal to meet Blake. Having spent months [!] convincing Avon that Blake is alive but on a life-support, she then tells him that, in fact, Blake is dead and she faked it all. So what was the point of all that, then? Her plan, to convince Avon to hand over the Liberator to her in exchange for Blake, rather depends on her not explaining her plan to Avon at the first possibly opportunity, doesn't it? Still, the banter is good. Good banter, Terry.

Tarrant and Cally discover the brainwashing trolley, but this turns out to be unnecessary because they never find out what it's for, and by the time they meet up with Avon Servalan has already explained her madcap scheme anyway. It would've made been better for Avon to have been made suspicious by some 'continuity' error between his artificially-induced dream and reality and to piece together Servalan's plot with Tarrant and Cally. But I don't think there was time for that to be slotted in.

That's a bit of the Jagaroth spaceship / Pirate Captain's desk next to Blake, that is.

The real Servalan problem, though, is her utter credulity. She's on board the Liberator. It's covered in slimy gunk. Zen isn't working. Yet she never for a moment considers that there might be something amiss. No, because she's totally loopy. Maximum power! And then, just as she's finally got her nails dry, it explodes. A bit of the floor lifts up and someone slides off.

It's the end of an era. We'll never again see Zen. Never again will there be that photo of the Liberator UPSIDE DOWN. No more will Avon do a little skipping dance as he runs around a desk. No more will Jenna steer the ship with two anglepoise lamps. No more will there be that bit of footage of the Liberator shooting. No more will Servalan say 'Bring me the Lib-er-ator'.

It's the end of Blake's 7. Zen has died and the Liberator is gone. Servalan is dead, probably. They haven't won, they've both lost. One by one, the crew walk past the camera looking cheesed off.

And then... Darrow smiles. How cool is that? All is right in the universe again. Avon may have lost, but he's still a complete bastard. Hurrah!

Still, a good ending to a series of three years of middling sci-fi. What's that? The Director General's mum liked it and wants another series? Better get the continuity announcer on the phone now...


Now this is when I really started watching Blake's 7 regularly. I haven't seen any of these episodes for twenty years, but what is really frightening is how much I still remember. I remember Cally's death – how sad, how perfunctory - I remember the spiral staircase with dry ice at the bottom. Even more oddly, I remember snatches of dialogue! I even remember, as a 7-year old, drinking Ribena because I wanted to be funny like Vila.

And the guns! I remember the guns. The only thing I have ever made after they showed you how on Blue Peter. You had to write in for a factsheet for plans on how to make one of the Blake's 7 space guns. And I made one, painted it silver and everything. And I made one of those chunky silver and grey teleport bracelets as well, the new ones. God, I haven't thought about that for twenty years, and yet there it is, still in my brain. Frightening.

So a few hours have passed since the end of Terminal. Generally speaking, the continuity is good. Okay, so everyone now has subtly different hairstyles, but at least we're filming on the same hill. Okay, so it's been snowing, but that just makes it more like The Empire Strikes Back. Everyone has the same costumes, the story follows on seamlessly, there's even the same heartbeat noise... but...
...but now the planet is spherical. What the F!

And I've seen that volcano footage before somewhere. Love the big worm, though. I hope he becomes a regular fixture. He could be the new Travis.

Okay, so the Blake crew - sans Cally, but oddly, not sans Orac [who somehow survived the big explosion] are wandering around the planet before being picked up by Dorian. Dorian the space salvager. Now, immediately their suspicions are aroused because Dorian's eyes are too close together. They are. They are far too close together. The distance between his eyes is not adequate. He's like a living Picasso. There is barely room for the bridge of his nose between his peepers. If he looked left and right quickly, his pupils would bang together. The proximity of is eyes is just far too small. His eyes are simply too close together. And so obviously, obviously he's up to something.

Before I continue, the new title sequence. Love it. It's like playing a computer game. Love the new logo, too. Suddenly we're in the 1980s.

The special effects - gorgeous. Suddenly we've entered the sort of Season 17-18 / Hitch-Hikers' Guide To The Galaxy-era, so the spaceships have a sort of plastic, shaky, video-effect look. The look that Doctor Who had up until about season 20, and inexplicably brought back for the Vervoid story. But I love that look. So much better than the rubbish Captain Pugwash-style animations that we got in the first couple of seasons.

And the Scorpio landing sequence! Wow! How sexy is that! How. Sexy. Is. That! It goes down a canyon, into a cave, lands on a platform, goes down a shaft, rotates and then sits in this sort of Batcave. Wow. I hope they show that bit over and over again in the next few episodes. It could never get old.

However, the interior of Scorpio - oh dear. That's nowhere near as good, is it? I mean, that set really doesn't look at all convincing in close up - the controls look like meal trays glued to the desk, and you can see *all* the joins in the corrugated iron desks. Lots of sharp edges, not very practical for bumpy space travel. It looks like it was made from left over bits of the space ship from Nightmare Of Eden. And the monitors have yellow sellotape around them! Good grief. And Slave - god, he is blooming annoying, isn't he? He looks just like the computer SID from Galloping Galaxies, but without the wit and integrity of Kenneth Williams. And it has teleport booths too - what were they odds against that, eh?

Now, I realise it is the sole preserve of the twit to criticise a science fiction show for having shaky sets. That said, though, there's a wonderful scene when Dayna is searching for a secret passage and the viewer thinks, 'Ah - It's behind you - I saw that wall distinctly move!' But as shaky as the sets are, they're not the shakiest things in Blake's 7 by any means.

The story doesn't make much sense or hold much interest. A gestalt? A gestalt! A gestalt? A gestalt! I like Sue-Lynn, though, she's almost as sexy as the Scorpio model, even if she doesn't say much or seem to have much reason for being there except to make up the numbers. I've seen those costumes somewhere before, too - Warrior's Gate or Frontios or somesuch.

Luckily Dorian's pet Sea Devil - it's a blooming Sea Devil! - is killed by Vila and we get a very protracted death sequence. It's the same old story - villain ages to death, becomes a skellington, becomes a pile of dust which is then blown away by a guff of ghostly wind. However, I've never seen it before with such a variety of interim stages. Quite impressive, though the ghostly guff seems to be just Swap Shop's Mat Irvine with a hair dryer and is, therefore, a bit desultory.

And Vila makes a final joke about how unbelievable it all is. Which is quite telling, actually, because that's probably what most Blake's 7 fans and viewers were thinking, too. Suddenly they're watching a show with different titles, a laughable bossa-nova easy-listening version of the end theme tune, poor sets and only two original cast members, both of whom have stopped acting as though they want to maintain careers beyond this show. Suddenly they're watching endless scenes of the crew rocking back and forth in their seats due to space turbulence whilst the camera remains rock-steady and scenes of the crew sitting perfectly still in their seats whilst the camera jiggers around the place like a demented kangaroo. Suddenly we're getting absurd, contrived shots like that one from The Five Doctors where everyone looks archly to their right, one after each other. And then there’s the finale - some mad psychic fish-monster facing our heroes in a jabolite cave. What has the series come to? We've spent three years working our way towards... *this*?

But this is when I started watching it as a kid. So I love it. This, as cheap and absurd as it is, is the *real* Blake's 7 for me. This is what all that nonsense about Travis and Blake was leading up - the crew of the Scorpio on Xenon. My childhood Blake's 7 has now begun!


I am indebted to a Mr Jim Smith of London who has texted in to point out that it is quite simple to resolve the continuity problem regarding the planet's shape, as it could be an oval when viewed from the side (as seen in Terminal) and appear circular when viewed end-on due to foreshortening (as seen in Rescue).

1 comment:

  1. SOOOOOON..... IT MUST BE SOON..... oooooorrrghooorghoooaaaaaoooaaauugggghhhaaaaaauurrghhhhhh