Posts Tagged ‘television’

Blakes 7 (Series 2)

14 April 2009

This appears to have destroyed my DVD player.

Here the initial fellowship begins to breakdown – the Liberator faces its original owners, and then Blake starts a rather desultory story arc. He hears of a central Federation computers which would cripple the evil government if it were destroyed. However, the Earth-based computer is a trap for the freedom fighters and they face being killed. Shiney Happy Person, Gan, is killed by Travis (now wearing a new face) and Blake begins soul searching. This begins a new series of cats and mouse games – more attempts by Travis to entrap them, and moments where Avon can abandon Blake (like Jayne and Mal thirty years on). Travis has been put on trial by the Federation for genocide, and they aim to execute him, so for part of the time he appears to be against the Federation and out on his own. But Blake still has scruples. Toward the end of the series they find the location of the central computer, and risk their lives to destroy it.

Cally is still there largely as a counsellor, sometimes not saying what she knows, and Jen only gets off the ship when guest characters want to try to seduce someone. Vila, meanwhile, does very little lock picking, and much comic relief. I confess that the best bits are Avon bitching about Blake or Vila or being bitched at.

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Moonbase 3 (1973)

10 April 2009

A curious realist sf series from Barry Letts and Terrance Dicks – produced as far as I can tell in the gap between the Doctor Who serials “The Green Death” and “The Time Warrior”. It’s partly curious in that it comes at the end of a season in which Jon Pertwee’s Doctor is released from exile on Earth and can travel the universe again – and this is set in one place: the European moonbase and its immediate surroundings, with the occasional near orbit travel. The initial idea had been to set it on a ship or sub; the isolation is striking.

The six episodes were produced by five writers:

  1. “Departures and Arrivals” (dir. Ken Hannam; w. Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts; tx 9 September 1973)
  2. “Behemoth” (dir. Ken Hannam; w. John Brason; tx 16 September 1973)
  3. “Achilles Heal” [Heel?] (dir. Christopher Barry; w. John Lucarotti; tx 23 September 1973)
  4. “Outsiders” (dir. Ken Hannam; w. John Brason; tx 30 September 1973)
  5. “Castor and Pollux” (dir. Christopher Barry; John Lucarotti, 7 October 1973)
  6. Views of a Dead Planet (dir: Christopher Barry; w. Arden Winch; tx 14 October 1973)

Note the lack of regular Doctor Who writers aside from the creators who acted as producer and script editor as usual; Lucarotti had written for the series in the 1960s, but only historical stories such as “Marco Polo” and “The Massacre”. Barry directed episodes from “The Dead Planet” to “The Creature from the Pit”, but at that point only “The Dæmons” and “The Mutants” for Letts and Dicks (he went on to direct their swansong, “Robot”).

The set up is a base, one of several run by the US, the USSR, Europe and China. Typically the European one is run on a shoestring and knee deep in bureaucracy, so when the base director is killed in a shuttle accident, the troubleshooting David Caulder (Donald Houston) is brought in to turn the venture around. In the context of the daily dangers of staying alive, Caulder has to start showing a profit. He is rivalled by Michel Lebrun (Ralph Bates), a French by-the-book jobsworth and his second in command, and helped by former astronaut turned sort-of chief engineer and dogsbody Tom Hill (Barry Lowe) and psychiatrist Helen Smith (Fiona Gaunt) whose job is to monitor the rather flowing staff morale.

Most of the stories derive out of the every day stresses of their mission – when thing get done on autopilot, when people’s weaknesses are played upon, when outsiders have to show solidarity. In the second episode there’s the suspicion of life of the Moon – but the explanation turns out to be selenological. The rationalism presumably derives from the input of science journalist James Burke (pre-Connections) as scientific advisor. The end result was this BBC-Twentieth Century Fox-ABC co-production stopped after six episodes; it was insufficiently fantastical, and I suspect they’d run out of story ideas.

The one foot wrong I felt was the final episode, in which a nuclear detonation above the pole was meant to melt ice caps to free up more farming land, and it is assumed that a chain reaction predicted by a maverick scientist (Michael Gough, playing 90-something) has destroyed life on Earth. As it is the north pole, I’m not sure how much arctic land would be freed – and the sea level rise is hand waved away.

The special effects have dated badly, and the acting, especially from the non-regulars, is a little wooden. It is stuffed full with casual racism – Helen is frequently disbelieved and sidelined, and her role is to be empathetic, without a story line of her one. Her superiors and equals are rather too tactile – although when she stands up to the scientist she is respected.

A fascinating experiment – but space opera comes back to dominate British sf on tv.

Alternative 3 (Chris Miles, 1977)

31 March 2009

Spoof documentary fronted by former newscaster Tim Brinton (who died last week), which investigates a number of missing scientists. Initially it had been assumed to be part of the brain drain to America, but no trace is found of some of them, and others have died in accidents. The evidence points to something to do with global warming, and may be answered by a mysterious magnetic tape.

The third alternative to dealing with global warming – this at a point when the theory was clearly in its infancy – was to get a group of experts and the intelligentsia together and send them to Mars, a Mars not thought not only to be inhabitable, but inhabited. The documentary concludes with footage shot on Mars, supposedly in 1962.

The programme began as a commissioned play on a topic of his choice for David Ambrose, and he had an idea about missing scientists. It was Chris Miles who provided the notion of Mars, from his spouse’s copy of Paris Match which featured Viking lander pictures on the cover. The rest wrote itself – although Anglia tv were reluctant to let it be made. Initially it was to be shown on April 1 1977, but it was put bag to June 20. Some of the press let the cat out of the bag, the other played ball and then cranked up the outrage as people rang to complain.

This is in a direct line with Orson Welles’s The War of the Worlds and the Panorama segment on growing spaghetti. Ambrose clearly wanted to make a serious point about global warming, and the programme was shown around the world. It cleverly puts together acted and stock footage, doctoring documentary and degrading film stock.

A book followed, and apparently thirty years of speculation that they were onto the truth, which Anglia were covering up by printing a cast list at the end.

Blakes 7 (Series 1)

29 July 2008

The Firefly of its day: a raggletaggle set of criminal misfits on the run from the evil galactic empire – political dissident Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas), smuggler Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette), comic relief thief Vila Restal (Michael Keating), computer fraudster Avon Kerr (Paul Darrow) and hard man Oleg Gan (David Jackson, who seems to be smiling at the absurdity of it all) are all sent into exile together, but Blake managers to comandeer the ship and they escape to an alien starship, the Liberator, run by a computer, Zen. In the fourth episode they pick up a telepath, Cally (Jan Chappell), who completes the seven.

Part of the ongoing story arc is staying a step ahead of the evil Federation (this is the flip side of Star Trek, in the specific form of Travis (Stephen Greif) and its Supreme Commander Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce), made more complicated by Blake’s desire to destroy the Federation rather than simply retire. Travis is constantly spared by Blake on the better the enemy you know grounds – someone will be after them.

I would says that it holds up better than I expected – but I’m not convinced I’ve seen it all. I came in at season two, and I think I only saw an edited down version of the early episodes. There’s some nasty stuff from Terry Nation and the friction of the Blake/Avon relationship holds up well. As telepath, it is Cally’s job to be brainwashed or possessed, and Jenna is underused – at one point Blake even suggests she flirts with another character to get their way. The endings are usually a bit botched, and there’s a bizarre plot recap at the start of episode 13 as the characters tell each other stuff they know and we’re need to learn. The spaceship effects are ropey, too – or there are small planets in this universe.

At this point Servalan isn’t the queen of camp, nor has Avon discovered the Skin Two concession – instead clothed by an outdoor pursuits emporium. The mood is dark – but the morality not quite as ambiguous here as I think Nation was aiming for.