Sunday, September 28, 2008

Blake's 7 Reborn Rebel Retardation

I've blogged at length about my doubts at the prospect of reviving Blake's 7 - quite simply, unless it's a direct continuation, it's completely pointless to reboot the format. At the time of B7 Productions In Association With Sci-Fi Channel's attempts to knock out Earth out of orbit by making Terry Nation spin in his grave to the nth degree, I naively hoped that the reboot that was undoubtedly at hand would be a necessary evil to get back to the show we knew and loved. After the inevitably-horrid pilot, it would get better, right?

I managed, I think, the first three five minute chapters of the first story on a very poor digital audio service before I gave up completely. Now, I shall give it a proper listening, all the way through. Is it really that bad? I had mediocre hopes that Ben Aaronovitch would be in more Remembrance than Battlefield mood, and with the Nation Estate's vice like grip on the bollocks of those who dare try to play with his toys, well, surely this couldn't be so bad? Could it? Paul Darrow himself disowning the product before it began wasn't as ominous as it could have been, right?

Right?




CHAPTER ONE: Hard Targets

"In the 23rd century, the Galactic Federation was no longer a beacon of democracy and peace. It had become a corrupt tyrrany, ruled by elite factions who cared nothing for the fate of ordinary people. Freedom and justice are things of the past. One man chose to oppose this..."

Definitely not a good way to start. Why exactly couldn't they use the original theme music, or at least the tune itself? It was written as an uplifting athem of hope and adventure. This just has a mean, military drumming that does and means absolutely nothing. And then we get Avon doing a completely pointless voiceover. Why? I know such voiceovers are used in many shows on SciFi, but usually a brief soundbite over the premise of the show, ala "So, you're wondering why these spacemen are quite clearly looking for a fight?" or "The reason why there's only one human being in this show is because..."

It's not a good bit of prose, especially as it seems to say "Hey, there was this mythical happy fun time land full of shiny happy people whose magical candy dreams all came true - but then it became real life! One man said no!" What bollocks. What utter, utter bollocks. In just one sentence they've completely missed the point of the original show and made Blake bigger than than his cause, which is of course what Blake didn't want - right to the end he insisted that he was as expendable as anyone else in the fight. And if Blake is so freaking important to the new format, why is Avon doing the voiceover? Arguably, Avon was the central character of the show, but does he give any of his cynical cutting comments here? Does he give any sign of emotion or personality whatsoever? Nope.

Colin Salmon as Avon. Known to me (and probably a few others) as the black guy in M15 in the Brosnan James Bond flicks, he didn't strike me as an instant candidate for the role (mind you, I still can't think of anyone who could do it... maybe John Simms?). Certainly I wasn't fussed at Avon suddenly being black. The original series made it quite clear that any prejudice comes from social grading rather than ethnic background, which is why Anglo Saxon Vila is generally treated like dirt and Dark Lady Dayna acts like minor royalty. But it's quickly clear that Salmon is something of a Sylvester McCoy type actor. He works best when you can see his eyes, body language, etc. He is not one who relies solely on his voice which is tragic because, well, hey, this is audio people! In fact, it seems he has been chosen solely because his deep and precise voice is reminiscent of Paul Darrow's. Not that he's actually good. I'll reserve further judgement, since the only role I can really judge him involved him playing a cheerful, friendly, not-at-all-sinister man. Who turned out to be exactly that.

Next rant: 23rd century? Why?! It seems every sci-fi show is set there, from Red Dwarf to Babylon Five to Space: Above and Beyond to Star Trek (maybe... I dunno about stardate translation to the gregorian calendar). Presumably the logic is that 'two hundred years allows huge advancement in technology but not enough to render it incomprehensible to the audience'. Yet this is the same 'world' that achieved peace, freedom, prosperity and democracy and then instantly went downhill. Based on a series set in the far, far, far future where civilization had nuked itself back into the stone age more than once on every planet in the galaxy.

Gosh, I haven't even gone past the opening monologue. This could get tough.

Helicopters and SWAT teams are targeting a specific apartment lead by some guy named Travis who chats on a walkie talkie to his boss, Servalan. Once again, Servalan 2.0 is chosen because of her vocal similarity to Jacqueline Pearce (now the genuine article has abandoned civilization to play with monkeys) rather than bona fide audio talent, but it seems to be something completely different with Travis. He doesn't seem to be a reimagined version of our monocular madman, but just a rather useless young soldier Servalan bullies. Thus "Travis" is a kind of fourth wall gag. Both TV versions could be scary, but this weak, fey sounding soldier seems to be manning the ship while the genuine man in charge pops to the toilet. Oh, did I mention HELICOPTERS?! In the 23rd century?!

No doubt this and many other such anachronisms are to make the story seem more real to contemporary audiences who of course cannot concentrate on anything for more than five minutes at a time. Why not set the whole thing in the here and now, then? Huh? What's B7 Enterprises' explanation for this?

The SWAT team exchanges wannabe tough-sounding military buzzwords as they kick down the door of the apartment and discover... their prey has already left and got past them. But what's this? Our elusive fugitive has dangled a frying pan from the ceiling of his living room with the words "YOU HAVE BEEN BRAINWASHED" carved on it. Why exactly he couldn't use note paper or say, paint this on the walls, escapes me. I might even grant this points for being slightly creepy in a They Live kind of way, but then the apartment explodes. Why did this mysterious rebel blow up his apartment and kill all the law enforcers and put countless others at risk? Why leave such an eccentric note? What's the point? And are we really supposed to sympathize with a man who deliberately murders enemies with booby traps? Servalan didn't have the apartment bombed, so all the possible sympathies are left with the authorities. I may have been brainwashed, but I'll take that over being blown up by a man who leaves frying-pan-o-grams around the place.

The dialogue so far has been functional to say the best with cunning bitch Servalan's lethal wit consisting of "Travis, go there and sort it out" while she complains to Clinician Havant (because, you know, calling him Doctor Havant like the original would be far too dated and audience-unfriendly). Blake has left an abusive vodcast out on the internet where he basically shouts "The Government is corrupt!" with no evidence or clarification. They're just bad, mmkay? Of course, no proper democracy would ever employ a woman like Servalan who appears to be more interested in how much she can move her tongue while speaking than the rights of the working man.

London is placed in lockdown as the really-really-deeply-pathetic "Travis" feebly begs his army to search for "Supervising Engineer Roj Blake" in as drammatic a manner as possible. Because, you know, they always wait until all the armed forces are right outside before explaining any kind of objective. What exactly does Blake's job description have to do with anything? If you're going to recreate Blake as a lethal terrorist with no interest in collatoral damage, why keep his job the same? Make him a schoolteacher like Nation wanted if you really want to get under the skin of the audience... You let this guy near YOUR children. Mr Frying-Pan-O-Gram-Of-Death. As "Travis" continues in his quest to make himself Actor Worse Than Chip Jamison, he reminds us all that Blake is a career terrorist and completely ruthless. Begs the question of why you let him have an apartment block in Shephard's Bush, really, doesn't it?

Servalan is not best pleased that "the most popular opposition leader of the last 100 years" on the loose with all those unexplained nasty memories back in place. How the hell did Roj "Frying Pan of DOOM" Blake get so popular? Do Londoners dig the fact he will kill to get ahead in the game or something? Has everyone taken out insurance on their homes in the hope he can bomb them? Was he just really popular on Ant and Dec? These questions, along with how the hell Federation brainwashing didn't take (or why their society is so anarchic given their ability to rewrite the minds of their citizens) are ignored. Havant has absolutely no idea how Blake regained these still unexplained memories back, but reveals that, on the offchance, the Federation implant homing devices in the little fingers of their subjects. On the offchance the brainwashing fails and they turn into terrorists, you know. Standard procedure. If only they had security cameras everywhere, but this is a world that barely has mobile phones...

Hmm. A man with an imbedded homing beacon on the run from a conspiracy that involved mind-wiping... this is Total Recall! Except Total Recall didn't suck! In fact, it was closer to the original Way Back with Arnie's character being an ordinary Joe whose life is turned upside down when he suddenly realizes he was someone else. Instead, we get all this from the evil authority's point of view. Which of course makes us care a damn about the so-called central character of this. Having seen Derek Riddell in Tooth & Claw and the much-better-as-a-Who-spin-off-than-Torchwood, Shakespeare Retold: Much Ado About Nothing, I have to say he seemed a decent bet as Blake 2.0. However, he definitely suffers McCoy syndrome more than the others. When he confronts one of his followers about their loyalty to the cause, he barely sounds like he cares. On TV, he might have been deliberately being coy, or icy controlled, or maybe just exhausted from his flight from justice. Here, it sounds very much like he's trying to read the script and the newspaper simultaneously.

Having somehow known about the implant, Blake cuts off his own finger, drops in the luggage of some poor schmuck getting on a spaceship, then - bleeding profusely, because he's REALLY thought this through - staggered back to the home of his old pal Ravella. Since this is audio, it's quite possible to leave Blake as a four-fingered man, but no, it seems any decent first aide kit can REGROW limbs with nanites. Coz... 23rd century. They don't use nanites anywhere else, of course, like say in weaponry or security. Blake is completely annoyed at the collapse of the rebel movement after he sent a vodcast telling them to do just that (in one of the first bits of ripped off dialogue, Ravella says "You were very convincing." Right. You saw a youtube vid and didn't suspect your corrupt government had ANYTHING to do with it. You deserve to be oppressed).

Showing the usual consistency of the script so far, Ravella explains that actually, they didn't really abandon the cause of freedom just because of Blake (despite what she said five seconds previous), but they actually all individually sold out to the Federation to save their own lives. What kind of extremists are you!? What the hell did the Federation bother programming Blake instead of just rounding up all the subversives and threatening to kill them all? Why not brainwash the lot of them?

Blake meanwhile shows himself to be as intelligent and cunning as the old Frying Pan gag suggested. After Ravella explains she sold out, and that she's drugged Blake to knock him out so she can call the authorities, he keeps asking her what choice she's made? For fuck's sake, Blakey boy, the fact she's saying she's "so so sorry" as you lose consciousness MIGHT just be construed as a clue...

And so the end of chapter one. Dear God. Gareth Roberts noted that only someone TRULY talented could screw up a part one. How little did he know...


CHAPTER TWO: Enemy of the State

"When one's being crucified, it's always good to know who's banging in the nails..."

Well, we're half way through the plot of The Way Back, and hasn't it been shite so far? This chapter cuts to the robot-run court of law as Blake is put on trial for... child molestation. Did we turn two pages at once? Why does the Federation need this to discredit Blake when he HAS no credit? All his supporters are on their payroll and the man himself is guilty of five deaths, arson, terrorism and perverting the course of justice! Why, if the Federation is so fucking corrupt and evil does it need to give a trial AT ALL?!

Certainly, anyone listening to this anew would be baffled as to where the hell these kiddy fiddling charges have come from, and judging the quite insane behavior of Blake we've seen ("I shall cut off my own finger - you never know, there might be a tracking device in there!"), should we really put such stuff past this "charismatic" psychopath? Simply announcing he's disgusted at the trivial use of this huge narrative concept (well, let's pretend that's what he's disgusted at), Blake fires his lawyer and decides to defend himself. Presumably with frying pans, high explosives and bread knives.

As there's no hint of any kind that Blake's lawyer is bent, this seems remarkably foolish. Nevertheless, the judge decides to let the foolish Blake defend himself because, you know, multiple rapists and child abusers should be indulged, surely? When the prosecution accuses Blake of being an obvious guilty man mocking the judicial system, I can only nod in agreement. So will you as Blake explains that he doesn't expect to get a fair trial and asks for "four years to overthrow the current government".

Oh ha fucking ha.

Actually, to be fair, rubbish fourth-wall breaking aside, that's not a bad joke. I can easily imagine some Little Britain/Fast Show catchphrase character constantly justifying his procrastination on the grounds he has to overthrow the government before going to the laundrette. But this is not a sketch show. This is supposed to be serious science fiction. Or at least drama. Yes, Pizza Supreme. DRAMA!! Blake shows absolutely no interest in the concept of being dubbed a molester of minors, and shows what is generally known of in this solar system as "contempt of court". This is not a smart move, therefore, and begs the questions

a) why should we take this seriously when Blake doesn't?
b) why is the judge so indulgent when she's twice accused of being corrupt?
c) what the hell does Ben Aaronovitch think he's doing using child abuse as COMIC RELIEF?!

Meanwhile, Servalan and Havant watch on in mild disbelief, mainly at the fact this oh-so-corrupt-and-evil regime has allowed Blake to be tried by an independent judge not already under their control and who is indulging a multiple-murderer and accused pedophile. However, clearly everyone on Planet Aaronovitch is unfussed at such hideous acts, as the news reporter on the scene can only deem these charges "pretty serious", and Blake himself forgoes the Traffikanti Defense for the Aaronovitch Defense: "You're all evil and corrupt and I don't have to listen to you, so there!" This, ladies and gentlemens, leave you in no doubt why the A-Man never got a job as a defense attorney.

Now, I myself dabbled in legal studies (out of the sole reason that all my friends were... oh yeah, I was a sheep but at least I was a fashionable sheep), and the fact that the children aren't in court is, as the prosecution notes, completely legal and with precedent. Blake wants to prove that the children aren't just computer sprites by visiting them in person. This would be damned difficult if he was NOT the self-same person accused of sexually abusing them, and yet somehow Blake doesn't seem to think the kids would be brainwashed by the self-same corrupt administration so clearly out to get him. Blake, you aren't just a fool, you're a bloody idiot.

Blake agrees to compromise by getting the judge herself to meet the kids and ascertain whether or not they actually exists, and we learn that not only have the conspirators not put any kind of plan in place for this happening, their contingency consists of trying to intimidate the judge. Who retorts she herself is an ex-soldier and revolutionary. And thus, (legal hat here) not the sort of person to be allowed to judge Blake. It's called in the business a conflict of interest. Aaronovitch is seemingly convinced that judges are literally laws unto themselves and their conduct is controlled only by blackmail - as the judge is willing to let Blake off scot free, despite his very OBVIOUS guilt of other crimes.

So when the big boys come round to intimidate the judge, it is completely unnecessary. I mean, in today's world, she could easily be replaced quite legally. But no, Aaronovitch of the Bailey here wants to play hard ball!

Meanwhile, Servalan turns up to chat with Blake and we discover - rather disappointingly - that this rebooted Bitch in White only got to where she was today by her incredibly rich and powerful family. Not anything to do with her incredible ruthless and double-dealing two-faced evil megalomaniacal genius. And Servalan 2.0 seems to be lacking this something chronic. Since all the signs are that the Federation want this trial to be above board to fool the public, why the hell does the boss of ALL Earth security make a public visit to the prisoner in the dock?! Make your mind up at how corrupt the Federation IS, A-Man, it'll save a lot of time.

Servalan finally reveals (shock!) that the child molestation stuff is totally faked to discredit Blake (cue another gratuitious bit of nicked dialogue). And she has decided to come all the way down here to incriminate herself because... erm... she wants to offer Blake a job. Not that sort, you filthy little monkeys. Servalan agrees that the Federation is on the point of collapse, and the Auronar are just waiting to take over. Yes. The Auronar, those gutless, inane, isolationists who didn't notice two massive space wars involving humanity. This is the equivalent of the "Stuck in the Middle With You" scene from Reservoir Dogs featuring Mother Teresa. Servalan explains that she will threaten the judge's grandchildren to get him convicted, so either he's deported or he works for her.

Um, Servie... WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU?!

Let's assume that she's so powerful she can turn up to the jailhouse laughing, "Hah! You are SO innocent because I, Servalan, framed you!" with no comebacks. Let's assume she is devoted to saving humanity from the Auronar. She wants to achieve this by recruiting Frying Pan Blake. Not by brainwashing him, but by blackmailing him. So her best case scenario has mad suicide bomber Blake on her staff. Of the system he idly chats about destroying in public. Why not just shoot him? Clone him if necessary?

Blake chooses deportation over working inside the system he is trying to overthrow (those exact words - what a flair for dialogue old Benny-boy has!). Annoyed, Servalan storms off, clearly forgetting Sherrif Vasey's final word about negotiation: "You don't GIVE them a choice". In order to cap this most completely-missing-the-point sequence of the story so far, Blake decides to quote The Prisoner and says, "Be Seeing You." Why? Because... er... that's what they do in Babylon 5, that's why!

Note: that answer seems to be the mission statement of these audio adventures.

So, the judge has been blackmailed off-screen and we cut to the sentence being carried out as Blake is sentenced to live on a penal planet for the rest of his life. Odd how this corrupt, decadent society doesn't have him taken out the back and shot dead? If a pedophile is sent to a prison planet - let me make this clear, they are sent to ANOTHER planet at the taxpayer's expense - well, what happens to the BIG criminals? Hmmm? Got an answer for that one, Aaronovitch?

All in all, I'm amazed at how Benji turns half an episode into a few scenes and then one scene into a whole episode. Presumably this is the freedom allowed by making all the characters morons and forgetting which century/genre/universe this story is supposed to be set within. And it's pronounced "hay nuss", for the record.


CHAPTER THREE: First Contact

"Good god..."

And so, in less than ten minutes we're now rewriting Space Fall (by the way, great title isn't it? Not planet fall, land fall, but space fall, as in 'arrival in space' of the Liberator). The Beginning managed this in about fifteen minutes cutting from Blake's arrest to sentencing to leaving Earth in a brilliant bit of editing that I never once suspected removed more than the opening titles. Nevertheless, Aaronovitch once again seems to be completely missing the whole raison d'tre of the first four episodes. The reason WHY the alien spaceship doesn't turn up until the last ten minutes allows us to introduce the cast for the episode, their reactions to each other and so on. Without it, not only do you lose the brilliant and edgy state of play (have Vila and Avon ever been as harsh and bereft of hope since?), it causes the whole plot to collapse.

Why do the prison guards send the computer expert, the pilot and the insane rebel - the three people MOST likely to nick the bloody thing - to the spaceship? Because it's killed the important ones. Because those three are the ones in charge of a failed rebellion and who can be sacrificed with less fuss than ever. Because Raiker, Blake and Jenna have a truly nasty love triangle. Take away the first half of the episode, and we have the equivalent of asking vampires to mind the blood bank and when our... main characters, for want of a better term, pinch the motor, you come to the sickening realization that humanity has evolved backwards in the 23rd century. Or maybe just Aaronovitch himself.

The worst bit is, of course, Aaronovitch mindlessly cut and pasting the more memorable dialogue with the same mindless optimism. When Kerr Avon is described as "the number two hacker" we not only have an ugly distortion of the original gag, it comes as a ridiculous joke from a prison warder. Whereas in the original, Vila was making a characteristic dig at Avon while introducing him. It was a good moment of writing. Here, it's like Aaronovitch is grabbing us by the hair and screaming "I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT I'M DOING!"

And it shows. He keeps the idea that it takes months upon months to travel from Earth to Cygnus Alpha, despite the fact that was only done to give time for the characters to interact. Without it, there's no point making the trip so lengthy, so A-Man decides that all the prisoners are placed in suspended animation for the voyage, ala Pitch Black. Actually, this isn't that bad an idea as it clearly saves the ship on food and oxygen, but again, it's an incredible amount of trouble when surely they could just be shot? And why is such steps taken when the ships here work on hyperspace jumps? In Babylon Five, crossing the civilized galaxy takes no more than a few days via hyperspace, traffic permitting...

And surely if we're using cryogenics, you could have been REALLY radical and had Blake be from another century together, a kind of Demolition Man/Adam Adamant character shocked at the downturn society has taken.

Oh, wait. That would require imagination. My mistake.

We get a new character today, or at least one that isn't a Terry Nation character written incredibly badly. It's India Fisher as Mezin. Now, as anyone who can't block out my insane jabberings knows, I got a lot of time for Indie, and she does pretty well here as the bored, depressed and cynical Federation soldier. Any flaws are, therefore, because she's got less well-thought-out motives and characterization than Dainer, that guard in Space Fall who was a good friend of Vila but still mowed down prisoners without flinching. Mezin is ugly - end of story. Check out Indie's performance as Sentris and it shows you she can do wonders with competent material. Hell, the average Charley script by Nick Briggs gives her better stuff to do than this.

It's a curse of every writer under the sun to focus on certain characters because they're more interesting than others. It's just a fact. Rob Holmes did it. Saward did it. Moffat does it too. Sometimes it's because the character is more complex and dynamic than the others, it's the one the writer knew best or because you actually created the character in question. None of this explains exactly what is up with Jenna and Avon this week. Did Aaronovitch not care enough about their characters to get them even vaguely right? Or, more terrifyingly, he gave them all the care and attention he could give?

"Strictly white collar" Avon comes across as much like the character Paul Darrow played as David Tennant does of being a Christopher Eccleston impersonator. No, that's too close a match. Salmon's Dr. Moon character is closer to Avon than this chap. Despite Salmon's vocal similarity to Darrow, his second line of dialogue in the show is be turned on at the idea of auto-erotic-asphyxiation. Not exactly the reserved, upper class aristocrat who has lived this long by being totally inscrutable. Again, Avon 2.0 is not so much a rubbish character, but that he's supposed to be a cooler version of Avon 1. He's not supposed to be auditioning for the role of Nigel Verkoff on heat.

But Avon is just the original in dark glasses compared to Jenna. I was... not REALLY impressed with Carrie Dobro as Dureena in Crusade. But that could be down to the script who makes a compulsive thief, tunnel rat and alien schizophrenic unable to say two words without bursting into Shakespearian monologues of COMPLETELY unnecessary exposition. As Cally, she might have been good. As Jenna, she's a rabid feral Leela type character who at first I assumed had gone insane from cryosleep. But no. How exactly does a nutter like this last as an infamous smuggler and pilot? Again, had it been Cally, I might have bought her desperation, but this leads to a complete change of personality. The only point of her waking up psychotic is to allow Benji to have a girl fight and put Jenna in bondage devices from The Liesure Hive but have been nicked from Babylon Five by mistake. Yay.

Some plot. Blake, Avon and Jenna are defrosted to act as Canaries (in the Red Dwarf sense of the term) to salvage a freaking huge alien derelict from plunging into a star because... well... er. The crew want to salvage it for some reason. As they don't seem to be the inquisitive type, and there's no mention of prize money for salvage, I'm at a loss, especially why they didn't just email Earth to sort it out. And is an alien craft so big a deal when the Auronar are muscling in on human territory? Come to think of it, even if the terrible trio can be trusted not to nick the space ship, it's very unlikely they'll be able to control it anyway, isn't it? Egads, it's like a season one ep of Torchwood as the plot melts like ice cream in the sun...

After some domination kinkyness from Mezin over Jenna (was the A-Man getting a tad frustrated while writing this ep?), she describes her "overwhelming superiority" in terms of space suits, guns and "control collars" until Blake points out that they're wasting the episode with this trash/that they're running out of time to salvage the derelict. With Jenna suddenly transformed into an emotionless ground controller saying things like "good to go", they enter the airlock of the alien.

It's a sad thing I end up wishing that that spooky brain thing that gives you screaming hallucinations and then kills you is waiting for them. It's not a good sign when your Raiker analogue is more interesting, consistent and sympathetic than the three main characters...


CHAPTER FOUR: The Derelict

"Whoever they were, they had an inordinate fondness for robots... there must be hundreds of them!"

While we're on the subject of rewriting... oh, weren't we?... wouldn't it have been better to start with Blake in jail, working as a canary, and then gradually reveal his true nature? Surely it's better than the ADD version we get here, who is compelled to note his innocence to people who don't know/care because, well, A-man has finally twigged that a central character uninterested in being thought of as a child molester is... BAD?!?

Rather than the spooky alien death hive of the original, this episode the A-Man turns to rip off Rendezvous with Rama. Actually, he probably doesn't, it's obviously too much for me to expect plagiarism for something vaguely decent, but it's probably Event Horizon. Our Canary Squad arrives aboard the Liberator and we discover the gobsmacked Blake was... actually talking crap. That cliffhanger has been retconned out of existence and Jenna undergoes another spurious change of personality, as she mistakes "closing an airlock" for "trapping us inside". Christ, woman, have you forgotten you want to get inside?

The interior of the Liberator is not as mindblowing as it's TV equivalent. And that wasn't mindblowing to start with, but still the Flight Deck was a darn sight more impressive than a really, really, REALLY long corridor and the presence of artificial gravity! Wow! Artificial gravity! Uh... didn't you already have that last week? Does ANYONE pay attention to more than one episode in a row? Christ in a blender, this is AWFUL! I can honestly say there are better Sparacus stories out there... perhaps even better LBC stories!

Mezin decides to split up since the flight deck will be at one end of the corridor and the engines at the other (yes, the A-Man's genius at spacecraft design shows through... not), not realizing that Avon and Blake are already conspiring to escape their collars. Unlike, say, Breakdown where they just get a talented lockpick to help them, Avon plans to defeat one of the five million safety features by... I dunno, sending out an EMP or something. It'll all be irrelevent in the next episode anyway, won't it? Meanwhile, Jenna and Mezin find the end of the endless corridor in about three seconds flat and Jenna's former personality resurges as they discover a bucket full of skutter/DRD/repair droids that scuttle around the place for that 'spring-loaded cat' horror film vibe. Exactly why a rebooted Liberator needs repair bots rather than self-regenerating circuitry as it used to(like in Bab 5... what a coincidence!) I dunno. I doubt A-Man knows either. Since this installment has absolutely no connection to the very first episode, they could have started here easily.

The story jumps seven hours into the future, giving us ample time to wonder why Menzin panicked at the sight of the robots and contacted Blake rather than her fellow Federation trooper. Despite all the presence of repair droids who are presumably repairing anything and their complete unfamiliarity with the alien technology, the Liberator is very nearly finished with ninety minutes left to change course before it crashes. Blake and Avon spring their collars and our favorite frying-pan-wielding, self-harming terrorist... decides not to slaughter their guard with hot superglue. Which was an option. Where was that moral superiority before you blew up your flat, Blake, you asshole?

When Mezin rolls her eyes and asks what the hell Blake thinks he's doing, I sigh. Not only is it utterly agonizingly obvious what he is trying to do, it also flags up the sheer ridiculous manner by which he is trying to do it. Basically, A-Man has jammed the theft of the Liberator along with the siege on the London, missing the point that while Blake has the engines, he can't actually control the ship. It's like hiding in the engine of a car and saying you can drive it from within. It don't work like that, Benji!

Mezin points out that threatening Nameless Trooper is not going to help since, duh, they're all ruthless and corrupt, and she can easily use her kinky bondage restraints to choke Jenna to death. Who? Oh right. Her. Like I care. Blake may be up and down like a manic barometer switching from Gandhi to Guerilla and back again, but apart from proving impossible to stay in character, Jenna has done sweet FA to justify her presence in the show this week. She doesn't fancy Blake, she's not got the street cred of Avon, she is superfluous. Blow her head off, Indie. Nova had a better claim to be in this show than Jenna 2.0. Even if they got Peter Davison's daughter to play her, it wouldn't help.

It'd make the kinkyness betwixt her and Indie damned interesting, but it wouldn't help.

Well, while we were all imagining THAT, the trooper has been spouting out Babylon Five episode titles ("The Corps is mother, the Corps is father! No Surrender, No Retreat! Late Delivery from Avallion! And The Rock Cried Out No Hiding Place! Z'hah'dum!"), and Avon finds this completely stupid. He becomes more like Avon.1 as Blake folds like a house of cards and surrenders.

To save the life of a woman he has known less time than it took me to download this.

Why? Because that's kinda what happened in Space Fall, that's why! Except, of course, Blake was traumatized by the deaths of all his comrades in the first episode, had lived with the crims for eight months, and all of them were being sadistically executed by Raiker even though Blake had not tried the similar trick of hostages. In Space Fall, Avon is reluctant but accepts Blake's orders to stand down (he sure as hell didn't have to do what Blake said otherwise), as the situation was impossible. Make no bones, in this situation, Captain Jack woulda told Mezin to waste the bitch...

"There is a point where unwarranted optimism becomes a pathology," Avon sighs as Blake and Jenna take turns in wise cracks and ignoring the whole 'we nearly got away' business. He could be describing the fan base in their adulation of this series. Dear GOD! How could anyone enjoy this when they'd seen the original! I dread to think what these audios might be like if they keep to this standard. No doubt the final shootout on Gauda Prime will have everyone say a self-aware catchphrase as they get shot, with Blake presumably warning Avon that if he shoots the rebel leader will not be struck down but become more powerful than ever before...

"You think we should meekly accept our fate?" Blake sneers, clearly assuming making unfunny 'oh wait, we're tied up' jokes counts as calculated psychological warfare. Again, why didn't Mezin kill them all, exactly? I mean, she ties them up, so the ship is still working. Why are these prisoners still alive? This is supposed to be a world of corruption and tyranny, remember? Aaronovitch? Huh? You WROTE the first three episodes, hello?

However, Avon actually seems to have a brain and has programmed the auto-defense system of the Liberator to kick in, causing an emergency that will force Mezin to free them. I'd be impressed, except there's no explanation how Avon managed this stunt, or why he's surprised when the skutters become psychotic. No cool telepathic electrified blob here. Amazingly enough, Blake is able to just about deduce that maybe Avon had a hand in things as they find themselves surrounded by insane robots. However, Jenna can set her glue-gun to self destruct (me: what the fuck?!) and buy them enough time for Avon to explain he hasn't quite worked out how to stop the insane army of metallic death. "We're so screwed!" wails Mezin, clearly hoping than moaning a catchphrase from Farscape can save their sorry asses...

Which it does! As Mezin finally twigs to this brilliant plan, Blake reveals that he always knew who Avon was because of some missing scene where he read up on who he was being cryogenically frozen with. As you do. Meanwhile, Mr. Raiker notes that the nine hours are up and the Liberator is going to crash, so they haul ass out of here and leave the prisoners and Mezin (I assume the other guy got eaten by the robots) to certain death.

All I can think of is... why can't you come up with proper character names, Benji? Why? What have I done to deserve this??


CHAPTER FIVE: No Surrender

"A pedophile, a thief and a smuggler! Some choice..."

I'm still trying to understand the cliffhanger to the previous installment. Yes, it's clear that our "heroes" are trapped on a doomed spaceship as their flight home (finally and casually named London) hurtles off to safety, in a neat inversion of Space Fall - there, the Liberator was the one that hurtled off leaving the evil Federation psycho to plunge to into infity. Here, the Liberator stays where it is. I might be able to appreciate this divergence better if I was actually sure what Ben Aaronovitch was attempting with this reboot.

My point is, the Liberator seemed to be in perfect working order, so why didn't they switch on the breaks instead of running for the London? Why did Mezin leave it so long to give up? Yes, I know about the robot attacks and the prisoner revolts, but if she'd knocked off early, they'd all be safe! And it's not as if everyone doesn't know how they're going to get out of this mess, is it?

What's that, skip? They'll fix the Liberator and fly away? Wow!

"Helloooo, guys, planet crash ship burn we die!" Jenna drawls after Avon, Blake and Mezin get into a tedious argument of the government lying and generally being evil and corrupt. I'm honestly not sure which is worse, but Jenna is certainly more embarrassing to listen to. Jenna.1 would have ignored them and worked out a plan, what with her being a brilliant, cutthroat pilot and experienced smuggler. And not sounding like the bastard lovechild of Sandi Griffin and Chip Jamison (yeah, I know, but seriously Chip, your talent would honestly be wasted in crap like this. Keep up the good work, fellah).

Blake's plan is "to switch on the engines and escape in the nick of time". Avon considers this distastefully simple, yet clearly hadn't thought of it. Or anything else. Come on, man, throw yourself out to airlock and try to free fall it! It's what the Real Avon tried to do in this sort of situation. Meanwhile, Mezin rings up the London to ask for some free information on trajectories. Not to bitch that her so called comrades ditched her. Just trajectory stuff. The sort of thing I thought Jenna would have a gut instinct for. Raiker is certain that the Liberator is too big to provide the huge amount of thrust required to escape... yeah, because a ship that gigantic can only provide the momentum of a flatulent flea. It'd be stupid to expect otherwise.

But, get this, it does! And Raiker tapes the whole thing so he can put it on youtube.

"I've been driving ships since I was twelve years old, Ay-varn!" Jenna shouts after the Hacker By Appointment asks her if it might be a good idea for her to use the flight computer rather than positive thinking to fly a giantic alien spacecraft out of a gravity well. "JAZZ TERN THER DAM THENGS ARN, AY-VARN!!" she adds as Avon realizes that maybe if they reactivate the self-repair systems, they might self-repair the ship, despite Blake's cunning objection it will also wake up all the robots Avon drove insane.

But it doesn't. For some reason. Presumably the same reason that both the London and the Liberator have their reactors set to 'idle' when the pilots want to park. Has the A-Man forgotten which bleeding species built this ship? AGAIN? Meanwhile, Jenna has to remind Mezin that her crew abandoned her to die and suggests that together they junior bird man their way to freedom. Avon suggests they blow her head off if she doesn't and Mezin sighs, "You guys... I know I'm going to regret this!" like she's some frat girl making mischief. And not a career soldier throwing her life away with a bunch of idiots with wandering personalities.

You're gonna regret this, Indie? I already am!

Back on Earth, Servalan has been promoted to the "grandiose title" of Supreme Commander. Except, I SWEAR she was already that in episode one. Maybe those with ADHD aren't meant to be the audience, but the author? Why has she been promoted? For letting a terrorist blow up half of London, call the Federation into question and then nobble the judge? If so, how did she get promoted - no one's supposed to know! She then goes to flirt with Guisborne, sorry, Travis, who sulking and broody and his fiance is giving him the hard shoulder. Hang on, this IS Gizzy! With a truly palpable sense of depression, Gizzy explains to Servalan that he's seen a youtube video that Blake's escaped in a huge alien warship. Servalan insists that everything will be fine and they should get into the caviar niblets and the champagne as the most charismatic and insane opposition leader with an alien death machine of unknown origins isn't their problem.

*the reviewer bursts into tears and falls over the keyboard, sobbing uncontrollably*


To Be Continued!

16 comments:

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Oh, man - it gets even WORSE after the four minutes that made me give up entirely? Just reading these synopses is heartbreaking. Makes you realise just how artfully written the original was when all's said and done...

Youth of Australia said...

I know. I think that's why I've been doing this, to reaffirm my love for the genuine article.

Hopefully, Bok of the World will balance it out.

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Lol. Good to see your site's back, btw.

And speaking of Book, amazed and delighted to see a reference to that insane prequel story I wrote in your script...

I have no idea why I wrote that. I really don't.

Youth of Australia said...

Well, you think I WASN'T going to use something that justified the story to such a degree?

I admit, I really lost my temper about Mad Larry at a couple of points. You might be able to spot them.

Miles Reid said...

Brilliant reviews and really showing up how lacking in anything the B7 audio is.

But the thing is, who's it for? Due to the three minute length of the episodes, any real character building and development is seemingly crushed and it just feels like something we've all heard before. As an attempt to give Blake's 7 a new audience, it feels lacking.

Of course, my real comment about the show is when they rob the series of any kind of ambiguity in the first 30 seconds. It doesn't give us any oppotunity to paint the Federation as a government having to do bad things for the greater good or essentially a good idea only controlled by bastards or Blake as a dangerous terrorist or anything. In the first 30 seconds, we know that the Federation are Evil and Blake is Good. There, done, lovely, I'm going to watch the original series now, where Blake is openly a bastard.

And also, is it me, or is Aarronovitch seeming to be one of those authors who produced one script that everybody really liked and then everything else felt really lackluster? I admit I may not have read his New Adventures, but considering his script track record of 'Remembrance' 'Battlefield' and 'Rebel: A Blake's 7 adventure' he seems to miss more than hit.

Youth of Australia said...

I agree. I've read his NAs, and while The Also People was... OK, Transit was total crap. And not because it "broke the boundaries" or whatever Mad Larry says. It was crap. It was just being crap at something no one else was trying.

Since Marc Platt's superlative novelization of Battlefield, it has become apparent that the main thing wrong with Aaronovitch's work is that Aaronovitch himself is part of it. And it's such a pity - he seems nice a nice, cheerful bloke, and clearly not lacking imagination or brain cells.

Jared and I once wondered if this was a deliberate attempt by the A-Man to ruin the audio range. I have yet to see any evidence of the contrary...

Miles Reid said...

I seem to remember BA not being pleased with my comments on OG re: the B7 audios.

Youth of Australia said...

Oh, well, my heart BLEEDS. Well, as my critique proves, he's got reason to be slagged off, and if he doesn't like it, it's easily fixed:



Next time, write something that ISN'T crap, Benji!

Miles Reid said...

On a side note, completely unrelated. The first story of 'The Sarah Jane Adventures' second season was great. It almost makes 'Sontar-Ha!' not sound dumb.

Youth of Australia said...

Yes, I just watched it today. I thought about reviewing it, but my regular reader has a pathological hatred of SJAs which I doubt a Sontaran version of "Predator" will appeal.

Seriously, how can the writer of TLS be the same being who committed Something Borrowed? Was it a typo?

Miles said...

It's the Chibnall factor...

Youth of Australia said...

Yet Chibnall was downright brilliant in the second season. Certainly in comparison between "End of Days" and "Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang", the difference is enough to give you whiplash.

But no, quite a few of the writers in second season seemed to hate the show. See how Martha Jones is given every possible chance to show the Hub for the shamshackle hellhole of oversexed losers she can. And running off, first chance she gets.

Not to mention all the slagging off TW gets in RTD scripts.

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

In my defense I wouldn't say that I have a pathological hatred of the SJAs. I do have a pathological hatred of Sarah Jane herself and her grossly inflated standing, so any show in which she is presented as the saviour of the human race isn't going to rate well with me. If the show was simply about kids fighting aliens without the bewildering influence of an average woman who manages to trip over technology greater than any of Torchwood's arsenal every time she goes to the fucking park and know just about as much as the Doctor through arbitrary and unclear methods I could actually like it. But then I don't really know because I only saw the first episode, which probably wasn't THAT bad but pissed me off regardless by being another uninspired re-write of Rose that I'd seen.


I can also go one better than Miles for once because I was on the B7 audios thread and innocently asked if there were any episodes not written by Aaronovitch considering how bad the first one was. Without actually looking at the thread and therefore seeing that it was being run by Aaronovitch himself and his most servile of fans. That thread.. kinda died.

On the bright side, that upcoming Sky thing will have to be IMPOSSIBLY shite to top these ones.

Youth of Australia said...

Well, you still might want to check out The Last Sontaran. SJ shares the limelight with the three kids, so the plot is split up between them (mind you, SJ does get most of the hype since she is a companion of the Doctor and has faced the Sontarans before... twice). And the Sontaran is pretty good per se. Phil Ford did his homework, even down to stuff like Sontarans hypnotizing people. Plus, it's the last episode with Maria as she's gone up too many bra sizes to fit the demographic and has to leave the show.

Plus, Torchwood is full of retards.

Anyway, the next two "stories" are not by Ben Aaronovitch. So they might improve. Or not. I have to say this story is getting increasingly difficult to review. I snapped through the first three eps, but only managed one today.

Only another twenty minutes.

I can take that. I can take anything for twenty minutes...

Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

SJ shares the limelight with the three kids, so the plot is split up between them

Three...? Oh, the black kid. Right.

Plus, it's the last episode with Maria as she's gone up too many bra sizes to fit the demographic and has to leave the show.

I take it back, now I do hate the show.

Does Sarah-Jane bring in Aslan to tell her that she's now too old for saving the world?

Plus, Torchwood is full of retards.

No argument there.

Anyway, the next two "stories" are not by Ben Aaronovitch.

Oh, right. Would that have been THAT hard for those fuckers to tell me?

I can take that. I can take anything for twenty minutes...

What about erectile dysfunction adds?

Youth of Australia said...

I take it back, now I do hate the show.
I suppose saying I'm joking and the actress left to focus on her exams, and in storytelling terms went to live in America... so she's probably dead after the Daleks nuked it... won't help?

Does Sarah-Jane bring in Aslan to tell her that she's now too old for saving the world?
To be brutally honest, Aslan would chuck SJ. She looks a lot older in this than TSE or anything like that.

Oh, right. Would that have been THAT hard for those fuckers to tell me?
One's by Marc Platt and the other I think is by James Swallow, whose Singularity RTD plagiarized almost word for word in 2007.

What about erectile dysfunction adds?
....I'm never going to cope with it...