Saturday, April 24, 2010

When Zen... De-Fragged!

Escape Velocity

"You cannot hide from us. You are glass. We see all that you are."

Yes, Blake's 7: The Early (And Far Superior To The Usual Stuff) Years continues apace, and it seems that the wonderful reviews on this blog - dude, I don't see anyone ELSE reviewing them, do you? - have apparently inspired B7P to abandon their now long-long-long-long-long-awaited Season 2 and decide to focus on these prequels. Check out the new-branded design above and see origin stories are on the cards for Tarrant and Soolin, yet more characters who have yet to appear in the main series. In fact, the only real downer about this development is it's clear the VERY LONG TIME in between stories suggests that the audio adventures is on its last legs. Which would be good if there was someone to fill the gap with, I dunno, a TV series starring David Harewood, Bernard Cribbens and Billie Piper...

OK. Onto Zen. Never the most interesting of the Seven, it must be said, and his best moments usually relied on his relationships with other characters. The glimpse we see of "normal" Zen in Redemption doesn't make him seem particularly memorable, let alone interesting. The question is: would we rather have the deadpan computer of the TV series or the feral psychotic god-deluded murderer of the audios? And given The Early Years' blatant disregard for its own continuity, let alone anyone else's, why should we care? I mean, are they really expecting us to want to know what Zen was doing the night Blake won the election?

On with, ow you zay, ze motley.

The story starts with an Alta (played by Yvonne arguing with Zen, pretty pissed off that the flight computer of DSV2 is claiming to be a Bhuddist concept controlling a rebel spaceship. Zen is really rather happy to be fighting the System (so to speak), and the deeply annoyed cyborgs decide to reboot the muthaboarder to find out what the hell went wrong. Following that theme tune (ahhh, there's nothing like a reliable disappointment, is there?), we hear Zen's damage report after some attack or other. The ship's completely knackered and the computer starts to lose his cool, convinced that the crew have betrayed him - THE UNGRATEFUL BASTARDS! One such ungrateful bastard, the Pilot (played by Steven Fry's girlfriend in Death Comes to Time), is running through the corridors, mocking Zen for destroying her life. "Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?!" Zen screams...

...give me strength... the Pilot bitches how horrible life was being an organic component. The Pilot twigs that Zen (or "the Ship-Mind 5393" as everyone calls him) is being rather more emotional and illogical than he should be - the Pilot's a rogue element that lead to the break out in the first place, and she's left the whole shebang out of its freaking mind! Fancy that! Well, in what could be a further flashback... inside the first flashback... the Pilot wakes up in a cryo-pod thing being tended by a mellow guy calling himself a Healer. Oh-kaaaaaay.

Both the Pilot and the Healer have been mind-wiped and cyborg-nized by the System, leaving them nothing of their past but the knowledge to work as part of the ships. Then an avatar (what the Altas are called in this continuity) arrives and inducts the pair of them, despite the fact that the Pilot's mind-wipe clearly isn't working quite so well, given she's so uncomfortable with the job situation. The avatar leads them aboard the Liberator (or DSV2 as it was back then), joining the crew of Seeker, Tech, Gunner, Drone, Supreme, Strategist, Eternal... hang on...

Cut to a different flashback when the Liberator is in dire straights and Pilot and Healer have mutinied when the ship was damaged in a space battle and Zen's gone homicidal, killing the other crewmembers with its lethal skutters. Pilot suggests teleporting to the planet they happen to be passing.

A different flashback when the crew was in its earlier, funnier days when everyone was a happy zombie tinkering with the space cruiser and getting pissed on adrenaline and soma. Unfortunately, the tipsy crew pilot the Liberator straight into the solar flares of a red giant. After Pilot steers them to safety, Zen begins to flirt outrageously with her, intrigued by her rogue emotions and a bit jealous of the URST between her and Healer. Zen notes that the System is currently waging a war against a "nameless, powerful and predatory threat" from another quantum reality, and they really can't let domestics get in the way of fighting the Dale... er, the enemy. Pilot's a bit annoyed at the lack of info on their foes, since this IS a Terry Nation series. Zen fobs her off with some philosophical bollocks about mind-wipes not being important and stuff: it don't matter who you were, but what you are. Stuff like that.

Post-mutiny, where Healer's freaking out as his own mind-wipe starts to break down and Pilot reminds him that the skutters are going to kill them. The other surviving crew want to sabotage Zen and shut down said skutters rather than keeping Pilot's "leg it" plan. You can tell she's become cynical, because she's suddenly espousing survival above all else in the exact way she wasn't before. Anyway, Zen uses the architectural configuration to seal off some of the crew in a room and then zapping them to ash (presumably the scorch marks that Vila and Gan find in the second episode... wow, continuity!). Only Pilot and Healer are left alive, and not in a good mood as the skutters close in...

Back to a flashback where Pilot and Healer meet Gunner and Tech for the first time and idly chat about the fact that the last Pilot went batshit crazy and tried to kill them all when his mind-wiped failed. Pilot insists she's stable and tech notes, "that's what he said."

Forward as Pilot and Healer reach the teleport but - alas the matter coils are broken: only one person can teleport at a time. Zen finally twigs that he hasn't microwaved the entire crew and starts shouting across the ship, screaming "COME OUT, COME OUT LITTLE PIGGIES! ZEN WANTS TO FINGER YOUR ENTRAILS!! YOU MUST SEE THE LOGIC IN THAT..." (well... more or less...). Zen changes tact and suggests they sit down, have a cup of tea and hardwire the crew back into the CPU. Healer freaks out, determined to keep his memories of a summer holiday at Bognor Regis and dives into the teleport.

"Will this hurt?" he asks.

"I don't know," Pilot admits. "I've never done it before!"

...stop sniggering, Verkoff.

With a funky variation of the usual noise, Pilot switches on the teleport... but Zen, sucking his trousers and laughing like a madman, reverses the polarity and Healer is (to coin the very technical phrase) "telefragged". Pilot is left alone as the skutters attack, as Zen demands to know why the bitch is making him do this?! This is all her fault, damnit! Oh, it's like Streetcar Named Desire only with more solid-state circuitry!

Flashback to Pilot and Healer having an after-hours bonk, but Zen keeps prank-calling them before they can get to the good stuff, claiming the Dal... the enemy are here. Healer's a bit taken aback that Zen's stalking them and deeply annoyed that Pilot's getting her sugar from some stupid anthropoid instead of his funky frame. But he doesn't tell the System that the crewmembers are getting frisky and rebellious cause, well, he's a disturbed nutter with abandonment issues. Obviously. In return for a cuddle, Zen is willing to tell Pilot who she was before she was mind-wiped, though as Healer points out, getting this cathartic experience in the middle of the war zone is probably not the best time. Zen explains that the people of the System are clones grown and personalities downloaded into them - they weren't mind-wiped, they simply had no past in the first place. So. Yeah.

Flashforward as Pilot is quietly going crazy, being the only survivor and being hunted down by Zen - even though she took off her all-purpose teleport bracelet so he couldn't find her. "You sicken me," she shouts in a funky Steve Foxx impression, reminding Zen he's as demented as she as, he just is an emotionless psycho. Zen retorts that he DOES feel emotions, actually, and the conversation predictably deteriorates from thereon in. Zen thinks the malfunction that allowed the crew to mutiny simply drove them insane instead of allowed them feeling. Basically, he says she's nuts and he's sane, so up hers! But Pilot points out a flaw in his argument: if she has no past, how come she and the Healer can remember things they never saw?

Zen doesn't have an answer for that and so Pilot dives into the nearest airlock and space herself into oblivion, knowing her sacrifice will break Zen's heart - so the metal bastard can feel as bad as she does when he telefragged her boyfriend. "Please!" Zen begs her to stop, but that's a bluff to get a skutter outside the airlock to fuse the hatch. She can't commit suicide, and she either stays in the airlock and dies when the ship either crashes from lack of crew or gets blown up by the... Trods... but Zen promises to tell her THE REAL AWFUL TRUTH in return for her piloting the Liberator to safety.

Earlier, the Liberator are fighting the, er, Trods with their mighty golden saucers and singularity bombs and, basically, getting their arses kicked by a race of evil monsters who don't have legs. Avatar, Pilot, Gunner, Healer and Tech watch as the other DSVs are blown to smithereens. In order to save the suspiciously-named DSV7, Pilot mutinies against Avatar and pilots the Liberator into the battle against orders. DSV7 dematerializes to safety, leaving the Liberator to be used as target practice by the Trods. The damage gives the entire crew an ice cream headache and restores their free will. "I have been disconnected," boggles Zen, to rhyme with "ooh, fuck!" Pilot cunningly suggests they also dematerialize to escape destruction and, amazingly enough, this works...

Flashforward as Pilot agrees to pilot the damaged Liberator to safety while the Skutters loiter around her like Hitchcock nightmares. Telling Zen off for his Exposition Overloads and assumption they'd be best friends after he splatterated her lover, Pilot finds the Liberator is tumbling out of control to that planet it was going to crash into when Blake and his wacky sidekicks. Pilot refuses to help until she finds out the truth. "I thought machines couldn't lie but you lied to us all!"

"It is more accurate to say, I omitted certain truths," Zen retorts.

Zen admits that Pilot isn't a clone. The System uses clones, but the war effort meant they needed recruits, so they've been abducting humans from colony worlds, mind-wiping them and using them as emergency replacements. Pilot freaks out massively as she remembers they kidnapped her in front of her own daughter, especially when Zen refuses to even try to restore her memories. The flight computer is IMMENSELY pissed off when she gets all teary instead of keeping to their bargain, waffling on about her mind-rape and murdering all her friends and family. "I told you the truth!" he shouts at her. "We had a bargain!!!"

Despite Zen's insistance that they can all be happy and labotomized people if Pilot just freaking bothers to pilot them out of harm's way, Pilot snatches up a Liberator gun and prepares to blow her own brain out. Zen is convinced she's bluffing, as no one would value "freedom" over survival. But he's forced to review that opinion when Pilot's headless corpse hits the deck.

Back to the present as Zen announces that he's decided the Pilot was right about being free and he's going to stay that way, no matter how many cold boots these Cyberman-wannabe bastards give him. The System, unimpressed, determine to crack Avon's firewalls and... well, I guess the rest will be in the next season.

Should there be one.

Well, that wasn't a bad story, but would it really have hurt them to simply do a linear narrative for once? JUST FOR ONCE? And Zen was an obsessive Hal 5000 computer than fell in lust with a girl that broke his heart. Um, OK, I didn't see that coming... mainly because we've alreayd used this plot twist with Avon, Gan and Jenna! Seriously, I never gave much thought to what happened to Zen pre-Space Fall, but this has to be the least imaginative version I'd read. I mean... This just didn't impress me as a solution for a mystery thirty years old. Maybe because no one was really interested to start with. I mean, a bunch of characters we know are going to die... die. And are conveniently mind-zapped zombies. Oh, what fascinating characterization.

Escape Velocity's a decent story, the trouble is it's based on a crap premise.

And is ANYONE falling for the "nameless" extra-dimensional invaders who exterminate all life they come across? Seriously?!


Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

Hmmm.... yeah...

...sorry, it really doesn't motivate me for much of a response. Sounds like it could make an okay TV story... but, really, if Zen wasn't involved in killing them all it would probably be more interesting...

Youth of Australia said...

Well said. The whole thing screams of Alistair Lock demanding his own story...