Sunday, January 12, 2014

B7: 2B or not 2B?

And back to B7. Gosh it's been, what, almost a year exactly since I last reviewed. So, what have we missed?

Well, that anthology of stories that somehow failed to include either Jared Hansen, Miles Ried-Lobatto or myself and thus is obviously not even worth cutting into squares for your toilet paper.

The Armageddon Storm - Del Grant, still known as the only human being in the entire universe that scares Avon, is back. He's found out that the Federation have built a WMD that can destroy whole worlds and is cunningly named in the title. With the surprisingly-mute assistance of Tarrant and Dayna, Cally and Vila rush to the planet about to be nuked while Grant and Avon smash up the lab. Avon gets wounded and, thinking he's going to die, blabs out the plot of Rumors of Death. Like those two priests who came out on the plane in Father Ted, it's supremely awkward when both survive. Grant, it transpires, isn't that fussed. Avon is unable to stop the innocent planet being nuked but does a V-style broadcast where he says he ALSO has the WMD and if the Federation ever, ever, under any circumstances, use it again, he will destroy Earth in instant reprisals. While this means the Feds will not use the Armageddon Storm, it doesn't exactly improve Avon's reputation with the rest of the universe. And Grant is still hanging around at the end of the episode, so maybe they want to make him a regular or something?

Promises - turns out Cally didn't survive Saurian Major by virtue of being an alien. She found the traitor to the rebels putting on a gasmask, killed her and stole said gasmask. But it turns out the traitor was actually long-time girlfriend to Travis, and Cally goes all fangirl and assumes Travis is some generic Richard Armitage troubled soul who can be redeemed by the love of a good woman. Travis laughs in her face before trying to put a cap in it, and even though Stephen Grief has been ODing on Keith Allan tablets, the message is clear. Like Davros, Travis was always a fuckwit no matter how normal he looked or how much sex he was getting.

Epitaph - um, this totally faded from my memory. Vila and Jenna meet Jenna's brother, who is a corrupt asshole. Who then dies for some reason. Um... nope. Got nothing.

Kerr - Servalan clones Avon to use the clone as her evil badass dragon enforcer. Unfortunately, Avon the clone really has issues with the whole business and hilarity - and widespread slaughter - ensue. She shouldn't have decided to call him Kerr, since it sounds like "cur" and really pisses Avon off.

Logic - Avon and Jenna track down an average dome dweller played by Louise Jameson who works in the computer business and unwittingly is aiding the Federation make life shit for rebels. Or is she unwitting? Is she a traitor? A sleeper agent? Stark staring mad? After a while you just stop caring and when Servalan has her killed, I'm just glad this episode is over.

Risk Management - Jenna and Blake go on a honeymoon or something. Never bothered to listen.

Three - a journo gets an exclusive interview with Servalan. No jokes, this scared the shit out of me as we wait for Servalan to go "Ah, but now you know too much, you must die!" but she comes up with even worse stuff than that. The way it dwells on how little we know about Servalan, and her being pure evil, I got the distinct impression the twist was Servalan was some eternal manifestation of supernatural nastiness like that random old grannie in Whitechapel. But that would probably make the final twist less horrifying.

Incentive - what seems to be a "routine" undercover spy mission to collect Blake and Jenna leaves Avon and Tarrant captured, strapped to lie detectors and mocked by a psychostrategist. The realization that trying to rescue the others means obvious traps is an excuse for our heroes to avoid reclaiming B and J, but the story bluntly states there are other, less wholesome reasons for leaving them to rot. Possibly my favorite bit is Avon getting zapped every time he insists he doesn't give a flying fuck about anyone - except Tarrant, because, seriously. Pacey really portrays the curly-haired twat bully as he should.

Jenna's Story - Jenna tries to enlist the help of a warlord landowner on Gauda Prime, explaining all the whacky adventures she'd had on the way. Unfortunately, the warlord is a complete tool and they end up trapped in a flyer about to be nuked in a blockade. Does Jenna have one last trick up her sleeve? No idea, but I double-took something chronic when Jenna outlined the GP plan exactly as I came up with...

Blake's Story - around a camp fire, Blake passes the time by talking to an imaginary Avon, which explains why he dealt so badly with the real thing. Anyway, Blake tried to get back to the Liberator but seemed cursed - everywhere he went, his allies were slaughtered until everyone thought he was a traitor. Turned out, he WAS! Just after the War, they implanted a spycam in his eye that they've been spying on ever since. Although Blake hacks out his own eye and fakes his death, the rebellion don't want a liability - but Jenna's got a scam going on Gauda Prime that should turn things round... once the REAL Avon shows up...


"I had a lot of time to think while I was trapped behind that bulkhead - and I realized that nothing's changed since we first met, since we first came on board Liberator..."

And lo, Big Finish have started doing regular B7 stories. I refrain from saying "about bloody time" because it's quite clearly very difficult to get an ensemble cast together on this regular basis - and the availability has clearly shaped what stories to do. With David Jackson dead, all pre-Pressure Point stories are out and with Josette Simon and Glynis Barber distinctive by their refusal to appear in BF under any circumstances, it seems all post-Warship stories are out as well. Me? I say get Angela Bruce and Paula Wilcox back from the BBC audios, as their acting was never the issue (Barry Letts writing for Leela and Jo Grant instead of Dayna and Soolin was the problem, I think we all agree).

BF have delighted in telescoping out Doctor Who seasons - we have Seasons 14B and 14C with more Leela, or a farewell tour for the First Romana in Season 16B, while Nyssa has surely dominated the alphabet twice over. And I'm not even mentioning the Companion Chronicles, which have given more stories to Hartnell's third year that some televised Doctors ever got. Quite simply, the Moat Studios gang (are they even at Moat Studios? Did I just make that up for parody guides?) like gaps, and they love widening them which gives a slight subtext to this episode where the villain does that as well.

I get ahead of myself, but not quite as bad as Steven Moffat does.

So... Season 2B of Blake's 7 kicks off after Voices from the Past (if episodes were people, VFTP is the one you'd awkwardly pat on the shoulder and say "Good on you for trying" before seeing what crazy stuff Gambit was up to before going into a back alley and beating up Animals and Hostage for what they did to your sister.) Like many an episode, it ended on a witty liner from Avon rather than a dramatic resolution.

This seems to be why the story opens with Liberator en route to asteroid PK118 (my dad insists this asteroid is named after a former Prime Minister and lists his blood alcohol level, but I digress) presumably to check on those other rebels living there, who must have been genuine exiles to help with the crazy mummy-from-the-tomb plan. But, alas, a flock of pursuit ships is waiting, lead by none other than Travis. Brian Croucher makes only a cameo this week, and to be honest seems to be high on horse tranquilizers. He can't even finish his death threats and you can imagine him just blowing Blake a raspberry and giggling as his mutoids look on in total embarrassment.

As is traditional in this era, Blake spends precious moments trying to work out if Travis is still a Federation officer or a wanted fugitive (coz fuck knows the writers were confused) before Jenna announces she is completely bloody sick of this and does an epic chicken run that leaves lots of exploded pursuit ships. So awesome is Jenna that Travis' GPS shits itself and flies the pursuit ship out of danger. Travis is annoyed by this, then he starts blowing saliva bubbles and giggling. Well. That's very much the vibe I get, anyway.

Down to the plot. The Liberator has been struck by a plasma bolt and, brakes failing, must drift through... THE DERELICT ZONE! It's like the Bermuda Triangle, only less interesting; a patch of space full of derelict spaceships that have broken down for no apparent reason. The Federation, practical as ever, simply tell people not to go in there and the problem is solved. As the Liberator drifts through the ships, Blake gets an attack of chronic hero syndrome and sends out a message asking if there are any survivors. Eventually, even he accepts that there aren't any - which is a big mistake.

Suddenly, the lights on the Liberator start to go out. The doors start to jam, isolating the crew. And then the creepy shit starts to happen. Vila gets a call from Blake, telling him of a secret passage into the engine room but when Vila uses it he nearly falls to his death until Cally saves him. Was Blake trying to kill him? Or has Vila finally gone mad? Vila then gets a call from Avon saying that the passage wasn't a death trap and Cally was setting him up to get his trust. He also says that there isn't a power failure - Zen has been clearly ordered to shut down the power by Blake. Orac, meanwhile, is wishing for hands so he could facepalm that his users need to have the word "deliberate" defined as "on purpose".

But is it really Blake doing this, no doubt as a result from his brainwashing in the previous episode? Blake gets a call from Avon telling him that he's being framed by Jenna. Then Vila gets a call from Jenna saying she's being hunted by a spanner-wielding psycho Blake (this is actually quite a distressing scene, no joke). When Cally calls Jenna, she says she never called Vila, who must clearly be insane. Avon then calls Vila and Cally and tells them someone has turned off the life support. Is it crazy Vila? Or has Cally joined crazy Blake? Vila then calls Blake and Jenna separately, telling each other the other has gone mad and turned off the life support and they must kill them to stop it...

So, these Farscape style shinnanigans have probably clued you in to what's going on and when Avon finally reveals he's been locked in a cupboard all episode, the truth is obvious. Quite clearly the shape-changing emotion-vampire polymorph from the Derelict Zone (and also obviously responsible for self-same) has boarded the Liberator and is impersonating the crew to turn them against each other, generating the negative emotions it can feed off.

The real crew gather to face the polymorph, who is not fussed at being discovered as it dubs our heroes the most dysfunctional paranoid loonbags it has ever met and they'll start blaming each other for getting into this mess any minute and it will drain them dry. Blake retorts that they are not the one-note obsessives that Alan Stevens loves to write essays about, they are actually surprisingly-well-adjusted best friends who care about each other and god dammit they are true, Joss Whedonesque nakamic true companions!

Except Avon, of course, who shoots the polymorph in its face and kills it instantly.

Well, with this week's well-executed-if-generic sci-fi concept resolved, Avon announced there is a new story arc. Apparently, the Federation have built their own version of Orac that can track down the real Orac and thus lead the Federation right to the Liberator (me: okaaaaaaaaay....). As such, the whole Star One plot must be abandoned until such time as this new plotbunny is resolved! BOOYAH!

Seriously, it is as random as it sounds. Just as everyone is going "Phew, that was close!" Avon suddenly reads a prepared press statement from the script editor. Not even a "see, that was how Travis was able to ambush us" or any kind of retcon for WTF happened with Shivan from the the Mummy's tomb. Apparently he asked Orac about it earlier - as Vila says, "That'll be a festival of wit and repartee..." - and is relaying the answer. OK...

Oh, and how the hell did the polymorph get aboard? It apparently used the teleport... but how? It didn't have a bracelet and even though it could (and apparently did) use Blake's voice to ask for teleport, no one was on duty. So who teleported this thing across? And how? And that bit where it appears to be impersonating Avon, Blake and Jenna at the same time and laughing evilly to itself... um...

I have to admit I was a tad disappointed with this episode, which performed the cardinal B7 sin of being unable to make its mind up if it was a Federation episode, an Outer Space episode, or both as well as having some very awkward story-arc bolting. I dunno if there's a specific Star Trek episode with this plot, but there's definitely a Red Dwarf one and Farscape at least had the guts to do more than have its characters yelp "you're all against me!" and have some gratuitous violence and shootings.

Oh, and clearly Vila has caught the mental clap he also has in Ultraworld - in this he spends half the story unable to count his own fingers BECAUSE HE'S A COMPLETE MORON WHO NEEDS A CRASHHELMET TO GO TO THE TOILET AND EVERYONE MAKES FUN OF HIM! Literally, Avon and Cally take precious time to mock him for considering his "thumb" counts as a "finger" and in the middle of a pursuit ship battle, Vila runs up to Blake squeeing that he can count up to five.


On the other hand, he does save the day by reversing the polarity of the neutron flow.

So, yeah. While this is no Warship, Fractures definitely brings more to the table, and has more hard work from a writing point of view, than Hostage - mind you, that's not difficult to do, is it?


BLAKE: Can't it wait?
ZEN: Danger of propulsion overload if repairs are deferred.
CALLY: What does that mean?
AVON: You want the long answer or the short one?
VILA: The short one.
AVON: Bang.
VILA: Great. And the long one?
AVON: Bang. We're dead.
VILA: [sighs] I'm glad I asked...


Miles Reid-Lobatto said...

I listened today, it wasn't bad. I wish it had been more like Farscape though, if only so we could have Vila running through Liberator covered in Cally's puke crying-



Youth of Australia said...

Or Blake and Travis in Hawaiian shirts singing Ten Green Bottles as they wander through the Liberator corridors...

Miles Reid-Lobatto said...

Actually, the one thing that seemed really out of place was the whole Blake/Jenna thing. I don't think that was ever even mentioned on the show proper. Here, they just seem to be two steps away from being a couple.

Youth of Australia said...

Well, remember this IS after Voices from the Past where Jenna was the only one who stayed behind facing certain to help Blake who, even when completely brainwashed and psycho, still trusted her more than the others.

Compared to Zen suddenly being able to teleport people without them even having a bracelet, it's eary to swallow.

Miles Reid-Lobatto said...

Yeah, that was a bit of an obvious gaff.

The Blake/Travis/Harvey thing would liven up any post S2 Blake stories if there was a mental image of Travis in Blake's head. Only for Blake to keep reminding him that it was Avon that killed him.

Miles Reid-Lobatto said...

Vila and Gan playing Rock, Scissors, Paper.

Youth of Australia said...