Sunday, March 23, 2014

Blake's 7: That Sinking Feeling


"Intriguing. At this moment we are hardly significant. When it's in crisis, Liberator's own survival is its sole concern."

At the end of the previous installment, we had our fractious family of freedom fighters trapped on a crippled Liberator falling towards the prison planet Battleground IX with a swarm of pursuit ships swooping in for the kill. This week, the Liberator falls into an ocean and sinks to the bottom like the Titanic II, leaving our heroes wondering what in the name of Patricia J Nobgobbler they'll do next.

And that's pretty much the first half of the episode.

It's not bad, per se, but when the cover makes it clear how Blake and his pals will get out of the sticky situation one gets a bit impatient for the fictional characters to get their act together. No, Blake, don't try and land on the moon, go for the ocean. No, that ocean. The big wet thing. Go there. And open the hatches to flood the ship. Yes, so you can sink. That's the idea. Under the sea. Simple as that.

Providing some kind of distraction from what on TV would be an unimpressive model sequence is Orac. See, the Liberator is so badly damaged Zen is offline so Orac happily takes over the ship and takes sarcastic delight in saying "Confirmed" whenever he's asked a stupid question. However, it's clear this takeover is not entirely altruistic, but actually Orac being absolutely bloody terrified. See, the new Federation Orac (Fedorac - which I'm sure is the name of the evil computer from the B7 comics that cause Scorpio crew such a problem by brainwashing Avon and Vila) is so damn powerful the genuine Orac is panicking. He takes over the Liberator to make himself more secure. And he wants legs. And a gun. A gun that fires chainsaws. Because Orac is now not much better than puny humans, and finds himself pouring out his troubles to Avon - giving the little plastic bastard a reason to bond with Avon we never saw on TV.

Meanwhile, Blake and the others get bored shitless waiting for the repairs to be finished and teleport up to the surface where they meet some other prisoners on the planet. These prisoners are not particularly pleasant or interesting people, and even that nice bloke Blake met last week is apparently dead. He also gets a lot of shit for not living up to his legend from Centero and Horizon (wow, Ro obviously went to town on youtube for anyone else in the galaxy to even know his planet existed...) and generally gets the vibe these ungrateful bastards aren't worth the trouble.

The trouble also takes the form of mechanical mosquitos that bite people and give them a fever that triggers spontaneous combustion. Because the Federation are assholes and using all their prisoners in war games simply did not cover the "insane robot insect firebombing" demographic they hold very dear. Vila gets bitten to provide some kind of drama, while one of those ungrateful rebel bastards lets himself get bitten hundreds of times to act as a suicide bomber. Charming.

Anyway, Orac sorts it out or something, Vila is cured and our heroes describe the breathtaking sight of the Liberator rising from the depths of the ocean. Avon takes a moment to remind everyone this entire episode has been filler and not really contributed anything to the story arc whatsoever. We didn't get any Servalan, Travis, hardly any Zen... just everyone standing around gloomily noting how screwed they are.

It's not a bad episode, but it's too much like Breakdown in clearly having two separate stories hastily bolted together. The submersible Liberator isn't actually much of an idea (actually, didn't B7 comics do that with Scorpio too?) and I think they should have, as discussed, abandoned the idea after Star Trek: Into Darkness came out. I don't think it's too similar, but something more interesting than audio model shots are required. Seriously, Marc, this series is not best known for "Starbard thrust Jenna on vector 322!". It means nothing without pictures. The episode could have started with the Liberator already underwater and focused on the mechani-plague stuff instead of this stupid half-half.

Yet, there are plenty of TV eps that commit similar crimes (Time Squad, Breakdown, Bounty, Dawn of the Gods, Stardrive, et all) so maybe this is more authentic than creative.


BLAKE: I am not leaving Liberator!
AVON: Loyal as ever to your sinking ship.
BLAKE: I don't intend to lose it.
AVON: How very inclusive of you. What about the rest of us?
ORAC: Liberator replies that its own survival must take priority.
BLAKE: Orac, this ship needs a full quota of crew - it can't go anywhere without us!
AVON: And without us neither can you, Orac!
ORAC: ...that is debatable.
BLAKE: Sometimes I worry what we're living with.
AVON: I'm sure the feeling is mutual.


Jared "No Nickname" Hansen said...

I only got around to watching The Peacekeeper Wars the other week, and what probably impressed me most was the amount of trouble they were in when Moya crashed into the ocean. Since, you know, spaceships are designed to deal with de-pressurised environments rather than the really, really high pressures found in the ocean. It was interesting because most sci-fi seems to treat it as a given that any spaceship can just go underwater when it wants to.

For The Liberator, though, the idea doesn't hold much interest. It's of such advanced, alien design I would assume it would be fine underwater anyway. And if it wasn't... well, it would stretch credibility that the crew would be able to do much about it even IF Blake is an engineer by trade (which I don't think comes up past the first episode)

Maybe if they had to go underwater due to one of those freak power-outages or something (from some crazy plan of fleeing an ambush through a solar storm - I don't know) and had to recharge then there's a big kraken-type monster in the water with them? Big stakes like that you'd need to make it interesting.

Youth of Australia said...

Interesting point. I might not have conveyed that the Liberator was stuffed and needed to actually flood itself in order to sink, and that while underwater it's very vulnerable. But Drones can't quite balance Liberator-underwater and the bioplague plot.

(Also, normal spaceships seem capable of going underwater - remember Dayna's house which was a grounded ship on the sea bed?)

As for Blake's engineering skills, well I'm sure he used them at various times - its just they weren't as useful as Avon or Vila's skills in the same area.

Also, given he was mind-wiped at the time, his "engineer" status could have been the Federation work-for-the-dole scheme. Like Rimmer being a "spaceship technician" despite his duties focussing entirely on vending machines.