Saturday, May 2, 2015

Blake's 7: Making Do (II of II)

So, where were we? Oh yes. In this hidden pocket of an enclave of The Liberator Chronicles, Dayna's gone walkabout and the others - plus Del "Mofo" Grant - are trying to find her and generally it's coming across as much more hassle than the psycho Sarran Slayer is worth it. If they weren't trying to reset the plot for, er, Ultraworld, would there be any interest in getting her back? Frankly I'm amazed they haven't stumbled on Blake or Jenna yet - I mean, you know how you always find something else when you're looking for something? Yeah. Like that. Man, I need to do this reviews sober...

Ghost Ship

"Tarrant, you have nineteen hours to become the galaxy's greatest bounty hunter. Vila, you have nineteen hours before you stay on the ship to operate the teleport controls."

There's word of Dayna checking out the Shivkin who are apparently the greatest criminal syndicate in the galaxy. I thought that was the Terra Nostra? Mind you, after the (Inter)Galactic War I suppose the Federation couldn't keep up their criminal branch, so maybe some genuine Space Mafia filled the power vacuum? Anyway, to stop the Shivkin from immediately betraying them to the Federation, Avon is pretending that Tarrant is Lazlo Haroon, Bounty Hunter of Mystery (the real, mysterious and unknown Lazlo having accidentally gotten blown up because the Federation didn't know who he was, being all mysterious and unknown). Tarrant will pretend to be Lazlo to do a favor for the criminal syndicate, and in return will find out what's up with Dayna who, Avon is quick to insist is too dangerous to be let loose with all the information she has about them. It's absolutely not because he feels responsible for her or anything, n00bs.

Given that the worst case scenario is that Tarrant could die, it becomes clear something else is terrifying Vila about this plan - their rendezvous is Larudon, the scariest planet ever that even the Federation avoid because it's so damn scary. It's as scary as the original Lazlo was mysterious, that's how damn frightening it is! Reputed to be haunted by ghostly visions of the damned/being from another universe, the planet is said to be cursed and this was only fueled by a horrible plague 50 years prior when all the survivors said "Fuck this!" and got the damn hell out of dodge. Of course, only Vila is superstitious enough to be worried (despite the last episode where the legendary fountain of youth not only turned out to be real but also a deadly predator that nearly got them all killed - bloody skeptics).

Travelling down to the eerie and deserted (but not eerily-deserted) towns of Larudon, our heroes head for the nearest pub to wait for the Shivkin to turn up. After hours sitting around with the only source of conversation Avon telling everyone how much he hates then and doesn't trust them, tempers unsurprisingly start to fray. And then a creep wind starts to blow up around the pub and creaking noises suggest they're not alone inside the tavern. The poltergiest activity suddenly stops and no sooner have they chalked it down to some theatrics from the Shivkin then laser bolts start flying and Avon disappears... BTW, am I the only one who thinks Del Grant describing something "at ten o'clock" is very strange and out of character for a denizen of the New Calender? And "take the Federation's shilling"? WTF?

Needless to say, after the Vila-lite ep of Mindset we now have a Vila-heavy episode and we don't see the others much from now on.

And leaving Vila on teleport duty because he was such a bloody liability last week proves not to be the best move. With only Orac (in full "SHUT THE FUCK UP, I'M THINKING!" mode) for company, he dozes off and has a nightmare of the ghosts on Larudon coming to get him, so he decides to enjoy some "medication" to deal with these night terrors. And then the background hum of the Liberator starts to splutter that neither Zen nor Orac sense anything is amiss. Vila goes off to check the fuse box, and when he comes back...

...someone's taken out Orac's key.

(Seriously, that's quite a creepy scenario when you think about it.)

With mysterious noises drifting down the corridor, and unable to contact the others or even Zen, Vila finds the fuse box - which he closed - now open and the lights go out. Refusing to believe the ghosts are getting to him, our little thief is left alone in the pitch-dark corridors of the Liberator. At least, he hopes he's alone - but then who's locked him a supply cupboard. With only thoughts of Gan to comfort him, Vila tries to get on the offensive by finding some working torches before the unseen abominations stop them from working. Then all the lights come back on and Zen shrugs the whole thing off, insisting there were no power failures or open fuse boxes and the fact Vila's covered in dirt and blood, well, don't ask him skippy. What's more, Orac is still switched on with key in place and assumes Vila's just pissed as usual.

Thinking hard, Vila deduces that - since the ghosts are rumored to be able to control any machine, they must logically be capable of interfering with the electrical activity of human brains. So is Zen being controlled by the ghosts or is Vila himself? Orac dismisses the whole thing then suddenly goes quiet. Is he sulking or possessed? Vila's certain it's the latter and flees to the engine room which has shielding which might be able to keep the ghosts at bay... might...

The ghosts chase after him, mocking and taunting him that they are indestructible but can and will kill him on a whim. Feeding on his fear, they start to take away the heat and oxygen to freak him out, then suddenly the voices vanish like a dream and Avon appears telling Vila to stop snivelling. Apparently he ditched the others on the planet and now is determined to reprogram the Liberator defences to keep the ghosts out before bothering to try and rescue Cally, Grant and Tarrant. But if the teleport isn't working, how did Avon get back? Zen insists Avon didn't get back; Vila's been talking to himself all along.

Vila confronts Avon, who then slaps him silly. Of course Avon isn't some hallucination, it's just the ghosts mucking about with Zen! Duh! "I am infinitely more frightening than a ghost story," Avon growls, and tells Vila to help him to override the computers with a 'two different people pressing two different buttons simultaneously' failsafe. The ghosts appear, insisting they are unstoppable and they've already eaten the others, but Avon retorts that if they were so unstoppable, why are they desperate to prevent Avon and Vila from trying? They press the buttons and the ghosts disappear, but Vila finds all this suspicious - is there any evidence that they've improved the defenses or lowered them?

Avon admits he's foolishly let himself start to believe Vila is as stupid as he pretends to be. Yes, Avon is not a hallucination but he sure as hell is working for the ghosts and has lowered the defenses to allow a spaceship to dock with the Liberator. The "ghosts" are just two Shivkin operatives in the technological equivalent of bedsheets and this has all been a convoluted plan to steal the coolest ship in the galaxy; the Shivkin have some impressive tech and they've even been subliminally brainwashing Avon through their emails (so, seriously, they should have mutinied against Avon in Terminal when he started acting oddly after a lot of correspondence...) to betray everyone. The Shivkin are amazed at how easy this was and boggle that Servalan's never made it before.

Avon then reveals he wasn't brainwashed at all; he was playing along from the start because now he has the Shivkin at his mercy - either they tell him about Dayna or he opens the airlock and wipes out the invasion force in one go. Vila's a bit dizzy at these mutiple betrayals, but nonetheless is happy when the Shivkin back down. "You've made a powerful enemy, Avon!" the Shivkin wine. "I don't think so," he retorts, unimpressed by the crude bullying thugs who, having lived on a low-gravity moon, are actually physically feeble and have no idea how to do anything if their technology proves inadequate. And he's totally going to #loser the Shivkin across the galaxy so they never reappear in canonical episodes! Day-yam.

Orac teleports Cally, Tarrant and Grant back to the Liberator, just in the middle of a Butch and Sundance style race through gunfire in the deserted town. Meanwhile, Avon justifies letting Vila getting scared shitless on the grounds he was never in any real danger but also he was the easiest to be scared without being tortured. But Vila - and the others too - are too battered, bruised, bleeding and betrayed to just act like this is a wacky Hustle-esque con and Vila takes out his frustration on the Shivkin's motorized ghost town with the neutron blasters. He swears to haunt Avon if he gets killed in one of these scams.

Avon, of course, gets the last word. "An eternity with Vila Restal? Now that is terrifying..."

Devil's Advocate

"I just think it's time we asked ourselves 'what are we hoping to achieve here?' The Federation is weaker than it's ever been before yet we're still on the defensive, still letting them call the shots. Oh, we've had a few victories along the way admittedly, but it seems that lately we've been drifting from one crisis to the next. We spend half our time settling personal scores. We've lost sight of our long-term goals - if we ever really had any. How do we destroy a monolith like the Federation? Blake tried it and he failed, and what might take its place if we succeeded?"

Cor, what a bizarre cover. A pursuit ship fight in front of a giant heart caught between two photoshopped to the point of unrecognizability Grant and Tarrant (in his Scorpio skivvy, nonetheless! What kind of continuity is this?) You know, if you were the sort of person to make snap judgments based on a cover than this story would be complete crap. I mean, playing the devil's advocate you would just assume so - this is the bloke who brought us such amazing stories as Time Works and, um, er, The Space Age and... oh.

Down to business. The episode starts at the Frayus Nebula Interplanetary Waystation (which is a reference to one of the TV episodes, but I can't for the life of me remember where...) as ships head off for Del 10 and people get pissed on duty free. Avon and Vila sneek into the non-Tarial-Cell computer room to check for Dayna and find proof that she arrived four days ago and apparently is still there. At one of the bars, Tarrant is taken aback to bump an ex of his, Palora - the PA of the President Before Servalan who was presumed to be killed in the revolution. Tarrant had the chance to be the President's chauffer but became a Space Captain instead and frankly was lucky not to end up killed in the coup.

Needless to say, Tarrant's overheating groin instantly drags him into helping her out in her underground railroad for members of the old regime fleeing Servalan. No sooner does he say this than Space Commander Kingdom (oh, how appropriate!) puts the station in lockdown and arrives with a hell of a lot of pursuit ships to hunt them down. Tarrant is suspicious that Space Command is breaking its back to catch a PA, so its no surprise that she's sharing a flat with the ex-President who still just doesn't have a name. After listening to him whine about how much life sucks since "the Usurper" stole his job, Tarrant is asked to teleport the pair to safety and he laughs in their faces. The President insists that with the Liberator he can organize an anti-Servalan rebellion and free pardons once the new, more liberal regime is restored. "This is the best offer you'll ever get, your best chance to make a real difference," the President says earnestly, light-centuries away from the pant-sucking foam-at-the-eyeballs nutter clone we met in Cold Fury and Caged.

Meanwhile, it turns out Dayna beat up some random guy and stole his spaceship on a trip to the frontier worlds (the same frontier where you'd find Gauda Prime). Then the Federation arrive, spot Avon and Vila and instantly go for their guns in a deliberately very tasteless sequence:
AVON: Down into the crowd. They won't find it easy to target us with a few hundred civilians in the way.

VILA: You're assuming they share your sense of human compassion, Avon...

(The guards open fire and slaughter the tourists in a bloodbath)

VILA: Oh! Look! They do!

(Over the screams of men, women and children, Lisa Bowerman can be heard.)
PA: The troopers are here for your protection. Please do not obstruct them as they perform their duties.

(More gunfire until the screams end.)
Our heroes decide to do what they do best (teleport away and run like Skaro) but to the surprise of no one Tarrant stupidly decides to stay in the line of fire and gives his teleport bracelet to some bird he's only known five minutes. They are thus forced to give Palora two bracelets so she can go back and collect Tarrant and the ex-President before legging it. Ex-President, for his part, is a bit put out at having to slum it like this as he's apparently still used to finer things even after spending the last few years as a refugee in exile.

The gang contemplate the ex-President's offer, with Vila dismissing it as an obvious lie, Cally pointing out that this isn't the same looney they met before, Avon seeing an opportunity to turn things to his own advantage, and Tarrant whining that no one's making them a better offer. Grant however is as determined to kill the ex-President as Dayna is to kill his replacement and as far as he's concerned, the only guarantee is that a bullet in the guy's brain will be justice. After four episodes basically being the easy-going only sane man, Grant actually puts his foot down for once and immediately gets mocked for being a "new recruit born-again revolutionary" with no moral authority given his mercenary past. He wants ex-Pres's body on a spike somewhere as a warning to future generations, not the selfish wishy-washy homosexual liberal viewpoint of pre-Thatcherite days!

But given this is the only course of action that improves Servalan's position (and would probably put a spring into the Bitch in White's step), the others are understandably reluctant. Mind you, Tarrant's big speech is undermined by the clear obvious of him wanting to get into Palora's knickers oh, and he never mentioned working for the freaking President before now, did he? Well, he did until all the "lucky accidents" occuring to all the political rivals became too much for even Tarrant to take seriously. Either way, everyone wants this over with quickly so they can get back to looking for whatshername. Daisy? Daphne? Dayna, that's it...

While Tarrant gets back to trying to pork Palora, Grant tries to get Vila to let him into the President's room to kill him, using the novel approach of being reasonable rather than threatening him. Doesn't work, so he just threatens Vila and gets to work with what sounds like K9's. They are unaware, unlike Orac, that the President's pacemaker is a miniature neutron bomb so if the politician is killed, it will go off like a box full of exploding carrots on Halloween! So that explains the burning heart on the cover, at least.

Luckily, the President is a smooth talker and manages to delay Grant blowing his head off by pointing out that he in no way "brainwashed" Anna, who threw her lot in with the Federation with the same blind gusto as Del who is now a committed rebel with a cause. This gives Avon, Cally and Vila a chance to save the President who repays their kindness by taking Vila hostage at gunpoint. He intends to seize control of the Liberator and then kill everyone, but remains terribly polite about it.

While Avon and Cally tell off Grant for nearly getting them all killed, Tarrant goes to kill the President - even when he finds out about the bomb, coz hell, they're all going to die anyway. The President manages to negotiate a teleportation off the Liberator to start off his own civil war without any of our heroes or spaceships, but not before he's revealed that he knows a secret about Dayna's mother. Tarrant reveals that they've all been played by Palora, who is conning the President into thinking there's some kind of rebel uprising that needs his funding when in fact he'll end up naked and left to die on some asteroid somewhere while she and her fellow hustlers swim butt-naked in cash.

Unsurprisingly, discovering Palora was such an intellectual threat put Tarrant right off a relationship with him.

So, our heroes get back to following Dayna who is in turn after her mother who should have died twenty years ago but is apparently in retirement at the edge of the galaxy living a new life, and on first-name terms with the President of the Federation. The rather obvious possibility that it was Kareen Mellanby and not Hal (as Liberated so vehemently insists) who was the traitor to the rebellion and, like Anna Grant, faked her death so the loved ones never twigged as to who betrayed them.

The only question is if Dayna is aware of this, because if she is, there's no doubt matricide is on the cards...

Truth And Lies

"This where things get interesting."
"Well, er, I think things are going to be a bit more interesting than you expected..."

Now everyone's in Season D outfits! What a gip! And Dayna isn't on the cover either - that don't bode well!

Finally the Liberator has caught up with Dayna in her stolen planet hopper approaching the world Apallon 5 - and the hopper is instantly blown out of the sky by the planet's orbiting defence grid. Luckily, Dayna escapes in a life capsule that crashes onto the world below. Tarrant and Cally teleport down to the jungle crash-site but, typically, they were just too late. The capsule's missing and there's no sign of the girl herself. Avon deduces that the unconcious Dayna was collected by the natives and sends Tarrant and Cally off looking for them while he, Grant and Vila chillax aboard the Liberator.

Orac reveals that civilization on Apallon 5 lives underground and the natives, upon finding Dayna, have started asking the Federation for B7 wiki articles and also there's no way of teleporting in and out, so they have to break into two groups - Vila and Grant sneak in through an air vent, Avon, Cally and Tarrant go through the loading duct. This takes up about as much of the episode as you'd reckon. All of whom are unaware that Kareen's BFF Kramer is so paranoid he's put security cameras everywhere, even inside air-ducts, and know precisely what's going on. And then Vila notices them, so Grant pulls out a handy sonic screwdriver thingy and jams the signals. Thrilling, I know.

After hopping off an out of control monorail *cough*padding*cough* Avon et all meet Kramer and Kareen who act as the seemingly-affable guides you'd see like Dorian, the Callif, the Ultra, the Chengans... basically that 'we're being nice but we can and probably will kill you at any moment vibe'. And how can Kareen grumble Dayna's "always been impulsive" when she hasn't seen her daughter since she was a neonate? Hrm. She's also refused to defrost Dayna from her cryo-stasis life pod on the very sensible fear the first thing her offspring will do upon awaking is tear out her throat with her teeth. Avon, understandably, has very little sympathy for Kareen who sold out her family and lead to a civilian massacre and then ran away - and her "OMG! WHAT HAVE I DONE?!" when she learns how Servalan used her husband for target practice doesn't improve his mood. But Cally, empath as she is, suspects that Kareen may not actually be happy at living in an underground condo with that dude from Seinfield...

Vila and Grant turn up eventually and Kramer reveals that he is a psychostrategist (and you can hear Kaldor City writers climaxing in the distance) who kidnapped Kareen, trapped her in the bunker and then left a papertrail to lure Dayna and thus the Liberator to the planet in order to capture the sodding lot of them. "I'm not one for theatrics," Kramer brags. "Could've fooled me," Tarrant grunts.

Unfortunately, as we all know, a puppeteer is only as good as the info he gets and the magnificently-badly-compiled Federation information makes him think Del Grant is Vila Restal and therefore the other guy who is clearly pretending to be a moron to hide his true intelligence is... ORAC HIMSELF!! Yes, Kramer has shown himself to be even stupider than the gang in Dawn of the Gods who thought that Orac was a bald midget serial killer (a skinhead Tyrion Lannister, really). Somehow, my fears for the crew's safety have dropped quite a bit. This guy is less dangerous than the waterfall in Mindset. And that, if anyone needed reminding, was a fucking waterfall.

Since Orac has been irresponsibly-editing Federation wikipedias, Kramer believes that Orac is a superhuman genuis single-handedly running the entire rebellion who are useless without him - and Kramer is a real squeeing fanboy around "Orac", the only puppeteer so awesome he doesn't even have to tell people he's a puppeteer. Of course, he doesn't like "Vila" who is clearly a lazy, shifty goodfornothing. Kramer skips off to contact Servalan and locks "Orac" in a broom cupboard rather than a cell because, hey, it's not like "Orac" can pick locks like "Vila", is it?

Kareen meanwhile explains she wasn't an infiltrator, but rather a Federation worker who fell in love with Hal Mellanby and his blacksploitation leather outfit and bitching afro. She was helping Hal arrange the protests, only be captured. With the threat of her baby daughter and husband being tortured, she did a deal to save them for betraying the others and then sent herself into a self-imposed exile and penance. Awwww. Even Avon seems to soften up to her a bit, not that he actually cares about Dayna or anything poofy like that.

Vila then lets them out, revealing he's saved them from this terrible and hopeless situation. Everyone has praise for our fearless cracksman. Except Avon who grumbles, "Took you long enough." Due to contractual obligations, Servalan can only appear via twitter feed and it's too risky to defrost Dayna quickly so she won't be appearing in this episode. So we just await the inevitable shootout that kills Kramer and Kareen and, hell, maybe even Del Grant too...


Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Kareen's dying wish is they give Dayna one last bullshit story and tell her that her mother died as described in Aftermath and everything else was a lie. Teleporting the frozen Dayna back to the Liberator, our heroes wonder what to tell Dayna when she wakes up. And Avon takes this opportunity to remind absolutely everyone that he doesn't actually care about Dayna, he's just sick of having to do her chores. He's not going soft or anything, and certainly isn't in any way emotionally involved in her life just because BOTH of her parents have placed him in loco parentis. Is that clear??




Well, there's the second "Fractures" mini-season and it's a vast improvement on the first with more self-contained stories, less heavy reliance on Liberator Chronicles and even the return of the ex-President is easier to follow than all that stuff about Gustav Nyron and Jenna's dad. OTOH, you have to have heard TWO volumes of Liberator Chronicles to have the faintest of faint ideas what's going on.

Del Grant manages to avoid becoming a fifth ranger status with his calm professionalism and his "all things to all men" easy-going attitude, which means no one actually has any reason to distrust or dislike him. He also dryly points out that the bitching between the others doesn't actually help, and that if anything it's stopping them from functioning halfway effectively - it's no wonder that losing both him and Cally leaves the others the walking wounded in Season D, as its shown here they are Avon's morality chains and ironically make him more ruthless than ever but only for the greater good. If you get me.

The only real flaw is of course the lack of Servalan and Dayna. To be fair, this series almost gets away with it by ensuring that their roles are so utterly mundane we won't miss them - if either appeared, Servalan would only be sitting behind a desk looking cross and Dayna would be hanging around spaceports beating up the occasional trekker to pass the time. It's only in the last episode that the lengths not to let them get any screentime become far too obvious. Personally, I had hoped Dayna would be defrosted only to be left sounding like Angela Bruce or something because as all B7 fans know, Dayna got a raw deal in the series and BF would be perfect to fix that. Stephen Pacey is undoubtedly enjoying playing Del Tarrant now far more than he did in the 80s, while Paul Darrow can only be relieved at this more cerebral version of Avon compared to the one-man death machine of his own novels. Mindset gives Cally more to do than most of the episodes that nominally were about her like Dawn of the Gods or Children of Auron.

So, perhaps it's time to... dare I say, recast? I mean, they've done it for Peter Tuddenham so there's no reason why not. They use both Travises, so there's no reason not to use another Dayna even if Josette Simon changes her mind (remember, BF got Tom and Lalla back together - nothing is impossible). Personally, I think Juliet Landrau should pop in from playing the Third Romana and do Servalan - the perfect blend of Time Lady and Drusilla. Maybe, I dunno, get Steve Wickham to play Gan or something. How should I know? For god's sake, Jim, I'm a blogger not a BF line producer!

I'll end with Vila's drunken ballard from episode five:

Fly me to Space City,
That's where I want to be
Where the serving girls are pretty,
And the ruby wines flow free...