Sunday, 21 September 2014

Lord of the Rings

Sarcophagus, like the previous episode Rumours of Death, is a great Blakes 7 story that I have reviewed before, and that has one key scene that the entire plot and raisin d'etre revolves around.

The alien that has made itself a body that looks like Cally except with gold skin and red hair (giving Jan Chappell a much, much better opportunity to play two roles than she had in Children of Auron - in fact I would say that this is Jan Chappell's best episode) has taken over the Liberator and has the crew at her mercy.

Except for Avon.

Again, the power of the (Tanith Lee-written) dialogue speaks for itself.

Alien Cally: "Avon."
Avon: "You are taking this ship precisely nowhere."
Alien Cally: "Don't be foolish. You spoil yourself. But I'll be patient with you. I've waited centuries. I can afford a few moments until you can bring yourself to consent to be obliging."
Avon: "And no one aboard this ship is going to accept or carry out a single demand of yours."
Alien Cally: "You've seen what I can do."
Avon: "It would be a little difficult to miss."
Alien Cally: "Don't try to play games with me."
Avon: "Nothing was further from my mind. You've given us your terms, now I will give you ours."

"No deal."

Alien Cally: "I thought you were the clever one. You're a fool, like Tarrant. The pain Tarrant is experiencing - visualise that pain and much more. You're as close to death as you have ever been. Think about human death, Avon. Irrevocable."
Avon: "I have thought about it. What's keeping you?"
Alien Cally: "What did you say?"
Avon: "You claim you can kill me. You'd better get on with it.
Make me die. There's nothing else you can make me do."

Avon has learned a trick from his best friend Captain Kirk and is staring down the godlike-alien-of-the-week.

Alien Cally: "One last chance."
Avon: "Save it."

The alien Cally can't kill Avon because the real Cally is fighting it.

Avon: "It seems you made another mistake. Cally has loyalties after all. But you knew that right from the beginning, didn't you?"

"You look so beautiful when you're angry."

And then...

Avon kiffs alien Cally, and because he's Avon it is the kiff of death. While he is kiffing her he steals her ring of power.

Avon: "Thank you."
Alien Cally: "Give it to me."
Avon: "That would be a little foolish, when I just went to so much trouble to get it."
Alien Cally: "You don't understand."
Avon: "Don't I? Psychic abilities boosted by high technology. This ring is the real source of your power, isn't it? This is how you formed your link with Cally and you cannot hold her or feed off this ship without it."

Alien Cally then pleads for her life in a speech that is pure Tanith Lee (I am a big, gay long fan of hers, if you had not guessed).

"Avon! Avon, give it back to me. You must. You don't know. I have to keep this body. I have to live. I've waited so long. Centuries. More time than you could comprehend. How can you imagine what it must be like to be dead, to exist in nothingness, in nowhere. Blind, deaf, dumb, and yet to be sentient, aware, waiting. Centuries of waiting. I have to find my world again, my people, my home. I want to breathe and see and feel. And know. Don't send me back into the dark, Avon, let me live.
I want to live, to live. I want to live, to live, to live. I want to live, to live, to live. I want to..."

But Avon has already given her the kiff of death. Just to make sure he throws the ring away, where it lands in an exploding volcano computer and is destroyed.

Symbolically, Avon is Death, inexorable and without mercy. This is the new, post-Rumours of Death Avon.

Sarcophagus is not just a great episode in its own right, but coming after Children of Auron and Rumours of Death it is superbly placed in season 3 to move the characters of Avon and Cally (and, to a lesser extent, the others on the Liberator) forwards from those events and show - or perhaps just hinting at - how they have been changed by them.

With no characters other than the regular characters (excluding the very first scene of the silver aliens, and counting alien Cally as Cally), in isolation this story could be seen as padded - in modern day TV terms it is a Bottle Episode, which are supposed to be cheap although I don't know how that works with Blakes 7 given how cheaply it was made anyway - but I think that the story gives room for the actors and characters to develop in a way that no other episode of the series does.

It also has an excuse for Avon and Cally to kiff!

I think that is the real purpose of Sarcophagus. and I think it is a little sad that Tanith Lee never got to write an episode for Avon and Tarrant together.
Oh well, that is what the internets are for...

Monday, 15 September 2014

Avon: The Kiss of Death

SPOILER WARNING: Rumours of Death is one of the main "game changer" episodes of Blakes 7. This blog post will give away the plot twists of the story so do not read on unless you know them already.

In the show, however, no female guest star wanted to kiss Avon. Almost every woman he kissed - apart from Dayna, Cally and Servalan, who were regular characters - ended up dead. Avon, therefore, equalled the Kiss of Death.
'No offence, Paul, but if you kiss me I'm unlikely to survive and won't get to appear in another episode.'
    -- Paul Darrow, You're Him, Aren't You?

Serious Face. Serious Business.

While Pressure Point changed the rules of Blakes 7 by killing a main character, Rumours of Death changes them again without having to do so.
I have already reviewed Rumours of Death in 2010, so today I will just look at the key scene, where Avon is changed forever afterwards by the events in the basement of Servalan's house.

This scene, one of the best in the entire series, is masterfully played by all the actors, and the quality of the dialogue speaks for itself.

Servalan: "Why should I tell you anything? What can you threaten me with?"
Avon: "I spent some time with your interrogators."
Servalan: "It's too late for that, Avon."
Tarrant: "Your dead major there might have given the alarm. Help could be on the way. Don't you want to be alive when they get here?"
Avon: "And unchained? Who is Bartolomew?"
Servalan: "Why?"
Avon: "Tell me who."
Servalan: "Tell me why."
Tarrant: "He killed someone. A girl. Anna Grant."
Servalan: "Anna? Release me. I'll tell you anything you want to know."

Servalan's instant change of attitude the moment she hears the name "Anna Grant" shows us that she does indeed know the truth, but she doesn't have to tell them. Enter Anna, as if on cue.

Tarrant: "That's far enough. Don't."

Avon: "Hello, Anna."
Anna: "Avon. Avon ... Avon! Oh! I was afraid they'd kill you. I heard there was someone with Blake, but I didn't know for sure, and I didn't dare let myself hope. Oh, Avon, Avon. Why didn't you come back for me? What's the matter?"

Is it suspicious that Anna doesn't call Avon by his first name, Kerr? Or is it just that nobody - nobody - calls him Kerr?

Avon: "I didn't come back, because you were dead."
Anna: "Well, as you can see, I'm not."
Avon: "As I can see."
Anna: "You don't seem very pleased about it. It's been a long time, I suppose there's someone else, is that it? Is there someone else, Avon?"

Avon: "No, no, there's no one else."

Let's not forget that Tarrant is in the room with them at that moment, but I'm sure he will forgive Avon for this fib.

Anna: "What then? What's wrong? Why won't you touch me?"
Avon: "Perhaps because I can't believe that it's you."

Anna: "Have I changed so much?"
Avon: "I don't know. Have you, Anna?"
Anna: "Not the way I feel for you. Nothing's changed since you left me. There hasn't been one single moment when I wasn't alone, I want you to know that. You must see that. Avon, look at me. Look at me."
 Avon remembers Shrinker's words from earlier in the episode.
Shrinker's voice: "Anyone you so much as looked at was marked for collection."
Avon: "How did you get away, Anna, that last day, the day I got myself shot? How did you get away?"
Anna: "I waited for you, and when you didn't come back, I ran."
Shrinker's voice: "Bartolomew was running you."
Avon: "Where to? Where did you run to, Anna? Not to your brother. He thinks you're dead. Who hid you, Anna?"

That's a reference to Countdown, when Anna was first mentioned and Avon met her brother, Del Grant.

Anna: "My husband. I didn't love him, he knew that. There was only you. But he wanted me and I was afraid."
Shrinker's voice: "Bartolomew stayed close and let you run... close and let you run... close and let you run..."
Avon: "He wasn't Bartolomew, was he?"

Servalan: "No, he wasn't. Not even Chesku knew who Bartolomew was."

The way that Servalan waits until this moment to interrupt them is superb timing, dramatically. Even though Avon was coming to the inevitable conclusion on his own, to have him tipped over the edge by Servalan is very powerful.

Servalan: "But you do, don't you Avon?"

And then...

Avon: "At least that was honest."

Anna: "I knew when you found out, you would kill me."
Avon: "Unless you killed me first."
Anna: "We were well matched, Avon."
Avon: "You weren't even real. Bartolomew, Central Security's best agent, one of your colleagues told me that."
Anna: "Anna Grant. I was only ever Anna Grant with you."
Avon: "Of all the things I have known myself to be, I never recognised the fool."
Anna: "It wasn't all lies. I let you go ... my love."

Her last words. The implication is clear - that Anna was telling the truth and she did love Avon. And he shot her. And she would have shot him. Even though they loved each other. These events will influence his character all the way from now until the last episode of the series, which they parallel and foreshadow closely.

Avon: "Oh, no, you never let me go. You never did."

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Retcon of Auron

"So, Children of Auron. There's not that much for us to do in this one is there, Tarrant?"
"No I suppose not. This is an episode for Cally to be the main character, since we're going to her planet."

"You're wrong, Tarrant, this episode is going to focus on me."

"Captured again? Oh well, I suppose it was in a less stupid way than in Harvest of Kairos."
"I still can't get over the fact that this isn't a very Cally-centric episode, not even with Jan Chappell playing two parts."
"Since I can't appear with myself, both Cally and Zelda get less lines each and it ends up averaging out with me appearing about as much as usual."

"At least with this being a planet of telepaths then we can perhaps assume that telepathy will be used better than in Volcano."

"Or perhaps not."

"That's enough being captured, shall we do some escaping on film now?"
"Why not?"

"This is a bit more like it."
"I wonder how Servalan's getting on in her plot..."

Jacqueline Pearce gives an amazing performance in the final scenes, she is really on top form in this (and the next) episode.

"They were mine. I felt them die."

Even from a baddy that line is powerful, and the feeling is written in her face. Every so often there is an episode that shows us a bit more depth to Servalan, and this is probably the best one for this (season four's Sand the closest contender).

Children of Auron is a bit like Harvest of Kairos in that it throws together and mixes up multiple sci-fi ideas - here we have germ warfare, telepathy and cloning - and then forces a Blakes 7 story around them, but Children of Auron succeeds where Harvest of Kairos doesn't because the character development for Servalan makes the whole thing hang together.

The only real shame is that it is probably at the expense of any similar development for Cally - even though we visit her planet and see her sister, it doesn't reveal much about her and the events don't seem to have much of an effect on her. Although you could certainly read the events has having affected her when watching the following two episodes (particularly Sarcophagus which is, in its own way, a much better episode for Jan Chappell and Cally), it isn't as though you have to.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Two Faces of Turlough

It's a good thing that The Actor Mark Strickson had more facial expressions when playing Turlough on TV than the character had during his stories in Journey through TIME, lol.

the nemertines

The Doctor, Turlough and Tegan (who is back after her absence from the previous story) are visiting Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart at UNIT Headquarters. He had retired by the time the TV story Mawdryn Undead is set, so they must be visiting him before he retired for him but after he retired for them. This is quite unusual for Doctor Who.

The Brigadier mentions that UNIT is making "a mini Dead Sea" for science purposes, so obviously this will become important later in accordance with the Law of Conservation of Detail. While there is no crisis currently ongoing with UNIT for the Doctor to help out with, the story is not all about the four characters chatting away for eight pages because - luckily for us - the Brigadier gets a 'phone call to tell him "the Thames at Westminster is crawling with worms."

"What, ordinary earthworms?" asked Turlough.
The Brigadier shook his head. "No, these seem to be mutants of some sort. They've caught one. Apparently it was taken off the body of a man the police fished out of the river just now."

That does sound like the way the Brigadier talks, it reminded me of The Green Death:
"Doctor it's exactly your cup of tea. This fella's bright green apparently, and dead."

In London they meet a policeman who has become involved because the worms nomed a manny, but he has captured a worm to show the Doctor.

The Doctor says the worm "resembles a nemertine." They take the nemertine back to UNIT laboratories to do science on it.

I'm a cat so I don't understand science. The Doctor spends three very confusing pages doing science...

... until even the pictures are doing science. The Brigadier wants to know where the worms come from.

"Oh, I can answer that, sir," said one of the UNIT officers, who was standing nearby. "We had an urgent message from a chemical plant up near Oxford. They dumped some highly toxic, top secret waste in the river by accident about a week ago and, much to their credit, reported it straight away, so that something could be done about it."


The Doctor comes up with a plan to get rid of the worms in the style of an episode of Mission: Impossible. We are told the things he needs for the plan: "a ton of salt - in one solid lump", "something large enough to lift it", "a diving bell", "a revolutionary new type of plastic, totally waterproof and very strong indeed" and the Brigadier's mini Dead Sea (told you). But we are not told what the plan is yet.

The Doctor supervises his plan being put into operation, but as it doesn't go wrong it is not very interesting so there is a moment of comedy from Turlough and Tegan when they see thousands of worms getting captured in a big bag.

"Ugh!" exclaimed Tegan. "I can't look."
She turned away and gazed at the people behind the barriers. Their eyes were fixed on the bag. "What's happening now?" she asked Turlough.
"They're clear of the water and rising," said Turlough. "Listen, I'm not going to give you a running commentary. Look for yourself."

The nemertines nom the ton of salt because it is their favourite noms, but there is so much of it that it kills them all by science (I think). The plan has worked perfectly so the story is all over bar the obligatory comedy moment to end it on.

"Can we go soon?" she asked. "I don't feel too well, if you know what I mean."
"She's squeamish," remarked Turlough, amused.
"Oh dear," said the Doctor. "I was going to suggest that we had fish and chips for tea, but I suppose that's out now, isn't it?"
"Don't!" said Tegan, looking green. "Fish and chips make me think of salt - and I couldn't bear that! Not just yet!"

I'm with Gollum on this one:
"Fried fish and chips served by S. Gamgee. You couldn't say no to that."
"Yes, yes we could. Spoiling nice fish, scorching it. Give me fish now, and keep nassty chips!"

the nemertines is quite a good story - at eight pages long it is on the longer side for Journey through TIME, but it does not feel too long. The whole of the middle of the story is taken up by the Doctor doing science, but there are big blue pictures of the Doctor and the nemertine to keep the interest of cats while this is going on.

It is unusual to see a story where the Doctor is a scientist solving a problem without any baddys, and this makes a nice change from the usual kind of Doctor Who story (it is also very different from Winter on Mesique, the last story without any real baddys) while still feeling very much like a Doctor Who story.

It is also nice to have the Brigadier and UNIT in it, with Davo's Doctor in the place of Jon Pertwee and the fact that the plot is almost an inversion of The Green Death, it feels like something fresh is being done with UNIT here.

I don't know why the title of the nemertines doesn't have any capital letters. Maybe it was written by a cat who was less good at grammar than me - that's most cats, by the way, as you will be able to tell from the internets.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Volcanis Deal (part two)

The story so far. (No, there is not an explanation of why the Doctor and Turlough look like that, but there is a snake.)

Then the walls of the Tardis started to warp. They were losing their shape and beginning to run like melting wax.
The Doctor crossed to the computer, as everything became distorted as if reflected in moving water. Turlough was nothing more than a blurred elongated shape which writhed like smoke.

"I can't see anything unusual going on here, can you?"

"I can't either. Also: Aaaaah!"

Then the artificial gravity failed, the computer became one massive spider's web, and it felt as if the Tardis had suddenly somersaulted, leaving them both like flies on a wall.

Oh noes, how will they possibly escape from this situation?

Suddenly the nightmare stop ped and everything snapped back into normal focus.

Mew. I have a bad feeling that this story is not going to deliver on its early mad promise. The Doctor and Turlough are just getting used to being back to normal, and the Doctor is thinking about what is going on, when...

Then it all started again.
For the Doctor, it was an impression of chaos in which things lost their shape and ran into one another, rather like the effect of accidentally taking several photo-graphs on one piece of film.
Just as suddenly, everything snapped back to normal.
It was as if someone was switching the terrifying effect on and off.

Well that's something, as it establishes a mystery for the Doctor and Turlough to investigate and solve. Then they receive a message that they can't understand because it is in a "completely alien language."

The Doctor had a complex computer which could analyse any new language and compare it with the vast number already lodged in its memory banks. All languages evolved by human-type creatures tended to have certain things in common, and the computer, capable of making simultaneous comparisons by the million, could decode in minutes a language which might baffle a team of human programmers for years.
The Doctor waited impatiently, until Turlough finished scrambling the computer.

I like this bit, even if the computer doesn't exactly fit in with how Tardis technology is usually presented in Doctor Who. Also I don't hear the word "scrambling" used in that way these days.

"MY NAME IS ARS GLOAM OF ILIUM," came a deep voice, the texture of gravel.
"Ilium!" shouted the Doctor in triumph, as if he had just unravel-led some great mystery. The voice continued:

This fortuitous bit of exposition sets the Doctor and Turlough on course for Ilium, the source of the message and, the Doctor deduces, the source of the "very powerful mental weapon" which was intended to scare them away. I think the sounds of a hoover would have been more effective.

"One thing they forgot, though, was that they underestimated the capabilities of the Tardis. And most of all - and which I find most insulting - they underestimated me." The Doctor picked up his cricket bat.

Don't mess with Davo, if you push him too far he'll f*** you up. The Tardis lands on Ilium and the Doctor goes out alone, but with "a simple radio microphone" to communicate with Turlough.

The doors to the Tardis swished open and as the Doctor stepped out, something like a lightning bolt hit him.
He blacked out.

This picture is even more scary when turned upside down:

Mew! Scary Cat, please help me turn the book the right way up again!

The writer, upon realising that there are only had two pages left, hurries the story up by having the Doctor get captured as soon as he leaves the Tardis. He is put on trial for "illegally entering the Ilium System." In a manner in which the mannys of Marinus would be proud, the trial goes straight on to sentencing the Doctor to be "processed" and given false memories as happened to ARS GLOAM earlier. Then they find out the Doctor is wired for sound.

"So. You have a microphone concealed on you. You have been secretly broadcasting. Your trans-mission was overheard by our monitors. It is now being blocked by static."
In the Tardis, Turlough was almost demented with worry, as he cursed and kicked the console. He had lost contact with the Doctor. All he could pick up was crackling static. Suddenly, the doors to the Tardis opened, and the Doctor walked in, beaming happily.

The Doctor tells Turlough that he has solved all the problems off-screen while Turlough was just hearing static, but before he explains how he fills Turlough in on some exposition:

"In order to deal with their undesirables, they have formed a punishment where they brainwash them, and send them packing to another solar system and another planet, namely, Earth."
"Criminals!" choked Turlough.

The writer must not have known Turlough's backstory then, unless Turlough is being a hypocrite - not entirely impossible I suppose. The Doctor compares it to the British sending convicts to Botany Bay, which makes me wonder why Khan Tegan wasn't in this story.

The Volcanis Deal ends with the Doctor explaining that he did a deal with the baddys.

"Yes, I persuaded the officiator of the main Ilium Court of Law that they ought to punish their criminals by making them contribute some-thing useful to society. I offered them an alternative dumping ground."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, in exchange for a promise not to send Earth any more of their rehabilitated criminals, I traded them Volcanis."

This story is all over the place, a bit like this last picture, trying to cram in volcano planets, mad mind-bending antics, alien (in)justice systems, and an allegory for transportation, all in just seven pages. There is imagination on display here, but not much sense, and no indication that the writer knew anything about the Doctor or Doctor Who before they wrote this. As a Doctor Who story that makes it awful.

And as for the ending, I don't know if it wouldn't have been more in character for the Doctor to have merced all the baddys* using his cricket bat as soon as they cut off his communication with Turlough, rather than have him do a morally questionable deal with them - trading them a planet that wasn't his so that they can send brainwashed slave labour to it to work in a totally hostile environment. And they were clearly baddys. Even though the civilisation of Ilium was not very developed over the course of the story, we did see how they were imposing the sentence of being "processed" for jumped-up charges without the accused being given any chance to offer a defence.

*It's what Avon would have done. It's also definitely what the New Series Doctor would have done. Although Captain Kirk (and the Proper Doctor, when written Properly) would have found a third, better way.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Volcanis Deal

The Doctor and Turlough are on the planet Volcanis, where there are lots of volcanoes. That sounds to me like a proper sensible Terry Nation name for a planet.

Beneath his feet the ground heaved and split, gushing boiling mud and glowing lava. Flames licked round him with a heat so fierce that if the insulation in his white frock coat and cricket whites had failed for even a second, he would have been roasted alive.

It is good to know that the Doctor wears sensible clothes for the environment. I don't know why cricket players need their clothes to be volcano-proof, but then I'm only a cat. The Doctor thinks about space travel for a few paragraphs which are interesting and add depth, even if they are tangential to the story itself.

During the first few centuries of space travel, ordinary men had only been able to reach the planets of their own solar system.
In time, these had been fully developed, and it seemed that exploration had reached a dead-end because of the enormous distances which separated the sun from even the nearest stars. The Doctor was musing on this. He had no such restrictions.
He had made contact with hundreds of alien races on thousands of planets, in many different time dimensions, which had been colonised many light-years from parent Earth. But countless billions of worlds still remained unvisited.
No two worlds were alike. Many were terrifying; all were fascinating. And to a seasoned traveller like the Doctor, the proposition of landing on any new planet always made him inwardly cautious but deliriously happy.

The Doctor and Turlough investigate the planet briefly before the Doctor says "Not much here, Turlough. Let's push on, shall we?" and he wants to go to another planet - or possibly a star, it's a bit confused - called Ilium.

Just before going back into the Tardis, the Doctor throws his cricket ball away, which serves no purpose in the story other than to explain what's going on in this picture. It doesn't, however, explain Davo's mighty chin in the picture.

The Tardis takes off and then the writer gives away the fact that they have never really watched Doctor Who before writing this story.

The Doctor, now wielding a cricket bat, was consulting his astro-charts, and thinking of a recent West Indies Test Match at Lords.
They left Volcanis at a comparatively slow speed.
It wasn't until they were in deep interstellar space that it was safe for the Tardis to break through mil lions of faster-than-light barriers. From then on, the automatic computers took over navigation, until warning lights on the circular console informed them that they were approaching Ilium.
The Tardis suddenly slowed to normal speed time, about a hundred million miles beyond the orbit of Ilium's outermost planet.

Gamma Longcat wants to know what lions have to do with lightspeed barriers, but we don't have time to ponder that mystery because it is at this point that the story goes completely mad and the Doctor's cricket bat turns into a snake.

Snake! It's a snake! Oh, it's a snake!

The Doctor wrestles with the snake for a moment before it turns back into a cricket bat. He has a cup of "Indian blend tea" and has just concluded that he imagined it - even though Turlough saw it too - when "the Tardis fire-deterrent sprinklers" shoot "red hot slivers of metal" on the floor.

"Either I'm going crazy, or something is happening to my Tardis!" said the Doctor, then he heard Turlough shouting to him. His companion was gazing at him, his eyes bulging in horror.
"Turlough, what is it?" asked the Doctor taking a step towards him.
"Some - something terrible has happened to you, Doctor. You've grown two heads!"

Dun-dun-dun! That seems like the place to put a cliffhanger to me.