Sunday, 31 August 2014

Jarvik and the Giant Ant

If any episode of Blakes 7 can said to be so very bad it is really good then that episode is Harvest of Kairos.

I have already reviewed Harvest of Kairos back in 2010, but this time I want to talk more about the conflicting ideas in it that make it so bad, because it does have a couple of good ideas in there buried under Jarvik and the giant ant.

Let's start with Jarvik; his first line of dialogue and his first action:


"Woman, you're beautiful."


Ben Steed starts as he means to go on in his first of three sexist scripts for the series. Jarvik is a MAN. He seduces Servalan by being the manliest manny MAN in the series (or at least he, and Ben Steed, thinks he is) and goes on to successfully capture the Liberator and beat Tarrant in a fight, all by being a MAN.

Here's some more dialogue from Jarvik to Servalan:
"But when was the last time you felt the warmth of the Earth's sun on your naked back? Or lifted your face to the heavens, and laughed with the joy of being alive? How long since you wept at the death of a friend? Doesn't mean a thing to you, does it, Madam President? You've surrounded yourself with machines and weapons, mindless men and heartless mutoids, and when they've done your work, and the machines have done your thinking, what is there left in you that feels?"


Jarvik is so camp it becomes funny instead of offensive, and his scenes end up as immensely enjoyable for it.


Also he is very manly too.


One of the main reasons I could never consider this episode as truly good is because the regular characters all have to act stupid in order to make Jarvik seem clever. Avon rescues the others from one set of Federation guards that capture them, but the second set are not cleverly hidden at all and would have been discovered instantly if they had looked inside the big boxes before stealing them.


Avon gets a couple of clever moments, but on the whole Paul Darrow does not look like he thought much of the script and seems to play most of his scenes and Avon's lines with a contemptuous, bored expression - even when captured by Servalan.
Maybe he is just jealous that she got to kiff Jarvik instead of him?


Down on the planet Kairos we see the giant ant monster, filmed out in the open in broad daylight because the director wanted to show off how impressive and scary it is.

Whenever I see mannys watch this episode they always laugh at the monster. Cthulhu insists that it is nervous laughter, and he says that they have probably just lost some points of Sanity.


Fortunately for Dayna, Jarvik turns up to save her from the monster. This scene has the nice touch of Tarrant outing Jarvik as a baddy by noticing he has a teleport bracelet so he must have come from the captured Liberator.

On the subject of good points, as Shallow pointed out in the comments of my last review the mystery of why Kairos is so dangerous is quite well done, paying off with the monster as it does, but it is not enough to save the episode from being a stupid, sexist mess of manliness and stupidity.

There is one scene that almost redeems the story, though. It comes near the end of the episode when Avon, Tarrant, Vila and Cally are on the old spaceship that they found on Kairos and are flying it towards the Liberator.


Avon gives their spaceship the properties of the Sopron, clumsily foreshadowed throughout the episode like Chekhov's Rock.


This is the one scene of the whole episode where Avon looks like he is enjoying himself. Maybe because he is saving the day again? Or maybe because he knows it is nearly over.


Tarrant bluffs Servalan and Jarvik that their spaceship is more powerful than the Liberator so they should surrender.


Jarvik laughs at this audacious bluff that he sees through because he is a MAN, but Servalan is fooled because Zen backs Tarrant up, and because she is not a MAN she believes the computer instead of Jarvik.

I like the way this scene works because Avon, Tarrant and Servalan (and even Zen) are all behaving in character - for a change - and so the way Servalan is defeated has an authenticity to it.


Jarvik is too manly to be in any other episodes of Blakes 7, so his friend Captain Shad shoots him instead of Dayna. That is why Jarvik-7 is the name of an artificial heart, not the name of an exceptionally manly spin-off series.


Avon thinks Jarvik was a "Federation thug" but Tarrant describes him as a "special sort of MAN."

Poor Jarvik, all he wanted to do was be a manly MAN.

Harvest of Kairos is a very entertaining episode, with so many ideas - good and bad - crashing into each other it is never boring. In a way its greatest crime is not having enough of Avon in it, although the character of Jarvik is almost manly enough to make up for that.

If it had been Ben Steed's only episode then I think the sexist angle would be less problematic and more comic (because here it - like all of Jarvik's MAN traits - is so over the top as to become laughable), but when you consider this along with Moloch and Power... well, I will discuss those episodes in due course.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Class 4 Renegade


The Doctor, Turlough and Tegan are on the planet Melphis, in a very different genre of the galaxy to the one the Doctor usually inhabits. They agree to do a favour for DaSamPete, "the three headed man".


DaSamPete has lost his robot and he wants them to find it for him.

He handed the Doctor a small plasti-flex disc that carried a moving 3-D computer portrait of a squat robot with long heavy arms.
"Has he got a name?" asked Turlough.
"He's a Class 4 Subsection B - with modifications," said DaSamPete.


The Doctor, Turlough and Tegan are given flying chairs to travel about in. They go to "Melphis's one and only city".

The city was teeming with all sorts of life forms and in the courtyard of one market alone the Doctor recognised Stullubrian warriors, Mdimian traders and var-ious nomadic species.

They go to a "Robo-Mart" where the Doctor bribes a walnut for information.

"Have you seen any Class 4s around here?" the Doctor asked. The machine didn't answer. The Doctor put a red credit disc into the slot next to the walnut. A light went on and a soft, female voice came out of the synthi-voc. "A Class 4 Subsection B?" it said.


I quite like this picture because the Doctor, Turlough and Tegan are all recognisable from their silhouettes, although going by all the pictures so far I think the artist is just trying to avoid having to draw any of their faces.

They go to the "Southern Free Zone".

Free Zones were walled sections of large cities where the normal rule of law was suspended. they were usually rundown areas populated by thieves, runaways, murderers, malfunctioning robots and mutants of every shape and hue.


"...psychopaths..."

Avon's right, this does sound like Gauda Prime, except that it isn't the whole planet.


The Doctor helps repair a Class 2 Domestic robot in return for information, acting more like Avon than the Doctor should ever be. The robot tells him that the Class 4 robot they are looking for was trying to sell "Antherack."

In a vague attempt to make this seem more like Davo-era Doctor Who, Tegan and Turlough have an argument.

"It's not exciting, you imbecile!" Tegan said scornfully. "It's a waste of our time!"
"No, it's not!" said Turlough. "It's good fun. By the way, Doctor - what's Antherack?" The Doctor slowed down his Hovva-Hoppa [flying chair - ed].
"It's an illegal energy source," he explained.


They are too late though, as the robot tells them that mannys working for "The Brothers", also known as DaSamPete, already found the Class 4 and took him away. This twist to the story is handled very clumsily, delivered as pure exposition from a single informant as if it were the shoe-shining manny from Police Squad.


This whole page is very confusing - the Doctor uses technobabble to somehow find out that DaSamPete "are notorious smugglers" of Antherack. The Class 4 robot found their buried stash and decided to sell it in the Free Zone. Now that DaSamPete has been revealed to be a baddy and has captured the Class 4, the Doctor decides to stop him and they rush straight to "DaSamPete's recycling factory".


In the dramatic climax to this story, the artist can no longer postpone the inevitable moment when he has to draw the Doctor's face. So he has drawn it really small, with Turlough's half-hidden behind some steam and Tegan nowhere to be seen.

The Class 4 robot is (I have to presume) being interrogated by DaSamPete, by being held above a "boiling acid vat". The Doctor just has time to confront DaSamPete before the robot pulls the platform, itself and DaSamPete into the acid, killing them both and rendering the entire story completely pointless because it means the Doctor's presence and participation changed or accomplished nothing at all.

There only remains for the obligatory final joke to take up the last couple of paragraphs:

There was a growl of machinery behind them, a loud metallic belch, and a small ball of undissolved metal rolled out of a pipe near the base of the vat.
"The Class 4 Robot - or what's left of him," explained the Doctor, holding up the jet black lump.
"Can I keep it?" asked Tegan.
"Why?" asked Turlough. "Don't tell me you're getting senti-mental about a criminal robot."
"Not exactly," said Tegan, "I just thought it would make a pretty good paperweight."

Mew, that is the end of this awful story. It is so bad because of a combination of two reasons, either of which could have been forgivable by itself. The first is that the Doctor doesn't really doing anything throughout except for acting out of character, or to put it another way there is nothing in the characterisation that makes this feel like a Doctor Who story. The second is that the setting feels as if it belongs to a different kind of science fiction from the kind that belongs in Doctor Who - it is the sort we see in Blakes 7 or Star Trek V: The Final Frontier's Planet of Galactic Peace, being filled with criminals - there is nothing in the setting that makes this feel like a Doctor Who story.

Contrast this with the TV serial Caves of Androzani, which has its share of androids and criminals too, but the way they are used, and the way the Doctor and Peri interact with them and react to the events, makes all the difference.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Catterdammerung

Dawn of the Gods is a good candidate for worst episode of Blakes 7, and certainly of season 3.


It does have a few good bits, such as this cool line up of Tarrant, Avon, Vila and Cally.


It reminds me of this moment from Star Trek's Spectre of the Gun. You can imagine the two groups are looking at each other, with Mr Spock opposite Tarrant, Captain Kirk opposite his best friend Avon, and so on...


Here is a picture of the writer of this episode doing his research into the space physics of the black hole the Liberator encounters.


I need as many Avons as possible to help me get through it.


The Liberator is going down the plughole...


... just like this episode does as soon as this manny appears. A hat like that is wasted on such a poor character. The best moment in Dawn of the Gods  is probably when he is outwitted by Tarrant not lying.


"The neuronic whip is on an automatic setting. It has only to sense one lie and it will boil your brains in your skull. Where is Orac?"
"If he's not on the ship, I don't know where he is."
"How tall is he?"
Tarrant indicates how high off the floor Orac usually is.
"A dwarf?"
"We never think of him as one."
"What is the color of his hair?"
"He hasn't got any. A bald dwarf shouldn't be too hard to find."

Lol. A neuronic whip wouldn't work on me because I haven't got any brains. Or a skull. I'm made from socks.


It's the Tharn.


"Double-A actually."

Sorry, I mean "it's the Thaarn." The Thaarn escapes at the end, suggesting that he will return in another story to be Orac's nemesis, but he never does.

Poor Douglas Puglas is getting a very skewed view of the quality of Blakes 7 given the only episodes of this he has seen so far are this one and  Volcano. Fortunately there are some great episodes coming up soon when we get to the middle of season 3.

Friday, 22 August 2014

The Comic Assassins: The Five Doctors

The Five Doctors is one of the greatest stories in Doctor Who history, as much for being a celebration of its first 20 years as for the adventure itself.

In 1990, when the special, feature-length episode was first released on VHS, Doctor Who Magazine ran a one page long comic by "The Comic Assassins" poking fun at some of the sillier bits of The Five Doctors...


I think that this shows that, in Doctor Who fandom, there are no sacred cows. (Moo.)

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Avon and the Planet of Stock Footage


You can tell from Avon's expression that he is worried. That is because Volcano is not a good episode.


The best scene in Volcano by miles is the one in which Avon is the only one on the Liberator who hasn't been captured (because silly Vila teleported the baddys onto it by mistake) and he fights the Federation spaceships that are attacking the Liberator all by himself.


Then Avon gets captured by Mori (who would have been Travis if this has been season 2, like I think this episode was originally intended to be), because Cally's attempt at warning him by telepathy doesn't work for some reason. I think the reason may be to make the episode be longer.


Avon does not look pleased at being captured. Or maybe he is unhappy that Cally's telepathy is saying "there are three of them" when there are definitely four Federation baddys on the Liberator. I'm only a cat but even I can count up to four, silly Cally!


Avon gets his pewpewpew gun and shoots two of the baddys, in an action scene that is not terribly well directed but still manages to be exciting because it's Avon.


Mori shoots Avon! Mew!


Oh noes!


Fortunately Avon is only wounded. It would take more than a huge scary blast from Mori's gun to kill Avon.

Mori escapes to the planet, where he ends up falling into the volcano.


"My Precious! O my Precious!"


Meanwhile, in the other plot thread on the planet, the mannys there decide to use a big red button to activate their secret weapon: stock footage!


The stock footage is so powerful that it blows the whole planet up. Oh well, at least it brings the episode to an end.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Greation of Gamelot


By the time we get from the first picture to the start of the story proper, the Doctor and Tegan have been captured and put in a cell. The Doctor is clearly in an irascible mood, since he spends the first page chiding Tegan for believing the history she was taught at school, and then stresses the importance of learning history.

We get one piece of exposition, that they are "on earth. In Britain to be exact" before they are taken to see King Arthur.


King Arthur questions them about where they come from, and the Doctor immediately tells him about the Tardis. King Arthur has heard the word "Tardis" before but, in an attempt to introduce some suspense to the story, he can't immediately remember where from.

King Arthur tells them about the Merlin:
"The Merlin has no name. The Merlin is my necromancer, my adviser, my bard - he serves a variety of uses, and is held in very high regard by me and my court . . . Ah!"

This reminds King Arthur where he has heard of the Tardis before.

"When he first appeared at Camelot, just after my coronation and the death of Blaise, the old Merlin, he said his ship, his vessel - call it what you will - was called Tardis."
Tegan gasped. "The Master!" she whispered in horror.
The Doctor nodded grimly.

This is a bit of a leap for Tegan to make, although it may be somewhat reasonable if the Master was the only other Time Lord she had met or heard of by this point, but it is even more extraordinary for the Doctor to assume it must be the Master. Although given how often the Master shows up compared to any other renegade Tine Lord, the balance of probabilities suggest he'll turn out to be correct.


The Merlin always dresses for the occasion.

Regardless, the Doctor decides to malign the Merlin.

"I have known him for a long time, and he is an evil man. He will aim to destroy you and your king-dom if he can, to change history to suit himself.


After some further questioning of King Arthur the Doctor deduces that the Master's plan is to save Mordred so that he will kill King Arthur at the battle of Camlan.

"I have met him before, in other places. Every time, he was attempting to bring about death and evil. I alone could stop him. I am afraid that in this case, he has already done what he set out to do - he has protected Mordred, your son, from certain death, so that the child can grow. I can do nothing about that now. The child will be well hidden. Nobody could find him.

It sounds like the Master's plan in this case is to not change history, the fiend! The Doctor concludes that the Master is also responsible for the Saxons currently raiding Britain. As King Arthur sends for the Merlin, the Doctor continues his denunciation.

"He is not a Merlin. He is not a good man; he is not even human."
"Not human!"
"Forgive me, this may be hard to explain. The Master, as I know him, and I are what is known as Time Lords. We have travelled to many different planets, even to different galaxies, and to many different times.

The Doctor is quite happy to tell King Arthur about his future, seemingly unworried that this might have any unintended consequences.


This artist is really not good at drawing Tegan's face, and I'm not sure that's Davo playing the Doctor in this story...

At this point the Master enters and saves the Doctor from an embarrassing defamation lawsuit. He doesn't deny knowing the Doctor and Tegan, but he does make an attempt at claiming not to be evil.

My lord King, have you considered - forgive my presumption - but has it occurred to you to think that these strangers might be the enemy? You have seen the services I have done you and your court. I have always done whatever lay in my power. And what do you know of this stranger here? What proof do you have of his goodness?"


On consideration, I think it's Tim Brooke-Taylor playing the Doctor today, but I'm not completely sure.

King Arthur doesn't need proof (being High King has its advantages), he decides the Master is guilty based on his having failed to prevent some bad things happening to the kingdom during his time as the Merlin (also, and I'm sure this is coincidence, Arthur's time as the King). He orders the Master to be taken to his room and guarded there. Having been rumbled, the Master - in accordance with tradition - drops any pretence and does the evil voice.

The Master smiled ironically at the Doctor, then bowed mockingly to Arthur. "Foolish mortal," he said, almost sorrowfully, "I shall, as you wish, go to my room."

After a few moments the Doctor and Tegan realise that the Master's Tardis will be in his room, but by the time they get there he has gone. Having prevented the Master's diabolical plan to ensure that the history of King Arthur remained unchanged, the Doctor tries to make history unchanged even more.

We must build the Arthurian legend."
"And how do we do that? the King asked wearily. "I have no trustworthy advisers now, except my generals and captains and knights."

So he has some then? Confused cat is confused. The story ends with the Doctor asking:
"Tell me, King Arthur," he asked, "have you such a thing as a large, round table?"


This is a terrible story. If Night Flight to Nowhere is comparable to Time Flight, then The Greation of Gamelot resembles The King's Demons. And while that TV story isn't great, at least the Master is a proper baddy in it, with an evil plan for the Doctor to stop and everything.

The entirety of this seven-page story is built around two scenes of dialogue, in the first of which the Doctor just asserts that the Master is involved and must be up to evil, and in the second he foils the Master's plan - which, while not nice, is by all appearances him attempting to preserve history - because King Arthur believes him on the basis of no evidence.

In short, the Doctor is in the right only because he's the Doctor, and the Master is in the wrong only because he's the Master. This feels very lazy - the story spends so much time on exposition that it could not even put in a bit of the Master doing something actually evil, or provide a sensible reason for Arthur to trust the Doctor instead of his adviser. (King Arthur isn't an evil king scapegoating his adviser for the failings of his own rule only because he's King Arthur.)

Night Flight to Nowhere seemed unusual in featuring the Master after so many stories without any TV baddys. For him to return only three stories later, and in such a bad story at that, it already seems to me that he's overused. In that respect this does a good job of capturing the feel of the TV series of the era around when it was written.