Posts Tagged ‘Aftermath’

Powerplay largely finds Terry Nation back in pipe-laying mode, plotwise – the object of the exercise being to establish the new status quo for the rest of the season (indeed, series, given that the plan all along was to wrap everything up at the end of this year). He is helped in this by the fact the episode is directed by David Maloney, whose day job at this point was producing the show. Maloney was always a tremendously capable director, turning pedestrian material into good TV and a good script into something very special – unfortunately Powerplay is not really a case of Nation firing on all cylinders.

The episode opens with – uniquely – a reprise of the end of the previous one, with Avon and Dayna arriving back on the Liberator to find it has been taken over by a squad of Federation troopers. (Neither of them appears to have been holding Orac when they teleported, and it’s not seen or referred to this week, so their having left it behind on Sarran seems to be a possibility for a while.) The troopers, led by dashing young officer Tarrant (Steven Pacey) and surly sergeant-major type Klegg (semi-pro Hitler impersonator Michael Sheard), have the problem that Zen has been programmed not to respond to unauthorised users – and, suspecting that Avon or Dayna might be one of Blake’s crew, they are keen to see if they’ve found a solution to this… The clock is ticking for Avon, as the ship is on course to pick up another crew-member, and if the troopers are still in control at that point, the Liberator will be as good as theirs.

Vila, meanwhile, has crash-landed on the planet Chenga and is having a fairly torrid time of it. Some of natives are savage and brutal, others are gentle and more welcoming – Vila’s challenge is figuring out which lot is which, for Chenga is another of Terry Nation’s pulp sci fi dystopias. Prominent amongst the Chengans is John Hollis, who round about the same time was also appearing in The Empire Strikes Back; another of them is played by Julia Vidler, who previously appeared in Project Avalon, although as a different character.

Cally, on the other hand, doesn’t get to go on location this week, and has been picked up by a hospital ship where she is recovering from burns suffered between episodes. The ship is touring the war zone and picking up wounded and survivors of all kinds – how nice to come across such a benevolent and humanitarian society in the usually grim world of Blake’s 7! (Um, well, yeah – all I will say is, again, pulp sci fi dystopia.) The ship even stops off on Sarran (one presumes) and picks up Servalan, who doesn’t get much to do this week. (She doesn’t have Orac with her, as far as it appears, though quite how she whistled up the ship is not explained.)

Meanwhile, Blake and Jenna… are doing stuff off-camera, mainly because Gareth Thomas and Sally Knyvette have left the series. Zen reports that Blake is ‘safe and well’, which is curious given that the last time we saw him he’d recently been shot, and heading for the planet Epheron, while Jenna is en route to Morphenniel and in no need of priority treatment. (Once again I am indebted to the Blake’s 7 superfans who actually went through each episode and made a transcript – in this case the hard work was done by one Malcolm Mladenovic.)

(I have been reflecting on the whole Blake and Jenna issue and the most likely explanation as to how they left the Liberator seems to me to be that they teleported off the ship together during the break between series. We don’t see them once series 3 gets underway, obviously, but then we don’t see anyone on the flight deck in the whole of Aftermath. One of the first things Zen says in Aftermath is that ‘the teleport malfunction is now total’, indicating that it was working – at least partly – a short while previously. It’s not a perfect solution to the question, but then I’m not sure such a beast even exists, certainly not outside the realms of convoluted fanfic.)

What ensues is largely a runaround on the Liberator – this isn’t quite a bottle episode, though it’s closer than most – intercut with Vila and Cally, who are stuck in what is essentially Terry Nation trying to do one of those Twilight Zone episodes with a nasty twist ending, from which they escape only in the nick of time – one notes that the Chengans have undressed the pair and put them in surgical gowns, prior to their awful fate, but thoughtfully left their teleport bracelets on. This oversight happens for the same reason that Avon gives voice authority over Zen to Tarrant and Dayna at the end of the episode (i.e., the format requires it). Apparently Paul Darrow said to David Maloney that Avon had no reason to do this, and Maloney’s response was essentially ‘We don’t have a show otherwise.’

Ah yes, Tarrant – undoubtedly the most Tarranty Tarrant of all the many Tarrants (and their ilk) who appear in the collected works of Terry Nation. (Off the top of my head there’s this Tarrant, another Blake’s 7 Tarrant from the very first episode of the series, Jill Tarrant from Death to the Daleks, Taron from Planet of the Daleks, taranium from Dalek Master Plan, and Tarron in The Keys of Marinus. A little research reveals that one of the characters in Survivors, presumably Greg, was originally going to be called Tarrant, while there’s even apparently a Tarrant in one of the episodes of MacGuyver that Nation helped to script.) Steven Pacey actually makes a pretty good impression, creating a character who isn’t as icily dispassionate as Avon, but still quite cynical and ruthless when he has to be. Tarrant’s back-story as a renegade Federation officer is a bit sketchy, but it does the job.

It all comes off as well as it does mainly as a result of some winningly sardonic and cutting dialogue. Credit as usual must go to Chris Boucher, who apparently polished all the dialogue Nation wrote for the show – many of the best exchanges in this episode have the definite Boucher ring to them, as when Avon and Dayna come across a dead guard with a knife in his back. ‘That’s a difficult way to commit suicide,’ says he. ‘Maybe he was cleaning it and it went off,’ comes her response. Later on, Avon and Tarrant are discussing how the latter guessed the former’s identity. ‘You weren’t Blake, I’d have recognised him,’ Tarrant says. ‘And too intelligent for Vila,’ says Avon. ‘It was an even bet,’ comes the reply, which gets a thin smile from Avon. (Are you really so sure you will recognise Blake if you ever meet him, Tarrant? Well, that’s lucky, that could certainly save a lot of potentially fatal misunderstandings some way down the line.)

By modern standards it does feel like there’s a scene missing – the one where Avon, Vila and Cally decide to let Dayna and Tarrant join the crew. It’s just presented as a fait accompli. The issue of recovering Blake and Jenna feels like it’s being quietly dropped as well. With Avon in charge and the Federation apparently in ruins, what exactly is the crew’s agenda now anyway? It’s a very big question that feels like it’s been parked at the end of Powerplay. The series has effectively been given a minor reformatting, something which two episodes into this series seems to have been completed. So now what?

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Matters of Succession

The very first thing you notice about Aftermath, first episode of Blake’s 7‘s third season, is that Things Have Changed: gone is the old title sequence featuring the domed city and the security camera and Blake being tortured. Apart from his name in the title, Blake has been thoroughly expunged from the opening credits. He’s nearly as absent from the episode itself – but then one of the things that Blake’s 7 is famous for is having the brass neck to continue as a series even after the main, or at least title, character left. (Gareth Thomas went off to the RSC.)

Given how the previous series ended, the new one kicks off with things in a severe state of flux – though some things never change, including the series’ low budget: the savage battles of the Intergalactic War (which has been fought between series) are represented by generous use of old footage from the previous season (it looks like we see Space City being blown up at least twice). The Liberator has taken a right pounding in the fighting and is on the verge of losing life support – so everyone hustles down to the escape pods, the teleport being out of action.

(I’m going to be really picky and suggest that the episode appears to indicate that the ship only has one escape pod bay, which is the one that Avon, Vila and Cally use to get off it. So what happens to Blake and Jenna? Jenna has ‘gone with Blake’, who apparently ‘didn’t want to leave’ – which to me sounds like they’ve already got off the ship by some other method. That said, they seem to end up in different places – later on, Zen manages to locate Jenna but can’t get a fix on Blake, even though he’s obligingly been in touch. It is a bit mysterious, isn’t it, but I suppose this sort of narrative creaking is inevitable when you’re writing out a couple of major characters like this.)

Anyway, Avon and Orac bail out of the ship and end up on the planet Sarran, (possibly) also known as… Dunes, mainly because that’s what most of the landscape seems to be. (Location filming was apparently in Northumbria, which looks very windswept and photogenic here.) Sarran is home to another of those regressive cultures the members of which mainly enjoy hacking visitors to death. It would only really make sense for Sarran to be some obscure backwater well off the main space lanes, but – luckily for the more bloodthirsty locals – on this particular day, offworlders seem to be falling out of the sky like raindrops: Avon crashlands here, so do a couple of Federation soldiers (one played by Richard Franklin, the mildly controversial Dr Who supporting regular), and so does Servalan, who was on her way to the front. What are the chances of that happening, let alone of Avon and Servalan bumping into one another almost at once?

You just have to go with it, I’m afraid: it’s a massive and rather ridiculous coincidence, but the script this week is all about establishing the relationship between Avon and Servalan (they’ve shared scenes before, but never really spoken), so they have to meet. Almost at once it becomes clear that the show has a whole different energy now Avon and Servalan are now unquestionably the leads – Blake and Travis were both comfortingly stolid and rather predictable representatives of liberty and tyranny, but now the series is about amoral psychopaths flirting wittily with each other and it’s really very thrilling to watch. Even Avon expresses regret that he and Servalan have always been in opposition to each other; she makes clear her admiration for him in return – ‘You’d sell out anybody, wouldn’t you?’ ‘I don’t know, I never really had an offer I thought was worthy of me,’ Avon replies modestly. Needless to say, the prospect of a hook-up floats in the air but ultimately seems unlikely: ‘I’d be dead in a week,’ is Avon’s prognosis.

The backdrop to all this is basically a bit more narrative carpentry, as Avon and Servalan both enjoy the hospitality of Hal Mellanby (Cy Grant), probably the funkiest-looking dissident in the galaxy (he’s almost like a disco version of Forest Whitaker’s character from Star Wars). Mellanby is a fairly interesting character, but he and his adopted daughter are only here to get fridged, thus providing his natural daughter Dayna (Josette Simon – Floella Benjamin also auditioned) with a reason to hang around with Avon and the others. We should remember that Dayna is the first major character to be introduced since midway through the first season, but Terry Nation does his usual efficient job of sketching in the character – exuberant warrior woman, more than enough to be going on with.

Servalan is pretty much unchanged – she was so corrupt to begin with that becoming President of the Federation is unlikely to have had much effect on her – but there is something interesting going on with Avon, whose first episode this is as the lead character of the series. Paul Darrow recalled suggestions that Avon should become a bit more moralistic now he was effectively the hero of the series, which he resisted as much as he could, but there are still signs of this here and there – he stops Dayna from killing defeated Sarrans out of hand, and stipulates that Zen should rescue Vila and Cally ahead of him, should they get in touch. Darrow’s performance makes it clear that, no matter what else may have changed, Avon is still really the same loveable killer we have came to know over the previous two seasons.

And there is a suggestion that the playing field has changed in a significant way: the Andromedan blobs may have been repelled, but at the cost of most of the Federation space fleet going up like fireworks and the destruction of Star One – Avon reflects that, in the end, Blake got what he wanted, winning both wars, and that the Federation is facing an existential crisis – ‘It’s difficult to sustain a military dictatorship when you’ve lost most of the military.’ If there’s a theme to this episode, it’s that the reassuring certainties that underpinned the first couple of seasons – the unambiguous presences of Blake, Travis, the Federation itself – have all been shot away, leaving a more chaotic, ambiguous universe where the likes of Avon and Servalan are more likely to prosper. Whether the third season really follows through on this notion is something it will be interesting to see.

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