Wednesday, 28 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S2E08 Hostage

Allan Prior's debut B7 script wasn't without promise even if it was strangely unsatisfying and not anything like good. His second is an absolute unqualified turd, setting the tone for basically the rest of his input. The plot is wafer thin, it's unexciting , it adds nothing to the ongoing plot and is mainly remembered for the bad performances it draws from the cast and for one painfully awkward development for Blake.

The episode gets off to an unexpectedly decent and exciting start when the Liberator comes under attack from a large, co-ordinated attack from Federation pursuit ships, requiring just about every second of extant stock footage of both models. It's actually cut rather well and it's interesting to see the Federation simply try to shoot the thing down; they actually come close and you wonder why the whole idea is junked. Very little can disguise that it was blatantly added as padding (possibly even by Chris Boucher to fill out an underweight episode) and it just doesn't connect with the rest of the plot in all but the broadest way.

But once it's over with the main plot has to be dealt with and it's not great. Travis has tracked Blake's exiled uncle Ushton to the planet Exbar and taken his daughter (that's Blake's cousin) Inga hostage, contacting the Liberator to offer an alliance. It's a blatant trap but Blake feels he has to go. It's an odd contrivance, though - Blake's relatives were apparently purged following his first pre-series uprising, so how did Ushton escape? And on top of that it's clear that Inga and Blake were lovers to some degree, which is just a bit creepy. I mean, bear in mind that Blake was fitted up for sex crimes and all and he's up there with a history of fucking his cousin. Would it have changed the plot to make Ushton an old friend? Not one bit. So why? Urgh. 

If only this was the biggest problem. Travis has for some reason dumped the crew of Mutoids given to him in "Trial". This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing as on top of its' other crimes "Hostage" debuts the shitty Mutoid redesigns, with the black sculpted helmets replaced by silvery wigs and - while it's a bit of a dickhead thing to point out - decidedly frumpier actresses, making them look like a bunch of old slappers. Travis tops this by recruiting Crimos - criminal psychopaths, who for some reason wear wetsuits complete with masks and bandoliers with blocks of polystyrene spray-painted black stuck to them. Again, why?

Anyway, the tedious trap plays out in turgid fashion as the boys teleport down (a fourth-successive sausage party on the away team; I get nearly as many lines in this episode as Jan Chapell) and get captured by Travis and the Crimos in predictable tedious piecemeal fashion. There's an odd thing where Brian Croucher actually seems up to the job on the studio scenes but not on location - some of the outdoors stuff was reshot due to the death of Duncan Lamont (originally cast as Ushton) so he might just be bored (though few of his exterior scenes feature Ushton so...) or fed up with another dose of nemesis George Spenton-Foster but he gives the shit dialogue absolutely no effort. Yet he's at his best in the interrogation scenes, trying to unsettle Inga or shamelessly bullying Vila - his flat repeated delivery of "The word, the word, the word" works precisely because it's so banal. Of course, they all then escape easily enough and pick off Travis' minions and once again leave the guy alive because what fucking ever. Blake makes a play for the moral high ground when minutes before he was dropping rocks on people. They even tie Travis up, whatever the point of that is.

There are scant crumbs of comfort. Avon shipping Travis' location to Servalan isn't a bad idea on paper and his apparently genuine guilt over it is a worthy motivation for him following Blake down with Vila, again hinting that despite his frequent protestations there's an irrational strain of loyalty and humanity in there. However, it also makes him look fucking stupid to give a tip-off when he surely knows Blake will be taking them all to Exbar. The only other bit of any particular value (bar a solid performance from John Abineri, brought in late for Lamont and therefore the one guy who has an excuse for phoning it in but promptly being the best thing in it, though that's more because no-one else cares) is Jenna, who gets precisely two cool things to do (showing huge relish when teleporting a Crimo into space and giving Blake a frosty look when she meets Inga in the closing scenes). Fair play to Sally Knyvette, she's got one impractically leather booted leg out of the door, the writing team seem to have forgotten she exists and still she's having a crack.

Talking of the writing team forgetting things, what the Hell is the Servalan/Travis dynamic here? Obviously the Liberator crew aren't in the loop about their deal from "Trial" but here they seem to both simultaneously remember and forget it. Travis is a renegade so Prior must know about that but what's with Servalan here? Why does she bother flying - personally - out to Exbar when she knows Travis is roving around? What's the point in her arriving with Mutoids to reset his situation to exactly what it was at the end of "Trial" with both of them acting like they've forgotten they set up the "Travis chases Blake, Servalan chases Travis" wheeze? Argh, again. She does get a nice political scene with Joban (played by genre stalwart Kevin Stoney) but this only really serves to refresh things as well and like the battle scene (considering Stoney only appears in that one scene, something mirrored by Andrew Robinson in the opening battle's commander) feels like it's been dropped in to compensate for a drastically underweight script.

It's basically a disaster, muddling picking up story threads which only started a fortnight before. The action scenes are crap even by a series marked by lots of dodgy fistfights with their polystyrene rocks and laboured throws, the plot is far too slight even with the five-minute headstart the opening battle gives the thing, it's a bit uncomfortable with the romance and the cast know the script is a dog. In and around the show's worst as it's not even the funny sort of bad.


  1. Even indoors, Travis has to spend about half an hour trying to work out Vila is the cowardly weak one.

    Servalan running about the place personally in season 3 when everything has gone to hell and she probably does have to be more hands on despite the promotion does make some sense. You don't want even a loyal minion boarding the Liberator first.

    Here though I keep wondering who is running things at Space Command.

    1. Her heading out personally to Exbar is daft, isn't it?

      The Space Command thing is another of those things that'd be smashing in a remake with more political depth. As it is they keep forgetting whether she's meant to be doing half of what she is doing the same way no-one can remember whether or not preserving the Liberator is more important than killing Blake.