Tuesday, 6 March 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S2E12 The Keeper

As mentioned before B7 didn't really handle arcs well because the BBC and TV in general of the time wasn't really set up for it. With few video recorders episode-to-episode continuity had to be crisp and clear, meaning that if any information was to be carried over it had to be the sort of thing that could easily be put in The Radio Times, so any sort of complexity was impossible. Each episode was effectively a mini-production with different crew, also leading to a certain amount of self-containment as Director A might be less than co-operative about compromising their episode to set something up for Director B's. The other problem was that a certain amount of flex was needed so stories could be reordered if there were production issues; Season 2 saw "Killer" and "Horizon" switched around and probably massive gratitude that there were some less arch-driven episodes to bring forward (and as it was it required late rewrites around both to reflect Gan's mortality). After that the crew would never try even the slightest link between more than three episodes ever again, and then only in the more controlled environment of season openers, before the money and time ran low.

So the arc aspect of the search for Star One is primitive and loose, with little in the way of structure or building tension. It's a sequence of clues that really could come in any order; if they had to switch "Gambit" and "The Keeper" it would require minimal re-righting, just have the latter reveal Docholi's location and Docholi tell everyone where Star One was. In reality the quest is just a plot device; while Star Trek had the five year (hyuk) exploration programme and the Doctor mostly has the TARDIS doing whatever as an excuse for pitching up B7 only had a limited range of devices to kick-start adventures. Early on especially it was the "teleport down to find another rebel or blow something up", but for the Star One episodes the following up of clues takes over.

Of course, if this was the biggest problem with "The Keeper" it wouldn't be any worse in that regard than "Countdown" or "Gambit". Allan Prior returns for his second story of the year and while the first - "Horizon" - wasn't great it at least had some attempts at subtext and analogy. "The Keeper" throws it all out for a tacky budget viking power struggle story. Everyone - the crew of the Liberator, Servalan and Travis - is hunting for the brain print of a man named Lurgen, taken by Docholi and being worn around the neck of a chieftain on Goth. The inhabitants of Goth are all hammy idiots wearing crap furs and that sets the tone for the episode. Their village is a CSO'd model, that's how lousy this one is.

There's a call back to early episodes when Avon takes the Liberator out of teleport range, leading to Jenna and Vila being captured by Gola, apparently the chief. He takes a shine to both of them, wanting to pair-bond with Jenna and install Vila as his new fool, while Blake links up with Gola's brother Rod, who might be the real chieftain. Both Servalan and Travis meanwhile are after the print as well - never mind how they find out about it, why they particularly want it or how Travis arrives far enough ahead of the fastest ship in the known galaxy to befriend Gola, it's not like it's a proper episode or anything.

Servalan at least shows some delicious distaste with the Goths, which makes Jenna's only plan being to fawn over the adoring Gola somewhat demeaning. Sure, she's playing it up but is this the best a lady who two seasons ago told a warden who could have her shot to go fuck himself rather than flirt a bit? Eh. Not that Vila does well, either - putting the comic relief front and centre only works when he's given funny material and Michael Keating struggles to sell most of the half-witted capering he does here - the trick with Vila is to make him the funny one in serious situations, when he's just given skits to do (which will happen a couple of times in Season 3) it can get a bit excruciating.

Avon's role is to command the Liberator in Blake's absence, getting a telegraphed ironic plot device role when he leaves orbit to blow up Servalan's ship (believing it might contain Travis) and drops the away team in it and then gets overrode by Cally when an actual chance to blow Travis up comes around. He does get a good flare-up argument with Blake out of it but then he and Cally basically disappear for the end of the plot. Blake himself gets to be in the thick of the telegraphed mess of a plot, paling up with Rod before the entirely predictable revelation that neither has the brain print but instead it's with the old twat locked up in the cells who's given huge emphasis early on for absolutely no other possible reason. 

It doesn't help that the episode features a shocking guest cast, who seem to think being vikings mean everything should be shouted. Bruce Purchase is bad, Shaun Curry is worse and Freda Jackson gives one of the absolute worst showings in the series' history, up against some stiff competition, cackling away in a hugely obvious fashion. It all looks very overlit and studio bound, all the fight scenes are dreadfully slow and stagy, everything looks yellowy, et cetera. The whole thing is just such an obvious exercise in dragging the discovery of the brain print out for fifty minutes. We all know everyone's going to find it, cut the bullshit please.

So, redeeming features for the episode are Avon and Blake arguing, Rod and Gola both dying so we're two shit Brian Blessed impersonators down and some drive-through superiority from Servalan, with even the now-novelty of Jenna leaving the ship botched. What the Hell is a brain print anyway? Pile of rubbish. Watch "Gambit", assume they found the brain print, go straight to "Star One", do something better with fifty minutes of your life.

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