Wednesday, 7 March 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S3E01 Aftermath

Blake's 7 had always been one to leave plenty open for critics and Season 3 would give a cheap shot in that Blake was no longer in it. You could argue that the apostrophe meant they could still be his 7 not counting him, but then that would only work for the first five episodes of Season 2. Many programmes have tried to press on without the lead (and in this case the third lead as well) and it's usually a disaster but B7 largely span a victory out of it.

The decision taken - under the auspices of Terry Nation, returning to work on the new format with Chris Boucher and David Maloney - was to make the first episode as close as had been done before or after to a solo adventure for one of the crew, in this case Avon. The character received considerable development across Season 2 due to positive audience reaction, fitting well with Boucher's blurred lines and to simply challenge Blake so the groundwork was there, but "Aftermath" had to sell him as a heroic lead while also dealing with the huge ramifications of "Star One" all while hiding that two regulars had left without filming any more scenes.

The opening picks up with the battle with the alien fleet all but over, a heavily damaged Liberator being evacuated as Federation forces eventually overwhelm the invaders from Andromeda. It's a cavalcade of cheapness; the only new effects shots I can spot is the three Pursuit Ships overtaking the Liberator and the escape pods being released. The rest is a recycling of various extant model stock shots, including a reuse of the Nova Queen collision from "Star One" to represent an alien suicide attack on Star One itself and the establishing model shot of Space City (from "Shadow") with a laser added on to represent an alien cruiser bombarding the Liberator. In fairness to all it would have been nine months since anyone had seen "Star One" but despite some imaginative editing it's all a bit obvious if you're watching back on video. These shots are interspersed with looped-in dialogue over shots of the empty Liberator flight deck with a few fireworks going off and a couple of shots of Avon, Cally and Vila trying to evacuate the ship (looking very strange on film rather than video). It's not got me entirely convinced but then I know they're trying to cover for Gareth Thomas and Sally Knyvette not being there; I wonder whether it maintained the illusion for viewers in 1980.

At this point it effectively becomes an episode about Avon; Cally and Vila won't be seen again until the next episode. Orac is put in the same pod as him to give the character someone in the loop to talk to while also foreshadowing the larger role the computer will have from this point in; in various episodes of Season 2 it features in a perfunctory fashion doing something Zen could probably do and in a couple is even absent, but from hereon in the computer will become a more central part of the crew's exploits - notably here functioning in feeding Avon updates about everyone and effectively forming his lifeline to the Liberator. Avon lands nicely as a lead, getting a couple of good fight scenes and a bit of a leadership vibe without losing his sardonic nature or intelligent side. If anything they lay things on a bit thick what with kissing Dayna and everything.

Yes, Dayna. The first new addition to the crew to date doesn't actually set foot on the Liberator until the end, though straight from the start she's given a lot more emphasis than your average guest ally - in places where she gives little speeches about her principles and beliefs it's actually quite artless. Dayna Mellanby will go on to be something of an inconsistent character played by an inconsistent actress (Josette Simon obviously went on to win awards, but in B7 her inexperience can show at times) but here she's not bad. The show's first (and only) black regular being a savage with a sadistic streak is a bit ouch but don't worry, she'll only have that personality in about half of her remaining episodes. What is her snogging Avon all about, though? After this it's never mentioned despite all the flirty talk about curiosity.

Of course, one of Dayna's problems is she gets saddled with a never-gonna-happen obsession with killing Servalan. Even here, when her father's actually murdered by Servalan, you know it's never going to come off but at least there's a reason here - as the season goes on her "I almost had her..." thing would become tiresome quickly. Her father Hal serves basically as a device to update Avon on the war and to be killed so Dayna can leave Sarran behind and take a good grudge with her. Not really sure what the point of their adopted Sarran girl Lauren is, though - she does nothing and is killed off quickly. The Sarrans themselves just add a little mild action, someone for Avon and Dayna to shoot and kick around. Incidentally, Star One was out in the middle of nowhere so how is Sarran close enough to receive so many survivors? I can maybe take a pass on seeing the battle itself because giant intergalactic space-fight but still.

And not only do Avon and the two unfortunate troopers (including Richard Franklin, Captain Yates off Doctor Who, in a role so tiny it suggests that rather than being headhunted due to his days with UNIT he auditioned for a bit part; at least Michael Melia still had EastEnders to come) land on Sarran but so does Servalan; it's a massive coincidence and again shows the genre's habit of forgetting you're talking about a rotating planet of a fair size rather than just a beach. I've no problem with Servalan's morale-boosting trip to the front gone wrong exactly and her acidic bitching with Dayna before she kills her dad is great, as is the first kernels of her weird sexual thing with Avon but her just getting there a few hundred yards from Avon really is a bit much - yes, the dialogue actually pointing it out is cute and Paul Darrow actually pulls it off but it's still a huge contrivance. But her taunting of the blinded Mellanby is possibly one of her most personally callous moments; it's been rare before now to see her being a bitch hands-on.

"Aftermath" isn't bad really but it is often about what we're not shown; we're itching for updates on the rest of the crew but while this obviously can't be helped we could have done with something more exciting than the Sarrans to distract us. But then it was always going to be difficult to pick everything up and put it back together; the episode does a fair job of setting Avon up as the leader for the season and introducing Dayna while giving a foundation for the new status quo. Not a great episode but maybe a necessary one. Plus it ends on an exciting cliffhanger as they arrive back on the Liberator only to find armed Federation officers! Da-da-dah!

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