Saturday, 10 March 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S3E07 Children of Auron

Roger Parkes' debut for B7 with "Voice from the Past" was not an auspicious one but I'm guessing he turned it in on time or worked cheap or something because he was asked back for the third year. Like his first - and to a lesser extent the third he would write for Season 4 - it once again displays a certain interest in continuity details, in this case Cally's precise relationship with her home planet of Auron and its' people. There have been various hints of how precisely she came to be exiled, some of it slightly contradictory, but Parkes' script actually takes her home and thus offers a definitive answer.

Basically this is Cally's turn at a starring episode after Tarrant had "Harvest at Kairos" (and will get another before the end of the year) and Vila has had "City at the Edge of the World"; Avon will get one next but Dayna won't; I guess second lead in "Aftermath" and "Powerplay" was her focus. One of the fun things about Season 3 is the more democratic slicing up of the meaty parts; I liked Blake but both character and actor required a thread themselves each week before did breed a certain type of familiarity. While Paul Darrow is now the lead he's not quite the star and it allows for a more equal division of action. Here Cally receives a telepathic SOS from her twin sister Zelda; the latter has never been mentioned before so feels a little cheap but then we never find out much about anyone's family in B7 until it becomes a plot point. When you think about it the alternative is for Cally to randomly mention to Blake in "Deliverance" or something that she has a cloned sister and then have it go nowhere. That said Zelda's death, staying with the rest of the fetuses as they're about to be bombarded, is pointless and reeks of wanting the loose end tidied away.

The reason for the distress call is Servalan, who wants to use Auron's cloning facilties - with a Parkes trademark (is it a trademark if you write three episodes?) continuity reference to the Clone Masters being destroyed (another hint that the Intergalactic War might have been more wide-ranging than initially shown). Instead of just asking she launches a nasty plan of exposing the isolationist population to a pathogen and then showing up to offer help. It's very ruthless and perfectly plausible; her wanting to procreate by cloning a brood of mini-Servalan clones is also a surprisingly good fit and it's all pulled off by Jacqueline Pearce playing things straight as an arrow and gives one of her best performances. Her collapse when the fetuses are destroyed and her revenge on Ginka could so easily have been campy and overplayed but she gets it spot on here. 

Zelda naturally is played by Jan Chappell as well but her appearances are kept brief and not too silly. It is a shame there aren't a few more clones kicking around rather than just Cally's, though. There's some good layers in the Auron thread, though, with much discussion of isolationism versus joining in the wider galaxy, with the perils of both shown. The script leaves it partly open but seems to think the former only works up to the point where someone decides they want something from you. There's also a certain irony in the older citizens of Auron escaping the disease due to having been out in the universe before the policy was put in place. The younger ones who never had chance to experience the wider universe are wiped out, paying the price for the politics of an older generation. Has Roger "Headhunter" Parkes written a Brexit analogy some forty years ahead of its' time? 

The crew are a little more harmonious this week, with Avon even postponing a visit to Earth to pick up Shrinker, the man responsible for killing Anna Grant. The latter is a rare example of episode-to-episode continuity in Season 3 and it works to show that the crew can pull together and operate as a unit if there's a good enough reason, which is great - dysfunction is only entertaining up to a point. Cally gets to be front and centre but aside from explaining her precise situation to the crew en route to Auron but we don't actually learn a huge amount about her and she's curiously calm about the attempted genocide of her people - Servalan is more emotionally shaken by the events of the episode. Avon and Tarrant are both in a lower profile this week, though the former gets a decent scene at the end when he predicts Cally will stay with the crew; the idea of them being her real family is a smart one as lots of families fight like the crew do this year. He does spoil it with that dumb line at the end, and the forced laughter indicates that not everyone is oblivious to the hugely tragic events that have just unfolded - compare and contrast to the end of, say "Killer". Vila gets a good moment when he manages to outwit Servalan and capture Deral, though how the Hell does the President not know Dayna is unaccounted for? Surely she holds a grudge from "Harvest of Kairos"!

The guest actors are well-cast and given good parts too. Those on the ground at Auron have a nice range of characteristics and feel like real people with their divided opinions, while the rivalry between Deral and Ginka on the Federation ships with its' racial undertones is interesting. We don't often see the Federation's views on actual race; it's difficult to tell if Ginka being the first non-white Federation character we've seen is an intentional comment or just the shallow casting pool of the time. Maybe the Federation are racist but post-Intergalactic War have to take what they can? Though again while the organisation is shown to be extremely controlling there's little sign they care who they're controlling - and in "Aftermath" Servalan seems to initially assume the Mellanbys are or were Federation citizens. It makes for some interesting subtext anyway and both actors do well.

It's largely a very nicely produced episode too. Andrew Morgan directs his first and sadly only episode of B7 here; his later Doctor Who work would show a talent for shooting tired locations in a fresh fashion and that's largely acheived here, with good use of some Brutalist architecture (always a good fall back for a British sci-fi show on a shoestring). And it's a huge relief that Auron and its' people are just fairly normal; ahead of first viewing I was dreading some sort of hippy world more in line with the Clonemasters (especially with all the focus on fairytales and myths from their culture up to this point) but here they're just largely normal people, and the script is careful to show the difference between isolationism and pacifism.

So while the episode doesn't really tell us much about Cally we didn't know before except in the literal sense of tidying up her history (and also the twin sister thing) it's still very good, with the best plot-line Servalan's really been involved with thus far this season, plenty of fine ideas well-implemented and a lot packed into fifty minutes - if "Children of Auron" has a fault it's that there's too much plot and the episode races through things we'd like to maybe hear a bit more about. 

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