Probic Vent Ood For Thought

1Apr/180

Blake’s 7 – Breakdown: “A Matter Of Life And Death”

In Breakdown we have a great opportunity to make some sense of Olag Gan, a gentle giant who is prone to terrible violence. A man who, in Space Fall and Cygnus Alpha, is one of the more able members of the crew.

But by Breakdown he is barely expected to be able to cope with tasks that do not trouble the other members of the crew; in the episodes leading to Breakdown Avon's barbs seem genuine - he believes Gan to be an oaf and a liability.

In Breakdown we have the most often-cited examples of Gan's hatred of women and while there is no hard evidence for this on screen - as opposed to vague inferences of Terry Nation's true intentions - there's plenty to suggest there's something awful in Gan's true nature.

While Gan attacks Blake, Avon and Vila it's the specifics of his interactions with Jenna and Cally that are a cause for concern. After he incapacitates the former he is seen dragging her, by her leg, across the flightdeck. Where? For what purpose? Later, when Cally tends to him, Gan pretends to sleep, observes her covertly and then snarls at her turned back.

Perhaps most disturbingly, having manipulated Cally into freeing him and as he strangles her, he smiles and nods - as if to confirm her worst fears that he is going to kill her. It's a creepy moment from David Jackson, who has made Gan into perhaps the warmest member of the crew. No wonder Cally is so shocked, so horrified.

Does the Limiter send Gan mad here? Or does it stop working, allowing his natural instincts to come to the fore? A line from Blake - 'the limiter didn't even slow him down' - implies the latter. Regrettably Breakdown doesn't go any further with this potential storyline.

Gan's condition and potential death do evoke some interesting reactions from the rest of the crew, however. Perhaps surprisingly Avon is all for pulling out the stops to save Gan's life - but Avon has other reasons for wanting to make the journey to space station XK72.

Vila, perhaps just as surprisingly as an identifiable friend of Gan's, is reluctant to enter into the prohibited zone.

The thief does enjoy a rare chance to show some heroics however, first by working out Kayn's plan to delay the Liberator at XK72, then by confronting him and indicating that he is perfectly prepared to kill him. Blake, says Vila, has "a conscience. He might not be prepared to kill you." He looks serious.

So too Avon, but Kayn looks unimpressed by threats from both. Not so Blake's chilling warning that if the surgeon does not repair the limiter within 20 minutes he will 'destroy [his] hands'.

Kayn is prepared to call the bluff of Avon and Vila. But, like Servalan, he is not prepared to risk it against Blake, who has pinpointed Kayn's weakness.

Blake's superpower - and what makes him so convincing as a resistance fighter - is his ability to identify the weaknesses of opponents and in convincing enemies and allies alike of his complete sincerity.

The women are more protective of Gan - and Cally's role as the mystic / warrior / healer is further cemented in her concern at the big man being restrained. Meanwhile Jenna acidly rebuffs Renor's clumsy advances.

"Do you believe in love at first sight, Jenna?" asks Renor. "Not yet," she replies. Jenna may be less worldly than Blake or Avon - but she's less gauche than Cally.

We also see how news of Blake has spread throughout the Federation, with reactions both positive and negative from Renor and Kayn respectively. "The Blake?" asks the former. It's another rare flash of insight into what is going on beyond the flightdeck of Liberator.

While the crews fret over Gan, and frustrated at another blunder into mortal danger, Avon has scoped out XK72 as a potential bolthole that seems ideal. Vila admits he stays with Blake because he has nowhere else to go. That has been the case for Avon too, but here he chooses Blake over his own personal freedom.

For his part, Blake seems neither surprised nor concerned that Avon is ready to leave. Perhaps - as he has previously implied - he simply cannot believe Avon will not leave him. There is a bond between the two men, but it's not clear if Avon really knows it.

"You know what to do," instructs Blake. In complying, with a brief look of realisation, Avon demonstrates that he understands what acceptance means. Darrow plays it perfectly.

Paul Darrow Avon Blake's 7

The events of Breakdown have brought Blake and Avon even closer to one another. With XK72's destruction the window of opportunity for ever decoupling from Blake narrows further.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

25Jun/140

The 50 Best Doctor Who Stories – 38: City Of Death

City of Death

Doctor Who always makes mistakes, most of them from the late 70s onwards and most recently in the interminable Eleventh Doctor storylines. But whenever it does it creates these strange outposts along the way: excesses of violence, adult storylines, humour; dubious castings; unsuitable writers, directors, script editors. Producers even. Season 24. But I take the view that they all add up to the programme's rich tapestry (apart from Season 24). Very few series can survive some of the nonsense and wrong turns Doctor Who has taken over the last 50 years; fewer still are enriched by their bad ideas.

catherine schell

Season 17 is such a bad idea: in my opinion it's a low point in the series because it almost never comes off. Tom indulging himself, Douglas Adams' slipshod approach to script editing and overreliance on humour, Williams' apparent insistence on studio-bound pastiche (in fairness partially forced on him by effective budget cuts) and some of the worst directors to ever grace the programme. It feels like everyone is taking the piss, either actively or because they just can't be bothered.

But somehow it all gels in City of Death – a half-written script from David Fisher, incorporating a series of unlikely stipulations from Williams and finished off by Adams over a weekend. Many writers will recognise how a deadline bearing down can stir them to creative heights. In 1979, powered by whiskey and coffee and under the sort of pressure that turns carbon to diamond, Douglas Adams turned out a perfectly-formed gem of his own.

It has glorious ideas: a rather louche alien scattered through history and secreting arts treasures for his later selves to sell – alongside copies that the originators have been strongarmed into creating – at inflated prices. The theft of the Mona Lisa; a scientist who thinks he's feeding the world with time-travel chickens and a marriage that has failed to take into account that one half of it has one eye and green linguini for a face. Ridiculous!

scarlioni

It's a high-wire act that relies on everyone being on the same page. In the majority of Season 17 something goes wrong: one or more elements are out of synch in the others, with sometimes disastrous results. I had always thought of Nightmare of Eden as a clever, rather nasty story with frightening moments and the odd splash of black comedy. That's certainly how the book reads.

On screen it's like a Crackerjack pantomime about space drugs. Destiny of the Daleks is a classic diminished-return Terry Nation runaround with added rubbish acting. Shada, something of a kissing cousin to City of Death is, as far as I can tell, as load of old tosh. It's Douglas Adams coasting through it – it's instructive that everything Adams wrote for Doctor Who ended up recycled in Hitchhikers or Dirk Gently novels at some point. Other stories in Season 17 have some very strong premises too but, somewhere long the line, they fail to come off – like a split sauce the elements just don't rub along together.

jagaroth ship

Luckily the writer, director, composer and most of the cast are on the same page here. I say most, but not all. Kerensky, like Tryst in Nightmare of Eden, seems to have walked in from a Two Ronnies sketch and the Sam Spade private detectives are absurd, even for this. In another story Duggan, Herman, Kerensky, even Scaroth/Scarlioni and the regulars themselves would be beyond the pale – but City of Death casts them in a slightly different universe to the rest of the season.

The Doctor has ended up in a situation populated with people as daft as he is. The Doctor, Romana and Scaroth are determined not to allow the facade to drop and sweep everyone else along with them - their sense of attraction strong enough to reel in John Cleese and Eleanor Bron for a sublime cameo. It helps that everyone else in City of Death is similarly daft, but they're primarily dancing to the tune the Doctor and Scaroth are playing. As such the whole story is conducted by characters as if they're on stage: actors playing characters playing heightened versions of themselves. It results in some inspired moments.

Scaroth in his safari suit is a brilliant, irreverent image – he's played as an urbane playboy by Julian Glover as if the Count simply is a gentleman thief. The idea that the Jagaroth has essentially created and guided the human race just so they can help him destroy themselves is another nice twist; a neat timey-wimey plot point that prefaces Moffatt by 30 years and pulls it off simply through some funny, throwaway lines. It's the series doing time travel for one of only a handful of times in the classic run and it's portrayed with a minimum of fuss and a lot of charm.

By the end of City of Death the Doctor has learned that the Mona Lisa hanging in the Louvre is a fake, with the words THIS IS A FAKE written underneath the paint, existing because he created it and put it there. No only that, it is part of plan by an alien to destroy, albeit coincidentally, the human race. Rather wonderfully the whole plot is explained through a little jaunt back to Renaissance Italy to catch up with Leonardo.

scaroth

The Fourth Doctor is so completely the star of City of Death. Tom directs the whole tone and carries it off with utter conviction; in an Aristotelian sense this is the perfect Doctor - the one everyone thinks of. The eyes, the hair, scarf and silliness.City of Death Who wouldn't want him as their best friend? There are so many funny, lovely moment it's impossible to count them: Tom and Lalla, running around the French capital – the fact that it's grey and overcast not mattering one whit – in love; a lovely score by Dudley Simpson – also nearing the end of his association with the series. "You, Duggan". The artist's sketch of Romana. "CAPTAIN TANCREDI?!"

you duggan

At the end of the story, having bade farewell to Duggan, the duo have reached the bottom of the Eiffel Tower in what seems like seconds. Did they fly after all, powered by love and imagination and wit? It's a even little bit poignant, if you want to go down that route – whatever the truth of the Doctor and Romana's descent here, he can't escape Logopolis' fearful gravity. How remote, how different, do those two moments seem?

In City of Death Tom and The Fourth Doctor – seemingly interchangeable – shine one last time, spending the rest of the incarnation overacting wildly or in a massive huff. By next season it's all cod technobabble, bleeps and synth, and unwanted companions; the smile gone from his face and the curl from his hair. With it, seemingly, his powers. The burgundy coat, E-Space and Adric loom large on the horizon, but we'll always have Paris.

   

Hush child stop addlepating me!

Sign up here for more of this frack

Powered by WordPress Popup