Probic Vent Ood For Thought


Blake’s 7 – Cygnus Alpha: “We Lose It All”

cygnus alpha

The first hint of something beyond the politics and space opera arrives in style: Pamela Salem backlit by a looming celestial body. In Cygnus Alpha we get the first meaningful view of a world beyond the Federation and Earth; in keeping with much of Terry Nation's fictional worlds - and the majority of Blake's 7 - it's not pretty.

It's barely a minute into the episode before Avon has pulled a gun on Blake and the power dynamic is instantly evident: Avon blinks first as Blake shrugs off the challenge by simply walking away. It's not clear whether Blake sees this is a bluff or a test of his mettle - or even an outright threat. Either way he treats it as if Avon is not serious, though Blake has little reason to doubt his sincerity.

cygnus alpha

The introduction of Zen immediately begs questions that are never really answered. Is the 28th Century Siri merely a computer, as Avon insists? While he lacks the obvious spite of Orac, Zen certainly bristles at Avon's disregard, appears to make a telepathic link with Jenna and 'has a mind of its own' but this is a path forever left unexplored.

In these early Liberator scenes, particularly in the moment where Blake, Jenna and Avon discuss teleportation mechanics, the difference between the approach of both Gareth Thomas and Paul Darrow to their lines in Blake's 7 is evident.

cygnus alpha

Whereas Darrow relishes his lines and wrings everything out of them, Thomas' delivery is more naturalistic, reflecting how some of the more fluent Shakespearean actors recite the archaic verbiage. It makes for a pleasing combination of styles and invites further readings fo their respective characters.

Having urged Jenna to randomly press buttons in the hope of gaining control over the ship Blake, true to form, immediately tests a supposition about the teleport based on Avon's 'educated guesses' and blunders straight into almost lethal danger, surviving because of more dumb luck when Jenna stabs the correct button on the teleport controls.

cygnus alpha

Down on Cygnus Alpha the rest of the London's passenger's find themselves about to embark on a battle of survival. Given what a noted recycler of plots, tropes and archetypes Nation was it's something of a surprise penal colony's inhabitants aren't broadcast to the Federation.

It's at this point one of Vila's lesser-spotted and less pleasant traits is on view, namely his pleasure in the discomfort of other people - as if unnerving others acts as a displacement activity for his own anxiety. On the receiving end as Arco and Selman are Peter Childs and David Ryall, two fine actors whose job here seems to be to act obnoxious and querulous respectively.

cygnus alpha

It's interesting to ponder what they might have brought to the dynamic, especially the unpleasant Arco, who clearly has no truck with Blake's quest. He is at least responsible for Blake's mask slipping, albeit briefly, when he suggests Blake turn himself over to Vargas and forego his ship.

Returning to the planet Blake finds an authority with whom he can butt heads in the shape of Brian Blessed's Vargas, who does deliver his usual quota of shouting but marries it to a disturbingly sing-songy delivery to create a villain every bit as one-eyed as Blake. Both are on Cygnus Alpha looking to recruit followers; neither are prepared to lose grip on the power they enjoy.

With Blake attempting to secure a crew, Avon and Jenna enjoy an intriguing back and forth on the Liberator. Once again Blake has trusted that Avon won't simply abandon him, yet another of the opportunities he provides for Avon to leave.

Perhaps more surprisingly Jenna's faith in Blake isn't infinite and at one point she actively prompts Avon to discover a room of treasure she knows will appeal to his less noble instincts.

cygnus alpha

"He can't win - you know he can't win," snarls Avon and it seems Jenna might just prefer to be rich than dead when she demurs to his logic. For a second. Jenna recognises the truth of Avon's words but she can't bring herself to decouple from Blake's crusade.

Nevertheless Blake comes perilously close to losing the Liberator at the hands of his two existing crew members, on their way to buy a planet.

blake's 7 cygnus alpha

Down on Cygnus Alpha the prisoners make desperate bids for a teleport bracelet, a literal audition for entry to Blake's crew. Add Avon and Jenna and the seven seem complete, but the brutal dispatch of Selman and Arco makes it clear Blake's 7 is a very different beast from other genre shows.

Despite the many close escapes, however, two of Blake's crew are forever denied a happy ending here. As Avon intimates to Jenna: "We lose it all".


The 50 Best Doctor Who Stories – 39: Genesis of The Daleks

Fourth doctor and thals

I'm a bit bemused as to how Genesis of the Daleks has ever topped any best-of lists. But that doesn't stop it being very good, nor does it stop it being very important.

Terry Nation (apparently at the prompting of Robert Holmes) finally does something interesting with the Daleks after a run of Pertwee stories that are very much diminishing returns. Once again in Genesis, the Daleks are a threat: cunning, merciless, genuinely evil with some unsubtle fascistic overtones - it's akin to the reboot (since squandered) the new series gave the pepperpots.

doctor and harry look

There's always a thrill to see how each new Doctor will tackle them and Tom's newness rubs off the Daleks - so tired and shagged out and a bit ridiculous by Death to the Daleks. And Sarah and Harry make the perfect foil - lending a human perspective. They are appalled at what they see; frightened, horrified. But they respond with bravery and succour for the Doctor, wrestling with his conscience.

For his part, the Fourth Doctor still feels alien, dangerous - yet he's funny too. Tom is still taking this deadly seriously, but that doesn't mean he doesn't show humour, fondness for his companions, empathy with the people he meets on Skaro, horror and anger at cruelty and injustice. It's the combination that makes Tom feel so vital at this point in the series. Yes, he's mad, boggling, weird, occasionally frightening. But he's like a bonkers uncle - the Doctor is always on our side; always good, kind, ready with a smile.

fourth doctor and davros

But at the centre of it all, Davros and the Daleks. Michael Wisher's performance is iconic, mould-breaking. Even Julian Bleach, more than 40 years later, doffs his cap to the original. It bears repeating just how hideous Davros is. Like a peach that's been left out in the sun he's wizened, dessicated. There's a whiff of decay and putrefaction about him. The crippled scientist isn't a monster - he's a human who's suffered something truly terrible. Somehow that makes him so much more disturbing and the faint element of tragedy makes him all the more rounded.

The Daleks are at their best - apparently basic, silent, neutered they inevitably, suddenly turn on their creator in a way that seems to make them all the more terrible, all over again. They think Davros is hideous too. Another shot of Sarah and Harry watching on a screen as the Daleks massacre the Kaled scientists is a perfect evocation of what makes the Daleks tick, cannily referenced 30 years later by Rob Shearman when van Statten asks why the Dalek will kill everyone: "Because it honestly believes they should die," explains the Doctor.

Genesis seems to have a reputation as being beloved of po-faced fans due to its supposed 'darkness' or 'grittiness'. In fact, it's not dark or gritty - it's bloody horrible. Soldiers are gunned down in Peckinpah-style slow-motion; Sarah is psychologically tortured ("they say people who fall from great heights are dead before they hit the ground. I don't believe that, do you?"); the Doctor nearly strangled by a mutant; Harry nearly eaten by a genetic mutation; Thals and Kaleds alike are pretty awful people and we virtually have two de facto genocides. Not to mention a scene where our heroes rip gas masks from corpses to survive gas attack.

sarah and thal

But I think what fans like so much about Genesis is that it's epic in a way that Doctor Who rarely was - it's like one of RTD's end-of-season finales, only the universe doesn't get rebooted because the Doctor wants to hump Sarah. Doctor Who only really pulled out the stops like this for regeneration episodes (after The Dalek's Masterplan anyway), as a result this is the series basically telling you that you're seeing something important. And, despite some rather pedestrian 'running-up-corridors' episodes, the story is up to it.

David Maloney's direction is among the best of the era; a cast packed with dependable character actors (Dennis Chinnery, James Garbutt, Peter Miles, Stephen Yardley, Guy Siner and Tom Georgeson - amongst others - in 'what-was-he-in?' appearances); "Have I the right?" is a punch-packing iconic moment delivered by an actor who represents what is probably one of the best bits of casting in television history - an actor who has found something he's been searching for all his life.

nyder ravon sarah sevrin kavell garmin

Genesis of the Daleks is a thorough rethink about what the Daleks are - and how best to use them. It brings down a curtain on Terry Nation's cut-and-paste quest-style narratives, marking a clear break from the past, despite the odd clam. It's also a break from the past that highlights just how much Doctor Who has changed over the previous few years. Oh, Ark In Space and Sontaran Experiment have their moments but Genesis isn't just about the Daleks' rebirth.

No cosy UNIT family here; no mother hen. The Brig isn't around, nor are Yates or Benton. Not even the vaguely avuncular Master, nor a TARDIS to fall back on. Jo has departed for the Amazon in what is surely one of the most allegorical departures in the series - growing up and growing out of the series - and the Third Doctor gone is a blaze of radiation and what seems most like a death of any of the regenerations.

davros and daleks

In their place mustard gas, minefields, holocaust, barbed wire, machine guns, fascism and genocidal violence. There's still humour and companionship, but it's set against a backdrop of genuine horrors that resonate with a time barely 30 years past. Just imagine Jo being dangled hundreds of feet above the ground by a sadistic Thal; Benton decked out in the might-as-well-be-Nazi outfit of a Kaled soldier, wielding a machine gun. Or the Third Doctor, stock still, his foot balanced precariously on a landmine. Pertwee and Delgado - two men who served in WWII - in a story about fascism and racism is, conversely, unthinkable. It just doesn't work.

have i the right

That Terry Nation got it up one last time is impressive; that he was able to tear the series away from its rut of the previous few seasons so violently and so confidently is astonishing. 12 years on from defining Doctor Who he redefined it for Tom Baker, Robert Holmes and Philip Hinchcliffe.

Given how shagged-out the pepperpots are by the time the City of the Exxilons is crumbling in Death to the Daleks - and how depressingly familiar the narrative in Destiny of the Daleks is in a series again changed beyond all recognition just five years later - Genesis is perhaps the most important Dalek story of all.

Hush child stop addlepating me!

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