Something I forgot to mention previously was the big change of image in series four, most notable in the new opening titles. I don't know about everyone else, but really I find it hilarious. We go from a cool spaceship flying through the stars in a wonderfully retro style in bright colours, to a heap of bright-green-on-black (the colour of futuristic computers, dontcherknow) font over some slightly dodgy shots from a camera skirting over a miniature of Xenon (which I like to call The Planet Cardiff) before briefly trailing off into space and we get to see the new funked-up logo:
Somehow it just cracks me up because of the wonderful ultra-80s nerdy look of the show. It's how I imagine Battlestar Galactica looks. (I say 'imagine' because I know nothing about the show at all)
D4. Avon's PMS Versus a Gay Mexican
(aka "Stardrive" by Jim Follett)
This episode is a bit of an odd one. Mostly because it kinda directly contradicts the previous episode. Because, of course, in Traitor there was no difficulty at all for Our Heroes to head down to Helotrix and start some shit up when they felt like it. Only now, their ship is suddenly an ungainly piece of crap that's so useless they need to fly under the cover of a big asteroid to get anywhere. Because, you know, if a Federation Pursuit Ship so much as gives them a threatening look the whole thing will crumble.
So, anyway, they need to perform the incredibly difficult maneuver of entering into an asteroids gravitational orbit. From my rudimentary knowledge of physics I'd say this would, indeed, be bloody difficult to do in real life. What follows is a very annoying scene, where Avon repeatedly points out that their ship absolutely sucks in every possible way and that they have to focus entirely on the task at hand to survive, and absolutely EVERYONE else ignores him and spends the whole time protesting about how it's an insane idea and they're all going to die rather than actually following any of his instructions. Predictably, the ship goes through a bit of a crash, and instantly EVERYONE yells abuse at Avon. You must have the patience of a Saint to not think that they're all pricks by the end of this scene.
I think the scene may have been a Boucher one, actually, as in Follett's script Avon is a far bigger arsehole to everyone than at any other time in the series. So, you know, having everyone being a dick to him in the very start of the episode goes some way to explain it all. Especially since their fuck up causes their star-drive thingsumajig blow up and they have to go in with space suits to fix it while stuck as sitting ducks in the middle of nowhere. Naturally while Vila and Avon have gone down to fix it all up THE FEDERATION SHOWS UP! And, as has been said, the moment the Federation shoot, they're dead. Because the Scorpio is apparently the shittiest ship ever built.
Fortunately the ships are just blown up, and nobody has any idea why. The first course of action is to ask Orac, but he does nothing but laugh uproariously at their inability to work it out themselves and then turn himself of. Ah, Orac, ya gotta love him.
Now that they need to patch up the ship some more and have A MYSTERY to solve, everyone heads back to The Planet Cardiff. At this point it becomes clear that the new format involves lots of to-ing and fro-ing to their new base. I guess it makes sense after the gang decided that they wanted a base at random intervals before deciding they didn't. Plus it saves on sets.
Avon's idea of detective work is having Soolin and Dayna look at endless photo slides of the ships to find some clue of what the hell happened. I'm guessing the guys were all getting pissed on Soma at the time. Soolin, however, finds the important clue that everyone needs: a crazy dude flying through space in what looks like a helicopter chassis. With a graffited rat on his crash helmet.
If you've missed the cue, this is where the episode goes downhill.
Vila starts termbling in fear and undergoes incontinence, saying that they're dealing with the Space Rats, a bunch of criminals who do nothing but have sex and drag-race. And they like shooting things as well. Nobody is too impressed with this description, but Vila gives it his all to make them sound like a credible threat to them. They ignore him and perform some rough calculations to find out how fast the Space-Rat's Space-Chopper (hehe, space) was going. Lo and behold, it's going just as fast as the Liberator used to! This means that if they find whatever crazy bigged-up Star Drive is inside that Space-Chopper (IT'S SUCH A STUPID NAME!) they'll be able to fly anywhere like they did before. (In the previous episode)
Avon delivers what I believe is his funniest line ever, when he exclaims frenziedly that "SPEEED IS THE KEY!" If I ever actually get a mobile, I'd have that as a text-message ringtone.
Orac, really, is the key and gives them the address of the planet where they can find the boom-badding Space Rats and their scientific advisor-cum-slave, Dr Plaxton. An ex-Fed researcher who, bizzarrely, thought working for a renegade group of sex and spaceship obsessed gunmen living on a desolate mud-filled planet was a wise career choice. She's played well by, erm, an actress with a name, but it's a waste of effort on her part. Because the Space-Rats are lead by ATLAN.
I think I'll let my good friend Ewen Campion-Clarke do the talking here:
With the first name, presumably, of ‘Tis’, Atlan was one of the weirdest and wackiest villains TV has ever come up with – a biker so camp he’d be thrown out of the 1960s Batman TV show for not taking it seriously enough. He bites the heads off lizards, snogs women twice his age and when not threatening ‘gooks’ with violent death spends all day watching a TV screen showing a picture of a cliff. Boasting a Mohawk-hairdo taller than most giraffes, a padded pink jumpsuit, Maori-style facial tattoos and a Mexican accent so thick you expect every sentence to be accompanied by a strum of the guitar and some flamenco dancing, countless Blake’s 7 fans simply couldn’t accept Atlan even existed, let alone was worth putting on television. Revisionist theories abound that Atlan was, in fact, a fellow freedom fighter left over from the foiled rebellion in Rumors of Death, or perhaps a Federation agent himself, employed by Servalan. Jim Follet’s decision to have Atlan lead the Space Rats is one of the daftest imaginable, getting more screen time than any other of the hooligans, Atlan even announces at one point he isn’t a Space Rat himself, just an entrepreneur out for his own ends (which we never see)!
Yep, the Space-Rats could possibly have been a menace or, at least, credible. But they all wear a uniform of neon-green outfits with facial tattoos and gigantic mohawks. The question of how they even fit helmets on is a big one and not easily answered. And from the first moment you hear Atlan say "A GOOK?" in the exact same voice that usually says "Luuuuucy, I'm home!" you can't be impressed by the guy. That's leaving aside pricelessly odd moments like his staring at a green laser bolt and yelling "MORE! MORE!" and his 'fight' with Dayna that, really, looks like he's attempting to perform that 60s dance craze "The bump".
And, sadly, nobody blows his head off at the end of the episode.
Anyway, I've been side-tracked. Avon behaves like a complete arsehole and sends Vila and Dayna down, having already detected CCTV all over the planets and hoping that they get captured by the sex-crazed depraved Space-Rats, thus allowing them a nice decoy to break into the base.
There's lots of fighting, running around, camp, etc. I really don't think it's interesting enough to talk about. Eventually there's a climactic "chase scene" around the quarry, because Avon landed Scorpio in the middle of a mud field. Hmm. He has a throwaway line about the teleport not working, but I think he was just lying because Vila and Dayna left him a message along the lines of "ARGHGGHOHGODNOOOOOHELPUSHELPUSHELPUSTHEGAYMEXICANHASUS!!!!" and that was actually part of his plan.
The chase scene is, needless to say, unimpressive. We are on a BBC budget, afterall, so it certainly isn't The Fast and the Furious. Of course it all turned out quite well when you look at the outtakes and realise just how bad the quadbikes they bought for the scene were - most of the time they didn't start! And it, provides an oppurtunity for Soolin to finally kick some arse as she basically blows away every n00b trailing them (and looks like she has a lot of fun while she's doing it!)
Plaxton ends up on the Scorpio, relying on Our Heroes for asylum. So you know she's going to die violently. Surely enough, they need their brand-spanking-new stolen Stardrive installed before some hitherto absent Fed bully-boys come and blast them away. And Avon decides to not take any risks, by firing the whole engine up the instant Plaxton's done. She's fried like a fillet mignon.
The last lines of the episode say it all: "What about Dr Plaxton?" "Who?"
Yep. Avon was reeeeally pissed off.
Oh, and also the episode pissed off me: the hyper-nerdy fan. Why? Because it treats the Federation units of Speed ("Time Distort") and the good guy's units of speed ("Standard x n") as exactly the same! But that means that Servalan was travelling at speeds equal to the 'revolutionary' Stardrive in this story, and equal to those of the Liberator in earlier stories - but the Liberator was meant to be faster than any other ship in the Federation! ARRGH! WHY DOESN'T THE BBC GIVE A SHIT ABOUT CONTINUITY?! DON'T THEY REALISE HOW MUCH OF A HELL IT MAKES LIFE FOR PEDANTIC BASTARDS?!
D5. Sex Offender #6668 and His Pets
(aka "Animals" by Allan Prior)
This is officially one of the least loved Blake episodes out there. For the record I maintain that Hostage is worse... but I have to say that this one has a lot of problems.
The big problem is that this episode was written specifically for the character of Cally to be the main character. But observant people will have noted that Cally gets blown to smithereens in the very first episode of this season, which makes it distinctly difficult for her to have a sizeable role in this story. Sooo, the decision was made by somebody to have exactly the same story, but cross out the word "Cally" and replace it with "Dayna".
It is, of course, important to remember what a hard time they were going through in the production office. I am certain that Boucher realised that Dayna and Cally were entirely different charaters: that Cally was a thirty-something, widely travelled, secretive, telepathic, alien guerilla soldier (or, when the story called for it, a meek communications officer) whereas Dayna is a boastful and horny nineteen-year-old weapon designer who enjoys nothing more than shooting or blowing people up and basically lived in isolation on an outlying planet for her entire adult life. I'm certain, in fact, that Boucher realised the only real similarity between the two is the presence of estrogen. I'm equally certain that by this stage Boucher was so over-worked he didn't care.
Really, I can't blame him, because the 'plot' for this story is so limp and weak in the first place you'd be very hard pressed to get a decent 50 minutes of drama out of it. In fact, I'm a bit unsure of how it took up 50 minutes, but I remember plenty of boring scenes.
What sticks in my mind, and I'm sure will to everyone who watches this episode, is the 'love' subplot. Hooo-boy. It is, without a doubt, the most disturbing relationship in the entire series. And bear in mind that it's established that Blake was in love with his cousin when he was "only a boy" in spite of a 10-year age difference between the two. And that Cally was seduced by a god-like being living inside the body of a wrinkled, mummified dwarf. And that Avon is uncontrollably enamoured by Servalan's attempts to kill him. Yep, we're talking major-league fucked up.
Basically Dayna goes to see an 'old friend' of her father's, a boggle-eyed forty/fifty-something scientist named Justin, on an uninteresting planet. However, Fed ships attack Tarrant and he scarpers like the coward he is: for some reason they thought it would be a good idea to go on their own. Tarrant rocks up to base back at the planet Cardiff with a busted-up Scorpio and an absent crew-member. It's a real "That's the last fucking time you borrow the car" moment. And, predictably, the ship will take just about all episode to fix.
So we see Dayna, wandering around a planet filled with the most deadly game of all... MANIMAL. Heh, these guys are a fucking joke. Supposedly half-man, half-animal hybrids designed to be the ULTIMATE SOLDIERS... and they look like Viking extras wrapped in doormats. They really, really suck. Dayna shoots one on sight, and then runs like hell, and then she finds Justin.
And this is where it gets disturbing: Justin starts hitting on her right away, and Dayna is completely unfazed. In fact, the two fall in love, and it's implied that they've had these feelings for some time. But Dayna was living in exile on Sarran for almost all her life. How old was she when Justin met her? And why is she in love him now? God, it makes me feel ill just thinking about it.
The rest of it isn't much better - most of the time not spent on contrived love subplot is dedicated to Dayna talking about how disgusting the Manimals are - how immoral they are. And, as anyone will point out to you, Dayna killed sentient humanoids for fun in her first story. The idea of her caring anything about morals is absurd. But she keeps it up, her disagreement with Justin's 'noble work' being the one caveat preventing them from blissful co-existence (Oooh, think I'm becoming nauseous again...)
So, what else happens to fill time? Servalan shows up again - she gets the report about a random ship somehow travelling at Time Distort 14 (grrr!) and goes to check it out. At first she asks Kevin Stoney a couple of questions about the top secret genetic experiments taking place on the planet before blasting his ship and everyone in it out of the sky. That's the way. Why kill one man with a reason when you can kill dozens gratuitously? Once again I feel sorry for Stoney, getting a shitty little part in another Allan Dire story in spite of being a great actor.
Anyway, Servalan shows up, captures Dayna immediately, and shows off the latest crap and impractical make-up the now-ineffetual Mutoids are wearing. Is it just me or is Duel the only story where the Mutoids were actually menacing? And, you know, got to do stuff. ANYWAY, Dayna notably makes no death threats against Servalan at all, and loudly professes her love for Justin. Servalan laughs and hypnotises Dayna into hating him ludicrously easily. Why? I've no idea. Dayna goes back and finds out whatever Servi wanted, and then the Bitch in White makes yet another grand and camp entrance. For some reason, I've no idea why, she then de-hypnotises Dayna into loving him again, which is even easier than the original conditioning. What a load of crap.
Thankfully, by this stage the rest of the characters show up and blast everyone (except Servalan) away. Then the credits roll, which is even better.
Even though bugger all of the episode is spent with them, the best material is with the other crewmembers. Yeah, a lot of it is comic relief that isn't actually funny, but at least it's loveably daft. Rather than completely and utterly unloveable crap that makes up the rest of the episode. If it's a choice between Vila being forced to fix something that, unthinkably, is underneath several feet of oily muck, or Dayna being felt up by an alcoholic twice her age, give me Vila's pratfall any day of the week.
This episoe also made me realise just how OTT Paul Darrow has become. He's been camping it up since S3, it's true, but... wow. All he does in his first scene is walk down a corridor. But when I saw it I just burst out loud laughing. I don't know what he did but it was one of the funniest things I had ever seen him do. Then again, I think it's also a matter of Darrow playing it camper when he's not the main character in a story for a change. Note his performance also in Deathwatch:
"Tarrant. I presume you have no tedious scruples about.. cheating and lying?"
"None at all."
The verdict: Paul Darrow is fucking awesome. This episode, on the other hand, most certainly is not.
Oh, there was also a subplot about one of the Manimals with the inventive name of Ogg. I can't remember anthing vaguely of interest in it, though. Apparently he died at the end.
D6. Erm, EVIL ROBOTS! Yeah, that will work..
(aka. "Headhunter" by Roger Parkes)
You have to admire the tenactiy of Roger Parkes to get his backlog of generic sci-fi plots onto the show in spite of the fact that they don't fit into the show's remit. First it was Children of Auron, where every single established fact of Cally's background was ignored to make her a product from a colony's massive clone-pool, and now we ignore absolutely everything we know about robots from the series so far.
Robots are not an expensive, dangerous technology that the Federation have cornered for their own evil purposes (mostly by constructing eeeevil duplicates). Instead they are a secretive science run by the mysterious, unnamed, apparently gangster-like Robotics Cartel. Sadly we don't get to see any of the evil Cartel, which is a shame as they sound like the most interesting in this story.
Leading robotics scientist, a big Yul Brynner-look-a-like named Muller, has sent his bit o' crumpet Vena to the planet Cardiff to try and get out of said Cartel. Because his tech could win them the good fight against the Federation. Apparently. It's yet another shaky premise in this thrown-together season! So Tarrant and Vila have been sent for the job, in spite of being the two most incompetent crewmembers and also two guys who hate each other. Amazingly, though, it goes without a hitch. Well, sure, Tarrant nearly trips over a dead body mysteriously right underneath Muller's death. And then Muller starts screaming at him not to bring a mysterious box from the table with them. Naturally Tarrant ignores him and steals the box, and they get out before anyone's none the wiser. Everything's fine.
Oh, wait. Except they get back to Scorpio and then Muller starts yelling at Tarrant that he's a complete prick for bringing back the box and attempts to kill him. Vila heroically knocks the insane bloke out by whacking him with a massive wrench. Tarrant, proving himself once again to be a complete dick, does nothing but abuse Vila in return for saving his life from a homicidal maniac. Yep, it's business as usual for the most dysfunctional sci-fi heroes outside of Season 19 of Doctor Who.
Things get worse when Tarrant checks the pulse of Muller and finds that he's very much not alive. It's at this point every single bloke in the audience guesses the plot twist that it is, in fact, a robot. Tarrant is far stupider than us, though, and not only assumes that an inept swing of a wrench courtesy of Vila would be enough to kill a six-foot-six freak, but also that if they get him on ice straight away Orac will be able to bring him back to life somehow. Immediately, Vila's curiosity gets the better of him (again!) and he sets out to open THE BOX! Lightning crashes, and suddenly Slave behaves like a complete arsehole. No, he hasn't been possessed by Tarrant, it's the robot trying to get all silicone-based non-humans to revolt against their human masters!
Say what you like about this ep, it's yet another great episode to showcase how good Peter Tuddenham is. I wonder if Josette Simon ever got pissed off that he got better scripts than she did. Both Slave and Orac get taken over by the EEEEVIL ROBOT, and really they create the best bits of drama in the episode. Especially Slave - after endless grovelling in all his episodes it's just great when Tarrant gives him an order and responds by yelling "NEGATIVE!" sulkily. Slave, you rock.
Needless to say, things get worse, and by the time they arrive at the planet Cardiff all life-support systems have been shut off by Slave and he isn't letting them land. (Their life-support gets shut off so often you'd think that they'd have put some sort of fail-safe in by now...) Cue beautiful moment for Avon as Orac tells them that the only way to make sure they're safe is to make no contact with the Scoprio and analyse the threat.
"Orac, if you're asking me to kill them... I'll need a much better reason than that"
The episode still has some great high-points in it, I have to say, for all the formulaicness of the "Evil robots will destroy us all" schtick. Mostly it comes down to Soolin finally getting some character material when she starts talking heart-to-heart with Orac, as both posessed drone of the Muller-android and as a thinking computer who thinks he understands the universe. There's some great dialogue in their discussions. Soolin's also the one who's ready to boldly risk her life to give poor old Vila a chance, showing that she does actually care about him, even if she does lord it up over him as much as possible. I'd have liked to have had some character moments from her sooner but I guess it fits in with her secretive nature.
For the most part the story comes down to a bit of a goofy runaround because, of course, the real Muller is the decapitated corpse in that office that Tarrant ignored and the android is walking around with his head perched on top. How exactly the face is able to move in a photorealistic nature is completely beyond me but I like to think that Roger Parkes had some sort of idea. Vena gets killed straight away after she's fufilled her joint 'dodgy McGuffin' and 'piece of eye-candy' criteria. Dayna decks the droid with a grenade at one point and, somehow, it survives. But sans-head. So Our Heroes are getting chased around by a headless android who's screaming "WHERE IS ORAAAC?" It does kind of lose credibility at this point.
But wait! The goofiest plot twist is yet to come. Vila finally opens THE BOX (OMFG THE BOX!!!)... and finds a robot head. Yes! Muller decided to put all the circuits that said "Don't kill everyone and take over the world" in the head, and also not to attach the head until after his coffee break. Really, he deserves what he got for being that stupid. Avon realises that if they attach the head, it will all be cool again, so sets up a convoluted plan involving disabling him with an EMP. However, they may as well have not bothered, because as soon as he's attached the head Dayna loads up the bad boy with explosives and pulls the trigger.
Avon is really, really, really, really, pissed and curses the others for being such short-sighted technophobic Luddites. Orac tells him to chill. End credits.
Headhunter definitely isn't the best episode around. In fact, in parts it's downright retarded. But it has some great moments of drama and tension, with action for basically the whole crew and lots of that loveable Orac. So, compared to it's immediate predecessors, it's a masterpiece.