I'm back. And this time it's personal.
D7. SUPER HAPPY STAR WARS CHRISTMAS SPECIAL FUNGANZA!
(aka. "Assassin" by Rod Beacham)
Who the hell is Rod Beacham? Well, if I was any kind of serious reviewer I would know exactly who he is and be able to tell you. As it is, I just know him as the bloke who wrote this script, and I have to say I find that impressive enough. It's quite a nice little yarn to kill 50 minutes.
The thing that hits you like a speelsnape in the face with this story, though, is the pace. It's not in any way a criticism of the series as a whole, but B7 stories tend to be a bit on the plodding side when it comes to the story. Even stories like the infamous Rumours of Death that start with Our Heroes already in some serious shit, slow down after the crisis is resolved to explain stuff nice and clearly to the audience... frequently in scenes involving RP stage actors wearing funny uniforms exchanging snappy dialogue for five minutes.
But Assassin says "Fuck that". The story opens with Vila hearing the latest message that Orac has picked up from Servalan - "Utilizer to Cancer, five subjects." Instantly, Avon explains what's going down - Cancer is the motherfucking most deadly assassin since Bayban the Butcher karked it. His condescending explanation to Vila - "If you can count..."
In nearly an instant, the gang arrive at the desert planet where the meeting between "Utilizer" and "Cancer" will go down. Avon runs out of nowhere into a bunch of Laurence of Arabia actors, performing his famed "help me, I'm a weak and wearied traveller" performance. Everyone's a critic, though, and they beat the crap out of him for it and take him as a slave. Holy smokes, he's lost his teleport bracelet! And Vila, the gutless bastard, doesn't care, instead retiring to the Scorpio to get pissed. Business as usual.
So, not even 7 minutes in and Avon is stranded as a prisoner about to be sold as a slave on a strange planet (all part of his latest convoluted plan, naturally) and holy shit, IT'S WILLIAM HARTNELL! No, hang on... it's that bloke that looks and talks just like him. I thought they gave him a wig for The Five Doctors but no, apparently Hurdnall just walked around all the time with a genuine First Doctor haircut. Max props to the [late] cool dude. The First Doctor is here undercover as Neebrox, a worn down and forgotten miscreant who will be put to death if he's not sold in the next auction. Avon makes a deal to save him if Neebrox can get his bracelet back. So it all comes down to the auction.
To intrude the flow here a bit, I think this story was influenced by Star Wars a bit. I mean, there's those weird screen-wipes between virtually every scene that Lucas loved, plus the desert planet looks like Tatooine, and all the bubblegum-style action... no? Ah, well, nevermind...
Servalan chats with the haggish ruler of the planet, not supplying much information apart from how awesome they both think slavery is. Note: old women with blue hair and matching eyelashes will be fashionable in the future. Their scenes aren't very important, but check out the bloopers to see how much trouble they went through to actually get them filmed. Meanwhile, Avon presses Neebrox for information, and Neebrox tells him that Servalan's beat him to Cancer, Cancer has pissed off after buying a slave, and he's generally screwed. He also adds to this, inadvertently, that he has absolutely no idea how he could get Avon's bracelet back, let alone a plan. Soz!!!
Anyway, the auction is really weird. Lots of dudes in arab and ancient Mesopotamiam gear on mobile phones falling over each other to buy Avon - the slave master makes no bones in pointing out that Avon could sex his mistresses all frickin' night (much to Paul Darrow's alarm in the commentary). It's this last commentary that gets Servalan interested and - HOLY FRICKIN' FRICK BALLS - her arch-nemesis and secret crush is on the auction smorgasbord! She bids madly, her pale ladylike jowels slavering at the prospect , and soon she has annhilated the meek opposition who have no personal knowledge of Avon's bootilicious factor. At this point, Neebrox jumps onto Servalan, yelling madly that they could be happy together, and the slave master understandibly smacks his bitch ass down, distressing all the children in the audience as the First Doctor sobs pathetically...
Okay, you may have realised I'm getting a bit hyperbolic in my descriptions. Nevertheless, it's pretty cool.
Naturally, Neebrox has nouse about him, and has in fact nicked Avon's bracelet back off the slave master in the confusion! Genious. Avon sends a message to Scorpio and wakes that useless bastard Tarrant up - he's about to vanish when Neebrox reminds him that he promised to rescue him as well. Damn! Avon is trapped now - he never goes against his word (which is why he always avoids giving it, naturally) so calls Dayna down. Much fighting ensues.
Beacham is the first writer to remember in ages that Dayna is obsessed with blowing Servalan's head off, so that's naturally the first thing she does. Well, tries to do. Some blokes or other gets in her way and Servalan comically strolls off the scene, completely unfazed. Sigh. Anyway, fighting eventually un-ensues and we're off the Planet of Slaves. About 15 minutes gone. One Star Wars-style screen-wipe later, we're outside Cancer's ship. Not only is Cancer a cool name for an assassin given the fatal disease, but also provides a decent excuse for a crab fetish, which our friend has exploited to buggery. A spaceship shaped like a giant black crab! Awesome! Can you buy those off the shelf or would it have to be a custom job?
Given the fact that the crab-ship is completely motionless in space exactly where Slave predicted it would be it has to be a trap. Avon decides to walk straight into said trap to see what it is... if you don't like this approach, sorry, because this is Avon's new method of choice for this season. He and Tarrant go in and fall for the old "shop store dummy sitting in pilot chair" trick. But wait! Cancer falls for the old "getting jumped by random Bonnie Langford wannabe" trick! Then Tarrant falls for the old "Be incredibly incompetent in trying to subdue unarmed assassin" trick! And then Avon falls for the "Yell 'I'll cover you!' and then proceed to stand around doing nothing" trick! Ark! Craziness overload! Eventually, however, are heroes are victorious and the mighty Cancer is subdued as if he is their bitch.
The Bonnie Langford wannabe, though, is the crux of the problem... in more ways than one. While Avon is planning to sit around waiting until Servalan makes contact with Cancer's ship, little Piri (for that is her name) is pathetically beating her fists, crying, and wobbling her lips in the most pathetic fashion imaginable. A lot. An awful, awful lot. I have no idea what the actress's name is, but even if I did I probably shouldn't post it her because she is incredibly aggrivatingly annoying and I'm sure the lady in question has been duly reprimanded for her performance plenty of times... not least by Jacqui Pearce on the commentary. This is made all the more sickening by Tarrant's instant and obvious and vomitizing infatuation with the air headed bint. Though there is some humour in Tarrant's oh-so-subtle attempts to get in her pants of +10 Innocence - claiming that Avon isn't the leader and that they're all equal, backpedalling to say he's a moron when Piri says she doesn't like smart people, etc.
But the Problem With Piri, other than the fact that she's a truly awful actress, is the fact that she's also obviously the assassin. The plot twist is really quite obvious even before she instantly gives herself away to Neebrox and he gets bumped off in the next scene and "Cancer" is found wandering free. Avon, however, is completely oblivious, so ends up looking a little slow this episode... but much better than Tarrant. When Soolin points out that Piri is useless, Tarrant instantly claims that Soolin is just jealous of his superior hair-conditioning skills. Soolin laughs in his face before slapping Piri's - "There are two ways to handle a hysterical woman - you didn't really expect me to kiss her, did you?" Meow! Soolin's place as a sassy, kick-ass and hot heroine is well-solidified by this point, which is good because she ends up the star of this episode.
All the usual stuff happens, life-support gets shut down, traps, people skulking in shadows, OMG! Eventually Avon gets captured and Piri unveils herself as the true Cancer... and it's painful. She was OTT before, but know she goes into Smugness Overdrive and nearly chokes on the fucking scenery. When she showcases her insane poisonous crab secret weapon, I adivse you tie your hand to something, otherwise you'll probably punch the TV in hearing her say "I wish I could say it was a painlesss death..." SHUT THE FUCK UP! Servalan also shows up for the finale, to deliver the worst line in the whole thing - "Cancer, you truly are a credit to our sex." Erm, what? The main females we have seen in the series: a freelancing smuggler, a guerilla soldier, a capable warrior and scientific student, a hard-ass gunslinger, and a totalitarian dictator. Personally I thought that the Seven universe seemed to be filled to the brim with equal oppurtunity (when Allan Dire wasn't writing the scripts).
Anyway, where was I? Ack! Poisonous crabs! But not to worry - Soolin works it out, crash-barges into the room and expertly flicks the crab about to kill Avon onto Piri/Cancer's neck. Dear readers, revel in her death as I did. Also note Tarrant shooting the crab afterwards, in a pissweak attempt to look heroic. What a dreary prat.
Assassin is bloody good fun and I'd welcome it to anyone who can stand a bit of Bonnie Langford.
D8. Holy Convolutions, Fat Man!
(aka. "Games" by Bill Lyons)
Another first-time writer. It seems that they were trying to bring in some new blood in this season... ironic, really. But Billy Lyons does a good job in this offering.
The start sets things up in a suitably "WTF?" fasion. A big fat guy named Belkov is playing chess-like games against his computer, that he's named after his favourite B7 ep ("Gambit" of course). When, lo! Some dudes are trying to nick his gear in space! Belkov laughs and switches over to the security cameras for a bit of old-fashioned entertainment. The wannabe-treasure robbers find themselves given guns and having to shoot a mirror image of theirselves - but the mirror images are too fast! Only one dude, who has a beard, gets away...
No, wait, I just looked at the transcript for the episode and it doesn't actually start that way. Damn my memory. Ah well, it's just Avon and co. talking up the latest mineral of choice in Fed-land: Feldon. They're like ultra-powerful crystals, but they tend to blow up heaps and stuff like that. There's loads and loads of techno-babble trying to explain them, but I really can't remember it all. I'm pretty sure the basic idea is just that they absorb energy.
(*reads more of script*)
...man, this script is really opening my eyes. The bloke with the beard has a name. A really stupid name. "Academician Gerren". And Avon made a deal with him. Man, did I even watch this episode properly? Sorry, getting off tack here...
(*reads more of script*)
Oh, sorry, that wasn't his name, that was his title. He's a professor. Right.
(*reads more of script*)
Okay, back on familiar ground now. Servalan makes her inevitable appearance as the chief of a group investigating Belkov's joint - he's supposed to be mining those Feldon crystals but... well, just look at the guy. Oh, wait, you can't. Well, anyway he looks massively dodgy. You just take on look at him in a photo and you think: "Yep, that bloke's embezzled us out of a few billion dollars worth of stuff, let's sort him out." Basically, the Federation know he's running some scheme, but have no idea what. Servalan gets to grilling his arse like a particularly fatty piece of steak - and so we see Belkov as the single shiftiest bloke to ever appear on the show, quite a frigging accomplishment, and also sadly obsessed with playing games. These sequences are really well directed, as both Belkov and Servalan play them like an intricate poker game...
Meanwhile, Belkov also finds the time to hail Our Heroes on the Liberator, and generally enter into a Smugness battle with Avon. As cool as the A-man is, he has no chance against his challenger. The Feldon crystals that he hasn't given to the Federation are all stashed on his satellite, The Orbiter (where Gerren tried to bust in), giving it god-like powers to keep the Scorpio from escaping his fat-drenched clutches. Avon swears loudly, but as always he has a plan. And, as also often happens, it involves Tarrant and co. risking their lives massively. He stays up on Scorpio with Soolin (with whom he does seem to have a bit of Cally-licious chemistry I hasten to add...) and brags about his own magnificence in plotting a course where he'll be eclipsed by The Orbiter and Belkov will be none the fucking wiser. Slave is most conspicuously impressed - "You have achieved the orbit with consumnate ease, Master!" Man, ya have to love that guy.
(*reads more of script*)
Oh, yeah. Stuff with Tarrant and Gerren and whatnot. Meh. Oh, right then Servalan starts smashing up Belkov's stuff. And then Gambit fries the guards. Yeah, that's a good bit. And it's here that Belkov proves his bastardly ways - he sets up a deal to get off scott-free from Servalan by delivering Our Heroes to her. Though he wants Orac, because Gambit apparently yearns greatly for a mating partner, or something like that. Servalan likes this deal as much as she likes beige, but Belkov indeed seems to have the upper-hand.
One of the surprising things about this ep, though, is the surprising amount of action for a story so complex. I think it can be put down to the (very) adept direction of Vivienne Cozens, who really does a tremendous job with the action. Which is great, because dull, low-budget action sequences are one of the more embarassing achilles heels of this show. But Tarrant, Dayna, and Gerren all get their chance to blow the crap out of Fed grunts in this story with maximum attitude. Surprisingly, even Vila gets in on the action in this story - blowing away of some random guard in a very callous way for no reason at all. That crazy guy.
Servalan vanishes off to an important mass-slaughter of extras, leaving a gap in Belkov's schedule for him to be captured by Tarrant and co. Haha! A victory for Our Heroes! But, of course, there's the old can't-raise-contact-with-the-ship issue so they trust Belkov. Except Belkov leads them into a trap and escapes right away. SON OF A BITCH!
Avon, meanwhile is trying to use Orac to hack into Gambit. Although Orac disses Gambit straight up as a simple Grade 3 standard issue Federation iMac P.O.S and complete slut, Gambit puts The Rac in his place by refusing him access in a pouty and close-legged fashion. Gambit has been modified heavily by Belkov, to make her considerably more awesome and resistant to male computers, so she sets the terms of the engagement. What follows is complete computorial awesomeness as Orac is forced to play that weird chess-like game with her, and finds himself unable to admit to Avon that he's losing the game.
Side question: has there ever, really, been any show where so much of the entertainment comes from bitchy computers? I mean, Orac has to be one of my favourite characters and definitely has the best comic delivery (sorry Vila!) Probably my favourite exchange from the episode...
AVON: Tell me everything you know about Belkov's One Nine Seven computer.
ORAC: You suggested I spared you the technical details.
AVON: Oh, don't sulk, Orac.
Man, ya gotta just love that little box-guy. Plus Slave, for me at least, has his share of comic value - "You have achieved the orbit with consumnate ease, Master!" Yeah, I quoted that line twice. But it's cool!
Anyway, Avon finally decides to drop his jerk routine and actually deigns to make contact with those poor buggers trapped on the planet - aka his crewmates. He makes contact with Vila, who's in Belkov's office and so lonely he's begun talking to Gambit. Avon isn't surprised at all to hear Tarrant got himself captured, and tells Vila to get off his arse and rescue them, whilst also stealing one of Gambit's circuits and possibly also bringing them a litre of milk while he's down there. Vila comes through admirably (even without the milk) by convincing Gambit that letting him stick his hand into most vulnerable circuitry would be preferrable to having to blow herself up for Belkov's sake, as she has been ordered. And she and Orac are soon fused together, in a truly filthy fashion. The Rac knows that it isn't right... but it feels so good for it to be wrong...
I shouldn't even have to tell you that Gerren gets killed off, in a suitably un-ceremonious manner for his role of "Eighth Wheel of the Week". In fact, he's just walking down some random corridor and an even more random Fed blows him away. He lives long enough for Servalan to threaten to torture him, or actually torture him-BUT WHO CARES?! This ain't a story about the Federation! This is a story about GAMES, played by Avon and some fat bastard! TO THE ORBITER!
Credibility goes a bit out the window here, as the Orbiter sattelite, of course, is protected by games like we saw earlier. The notable problem for me was that they oh-so-conveniently happen to be games that the three crewmembers who go over kick serious arse at. Soolin, the bad-ass gunslinger, of course has no problem shooting her weak-arse mirror copy. A flight simulator? Hey, we happen to have one of the best Federation pilots ever trained right here! A lock on the door? Is there a master theif anywhere in the building? Hello? Oh, right, Vila...Hmm, a logic game involving co-ordinates? Oh, no, if only we had a super computer genius! Wait, hang on... we totally have a super computer genius right here!
But, wait... the logic game is to change the course of the Orbiter to a star's orbit to find the Feldon crystals... but the logical answer is a Black Hole! NOOOO! They've been tricked again by Belkov! Swearing their heads off like sailors who've had anchors fall on their feet endlessly, they return to Scorpio to get away before Servalan Is Pissed. Unfortunately, this crap never ends, because Belkov is friggin mad. Gambit refuses to give him control of his shuttle, so the bastard will get picked up by the Feds, but Gambit agrees to his request to set a course straight for the Black Hole. NO! Gambit, you fool! Apparently his Feld0n Crystals will do something techno-babbly, and it's up to a techno-babble duel between him and Avon.
Eventually, however, Avon wins and the audience has no idea what's going on, except that nobody got those crystals. The massive question mark over just what the hell happens in the last five minutes is basically my only gripe with this very clever and layered storyline, which was definitely slickly produced and entertaining. I mean - were there ever any frigging crystals or was Belkov cooking the books? I have no frigging idea. Oh, and the end seems a bit gratuitous - Vila proudly produces a Feldon necklace he stole from Belkov's office - Yay! A victory at last! But no - Avon smashes the offending item into trillions of pieces and spits in his face that it's nothing but a fake. Why must Avon make us cry so?
D9. NECRORECROROMCOMNICOM... if you know what I mean...
(aka. "Sand" by Tanith Lee)
Allow me to say this: Tanith Lee is awesome. She, of course, wrote Sarcophagus, which is one of my absolute faves and officially considered basically the damn weirdest ep the show ever did. She's back in form here, also sporting some added perks like extra sets and guest casts... and fucking Servalan...although, I have to admit that this is probably the best story to use Servi - and definitely so in this season.
Both Servalan and Our Heroes are headed for some shithole of a planet that shall remain nameles due to the irrelevance of its history, to find out what happened to a scientist bloke named Don Keller, who was in Attack of the Cybermen as some guy, I'm sure. As always, things quickly go wrong...
Servalan is in the presence of the glittery-lame clad Investigator Reeves, who is a gun-toting "take no prisoners" dude who considers himsef the Dirty Harry of the Federation - interestingly, Reeves says this is a waste of time, so it seems that Servalan had the idea of checking up on Keller. And more so, Reeves knows that she isn't Sleer.. having seen her at some official function or other. Incredibly he tries to seduce her alluringly pale and middle-aged ass when armed with this knowledge, but is naturally rebuked in a manner similar to that of the Black Widows mates.
Shortly after landing, there is a massive green-sandslide burying their ship, and some random extra accompanying them gets killed - by sand? All signs point to 'yes', and therefore to 'planet full of evil sand'. What else did you really expect from someone as mad as Lee?
So, Tarrant and Dayna both teleport down, for once oblivious to the fact that The Bitch in White is on the planet, just hoping for a standard and straight forward rescue-the-scientist mission. Ha! Do they even watch this frickin' show? They soon have a run in with Reeves and Dayna's arm gets grazed by a pesky near-miss. Naturally she still feels up to turning the Investigator's "puny men" into her personal dental floss, but Tarrant, with his usual tact, teleports her back up to the ship against her will.
Avon is exasperated at Tarrant's assholedom; I mean, obviously he's used to it by now, but it doesn't make things easier. He tries and send Dayna back down so she can exercise her brilliant ass-kicking powers (like the last episode) but Slave seems to have been on the piss, and can't even fly in a straight line. Naturally he turns his attention to Orac and - JESUS CHRIST! Orac's professing his undying love for Avon! Switch it off! SWITCH IT OFF! (This, needless to say, is not only the best part of this episode, but single greatest B7 moment ever. It just made me laugh my arse off) Is Orac suffering from the most severe rebound trauma ever after Gambit vanished into narratorial aether? Probably. But could something more sinister be going on as well? Yeah. Could it have something to do with the glowing green sand slowly cascading off of Dayna's perfect, nubile, alluring young frame? Mmm, nubile...
Vivienne Cozens again directs but... well, I'm going to have to guess that this story had a waaay lower budget than Games did. The sets are a little on the cheap side and also quite small, which makes the next bit really unimpressive. Reeves and Tarrant have a gunfight... kinda... the sticking point being that their first shots are fired when they're about two feet apart. And they both miss. And then run away from one another. It gave me a Naked Gun flashback when watching it, honestly. To give Ms Cozens her rightful credit, she does her darndest to make this look somewhat cool - lightning is flashing from every direction to make this confrontation the thing of legend rather than farce. Failing miserably but, hey, at least she tried. (Unlike Peter Moffat)
This exhilirating game of cat and mouse between Tazza and Reeves comes to an end as Reeves announces that he doesn't want to hurt Tarrant, and asks him to take him to see Keller? Guh? But before there's any chance of sissified placation Reeves seems to phase out, and Tarrant heroically shoots his arse down whilst he's unable to fight back. Huzzah! Servalan rocks up and informs Tarrant that he's a moron. "Well... everyone's entitled to one... really big mistake". Credit is due to Stephen Pacey... he plays the Ultimate Prat remarkably well...
Servalan and Tarrant make their way into Keller's base - but nearly straight away they find themselves locked in by sand! This, they figure, is starting to get weird. After a cursory look around the base they find Keller's corpse - though it takes Tarrant a while to twig that it's a dead body. Servalan is, unusually, very distraught and it's up to the world's biggest n00b to comfort here. Yes, you see where this is going - the most horrifying possibility imaginable... SERVALAN/TARRANT SLASH!
Sorry if I'm creating a broken-record style atmos here, but Tanith Lee rocks. The whole idea sounds so completely crap you wouldn't even consider it if someone asked if you'd want to see a Servi-Tarrant romantic story on The Planet of Evil Sand. But, hey, it works: seeing the two awkwardly share the overly-romantic meal sent up by the food gen thing, hearing Servi recount the story of how she met and fell in love with Don Keller and subsequently lost all of her humanity... it works, damnit!
The rest of the crew get their fair share of the script as well, in spite of being assigned to staying-on-the-ship duty, which is usually a place for dramatis non grata in this show.