Wednesday, 28 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S2E08 Hostage

Allan Prior's debut B7 script wasn't without promise even if it was strangely unsatisfying and not anything like good. His second is an absolute unqualified turd, setting the tone for basically the rest of his input. The plot is wafer thin, it's unexciting , it adds nothing to the ongoing plot and is mainly remembered for the bad performances it draws from the cast and for one painfully awkward development for Blake.

TV Review - Blake's 7: S2E07 Killer

The second season of B7 saw three new writers added to the scripting team, all being TV veterans. Following on from Allan Prior came Robert Holmes, whose pedigree was much more suited to the show. Holmes had written for numerous telefantasy series and made a fair case for being Doctor Who's greatest writer; after several years contributing stories he was the script editor for the show's pomp Tom Baker era. At this point in his career he was actively trying to distance himself from Who, having finally managed to leave the script editor post in 1977. He would provide two scripts for Season 2 and both would show a certain freshness and zeal, easily making him the best new addition to the writing team for the year - and possibly outright of those who came after Terry Nation and Chris Boucher, only Tanith Lee and Simon Masters coming close.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S2E06 Trial

Chris Boucher is back behind the typewriter for an episode directly linked to "Pressure Point", dealing with the fall-out on both sides. You'll not get a starker illustration of the relationship between the show's two most prolific writers - Terry Nation sets up the big stuff, Boucher sorts out the person-level fallout. It's a system that works and the result is largely brilliant, notably the decision to make it as much about the repercussions for Travis as for Blake.

TV Review - Blake's 7: S2E05 Pressure Point

For a show that's known for killing off most of the cast there's only one occasion before five minutes from the end of the last episode that a regular crew member actually dies onscreen, and this is in "Pressure Point". The episode - written like several of the more "significant" ones over the next couple of years by a returning Terry Nation - effectively launches the season off on an arc that will technically run up until the finale, namely Blake's attempts to destroy the Federation's key computer Control. And it does a lot more besides.

Monday, 26 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S2E04 Horizon

Three new writers were added to the B7 pool for the second season, with the first script not by creator Terry Nation or story editor Chris Boucher coming from Allan Prior. Co-creator of Z-Cars, Prior would write five times for the series, with three of them in season 2. None of them are all that good; indeed, if you were to quickly scribble a list of the ten worst episodes there's a decent chance he would have half of it sewn up. "Horizon" is probably his best and it ain't great, though it is difficult to put a finger on exactly why.

TV Review - Danger 5: Series 1

A few years ago someone recommended I watch Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive and that went down so well I own a copy of the coat the lead character wears. When this person recommends I listen and when Danger 5, then on UK Netflix, was a suggestion I sat down and watched it transfixed. The work of Dinosaur, the successor to Alrugo (Italian Spiderman) and now the work of Dario Russo and David Ashby alone, the series is close to indescribable in its' brilliance.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Comic Review - The Ultimates Vol 1: Super-Human

In these days of the internet wanking itself into a frenzy over Vanity Fair photoshoots of Infinity War it's hard to remember how un-hip the Avengers were at the start of the century. The nadir of the book - being farmed out to Rob fucking Liefeld for Heroes Reborn - was behind it but while Kurt Busiek's run had won back the fans it was too nerdy for bringing in new readers. Indeed, the title's stock was so low that when it was chosen for the next property to receive the Ultimate treatment they didn't even use the name. The result was a smash hit however and a genuine first step back to the top for the characters and concept.

TV Review - Blake's 7: S2E03 Weapon

Chris Boucher's second consecutive solo script saw the reintroduction of Servalan and Travis to the series. The pair, trapped in their Saturday morning villainy loop with Blake always getting away while Travis swore he'd get him next time while Servalan rolled her eyes, had signified the staleness of the tail end of the first season but the episode makes a fair fist of redirecting them. This was also notably the episode that saw Brian Croucher debut as Travis, Stephen Greif having apparently decided the character had ran out of steam but more likely tried to bluff for a bit more money and been told to fuck off back to RADA.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S2E02 Shadow

After 14 straight episodes from the pen of Terry Nation B7 finally gets another writer - script editor Chris Boucher. Of course, Boucher had written substantial chunks of the first series, from dialogue retooling to entire subplots, and that he wasn't credited as co-writer for half of them was down to the archaic segmentation of BBC process. But this is the first one written by Boucher from the bottom up and while the quality isn't necessarily a seismic shift the mood and depth of it all certainly is. "Shadow" is technically a standalone episode but really it's the first step on Season 2's over-arching plot and themes, most notably the question of the lead character's fallibility.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S2E01 Redemption

The season opener of B7's second series solves two mysteries, uncovering the origin of the Liberator and resolving the cliffhanger ending of the first series. And it does this in a somewhat breathless way that belays the age of the show and the simplicity expected of genre drama at the time. If the show was made now the whole thing of where the Liberator came from would be a carefully teased out mystery while Orac's prediction would be left to hang over the crew for considerably longer than fifty minutes. However, on all three occasions the questions posed by the show's season closers are answered within the first episode to a large degree. To be fair this all happened before VCRs were owned by all but the really rich in the UK, let alone detailed online summaries (Blake's 7 wouldn't even get a dedicated magazine until the fourth series) and the like; questions needed to be answered while viewers still remembered them.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E13 Orac

One of the Blake's 7 trademarks - along with often not having Blake or a 7 in it, being cheap as chips and lots of people dying - was the big end of season cliffhanger. At the time it didn't really happen much in TV, let alone British TV - a mix of the need to make narratives as loose as possible for overseas markets where episodes might be shown out of order or series might not be ordered in full, and that quite often even popular and successful shows wouldn't be commissioned for a further series until after the current one was written, filmed or even broadcast. So ending the first series on a cliffhanger might not have been a first but it was certainly innovative and unexpected in 1978 and still a long way from being de rigeur for most ongoing TV shows. 

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E12 Deliverance

After a cycle of episodes that - the debut of Servalan and Travis happening ahead of any of their other appearances aside - could have been shown in any order Blake's 7 returns to a plot arc for the first time since its' formative episodes. "Deliverance" has the same A/B plot format as the previous episode but here one of the plot-lines is actually kept open at the end of the episode, leading directly to season closer "Orac". After the variable quality and tone of recent adventures it's actually well-placed and gives the season a thread to follow through to avoid just petering out as the money and ideas ran out. On paper.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E11 Bounty

As touched upon before with B7, there's a tendency to credit Chris Boucher with anything good in Terry Nation's scripts and blame anything rubbish on El Tel. This can be a bit unfair; Nation can be a pretty decent writer though historically he's had a habit of getting a bit lazy when his feet are under the table, most famously selling the BBC exactly the same Dalek story several times. But there are occasions in B7 when the script editor's clearly had to work on the screenplay hard. and "Bounty" is one of those. It features a return to the A/B plot structure (which isn't in the first season as much as I remembered, mainly because Nation had enough problems coming up with 13 plots, let alone 26, and "Bounty" is one of the most frequently referred to as needing extending, with various tales of some parts being spontaneously extended during filming) and the clue is that the episode title only really refers to one of the plots - and it's the worst and least subtle of them.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E10 Breakdown

Part of the problem with standalone episodes like "The Web" and "Mission to Destiny" was that they rapidly established that the Federation wasn't all that far-reaching considering the crew could fly beyond its' clutches with relative ease and meet people who either didn't know or didn't care about its' existence. "Breakdown" however is a largely Federation-free episode (pursuit ships and voice-overs only) that features a neutral station fully aware of all involved; the different degrees of neutrality is a theme that will be revisited from time to time. 

Toy Review - Machine Robo Series 08: Missiletank Robo/Gobots Masterpiece Blaster

Let's just get this straight from the start - yes, we all know about the Transformer of the same name. No, you're not big and clever asking whether he comes with any cassettes. You can cut that right out, don't make me get the Sit Down Gun out. Besides which the Gobot came first, so ner, Gobots is definitely better than Transformers, so shut up, you're gay, no comebacks. That out of the way, I wasn't especially enthused by the choice of Missile Tank Robo; I mean, I wanted him at some point but alongside Shuttle Robo it made for a less than enticing relaunch for the range and in a way a fairly brave one when series lead Blue Jet and the more obviously popular Supercar Robo are there for the remaking.

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E09 Project Avalon

The alternating Federation/non-Federation pattern was short-lived (which is code for me forgetting "Project Avalon" was before "Breakdown") and this episode gives Travis an almost immediate rematch with Blake, though this time he's got Servalan on his back. In many ways it's the quintessential Season 1 episode, featuring a raid on a power station, Servalan, Travis and an over-complicated plot. It is the first sign that the 7 (or six, I was never really convinced Zen gave much of a shit) weren't the only ones fighting against the Federation, though the "other revolutionary we've not mentioned before and won't mention again" device would get a workout in several episodes before the end.

Friday, 16 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E08 Duel

After the blatant rejected Avengers/The Saint/The Baron script of "Mission to Destiny" Terry Nation's solution to writer's block extended to thieving from stories he didn't even write with "Duel". While an American series from the days when the things didn't have the best reputation in dear old Blighty, Star Trek had debuted on the BBC in 1970 and rapidly became just as much of a cult hit as it had in America; when B7 began it was due for the big screen treatment as Star Wars had suddenly made sci-fi very big but the series was probably already being endlessly repeated. Of course, most people can only remember about a dozen episodes but "Duel" quite shamelessly rips off the famous "Arena" - which was of course based on a forties short story, though I personally think it's highly unlikely Tel ever read a book.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Film Review - Italian Spiderman

The first devastating salvo of Dario Russo and David Ashby into an unsuspecting world came in the guise of Alrugo Entertainment and the staggeringly brilliant Italian Spiderman, with Tait Wilson, Will Spartalis and Boris Repasky. It started as a student film of a trailer for an apparent lost film but secured funding from the South Australian Film Corporation provided backing for ten webisodes, all around four minutes long - and spwaned a famous reaction GIF. These are stitched together to form a film of some 37 minutes, at which point "Alrugo" split up, Russo and Ashby instead going on to form Dinosaur and make the sublime Danger 5. So technically Italian Spiderman was unfinished, ending on a cliffhanger, but it doesn't matter - the thing could have gone on forever and never actually finished, which is part of the brilliance.

Toy Review - ACE Tumbler (3P Masterpiece Transformers Cliffjumper)

I have a mixed relationship with third party toys; my collecting is very much on a budget so I've largely cut my cloth to match with the (recent, decent) Masterpiece line as a collection hub, with the line's staggered release schedule and popularity with Chinese bootleggers keep a steady drip of affordable largely good (only serious miss to date is Tracks) figures coming my way that display well together and have the same ethos. I'd love a Masterpiece Skids and Hound and Trailbreaker and Jazz but I'm in no race, and beyond the 1984-1985 originals there are few who pique my interest that aren't Throttlebots. Don't get me wrong, most of the best Transformers fiction comes post-1985 but the majority of the non-Throttlebot designs are repulsive; Scorponok was a great character but he was a green and purple monstrosity with claws for hands who transformed by lying on his back and flailing his limbs around. No thanks. So I largely stick to the official releases (or versions thereof) and have no interest in either racing through to complete the set or in pushing on to many later characters; if/when Takara-Tomy complete the line-up of cars from the first two years, garnish with Throttlebots some of the less lurid Decepticons and hopefully a squad of Dinobots I'll probably have filled the space I have and it will naturally all tail off. However, there are - to date - four non-Throttlebot exceptions I've made to this policy and Cliffjumper is one of them.

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E07 Mission to Destiny

After introducing Servalan and Travis as the effective face of the Federation in "Seek-Locate-Destroy" the series initially alternated encounters between them and the crew for six episodes with self-contained stories that took a more peripheral approach. Actually, the next five would all be self-contained and could work in any order before the twelfth episode, "Deliverance", sets up the first season finale. This is one of the Federation's episodes "off", the second and last of the season to not feature them in anything other than a parting reference. There seems to be a simple reason for this; having taken the money to write all 13 episodes of the series himself, Terry Nation often used to retell with some humour how draining this was, and of pacing around his house telling his wife there were no more stories to tell. "Mission to Destiny" presumably comes after all the stories ran out.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E06 Seek-Locate-Destroy

The final part of the B7 jigsaw slots into place in "Seek, Locate, Destroy" - that of regular recurring villains. Aside from Leylan and Artix (and they were only in it as a recap, with extant footage of Rayker, and if the couple of London crew members seen at the end of "The Way Back" are in "Space Fall" I haven't spotted them) no-one outside of the Liberator crew had been in more than one episode so far and only two non-crew characters (one of whom was recast) would be added to the list over the rest of the series (though both John Bryans and Michael Wisher's characters, Bercol and Rontaine, would return for one other episode. "Seek-Locate-Destroy" however would introduce a pair of regular Federation characters in the form of Servalan and Travis. The former would go on to appear in 28 of the remaining 46 episodes, the latter in 12 of the next 21 - basically just over half of each character's lifespan.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

No Girls on the Grid - Equality in Formula One

Formula One's decision to "retire" Grid Girls from the 2018 season threw the spotlight on the sport in the off-season as the latest skirmish in the tiresome battle between those rallying against the forces of political correctness and those battling objectification. It's a highly complex issue which has largely been hijacked on both sides as a cause celibre, largely by people who haven't watched a race for years and don't intend to any time soon. Who can blame them is my initial answer - I stopped watching when Michael Schumacher retired for the first time and no amount of cribbed NASCAR gimmicks will tempt me back to watching anodyne PR droids in cars that can't overtake. But there's more here beyond identity politics.

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E05 The Web

"The Web" is a first for B7 for several reasons. It's the first with a settled crew, an entirely self-contained adventure - allowing for a brief moment where the crew are unsure of the procedure for firing the neutron blasters it could be switched with a later stand-alone like "Bounty" or "Mission to Destiny" with no problem. It's also the first not to actually feature the Federation, which would go on to be an occasional feature of the show. And finally for the first time and not the last something tries to use Cally as a telepathic conduit to take over the ship - it's also not the first or last time it will be some long lost creature from Auron that does it either. Considering Jenna's initial distrust of her that this happens straight away is either very smart or very dumb. Or would be if her remarks from "Time Squad" were ever followed up on as the pair instantly become pals because they're both women. Both Terry Nation (Abby Grant) and Chris Boucher  (Leela) can write strong, well-rounded female characters but for B7 most of their energy was quickly drawn towards the Blake/Avon dynamic.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E04 Time Squad

"Time Squad" is often grouped with the opening trilogy of episodes due to the debut of Cally, the last of the original crew but that aside the format is much closer for what will become the default template of the first season and the opening episodes of the second - part of the crew teleport down to do something proactive against the Federation while the remainder face some minor crisis on the Liberator which may or may not dovetail with  the surface action - but more likely will just result in the ship not being on station at some crucial point to provide a getaway, allowing for people to be locked up. Indeed, the only real difference between Cally and the later guest allies is that she survives and gets offered a slot on the crew.

Toy Review - Machine Robo Series 07 - Shuttle Robo/Gobots Masterpiece Spay-C

The joy I felt from the return (after what felt like a worrying hiatus) of Action Toys' Machine Robo Series was tempered a little by the choice of two characters I wasn't particularly keen on in any real form. The original Shuttle Robo, ported over to Gobots as the Guardian Spay-C, was one of the weaker toys of the series despite the cool alt mode, while the character didn't grab in either of the cartoons. In Revenge of Cronos Shuttle Robo was largely a background character, a member of the arrogant but basically sound Land Commander 5 team; in Challenge of the Gobots Spay-C was a female Guardian who didn't really do much, especially as the faction had a more popular space-going female in Path Finder. But obviously I bought the toy anyway, because Masterpiece Gobots.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E03 Cygnus Alpha

The last of the opening arc, "Cygnus Alpha" marks the end of the initial imprisonment/escape arc and the beginning of a shift to more episodic traditional sci-fi adventuring. It also marks the beginning of what would be a recurring format for the show, that of "A" and "B" plots; with five to six human regulars at any one point in order to give everyone something to do the crew would be split in half, typically with one group teleporting down to the surface of a planet on some mission and the other half staying on the ship and typically having some kind of minor drama. The general rule of thumb was that this format would only be eschewed for big episodes, though it would also come into play when the writers ran out of things to give the female characters to do.

Friday, 9 February 2018

Comic Review - X-Men Legacy Vol 1: Prodigal

Legion is one of those characters that dropped off my own mental map at some point - obviously I remember "LeqionQuest", though now I think about it I mainly remember "The Age of Apocalypse" and not much of the catalyst story beyond the Legion killing Professor X in the past bit. I couldn't tell you what happened to Legion, a.k.a Charles Xavier's son David Haller, in the intervening years so just have to take the Marvel NOW book featuring him as I find it.

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E02 Space Fall

"Space Fall" is a direct continuation of the first episode of Blake's 7, part of a tightly plotted trilogy that opened the series. Few episodes later would be quite so closely connected either in the narrative sense or in the tonal sense; while Season 2's quest for Star One nominally provided a longer arc it was more of a macguffin chase with a sometimes questionable connection. Here though we catch up with Blake on the transport ship London as per the end of "The Way Back", and most of the action would take place on the vessel. The rough gist is that Blake is being transported to the penal colony on Cygnus Alpha, soon banding together with a few allies - the previously introduced Jenna and Vila plus the new additions Avon, Gan and Nova.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S1E01 The Way Back

The first episode of Blake's 7 is probably the most unique. It's all about Blake for one; while both Jenna and Vila debut they don't actually get much more work than most of the other supporting characters. It's also entirely set on Earth - only the Season 2 episode "Pressure Point" and Season 3's "Rumours of Death" would actually directly visit the planet again. And finally it actually looks moderately expensive; it's not the most original of observations but the opening episode wouldn't need much work to function as a one-off play.