Tuesday, 13 February 2018

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.

The episode also introduces another B7 trope, the space journey hampered by some obstacle. Here it's directly tied into the plot (the A/B structure is largely absent) and the theme is only revisited on a couple of other occasions truthfully but it sticks out badly for being the most craven low-budget padding exercise in the whole series and for being uniformly tedious to watch. Here it feels like it goes on forever as the Liberator gets caught in the titular construct and makes various attempts to get clear . It's immediately clear it won't be able to in any sort of simple manner and thus the time-killing aspect is brutally clear; on top of that due to the series' budget these struggles are portrayed almost entirely via the cast pressing buttons on the set and looking determined while Dudley Simpson parps away with what I'm sure he felt was suspenseful and dramatic scoring.

When Blake and Avon finally teleport down to meet the people behind the web trapping their ship things seem to get better. By which I mean worse but at least something's happening. The Ewok-prefiguring Decimas actually don't look too bad in themselves, if very silly and out of place compared to the brainwashing machines and grey-tuniced monsters a scant three episodes before. After that it all rapidly goes to shit, with two shifty people in silver jumpsuits running it all at the behest of a laughable head set in styrofoam depicting the powerful gestalt behind everything. There's some talk of the Decimas being sentient and thus Blake wanting to free them but it's all very trite and brisk, with little of the how and why of the whole set-up being covered. With a little help the Decimas overthrow their masters and kill them brutally while Blake and Avon stand there looking like they're just done with the whole business.

It's the first episode that's a real trudge to get through; by this stage Nation was running behind on scripts, Boucher was running low on time as he had to work more and more on each episode and the production team was beginning to run on fumes both in terms of time and money. None of the regulars really get much positive to do; Blake's earnest embrace of the Decimas' cause is just a bit silly, Avon is in the logical robotic mode he sometimes assumed in early episodes where he just seems to argue with every single thing Blake says and use it as a springboard to go on about machines not having emotion; as pilot Jenna gets lumbered with a lot of the boring dialogue and then gets stitched up with a dreadful possession scene; after getting the ball running Cally disappears in a fashion which strongly suggests she wasn't in the initial drafts of the script at all and that the Lost were patched in as a launching point for a plot that would have happened without her; Vila gets a couple of jokes and I can't for the life of me recall whether Gan was even in this one - the problem the big chap has is that he doesn't really have a job on the ship so if he's not on the away team there's not anything to do. Actually, there is one very interesting character moment early on - the possessed Cally catches Avon off-guard doing something and feigns interest and the result is he's actually somewhat flattered and, well, nice. It's probably a reach as that's probably it for serious interaction until they become the leads in Season 3 but it's an interesting harbinger of their complicated relationship later in the show.

The effects are crap, the message is muddled and the whole plot is dreadful; you wonder if this was something Tel pitched for a different series and retrieved from the wastepaper basket. It's a bonafide clunker and easily the worst of the first series and just maybe the Blake years altogether. B7 is almost famously inconsistent and produced some real duds over the years but most have some redeeming feature; it's hard to find anything in particular to praise "The Web" for, beyond at least having the decency to have no real connection even on the vaguest of thematic links and thus be easy to skip. That way the next time Cally gets possessed and the Liberator gets bogged down in space and least you'll be surprised.

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