It hit me rewatching this episode that Survivors is actually a lot more optimistic than Blake's 7. Sure, 99.5% of the human race die but once that's done with (basically in the first episode) everything's back on the way up. Not without obstacles and diversions, of course, but as the seasons develop there's a positive response. It's not a bad thing and the show is basically a tenet to the hardiness of the human race, and the real nihilism of B7 (the abject failure of the heroes to destroy the Federation and their increasing irrelevance as opposition to it) didn't come in until Terry Nation's fingers came back out of the mix. In Survivors there's never anything as broadly depressing for the species as the huddled figures moving from campfire to campfire in the opener or Abby living out of the back of a Volvo estate.
Friday, 30 March 2018
Thursday, 29 March 2018
No, not something fan-wanky bridging the gap between the second series of the cartoon and the hair metal-infested guilty pleasure of the final bow of the man behind Touch of Evil, but instead IDW's attempt to get the coin of the 2007 Michael Bay blockbuster in their pocket. Of course, the first thing anyone who's seen the 2007 movie will tell you is that its' got a prequel built into the first hour with endless exposition and flashback. But you have to remember the other thing built in to IDW - not only do they love money but they realise the bulk of their readers are as thick as pigshit. Fuck's sake, they put out a comic specifically to slowly explain Prowl having character development.
The problem with a concept like Survivors is that it would quite rapidly get depressing to just watch everything break down and everyone die. Terry Nation's concept for the series was more about how people would deal with the result than the plague itself, which was really just an excuse to get society in a good position to be explored. So here, as the name suggests, are the first kernels of a new start for the characters. A handful of isolated cases over the next few episodes aside the plague has done its' killing - but worry not, as Nation will show, there are plenty of other ways to die horribly in this brave new world. For now though we've hit a level where most of the people who would die from the death or initial death-related stupidity have done so and the survivors are beginning to respond.
Tuesday, 27 March 2018
Grant Morrison's late-1980s slice of superhero revisionism is something of a change from the myriad Watchmen/Dark Knight Returns knockoffs of the time. Zenith isn't a dark, brooding figure, he's an idiot. The rough gist, for anyone who's yet to experience the serial, is that Zenith is the world's one known superpowered being but instead of protecting the world he uses this status to become a pop star. It sounds a bit sneering in text, but Zenith's bratty behaviour is actually quite engaging. That said, in the first storyline he's not actually too bad - there's a bit of snark and selfishness from the lad, but he actually spends most of the story doing more or less the right thing, despite protestations. Don't get used to that, though...
Terry Nation spent most of the seventies trying to hawk the Daleks to American TV networks and make himself even more money (and when that happened he definitely would have passed on the money to Dalek designer Raymond Cusick, definitely), only occasionally popping back to Blighty in order to turn in effortless occasional Doctor Who scripts (one effortlessly brilliant, three simply effortless) and create a couple of excellent series. A few years before the infamous Blake's 7 pitch he had considerable success with Survivors, which hinged on a single simple premise - if then-present day Earth is struck by a deadly virus which wipes out 99% of the population, how would people cope?
Thursday, 22 March 2018
Jesus I'd forgotten all about this. Basically, Marvel had - after an initial boom and bust - managed to produce a magazine based on Doctor Who; it had initially been more of a comic before they cottoned on that there was a lot of cheap mileage in articles about the show's history and the like, meaning only a handful of pages of comic strip needed to be commissioned each month. The decision to do the same thing for B7 from the start was therefore a no-brainer and the title debuted in autumn 1981 just as the new-look Season 4 hit screens. Brilliance, apart from the fact within a few issues the the cast were wiped out in a bloodbath and the series was cancelled, with the monthly presumably selling enough to amble on regardless. Same thing would happen with Doctor Who Magazine, which bridged a 17-year gap between the show being cancelled and that CBeebies shit with farting aliens arriving on the screen by surviving on a TV Movie and lots of interviews with minor guest stars. The difference was Who had a 26-year history to draw on, not to mention ongoing official fiction like the novel and audio series. Blake's 7 had four years, seemingly no rights to anything from the first three, and an official ending that saw everyone die.
What with the devastation of 'Be Invoked', which may have included the destruction of the entire universe, but at a minimum killed every single regular character and destroyed pretty much every trace of the Earth Empire, the Buff Clan and the Solo Colonists you'd think Ideon would be sequel proof, as per Yoshiyuki Tomino's intention. However, in 1992 something along those lines appeared in the manga publication named MS Saga, written and drawn by Yuichi Hasegawa. Serialised in four parts, Mobile Suit vs Giant God - Gigantis' Counterattack was ostensibly based on Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, but crossed over with Ideon by attempting to link the two universes together.
Really need to do more custom covers, forgot how much I enjoy it. So a cover for the much-missed (by me, anyway) Moonbeam City, seeing as the lone half-series made before cancellation doesn't seem to be set for an official release. A shame, though it was more funny than hilarious and they'd probably hit the limit for the premise; if the animation didn't tap Patrick Nagel quite so hard I suspect I'd like it less. Anyway, largely based on promotional elements found on the web.
Wednesday, 21 March 2018
This is the one, this is what it's all been leading up to. I've mentioned before that the Federation could not be plausibly defeated by our heroes and it stands to reason it wouldn't be as long as the show was running (maybe a sequel series where Avon and Vila try to get to grips with the day-to-day admin of revitalising a post-fascist Earth? No?) it wouldn't be either. And the universe is something of a downer anyway - two regulars had already been outright killed off and a third has disappeared, not to mention the myriad defeats the crew have suffered. So, when Vere Lorrimer and Chris Boucher realised it was highly likely the series wouldn't be returning (audiences were healthy but 2m down on the previous year, while critical savaging of the series had stepped up) there was only one thing that could be done.
Tuesday, 20 March 2018
After finally getting the three or four episodes that should have set the Scorpio format up properly at the start of the season all of a sudden we get six episodes of arc material squeezed into fifty minutes. Simon Masters chipped in with his first and only script for the show; he had written odd episodes of this and that but his main body of work was as script editor for The Brothers, a sort of proto-Dallas about a British haulage business that did very well but is now only remembered for making Colin Baker famous enough to be in the running for the Doctor Who job. You wonder if these skills at compacting were necessary to make "Warlord" work after so much time treading water.
The crew interactions during Season 4 were largely limited to Avon using the other four crew members as a unit; with Orac and/or Slave on teleport duty everyone got to go on trips off the ship more often than not. While different pairings would go off to do this or that for a few minutes there was never really much time for the dynamics of any particular couple of crew members to be explored, with the deciding factor often seeming to be that all the actors had about the same amount to do. Robert Holmes however had already shown a considerable affinity for the pairing of Avon and Vila in his two Season 2 scripts and returned to them here; the result feels like a reunion, which is odd when you think about it.
Sunday, 18 March 2018
Chris Boucher has stated in interviews that the Scorpio format might have worked better with another season before the finale so it could really stretch its' legs. Now, I like Boucher and the season does finish strongly but "Gold" is probably a case in point for it not being the case. In the first and only B7 script from Colin Davis (who had a short career as a TV writer, this apparently being his first work since contributing to a Cliff Richards series in 1974) sees the crew get involved in a heist that features an untrustworthy charismatic middle man played by someone quite famous. Which is the same plot as "Games" a fortnight before.
Saturday, 17 March 2018
Tanith Lee's first episode, "Sarcophagus", was probably the most unusual of the show and certainly very interesting. It felt very weird in the show's wider tone when ran in order even if it got to the nub of a lot of Season 3's main points but she's actually better suited to the loose standalone format of Season 4, which in turn benefits from some actual serious sci-fi. As with "Sarcophagus" it hinges on a central pairing of regulars and their romantic feelings - in this case Tarrant and Servalan.
Friday, 16 March 2018
Season 4 took an intolerable amount of time to get comfortable but when it did it was very good for the most part, though by then there were only six episodes left. It's an odd thing but there's not really a transition; it's more a switch flicks. "Games" therefore marks a turning point but at the same time there's that nagging question of whether it's actually all that good or just so much better than the dross so far this year it feels good. It's the first and only script from Bill Lyons, another Z-Cars alumni, and while it's probably not anything special it's good fun.
Thursday, 15 March 2018
Season 4 of B7 didn't really improve in any sort of curve, it just suddenly jumped to being good after a long trudge where it was very poor to just about mediocre. Much of this came from the addition of some fresh writers. While this does feature a new writer the improvement doesn't come yet, though; the new blood is Rod Beacham, who had mixed acting (best known to genre fans as an ill-fated Corporal in Doctor Who classic "The Web of Fear") with writing (largely for the radio up to this point). This was only his second television script (the first was a play) but presumably the production team were commissioning all sorts to make up for the loss of Terry Nation and Chris Boucher's decision to top and tail the series and otherwise concentrate on the editing side.
Roger Parkes was another to get the call for Season 4 due to owning his own typewriter; his first story, "Voice from the Past", was probably the worst of the first two years but didn't involve Slave in any way shape or form, while the second - "Children of Auron" - was actually good. Which end of the scale would an episode made for Season 4, which has seen Bob Holmes and Chris Boucher turn in shit scripts, be? Go on, guess.
Season 4 continues to run on the spot with the fifth and final contribution from the much-maligned but actually genuinely awful Allan Prior. It's clear that at least early on Vere Lorrimer and Chris Boucher were concerned more with seasoned pros who could turn in a script on time than in exploring a brave new direction. Prior's debut "Horizon" was poor and since then "Hostage", "The Keeper" and "Volcano" have seen a decline. So the signs for a script originally written with a major role for Cally in a format that's still like quicksand by possibly the series' worst writer is not exactly a recipe for success.
Despite curling out "Dawn of the Gods" for Season 3 and giving a fair indication that he should never be allowed to work in writing again Mad Jim Follet was asked back for Season 4, most likely because there were no scripts, what with Terry Nation concentrating on keeping merchandise money coming in and Chris Boucher having to rewrite everything they did have five times. To be fair to Follet, the episode is a quantum improvement on his first attempt but then the other direction wasn't really available.
Wednesday, 14 March 2018
Robert Holmes didn't actually contribute anything to the third season (his script "Sweetly Dreaming... Slowly Dying", which doesn't sound like a very B7 title but then cancelled scripts always sound weird, was abandoned as unworkable) but did contribute two to Season 4. "Traitor" was the first and has the task of retouching with the Federation while also getting the crew back on track as revolutionaries while also bringing Servalan back into the mix; the result is another story with a lot of work to do.
After turning in "Moloch" in double-quick time at the end of Season 3 it was no surprise to see Ben Steed roped in to get a script up and running for the frantic process of preparing Season 4. The episode nominally forms the second section of a two-parter with "Rescue", handling the crew actually getting access to Scorpio and Soolin joining up. However, while most of the plot does indeed take place on Xenon (one of only two episodes to show more of the planet than the base) it feels a bit like Chris Boucher's rewritten it so that some nebulous sealed artifact is replaced by the Scorpio landing silo.
Blake's 7 didn't so much continue after the unexpected announcement of a fourth series as stop and restart (notably switching from the spring to autumn seasons for broadcast), with Chris Boucher among those noting it should really be considered the start of some sort of second generation sequel show. The production office shut down at the end of the third series and some of the crew moved on, notably producer David Maloney. His role was taken over by Vere Lorrimer, who had directed a dozen episodes, while Boucher returned and hurriedly they began to patch together a season, with Boucher himself writing the opening episode setting up the new format (beyond collecting his creator's cheques for the show Terry Nation had no further involvement). Of the main cast Paul Darrow, Michael Keating, Josette Simon, Steven Pacey, Jacqueline Pearce (once she'd seen off a nasty illness) and Peter Tuddenham all returned, the only decline coming from Jan Chappell - who had apparently already privately decided to leave during Season 3 anyway and refused offers to come back for 13, 6, 3 and then 1 episode, finally agreeing to a brief vocal cameo.
Tuesday, 13 March 2018
For the conclusion of Season 3 Terry Nation returned as writer for his third script of the year, and the last of eighteen he penned. The story was famously planned to kill off the series but watching at home was Head of the BBC Bill Cotton, who was impressed and phoned the station while the finale was still on air so the continuity announcer could relay news that it would be back for another series, bypassing the then-closed production office. Which is a bit of a weird decision when you think about it; the majority of the cast were delighted to come back and before Season 3 wrapped it had already bounced back in the ratings, which were around 9-10m compared to the 6-7m of Season 2. Why go to all the effort of reworking the format in order to then wind the thing down? Anyway; "Terminal" works as a fine episode and a fine season finale but overall I'm glad it didn't end the whole series for several reasons.
Like "Moloch", "Death-Watch" was a late replacement script for a story by John Fletcher (apparently about Hell's Angels in space, though presumably not related to "Stardrive") written by Chris Boucher. This perhaps explains why the story goes over some ground uncomfortably close to that covered by other episodes - a key character is Del Tarrant's brother Deeta, with both parts played by Steven Pacey. While dialogue indicates Deeta is older the effect is that we've got another unannounced 'twin' sibling story (and twins will often call each other big/little brother even if there are only minutes in it) just four episodes after "Children of Auron".
If "Rumours of Death" and various other Servalan scenes across Season 3 suggested her empire was constantly at risk "Moloch" (a second story of the year from Ben Steed, this one being a late replacement for a Bob Holmes story that fell through) outright confronts it. After two episodes all but Federation-free it's nice to get back to the meat of the conflict. Jacqueline Pearce appears in nine of the year's 13 episodes; it's only one more than in Season 2 but whereas some of those were effectively cameos (e.g. "Hostage", "Voice from the Past") this year she's more central - and clearly being banked upon to help ease the show past Blake's departure (in Season 4, more sure there are legs in Avon as a lead, she'll only be in eight). This would be in danger of breeding overfamiliarity (think the Roger Delgado Master in Doctor Who, an excellent villain you're sick of the sight of rapidly) but the roving format means she can be put in a variety of situations, with most of them coming off well, compared to when she was always sat in her office at Space Command yelling at Travis.
Monday, 12 March 2018
The fourth and final addition to the scriptwriting team for the third series was Trevor Hoyle, who like Tanith Lee was primarily a writer of novels - though not especially acclaimed or famous, his Q series of sci-fi books had found enough of an audience to run to a trilogy. He had also written for B7 before in a way, penning the two official novelisations based on the series - Terry Nation's Blake's Seven adapting on the opening episodes and Project Avalon, covering the initial Travis/Servalan battles. It's been a while since I've read them but despite being based on scripts rather than finished episodes my memory is they were satisfactory; Hoyle would write a third in 1981, Scorpio Attack, based on the opening salvo of the fourth series. This would be his only script for the actual show, however, and it's really not very good.
Sunday, 11 March 2018
Sitting awkwardly alongside hacks like James Follett, Ben Steed and Trevor Hoyle as a new recruit was fantasy writer Tanith Lee, an actual proper author who even had an international deal and part of her Tales from Flat-Earth series would win a British Fantasy Award (the first woman to do so) the same year Season 3 was broadcast. She wasn't Tolkien or anything but it was a bold and imaginative idea for David Maloney and Chris Boucher to even approach her considering the series' critical stock, and Lee would contribute a story apiece to the next two series - she would also pitch to Doctor Who around this time; actually, considering Christopher H Bidmead's drive for the middlebrow on Who would be happening, so it's perhaps more likely she was re-directed to the slightly more grown-up unofficial sister series B7. Her works are probably the most curious, divisive and individual of the whole show; whereas there seems to be a broad consensus on most B7 episodes among fandom, hers seem to be very much an acquired taste.
Just as "Children of Auron" explored how Cally came to be fighting on Saurian Major, "Rumours of Death" went into more detail as to how exactly Avon ended up on his way to Cygnus Alpha. Some broad hints have been dropped; Vila and Nova discuss his theft gone wrong in "Spacefall" while "Countdown" revealed that as a consequence of his failure his lover Anna Grant was captured and seemingly killed by the Federation. Avon is plainly Chris Boucher's favourite character so it's no surprise his second script of the year tackles this head on.
Saturday, 10 March 2018
Roger Parkes' debut for B7 with "Voice from the Past" was not an auspicious one but I'm guessing he turned it in on time or worked cheap or something because he was asked back for the third year. Like his first - and to a lesser extent the third he would write for Season 4 - it once again displays a certain interest in continuity details, in this case Cally's precise relationship with her home planet of Auron and its' people. There have been various hints of how precisely she came to be exiled, some of it slightly contradictory, but Parkes' script actually takes her home and thus offers a definitive answer.
Friday, 9 March 2018
Vila was a firm favourite with most viewers from an early time in the series, snaffling up funny lines which meshed perfectly with Michael Keating's sense of timing and the character being just the right amount of pathetic. However, in the first two seasons he didn't actually get a huge amount to do apart from make up the numbers and be the comic relief, especially as there haven't been as many locks to pick recently. However, Season 3 opted to rotate the 'lead' around a bit more than previous seasons and "City at the Edge of the World" - semi-famously devised after Keating relayed his daughter's unimpressed reaction to Vila back to Chris Boucher, who writes his first episode of the year - is Vila's day in the sun.
Thursday, 8 March 2018
After two set-up episodes and two absolute dogs Season 3 was looking rather wobbly; thinking through the rest of the year's stories I can actually only pick out four or five that are good, which makes it odd that I count it as a favourite. Unconscious contrarianism and a nature of rooting for the underdog? Maybe, but I think it's more that Season 3 is a state of mind; the crew's rapidly growing resentment of each other and their listless lives makes up for a lot of the weekly plots being poor, while Avon and Vila, the two best characters, get a lot more to do. "Harvest of Kairos" isn't a great episode but it is finally a step in the right direction despite a few huge problems.
With Terry Nation and Chris Boucher contributing three scripts apiece, Allan Prior being restricted to one (though there was possibly a second which was held over to Season 4) and Robert Holmes taking a year out to work on his teleplay Fothergill (and Jukes of Piccadilly - whatever the fuck that was - English remake of Dukes of Hazzard maybe, dunno, go to a proper website) new writers were needed for Season 3 - four in fact were recruited (well, three and a half what with Trevor Hoyle and all). James Follet would write one script this year and another for Season 4; he was mainly writing radio plays and the odd novel before this (clunking Lewis Collins vehicle and Iranian embassy cash-in Who Dares Wins was based on one of his books). While he did write the odd TV script before and after "Dawn of the Gods" suggests he didn't watch much of it.
With "Aftermath" and "Powerplay" largely dealing with the fallout of Season 2 and reconfiguring the Liberator crew "Volcano" is effectively the first 'regular' episode for the new-look crew. And it's written by Allan Prior. Oh dear. However, it starts off what will be low-key background themes for the rest of the season - the Liberator crew trying to work out what exactly they want to do while Servalan tries to consolidate a Federation that was hugely damaged by the battle with the Andromeda aliens. It's a shame both are only occasionally touched upon.
Wednesday, 7 March 2018
The second episode of the third season follows on directly from the first, but this will be the last time one runs into another until the Season 3/4 handover. The result is largely dependent on watching "Aftermath", possibly moreso than any of the other 'second part' episodes, following directly on from the shock discovery that waiting for Avon and Dayna on the repaired Liberator are a squad of Federation troopers, let by a dashing young man with Blake's hair.
Blake's 7 had always been one to leave plenty open for critics and Season 3 would give a cheap shot in that Blake was no longer in it. You could argue that the apostrophe meant they could still be his 7 not counting him, but then that would only work for the first five episodes of Season 2. Many programmes have tried to press on without the lead (and in this case the third lead as well) and it's usually a disaster but B7 largely span a victory out of it.
Tuesday, 6 March 2018
Another round-up of recent reviews! At last I have a Banshee (meaning I have to update all the reviews bemoaning the lack of Banshee), plus there's updated comic-based Black Widow and Tigra figures and I've updated my homemade Shocker. The imminence of Infinity War means some guesses at Steve Rogers, the Black Widow and Iron Man, while also from the Marvel Multiverse comes a suited versions Whiplash and Killmonger plus Peggy Carter as Captain America. DC gets a new updated Flash, Saint Walker, Indigo-1, Black Hand, Parallax, and Golden Age Reverse-Flash. The Arrowverse finally gets a Huntress and an Overgirl, while from the DC animated universe there's the Justice Lord Batman; Bats also gets an Orange Lantern version.
It's all been leading to this one, and Chris Boucher does a Nation by writing the important episode himself. Blake's hunt for Star One, Travis' hunt for Blake and Servalan's hunt for greater power have coloured the second season. It's not been a Game of Thrones-level of intensity for sure, but these threads have been pottering away in a 1979 sort of way and here it all has to come off; aside from doing an arc on the budget of a mediocre police show within the rigid structure of the Beeb the other problem is you have to get the end right or the rest suffers. Thankfully Boucher gets it absolutely right.
As mentioned before B7 didn't really handle arcs well because the BBC and TV in general of the time wasn't really set up for it. With few video recorders episode-to-episode continuity had to be crisp and clear, meaning that if any information was to be carried over it had to be the sort of thing that could easily be put in The Radio Times, so any sort of complexity was impossible. Each episode was effectively a mini-production with different crew, also leading to a certain amount of self-containment as Director A might be less than co-operative about compromising their episode to set something up for Director B's. The other problem was that a certain amount of flex was needed so stories could be reordered if there were production issues; Season 2 saw "Killer" and "Horizon" switched around and probably massive gratitude that there were some less arch-driven episodes to bring forward (and as it was it required late rewrites around both to reflect Gan's mortality). After that the crew would never try even the slightest link between more than three episodes ever again, and then only in the more controlled environment of season openers, before the money and time ran low.
Sunday, 4 March 2018
Despite it only being four episodes since his debut script (well, to be fair "Killer" was meant to run second, getting bumped back when no-one could stop laughing at the costumes) Robert Holmes' second script is pretty damn confident, basically having the front to subvert the big "Search for Star One" plot to the background behind a comedy thread for Avon and Vila. Of course, as Doctor Who script editor Bob had effectively given Chris Boucher his big break, so it's perhaps not surprising he's given such a free range here.
Friday, 2 March 2018
The third new writer added to the B7 staff was Roger Parkes, who would (like Bob Holmes and, sadly, Allan Prior) go on to contribute scripts up to the final season. Parkes had started out writing for ITC's film adventure series (most notably a decent episode of Patrick McGoohan's The Prisoner) but probably came to B7 via his work on Terry Nation's Survivors, for which he wrote four episodes (though from memory none of them were all that good). He would write a story apiece for the remaining series, one of which was very good. The other two were utter piss, and "Voice from the Past" is one of those.
Thursday, 1 March 2018
After his mammoth role in writing all of Season 1 Terry Nation only wrote "big" scripts for the series - the opener for Season 2 concluding the cliffhanger he'd set up, the death of regular Gan, the two linked episodes overseeing the cast reshuffle at the start of the third season and would-be series finale "Terminal". The one exception was "Countdown", on the face of it a run-of-the-mill mid-season actioner.