Friday, 2 March 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S2E10 Voice from the Past

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.

In theory a lot of the elements of the episode are strong. More than any of the other new writers before or after Parkes has done his homework (an element of all three of his scripts) and making an episode which touches base with Season 1's weightier themes (which have more than a little in common with The Prisoner), including what exactly the Federation did to Blake when he was under their control and what became of those behind his trial. So a post-hypnotic cue being used by a reformed Ven Glynd is an interesting plot hook, and the early scenes of Blake acting out of character when he's usually Mr Straight Down The Middle Heart On His Sleeve are actually rather good - I especially like his manipulation of Vila. Mind, why are they going on holiday when they should be hot on the trail of Docholi and Star One?

But then it all falls apart in a preposterous fashion. Ven Glynd is played by someone who looks and acts nothing like the guy we saw before - the original actor wasn't available but going so far away from him for a minor character instead of devising someone else is weird; it's one thing to recast a regular but for a guy being brought back as an explicit continuity reference? Nah. Also Blake still being under control of the signal for the whole episode robs the moral dilemma of whether he would forgive Ven Glynd for stitching him up if it meant a shot at the Federation.

Ven Glynd's idea is wishy-washy bollocks too and surely his experiences, even just those shown in "The Way Back", would show a plan revolving around legally challenging the Federation with evidence (even if said evidence includes a nice call-back to the events of "Orac") is highly unlikely to work, even with the backing of a few governors like Le Grande. Their silly little conspiracy being easily uncovered and destroyed by Servalan is highly predictable - though it is a smashing reveal on the screen, a precision cameo pulled off with some style. It's also really nice that for once she doesn't feel the need to fly out and deal with every little kink personally; the subtext of her being so contemptuous of Le Grande's plot that she deals with it over a video link is super. It's probably her best appearance of Season 2 to date and it was blatantly filmed on the set of another episode in about thirty seconds.

At the other end of the scale is the role of Travis, "working" with Ven Glynd and Le Grande under the guise of the disfigured rebel Shivan. This makes for a crap reveal (at around the point we're expecting him to be in basically every episode and from under a bunch of bandages, a neckbrace and shit 'Allo 'Allo voice so obviously disguising someone that there's zero surprise - it wasn't going to be Avalon or Sarkoff, was it?) with Brian Croucher's surly body language making it clear he thinks it's a crap idea. Once again when he hates a script he's shit and when he hates a director he's shit; here he sounds like he's reading his lines as a stand-in at a rehearsal. And what is Travis even doing anyway? How long has he been pretending to be Shivan? Why is he actively trying to freak Ven Glynd out? Is he working with Servalan (it's never particularly clear if he's an inside man or if she just rumbles Ven Glynd's plot anyway because it's dreadful and everyone involved is an idiot)? Why? If she's doing this to kill Blake why doesn't he kill Blake straight away? If he's still unofficially on Servalan's payroll why does he force Avon and Jenna to teleport him off the Liberator instead of killing the pair of them and taking the ship? Fuck's sake, Roger, did you even read this back?

It's also a really badly made episode. You can let a lot of B7's huge production errors and cheapness slide when it's good (well, you have to otherwise you might as well be watching something dreadful and American) but when it's bad there's nothing to distract from it. So there's Blake's awful CSO'd spacewalk, the abysmal Shivan disguise (a load of bandages grabbed from the on-set first aid box with a plastic eye glued to it; bring back Mary Hudson, please!), the wobbly knife in Nagu's back and while the cinema screen visual is great they maybe could have not used the rest of the place for other location filming, with a desperate last stand taking place in what looks like the lobby of a leisure centre.

The one plus is that the rest of the crew don't do too badly. Jenna not only gets to take part in trying to break Blake's conditioning but gets to leave the ship properly rather than as a plot device, interacting nicely with the lead (another odd little flashback with just that hint of love interest subplot), while in another odd first season throwback Cally's on medical detail. Avon meanwhile gets to play cynic slash sleuth once again and how interesting is Blake claiming to Vila he's paired up with Cally? Only slightly but the episode revolves around Brian Croucher with bandages around his head going "you think ahhh haven't smult you awwwt?" to a bloke with a beard and no moustache so interest needs to be reached for.

And you'd need a lot of reaching to think this is any good. But in a way it is at least entertainingly bad. Perhaps. Actually, if "Voice from the Past" has a plus it's that it sidetracks itself from the Star One arc and that nothing Travis or Servalan do builds (or is mentioned again) for their arcs for the season so really you don't actually need to watch it for any reason. So at least it's more considerate than "The Keeper".

1 comment:

  1. There's literally no reason for it to be Travis is there? It's a legitimate counter-terrorism operation as far as the Federation would be concerned, so why wouldn't Servalan use one of her own people? Maybe even the real guy as a double? Hell, going undercover with rebels to set them up... this is the moment to bring your hero Dev Tarrant back.

    It almost feels like they'd contracted Croucher for X number of episodes and had to squeeze him into an extra one when they realised they were short.

    And as for the many other problems... I always feel B7 would have been better doing ten episodes a season rather than 13. They always seem to hit a burn out point before rallying round.

    This is basically what everyone remembers the whole show (bar the finale) being like. Cheerful camp crap that's strangely watchable.