Thursday, 8 March 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S3E03 Volcano

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.

Here the crew are looking for Blake (no mention whatsoever of Jenna; there won't be until the last episode), following up rumours of a sighting on Obsidian. It's clearly just a device to bring the Liberator to the planet for the story idea Prior has and to be fair in isolation here it works, though it's a very good thing they didn't use chasing Blake around as a device for the bulk of the rest of the season, firstly as it was clear from the start that Gareth Thomas was never going to come back as a regular and secondly because the show never would have struck out on its' own without him.

Anyway, the crew are partly there for recruits to join the crew and also to use the planet as a possible base. They find a pacifist society led by Michael Gough, who despite a distinguished career finds Prior's mangled dialogue and the woolly central concept of the Pyroans reliance on an unnamed deterrent (guess what it is, go on, the title alone makes the clumsy shots of volcano stock footage and leaden references even more banal). His boy however is really not very pacifist, in a lazy unexplored take on the downside to absolute non-aggression, and has called in Servalan.

She arrives in her new ugly shark-shaped ship (no, I have no idea why) with a blatant Travis substitute in Mori, the first of numerous thuggish one-off officers who'll go along and do Travis-y acts of brutality before being undone. It's an interesting choice to give her a more roaming role in Season 3, where she's between a rock and a hard place really - her plan is still very much to capture the Liberator and she largely prioritises this over actually running Earth but it's clear her power isn't hugely established and she's low on people she can trust. The bit at the end where she openly muses that the Liberator is no longer a threat is a little on the nose as the crew don't do much to prove her wrong as the thing goes on; it also means she looks a bit silly giving it such a high priority. At least the less awful Mutoid design makes a return, which is a positive relative to the rest of the episode.

But it's still a strong point compared to the rest of the episode, which is hugely predictable, very tedious and very cheap even by B7 standards, full of file footage and crap CSO, complete with Gough sitting on a wicker chair. And why bother giving Hower a robot when it's going to look that terrible? He doesn't even really need one, it's just another thing to erode credibility. Putting Tarrant and Dayna as the away team is interesting, though - it's already clear where they are in the pecking order and any trace of Avon's feelings even as a friend for Dayna are annihilated. Quite why the crew suddenly want recruits and a base I don't know, however, and this won't be followed up on; I suppose it and investigating about Blake is a beard to try and distract that they've just written out one male and one female and replaced them with another inside two episodes. Tarrant at least is more fully formed here - cocky, macho and headstrong, though he's at the more unpleasant end of the scale here. It might be an early attempt to distance him from Blake; the character himself is a composite of various unused ideas (with his more heroic, dashing side from the original concept for Vila back in the early genesis of the series and his more forceful power-hungry side from the mooted Captain traitor character) but is finding his feet slowly.

And for the second time in two episodes Federation forces board the Liberator but there's a flimsy reason for Mori and his troopers going back off and that's that; "Volcano" is full of these little flashpoints that don't really go anywhere. There's also some odd continuity about the Intergalactic War when a big thing is made of neither side landing on Obsidian despite it being in the middle of the conflict. But, as with Sarran last week and the Hi-Techs with their ship, "Star One" made a big thing of Star One being a long way from anything; it would hardly be a secret if it was surrounded by all sorts of planets and given what we know of the Andromedans would they really have given a shit if Hower told them he'd blow up the planet? For a start here he doesn't actually directly reveal it to either the crew or the Federation until close to the end, so how did he scare everyone off during the war?

"Volcano" is an absolute mess from top to bottom, basically. Like most of Prior's scripts there are traces of a good idea here and there but it feels like nothing's really been added to his basic pitch of "how about a planet with a huge volcano that can blow itself up?" and there's lots of fragmentary bits of plot that either don't go anywhere or are achingly obvious. Also like most of Prior's scripts it's deathly slow and only the first signs that Avon's leadership role is going to be as aloof and self-centred as his role in the first two years, leading to a crew who don't really get on. But other episodes in the season will cover that in a much better fashion, so here you're just met with a story that feels like it's been made towards the end of the year when there's no money left. It's the worst episode to date - though it will only hold that title for a week...

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