Doctor Who – The Rescue. Episode Two – Desperate Measures

The Rescue was the first story of Doctor Who‘s second production block, but it was touch and go for a while as to whether the series would continue after The Dalek Invasion of Earth.  During the last twenty years or so a considerable amount of information has come to light concerning the lengthy birth pains of the series – most of which flatly contradicts the accepted view of Doctor Who‘s history which had formed during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Back then it was generally believed that the success of the second serial, featuring the Daleks, had secured the series’ future, but the truth was rather more complicated.  To begin with, Verity Lambert was only offered a four week extension after DIOE.  She countered that if that was all that was on offer they might as well just go ahead and cancel the series.  Lambert wanted a firm commitment for thirteen weeks with an option for another thirteen.  This was eventually agreed and Doctor Who‘s future was further strengthened when Hartnell’s agent insisted on a confirmed twenty six weeks before his client would re-sign.  The BBC agreed again and so planning for series two could begin in earnest.

The most pressing requirement was for a story to introduce the new companion and that was The Rescue‘s main function.  There was also a minor mystery to be solved (Bennett = Koquillion and it’s revealed that he’d murdered all the inhabitants of the spaceship – including Vicki’s father – in order to escape justice) but Maureen O’Brien is the focus of the story.

In episode two we see some further examples of Vicki’s hysterics – especially when Barbara kills Sandy the Sand Beast.  Vicki’s penchant for giving things pet names was retained, although it’s just as well that her hysterical outbursts weren’t (Vicki certainly spends less time collapsing at the drop of a hat than Susan did).  Her anger with Barbara for killing Sandy allows her character to be developed a little further – Vicki’s extreme emotions demonstrate that she’s been isolated from human contact (apart from the surly Bennett) for too long.  It takes the gentle words of the Doctor (a lovely scene from Hartnell) to start to break down these self imposed barriers.

Although the focus of the story is on Vicki, the Doctor has a key scene as he confronts the mass-murderer Bennett.  It’s another opportunity to see an aggressive Doctor – although his fight with Bennett is naturally brief (and could be said to be motivated by self-defence, as it seems obvious that Bennett intends to murder the Doctor in order to preserve his secret).

Given the short running time, The Rescue is obviously not the most complex of stories, but the fact that there’s only five speaking parts means that each character has a decent amount of screen time.  Vicki and the Doctor come off best, although Ian and Barbara also enjoy some entertaining scenes (Ian gets to tussle with the unconvincing spikes of death whilst Barbara gets a little gung-ho with Sandy) and Ray Barrett is imposing in his duel role.

Doctor Who – The Rescue. Episode One – The Powerful Enemy

Following the epic nature of the previous serial, The Rescue is a much lower-key story.  The brief running time (two episodes) is one of the reasons why – a fifty minute slot doesn’t allow time to develop a particularly complex story.   But that doesn’t really matter as it mainly exists to introduce the new companion,  Vicki (Maureen O’Brien).

The initial shot of the model spaceship is impressive (even if it does look a little too much like a model).  We then get our first glimpse of Vicki – a young, eager and somewhat naive girl.  O’Brien would tone down this characterisation once she settled into the role, but based on what we see during this episode it does seem strange that the production team had decided to replace Susan with a character who’s so similar.

The moment when the Doctor asks Susan to open the TARDIS doors before remembering that they left her behind on Earth is a touching one, as is the way that Ian and Barbara rally round to subtly support and comfort him.  There’s also a lovely comedic feel to this opening TARDIS scene.  Barbara, referring to the ship, tells the Doctor that the trembling’s stopped and the Doctor, completely misunderstanding, pats her cheek and tells her he’s glad she’s feeling better!

Vicki and Bennett (Ray Barrett) are the only survivors from a crashed ship.  They live in fear from a mysterious creature called Koquillion.

Director Christopher Barry uses a similar inlay shot here to one he used in The Dead Planet.  Ian and Barbara look down from the caves and see the crashed ship in the valley below.  Although it’s a basic effect, it works very well.

Barbara meets Vicki.

BARBARA: Tell me more about this Koquillion .

VICKI: He just keeps us here, Bennett and me. There’s a rescue ship on the way. He doesn’t know about that. But he’ll find out. I know he will.

BARBARA: But why does he keep you here?

VICKI: They…they killed all the crew. We…when we landed we, we made contact here. Everyone on board was invited to a grand sort of meeting. I couldn’t go, I was ill, a fever or something. I stayed here that night. I remember waking up, a thunderstorm I thought, but is was an explosion. Bennett…Bennett…dragged himself back. I was ill for days, I didn’t know about it ‘til later. I came around and…found Bennett. He can’t walk.

There scenes almost play out as an audition piece for O’Brien.  It’s fairly overwrought stuff, but she handles it pretty well.

The Rescue is the first time we see the Doctor land on a planet that he’s visited before.  Last time he was here he was struck by the friendliness of the locals, so the bloodthirsty antics of Koquillion baffles him.

There’s a literal cliffhanger as the Doctor and Ian are trapped by some highly unconvincing metal spikes which emerge from the rockface.  It’s all good b-movie stuff.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Series Three, Episodes Eleven to Thirteen

Moloch

Any clues that this is a Ben Stead script? Well, one or two ….

Sardos is a planet where the gross Section Leader Grose (John Hartley) rules with an iron hand although the unseen Moloch seems to be pulling most of the strings. Moloch doesn’t do much though, apart from occasionally piping up off-screen to advise that any miscreant female should be handed over to Grose’s men. It hardly needs to be spelled out what their fate will be.

Servalan later sums up the state of affairs on Sardos. “Well, Section Leader, the records were accurate. Women, food, and inflicting pain – in no particular order”. At least with Power, Stead would subvert expectations from time to time – sadly there’s no examples of that here. When Grose slaps a serving wench on the bottom and suggests that she’d look better with a “bit of dressing, and an apple between her teeth” we have to take his comments at face value.

The expectation is that one of the downtrodden females, such as Chesil (Sabina Franklyn), will be the one to strike the killer blow and bring Grose’s misogynistic empire crashing to the ground. That would have been something, but it wasn’t to be.

Vila later makes friends with Doran (Davyd Harris), an initially affable rogue who later turns out to be far less affable (that fact he hates women shouldn’t really come as any surprise – even though he’s not one of Grose’s men). Michael Keating is a little better served by this script than the previous one. His best moment comes when Vila runs into Servalan and the pair form an uneasy (and very brief) alliance. A whole episode featuring a team-up between Vila and Servalan would have been delicious, a pity it never happened.

The fortunes of the Federation have fluctuated during series three, mainly depending on who was writing the script. In Moloch, things seem so bad that Servalan has traipsed across the galaxy in order to retrieve Grose’s legion of ships. That doesn’t exactly chime with what we’ve seen previously, but that’s the least of this episode’s problems …

As we lurch towards the conclusion, things get more and more lunatic. The appearance of Colonel Astrid, Grose’s former commander, is bad enough but then we finally get to see Moloch himself. If you’re going to hold something back for a shock reveal at the end, you need to make sure that it’s worth waiting for. Oh dear.

Mind-boggling stuff. What were Chris Boucher and David Maloney thinking?

Death Watch

Armed with nothing more than a bad wig, Steven Pacey very credibly manages to make Deeta Tarrant seem like a very different character from his younger brother Del. The Deeta scenes give Pacey better material to work with than he’s had for most of series three and it’s one of the obvious highlights of the episode.

Vila’s amazing range of drinks and snacks is another and I also like the rare example of playful banter between Vila and Cally – which ends when the pair, acting like a couple of children, chase each other off the flight deck!

There’s some nice self-referential touches in this story. The commentator (David Sibley) serves a dual purpose – not only does he info-dump a considerable amount of detail about the upcoming combat, but when that’s over there’s time for a few sly digs at the artifice of television broadcasting (“it was your usual delicate mixture of enthusiasm and dignified cliché”). The portentous voice-over (“Space, the final frontier”) is another obvious bit of mockery.

Servalan does very little, but her scene with Avon is worth the price of admission alone. Paul Darrow manages to overcome the handicap of looking ridiculous (that jacket isn’t the best thing he’s ever worn) as he spits out his dialogue in trademark fashion. You just knew that another snog was around the corner and he didn’t disappoint on that score. Two other moments are especially delightful – the way Avon holds Servalan in an embrace whilst at the same time calling the Liberator for teleport as well as Servalan’s smile after he departs.

The POV shots during the Deeta/Vinny battle are nicely done, as are Deeta’s final moments which the audience are invited to share. A pity that the space suits are all a bit glam rock though.

Overall, there’s not a lot wrong with this one. It’s certainly rich in small character moments which means that it’s a rewarding story to revisit.

Terminal

Terminal offers us a preview of the irrational Avon we’d see in series four. The destruction of the Liberator is a direct consequence of his overweening hubris – had he taken the advice of the others and steered the ship around the unidentified particles then the Liberator would have lived to tell the tale. But Avon knew best, or thought he did …..

“Well, you certainly took your time finding me”. It’s the briefest of scenes, but even this small dose of Gareth Thomas is a sharp reminder of what the series has lacked this year. Although a few half-hearted attempts had been made to strike up a rivalry between Avon and Tarrant, it never sprung into life. Had – as originally intended – an older actor been cast as Tarrant then possibly their spats might have been more impressive. But Steven Pacey always seemed like a lightweight when lined up alongside Paul Darrow.

The plot’s a little loose in places. Did Avon really just track Blake down in order to take part in his get-rich plan? We’ve previously been told that the Liberator contains untold wealth, so this seems unlikely. Or did Avon – even after all their squabbles – really want to reconnect with his former ship-mate? Again, this is slightly hard to swallow but it seems the more likely reason of the two.

But I do like the way that Avon’s motives are rather cloaked – when Servalan (shock, horror) makes an appearance, she wonders if Avon teleported down alone because he didn’t want to share Blake’s spoils with the others (Avon maintained it was because he didn’t want to put them in danger). The brief smile on his face after Servalan’s comment leaves this point moot.

Of course, there was no Blake, it was all an illusion conjured up by Servalan in order to (yawn) capture the Liberator. The only good thing about the destruction of the ship in this story is that we’ll be spared any more of these Servalan-hatches-a-crazy-plan-to-steal-the-Liberator plotlines in the future.

Best not to question why neither Servalan nor her minions notice that the Liberator’s not exactly looking in tip top shape. She’s been onboard before, so surely all the gloopy pustules on the walls should have started the alarm bells ringing.

Terminal’s ominous and constant heartbeat (which only increases the closer that Avon gets to his prey) works well and it’s nice to see Vila take charge for once. Left on the ailing Liberator with Dayna, he hatches a plan to hopefully buy them some more time.

The death of Zen (“I have failed you. I am sorry”) has always been more upsetting to me than the death of Gan. Sorry David.

Terminal does sag in parts (it takes an awfully long time for Avon to reach faux-Blake and the less said about the links the better) but it’s still a good’un.

So that’s that. The final end. At least until there was a last minute reprieve ….

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Series Three, Episodes Eight to Ten

Rumours of Death

I love the cold opening – a pity that the show didn’t do more of this. Unshaven and in pain, we share Avon’s disorientation as he’s visited in his cell by Shrinker (John Bryans). The prison cell is a simple set, but off-camera screams from other, less fortunate, inmates helps to create a sense both of scale and oppression. Fiona Cumming’s direction here, and throughout the episode, has some nice choices – with Shrinker standing and Avon sitting, the low camera angle reinforces the Federation man’s dominance (at least initially).

Avon’s ruthlessness is perfectly demonstrated in this episode (as well as his single-minded desire to withstand anything – even days of torture – to achieve his ultimate goal). Whether this is a good or bad thing is debatable – it’s easy to argue that the seeds of his eventual downfall were sown here. After killing the most important woman in his life (who betrayed him) it surely would make killing the most important man in his life (whom he believed had betrayed him) much easier.

After some of the more pulpy sci-fi stories of series three, Rumours of Death is a pleasingly straightforward thriller/spy yarn. And whilst the palace revolution – and Servalan’s temporary dethroning – was achieved rather easily, this could be taken as an illustration of just how tenuous her grip on power was at this point.

Jacqueline Pearce doesn’t have a great of screentime, but her scenes with Avon are pulsating (especially “It’s an old wall, Avon, it waits. I hope you don’t die before you reach it.”). Although once again it’s remarkable that Avon and Servalan keep on running into each other when they’ve the whole galaxy to play with.

Greenlee (Donald Douglas) and Forres (David Haig) are a couple of interesting characters – Federation types who also seem like fairly ordinary people. The fact they’re a likeable double-act helps to blur the lines between the “good” and “bad” sides. Sula (Lorna Helibron) is another example of this – is she a pure rebel, keen to restore democracy with a People’s Council, or does she just have her eye on replacing Servalan?

The revelation that Sula was Anna (and therefore everything Avon thought he knew was wrong) means that he has – in his own mind – no choice but to kill her. Whether she did really love him (as her dying words suggest) is another of those moments that’s open to interpretation. And that’s one of the reasons why Rumours of Death is such a good episode – few B7’s have this level of nuance. Who do you trust and who do you disbelieve?

Although the episode Blake wasn’t even a gleam in Chris Boucher’s eye when he scripted this one, in retrospect it’s easy to see how even at this point Avon was firmly set on the road to Gauda Prime.

Sarcophagus

You can’t help but love and respect a story which begins in such an oblique and bewildering fashion. Sarcophagus‘ first five minutes pass by with no explanation, although the roles of the masked servitors will become clearer later on (when we see the Liberator crew occupying the same positions).

As with most of S3, there’s a definite feeling of ennui hanging over the crew. With no particular goal in sight, they spend their time doing relatively little (you know things are desperate when Vila and Avon are indulging in a game of space draughts). Tarrant’s asteroid (“something else to chase” as Cally says) is the latest example of a mission which seems to be designed more to keep them busy, than for any other pressing reason.

Largely set aboard the Liberator and (apart from some non-speaking extras) solely centered around the regulars, Sarcophagus may have been designed as a cheap show, but Tanith Lee was able to work with these limitations and unlike, say Breakdown (another Liberator heavy story), ensure that everybody was well served by the script. Avon and Cally top and tail the story (with other intriguing scenes scattered throughout), Tarrant might be his usual annoying self when interrogating Cally early on, but he gets a decent scene with the alien later (although largely it feels like he’s just softening her up for Avon’s killer blow). Dayna gets to warble a tune(!) whilst Vila’s conjuring tricks (with a dose of non-diegetic sound) ends up as a decidedly creepy moment.

Easy to see why this is a slightly marmite story, since it’s almost totally a tale of dialogue and concepts with little or no action. But I’m glad that Boucher took a chance on a television novice like Tanith Lee, as both of her B7 stories are ones which repay multiple viewings.

Ultraworld

Vila seems to have had a nervous breakdown, that’s the only possible explanation I can find for his behaviour in this episode (chuckling with Orac at a series of lame riddles and gags). One sample will suffice – “Where do space pilots leave their ships? At parking meteors”. True, in the end this becomes an important plot point, but it’s still incredibly lame (you can’t blame Michael Keating, he could only work with the material he had, but the script gives him little scope to portray Vila as anything over than a childish buffoon).

Jan Chappell, who spends most of the episode unconscious, also has limited room to shine. So with Vila out to lunch and Cally asleep, that leaves the trio of Avon, Tarrant and Dayna. This does have its compensations – especially as we’re treated to some typical Avon jibes (when Tarrant declares that he takes calculated risks, Avon counters “calculated on what? Your fingers?”). And with Avon sitting most of the second part of the episode out, this leaves Tarrant and Dayna at the forefront – it’s notable how Tarrant takes control (even if you sense he really doesn’t know what he’s doing).

Although Ultraworld had a fairly small guest cast, it doesn’t seem to have been a particularly cheap show. The modelwork is impressive (the huge pulsating brain is gloriously icky whilst the capture of the Liberator is another nice sequence – albeit a bit wobbly). Location filming at the Camden Town shelter also helped to create a sense of space.

Of course the story is a very silly run-around (Trevor Hoyle, like Tanith Lee, was a science-fiction novelist and a television novice, but their two S3 stories couldn’t be further apart – one was lyrical and layered, and the other was called Ultraworld). This is a story that you sense Hoyle wasn’t taking terribly seriously.

Especially played for laughs is the scene where the Ultras decide that Tarrant and Dayna should demonstrate the human bonding ceremony. Dayna seems up for it (“kiss me. Come on. I can’t be all that repulsive”) as she, ahem, sets to work on Tarrant. The way the Ultras are looking in (“has the bonding ceremony begun?”) sets the tone of this sequence.

Everything’s sorted out with embarrassing ease – Cally and Avon might have had their memories stolen but luckily Tarrant was able to find their data stores just lying about. A pity they weren’t swopped around, as an episode with Avon stuck in Cally’s body (and vice-versa) would have been very interesting.

It’s silly, but it’s fun.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Series Three, Episodes Five to Seven

Harvest of Kairos

This one is odd, very, very odd. For just this episode, Tarrant has become the unopposed leader of the group (Servalan keeps chuntering on about his command skills, and when she boards the Liberator once again reminds everybody that Tarrant’s the boss). Wat’s Avon doing whilst Tarrant’s running the show? He’s staring at a rock he’s found (Darrow plays this episode like the Avon of S4 – whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on how much you enjoy S4).

Andrew Burt’s not a bad actor, but he’s woefully miscast as Jarvik (mind you, any actor would struggle with this role). From his first words (“Woman, you’re beautiful” as he grasps Servalan for a quick snog) it’s hard to keep a straight face whenever Jarvik has any dialogue.

How he temporarily humanises Servalan is interesting, but it’s a pity that it’s done in such a ham-fisted way. “When was the last time you felt the warmth of the Earth’s sun on your naked back? Or lifted your face to the heavens, and laughed with the joy of being alive? How long since you wept at the death of a friend?” Another actor might have delivered this with a little more subtlety, I’m afraid that Burt’s line reading only generated tears of laughter from me ….

Jarvik is a man. Tarrant is a man. Therefore they have to do what men do – face each other in combat. It’s possible that there’s an element of satire in Ben Steed’s script, but I don’t really think so – it seems we’re required to take everything at face value. The climax of the story (Jarvik is accidentally shot dead) is incredibly unconvincing (I assume the clock was ticking round to ten pm). But it does allow Tarrant to remind everybody that Jarvik was a special kind of man. A man’s man, you might say.

The creature is monumentally silly as well, but that’s the least of this episode’s problems. And yet, like Voice from the Past this is an episode that I still derive some pleasure from. It’s illogical and made on the cheap (Servalan seems to be flying around in a space station) but whatever else it is, it’s not dull.

City at the Edge of the World

Whether by accident or design, all the regulars get at least one starring episode during series three (Cally is especially lucky as she gets two – Children of Auron and Sarcophagus). City is Vila’s chance to shine and it’s nice to see Michael Keating given more to do for once than just act as the comic foil. The episode’s a bit of a run-around, but Colin Baker’s performance as Bayban helps to keep things ticking along nicely. Subtle his turn isn’t, entertaining it is.

Always nice to see Valentine Dyall, although he isn’t called upon to do much more than stand around looking noble. Carol Hawkins looks lovely, although Kerril’s sudden mood swing (from hating Vila to loving him) is a little hard to swallow. Maybe this was all just one of Vila’s soma induced dreams?

The relationship between Vila and Kerril is delightfully chaste (their ‘sex’ scene seems to mainly consist of them lying on adjoining couches). An agreeable romp then – not a story with great depth or impact but thanks to the performances it breezes along nicely.

Children of Auron

Oh no, not another story where Servalan attempts to steal the Liberator ….

On the plus side, Liberator pinching does very much play second fiddle to her other (frankly bonkers) plan – feeling a little broody, she intends to wipe out vast swathes of Cally’s people just so she can use their cloning facilities to create a race of mini-Servalans. But compared to Roger Parkes’ previous script (Voice from the Past) this seems quite sensible.

Auron never really comes alive as a planet. Their isolationist nature is touched upon (but if this is the case, why was a pilot tootling around in space?) and Ronald Leigh-Hunt does his usual gruff act, but it’s hard to really connect to the tragedy that befalls them.

Cally has a twin! I love Chris Boucher dearly, but sometimes his script-editing was odd. Cally has a twin? Fair enough, but pulling the same trick with Tarrant a few episodes later makes this harder to swallow (you can’t help but expect the same thing to happen with Avon, Vila and Dayna too).

Odd that Zelda wasn’t given more to do, although her final scene with Cally was touching.

All the regulars get some decent lines (plus Paul Darrow has some serious brooding time) but it’s really Jacqueline Pearce who gets the best of the script. Even though Servalan once again displays an astonishing lack of judgement, it’s impossible not to feel something after she’s tricked into destroying her embryos. “They were mine, I felt them die”.

Rio Fanning and Ric Young (as Deral and Ginka) offer some light relief (although I’ve a feeling this wasn’t intended). Poor Servalan, good men must be hard to find if these two are the best she can come up with.

Serious points off for the chucklesome ending (almost as bad as Breakdown – we’ve just witnessed a catastrophe, so let’s have a bit of a laugh). Children of Auron is a bit static and wordy (and the plot isn’t exactly watertight) but it’s a solid character piece.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Series Three, Episodes One to Four

Aftermath

The great galactic battle is a bit of a damp squib – with various bits of reused footage being pressed into service. Interesting that Cally and Vila only play a small role in this one – partly this enables new arrival Dayna a decent slice of the action, but it also means that Avon can move centre-stage unchallenged. What are the odds that Servalan would have ended up on the same planet as Avon? Hmm. If that’s hard to swallow, then so is the fact that Avon and Servalan immediately lock themselves into a hate/hate (with maybe a dash of love) relationship.

How many words had they previously exchanged? Judging from what we see here, they seem like the best of enemies with a lengthy history, which isn’t the case at all. Avon’s roughhousing (“Imagination my only limit? I’d be dead in a week”) is played nicely.

My interest always flags when hairy primitives pop up, although since they only feature in a fairly minor subplot it’s not too much of an issue (the Avon/Dayna/Servalan triangle is the main point of interest during this story). Josette Simon makes an instant impression whilst Paul Darrow easily steps up to the mark as a leading man. And another good cliffhanger!

Powerplay

I’m not the greatest S3 Tarrant fan, but he does have a decent introductory episode. Not quite sure though weren’t more explicit about making him a rogue Federation officer rather than just another freedom fighter. Although maybe Tarrant was fibbing about his freedom fighter status – this would have been an interesting angle to develop at a later date.

Michael Sheard is entertainingly gruff and Darrow and Simon continue to work well together. On original transmission, I was sure that Blake was the secret killer. Alas, that was a bit wide of the mark.

Cally doesn’t do a great deal but Vila’s subplot – especially his “we’ve got you surrounded” shtick – is good fun. Mind you, his effusive appreciation of the lovely young ladies is so overdone that you just know a sting in the tail is coming.

Following Servalan’s encounter with Avon last week (straining credibility) this time she runs into Vila and Cally. It’s clearly a small galaxy.

I’ve always been fond of this one. The fairly small guest ensures that pretty much all the regulars get a good crack of the whip. Mind you, given the number of times I watched the VHS omnibus back in the day, it does seem odd not to be carrying on with Sarcophagus ….

Volcano

Some of the volcano stock footage looks familiar. Was it also used for the Doctor Who Inferno title sequence?

As it’s an Allan Prior script it’s probably best to ratchet down your expectations. The planet Obsidian does at least boast one decent actor – Michael Gough as Hower – but even he struggles with most of the dialogue. Malcolm Bullivant, as Hower’s son Bershar, is pretty wooden throughout though.

Things aren’t much more promising on the Federation front – Ben Howard (as Mori) is operating in Travis (Brian Croucher) territory. The fact that he, and a small group of Federation troops, manage to take over the Liberator should be a standout moment, but it turns out to be something of a damp squib.

The battle fleet commander (Alan Bowerman) maintains the generally low standard of the guest cast.

Why did they gag Cally but not Vila? Anyway, it’s pretty pointless to gag a telepath ….

There are a few bright spots though. With only Avon and Vila left aboard, Vila has to step up to the mark after Avon is injured. He taunts Servalan very nicely. Vila doesn’t do much in the story, but STILL gets many of the best lines.

Servalan’s plan (she wants the Liberator, then at the last minute decides she doesn’t) sums up the incoherent nature of the story.

Dayna and Tarrant get a nice slice of the narrative down on the planet, even if Hower and Bershar aren’t great conversationalists. They do possess the most wonderful robot though. It’s hard not to take your eyes off him.

The most intriguing part of the story occurs when Tarrant tells Hower that they’re mercenaries and in exchange for the use of his planet he’d be in line for a percentage of the spoils. Was Tarrant fibbing or did he seriously think they’d be setting off for a life of crime as intergalactic pirates? I suppose this does anticipate later stories such as Gold though.

Not a very good story, but it’s fitfully entertaining.

Dawn of the Gods

I love the fact that everybody – except killjoy Tarrant – begins the episode by enjoying a nice game of Space Monopoly.

This is one of those stories which features a great many Liberator scenes. On the positive side this means there’s ample time to develop and explore the characters of the regulars, the negative is the sense that the story is proceeding at a snail’s pace.

The needle between Avon and Tarrant is entertaining though.

TARRANT: One day, Avon, I may have to kill you.
AVON: It has been tried.

I love Vila’s dazed comment as well (“I’m in hell — and it’s full of Avons”).

Actually, the Liberator part of the story is easily the best thing about Dawn of the Gods – when we reach the artificial satellite of Krandor things get very odd. The sight of the top-hatted Caliph for starters.

Groff, with his eye shade, also looks out of place, but at least he’s played by a decent actor (Terry Scully) who’s able to take the paper thin character and flesh it out a little, thereby ensuring that we care just a little about Groff’s fate.

Yet another mystical legend from Cally’s home planet, at least the Thaarn looks impressive, even if it’s difficult to work up much interest about his politely spoken desire to rule the universe.

The way the story stumbles to a conclusion is a bit of a problem, but this time round I didn’t find Dawn to be that painful (whereas in the past I recall it being much more of a slog). Perhaps I was just in a good mood today.

The Good Life – Silly, but it’s fun (26th December 1977)

Unsurprisingly, the message of Silly, but it’s fun is that you don’t have to spend a fortune in order to have an enjoyable Christmas – all you need is the company of good (no pun intended) friends.

The Goods, of course, have no other choice than to economise (Tom scavenging a Christmas tree – or at least part of it – from the greengrocers, Barbara using her craft skills to make a yule log with a rather substantial Robin). But on the plus side, it does mean that this year’s Christmas has only cost them fifteen pence!

But next door, commercialism is rampant – with Margo railing against tradesmen. David Battley is the tradesman in question, offering a wonderfully phlegmatic performance which was something of his trademark (a similar turn in The Beiderbecke Tapes immediately springs to mind).

Margo’s unhappy that her tree – part of her Christmas delivery – is slightly under the required height, so she decides that everything will have to go back (it’s all or nothing for her). Given that it’s Christmas Eve this seems a little reckless. I know that the seventies was another era, but surely nobody would have been expecting another delivery on Christmas Day? And yet, this is the crux of the story.

Suspension of disbelief also has to come into play when pondering the question as to why Margo’s left it so late to take delivery of all her Christmas provisions – not only the tree, but the food, drink and decorations. A severe lack of forward planning?

The upshot is that when no fresh delivery is forthcoming, she’s forced to ring up all her friends and fob them off from coming around (claiming that Jerry has chickenpox and therefore is out of bounds for the duration). Jerry’s “political” chickenpox cheers him up, as he – naturally enough – wasn’t looking forward to spending yet another Christmas with all their friends, mouthing the same pointless trivialities at the same round of endless parties.

I daresay his wish (which came true) to simply have a quiet Christmas at home would have struck a chord with many ….

So Margo and Jerry spend Christmas Day with Tom and Barbara. It may just have been the especially potent peapod burgundy, but Jerry does get rather frisky with Barbara (although you can’t really blame him). The same sort of sexual tension doesn’t crackle with Tom and Margo (the mind boggles at the thought of that) but they do share a rather intimate scene in the privacy of the kitchen – although this is more about Tom forcing Margo to unbend a little, and embrace their silly Christmas revels.

It’s rather touching that Margo confesses that she’d like to, but simply doesn’t know how. But it doesn’t take long before she’s completely warmed up and throwing herself into all the party games with gusto.

Some sitcom Christmas specials, especially from the eighties onwards, tended to offer something more expansive than their usual fare. Silly, but it’s fun revels in the fact that nothing much happens except that the Goods and the Leadbetters have a jolly enjoyable Christmas day. This embrace of simple pleasures might be one of the reasons why the episode always seems to strike a pleasing chord whenever it makes another Christmas appearance.