Lorna Doone – Simply Media DVD Review

John Ridd (John Sommerville) was just a boy when his father, a good and honest man, was brutally murdered by Carver Doone (John Turner). Despite an outward display of respectability, the wealthy Doone family delight in creating havoc and mischief.

As John grows up, he vows to avenge his father’s death. But matters are complicated when he falls deeply in love with the young Lorna Doone (Emily Richard) whose hand in marriage has been promised to her cousin, Carver ….

Subtitled A Romance of Exmoor, Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore was originally published in 1869. An instant success, it has spawned numerous television and film adaptations over the last hundred years or more. It’s easy to see why, since it’s a heady mixture of action, adventure, revenge and romance.

This 1976 BBC Classic Serial version is a faithful adaptation (always a hallmark of the Classic Serials) although it does take a short time to tune in to the style of production. Even for those well used to the delights of archive television, some of the 1970’s Classic Serials initially appear to be rather earnest and mannered (the numerous very fake-looking beards are also a hindrance). But it doesn’t take long before the story starts to engross and the small niggles fade away.

Richard Beaumont, as the young John, carries most of the first episode. Although still a teenager, he’d already enjoyed a decent career stretching back to the late 1960’s (including a brief recording contract with Decca records). His John is a pleasing mixture of youthful impatience and innocence and such is the impression he makes that it’s almost a shame when John suddenly turns into the much older John Sommerville.

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It’s slightly odd that none of the other characters seem to age though (which makes John’s transformation from scrawny youth to strapping young man all the more jarring). Possibly it would have been better to have staged this transformation at the start of the second episode, rather than at the end of the first.

Episode one also gives us a brief glimpse of the young Lorna, played by Jennifer Thanisch (best known for appearing as Anne in the Southern series of The Famous Five). John Somerville’s John Ridd is a stolid enough creation but it’s Emily Richard’s Lorna Doone who really catches the eye. Easily the more experienced actor of the two, Richard had just starred in The Glittering Prizes and would later appear in the well-remembered WW2 drama Enemy At The Door.

Plenty of familiar faces are on show. Patrick Troughton plays Councillor Doone, not a terribly large role but Troughton was always good value whatever part he played. Ian Hogg is very appealing as the roguish highwayman Tom Faggus whilst Lucinda Gane (later to play Miss Mooney in Grange Hill) appears as Lizzie, one of John’s sisters. David Garfield, Max Faulkner and Trevor Baxter are amongst those who contribute to a strong supporting cast.

The romance between John and Lorna is a key part of the narrative, with various other subplots – the infighting amongst the Doones, rumbles of unrest in London about the King ‘s conduct – also bubbling away nicely throughout the episodes.

Whilst it’s true that some of the rustic supporting characters err on the ripe side, Lorna Donne boasts some fine performances amongst the principals. If you love the 1970’s era of the BBC Classic Serials then this should certainly appeal.

Lorna Doone is available now from Simply Media, RRP £24.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Pinter at the BBC – BFI DVD Review

This is an incredibly welcome release, as it brings together a very healthy chunk of Harold Pinter’s BBC output (none of which has been commercially available before). Indeed, Pinter’s television work on DVD has, until now, been rather sparse (a few isolated offerings from Network – the Armchair Theatre production of A Night Out and the Laurence Olivier Presents staging of The Collection – have been the highlights so far).

Disc One

Leo McKern in Tea Party

Tea Party (25th May 1966). 76 minutes

Tea Party was commissioned for a prestigious Eurovision project, entitled The Largest Theatre In The World, which saw the play performed in thirteen separate counties over the course of a single week (some took a subtitled version of the BBC original whilst others staged their own adaptation).

It’s a layered and uncompromising piece, with Leo McKern mesmerising as a self-made businessman who begins to lose his sense of reason (and also his sight). Has he been destabilised by inviting his brother-in-law Willy (Charles Gray) into his business or has his infatuation with his new secretary, Wendy (Vivien Merchant), pushed him over the edge? Do his two young sons from his first marriage really harbour evil intentions towards him or does his new wife, Diana (Jennifer Wright), possesses secrets of her own?

So there are plenty of questions, but as so often with Pinter the answers are less forthcoming. The final scene is extraordinary. Disson (McKern) – his eyes firmly bandaged – sits immobile in the middle of a party held in his honour. Although Disson plainly can’t see, we’re privy to his thoughts (he imagines a three way intimate exchange between his wife, brother-in-law and secretary) as he slowly regresses into a catatonic state.

All of the principals offer polished performances, with Merchant – Pinter’s first wife – especially eye-catching. Given the subject matter and the already rocky relationship she was enjoying with Pinter, it’s fascinating to ponder just what she made of the material. Tea Party is fluidly directed by Charles Jarrott and given that the cameras of this era were bulky and not terribly manoeuvrable, some of his shot choices are quite notable.

It’s a shame that the telerecording isn’t of the highest quality (a new 2K transfer was struck for this release, but given the issues with the original recording the benefit of this was probably minimal). A pity, but at least the worst of the print damage occurs early on.

The Basement (20th February 1967). 54 minutes

Harold Pinter contributed three plays to the Theatre 625 strand in 1967. For some reason the third of these plays appears on the first disc whilst the first two are featured on the second. That’s slightly odd, but since all three aren’t linked in any way it doesn’t matter which order they’re watched in.

We’re in absolutely classic Pinter territory here as Law (Derek Godfrey) discovers his cosy basement flat has been invaded by an old friend, Stott (Pinter) and Stott’s young and mainly silent girlfriend Jane (Kika Markham). Initially pleased to see Stott, Law is less enthused – at first – about Jane ….

The arrival of an outsider into a settled domestic setting is a dramatic device that Pinter would use time and again, but The Basement – the only one of his three Theatre 625 plays to be an original work – is notable since it plays with the artifice and techniques of television.

Even more so than Tea Party, the line between reality and fantasy becomes increasingly blurred as the play continues. Some scenes (such as when Law and Stott, both stripped to the waist, fight each other with broken bottles) seem obviously fantastical, but what of the others? Time certainly seems to move in a disjointed fashion (one moment it’s winter, the next summer) whilst the final scene posits the possibility that everything we’ve seen has been a fantasy.

Pinter is menacing and monosyllabic as Stott but not as monosyllabic as Markham’s Jane, who is passive throughout whilst Godfrey has most of the dialogue and seems to be the most decipherable character of the three. A tight three-hander, The Basement has aged well.

Special Feature

Writers in Conversation – Harold Pinter. A 1984 interview with Pinter, running for 47 minutes.

Disc Two

Hazel Hughes and Maurice Denham in A Slight Ache

A Slight Ache (6th February 1967). 58 minutes

Another three-handed play which also pivots on the arrival of an disruptive outsider, A Slight Ache boasts remarkable turns from both Maurice Denham and Hazel Hughes. Husband and wife – Edward and Flora – they seem reasonably content in their country cottage, but when they invite a nameless and mute matchseller (Gordon Richardson) into their home everything changes.

Denham’s fussy, pernickety Edward is slowly destroyed by the matchseller’s ominous silence whilst Flora finds that her long-dormant sexuality has been reignited by his presence. Some contemporary reviewers found this a little hard to swallow, but realism isn’t the chief component of this play. The matchseller simply serves as a catalyst for Edward and Flora to indulge in several powerful monologues.

Despite its radio origins, A Slight Ache has a much more of a theatrical feel than The Basement. Barry Newbery’s sets (especially the lush garden) are a highlight of the production.

A Night Out (13th February 1967). 60 minutes

It’s interesting to be able to compare and contrast this production of A Night Out to the 1960 Armchair Theatre presentation. Honours are pretty much even, with Tony Selby here proving to be equally effective as the repressed mummy’s boy as Tom Bell was back in 1960.

Anna Wing, as the mother in question, makes for an imposing harridan – although wisely she doesn’t overplay her domineering nature. Albert (Selby) is all she has left, but she ensures that her psychological games comprise honeyed words and pitiful entreaties rather than abuse.

Albert’s humiliation at an office party eventually leads him to a prostitute (Avril Elgar). That she, in her own way, is just as controlling as his own mother unleashes his ugly side. All the pent-up emotions he can’t express at home are unloaded on this poor unfortunate.

Well-cast throughout (John Castle and Peter Pratt catch the eye) A Night Out is the most straightforward of the three Pinter Theatre 625 productions, but is no less fascinating.

Disc Three  

Henry Woolf in Monologue

Monologue (13th April 1973). 20 minutes

We’re now in colour for the fifth play in the Pinter set. At just twenty minutes it’s one of the shortest and only features a single actor – Henry Woolf, but it still packs plenty of content into its brief running time though.  An unnamed man (Woolf) addresses an empty chair, which is standing in for his absent friend.  Or does he believe that his friend is actually sitting there? Or is his friend simply a figment of his imagination?

As so often, several readings can be made, each one equally valid.  The story which unfolds – male friendship disrupted by the arrival of a female – echoes back to the likes of The Basement and is skilfully delivered by Woolf.  One of Pinter’s oldest friends (the pair enjoyed a relationship for more than fifty years) Woolf doesn’t really put a foot wrong (he later reprised this piece at the National in 2002).

This might be a Pinter in miniature, but is certainly deserving of attention.  Something of a neglected piece (there’s no listing on IMDB for example) hopefully this DVD release will shine a little more light on it.

Old Times (22nd October 1975). 75 minutes

Old Times has a very theatrical feel.  This form of television staging would eventually fall out of fashion – for some it was simply electronic theatre (a bad thing apparently).  But it’s always been a style that I’ve enjoyed – when there’s no location filming or clever camera angles, the piece has to stand or fall on the quality of the writing and acting.  

It’s another triangle story – married couple Deeley (Barry Foster) and Kate (Anna Cropper) find their status quo disturbed by the arrival of Kate’s old schoolfriend Anna (Mary Miller).  With Kate remaining passive for most of the play she becomes an object that both Deeley and Anna seek to claim as their own.

Several theories have been propounded to explain the meaning of the play. When Anthony Hopkins tackled the role of Deeley in 1984 he asked Pinter for some pointers. The playwright’s advice? “I don’t know, just do it”.  

Anna’s presence at the start of the play (standing at the back of the living room in darkness and immobile) is a early indictor that the production isn’t striving for realism.  She shouldn’t be there – the dialogue between Deeley and Kate makes it clear she’s yet to arrive – so her presence ensures that a tone of oddness and disconnection is set.  Foster and Cropper duel very effectively (a lengthy scene where Deeley and Anna discuss the best ways to dry a dripping wet Kate is just one highlight).

Puzzling in places (has everything we’ve witnessed simply been Deeley’s imaginings?) Old Times is nevertheless so densely scripted as to make it a rewarding one to rewatch.

Landscape (4th February 1983). 45 minutes

Landscape is a two-hander shared between husband and wife Duff (Colin Blakely) and Beth (Dorothy Tutin).  Both indulge in separate monologues which never connect to the other person’s conversation.  Beth in fact never acknowledges Duff’s presence, although he does appear to know that she’s there (or at least that someone is).

The Lord Chamberlain’s office, back in 1967, found itself unimpressed with Landscape. “The nearer to Beckett, the more portentous Pinter gets. This is a long one-act play without any plot or development … a lot of useless information about the treatment of beer … And of course, there have to be the ornamental indecencies”.

A little harsh maybe. Landscape is plotless but leaves a lingering impression. The music, composed by Carl Davis and played by John Williams, helps with this.

Special Feature

Pinter’s People – four animated short films (each around five minutes) from 1969.  A pity that a fifth – Last To Go – couldn’t be included for rights reasons, but the ones we do have are interesting little curios (Richard Briers, Kathleen Harrison, Vivien Merchant and Dandy Nichols provide the voices, so there’s no shortage of talent there).

Disc Four

Derek Newark in The Hothouse

The Hothouse (27th March 1982). 112 minutes.

Watching these plays in sequence, what’s especially striking about The Hothouse is just how funny it is.  There have been moments of levity in some of the previous plays, but the farcical tone seen here is something quite different.  Originally written in the late fifties and then shelved for twenty years, The Hothouse is set in a government rest home which, it’s strongly implied, uses any methods necessary to “cure” its unfortunate patients (who we can take to be political dissidents).

Although a dark undertone is always present (indeed, the play concludes with the offscreen deaths of all but one of the senior staff) there’s also a playful use of dialogue and even the odd slapstick moment.  Derek Newark as Roote, the hopelessly out of his depth manager, steamrollers his way through scene after scene quite wonderfully.  A man constantly losing a running battle to keep his anger in check, Roote seems incapable of understanding even the simplest of thing. Although he might not be quite as dense as he appears (and his culpability in the death of one patient and the pregnancy of another is also open to interpretation).

With a strong supporting cast, The Hothouse was certainly the most surprising of the main features.

Mountain Language (11th December 1988). 21 minutes.

A one-act play which was first performed at the National Theatre in late 1988, it swiftly transferred to television just a few months later with Michael Gambon and Miranda Richardson reprising their stage roles. One of Pinter’s more political pieces, Gambon and Richardson (along with Julian Wadham and Eileen Atkins) all offer nuanced performances.

Gambdon and Wadham are soldiers, facing down a group of prisoners who include Richardson and Atkins. Language, so often key in Pinter’s works, is once again pushed to the forefront.

“Your language is forbidden. It is dead. No one is allowed to speak your language. Your language no longer exists. Any questions?”

Mountain Language is another prime example of the way Pinter could make an impact in a very short space of time.

Disc Five

Colin Blakely, Kenneth Cranham and Harold Pinter in The Birthday Party

The Birthday Party (21st June 1987). 107 minutes.

Written in 1957, when Pinter was touring in a production of Doctor In The House, The Birthday Party was Pinter’s first full length play.  Revived thirty years later for this Theatre Night production, it’s plain that time hadn’t diminished its impact.

Kenneth Cranham is mesmerising as Stanley, a man haunted by vague ghosts from his past.  Treated with stifling maternal love by his landlady Meg (Joan Plowright), the arrival of two mysterious strangers – Goldberg (Pinter) and McCann (Colin Blakely) – marks the beginning of a nightmarish twenty four hours.  Also featuring Julie Walters and Robert Lang, The Birthday Party baffled many critics back in the late fifties – the reason why Goldberg and McCann have decided to target Stanley and the others is just one puzzle – but in retrospect it’s fascinating to see how key Pinter themes, such as the reliability of memory, were already firmly in place.

Special Features

Face To Face: Harold Pinter. Sir Jeremy Isaacs is the out of vision interviewer since – as per the style of all the programmes in this series – the camera remains firmly fixed on Pinter throughout.  Some decent ground is covered across the forty minutes of this 1997 interview.

Harold Pinter: Guardian Interview. Audio only, 73 minutes. This is selectable as an additional audio track on The Birthday Party, even though it doesn’t directly refer to that play (or run for its whole length). 

It might only be January, but this looks set to be one of the archive television releases of the year. Highly recommended.

Pinter at the BBC is released by the BFI on the 28th of January 2019.  

Harold Pinter, 1997

Play For Today – The Fishing Party. Simply Media DVD Review

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Three Derbyshire miners – Art (Brian Glover), Ern (Ray Mort) and Abe (Douglas Livingstone) – set out for a weekend’s fishing. It may be out of season but they’re determined to have a good time, although Art (the self-appointed leader) is keen to ensure that they don’t disgrace themselves.  “We ain’t pigs. No brown aleing, no being sick over the wall – we’ll show our wives we can be civilised without them.”

But after being fortified with a greasy chip supper and a bountiful supply of brown ale, their good intentions start to dissipate once they take to the choppy waters ….

Originally broadcast on the 1st of June 1972, Peter Terson’s play is an entertaining comedy that’s rich in character detail. The first in a trilogy by Terson featuring Art, Ern and Abe (slightly surprising that all three haven’t been collected together in one DVD set) The Fishing Party has a wonderful sense of place and time.

There’s just something so very evocative about this small Northern fishing port.  This is best observed when our hapless trio roll up to the boarding house that they’ve taken a shine to. It’s run by the domineering Audrey (Jane Freeman) and her thoroughly hen-pecked husband Brian (Frank Mooney).

Shortly afterwards, Freeman would begin thirty seven years of service in Last of the Summer Wine (as Ivy, a not totally dissimilar character to Audrey). And there’s another Summer Wine connection, as John Comer (who would be cast as Ivy’s long-suffering husband, Sid) also makes an appearance – here playing the owner of a quay-side tea van.

Brian Glover started out as a professional wrestler (billed as Leon Arris, the Man from Paris) before switching to acting in the late sixties and building up an impressive list of roles. Comedy was his speciality (shortly after this PFT he’d make several memorable appearances in sitcoms scripted by Clement and La Frenais – first as Flint in Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads? and then as Heslop in Porridge).

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Glover’s Art is a wonderful creation. Overawed by the fairly modest boarding house that they’re all staying in (which he likens to a small hotel) he paints a totally unrealistic picture of the sort of culinary delights they’ll be treated to later. He’s convinced that entrées will feature, along with a selection of wines.

Alas, we never learn exactly what Audrey would have served up for their evening meal as she’s unwilling to change her serving up time from 6:45 (which is when they’ve booked their boat for) meaning that they have to head out for a bite to eat instead.  But there’s no sense of disappointment from Art and the others, indeed they never lose their sense of innocence and optimism throughout the play.

There’s a lovely moment when the three – all safely deposited into single rooms – communicate with each other by shouting through the walls. Art is initially reluctant to join them in one of the other rooms (considering that consorting together is simply not quite the thing). He’s not at all convinced when told that James Bond does it all the time (delightfully, his argument with the solid wall is accompanied by a great deal of gesticulating).

The fishing trip – a nightmare journey of sea-sickness – is another obvious highlight, as is the aftermath when our shivering heroes find themselves back on solid ground. At least they have an impressive haul of cod to take back home – even if the fishy glances from the cod are all rather reproachful.

Like Glover, Ray Mort would become an instantly recognisable television face. Active from the mid fifties, he was equally at home both in drama and comedy.  Douglas Livingstone’s acting career had virtually come to an end by the time The Fishing Party aired, but he’d already established a parallel writing career which would continue well into the 21st century.  He would contribute to both Armchair Theatre and Play For Today in addition to a number of other series and serials. One notable later credit was his well-remembered 1981 adaptation of John Wyndham’s The Day of The Triffids.

Running for 57 minutes, The Fishing Party is an earthy comic treat.  Featuring three strong performances from Glover, Mort and Livingstone and a number of sharply-defined supporting turns, the hour just flies by.

The Fishing Party is released by Simply Media on the 1st of October 2018, RRP £9.99. It can be ordered directly from Simply here (quoting ARCHIVE10 will apply a 10% discount).

Three films from the Play For Today series to be released by Simply Media on the 1st of October 2018

Simply Media will be releasing Our Day Out, The Imitation Game and The Fishing Party on the 1st of October 2018. Below are details on all three, taken from Simply’s press release.

Our Day Out

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An anarchic, bittersweet comedy drama from Oscar-nominee Willy Russell, creator of Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine. Rated 8.2 on IMDB. Directed by BAFTA-winner Pedr James (Our Friends in the North) and produced by David Rose (Z Cars).

A hilarious and chaotic romp about a group of inner-city Liverpool schoolchildren let off the leash for a day’s outing. Different teaching approaches clash when the compassionate Mrs Kay (Jean Heywood – Billy Elliot) and disciplinarian Mr Briggs (Alun Armstrong – Krull) attempt to supervise.

Stopping at a cafe, a zoo, the beach and a funfair, the children take every opportunity to cause havoc. This tender comedy draws on Willy Russell’s own experiences of school trips as both pupil and teacher.

Originally broadcast in 1977, it was later adapted as a stage musical and still features today as a popular school text.

What the Press Said:

“I laughed out loud a great deal, and secretly wept a little.” The Sunday Times

“A gloriously funny and touching play.” Guardian

The Imitation Game

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Bestselling writer Ian McEwan (The Children Act) wrote this impassioned drama, inspired by stories of women who helped to crack the Enigma Code during WWII.

Rated 7.8 on IMDB and first shown in 1980. Directed and produced by BAFTA-nominee Richard Eyre (Notes on a Scandal).

Starring Harriet Walter (Sense and Sensibility / The Sense of an Ending) in her first major screen role alongside Oscar-nominee Brenda Blethyn (Vera) and BAFTA-nominee Patricia Routledge (Keeping Up Appearances).

19-year-old Cathy Raine (Harriet Walter) lives in 1940’s Frinton on Sea, expected to spend the war working at the local munitions factory. Against the wishes of her family she signs up for the Auxiliary Territorial Service.

There she befriends working-class Mary (Brenda Blethyn) and moves to the code-breaking centre at Bletchley Park where Cathy meets Turing-like mathematics don John Turner (Nicholas Le Provost). But Cathy is being kept in the dark by the secretive male hierarchy – until she stumbles upon a secret intelligence file that may jeopardise her safety.

What the Press Said:

“A Play for Today of rare distinction” Clive James

The Fishing Party

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Crown Court creator Peter Terson’s comedy of class and manners. Rated 8.9 on IMDB, and first shown in 1972. Directed by BAFTA-winner Michael Simpson (Prince Regent).

Derbyshire miners Art (Brian Glover), Ern (Ray Mort) and Abe (Douglas Livingstone) head north to Whitby for a boys-only fishing escape.

Checking into a shabby B&B run by haughty landlady Audrey (Jane Freeman – Last of the Summer Wine) and her henpecked hubby, the trio are bamboozled into paying a high price for their rooms.

Their boat is piloted by a stern ex-fisherman, who warns them about mixing chips and brown ale on choppy waters. The boys are half-cut before they leave the harbour, and as they head out to sea they’re decidedly off-colour.

What the Press Said:

“A joyous comedy… overflowing with brilliant observation and wonderfully circular dialogue.” TV Cream

All three DVDs have a RRP of £12.99, Our Day Out runs for seventy minutes, The Imitation Game for ninety two minutes and The Fishing Party for fifty seven minutes.

Blakes 40 – Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch: Series Two, Episodes Eleven to Thirteen

Gambit

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Gambit‘s an odd one. The main plot – the hunt for Docholli – moves very slowly whilst the production design is somewhat on the tacky side. But since Robert Holmes’ script is packed with entertaining one-liners this isn’t really a problem.

If you like your B7 stories on the gritty side, then you’re out of luck. Aubrey Woods’ overpowering Krantor sets the tone. Woods is clearly having a great deal of fun – the banter between Krantor and Servalan being one of the episode highlights.

Blake, Jenna and Cally (the two girls glammed up to the nines) are involved in the main plot, but it’s Avon and Vila (attempting to break the bank at the casino) who get all the best scenes. The Avon/Vila subplot is so played for laughs that it feels more like a parody than proper B7 – the notion of Avon sneaking down to Freedom City (is he afraid of getting a ticking off from Blake?) and the way he persuades Orac to shrink himself (how handy and how odd it was never done again) are just two examples of this.

Oh, and the moment when he spits out his food after learning that Vila’s been tricked into playing the Klute at speed chess ….

With Holmes scripting, it’s possibly not surprising that the dialogue is a little different from the norm (Avon’s comment of “you dummy” doesn’t feel like something he would ever say).

There are also some prime examples of Holmes’ colourful command of the English language. Servalan’s thoughts on Krantor for one. “He is a despicable animal. When the Federation finally cleans out this cesspit, I shall have that vulpine degenerate eviscerated with a small and very blunt knife”.

Krantor’s counter-comments are equally as eye-opening (“one of these days, Toise, I am going to have Supreme Commander high-and-mighty Servalan ravaged until she does not know what month she’s in. I’ll have her screaming for death …”).

With an unforgettable turn from Sylvia Coleridge, an appearance from Bill Filer and Travis in a silly hat, Gambit is top class entertainment.

The Keeper

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If you’ve seen The Pirate Planet then you’ll know what to expect from Bruce Purchase’s Gola – except that the Captain had hidden depths, whilst there’s no such luck with Gola (who’s just all bluster). The Keeper is another example of Blake’s shaky leadership qualities – no sooner has he, Vila and Jenna teleported down to the surface of Goth than they’re overpowered with embarrassing ease.

Vila (obviously) becomes the King’s new fool whilst Jenna becomes the King’s new … well, you can probably guess. Sally Knyvette manages to mine a few comic moments from this fairly unpromising scenario. Meanwhile, Blake mooches about doing nothing much whilst Avon, aboard the Liberator, leaves the others on Goth to fend for themselves as he sets off to destroy Travis’ ship. One point, how did he know that the ship belonged to Travis?

If you like ripe overacting then you’ve come to the right place. In addition to Purchase there’s also Freda Jackson as Tara (she has a nice line in cackles). Servalan’s on/off relationship with Travis is now back on, since he’s once again at her side (Travis changing from being Servalan’s enemy to her ally multiple times since Trial has been decidedly odd). The way he cuts and runs some twenty minutes in does generate the episode’s only surprising moment though.

Fifty minutes of running on the spot, The Keeper ends up as something of an also-ran although with Derek Martinus onboard as director there’s some decent camerawork in evidence.

Star One

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Star One (rather like Terminal and Blake in fact) does indulge in a fair amount of running on the spot. Some of the scenes set on Star One (especially the hunt for Lurena) aren’t that interesting, but since the episode also features several of B7‘s most memorable moments the good outweighs the bad. Despite the fact that this is Blake’s last hurrah as a regular, Avon is still the one who gets all of the best lines. “As far as I am concerned you can destroy whatever you like. You can stir up a thousand revolutions, you can wade in blood up to your armpits. Oh, and you can lead the rabble to victory, whatever that might mean”.

His face-off with Travis (“Now talk or scream, Travis, the choice is yours”) is also rather good.

But at least Blake does have that brief chat with Cally, where the pair discuss the ethics of destroying Star One. It’s a fascinating scene – not least for the fact that Cally (next to Blake the most fanatical) was the only one to voice a tentative concern that killing millions of people might possibly be a bad thing.

Some of Star One’s functions are discussed in the opening few minutes. They seem rather benign (climate control) rather than oppressive and domineering. And the way the episode begins with Servalan effectively cast in the role of the goodie (discussing how to bring Star One under control in order to prevent further deaths) before crossing over to the Liberator (where Blake and the others are plotting to destroy it in order to generate chaos) shows how far the lines between good and evil have become blurred.

Servalan’s surprisingly a fairly minor character in this one, but the moment when she instigates a palace revolution is chillingly played by Jaqueline Pearce. “The President and those members of the Council who are unable to accept the realities of the situation are even now being arrested, as are those of our own people whose loyalties may be divided. At a time like this complete unity is an absolute essential”. The inference is that under military rule the Federation will become an even more oppressive force, although the aftermath of Star One rather negates this.

Travis’ death is a mercy killing (both for the character and the audience). A shame the effects shot of him tumbling to his doom isn’t terribly effective though.

And that cliffhanger ….

Blakes 40 – Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch: Series Two, Episodes Four to Seven

Horizon

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I love the opening ten minutes or so, which shows that tempers aboard the Liberator are getting rather frayed, with the result that everybody – especially Jenna – has become rather snippy. Well, everybody except poor Gan, who’s been exiled to the teleport bay for no good reason.

Horizon might be a fairly unsubtle colonial satire, but both Darien Angadi and William Squire are very watchable. Angadi’s Ro is a fascinating character – when he displays disinterest in the continuing deaths of his people at the mine (whom he refers to as primitives) is this an example of his Federation indoctrination or is he genuinely unfeeling about their fate?

Squire’s Kommissar oozes seductive villiany (a much better role than the Shadow in The Armageddon Factor – especially since this time he’s not hidden behind a mask).

The one part of the plot which doesn’t quite hang together is the revelation that Blake was intimately acquainted with one of Ro’s best friends. It’s far too much of a coincidence to be credible (unless Blake knew about Ro and Horizon all along and simply pretended to the others that he didn’t).

The scenes of Avon alone on the Liberator, debating whether to cut and run, are a highlight as is his explosive appearance on the planet, where he mows down a number of Federation troopers in his best Clint Eastwood style.

Not as bad as its reputation suggests, this is pretty decent fare.

Pressure Point

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Brian Croucher’s performance is considerably dialled down compared to Weapon. He still doesn’t quite convince, but a calmer Travis is a better Travis for me. It seems barely credible that Servalan would have hung about for eighteen days, waiting for Kasabi to turn up. She’s the Supreme Commander for goodness sake, who’s doing all the paperwork?

Jacqueline Pearce’s crocodile smile is on overdrive today – and she’s the recipient of some dramatic scenes with Jane Sherwin’s Kasabi. It’s always good to see Servalan slightly discomforted.

The main plot’s a bit of a run-around which doesn’t make a great deal of sense. If Central Control is only a shell, why does Servalan have so much trouble in getting the barriers deactivated? And since Travis has already snaffled the teleport bracelets from Blake and the others, he doesn’t actually need to follow them down – all he has to do is wait at the entrance, as eventually they’ll all have to come back up that way.

Blake’s cry (“We’ve done it! We’ve done it! We’ve done it! I’ve done it!”) and his subsequent collapse to the ground is a S2 highlight. That one of Blake’s merry gang dies in a totally pointless way seems apt – from start to finish this was a doomed exercise. For all of Blake’s optimism (his year of secret planning) his lack of foresight and tactical planning has been cruelly exposed.

Trial

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It’s hard to get too invested in the travails of Blake and Zil, so it’s lucky that the other plotline is rather stronger.

Travis gets his moment in the sun (explaining that his misdeeds are a direct result of his Federation training). Croucher starts to go way over the top here, whereas earlier in the episode – possibly because he didn’t have too many lines – he was somewhat more restrained.

Surprising that Servalan doesn’t feature more, but presumably there were political considerations precluding her appearance at court. Kevin Lloyd gives a nice performance as Trooper Parr – it’s always good when the Federation rank and file are given a voice.

Pretty watchable, but not a favourite.

Killer

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No surprise that Holmes quickly latched onto Avon and Vila as a team. Both are given plenty of good lines (such as Vila’s “When Avon holds out the hand of friendship, watch his other hand. That’s the one with the hammer”). This does mean that the others (especially Jenna and Cally) are somewhat sidelined though.

Ronald Lacey and Paul Daneman are both decent guest stars, Lacey as the untrustworthy “friend” of Avon and Daneman as a “good” Federation man. Given the way that Blake in the past has tended to regard the Federation as a single evil entity, it seems a little out of character for him to be so keen to warn the base about any possible danger from the mysterious vessel.

Some of the costumes are rather silly, but this is an occupational hazard with B7, especially during the second series.

Killer feels pretty trad – it’s almost as if Holmes was feeling his way at this point (crafting a story that wasn’t too dissimilar to what had gone before, but with a little extra twist). It’s his next one where he really starts to cut loose …

Blakes 40 – Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch: Series Two, Episodes One to Three

Redemption

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Redemption is a slightly odd way to kick off series two. Mainly because the first thirty minutes are Liberator bound, which gives it the feel of one of S1’s cheaper bottle stories (like Breakdown). Still, this does give us plenty of time to goggle at everybody’s new togs whilst the Liberator moves very slowly to a mysterious destination.

Avon – as usual – gets most of the best lines. His needling of Blake (“well now, you only had to ask”) is a delight. Sadly, the amount of time spent aboard the Liberator means that by the time we get to Space World there’s no time to explore it in any detail. Harriet Philpin and Sheila Ruskin look very nice but since the Altas are slaves to the machine they aren’t gifted distinct characters (so the creators of the Liberator remain just as much of a mystery at the end of the story as they were at the beginning).

There’s a nice bit of location filming, but Redemption doesn’t really amount to anything more than an amiable run-around.

Shadow

There’s a harder and more cynical edge to this story, which after a few fairly generic Terry Nation romps is more than welcome.

Blake’s desire to deal with the Terra Nostra, despite knowing exactly what they stand for, is a highly revealing character moment – clearly the ends justify the means for him. That Gan is the one who expresses the most vehement disapproval is a nice touch (this allows him to emerge as a character in his own right for once, but alas it’s too little and too late).

Blake is proved to be completely wrong, which demonstrates just what a flawed “hero” he is. Vila may be acting early on from self interest (he’s desperate to get to Space City) but his assessment of Blake – a pampered Alpha grade who wouldn’t last a minute amongst the underclass that Vila used to hang out with – seems spot on.

Avon delights in later telling Blake “I told you so”. And his ironic comment (“law makers, law breakers, let us fight them all. Why not?”) when learning of Blake’s next crazy scheme is a typically good Darrow moment.

Space City might be rather underpopulated (we have to rely on Vila’s vivid imagination to fill the gaps) and the subplot with Cally and Orac does seem rather bolted on to fill up an underunning script, but overall Shadow is a good-‘un and a favourite from S2.

Weapon

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Travis, after getting out of rehab, looks strangely different …

Brian Croucher doesn’t have a particularly auspicious debut (Travis here has all the subtlety of a bull in a china shop). Luckily, he would settle down a bit in later episodes.

The plot doesn’t make a lick of sense. If a perfect facsimile of Blake (or indeed two) can be whipped up, you’d think they’d be put to better use than what we see here. Clone Blake’s sole function is to inspect Coser’s wonderful weapon, IMIPAK, for a few minutes before Servalan arrives and takes it off him. Eh?

The earlier scenes with the Clone Master are fun though – all moody lighting, dry ice and Dudley going overboard on the organ ….

John Bennett does his best as Coser, despite the character’s funny clothes and the fact he’s only got one mood – very, very angry. Candace Glendenning also doesn’t have much of a part but is really rather lovely, so I’ll cut her some slack.

Scott Fredericks, despite his limited screentime, makes easily the best impression as the supremely confident puppeteer Carnell.

And what of our heroes? Well, they spend most of the episode on the Liberator, having a chat. Which sort of sums this one up, it’s mostly talk with little action.

Easily Chris Boucher’s least engaging story.