Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Games

Stratford Johns really is the saving grace of Games, without him it would be a much less interesting affair. Belkov may not be a very developed character – he’s a devious games player and that’s about it – but Johns is wonderfully watchable. Belkov’s face-off with Servalan about ten minutes in is a definite highlight (for once, Servalan is on the back foot).

Speaking of Servalan, not for the first time she’s pretty much surplus to requirements – this episode does smack of an attempt to fill Jacqueline Pearce’s episode allocation and little else. Her part in the plot (interrogating Belkov) could easily have been filled by any middle-ranking Federation officer.

There’s an awful lot of info-dumping early on as Avon expounds at length about the wonders of Feldon crystals. This isn’t the most effective part of the episode and neither is the sudden appearance of Gerren (David Neal). His fake beard doesn’t help, but Gerren isn’t a very memorable sort (although he’s useful as a demonstration about how ruthless Avon can be. A little light blackmail before breakfast …)

Positives? Virtually every scene with Stratford Johns, especially the byplay between Belkov and his computer Gambit (Rosalind Bailey). Vila gets a generous number of good one-liners and also demonstrates his resourcefulness on more than one occasion.

Not a bad episode, but it’s not really much more than a fairly diverting runaround.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Assassin


Assassin is a story of two halves. The first half – on the planet Domo – is a guilty pleasure. Domo is a barren, sandy sort of place (rather like a quarry, in fact) where men are men and wear the strangest looking beards as well as cast off costumes from Doctor Who.

Avon’s decision to get himself captured and sold into slavery is a bit of a hoot, as is his brief but energetic spot of fisticuffs (I think it was the comment about being skinny that pushed him over the edge).

The early part of the episode also has the unforgettable appearance of Betty Marsden and the fan-fic pleasing concept of Avon being sold to Servalan as her slave. “I think, if you don’t mind, I would prefer my slave to address me as `mistress’.”

Although the beardy types and Betty Marsden are something of an acquired taste, Richard Hurndall, as the doomed Nebrox, is much more solid. It’s interesting that Avon and Soolin – the coldest of our heroes – both seem to form some sort of connection with him.

After this early spot of fun and games we head into the second part of the episode, which is an even guiltier pleasure. Caroline Holdaway’s performance as Piri is a rum old thing. I’ve seen her in various other programmes (All Creatures Great and Small, Rumpole of the Bailey, Codename Kyril) and she never stood out in those, so her turn here must have been a deliberate choice rather than a lack of acting ability.

It’s still very, very odd though as a more subtle characterisation would surely have been better (for one thing, it would have made Tarrant look like less of a gullible idiot).

Having sat out most of the first half of this series, Assassin finally gives Steven Pacey something to do. True, Tarrant’s scenes with Piri are rather torpedoed by Holdaway’s hysterical playing, but it was nice to see the return of the Avon/Tarrant conflict. Another bonus is that Soolin’s given some very acerbic lines, most of them at the expense of Piri.

The main problem with Assassin is that it’s a story with very little plot. So things have to proceed very slowly until the big reveal just before the end. Still, the scenes set aboard Cancer’s ship do have an air of tension, so that’s a plus point for David Sullivan Proudfoot (but several marks off for all the screenwipes).

Not the most tightly plotted story, it’s nevertheless good, goofy fun.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Headhunter 

Like Roger Parkes’ first script for the series (Voice from the Past) Headhunter is as mad as a box of frogs … and I love it.

The plot doesn’t really make any sense. Why has Muller spent his life creating a homicidal android intent on dominating all humanoid life? It also seems a little remiss that the android is only restrained when he’s wearing the correct head (there’s shades of Worzel Gummidge here). And since Tarrant was in a rush, I’ll let him off the fact that he didn’t seem to notice the corpse under the table was missing his head.

Android Muller as played by John Westbrook is a hoot. Westbrook isn’t on-screen for too long but he’s certainly memorable (a small performance it isn’t). Android Muller as played by Nick Joseph is equally as entertaining – as Joseph’s android is headless, he compensates with the most over-expressive hand acting you’re ever likely to see. Oh, and where’s his voice coming from? Hmm, never mind.

Lynda Bellingham has a decent amount of screentime but not a very interesting character to play, alas. But at least Vena gets a good death scene, crushed to death by (she thinks) her husband whilst the others look on with a varying selection of emotions. The fatal bear-hug is clearly Android Muller’s favourite way of despatching people.

As for the regulars, Avon smiles a few times but otherwise he’s in full brooding mode. This is prime S4 Darrow – whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on how much you enjoy S4 Darrow of course. Tarrant and Vila make for a good double-act, Dayna doesn’t really do much that’s memorable whilst Soolin’s character continues to grow as she’s given some decent lines once again.

Soolin’s parting shot to a seductive Orac, promising to fulfil her every desire (“you wouldn’t know where to start”) is delivered in a nicely deadpan way. I also like surly Slave, a bit more of that would have been welcome.

The sight of the headless android stomping very slowly around the base never fails to raise a smile. Whatever else Headhunter is, it’s not dull.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Animals

The main plot – which seems to be drawing inspiration from The Island of Doctor Moreau – is reasonable enough, but Animals has several major problems. Let’s begin with the beasts themselves – perhaps wisely, Mary Ridge elects to show them in all their (ahem) glory within the opening few minutes. No point in attempting to create any suspense, let’s just see them and once the shock’s passed we can move on.

The Dayna/Justin relationship is put at the forefront of the story and it’s one that’s positively dripping with subtext (“my little pupil Dayna, lovelier than ever”). The icky feeling that both have been carrying a torch for each other since their teacher/pupil days isn’t confined to the dialogue – there are several instances when Dayna gives a knowing smirk, each one is worth a thousand words.

Peter Byrne’s performance is very strong – if the script somewhat glosses over the dodgy ethics of Justin’s experiments (note the way that Dayna switches from disgust to acceptance rather too rapidly) then that’s not Byrne’s fault, he does everything he’s required to do by the script.

With Dayna shouldering the bulk of the action, the rest of the regulars are relegated to playing second fiddle (indeed Vila. Soolin and Avon even sit out the opening quarter of an hour or so). Tarrant has a nice scene with the ever apologetic Slave, Vila gets rather dirty and complains a lot whilst Soolin has one good line (when Vila wonders why he gets all the dirty jobs, she responds “typecasting”). Slim pickings for Soolin then, but better would be just around the corner.

Avon’s not a barrel of laughs today. There are some who maintain that series D was one long nervous breakdown for him whilst others contend that he was perfectly fine (just a touch unlucky from time to time). I lean towards the former viewpoint – his inability to crack a smile along with Tarrant and Soolin at Vila’s grubby predicament is one reason why. In years gone by he wasn’t afraid to show his lighter side – but it’s in very short supply at the moment. Increasing pressure due to the heavy burden of command?

Not for the first time Servalan doesn’t add a great deal to the story. I also find it odd that when Dayna is captured, we don’t see the moment when she and Servalan are brought face to face. Considering their past history this is a strange omission. It’s nice to see Kevin Stoney, although he’s wasted in a role which doesn’t really develop the plot (his character imparts a few morsels of information which Servalan could have easily discovered elsewhere).

Hmm. Those new Mutoids (I assume that’s what they are) are interesting, aren’t they?

Animals isn’t a total write-off but it’s a few drafts short of being a satisfying story.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Stardrive

Nobody loves Stardrive. The reason’s pretty obvious – the Space Rats look very, very silly (things don’t improve when they open their mouths either). Their leader, Atlan (Damian Thomas), is briefly given a moment of character development when it’s revealed that he’s not actually a Space Rat. But since this revelation isn’t developed it proves to be something of a dead end.

Another issue with the Space Rats is the fact that Vila was given a few minutes to big them up – so after you’ve been told that they’re the baddest of the bad, the reality can’t help but be a disappointment ….

It’s nice to see Barbara Shelley, just a pity she’s wasted in a nothing sort of role. Doctor Plaxton is a very pallidly drawn character – we never really learn anything about her (especially why she’s so obsessed about perfecting the stardrive).

But if the guest cast are a little thin, at least the regulars are well catered for. Avon continues to blunder about (his wonderful plan to hitch a lift on an asteroid nearly kills them all). Quite why the others are still content to follow him after his recent string of command disasters is a bit of a mystery.

I love Vila’s drunk act – it’s an excellent demonstration of his natural cunning. Teaming Vila and Dayna up is another good move, even if Vila does revert to his more usual persona of a clumsy coward during these scenes.

The fact that Avon’s quite happy to use Vila and Dayna as a diversion is a telling moment (whether they live or die doesn’t seem to matter to him). Ditto poor old Doctor Plaxton, whose only reward for developing the stardrive is a painful death. The way that Avon comments “who?” after being asked about her, post-death, is a fascinating character touch – has he already blocked her death from his mind, or is he just attempting to?

Stardrive feels like a cheap story. Most of the new modelwork is pretty basic whilst the location (yet another quarry) doesn’t add any visual flair to the episode. But although it’s by means the series at its best, it’s not an absolute disaster either. The Space Rats thankfully aren’t on the screen for very long and the regulars (apart from Tarrant, who doesn’t do much at all) get a decent crack of the whip.

“What has happened to the magic of Doctor Who?”

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I’ve recently been re-reading Licence Denied, Paul Cornell’s 1997 anthology of Doctor Who fanzine articles. The first entry in the book was Jan Vincent-Rudzki’s 1976 demolition of The Deadly Assassin.  Reproduced in full below, it’s an absolutely fascinating read.

Few Who stories go very much against what has been done before, but recently this has changed. First, there was “Genesis of The Daleks,” then “Revenge,” “Morbius,” and now “Deadly Assassin,” or rather “Deadly Continuity.” But first let us look at the programme as someone who hardly ever watches. The costumes and sets are quite effective, but a little too Flash Gordon. It has a good cast and was well acted. The story was fair but did not hold together too well.

Now let’s look at the story as Doctor Who viewers. The following is not only my view, but that of many people (including people who aren’t avid fans). First, congratulations to Dudley Simpson for using Organ Music for the Time Lords, but thumbs down for not using his excellent Master theme. Then there’s the more than usually daft title. Have you ever heard of an assassin that isn’t deadly?

On to the ‘story’. Before we even started we heard the same boring cliche: ‘the Time Lords face their most dangerous crisis’. I suppose Omega was a minor nuisance! The next blunder was the guards. Why were there any? The Time Lords were supposed to be very powerful, so much so that anyone strong enough to invade would swat the guards with ease, and Time Lord technology should be able to deal with minor intrusions. Then came the TARDIS. Before, it was MK 1 and the Master’s and Monk’s were very different marks of type 40 TT capsule, but why only one missing? As for such and advanced race being unable to find someone in 52 (sometimes 53) storey building. Ridiculous! I’ve always thought Time Lords names were secret and unpronounceable, so why do we suddenly know their names? ‘C.I.A’ was certainly not appreciated, nor Time Lords with bad hips. There is a time and place for humour and this wasn’t it. Particularly Runcible whose demise I was certainly not sad about. This story really showed up the infatuation for Earth people in Doctor Who. It could have been set on Earth and no one would have known the difference. Doesn’t R. Holmes realise that Time Lords are aliens and do not need to conform to human motivations whatsoever? This fact was well brought out in ‘War Games’, but ignored here.

Elgin said that premonition does not exist. Yet the Doctor had them in ‘Time Monster’, ‘Frontier In Space’, ‘Evil of The Daleks’ and ‘War Machines’. I was surprised by the Doctor saying that Time Lord machinery was ‘prehistoric’. Mr Holmes seems to have forgotten that the whole Time Lord way of life is to ‘observe and gather knowledge’. So apart from the fact that they are supposed to be one of the most advanced civilisations (brought out so well in ‘War Games’ and ‘Genesis’) they could have easily copied more advanced races. For instance in ‘The Three Doctors’ the Time Lords were amazed that there was a force more powerful than themselves. They were pretty powerful pre- ‘Deadly Assassin’.

In ‘Deadly Assassin’ the Time Lords seem to have forgotten the Doctor yet we’ve always been led to believe it’s very rare for a Time Lord to leave Gallifrey. So he should be remembered, particularly as in ‘Three Doctors’ he saved Gallifrey (and the universe of course!) from destruction, and Borusa said they needed heroes. The trial of the Doctor was another R. Holmes farce. The ‘War Games’ trial was so excellent, but of course this had to be in Earth norms, and was pathetic. Then later the Doctor and co. go to look at the public register system to see that really happened at the ceremony. Now we were, I believe, dealing with Time Lords, so why couldn’t they and look at a time scanner and see the truth? Also, why need the brain machine to predict the future? Another fact forgotten is that Time Lords are immortal. In ‘War Games’ the Doctor said they could ‘live forever barring accidents’. This had never been changed until ‘ Morbius’ where we learnt that the Time Lords used the Elixir if they had trouble regenerating. So why didn’t the Master use the Elixir? We also saw in ‘Morbius’ eleven incarnations of the Doctor (‘though in ‘Three Doctors’ Hartnell was rightly the first) so now we’re left with one more Doctor, according to ‘Deadly Assassin’.

Then there wasn’t Part 3 which must be the biggest waste of time ever in ‘Doctor Who’. A ten-minute trip into the matrix would have sufficed, but 25!

One minute Elgin was saying there’s no way to tap the machine, the next he was taking the Doctor down the other ‘old part of the city’ which looked just like all the other parts. When Goth was discovered we heard the daft reason for him helping the Master, for an exchange of knowledge. Again ignorance of the Time Lord way of life is shown by R. Holmes. Goth should have been quite able to go to the extensive library and sit at a Time Scanner for a few decades or so, and find out everything himself. He could even have followed the Master’s travels on the scanners! Borusa recognised the Doctor, but since the Doctor and the Master were at school together wouldn’t Borusa remember the Master? Also what’s this rubbish about the Doctor being expelled? We know he has a Time Lord degree in ‘Cosmic Science’ (and that was revealed in R. Holmes story!)

I was stunned to discover that the Doctor doesn’t know his own people’s history! The Time Lords would have their own history completely documented. After all, they can look back at time, so what’s all this nonsense about myths? And surely somebody would have wondered what that lump and two holes in the Panopticon floor were.

Of course, part 4 saw the return of the same old story. It couldn’t just be Gallifrey in danger, it had to be a hundred other planets in danger.

You’d have thought that not much else could be wrong with the story, but there was more to come. Time Lord power sources are well known to be novae etc., as Omega produced, not some silly black box with tubes. I would also like to know how the Doctor managed to climb up a 100′ shaft with smooth side and with plastic ricks falling on him. Also, even if the Master was protected by the sash when everything was to be swallowed up, what point would there be to floating around in space – not much! Things get even more ridiculous when the Master falls down the deep hole (his yell lasted a long time) and he’s back very soon, regenerating (due to absorbing energy). If all he needed was energy why didn’t he use his TARDIS, like anybody else, to regenerate?

For some of these blunders you could argue that the story was set far into the future eat a time when the Time Lord race is degenerating. but it can’t be as the Doctor was recognised. No, the new rule for Doctor Who seems to be the reason, which is ‘anything pre-Holmes needn’t exist’, which can’t be good for a script editor.

What must have happened was that at the end of ‘Hand of Fear’ the Doctor was knocked out when the TARDIS took off, and had a crazy mixed-up nightmare about Gallifrey. As a Doctor Who story, ‘Deadly Assassin’ is just not worth considering . I’ve spoken to many people, meany of whom were not members, and they all said how this story shattered their illusions of the Time Lords, and lowered them to ordinary people.

Once, Time Lords were all-powerful, awe-inspiring beings, capable of imprisoning planets forever in force fields, defenders of truth and good (when called in). Now, they are petty, squabbling, feeble-minded, doddering old fools.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO THE MAGIC OF DOCTOR WHO?

 

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