Blake’s 7: Power (1981)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Stranded on Xenon, the gang try to gain access to the spaceship Scorpio, but also encounter two warring factions of locals…

Series D, episode 2. Written by: Ben Steed. Directed by: Mary Ridge. Originally broadcast: 5 October 1981, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Vila (41) is under pressure from his colleagues to crack open the door that leads to the Scorpio, the team’s only escape off the planet Xenon. When working on the problem alone, though, he’s surprised to see a woman has somehow entered the base. Pella (Juliet Hammond-Hill from Secret Army) is a local who reveals that the base will blow up if Dorian – a character who inconveniently died in the previous episode – doesn’t reset the security codes.
* Tarrant (15) goes outside with Dayna to look for a missing Avon. Without success. He then tries to work out how Pella entered and left the locked base. Without success.
* Dayna (15) reckons the gang’s food supplies will only last three weeks, so they must have access to the Scorpio. Later, while outside, she and Tarrant are captured by a tribe of local men called Hommicks. (They’re yet another example of Blake’s 7’s obsession with medieval-like natives, though these ones at least know about technology.) Plucky Dayna challenges chieftain Gunn Sar (Dicken Ashworth, playing him working class and northern) to a fight and managed to beat him… with some help from a watching Pella, who has telekinetic powers.
* At the start of the episode, Avon (40) is scouting the local area when he’s attacked and captured by the Hommicks. Gunn Sar tells Avon that he’s killed 26 challengers in ritualistic combat, but an aide corrects him: it’s 25 confirmed kills and one gone missing after he fell off a cliff. After a tiff, Avon challenges him to a fight. Avon has the upper hand, but then one of Gunn Sar’s underlings bashes him on the head. (Referee!) Avon is put in a cell with Pella, who has also been captured and she explains some context for what’s going on: her female friends from the Seska tribe are captured by the male Hommicks, operated on, and then must provide children. (The boys are kept, the girls discarded.) It’s later revealed that Pella has been plotting to get access to the Scorpio for her own ends. When she uses her telekinesis skills to get inside the ship, Avon follows via a new teleport system Orac has been working on… and shoots Pella dead.
* Orac (24) declines to help Tarrant with the puzzle of how Pella got into and out of the base, then later tells him the base will explode in three hours and 24 minutes unless they get to the override switch – which is behind a locked door.
* Slave (2) has some lines when Avon teleports aboard the Scorpio.
* Soolin (2) appears on the scene at the very last minute and asks to join the crew. Where the chuff has she been all episode?!

Best bit: This dramatic composition.

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Worst bit: The two fights we see – Avon and Gunn Sar, Dayna and Gunn Sar – are slow, cumbersome and decidedly unthreatening.

Review: The conflict between Gunn Sar’s all-male Hommicks and Pella’s all-female Seska is a war of the sexes. Is this a searing satire of gender politics, or just an excuse for some more misogyny dressed up as entertainment? Well, perhaps the answer comes in a scene where Avon uses his alpha-male virility to push Pella onto the floor. ‘However you use [your strength], a man’s will always be greater,’ he says. ‘Unfair perhaps, but biologically unavoidable.’ He then kisses her. Times change, of course, and judging previous eras by today’s standards can be troubling. But it’s fair to say that Power has not dated very well. (Elsewhere, in another jarring moment, Dayna is referred to ‘the black woman’ when there’s only one woman the speaker could mean.) There’s also a muddled plot and plenty of hammy staging. It’s a slog to sit through generally.

Five ordinary, domestic heliofusion rods out of 10

Next episode: Traitor

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018, Anthony and Joe Russo)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Avengers must spring into action when the powerful Thanos begins to acquire the Infinity Stones…

Avengers: Infinity War is the fourth massive, multi-character, multi-plot, multi-focus mash-up movie in the Marvel series – and it’s easily the most successful. A big reason for this is the structure of the plot. Avengers Assemble (2012), Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and Captain America: Civil War (2016) all feature many, many heroes and sidekicks wanting our attention and yet are built around a single, unifying idea. In the first film, the team must come together to face Loki. In the second, the team must stay together to defeat Ultron. In the latter, the team are split into two camps and face off against each other.

But the script of Infinity Wars is a different kettle of superheroes. There’s still an overarching plot, of course. After several cameo appearances and references in previous films, the all-powerful god Thanos (Josh Brolin) wants to be even more all-powerfuller so is collecting the magical Infinity Stones, ancient totems that will allow him to wipe out half of all life in the universe. The extended Avengers family must work towards stopping him.

But writers Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely – key players at MCU HQ since 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger – break this storyline down into discrete segments. As the various characters we’ve got know over the last 18 movies react to the Thanos threat, they’re divvied up into separate groups, each one getting its own chance to shine. For example, in one thread, there’s the joy of Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and Tony Stark aka Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) butting heads and trying to out-Sherlock each other. Peter Parker aka Spider-Man (Tom Holland) also tags along like a fanboy. Elsewhere, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) crash-lands into the sarcasm-and-sassiness world of the Guardians of the Galaxy, while Steve Rogers aka Captain America (Chris Evans) and Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) are living a mean, tough, espionage-y life. With such a big cast – the DVD cover manages to squeeze *24* of them into one collage – it’s admirable that they all feel like they have a role to play in the story. (The only notable absentees from the MCU roster are Ant-Man, being held back for the next movie in the series, and the forgettable Clint ‘Hawkeye’ Barton who’s said to have retired.)

All this makes for a dynamic film that keeps zipping around a huge canvas – from enormous starship battles in deep space to a kebab shop in Edinburgh’s Old Town – and always to characters you’re interested in. Each scene moves the larger plot forward and no section outstays its welcome. There’s the usual helping of action sequences, of course, including an arch moment when Tony walks out of a quiet building, down a street full of fleeing people and turns the corner to see a gigantic space ship hovering above Manhattan – all seemingly done in one uninterrupted take. Meanwhile, the script never loses sight of humour, with Thor and Peters Quill and Parker probably getting the most amount of funny lines. Black Panther sidekick Okoye (Danai Gurira) also wins a big laugh during the obligatory third-act battle. Secondary Avenger Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) had earlier been in the palace looking after an injured Vision, but now joins the fighting and blasts some bad guys with her psychic force powers. ‘Why was she up there all this time?!’ deadpans Okoye, impressed.

This is a big, brash popcorn movie that entertains so successfully that you’re distracted from the flaws. There’s the inherent silliness of the premise, which is a rather unimaginative story about a bad guy wanting to do bad things to innocent people just because he can. There’s the lazy repeat of a third-act battle taking place in Wakada (which also happened in the immediately previous film, Black Panther). And there’s the fact that the Infinity Stones are thunderingly boring and drab plot devices. But little of this matters when a movie is this much *fun*, and when it keeps throwing up telling character moments, enjoyable combinations of characters, and even an apocalyptic, how-will-they-get-out-of-that?! cliffhanger, designed to lead into 2019’s as-yet-unnamed sequel…

Eight bus drivers out of 10

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Blake’s 7: Rescue (1981)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Stranded on Terminal after the loss of the Liberator, Avon, Vila, Tarrant and Dayna encounter a salvager who harbours a dark secret…

Series D, episode 1. Written by: Chris Boucher. Directed by: Mary Ridge. Originally broadcast: 28 September 1981, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Dayna (14) and her friends are still on Terminal, the artificial planet they found in the previous episode, but Servalan has boobytrapped their only means of transport. Dayna spots some aggressive ‘links’ (Terminal’s savage primates), is menaced by a large Venus-fly-trap-style plant, then falls down a ravine. (Bad day!) She’s rescued by an ever-smirking salvager called Dorian, who is then forced by the gang to give them a lift off the planet. He seems to grow tired quickly…
* Scouting the local countryside – it’s snowed since the events of the last episode – Avon (39) realises that Servalan will have set explosives in the underground base as well as the transport ship. And he can’t get back in time to warn the others… Cally is killed, but Avon manages to find and retrieve Orac. After meeting Dorian, Avon leads a hijacking of his ship – but Dorian has set an unchangeable course and our heroes end up at his base on the planet Xenon. Dorian shows off his comfortable living and his technological achievements. ‘What did you do in your spare time?’ quips Avon. Suspicious of Dorian’s evasive answers, Avon then pulls a gun on him – only to find Dorian has surreptitiously removed all the bullets. Dorian reveals that he built his base on top of a cave he found 200 years ago. It cleanses him of all his impurities and vices, and he hasn’t aged a day in two centuries. The cave now contains a creature that was once a man but is now a receptacle for all of Dorian’s negativity. He intends to replace the creature with Avon, Tarrant, Dayna and Soolin, who will be somehow merged into a gestalt entity.
* When the Terminal base explodes, Vila (40) helps an injured Tarrant out through the escape hatch. He then tries to get to Cally, but the smoke and heat hold him back. On Xenon, having resigned himself to the group’s situation, Vila uses his lockpicking skills to open Dorian’s generous stock of booze. But when he overhears Dorian revealing his evil plan, forgotten-about Vila manages to sneak a gun into Avon’s hand.
* Tarrant (14) is injured in the blast on Terminal, then passes out as the gang try to move. On Xenon, Tarrant and Dayna want to know more about Dorian’s setup, so do some furtive exploring. Dayna finds a hatch leading to a staircase down to a cave, where there’s a monster lurking in the dark…
* After the explosion in the base, Cally (37) sends a psychic message to Vila, asking for help. But her friend can’t get to her and she’s killed.
* Slave (1) is the lugubrious artificial intelligence aboard Dorian’s space ship, Scorpio.
* When our characters reach Xenon, they meet Soolin (1), Dorian’s sidekick who is a crack-shot quickdraw. We’re told she killed the men responsible for the deaths of her family. Being so formidable, however, doesn’t help when Dorian unloads her gun without her noticing. After Dorian’s secret is spilled, she feels betrayed… Glynis Barber, who also had a small role in the first season, doesn’t get much chance to shine in her first episode as Soolin. But she certainly knows how to wear a tight jumpsuit.
* Orac (23) is switched on by Dorian, who wants to know how the Liberator’s teleport system worked.

Best bit: There’s a new title sequence with a charmingly blocky 1980s logo…

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Worst bit: …that still has its apostrophe missing!

Review: Another new season, another refreshing of the format: we’ve lost the Liberator, Zen and Cally; we’ve gained a new ship, a new computer, a new character and a new base. Rescue is quite blatantly based on Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. It passes the time without ever fully gripping the attention.

Seven corruptions of time and appetite out of 10

Next episode: Power

Monty Python’s Flying Circus: You’re No Fun Any More (Ian MacNaughton, BBC1, 30 November 1969)

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An occasional series where I watch and review works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Various. The Dracula section takes place in a bedroom.

Faithful to the novel? This episode of Monty Python’s fiercely adventurous comedy sketch show merits an inclusion in this blogging project because of a 10-second gag. In the first full sketch of the show, a camel-spotter’s enjoyment is ruined by an interviewer who points out that he’s actually a trainspotter. ‘Oh, you’re no fun any more,’ he laments. We then cut to several short vignettes where someone says the same thing. One of the mini-scenes features Dracula (Graham Chapman in the classic Bela Lugosi get-up) approaching the bed of a woman (Donna Reading). As he gets near, his prominent fangs fall from his mouth into her cleavage. ‘Oh, you’re no fun any more,’ she moans.

Best performance: Elsewhere in the episode, Chapman and Reading also play an earnest scientist and his ditzy assistant – a clear spoof of boffins like Doctor Who or Bernard Quatermass and their attractive female sidekicks.

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Best bit: The bulk of this early episode is made up of Flying Circus’s first ‘feature-length’ sketch. Departing from the usual format of linked but separate ideas, around 23 minutes of the half-hour-long You’re No Fun Any More is one sustained storyline. A race of alien blancmanges invade England and begin to turn the populous into bagpipe-playing, kilt-wearing, ginger-bearded Scotsmen. The Python team would later do more and more of these long stories, but at the time it was an oddity.

Review: A lot of fun. Tremendously silly.

Eight fangs out of 10

Tales of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Crypt of Dracula (Sebastian Montes, 27 September 2017)

 

Dracula

An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: Transylvania, year 1300. A cliffhanger ending is set near Castle Frankenstein, Germany in 1818.

Faithful to the novel? Originating in a 1984 comic book, the intelligent, man-size, crime-fighting turtles Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael and Michelangelo were soon spun-off into a series of cartoons, a film franchise, computer games and plenty of kiddie-baiting merchandise. The Crypt of Dracula is the 15th instalment from the fifth and final season of the third different animated TV adaptation. At the beginning of the episode, as part of an ongoing storyline, the turtles and their time-travelling friend Renet arrive in Transylvania via a time portal. It’s the year 1300 and they’re on the trail of a bad guy called Savanti Romero who wants to destroy the future. In order to help their quest, Renet uses her magic staff to provide the turtles with new clothes and weapons, which are anachronistically 19th-century-looking and very steampunky. (Leonardo namechecks the 2004 film Van Helsing.) Renet tells them they must find and defeat Count Dracula, lord of the vampires, before Savanti recruits him to his cause. This leads them to Dracula’s castle…

Best performance: Vlad Dracula has a Bela Lugosi accent and cape, and can turn into a flock of bats. He’s voiced by Chris Sarandon who gets into the campy spirit of the thing.

Best bit: All the usual clichés appear: a spooky castle, werewolves, an abandoned village, locals with a cursed secret. There’s also – incongruously – the headless horseman of the Sleepy Hollow story. But, as fun as all the Gothicana is, the best thing about the episode is actually the marvellous, pop-art title sequence.

 

Review: This CGI animation is obviously essentially childish, but there’s also enough spooky and sometimes downright macabre stuff going on to keep the interest. For example, Raphael is bitten by Dracula and starts to turn into a vampire. We see his woozy point of view; we see his fangs grow and his eyes light up.

Seven time sceptres out of 10

Blake’s 7: Terminal (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Avon reroutes the Liberator to a mysterious location but refuses to reveal why. When the ship arrives, he finds a surprise waiting for him…

Series C, episode 13. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Mary Ridge. Originally broadcast: 31 March 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Avon (38) has set a new course and has been monitoring progress on the flight deck of the Liberator for more than 30 hours. But he won’t tell his colleagues where they’re going or why. In fact, when a frustrated Tarrant confronts him, Avon coolly pulls a gun and warns him off. Eventually, the ship arrives at Delta 714, a star on the edge of Sector 6, and orbits a 411-year-old artificial planet codenamed Terminal. After ordering the others not to follow him, Avon teleports down. He finds a bunker staffed by scientists so sneaks in and sees an image of Blake on a screen. ‘So Blake’s alive,’ says Avon. He’s then suddenly hit by a tranquiliser dart. When he wakes, he escapes and explores some more. In a room, Avon finds a bearded Blake hooked up to a life-support machine. ‘Well,’ says his former colleague, ‘you certainly took your time finding me.’ Avon says he’ll help him get out, but Blake replies that he wouldn’t survive being moved. Then Avon is clobbered by the scientists and taken to see their leader… Servalan, who reveals that *she* sent the clues that allowed Avon to find Terminal. He admits he suspected it was a trap, but given that the carrot was the long-lost Blake he had to investigate. She offers to swap Blake for the Liberator – and Avon has no real choice. Then, after Tarrant, Cally and Dayna have also been captured, Servalan admits that Blake has been dead for a year. What Avon saw was an elaborate, drug-induced illusion. She teleports up the Liberator, sending Vila the other way, then our heroes watch on a screen as the ship explodes. They’re now stranded on Terminal. Avon just smirks…
* Zen (33) imparts some information, but refuses to help the others under Avon’s orders. Later, after the Liberator is damaged, Zen suffers a mechanical breakdown… Before his systems totally fail, he apologises, even using a rare personal pronoun.
* Vila (39) is keeping out of Avon’s way as the episode begins – so are the others. But he later spots that the ship’s energy banks are being drained: the self-repair systems are working overtime to combat an aggressive space enzyme that is riddling the entire craft!
* Dayna (13) starts the episode by playing a board game with Cally – the same one seen earlier in the season in Dawn of the Gods. ‘Are you sure you can’t read my mind?’ she asks her opponent. After Avon, Tarrant and Cally have headed down to Terminal, Dayna stays on the ship and helps Vila work out why its systems are failing. (It’s because of a weird space cloud they travelled through earlier in order to reach Terminal as soon as possible.)
* After Avon has left for Terminal, Cally (36) and Tarrant ignore his instructions and follow. They see two local people brutally attacked and killed by primates, then search the bunker Avon found earlier.
* Tarrant (13) ain’t pleased when he learns Avon has diverted the ship without any discussion and badgers his colleague to reveal why. He’s the one member of the crew who’s heard of Terminal, which is an artificial planet that’s been sprayed with organic matter in the hope of creating an environment where life would thrive.
* Servalan (21) is flattered when Avon says he’s impressed with her trap. He thinks it has precise planning, meticulous detail and a general flair. When she has Avon in a bind, she forces him and the others to give up the Liberator – but, as she takes command of the craft, she hasn’t realised that it’s on the brink of collapse. When the ship starts to break up, she races for the teleport machine…
* Orac is seen but not switched on: Vila picks him up before leaving the Liberator for the final time.

Best bit: Gareth Thomas’s appearance as the illusionary Blake. He’s only been gone a dozen episodes, but it’s still a massive moment when the actor reappears. The twist that it wasn’t actually Blake then has real weight.

Worst bit: The surface of Terminal is a bleak, windswept location filming – you really feel the chill and the damp. There’s also a relentless throbbing noise on the soundtrack, which adds to the unsettling air. Sadly, it’s also home to a race of savage primates – in other words, poor actors trying to be menacing while wearing gorilla suits.

Review: The last episode of Blake’s 7 written by its creator, Terry Nation, was planned and made as the last episode ever. Perhaps that’s why is feels so portentously significant. Well directed, with another fantastic Paul Darrow performance, this is a deliberately slow but absolutely gripping episode. A mystery is set up immediately and then eked out for all its worth. Terrific.

Nine directional indicators out of 10

Next episode: Rescue

Elstree Calling (1930)

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An occasional series where I review a randomly selected movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock…

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

This rough-and-ready revue film was made at Elstree Studios (‘The most marvello studio in Europe-o,’ says compere Tommy Handley) as a British reply to the lavish, all-star examples then in vogue in Hollywood. It was directed by André Charlot, Jack Hulbert, Paul Murray and – thankfully for our purposes here – Alfred Hitchcock.

The bulk of the film is presented as if you’re watching a live television broadcast made up of sketches and performances, all linked together by Handley (who still had a few years to go before his hit BBC radio series It’s That Man Again). Hitch was responsible for some bonus scenes: a rather silly running gag about people whose TV set isn’t working, which was at least topical given that television was an excitingly new medium at the time.

The format sees a parade of musicians, comedians, dancers (including a blackface trio) and magicians, then the climax is an elaborate and chaotic spoof scene from Taming of the Shrew, with superstar actress Anna May Wong throwing custard pies around for not immediately obvious reasons. One of the more interesting aspects of this black-and-white movie is that some of the dance numbers have been given primitive, yellow-heavy colour in post-production via the Pathécolor process.

Along the way, we get lots of precious footage of bygone stars – music-hall star Will Fyffe, actress Cicely Courtneidge, percussionist Teddy Brown – but most of the segments drag tediously and many have dated badly. At least the film never takes itself too seriously.

Five xylophones out of 10

Blake’s 7: Death-Watch (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When the crew of the Liberator decide to view a duel being held to decide an intergalactic conflict, Tarrant is shocked to learn that one of the fighters is his brother…

Series C, episode 12. Written by: Chris Boucher. Directed by: Gerald Blake. Originally broadcast: 24 March 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Dayna (12) is far from impressed when she hears about the two-man fight being staged to resolve a dispute between the United Planets of Teal and the Vandor Confederacy. But her interest is piqued when she learns that the neutral arbiter is to be Servalan – Dayna reminds us that, a dozen episodes ago, Servalan murdered her father. Initially, she and Vila travel down to a planet where festivities are being held to mark the duel, but then they radio back to say all the shops are shut so return to the Liberator. (That saved building some sets!) Later, Dayna gets a chance to confront Servalan and hold her at gunpoint: at Avon’s request, she refrains from killing her.
* Tarrant (12) sets course for the combat zone of the Teal/Vandor conflict when he hears one of their famous duels is on. But he gets a shock when he settles down to watch the ‘pre-game show’ on the Liberator’s viewscreen: the Teal combatant is his brother, Deeta. Despite the sibling bond, Deeta refuses to see Del before the fight, so instead our Tarrant talks to Deeta’s colleague, Max, who tells him both fighters will be wearing physic implants that will allow anyone to experience the duel from the contestants’ points of view. When the violence gets underway, Deeta is quickly killed by his opponent (the death plays out in fetishist super slow-mo). Enraged, and suspecting a fix, Tarrant offers to refight the duel on his brother’s behalf. Thanks to Cally offering insider information via telepathy, he’s able to win.
* Avon (37) goes to visit Servalan when the Liberator arrives for the fight. Knowing she can’t touch him because of the official neutrality of the situation, he accuses her of manipulating the conflict in order to take control of both star systems. After Deeta is killed, Avon delights in ruining Servalan’s masterplan by having her removed as arbiter and the duel voided.
* Vila (38) is the first to suggest they go and watch the Teal/Vandor combat – he argues that they could all do with a holiday. He then seems to spend the entire episode with a vast array of differently coloured drinks in front of him.
* Orac (22) reveals the shocking statistic that fatigue is decreasing the crew’s efficiency by 1.02% every work period. He later deduces why Deeta lost the fight so easily: his opponent, Vinni, is an android.
* Zen (32) sets a course or two.
* Like Dayna, Cally (35) isn’t happy about travelling across the galaxy to watch two men fight to the death. (Women, eh?) She’s so against the idea that she says she’ll stay aboard the Liberator while the others head off to experience the festival atmosphere that surrounds the duel. Her objection doesn’t stop her later helping Tarrant cheat in his codified conflict with Vinni, but admittedly this is after she’s learnt that the latter is a robot.
* Servalan (20) has managed to bag the gig of head neutral adjudicator of the fight. But, of course, she has a plan. She knows the Vandor champion, Vinni, is an android – and when that’s revealed, it will lead to all-out war between the two regions and she’ll be able to swoop in and take over the two damaged empires. When Avon confronts her, she tells him that she doesn’t consider him an enemy – more a future friend. Avon responds by kissing her. As you do.

Best bit: Though the episode doesn’t pursue the idea, for a little while we’re treated to a section from a television show covering the fight. A reporter delivers solemn clichés to camera, and even touches his ear as if he’s wearing an earpiece. He talks to the camera and explains how the duel will go down. Then, after he throws to a VT, we stay with him and listen as he bickers with his out-of-shot director.

Worst bit: Steven Pacey plays two brothers and there’s no scene where they meet via the science of 1980s video split-screen?! Oh, come on!

Review: This is mostly a passive episode for our heroes, who spend a large chunk not even trying to achieve anything. Instead the story plays out while they’re in the general vicinity. But it’s enjoyable enough. For the third time in six episodes, the series resorts to that sci-fi standard of a guest character being played by one of the regular actors – whether he needs to be is another matter.

Seven final frontiers – yes, seriously, the TV reporter makes a Star Trek reference – out of 10

Next episode: Terminal

Black Panther (2018, Ryan Coogler)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Having taken over as ruler of Wakanda, King T’Challa – aka the Black Panther – faces a challenger from his family’s past…

Black Panther is a marvellous showcase for Afrofuturism, an aesthetic that combines African-influenced art with technological motifs. Many scenes dazzle with costumes, sets, make-up and CG-created backdrops that show off this bold, beautiful, colourful look, and it gives the film a tone and mood different from any other movie of its type. As a new-to-Hollywood explosion of design it’s comparable to Blade Runner’s use of futuristic film noirism in 1982. You can feel the fresh air blowing through the genre, and this is indicative of the whole movie.

After 17 consecutive films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe built around white, male lead characters, here – pointedly, unashamedly, gloriously – is a story about black characters, featuring a mostly black cast and made by a black director. It certainly paid off financially: at the time of writing, Black Panther is the highest-grossing solo superhero film ever, the highest-grossing film made by a black director, and the ninth highest-grossing film of all time. Thankfully, it’s an enjoyable watch too.

The story begins a week after events seen in Captain America: Civil War (2016). After the death of his father in that movie, the new king of secluded African country Wakanda is T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman), a dignified, unflappable man who clearly cares for his nation and takes his responsibilities seriously. He’s officially crowned after an elaborate and ritualistic ceremony, which is a scene that risks dragging the movie into po-faced territory. Thankfully, there’s some comic relief from T’Challa’s cheeky sister, Shuri (a sparkling Letitia Wright), who as the story progresses acts as Q to his James Bond. The king also has an entertainingly grumpy bodyguard called Okoye (played by Danai Gurira, who has badass form after her stint in The Walking Dead), while Hollywood old hands Forest Whitaker and Angela Bassett crop up in small roles.

But all is not copacetic is the world of Wakanda. Just like the Amazonian paradise seen in Wonder Woman – that other recent superhero film that broke free of the white-male paradigm – Wakanda is a highly developed society that has chosen isolationism. It hides away from the rest of the world, actively putting forth the myth that it’s a backwards country of farmers when it’s actually wealthier and more technologically advanced than anywhere else on the planet. It’s an odd situation in which to place your hero. Superman, Batman, the X-Men, Iron Man and the rest all risk their lives to help innocent strangers. T’Challa, however, is the ruler of a pull-the-ladder-up society. We don’t see him help a single person other than himself and his allies until the film’s closing moments. (It’s best not to ponder how many atrocities Wakanda has stood by and ignored over the years – just in Africa alone.)

But there’s a dissenting voice to this conservatism. T’Challa’s ex-girlfriend, Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o), spends her time helping women in other countries and advocates sharing Wakanda’s wealth and resources with the world. This gets the king thinking, but his aide W’Kabi (Get Out’s Daniel Kaluuya) is concerned. ‘You let the refugees in, they bring their problems with them and then Wakanda is like everywhere else,’ he says. Charming.

Meanwhile, the plot kicks off… At the Museum of Great Britain, two men overpower security and steal an ancient weapon from a display case. Surely the UK was chosen by the writers deliberately because of its colonial past, while the use of a museum is a neat comment on the West’s appropriation of African heritage and culture; we even learn that the weapon has been naively mislabelled. It’s a fun, slick sequence and it introduces the movie’s villain in style. Erik Stevens (Michael B Jordan) is an American with Special Forces experience. Within moments of showing up, he’s joined Loki, Guardians of the Galaxy’s Yondu and Spider-Man: Homecoming’s Adrian Toomes as one of the most effective bad guys in the Marvel series. There’s danger and attitude in Jordan’s performance. There’s fun too: as well as nabbing the axe, Stevens also steals a flamboyant mask from the museum just because he ‘feels’ it. Working alongside him is Ulysses Klaue (an entertaining Andy Serkis, returning from 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron). In another loaded reference to white oppression, Klaue has an Afrikaans accent.

When T’Challa learns that old nemesis Klaue has some Vibranium – an exclusively Wakandian mineral – and plans to sell it in South Korea, the king wants him caught and brought to justice for past crimes. We then get a sequence in Seoul that’s often reminiscent of a similar scene in the Bond film Skyfall – our heroes stalk a golden-lit casino, quipping to each other over earpieces, before the fighting begins. At this point we’re also reintroduced to CIA agent Everett K Ross (Martin Freeman), who T’Challa encountered earlier in the series and is now after Klaue for his own reasons. (When Ross and Klaue meet, it means a reunion of Hobbit actors. As somewhere far cleverer than me once joked on Twitter, Martin Freeman and Andy Serkis are this film’s Tolkien white guys.)

After a fun car chase, with Shuri remotely operating a vehicle from back in her lab and T’Challa suiting up as his Black Panther alter ego, Stevens nabs Klaue from under the noses of new allies T’Challa and Ross. Stevens then kills his former ally and delivers his corpse to Wakanda. We learn that – although raised in America – Erik is actually N’Jadaka, the king’s cousin, so he has a claim to the throne. And he’s a far more radical personality than T’Challa. He’s seen the hardship suffered throughout the world by people ‘who look like us’ and wants to use Wakanda’s resources to help them fight back. Swaggering into a meeting of the king’s retinue, he demands a challenge of combat. T’Challa feels he has no option but to fight; Stevens wins, seemingly kills our hero, and takes over running the country.

There’s then, sadly, a rather leaden period of the film as it tries to pretend that T’Challa is dead. (Does that cliché *ever* work in a film?) Meanwhile, Stevens starts to enact his aggressive policies, much to the chagrin of the other Wakandians. It’s a bit like those episodes of The West Wing where CJ, Josh and the others react badly as John Goodman takes over as President. No one’s happy, but they don’t feel as if they have a choice. (Perhaps a fistfight in a lagoon is not the best way of choosing a nation’s executive officer, guys.)

Eventually, after it’s revealed that T’Challa is alive (yay!), he and his friends mount a huge assault on the capital and we head into one of those loooong superhero-movie climaxes of fighting, jumping, crashing, fighting, flying, quipping, fighting and lots of CGI-ing. But you forgive the film the indulgence. Firstly because Black Panther has been – for the most part – an engaging and enjoyable action flick. But secondly because it’s patently an important movie. Hollywood has been maddeningly slow to recognise the need for diversity, and superhero films have not been immune to that. Black Panther is a proud, confident step in the right direction.

And as it nears its end, it becomes apparent that the stylish design work is not the only echo of Blade Runner. There aren’t many films where the bad guy steals the scene as he realises he’s about to die, but it happens in Black Panther. After T’Challa and Erik have fought for the future of Wakanda, the latter is mortally wounded. The king says he can get help. ‘Why?’ says Stevens, tears in his eyes. ‘So you can just lock me up? Nah. Just bury me in the ocean, with my ancestors that jumped from the ships. Because they knew death was better than bondage.’

Eight gamblers in the casino out of 10

Screenshot 2018-09-15 17.23.04

 

Blake’s 7: Moloch (1980)

Screenshot 2018-08-18 11.35.10

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Liberator crew follow Servalan to a planet with a secret…

Series C, episode 11. Written by: Ben Steed. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 17 March 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Vila (37) is moaning as the story begins: they’ve been tailing Servalan’s ship for 27 days and he’s bored. He’s injured when the Liberator nearly crashes, then has a sleep. But he awakens when he hears his name being put forward (by Orac) as the best person to sneak onto the planet where Servalan’s landed. On the surface, he eventually bumps into a group of prisoners masquerading as Federation troops. (One of them is called Doran and is played by Davyd Harries like he’s in a Carry On film.) They’ve been brought in by the episode’s bad guy as muscle for a rebellion against Servalan. Later, due to circumstance, Vila has to team up with the president…
* Avon (36) is curious where Servalan’s ship is heading, especially as it skirts past a penal planet and carries on into uncharted space. When the ship suddenly vanishes, Avon demands they follow the same course – and it leads them to a planet hidden behind an energy shield. Avon and Dayna teleport down and locate a massive central computer capable of producing perfect copies of any material. But Avon’s soon captured and tortured…
* Dayna (11) advocates blasting Servalan out of the sky rather than just following her ship: they should kill her while they have the chance.
* In order to sneak past the planet’s energy barrier – which may cause havoc with the Liberator’s teleport – Tarrant (11) and Vila secretly beam across to a ship they see approaching it, then escape once on the surface. Later, Tarrant is able to save Avon and Dayna from Section Leader Grose, an officer who’s rebelled against Servalan. Then, however, Moloch is revealed…
* Cally (34) – after a few starring roles in recent episodes – is back to being a not-so-glorified secretary.
* Zen (31) reports early on that the Liberator’s course has no material destination. Cheers, bud. Great help, that.
* When Servalan (19) arrives on the planet, she finds an officer called Section Leader Grose (an underwhelming John Hartley) and his pals treating the local women appallingly. There have been several deaths in the fleet, and this gang of twats have put themselves in charge. Servalan threatens them with court martial, but then Grose shows his hand: he now has access to the planet’s prized computer system, which can replicate anything you ask it to. His plan it to copy Servalan’s ship and create an entirely new fleet – with him in charge. Servalan is tied up, but then Vila finds her and she manipulates him into letting her free.
* Orac (21) fills in some exposition: the planet is called Sardos and is actually a fixed meteoroid populated by isolationists.

Best bit: As tempting as it is to be crass and say the very pretty Sabina Franklyn, who plays a non-entity of a character called Chesil, the best aspect is actually the teaming up of Vila and Servalan. Their odd-couple comedy pairing is a delight.

Worst bit: Moloch itself is the computer system that runs the planet. Towards the end of the episode, there’s a reveal of what’s inside it. If any viewer doesn’t immediately burst into laughter then they’re a better man than me.

Screenshot 2018-08-18 11.35.56

Review: Nonsense propped up by technobabble and misogyny.

Four life-support systems to carry them through the trauma of molecular integration out of 10

Next episode: Death-Watch