Blake’s 7: Terminal (1980)

Screenshot 2018-09-08 16.43.56

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

Advertisements

Elstree Calling (1930)

81PW7Do-+JL._SL1500_

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)

Screenshot 2018-09-01 16.33.30

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)

Black_Panther_(film)_148

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

seaQuest DSV: Season one

260px-Season1cast

Today is the 25th anniversary of science-fiction show seaQuest DSV beginning on American television. It’s always been a much-ridiculed show (‘Star Trek glug, glug, glug,’ my mother used to call it). But I’ve always been very, very fond of it – especially the first season, which was set 25 years into the future (ie, 2018). So here’s a list of the 10 best episodes from that opening year…

10. Knight of Shadows (31 October 1993)
Shown on Halloween, this episode abandons the rest of the season’s plausible science and just has ghosts in it. A Titanic-style ship is found after lying on the seabed for 105 years.

9. To Be or Not to Be (12 September 1993)
The pilot episode, shown 25 years to the day before this blog post went live. It introduces the characters and concepts very well.

8. Games (3 October 1993)
A Hannibal Lector type inveigles his way aboard the ship and plays cat-and-mouse games. Creepily directed with a terrific score by John Debney.

7. Treasures of the Mind (26 September 1993)
A well-written, early episode about international diplomacy after a long-lost cache of antiquities is found.

6. Give Me Liberte (24 October 1993)
Crew members have to be quarantined after being exposed to a deadly virus in this mystery episode, guest starring Udo Kier.

5. Brothers and Sisters (17 October 1993)
A nice, low-key plot about a young boy who has to be convinced to abandon a dangerous location. ER’s Kellie Martin is excellent as his friend.

4. The Good Death (15 May 1994)
A stylishly directed action episode about a South American military dictator (Luis Guzmán).

3. Nothing But the Truth (9 January 1994)
SeaQuest does Die Hard as terrorists storm the boat while there’s a skeleton crew aboard.

2. Greed for a Pirate’s Dream (16 January 1994)
A deliberately slender plot because it’s the drama concerning the guest characters – a group of treasure hunters on an island about to destroyed by lava – that’s more interesting.

1. Bad Water (7 November 1993)
A shit-hits-the-fan story about a sunken tourist sub and crew members stranded in a hurricane. (It’s easily the piece of television this blogger has seen the most often.)

 

Blake’s 7: Ultraworld (1980)

Screenshot 2018-08-11 11.52.56

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The crew of the Liberator encounter an artificial planet with a macabre secret…

Series C, episode 10. Written by: Trevor Hoyle. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 10 March 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Avon (35) has spotted something close to the Liberator and is concerned, especially after Zen reports that that it’s giving off no quantifiable readings. Visually it looks like an enormous conker shell in space, and Avon soon assumes it’s an alien-built artificial planet. When Cally then goes missing and radios for help from the planet, Avon is unsure whether they should follow, saying it’s too dangerous. But Tarrant and Dayna convince him to mount a rescue: all three teleport over and learn that the planet – Ultraworld – is one huge, self-aware computer staffed by blue-skinned, bald, officious men called Ultras. Later, Avon is taken prisoner by the Ultras and they attempt to cut-and-paste his brainwaves into the central computer system. Eek!
* Cally (33) warns Avon that getting too close to the planet will bring trouble, then when alone she reacts oddly to some kind of psychic sensation she picks up from it. She suffers from an unexplained mental trauma and ends up on Ultraworld, where the Ultras put her in a sleep cell (for her own good, they claim). So that means that Cally is absent for a bulk of the episode for a second week running.
* Tarrant (10) wants to rescue Cally as soon as they realise she’s missing. When he, Dayna and Avon meet the Ultras, they initially seem trustworthy and sincere and say they’re collecting data for a vast, digital archive of information (imagine!). But cynical Tarrant is unconvinced. He does some snooping and discovers memories stored on cassette-like devices, while the people whose brains have been harvested are left as zombies. It then gets even worse: the Ultras are currently downloading Cally’s consciousness! Double eek!
* Zen (30).
* Vila (36) stays on the ship during the crisis and amuses himself by teaching Orac jokes and riddles. He then realises that his colleagues are in trouble with a capital Troub.
* Dayna (10) goes on the run with Tarrant when they realise Ultraworld is far from a benign place. They escape down the planet’s industrial innards, find de-brained victims of the Ultras (including Cally! And Avon!), then come across a large brain at the centre of the planet which is feeding on the husks. Eventually, Dayna and Tarrant manage to win the day, escape, and reload Cally and Avon’s consciousnesses back into their bodies. (There’s the requisite gag from Tarrant as he sheepishly hopes he got them the right way round.) Phew!
* Orac (20) takes Vila’s jokes literally at first (like the fussy little twat he is), but then he starts to appreciate the puns and wordplay.

Best bit: While being held prisoner by the Ultras, Dayna matter-of-factly brokers a deal with them. They have a gap in their knowledge: the human bonding ritual. So Dayna suggests she and Tarrant have sex in order for them to study the procedure. In exchange, the Ultras will let them go. ‘Kiss me,’ she orders Tarrant. Brazen and confident, it suits Dayna’s character well – as does the twist that comes a few moments later: it was just a ruse to engineer an escape.

Note: this beautifully lit shot filmed in tunnels under Camden almost stole the Best Bit category away.

Screenshot 2018-08-11 12.18.35

Worst bit: When Dayna and Tarrant find the victims who have had their brains wiped, Dayna asks what will now happen to the mindless bodies. ‘Perhaps they’re food,’ says Tarrant. ‘Food? Food for what?’ she asks. ‘For thought,’ suggests Tarrant, suggesting (accurately) that the organic matter is fed to the gigantic brain that runs Ultraworld. WHY WASN’T THIS EPISODE CALLED ‘FOOD FOR THOUGHT’?!

Review: It’s clichéd, for sure – especially the bland Ultras, who could have lumbered in from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager – but the episode has a certain zip to it that keeps the interest. Pulpy but fun.

Seven solecisms and grammatical discrepancies out of 10

Next episode: Moloch

Mr & Mrs Smith (1941)

MV5BNWQ2MWRkYzgtYzkwOS00NzBiLWE0MmMtM2MzOTE4ZDE2ZTNjXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUxODE0MDY@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1276,1000_AL_

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

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

After a couple realise they’re marriage isn’t legal, they go their separate ways, but find it hard to let go…

Hitchcock later claimed he only took on this project as a favour to its leading actress, Carole Lombard. She was one of the biggest – and most highly paid – stars of the age. Hitch was a fan and had wanted to make a serious film with her, but after a short sabbatical she was keen on a return to the genre that had made her name: screwball comedy. (Tragically, it was one of her last films: Lombard was killed in a plane crash just a year after Mr & Mrs Smith was released.)

The pair had a relationship of mutual respect and affection. He allowed her to direct his ubiquitous cameo and she delighted in making him do multiple retakes; she also poked fun at his comment that ‘actors are cattle’ but arranging to have three heifers brought into the studio with actors’ names on their hides. However, this behind-the-scenes fun doesn’t translate onto the screen. The movie Hitchcock and Lombard made together feels very much like something produced by an assembly line. It lacks zip and punch and too many sequences fall flat.

Married couple Ann (Lombard) and David (Robert Montgomery) make up after a three-day row, though in the name of full disclosure he admits that, if given his time again, he wouldn’t have got married. He loves her and wants to be with her, but can’t resist admitting that he regrets getting tied down. Then a man shows up at David’s office (played by Charles Halton, the bank inspector from It’s a Wonderful Life) and reveals some shock news. Due to boundary changes in Idaho, David and Ann’s marriage is not legal. The man coincidentally knows Ann from her childhood so then, without David’s knowledge, seeks her out and tells her the same news.

So later that night, as the couple go to an old haunt for dinner – which is owned by William Edmunds, another It’s a Wonderful Life alumnus – there’s tension in the air. Ann has assumed David will tell her the news then suggest they make their common-law marriage legal by ‘remarrying’. But she gets increasingly frustrated as he plays dumb and doesn’t mention the development.

Finally she snaps and explodes into a rage (the momentary increase in energy is a rare instance of the movie coming alive). She throws him out, their relationship over. In a case of be-careful-what-you-wish-for, though, David then gets jealous of Anne moving on with her life. He eventually tails her as she goes on a wintery holiday with new boyfriend Jeff (Gene Raymond) and – wouldn’t you just know it? – the movie ends with the pair reconciling.

At the time this film was made, there was a real vogue in Hollywood for screwball comedies: light-hearted romcoms with rat-a-tat dialogue, sharply written romances and a battle of the sexes where the female character is at least the equal of the male. In 1934, Frank Capra’s It Happened One Night had become the first film to win all five major Oscars; in the three years before Mr & Mrs Smith, Howard Hawks had directed two of the very best examples – Bringing Up Baby (1938) and His Girl Friday (1940), both starring future Hitchcock regular Cary Grant. Sadly, judged in that company, Mr & Mrs Smith seems staggeringly slow and ploddingly predictable. Lombard and Montgomery are far from awful, but you can’t help but imagine snappier dialogue and pacier scenes and other, better actors in the roles. Hitchcock had wanted Cary Grant for the part of David – no wonder.

Five men walking past in the street out of 10

Blake’s 7: Sarcophagus (1980)

Screenshot 2018-08-05 18.33.45

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A mysterious entity uses Cally’s telepathic abilities to board and take control of the Liberator…

Series C, episode 9. Written by: Tanith Lee. Directed by: Fiona Cumming. Originally broadcast: 3 March 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Cally (32) is suffering from ennui as the episode begins, and has been hiding in her bedroom. Well, I suppose her entire planet was wiped out two episodes ago: she’s bound to be a bit maudlin. When an alien ship drifts close to the Liberator, she clearly senses something telepathically but denies this when her colleagues call her on it. Cally then teleports over to the craft with Vila and Avon – they find it long-abandoned and containing a desiccated corpse. It’s not a ship; it’s a tomb. They then trigger a booby device and have to scarper pronto – but something goes wrong with the teleport and only Cally gets home. Thankfully she thinks quickly, returns to the ship and saves her friends. Yay! Panic over, Cally then falls asleep but hears a strange voice in her dreams…
* Avon (34) shows sympathy to grieving Cally (he was too busy on a revenge mission last week). After visiting the alien ship, he becomes interested in an artefact they recovered from it, which turns out to be a conduit that allows a spectre of some kind to cross over from the alien craft to the Liberator – the ghost takes Cally’s form and starts messing about with the crew’s sanity. (He couldn’t have just left the bloody thing alone, could he?) Avon is the one who’s most able to stand up to the invader and distracts her long enough to steal her ring, which she’s using to focus her physic energy. She then fades away into nothingness.
* Vila (35) is one of the first to be affected by the spectre’s bizarre influence. When the lights go out on the Liberator flight deck, he experiences hallucinations and starts performing sleight-of-hand magic tricks. (There’s appreciative applause added to the soundtrack.) He then sees the interloper: a woman who looks like Cally wearing face paint because she’s played by Jan Chappell in face paint.
* Dayna (9) operates the teleport, realises something’s wrong when she feels static electricity on the flight deck, and is knocked unconscious by some kind of energy beam.
* At the start of the episode, Tarrant (9) has identified an asteroid full of profitable minerals, but argues for postponing that mission when the alien craft hoves into view. He’s distrustful of Cally when she acts oddly and openly questions her motives, then has a row with Avon – it’s real alpha-male stuff. Later, he confronts the strange entity on the flight desk and learns she needs Cally’s life force to escape her tomb.
* Zen (29) and Orac (19) get some basic exposition to impart.

Best bit: Avon and Tarrant’s argument is a testosterone-fuelled thing of wonder. Tarrant is hot-headed, frustrated and full of angry-young-man-ism, while Avon is withering and dryly sarcastic.

Worst bit: Not a huge amount of the episode impresses, but especially tiresome is the scene near the end where Dayna explains the plot to Vila. If you need such a scene, surely there’s something wrong with your storytelling?

Review: Jan Chappell plays an additional character for the second time in three episodes. After the wet fish Zelda in Children of Auron, now she camps it up as that hoary old sci-fi cliche: an arrogant, capricious god with nebulous powers who enjoys toying with lesser life forms. Sadly, as with a lot of genre stories that can be summed up as ‘weird shit happening’, the episode can’t build any tension or jeopardy. The characters rarely know what’s going on and neither do we viewers, so the stakes are vague and the peril uninteresting. At least Fiona Cumming – who also directed the previous episode, Rumours of Death – makes sure we get some style and fun. There’s a peculiar, dialogue-less opening scene scored by whimsical music, a bizarre song sung over photographs of the Liberator model, and filmed cutaways of the regular cast acting out metaphors… It might not be much good, but you can’t claim Sarcophagus is boring.

Four intelligent menials out of 10

Next episode: Ultraworld