Thursday, 18 June 2020

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Friday, 12 June 2020

The Goodies - Radio Goodies

Radio Goodies

First broadcast: 20th December 1970 on BBC-1

This was my favourite episode I've seen so far. The Goodies decide to take advantage of the recent introduction of commercial radio licences - at least that's how it appeared to me. My knowledge of the history of commercial radio is slim but nonetheless, 1970 seemed a tad early for the Goodies to be applying for a licence - and that's because it probably is.

The Sound Broadcasting Act 1972 helped turn the Independent Television Authority (ITA) into the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), so independent radio gained a regulator. It seems likely that the regulator needed to exist before licences could be handed out. Yet it's unsurprising that the Goodies would be keen already by December 1970 because in June that year the Conservatives had won a General Election with a manifesto that proposed the introduction of commercial radio.

Until then, pirate radio was the only alternative to the BBC's airwaves monopoly, with stations basing themselves on vessels positioned several miles out to sea, and thus beyond the legal reach of UK law. When the Goodies are turned down for a licence, they opt to launch their own pirate station, which also then becomes the base for their independent postal service.

Bill and Tim's enthusiasm for the radio station is best exemplified by the fact they have spent considerable time perfecting a jingle before they even hear about their licence. When they do get their station, Bill has worked hard on his presenting skills to emulate an upbeat, fast-talking disc jockey. He's clearly hoping for superstardom and I'd be curious if his style is based on any contemporaries in particular. With both these important aspects in place, we then discover that they have neglected to acquire any records so are left playing one single on repeat.

Graeme is emerging as the technical bod of the three, which suits him as I think he looks like he should be presenting something from the Open University. He masterminds the design of their sea base and after proposing their postal service, later descends into increasing power-crazed megalomania, finally morphing into a villain who is Nazi-like in appearance. I hugely enjoyed watching this change in Graeme, who had seemed like the most sensible and ordinary of the three in the previous episodes I'd seen.

The design of the radio station is extraordinary. Graeme's drawing shows a small fishing boat that sits atop the water, with a cylinder heading down beneath to the full station, complete with living arrangements and sleeping quarters. Graeme presents his design to the others, placing it in our imagination, thus it doesn't matter that we never actually see most of this.

I adore the radio station set. It seems superb and unnecessarily huge for a single episode of a sitcom that also spends plenty of time on location. It looks wonderfully futuristic, immediately making me think of sci-fi series. I like the continuity that means it has a large silver 'G' on the door, similar to the one at the Goodies headquarters.

The structure of the Goodies' postal service is never explained and I couldn't work out how they were supposed to make any money from it, so it's best not to dwell upon that. Bill and Tim are left to do the bulk of the manual work, roaming around as rogue post boxes, trying to trap people into giving them their post. The sorting operation is even stranger, with Bill and Tim attaching balloons to the letters, which are directed out to sea for Graeme to shoot down and retrieve. I particularly liked the idea of the first class delivery that is delivered singularly by a Rolls Royce, then carried to the door on a silver tray by Tim, dressed up to the nines.

I mentioned my early enjoyment of The Goodies' musical choices and Radio Goodies excelled. I was particularly keen on the postal song that served as a background to Bill and Tim's rushed activities. It really contributes well to these lengthy, silent sequences of visual comedy.

Saturday, 30 May 2020

The Goodies - Cecily


First broadcast: 13th December 1970 on BBC-1

The Goodies are struggling to find work and one does wonder whether 'anything any time' is just too vague for the general public. McCall's newspaper advert in The Equalizer is similarly brief but at least he narrowed it down to helping people that had a problem with the odds against them. I think the Goodies may need some simple marketing support that conveys that they can do anything for YOU, any time that suits YOU.

However, I admire their persistence and the 'anything, any time' remit does feel like it's started to stretch - I certainly hadn't imagined them taking on babysitting duties. Of the threesome's new roles, I particularly enjoyed Tim's role as Nanny - it was the voice more than anything; it isn't just high-pitched, but he's got a crackly tone that ages it.

Part of me keeps expecting to have a fairly normal episode of a sitcom. The openings do give that impression to a degree when they set up the plot for each episode. We could easily just progress onto standard sitcom events, so I tend to experience a "What?!" moment midway through.

With so little set at their headquarters compared to the previous episodes I'd seen, I like how The Goodies feel part of the real world, despite the fantastical elements of it. While I disliked Tower of London's long, silent sequence, since then I've begun to love these sections of the episodes. I am still getting to know the limits of The Goodies' world so tigers in suburban gardens and plants moving of their own accord all take me by surprise. I enjoyed Graeme's battle with the garden as well as the separate mayhem in the kitchen, and I liked how it came together when the garden began trying to invade indoors. This was a nice way of linking the location and studio scenes, helping them feel one and the same.

While all this is going on, we are still waiting to meet Cecily and are unsure what to expect after her aunt and uncle have made us trepidatious. She has a decent-sized role in the episode, despite so much happening before we actually see her. I liked the double twist that we first feel sorry for this lovely little girl, only for it to be flipped back later on.

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Blake's 7 - Rumours of Death

Rumours of Death

Rumours of Death feels like a rare privilege to learn more about Avon's emotional past, and I daren't look away in case we never get such access again. It's another strong character piece from Chris Boucher, whose scripts have been my favourites in Series C so far.

The opening scene had me gripped from the start as we moved up an unknown body, only for it to roll over and show us a haggard-looking Avon. This was such an atypical start to a Blake's 7 episode and I liked the directing immediately.

Unsure how Avon could have ended up in that cell, I presumed we must be watching something that had happened long ago. Right up until he got out of there, that seemed the most logical conclusion because this didn't seem like the Avon we know; he looked so bloody terrible and appeared a little nervous, even afraid. I was worried for him so was relieved at how swiftly he regained his usual self-assuredness once back on board the Liberator.
Do I have the right?
Avon's desire for revenge is totally understandable and receives little protest from the others, with only Cally questioning it. As Avon's about to take Shrinker off to kill him, I'm glad she does because it made me stop and think whether I was comfortable with our heroes committing cold-blooded murder. They have killed plenty of people but it has always been for something. Avon's mission has a plethora of unnecessary risks and won't result in anything quantifiable when it's finished - he's not planning to stick Shrinker's head on a pike near a Federation base, so although it's understandable, that doesn't necessarily make it justifiable.

I was concerned Avon would be too trigger-happy without Blake around but he's actually been sensible and this is the most illogical thing he has ever done. I am glad Cally called Avon out - we should ponder the implications of such actions. But I don't agree with her on this occasion because killing someone like Shrinker would be doing the world a favour. As Avon pointedly says: "All executions are in cold-blood," and in the Blake's 7 universe, where the myriad outcomes in the Federation's favour have filled me with despondency, I think this kind of vigilante justice is sometimes justifiable.

The Liberator crew have always blurred the line between heroes and anti-heroes - Avon arguably most of all - yet it's interesting that Chris Boucher provides a get-out clause for Avon. There is still no reason to leave Shrinker alive, but in an episode showing a more human side to Avon, it's right that we don't watch him execute Shrinker. In fact, I think Avon's choice to leave him with a choice of starvation or suicide is much more delightfully cruel.

Inside Avon
Avon has always been guarded and therefore fairly impenetrable. I was pleased at the end of Countdown when he didn't reveal anything about Anna to Blake, but so much of the effectiveness of Rumours of Death is because we see a hitherto hidden side to Avon. It's enlightening that even when we experience his memory of being in bed with Anna, he is still someone who struggles to express his emotions. She asks, "Why do I never know what you're thinking, Avon?" and he replies, "I could never say it."

If he couldn't share these thoughts with her then, he certainly isn't going to suddenly open up to the rest of the crew. I found the insights into Avon's thoughts a fantastic way of showing us more and liked the director's choices for these.

Shooting them from Avon's point of view provides us with a closeness for his most intimate of memories. I liked that this removed a common problem with shooting flashbacks: characters inevitably look just as old as in the present. As we don't see Avon, we remain uncertain just how long ago he knew Anna.

I like the way the cuts to the memories are edited when Avon is with Shrinker in the caves; we hear Anna before we see her, giving the sense that these memories are intruding on Avon's thoughts. It's also done the other way around, with Shrinker's voice being heard while Avon's mind's eye is still on Anna. Director Fiona Cummings also makes great use of a fisheye lens when Avon is imagining Anna alone in a cell. The distorted effects these techniques produce suit them as buried memories now pushing their way to the surface, and a vague picture of something that may or may not have happened.

The real Anna Grant
I did not really make the Anna Grant/Sula connection and I've pondered if we are supposed to; I struggle to remember faces, so wonder if I got a vast reveal later on compared to the rest of the audience. When we saw Anna in bed in Avon's memory, I was distracted by a thought process of, "Oh, this is a flashback, and it's a bedroom memory - she's naked on Blake's 7! - why can't we see Avon? Ah, that's clever... Blimey." When Avon was thinking about her in the cell, I thought they could be the same person but I wasn't sure and after that, I got too caught up in the adventure to consider it.

In the cellar, with Servalan there too, there was a lot going on for me to process and I felt slow on the uptake - certainly a few seconds behind Avon's dawning realisation about who Anna really had been.

I knew Blake's 7 was never going to give us a happily-ever-after moment, but this seemed so cruel. When Avon finally meets Anna/Bartholomew in the cellar, it felt unfair that he should be forced to experience that publicly. Paul Darrow's performance in this episode is smashing, but the foundations laid in Countdown add a lot. I love the way Avon speaks about Anna - not what he says, but his tone and expressions. The closest we get is when he's holding her in his arms and tells her lifeless body, "You never let go." He may as well add, "And neither did I." I was a little bit moved.

Shrinker and Servalan
Shrinker had not been what I was expecting. I had envisioned a strong young man in the mould of Anna's brother or Travis. Shrinker's sudden transformation from formidable torturer to whimpering prisoner was also surprising. Rumours of Death proved satisfying for its fulfilment of the proverb, 'All bullies are cowards' as first Shrinker and later Servalan became husks of their former selves as soon as their power was torn from them. I had expected more stubbornness from both characters yet I still enjoyed seeing such cruel sadists have the tables turned on them.

I predicted the rebel's attempt to take over the President's residence would fail, so watching them succeed was increasingly exciting. When they walked into Servalan's office and slapped her I was stunned. It was odd that we didn't see the slap; I know it was a big one but I'm curious because the only reason I can fathom is that it's because she's a woman and it's early evening telly. Yet we had the delicious delight of seeing her slap Travis last series so I felt a tad cheated that we missed her turn.

It's as though that moment knocked something out of Servalan because when we next saw her, I was astounded at how pathetic she was. I thought she would be holding her head high, issuing vicious threats of what would happen when her inevitable rescuers arrived. It was strange watching her reduced down. She's a sideline to events in this story too; I'm so interested where her story will go next as I don't think she needed to be in this episode. Avon heads there because it's Servalan who can tell him where to find Bartholomew, yet the story could have used any important Federation leader. Why is she there then? Why have they chosen to depict her like that? What are we being set up for?

She wasn't really even in a position to gloat over Avon's pain. While I was egging him on to shoot her when he first walked in, in the end, I didn't mind that he let her live because this wasn't the Servalan I've wanted to see our heroes defeat.

She bounces back wonderfully once she's sure that help is on its way - it's only when she has that safety behind her. Left alone with Avon, the episode provides us one more moment to hold our breath through. That Avon doesn't care, that the loss of Anna - in more ways than one - has battered him that much, made it sad rather than just the usual anxiety.

I loved watching Servalan caress a dispirited Avon with a gun, enjoying herself as she tells him, "I'm going to send your friends a corpse." After a few episodes of seeing softer emotions in Servalan, it's nice to return to exactly the kind of sadistic evil I like from her. We haven't often seen her pointing guns herself and she only misses out on killing Avon because she casually turns to shoot someone else.

Servalan's plan to send Avon's body back to the Liberator is a wonderful touch; if Avon's grim treatment of Shrinker invited moral questions about our heroes, this moment is there to reassure us who the real villains are.
Location, location, location
For a sci-fi series set in the future with a spaceship that can go to any planet, you could forgive any members of the audience who were fed up of seeing planets that resemble Earth. Blake's 7's counterpoint to this is that they are generally visiting planets that have been colonised by humans and therefore it makes sense that they should support Earth-like conditions.

This is, I think, only the third time Blake's 7 has visited the actual Earth and, rather than attempt to create something futuristic on a budget best suited to blowing up models in wide shot, using a country house as a historical building is ideal. Tyrants and dictators always want a grand residence and one with history attached to it is even better, as a home from which to hammer their own mark on the records.

There is a sense of time passing properly as the day progresses and it turns to dusk. One aspect I appreciated in these location elements was that the later scenes do look like they were shot at dusk, as opposed to day-for-night shooting, which I had noticed in last series' Hostage. On reflection, it may be that the production was lucky and had an overcast day with no sun to provide shadows in these scenes. I accept day-for-night filming as something that had to happen, but it drags me into reality as it rarely passes and I hate that.

I'm uncertain whether all the outdoor scenes were filmed near the house, or if the exterior and interior are even from the same ones - it hardly matters as it was shot well enough that I didn't notice. I enjoyed the fight between the guards and the Liberator crew on the patio that then turned to tension as they crept indoors. I loved the contrast between the traditional aspects of the house and the cast. Having something from well before 1980 helps too as I never felt suddenly pulled out of the fiction. One of my favourite shots for this mixture was as the camera panned to follow the crew as they withdraw their guns, with Avon covering against the wall with his gun raised in front of an oil painting in an ornate frame.

I hesitate to use the word, yet Rumours of Death is a pretty perfect Blake's 7 episode for me. It is bookended by wonderful opening and closing scenes and in that final one, Avon's implication that a part of him has died is the closest he ever gets to sharing his feelings with the crew.

I could go on and on - I haven't even mentioned how lovely the lighting in the caves is or the great writing for the two security guards. It's a superb script that stretches Paul Darrow in particular and I think it's at its strongest when the dialogue is between just two people: Avon with Shrinker or Anna, and, quite differently, the CCTV security guards, where two new characters are established swiftly and substantially, even though they aren't pivotal to the plot. As a result, while I like that it has some action, the greatest joy this episode provides is in simply watching its characters together.

Both of Chris Boucher's scripts in Series C have been marvellous character pieces, done in different styles. Not quite to the same extent, we also had a larger focus on Cally for Children of Auron. Avon and Cally's episodes have shown us their pasts, while Vila's City at the Edge ofthe World was focussed on the present. I'm hoping we are treated to something similar for both Dayna and Tarrant. I would especially like to learn more about Tarrant's past as it remains mysteriously dodgy.

Friday, 15 May 2020

The Goodies - Gender Education

Gender Education

My next episode of The Goodies moves us swiftly further along to series 2, episode 11. At the Goodies' headquarters, a well-turned-out, mature woman with glasses sneaks up on Tim and Graeme. She's instantly recognisable as a faux-Mary Whitehouse and I must admit I was surprised that I saw this so quickly, yet she really did have a distinctive look. It's confirmed that she is a Mary Whitehouse figure when we learn Mrs Desiree Carthorse represents the Keep Filth Off Television Campaign - similar to Whitehouse's well-known Clean Up TV Campaign.

It's an extreme caricature, with her horrified at anything not perfectly prim and proper, particularly anything to do with sex - to the point that she won't even spell it out and just mimes writing the 'x' in the air. That the Goodies all take this up as well is great.

Mrs pretend-Whitehouse has sought out the Goodies because she wants them to make a 'clean' sex education film. We get to see the results of this and there are some marvellous touches. A naked man and woman are covered with white sheets, and after reference to "the birds and the bees", we cut to shots of tiny white cloths covering hovering pairs of birds and bees.

I was fond of Bill as a television mogul, who heads off to make things with lots of violence because he knows it's what the people want. I loved how power-mad he had gone. The comedy is maximised by using Bill as the shortest chap with an absurdly massive cigar, like all good moguls should have.

We again get plenty of time on location when Tim and Graeme take Mrs Carthorse to Bill's latest shoot. It feels like real evidence of their enthusiasm for filming out of a studio because this is exactly the sort of thing they could have more easily done in a studio! Yet it means we are perfectly placed for the manic fun that follows. Unlike Tower of London's lengthiest location sequence, I adored the extravaganza on Bill's set here. It has another lengthy run-around but there was more variety watching both the Goodies pelting around the set as well as some of the supporting cast.

I had been impressed by The Goodies' music previously but enjoyed it even more on this episode and by the time I had finished Gender Education, I was in love with the style.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Blake's 7 - Children of Auron

Children of Auron

I find it fascinating when programmes reflect contemporary events or appear prescient of future ones, either by intent or sheer coincidence, but I haven't had that with Blake's 7 - at least I haven't noticed it. One attractive element of the series is that its setting makes it somewhat timeless. 40 years on, film-making techniques and technology in the series may stand out, but the plots still seem valid.

Children of Auron was the first time I felt a connection with the present. If I'd watched this six months ago, the similarities to the current COVID-19 pandemic would have meant nothing, and perhaps in five years' time they will mean something different. I was watching a world suddenly overcome by a swiftly-spreading virus, with a scramble to find a solution. It was acknowledged that there were certain people, like the Liberator crew, who could have it and spread it, without immediately showing symptoms. It was strange experiencing something that felt weirdly close to home.

The fall of Auron
I can't remember if we had any details about Cally being exiled from Auron when we first met her in Time Squad, but I didn't think so. There has clearly been some thought and planning before this episode as Cally's exchange with Tarrant and Dayna in Dawn of the Gods hinted that there was more to why she left Auron. We were cryptically left with the line, "Perhaps I'll tell you about it one day." Before then, it wasn't something I had given much thought because I was under the impression that Cally had left voluntarily.

Despite how she ended up with the Liberator, it's a tad odd to think of Cally as a rebel, but I'm enjoying seeing her personality become more fully formed - it's well overdue and I like learning about this defiant, determined side of Cally.

I feel sorry for the Aurons as their policy of isolationism seemed wise considering everything else going on in the universe; it's dreadful luck that Servalan became interested in them. I was caught out by Michael Troughton as the pilot who brings the plague - this is the earliest part of his I've seen and I'm used to seeing him in larger roles, so certainly wasn't expecting him to get killed off so soon!

The older male Auron can be blamed for much of what goes appallingly wrong. His stubbornness prevents Cally's help being considered as a real option and his rushed decision making immediately allows the other ship to dock. Once Servalan is in, that's it. He's - justifiably - panicked, but as a senior leader he should be experienced enough to keep a cool head in stressful situations and make calm, considered choices.

It's a desolate ending - related: see footnote. We've watched numerous people hit by the virus, the senior leaders taken out to be shot, and, with the reproduction unit blown, apart Auron's future looks grim - raising those 5,000 kids surely won't be fun. The death of Cally's twin is simply the icing on top because while there are attempts to show an emotional connection between them, it's minimal. Cally has never mentioned Zelda when Auron has come up, there is no gushing delight at the prospect of seeing one another, and with Zelda herself hidden behind a mask most of the time, we see little of any expressions that would give a hint in the other direction. Their hands meeting through the glass is the only moment that tells us anything. I would have liked a little bit more shown there.

Location, location, location
Like several other stories, this is one where imagination is required as we never see the vast swathes of Aurons dropping down with the virus. We see little of Auron itself either and it's difficult to guess what sort of landscape the planet has.

However, I was again impressed with the location filming for this series, despite its briefness in Children of Auron. The scenes as the crew make their way to the cloning unit look fantastic. Having been informed these were filmed at a dam in North Yorkshire, I've discovered it was Thruscross Reservoir Dam. The value of location filming for giving Blake's 7 real scale is demonstrated as, watching Avon, Tarrant, Cally and Franton all clamber across the dam, they look tiny against this mass of concrete.

Andrew Morgan's directing deserves credit here: after searching for images of the dam, I discovered that the bridge they cross is in reality further from the dam compared to how it looks on screen, where the choice of shot and angle is effective in making it appear much closer. With the awesome size of the dam in the background, watching everyone run along that bridge with an explosion right behind them was superb.

Thruscross Dam's footbridge can be seen on the far right

Team Blake

Blake hasn't been mentioned for a while. I had initially thought Series C would be about the search for Blake but this was the first episode in which he seemed to have been forgotten. Before the episode's events took over, Avon announced plans to head to Earth to take revenge on Shrinker, the man who murdered Anna Grant, who we heard about in Countdown. So what's happened about finding Blake? Have they given up on searching for him? It's odd that this plotline has apparently been quietly dropped. I did little but slag off Blake when he was around but I would like to see him again.

Team Avon
Avon must have been mulling on avenging Anna for some time. Perhaps he had suppressed his grief but meeting her brother last series stirred something. It's been hinted to me that there is another episode connected to Anna so I remain intrigued. Since Countdown, I have been wondering whether she is still alive...

While events derail the trip to Earth, it isn't Avon's choice as the others take a vote, with the change of course for Auron winning the majority. I was astounded and delighted - actual democracy on the Liberator! Blake irritated me immensely for being blinded by his determination but Avon accepted this vote and did not attempt to deceptively alter the course back to Earth, as Blake may have done.

Although the Liberator is Avon's ship now, it seldom feels like he's a leader in the same way Blake was - the decision-making on board is collective. Previously, I considered the Liberator to belong to all of them; after all, they had found it together. But they were always following Blake's mission - his cause, his movement, his tactics - so he quickly became their natural leader and it was only Avon who was a reluctant follower, keener that they should lead a different life. It seems right that the Liberator should firmly belong to one or more of the original crew now that we have Dayna and Tarrant, who joined through invitation.

A personal touch
Another difference is emerging. Blake's mission was never particularly personal. Despite his history with Travis, the targets he aimed for were much bigger than just one man. Along with Blake's admirable 'know your enemy' strategy, attempting to get rid of Travis and Servalan would have required considerable effort and risk, which could have more impact elsewhere - their hunters would only have been replaced by another set anyway. They represented the Federation but Servalan was distant and the majority of the Federation remained anonymous. Even as we saw more of Travis, it did not seem to change Blake's relationship with him, and he only finally took a shot at him when his life was seriously threatened. Blake was facing down a whole system - not individuals.

Yet there is no strategy to bring down the Federation anymore - they run away from the Federation and not towards it. The crew no longer appear to be fighting one great mass and this seems reflected so far in Series C as we are getting much more familiar with the enemies. Travis's absence has resulted in a variety of Federation officers having larger roles. With Deral and Ginka, Children of Auron has impressed me most because they were developed characters: there's a relationship and a history between the two of them, they have distinct personalities and are not the simple obedient guards or clones that have previously shared scenes with Servalan. I enjoyed trying to work out Ginka, suspecting he may have lied to Servalan about the clones, and knowing he would be a goner if she found out.

Significantly, we are seeing different sides of Servalan, and they are much more intimate parts. I may have disliked how her relationship with Jarvik was portrayed, but it was nonetheless intriguing to see how she behaved. At first in this episode, I thought she just liked the idea of cloning herself - a host of tiny evil Servalans being brought up to rule the universe. But as we discovered she has maternal instincts, it felt like we had seen below another layer of her. Seeing her anguish when her babies were destroyed was amazing.

It's fascinating unravelling more of Servalan and I remain particularly interested to see where her relationship with Avon goes. Blake was a nuisance and a moral crusader, yet I think Servalan would happily have Avon at her side and would keep him for as long as he proved useful - just like any other Federation officer. When they have met in this series, there is a familiarity written in now that, combined with the subtleties of both actors' performances, adds considerably to those scenes. Basically: more please.

Avon's planned personal vendetta should deliver this personable element elsewhere. It's left me immensely curious about what other types of stories the series might pursue. It's interesting that I came to see Blake as this incredibly passionate man, yet it is now Avon, the man mocked for being machine-like, who now shows far more care for an individual than Blake ever did. With Avon, I often find myself thinking back to Duel: “I have never understood why it should be necessary to become irrational in order to prove that you care. Or indeed why it should be necessary to prove it at all.” In Children of Auron, he has a faraway look and speaks unusually quietly when he explains that Shrinker killed Anna, simply stating, "She was important to me." Avon's is just a different sort of passion.

Footnote: Children of Auron loses major points for ending with the crew laughing. The repeat of this bizarre, cringe-inducing way of finishing episodes started as simply being baffling but is also now like nails on a chalkboard with me desolately screaming, "WHY?". It should have a place in any Blake's 7 drinking game - please down your glasses of crème de menthe or adrenalin and soma.

Thursday, 30 April 2020

The Goodies - Tower of London

I first watched The Goodies without realising. In my early forays to YouTube, I was searching for Doctor Who content when I came across something featuring Patrick Troughton up against three other blokes. Split into two videos, there were no titles and when it finished I still I had no idea what it was but I enjoyed its style.

A short while later, I recognised the three chaps elsewhere. I was certain for years that I had watched several episodes of The Goodies over Christmas 2005. Now I can check these things, I've learned it's likely that I actually saw clips from Return of the Goodies and these may have been supplemented afterwards by a Comedy Connections episode on The Goodies - that documentary series was helping me discover various programmes around that time.

Over the years I saw more clips but despite years of keeping an eye out, The Goodies hasn't really turned up as repeats and soon faded into vagueness in my memory. However, when someone sent me their spare The Goodies...At Last DVDs, I knew I would eventually get around to them.

Tower of London/The Crown Jewels

As the first episode, this proved an excellent introduction to The Goodies as it opens with the three leads - Tim, Graeme and Bill - arriving at their new headquarters. It's a clean-looking, modern main room for 1970, although we are placed firmly in period when we see the patterned decor of the other rooms. I got a shock when the doors were opened to a CSO view of a couple of other rooms, then it gave me a nice laugh when, as they were repeatedly opened, the view changed to show more rooms, so that this otherwise tiny floor has kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and more. Even better was the CSO used with the blinds to change the view out the window. It seems such an innovative way of experimenting with technology when I'm used to CSO simply being a necessity for science-fiction in this decade.

Having got this spanking-new headquarters, it appears the gang hadn't been entirely certain what they were going to do with it, but Bill's adverts in various publications inform people they are willing to "anything anytime". Their first request comes from the Tower of London.

The Beefeaters at the Tower cannot get enough beef as it is all disappearing and they have begun to waste away. Two small Beefeaters appear at one point, disgusted to be told the only thing on offer is corned beef. Later, we are presented with two piles of clothes as they have disappeared completely. Despite everything around it, I was just tickled from the off by the idea that Beefeaters cannot survive without beef and enjoyed the reinforcement.

I also liked the visual gags at the Tower as a torture chamber has been converted into a kitchen, with a guillotine being used as a bread slicer. As the corned beef is about to be cut, I was expecting something similar to drop down from the ceiling, so it caught me out alongside the trio when a pendulum swung across instead.

The Goodies have to deduce a word puzzle from their computer at one point - that in itself feels a new-fangled thing as it actually has a screen, rather just providing a print out on ticker-tape. Four images displayed to our detectives. I'd kept up with them that the first two equalled 'crown', the third was a profile view of an old lady, while the fourth was a bell with a cross through a 'b', so we had 'crown something ells'. I ended up ahead of them in guessing 'crown jewels' but gasped and cringed as I realised.

Even though this is a BBC programme, The Goodies has 'Part One' and 'Part Two' sections. Initially forgetting this, I didn't think to question it and it only makes sense when you realise they have created their own adverts. I liked this idea as it's a way for them to get sketches in within a sitcom.

The amount of location filming in the series is wonderful and a refreshing change when many other shows from this era are still predominantly studio-bound. The Goodies appears almost the reverse - a location-based series that enters the studio when it has to. It provides plenty of opportunity for visual gags, such as the use of their 'trandem' bicycle. There is one extended sequence of the gang chasing Prince Charles across London and this is the only part that didn't entirely work for me as it feels lengthy without quite enough comedy to fill it.

The programme avoids having to try to record sound on location by overlaying it with music. This isn't just any old library music or a rehash of the title theme either - they are unique pieces recorded for the series by Bill Oddie with William Gibb. The more I heard, the more I liked this.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Blake's 7 - City at the Edge of the World

City at the Edge of the World

After being disappointed by Harvest of Kairos, I was just hoping to find City at the Edge of the World less dull. The title got me thinking about the other cities we have encountered with Blake's 7 - Space City and Freedom City, but this one turned out quite different.

I deployed some expletives exceptionally quickly for Tarrant in this episode. Everyone knows Vila is a coward but threatening to dump him from the Liberator was cruel. As I am gaining a growing dislike of Tarrant, I was particularly behind Vila when he argued, "I was here first!"

I had even more sympathy when Avon expressed his attitude, which I found cold, as he says that he doesn't like Vila but he is useful. He might be more tactful but he came across almost as harsh as Tarrant. I think I'd forgotten recently what a nasty sod Avon can be as he so often displays it with sarcasm.

Vila the hero
Vila hasn't had much limelight in Series C - the only time we've seen a substantial amount of him was in Powerplay. This is understandable and I haven't minded because there has been a lot else going on: we've watched Avon's position within the crew change, got to know Dayna and Tarrant, and seen Cally get more to do. But I love Vila and one of the best things about this episode was watching him have such a leading part.

I think Vila can sometimes just be used like a tool by the crew and it certainly seemed to be Tarrant's attitude initially here, so I like that Vila didn't need them in this episode. He's able to solve the mystery, figure everything out, and has a way to escape Bayban, with his own experiences being enough. Seeing him work out first the mysterious door and then deducing what had gone wrong on the ship was great.

Vila proudly sees himself as a skilled and experienced thief, but I enjoyed watching him as more than that: he's an expert problem-solver with superb intuition; he's exceptionally good at thinking on his feet; he's marvellous at outmanoeuvring people bigger or more powerful than him. While he may have gained practise at all that from his many years of thievery, he is now putting his experience to a wider variety of uses.

Vila the lover
The Liberator crew don't get a lot of romantic interests - I'm sure the last proper one was when Blake snogged his cousin. I often feel sorry for Vila; he puts up with so much and I thought he deserved his slice of happiness, which is why I was so pleased for him to become the only Liberator resident to manage a shag in the last couple of years (I've never ruled out that he may have managed this earlier during his drinking binge in Space City). I thought his brief relationship with Kerril was set up well and it seems perfectly plausible that if you know you've only got minutes to live, maybe it's a fun idea to spend it as happy as possible.

I'd been concerned we were about to lose Vila once he and Kerril were teleported to the ship. Either they were going to die then or be stuck floating through space forever until they did. Once they reached the planet and the fuller story was clear, I knew they would have to return for the others. However, it still looked like Vila might not return to the Liberator. I really wasn't sure what he would do and became a little anxious.

Vila is so certain when he begins telling Kerril that he has to leave and gives confident reasons. But when she counters with the life they could have, he barely has time to hesitate before Bayban turns up and the Liberator crew have to make a hasty escape. I love that Vila is given his moment of doubt back on the Liberator and that he isn't certain he's made the right choice.

It's interesting that Vila doesn't think a relationship would be fulfilling enough for him. Despite everything he told Kerril, I think he was scared to give up doing what he's always done. Prior to this, I had expected any temptation to be free of the Federation's pursuit of him would be sufficient - I thought that was what Vila really wanted. Now, I'm trying to unravel exactly what motivates him. He's a coward but he's also brave and perhaps he's realised he has enough of that bravery to continue having adventures.

Bayban the Butcher
Focussing on Vila away from the others meant the tone didn't have to be adjusted so much and there were greater doses of his characteristic humour. But this feels balanced once we meet Bayban, whose appearance emitted a delighted, "Yay!" from me because he's played by Colin Baker. Due to Doctor Who's Timelash DVD commentary - where he's joined by that story's guest Paul Darrow - I knew Colin Baker turned up at some point in Blake's 7, but not when.

I found Bayban enormous fun and would happily have watched him return to the series. He's utterly bonkers and quite mad so I adored watching him. I love him stomping around shouting angry threats and I love him early on when he's on the verge of outrage because Vila hasn't realised who he is. I love that he has nicknames like 'Bayban the Butcher'. I love that he's vain and arrogant and that he ultimately dies because he refuses to listen to anyone else's advice.

Blake's One
City at the Edge of the World is easily vying with Aftermath for my favourite episode of Series C so far. Interestingly for me, both are episodes that mainly focus on just one of our regular characters - accepting that we only meet Dayna in Aftermath. I think one reason this has succeeded is that in both circumstances they have been unable to contact the other crew. Without this, any sense of peril would disappear because they could direct someone to teleport nearby at any moment.

More than in previous series, in Series C I've noticed manoeuvring to prevent the bracelets being used either to teleport or to communicate. We've had episodes where the crew have been out of range of the Liberator and one another, plus other people they encounter have started to recognise the bracelets for what they are and remove them. I thought the plot technique used in Dawn of the Gods was an innovative approach to this challenge. It feels increasingly necessary to raise the stakes and I'm curious if Blake's 7 will find new ways to do it.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Blake's 7 - The Harvest of Kairos

The Harvest of Kairos

The Harvest of Kairos has ideas with good potential, but it doesn't work well for me overall. Despite some high stakes, I found the episode dull in parts. Intersecting the space pursuit with the introduction to Jarvik slowed the pace and it did seem to go on for a long time, but without the usual tense, exciting action I usually enjoy from these "battle stations" moments. I think these parts of the episode should have been edited down, partly because I'd have liked more time for another element.

The rock
It was amusing to see Avon so distracted by his new discovery and winding up Orac, forcing him to admit there was something greater than himself. Yet when Avon had dragged Cally away from the bridge, putting them all in danger, it was concerning. It began to seem like the rock had some sort of hold on Avon with Tarrant criticising: "That thing has warped your reasoning. It has even warped your notorious instinct for looking after number one." After this, it disappears for the rest of the episode before Avon whips it out at the end, having suddenly figured out how it works. This wasn't enough for me and I think the plot would have benefitted from spending more time constructing the unusual mystery around the rock.

I do think the rock's excellent defence mechanism - of showing itself as just like its attacker but a tiny bit better - is a clever idea. I wish far more had been made of this. It would have been interesting to understand what it projected to each of the crew. Does it reflect the power they actually have or that which they think they have?

Cally is fearful when Avon tries to get her to help him analyse it, yet we are never explicitly shown what its effect on Avon is. It's hard to tell if he is simply fascinated by it because he loves a mystery or because he is able to sense something similar to himself - the latter could have presented a good opportunity to check Avon's ego.

Battle of the sexes
Introducing a romantic interest for Servalan is such an intriguing idea on the surface. I've previously written about how much I enjoy the way Servalan's sexiness and femininity are used to her advantage. She always seems in control, so up until now, I've wondered if she values her pursuit of power so much that she doesn't risk relationships in case it should cloud her judgement or allow her to be manipulated. Perhaps, but it's also likely that she just hasn't fancied any of the meagre Federation specimens before her.

It's obvious that Servalan and Jarvik ravish each other and I like the subtlety of the episode's pre-watershed post-coital scene. Their clothes are slightly dishevelled and Servalan sipping her blue beverage is tantamount to a subsequent cigarette. I've always been mildly surprised that no one smokes in the Blake's 7 universe; based on other contemporary dramas, predicting this habit's extinction is a highly un-1970s thing to do.

However, despite this plot's potential, Servalan being attracted to a man like Jarvik is frustrating. She dismisses him as a "primitive", a description fully justified by his attitude towards her as a woman. He's later similarly dismissive of Dayna, but while Dayna has a chance to immediately prove him wrong in hand-to-hand combat, Jarvik's battle tactics are shown to work where Servalan's failed.

Servalan has been depicted as an incredibly strong woman, and one inference to take from her relationship with Jarvik is that she has really been longing for a powerful man. It implies old-fashioned notions that independent, determined women need a man to dominate and control them, lest their wayward ways give them incorrect ideas about their place in society. I disliked seeing Servalan's character undermined in this way and was wishing death on Jarvik from his first scene - you can't go around calling the President "woman".

Kicking arse
It isn't a great episode for Dayna either; after everything she must have coped with growing up, I did not expect to see her screaming at a slowly-moving spider, even if it a giant one. It was also disappointing that while we watched Tarrant and Jarvik's fight at length, we are denied as much glory as seeing Dayna kick Jarvik's arse - we always get to see the blokes' moments of heroism, so why can't we give an equal spotlight to Dayna on this occasion?

Deadly design
I can mumble about being forgiving of BBC budgets or just admit the spiders look crap. As I attempt to imagine how they might have been described in the script, it seems unlikely that anything decent was ever going to emerge. However, I think it would have been worth attempting some script surgery to ensure the spider was only seen at night and perhaps within the forest, as surely this could have hidden more than shooting it in the open during broad daylight? We don't linger on the spiders' victims - neither visually or textually - and when we finally see one of the perpetrators, any previous fear from the mystique of Kairos is completely eroded.

Do we really need the Liberator?
Since Blake's 7 convinced me it might do anything, I am easily convinced the crew might lose the Liberator at any time. I've half given it up as gone in every episode so far this series: Aftermath - certain it had been destroyed; Powerplay - thought Avon might never wrestle it back from the Death Squad; Volcano - was sure Servalan's goons would take it once Avon had been knocked out; Dawn of the Gods - worried they wouldn't get back before it was broken up; and here, I again thought this was it - surely Servalan was just going to get the hell out of there and we would have no way of getting anyone back to the Liberator.

I was delighted that the crew were able to get back to the Liberator because I have grown rather fond of it. The exterior design is fascinating and I find myself trying to imagine the interior floorplan within it - whereabouts exactly is the decompression chamber we saw in Dawn of the Gods? What about the medical bay? The yoga lounge? Is there a kitchen? Perhaps a bar? What are the storage areas like? Where do we find those riches Avon told Jenna about in Cygnus Alpha? Where do all their clothes keep coming from - are they all off-the-peg or are they whipping some of them up themselves?
Power play
One of my favourite moments in the episode was the relatively short scene with Servalan and Avon, with him setting his conditions for handing over the Liberator. While Servalan has featured in every episode so far, except Dawn of the Gods, this is the first time she and Avon have shared a scene since Aftermath.

With Tarrant refusing to key in Servalan's voice for Zen, she threatens to start killing them until Avon steps in: "How wise, Avon - you might have been next. Though with your qualities I'd probably have saved you." I'd adored their scenes together in Aftermath, especially in the underground base, and it felt like we were picking that back up.

As well as the rest of it being a nice scene between Servalan and Avon, this moment is another in the series that reflects the differences between Tarrant and Avon. The episode has a strange dynamic as Tarrant leads things on the Liberator, partly because Avon is distracted by his rock. I continue to be slightly thrown by Tarrant getting such responsibility when I still consider him an untrustworthy newbie and was glad that on this occasion the script does address it, with Avon telling Tarrant, "I understand that [...] you are the most astute space warfare commander," although after Tarrant has left, he does cynically add, "...or so you tell us often enough."

In the scene with Servalan, Tarrant has decided they should all die instead of handing over the Liberator, which is understandable as Servalan would likely kill them anyway. But Avon's mind has clearly been whirring in the background as he has devised a way of getting them off alive. Avon's ability to think calmly under heightened circumstances stands them well.

Jarvik classed a cloud over much of episode and I was sadistically pleased when he was killed, but it wasn't just him that left me unsatisfied. Having constructed a slightly unnerving mystery around what happens after the harvest on Kairos, the events there become a sideshow. There is no sense that the crew is in real danger from the spiders, so no urgency for them to get away - it's about getting back to the Liberator, rather than combining this with a need to escape. There are redeeming parts, but overall The Harvest of Kairos didn't have enough for me.

Monday, 30 March 2020

Blake's 7 - Dawn of the Gods

Dawn of the Gods

It's so fantastic to watch Blake's 7 with no preconceptions about fan consensus on episodes. Dawn of the Gods seems like a potentially divisive one because it is vastly different from the usual action adventures. While there is plenty early on, it's much slower and stranger once they enter the other universe.

In some ways, Dawn of the Gods is the most science-fiction-y episode I've experienced so far. Everything was fairly normal, even if I was noticing the scientific space babble more than usual, with some fictional, some not: having Orac explain how black holes work, only for Avon to respond, "Yes, we know all that," was some blatant swiftly-explained physics. Then they travelled through the black hole, I didn't have a clue what was going on anymore, and it went utterly bizarre.

I found Series B exciting, especially early on, because having different writers produced such a variety of story types. I wasn't expecting much variation again for Series C, thinking the production might just go with what worked well previously, but I am pleased with this result from James Follett. It feels some considerable time since Blake's 7 has had a story that doesn't impact on the series arc; the second half of Series B was almost completely geared towards the search for Star One. Opening up the idea of accessible alternate universes provides a wealth of options for Blake's 7, including more plots that don't need to relate to Servalan or the Federation.

The episode started to seem like it might be entirely set on the Liberator - and I get excited during those episodes because I enjoyed Breakdown in Series A so much. Yet every time it's looked like happening again the crew do eventually leave and I am a tad disappointed. Admittedly, there must be a limited number of plots that could be thrilling and/or interesting, but I am curious to see them try again.

One small aspect worthy of praise in the earlier part of the episode is the moment when Vila begins protesting that he is absolutely not going to don a spacesuit and explore outside the ship. For regular viewers it's a predictable response, as is the result, so I liked the fade - of both sound and image - to Vila's preparations in the decompression chamber, narrated by his resigned monotone, with us having skipped the insistent/persuasive discussions in between.

Just a machine
Orac stunned me by intentionally dragging the crew into such danger and some choice words were spluttered. Orac may be the only computer to ever give you cheek back yet this has been amusing and never really to the crew's detriment.

He's like a petulant child at the start of the episode while they are playing a board game and in retrospect, it is apparent that he hoped to keep the crew distracted from his influence on the navigation. It's a good contrast now to have Zen loyal to the crew, while Orac is entirely indifferent with no programming to prevent him harming them and both characteristics make perfect sense; Zen is part of the ship so keeping the Liberator and its occupants in one piece is essential, yet Orac was designed to be autonomous.

Orac's actions are understandable but it remains hard not to anthropomorphise him (always a 'him' not an 'it') when he's been given an increasing amount of personality. I was bloody annoyed with him, and yet he's too useful and too valuable to ever get rid of.

Tarrant - not a new Avon
I finally felt like I got to know Tarrant a tad more too and concluded that he's a bit of a dick. Although I've seen Tarrant as a replacement for Avon's old role, it's becoming clear that they are markedly different.

One difference is that Tarrant is more aggressive. We saw it during his 'negotiations' with the Obsidians in Volcano, with Dayna having to remind him, "These people are our friends." In Dawn of the Gods, Tarrant's attitude has unfortunate consequences when it earns him an experience of the neuronic-whip. In contrast, Avon silently listens and observes, with a desire to hold all the information before making a decision. He has a patience that Tarrant lacks.

As the ship looks set to be ripped apart going through the black hole, Avon dives for a conveniently-close spacesuit. Tarrant then tries to stop him, insisting that if they're going to die, they can all go together. It was this that helped me decide that Tarrant is a bit of a dick. Just... why? This may be a team that looks after one another but self-sacrifice has never been on the agenda - well, unless Blake was forcing a reluctant effort. If Tarrant had had the chance to get to that suit first, I'm sure he would have.

I'm still baffled why Tarrant sought out the Liberator. If he wanted to join up with a resistance movement, he was going to have to work with other people. He clearly isn't comfortable with Avon in charge, so how would it have been different with Blake?

I originally thought Avon was a sod, but even at their antagonistic heights, I don't think he ever told Blake to his face that he might kill him. I enjoyed Avon's swift brush off, "It has been tried," and the accompanying grin shows that his and Tarrant's clashes are not so large as that early chasm between him and Blake. Avon seemed to look for any opportunity to argue with Blake and always planned to get rid of him. With Tarrant, Avon is the experienced man being challenged by the new one and feels no immediate need to rise to it because he's confident in his own abilities.

The one and only Avon
I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing to have people around to question Avon because he has been shown to be over-arrogant before. As Tarrant asks Zen to scan for traction beams, Avon states, "There is no known power in the universe that can operate a traction beam over that distance," to which Tarrant replies, "Just because you don't know how to build a high energy traction beam doesn't mean no one else knows how to build one." I like these occasional reminders that even Avon's logic can be fallible because sometimes he is like a computer - all the information we have says it cannot be possible, therefore it cannot be possible. While in this instance the change of course is down to Orac, Avon's wording actually misses out the one thing he could have been thinking about: what if the power came from another universe? From now on, he should certainly be considering it.

Cally and the Thaarn
Both Tarrant and Dayna round on Cally when they believe Auron's people may be causing the issues with the Liberator. While I instantly felt defensive for Cally, it's a reminder that the two new crew members don't know the others so well yet and mistrust can go both ways.

I was intrigued by the idea that Auron's fairy tale of its people's beginnings had its place in facts that had been passed down and muddled over the centuries. It was nice to learn more about the Aurons, who have been defined only by their telepathic powers up until now. I was also pleased that there has clearly been a concerted effort to develop Cally's character this series and she has plenty to do in this episode, including holding scenes alone when she is speaking to the Thaarn.

My main gripe is that I don't think we should have seen the Thaarn. When Cally is lying down, with music and lights twinkling, I was reminded of hypnosis scenes in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Like Blofeld, the Thaarn is a disembodied voice speaking to the young woman, but while Telly Savalas delivers some menace once we pass the mystique, the Thaarn is distinctly underwhelming. He's a small fellow with a big brain - so what? Is the sight of him supposed to be horrifying, disgusting? I felt neither and was unsure why Cally later lied about seeing him.

Delightful and dreadful design
It's been a while since I've commented on the costumes in Blake's 7. I am disappointed that Avon still has his red lobster outfit as I've always thought it looks dreadful. Vila and Tarrant are wearing fairly similar shirt styles but Tarrant's has been combined with green velvet trousers and a belt with a large buckle, something so absurdly bold and vaguely period that it reminded me of a pantomime. This old-fashioned style continued with the Caliph in his top hat and breeches. Cally and Dayna are both in dresses, an immediate signal that they shouldn't be doing much running around or fighting because my first thought is: that's not very practical.

The sets were fairly simple, with little time to admire them. My favourite was the simplest of all: the huge empty space where the Liberator lands. This great expanse of darkness was wonderful for conveying the complete unknown and placing Vila in it first helped instil some fear.

I enjoyed Dawn of the Gods for providing something unlike any episode before. We had action, intrigue, then - what?! James Follett seems an interesting writer for the series and I liked numerous small elements, like the way the crew used the anthropomorphising of Orac to hide him from the Caliph, and "only the technology of the Lord Thaarn prevails on Krandor" was an original way of losing the advantages of the teleport bracelets. I'll be curious to see if other universes are ever explored again and what other types of stories Series C will offer next.