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.