Sunday 24 November 2019

Blake's 7 - Pressure Point

Pressure Point
"It is a challenge!"

After a few episodes from other writers, I felt bad that the appearance of Terry Nation’s name in Pressure Point’s titles sent a pang of disappointment through me. I had been enjoying different types of episodes and didn’t want that unknown variety to end. Weapon and Horizon had both impressed me, so Terry was going to have to seriously up his game.

Back to Earth with bloody Blake
Although there have been times when Jenna seemed the closest crew member to Blake, Cally is emerging as a confidant. At the start of Pressure Point, she is the only one who appears to be aware of his full plans for returning to Earth. Avon had suspicions but everyone else expected them to merely take a nearby look at the Federation's defences.

This secretiveness of Blake's has always annoyed me and is why I will continue to curse him. The crew should be equals and I think he should be completely open with them. I have made my efforts with Blake and have felt less disgruntled with him in Series B, but these actions make me distrustful of him. Nonetheless, I do understand his reasoning for hiding his true intentions on this occasion. The others would never have agreed to return to Earth in the way he has planned, but now that they are actually so close and he has established plans with a resistance group, all of them come around to the idea.

Blake has never had to convince all the crew to take part in a mission before – there have always been a few of them, usually Jenna and Gan, who are happy to do whatever he suggests. That every one of them is against it demonstrates how ludicrously dangerous it is and also that there is only so far that the loyalty of even the most loyal can stretch.

I may dislike Blake at times, I may think he can be an arse, but he remains a superb character to watch and I adored Gareth Thomas in the opening scene. He wonderfully showcases Blake's passion and determination: "I want to hit at the heart and the heart of the Federation is Earth!" This works even better next to the lacklustre attitudes of the others. Avon may afford him a sarcastic little clap, but I loved watching Blake eulogise about the importance of attacking Control - "It's a challenge!" Cally is the only one who is interested and she clearly knows little about it compared to the others. The assertion that the Federation "advertised" its existence is a massive alarm bell, as it appears the Federation has complete confidence in its impregnability.

Despite all this, Blake convincingly conveys why they need to attack Control: "All the might and the power of the Federation is represented by Control. While it exists, the Federation is invulnerable!"

I want it all
At first, it appears that Avon might not join the others in agreeing to Blake's plan, though he soon says he will. The chat between Avon and Blake on the sofas was fascinating. They spent Series A scheming and plotting everything out in their heads, yet now feel able to be more open; it didn't take much prodding from Blake for Avon to reveal his thoughts. I felt a tension to their discussion but nothing either of them said seemed to take the other by surprise. Avon predicts that if Blake's plan is a success, the resistance movement on Earth will need a leader and Blake is the natural choice. This would leave the Liberator free for Avon.

I'm not entirely sure what Avon would do with himself if he had the Liberator and/or a crew for it. I know he ideally wants to be able to roam freely without constantly looking over his shoulder for Federation pursuit ships. If Blake's resistance movement was keeping them occupied, Avon would probably have that. Avon likes being challenged, he likes solving problems, he likes exercising his intelligence and technological skills. I am not sure how great a leader he would be. After what he's got up to as part of the Liberator crew, I imagine going back to robbing banks may seem below par. The only concrete desire he expressed was in Breakdown when he tried to join the research organisation. Will that still satisfy him now that he's been through a bit more freedom fighting or does he need something with more action? Perhaps while the Federation has any power the events of Breakdown and Horizon have made the idea of remaining in a single place less attractable.

The Liberator is an extremely powerful and advanced ship - maybe that is enough for Avon to play with. "Sooner or later I will have my chance," he tells Blake. It's a slight threat. "There's no hurry," Blake responds, and I struggled to work out what he meant. This is one of the most reasonable discussions they have had and their great clashes from Series A have truly mellowed - I do miss that a little. Perhaps Blake means that he will eventually be happy to hand over the Liberator. After all, his goal is to destroy the Federation so what use would he have of the ship once that is achieved?

Blake's long-term ideas do not seem concrete. When Avon tells him he is the most likely leader for a revolt, his answer is, "Perhaps..." This modesty is surprising. Blake so easily assumed the leadership of the Liberator and is the most ardent enthusiast for attacking the Federation that I assumed he would jump at the chance to lead a properly organised movement against it. What is making him hesitate? We have started to see how much his name has spread across the planets and how much people admire him. Why is he unsure of himself? Is he starting to feel the pressure of leadership?

One vision
Blake’s plan to attack the Federation’s central monitoring complex looks suicidal from the outset. As the episode progresses, the odds are increasingly bleak. The crew’s provision for helping him is that they will pull out if there is less than an even chance. Even as Blake was agreeing to this condition, I was sceptical that he would stick to it, however, I was imagining they would all be on the ground together and he could be forced into pulling out. After Blake and Gan discover the resistance group’s sole survivor, Veron, Blake chooses to carry on, lying to the others by not revealing what has happened. Vila and Avon are immediately suspicious so perhaps they are learning from Blake. He only tells them what he needs to in order to get his own way. I thought this was a scummy, selfish move on Blake’s part, as they have gone from having an army to support them, back to going it alone, something the crew would not have agreed to.

What the plot
I found Pressure Point good fun overall, though there were some plot elements that jarred. We had heard Servalan telling the mutoids to take Veron so when Blake and Gan found her, I knew it must be a trap of some sort. This is a fairly easy one for the audience to figure out, though impossible for the two crew. We have seen robots and clones, though it seemed too little time to produce one of these, so I assumed some type of brainwashing. It slipped my mind that they might just have blackmailed her. They should have become suspicious when she seemed baffled by the word 'teleporter' - even if it is only a reality for the Liberator, I am doubtful that it had fallen out of fictional use and no other Blake's 7 characters have been confused by it.

After being trapped in the cave, the crew’s escape then seemed a little too easy. They spent all of five minutes trying to get out! Surely Travis should have been standing by much closer.

As the audience had witnessed the earlier destruction of two resistance members, there were definitely some nerves when the crew came to cross the minefield. As one of the episode's opening scenes, I let out a number of surprised expletives as the two men were blown up. I continue to be impressed with the kind of violence that Blake's 7 manages. Yet despite the initial challenge, it didn’t take Avon long to overcome the defences by simply shooting at it. These obstacles consist of strips on the ground, vaguely resembling a motherboard but mostly they reminded me of rainbow belt sweets. I thought the self-repairing function of the strips was marvellous. Running the film backwards is a simple enough technique but I thought it was a clever idea that looked realistic and was therefore really effective.

I can brush past these minor aspects. The deceit with Veron was obvious to the audience but not the characters, and if the episode had spent too long in the cave or overcoming the minefield I would probably be moaning that it was dragged out and dull. However, the plot’s final conclusion was frustrating.

Let me out
Terry Nation has spent the episode getting Blake inside Control so he can fall into Travis’s trap. Having done so, Terry Nation now has a problem. There are only a few minutes left but we can’t end on a cliffhanger (we haven't so far, so let's presume not for now), therefore Terry needs to get everyone out. Cue Jenna with a gun to Servalan for a sudden rescue. We haven’t seen Jenna since she teleported from the Liberator – I don’t think we even saw her get down and safe. How did she even get inside Control? How did she find Servalan? How did she get past the guards or any other defences? I felt cheated.

The crew have had a last-minute win against Travis several times under Terry Nation and I've generally been happy with them. The endings to both Project Avalon and Orac humiliated Travis so were immensely satisfying. The sudden reprieve in Orac worked because we had cut back to the other crew so much during the episode, and we did actually see Vila and Avon come down. The rescue in Pressure Point is similar, with an extra crew member appearing to turn a gun on Travis and Servalan. It makes me wonder whether scenes of Jenna arriving on Earth had to be cut for timing - this is a pretty packed episode.

We are the champions
If Pressure Point had ended there in that empty room after Travis had appeared, it would have been perfect. I was so pleased with that. The twist of that empty cavernous room and its stunning silence was lovely. Blake had been so sure and spent a year building up towards this, convinced it was the way to knock a significant chunk out of the Federation's power. The sheer determination in Blake is evident in the moments before they enter as he furiously tells Vila that he has to get them in. They have overcome both the above and underground defences, the resistance movement risked their lives to help them and Blake had promised to get everyone out if it looked too bad. Now it looks disastrous and Travis and the mutoids have been racing what feels like mere inches behind them.

The mighty Travis has had a bad run of luck against Blake, to the extent that it was beginning to look too easy to defeat him. Travis managed to trick Blake and it worked. It never even occurs to Blake or the other Liberator crew that this could be a trap. Blake's escape is not his own doing - it is sheer luck and he knows it as he doesn't even waste time gloating. It was horrifying to see Travis finally have Blake in his clutches, his appearance in the scene marked perfectly by his out-of-shot pantomime villain laughter. Despite what Blake has repeatedly said about the advantages of knowing his enemy, it was wonderful for Pressure Point to show that this isn't a foolproof strategy. Blake's cries of, "We've done it!" upon entering the room change to, "I've done it!" showing that he's not the team player he likes to think he is and perhaps ignoring other opinions once too often is part of his downfall.

I had mixed feelings about the direction all episode, which is courtesy of George Spenton-Foster. There are several scenes where I thought I should be seeing something else or have a shot from a different angle. In this one, with Blake on his knees, there is a missed opportunity to point the camera up at Travis and have him gloating down at us. Instead, we get a profile shot of his eyepatch side and I feel we are missing something. When Servalan appears, all of Travis's dialogue is from offscreen as we don't cut away from her at all. I began to get the impression that the episode was on a tight schedule either throughout or at least by this scene.

I felt myself warming to Brian Croucher during Pressure Point, even if I am still mourning Stephen Grief. I think I need to see him being a bit more vicious and evil though - a repeat of a close encounter like that in Duel may help seal the deal. But this is definitely Travis as I loved how the episode emphasised his hatred of Blake. When Jenna and Servalan arrive, Servalan tells Travis to release Blake and the others. A stunned Travis hesitates, reluctant to have to let his prize go so soon after gaining it. He hesitates. "You hesitated! My life was in danger and you hesitated!" screams Servalan afterwards with a slap. That slap! Glorious, deserved and exactly how Weapon had made me hope their relationship would head. Last series I would have said that Travis's loyalty was absolute and I still think it is, yet clearly his desperate desire to capture Blake is starting to cloud his judgement, becoming all-encompassing.

Servalan: A history
The emotions that this personal vendetta elicits in Travis are his greatest weakness. He may even realise this to an extent, as he earlier warns Servalan about making things personal when they have captured her old teacher-turned-resistance-leader, Kasabi. This plot strand was very interesting as we have hitherto never learned much about Servalan's past. The discovery that she has always shown loyalty to the Federation was hardly a surprise, even though I believe she has now largely forsaken this in favour of personal gains.

Kasabi's assertion that Servalan quickly worked her way up due to family connections was more thought-provoking. I find myself regularly reassessing what sort of totalitarian dictatorship I think the Federation is and of course, it is a composite of all the worst elements of all of them. I suppose this element took me by surprise a little because I have never considered the bland, emotionless face of the Federation as somewhere in which loving families help each other up the greasy pole of power.

The interrogation of Kasabi seemed like the first time that Servalan has been more sadistic than Travis. She really enjoyed having that power over Kasabi, who was impressively tough at resisting. Though sadistic is possibly not the right word; while Travis likes hurting people, I think Servalan does just like having power over them. It was interesting that they didn't particularly rub Kasabi's death in with her daughter Veron. Both just stated it matter-of-factly, perhaps because they expected to gain nothing further.

One bites the dust
Poor Gan and poor David Jackson. Gan's death was completely unexpected. I didn't pick up on any sense of foreboding - the episode just got on with the plot as usual. I knew we couldn't have much of the episode left and thought we would just see everyone leg it to the exit before teleporting up. As a regular character, Gan has had the rawest deal and I've discussed previously how underdeveloped he has felt. Blake's 7 barely explored his background and I do think more could have been done with the Liberator's gentle giant. His death was a last-minute shock but I don't expect the show to dwell on it and sadly I don't think we will notice his absence too much. Gan dies saving everyone, which is a noble exit for a man who never hesitated to step up, had great loyalty to Blake especially, and was willing to put his brute strength in the firing line to aid the rest of the Liberator crew.

Delightful and distasteful design
Servalan's costume is one of her least revealing and with her jacket and wide-brimmed hat, I couldn't shake the impression that she looked dressed for her wedding. There must have been something contractual that required Jacqueline Pearce to show a certain amount of flesh because said jacket and hat are gone for her final scenes. Instead we get a superb dress with a stunning silver lizard-like creature appearing to hold it together in the centre. A shot of her standing in the doorway of Control's empty room ensures a full view, satisfying viewers for another week.

On the other end of the scale, Vila's costume has been altered for the worst this week. While the budget has undoubtedly increased this series, there comes a time when economies are needed so Vila's grey outfit has been brightened up this week with the addition of a white belt and yellow bits of plastic. He's gained some large cuffs and a half-cape-half-waistcoat thing. Unfortunately the episode's direction meant we were several scenes in before I was able to work out what the cape-waistcoat thing actually was. The first few scenes only featured Michael Keating from the waist up so we couldn't see this new addition properly. Once we can, it remains unimpressive and seems utterly pointless.

The episode's design winner for me was the doors inside Control. Bathed in blue light, the sliding double doors are etched with the Federation's symbol. I love this symbol as I find it such a nice piece of design. I enjoy spotting it used throughout Blake's 7 and usually the subtler the better, but on this occasion, you know what - go for it and stick a great big symbol on a set of doors. More please.

Under pressure
Pressure Point flew by for me and was action-packed. From the beginning, Blake's plan seemed destined to go wrong but it did not happen in the way I expected. The word 'challenge' recurs throughout the episode. Blake wants to take on Control partly because, "It is a challenge!" and Avon agrees to join him because, he says, "I like the challenge," - something we have seen in Avon before. When they finally reach Control's empty room, Travis tells Blake that the Federation, "used [Control] as a challenge to our enemies." Being unable to resist a challenge has become a weakness and even worse, a predictable one. After outsmarting Travis for some time, Blake has once again become predictable: "You believed it, Blake, like all the other fools before you."

I like the idea of the crew joining together with resistance groups as it ties in with Blake's idea of a base on Horizon - I think any resistance movements are going to have become more unified and organised to stand any chance against the Federation. These isolated pockets will only ever be able to do so much damage. I know he's an evil sod, but seeing Travis get so close to beating Blake was marvellous and leaves more uncertainty for the future. Our heroes are supposed to always win in the end, yet they have just lost one of their regular characters, proving no one is truly invulnerable in the Blake's 7 universe, except, it would seem, the Federation.

Wednesday 20 November 2019

The Saint - The Latin Touch

The Latin Touch
First broadcast 11th October 1962

On holiday in Rome, Simon is witness to the kidnap of a US diplomat's daughter. A mafia man, Tony Unciello, is responsible. His brother is about the be executed in the US and Governor Inverest has the power to stop it.

Guest stars
Alexander Knox plays the governor and is the only who is credited as a 'guest star' on screen. However, much more familiar to me was Warren Mitchell, playing a taxi driver, Marco. He appears in a few other Saint episodes and can frequently be found throughout 1960s' dramas as foreigners of various nationalities. I'm always pleased when he turns up and it often helps provide some comic relief.

The Famous Simon Templar
"That's the famous Simon Templar!" is delivered by a tourist from Missouri, Ada, who spots Simon while visiting the Colosseum. She tells her husband that she read it in the papers that Simon Templar was in Rome, which presumably means he has the kind of celebrity status that ensures his presence in gossip columns.

It's early days but we are already going to have to gloss over the utter absurdity that Simon Templar is simultaneously famous yet on other occasions manages to easily disguise himself or impersonate someone. Similarly, Roger Moore pointed out that his other famous character, 007, was a secret agent but could supposedly walk into any bar in the world and they would know who he was and how he liked his vodka martini. It's ITC-land - anything goes.

The Saint in...
The entire episode is set in Rome. The opening shots of the episode are taken from the real Rome with Roger Moore the only main member of the cast to feature in them. As he enters the Colosseum we move into the studio, where we stay for most of the episode.

While the change was obvious, I thought the Colosseum set was impressive enough considering its brief appearance. I wouldn't be surprised if it had been left over from another production.

Painted backdrops
I didn't spot any.

Period features
This section is for aspects that place us within the show's period, or would otherwise seem alien to someone from the present coming to the episode.

There are fewer details to pick up on this week so I've had to be picky. Tony first gets in touch with the governor to ask him to meet him at a remote location outside Rome. Simon's response on being told the name of the place is to ask for some maps - actual physical maps. Nowadays, many of us would just quickly type the name into Google Maps.

Tony adds soda or water to Simon's drink using a siphon. I love these and would like one of my own but as I take my whisky neat, I feel I'd get minimal use from one. There must be a cut-off point during the 1970s when they start to disappear.

Simon drives Governor Inverest in a Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe - it's a great big American car so the US embassy probably brings them in to have as pool cars. Tony's car is much grander though. The Mercedes Benz 200 S looks posh and fancy, making it a good fit for the wealthy mafia man. Back down to earth and as it's Italy, Marco's taxi is a Fiat - a Fiat 600 Multipla.

Tony gets my favourite quip when Simon is phoning the governor, telling him, "Remember - just one wrong word and you'll be a real saint."

The Ungodly
No reference to the ungodly, though Simon does quote Jesus, telling Tony that, "The meek shall inherit the earth." I presumed this was Jesus because I've seen Life of Brian.

The Sinners
Tony Unciello has an inside man in Inspector Buono as well as some plain henchmen. Tony is an Italian-American and is supposed to induce fear across Italy, although it was something I struggled to see in him. We don't see him have so much as a fight until the end of the episode. He's an acceptable villain but not a particularly memorable one.

She Was a Lady
Simon briefly spends time with Sue before she is kidnapped so has no time to make any proper moves, having only just met her. He stepped in as a true gent to stop Marco fleecing her for the taxi fare. By the end of the episode, he's confident enough to offer her, "the best dinner in Rome and dancing until dawn."

The Volvo
Not seen - he gets around in Marco's taxi.

Simon is knocked out in the Colosseum while talking to Sue and for the rest of the episode, it's more about the threat of violence. He goes to speak to a club singer who knew Tony and she reveals a nasty scar on her neck that he gave her. When Tony's henchmen pick Simon up, they force him into a car at gunpoint and there is also a gun on him when he's phoning the governor. Finally, the climax gives us some action as the police burst into Tony's place all guns blazing and the henchman bear the brunt of it. Simon quickly springs into action, delivering a couple of punches to Tony.

Four, including one in the Colosseum. While it may be permissible, all I could think was that Simon would be littering an ancient monument with cigarette butts.

Simon is rather reserved. In the club, he and Marco have wine glasses and coffee cups on their table, but we don't see them take so much as a sip. It seems likely that they are the remains of the end of a meal. At a cafe, he has ordered a glass of white wine but due to the arrival of Tony's henchmen, he never gets chance to touch it. Finally, with Tony we see him having something with either soda or water from a siphon (probably whisky) and a glass of red wine with their spaghetti meal afterwards.