Monday, 16 May 2011

Blake's 7: Cygnus Alpha

“Wisdom must be gathered. It cannot be given.”

A bloke is a cloak, a sunset which is clearly a painted backdrop, a night sky which is even less convincing… hardly an auspicious start. And yet this episode is quite as brilliant as the first two. The Captain is subdued as the London is about to land; he’s not exactly shrouded himself in glory of late, as we’re reminded by a quick flashback.

Blake, whose recent achievements have been rather more impressive, is still with Jenna and Avon in their cool and mysterious new ship. The ship has some powerful weapons. There’s a nice scene where Avon points one at Blake, only for Blake to turn around and ignore him. This is a nice little scene, mainly about who’s the alpha male, of course, but also showing us that Blake has decided that much of Avon’s amoral cynicism is just a front.

The ship goes through “negative hyperspace”, meaning it’s “crossed the anti-matter interface”. Well, quite. What’s interesting here is that this is technology far in advance of the Federation, and presumably humanity. It’s alien, then. And yet so far we’ve had no explicit mention of aliens. Presumably, then, they’re known to exist (this isn’t Isaac Asimov’s human-only Galactic Empire), but few spacefaring civilisations are known to exist within explored space, although the concept is considered plausible? Certainly, it seems as though this new ship, the Liberator as Jenna christens it in a revealingly Blake-sympathetic moment, must be alien. And yet we know little of its origin is that it was involved in some sort of altercation last episode. Perhaps.

Oh, and we’re introduced to Zen. And he says “confirmed” for the first time, while remaining effortlessly, enigmatically cool. He really gets on Avon’s tits, which helps. Oh, and “spatials” are apparently a unit of measurement.

Before long we come across what appears to be a matter transmission room, and triggers another contest between Blake and Avon over who is the alpha male. Blake wins this quite easily by being the only one of the two of them who’s man enough to risk using this untried technology to teleport down to Cygnus Alpha. Jenna’s impressed, I can tell. She certainly gives him a big hug when he teleports back.

Meanwhile, Cygnus Alpha is not what we were expecting. There are no guards and it can only loosely be termed a prison; convicts are simply dumped there and forced to fend for themselves, a bit like people who’d finished their sentences on Devil’s Island. We also get a bit of a closer look at Gan, who has really only been a supporting character thus far. And I’d like to get a look at him, having read the rather splendid Liberation by Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore. This excellent fan guide to Blake’s 7 posits, rather fascinatingly and convincingly, that Gan is some sort of sex offender, and it’s going to be interesting to watch what he does with this in mind. Certainly his threats to the bloke being nasty to Vila hint at some possible psychopathic tendencies, but generally he comes across as a nice chap.

Vila, Gan and their redshirt friends encounter a rather grisly corpse, and Pamela Salem in a cloak, looking particularly lovely. She orders them to kneel, which they do. Fair enough. I probably would have done the same. I mean, she kisses Gan.

Interesting religion they have here; monotheistic, practised in what looks very much like a church, with an altar and candles and everything. It looks as though it’s been largely ripped off from Christianity which, to give the designers their due, seems to fit in rather nicely with what we’re later told.

Oh, and let’s talk about Brian Blessed, shall we? Apparently in Z-Cars, which I haven’t seen, he was a talented actor. Certainly in I Clavdivs, which I have seen and enjoyed very much, he’s outstanding. But at some unspecified point (arguably The Black Adder is the point of no return), he seems to lose the ability to play anything other than loud, shouty, bearded barbarian kings. Is this where the rot begins to set in? Beard? Check. Shoutiness? Check. And yet there are still several scenes here where he still has that Augustus-like ability to be quietly menacing. I miss that side of Brian Blessed.

Back to some rough kind of chronology, the prisoners are apparently suffering from the “Curse of Cygnus” to which, conveniently, only the priests have the cure. It’s not long before Brian is telling Blake that the priests are all descended from convicts, making him some kind of Great Space Australian. Interestingly, he admits that society used religion to bind together a society which had become conflicted, over fifty generations, between newly arrived convicts and those born on the planet. So, is he a true believer, someone consciously using religion as a tool or, as I suspect, both?

“Fifty generations” is interesting, too, as it gives us a clue as to how far into the future we are. It seems humans broke “the light barrier” at least, say, 650 years ago if a “generation”= 25 years.

Meanwhile, there’s conflict between Avon and Jenna; they’ve discovered untold wealth on the ship. Avon persuading Jenna to give Blake just an hour before abandoning Blake generates a lot of dramatic tension, of course. But it’s much more interesting than that. Jenna is being torn between two ideologies here. And Avon is persuasive. Blake is a “crusader”. He can’t win. Does she want to be rich or dead? He has a point.

Blake gets to be cool, too, though. Placed in a cell with the other prisoners, who know perfectly well that if he doesn’t agree to give Brian their ship then one of them will be sacrificed, Blake manages to get them on his side through sheer force of will. He’s definitely the alpha male here. But also, perhaps, again showing signs of being a charismatic and dangerous fanatic.

We get a final showdown with Brian who reveals, perhaps too easily, that the “disease” is a mild and artificial poison, and dies, most certainly too easily, before he can get started on all that space evangelism. Still, nice episode.

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