C03 – VOLCANO (and a bit about being middle of the road).

“That’s a long time ago.”

When I first wrote this post, I ended up talking about good episodes, bad episodes and those episodes that were distinctly middle-of-the-road (MOR).  I originally wrote this waffle.

In sci-fi terms, what does this actually mean?  Is there some kind of rule book that defines what is good and bad?  Is it about the collective view of fandom, or is it personal taste?  Perhaps it is something else entirely?  This is one of the reasons I wanted to watch every Blake’s 7 episode out of transmission order.  It was my chance to revisit these episodes as new as possible, and as a stand alone experience.  This is a chance to try to reinvent those lists we all like to make.  The good, the not so good and that area somewhere in the middle.

Over the many years I have been a fan of Doctor Who and Blake’s 7, there have been many lists and polls that have popped up.  I remember sometime long, long ago, I read a back issue of DWB, which featured a Top 52 pecking order of Blake’s 7 episodes.

Doctor Who also likes a good list.  The ‘Mighty 200’ from Doctor Who Magazine in 2009, is the one that still sticks in my mind.  Looking back, I’m so glad that they gave it a celebratory title, suggesting that even the least regarded episodes still have some kind of merit.  This means that your Underworld, Twin Dilemma, and Time Monster might have some hope yet. (The images below are a real DWM, and a tongue in cheek from Combom.)

I used to love these kinds of lists – they always felt like they had some gravitas and excitement to them.   But now they feel like the law of diminishing returns.  Or maybe I’m just getting curmudgeonly.   Over the years, as I’ve started to dig into the sheer effort it takes to make an episode – any episode, I’ve started to question whether there is such a thing as a good or bad example of Doctor Who or Blake’s 7, and try to look at each episode in its own context.  Instead of asking whether they are good or bad, perhaps I should ask myself do I like them or not, or how do I admire them – which are very different questions.  Very different ways of watching Blake’s 7.

I’ve been thinking more and more about this with the Doctor Who season box sets currently being released on blu-ray.  I’m a big fan of them – the proof of which is that I’ve once again parted with my pocket money.  The trailers too, are a great marketing method to whet the appetite!

We’ve opened with four generally well regarded seasons.  Season 12, 19, 18 and 10.  None of these seasons seem to have too many detractors, even if they straddle the realms of personal taste.  But it is clear that your seasons 11, 15, 22, or 24 are never going to be first off the shelf.  Many fans will look forward to the Hinchcliffe seasons, and why not – they are blooming marvellous.  But I’ve reached a point where I feel a weariness when talking about the ‘classics’ and, now I’m a bit older and more opinionated than I was, I’m interested in challenging myself to find something different to what I previously thought.  This is a hardly a revelation, and there much work out there in fandom, that seeks to challenge previously established opinion.

I’ve been thinking about my favourite eras of Doctor Who.  I find the John Wiles era of Who fascinating – a genuine attempt to shake things up a bit.  The creative tensions behind the screen become an interesting parallel to what was seen on-screen.  This era has some champions, but at the end of the day, he isn’t Verity Lambert.  It was a case of ‘follow that!’

Throughout this post, I’m making a ton of general assumptions, but apparently ‘everyone’ loves season 7.  It’s the first time Doctor Who has felt so grown up and contemporary.  It’s edgy and gritty.  I like it for its attempt to be something new.  As much as I love Inferno, I hold The Ambassadors of Death in the highest regard for the battle to get it to screen, and the sheer ‘now’ of it.

Not everyone appears to love Season 11 however.  I think it is transitional and forward thinking.  Sure Pertwee seems tired, but in fact it is a natural winding down, before the new boy steps in.  And the ideas on show are amazing; Sarah Jane, the phasing out of UNIT, Mike Yates, a Peladon sequel – yes an actual sequel, dark Dalek matter, and some deep philosophical statements on life, universe and everything.

I’m sure you have noticed this, but I’m a huge fan of the maligned Graham Williams era and his attempts to steer a series in the aftermath of a genuine Who related crisis, and also to navigate the challenges posed by George Lucas, the UK economy and by the BBC itself.  For this reason, not to mention an almost magical, free-thinking tone, I think season 15 is one of the genuine achievements – considering what it could have been.  I’ll be going full circle and talking about 1977 for Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 in my final post.

Over the years I’ve admired the BBC’s generally celebratory approach to discussing Doctor Who during the era of DVD special features.  I can’t think of any releases where I thought “well, they really put a downer on this story“.  But with the possible exception of some of Matthew Street’s lines of enquiry (I’m thinking of his Invasion of the Dinosaurs documentary in particular) there is nothing radical that challenges the previously established perceptions of seasons or stories.  I’m supposing that this is not what these extra features are trying to do.  The classics are identified as such, while the supposed ‘lesser’ stories often have a balanced assessment, and hint at the reputation that precedes them.

I’m guessing there is a commercial consideration here too.  ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ was more likely to finish the VHS video run, rather than start it.  Those first shiny DVD’s were always going to be ‘classics’ (Remembrance, Robots of Death, Tomb etc) – I’m guessing there would be a genuine risk in starting a range with Timelash, or The Krotons.  I guess it’s the same arguments that dictate which seasons are first off the blu-ray production machine – a season 23 box set is riskier for sales than season 14.

I’m sure that the wider documentaries featured in the new blu-ray releases will continue to be both celebratory and of high standard – we’ve genuinely been spoilt.  I’m liking the fact that the BBC are sometimes putting new perspectives on established opinion.  A good example is ‘A Weekend with Waterhouse’ where Toby Hadoke’s genial persona allows us to consider a fresh insight to a sometimes misunderstood figure.  This continues a trend of investigative style documentaries that started to surface towards the end of the DVD range.  The ‘Behind the Sofa’ features are also fun, and occasionally offer some fresh opinion.

These blu-rays feel like a natural evolution to the DVD range, but personally I would love to see the whole blu-ray approach as some kind of brave new world.  Hit that reset button.  Banish previous assumptions, and start again.    I would love to see a space where new arguments can be questioned, or new questions to be argued.  Maybe there will be a chance to challenge previously held beliefs that a certain era, or story is highly regarded or not.  Sadly time marches on, and those who were behind the camera – season 15 for example – are no longer with us.   I would love to see some seasons explored in a way that could potentially open a new era of appreciation, or rewrite previous reputations.  I would love to see these box sets written as though no one has ever watched Doctor Who before.  Perhaps we could see the series through fresh eyes, and build opinions as new.  It’s a great opportunity, although commercially I’m sure it would be too risky.

As far as blu-ray is concerned, I’m assuming Blake’s 7 won’t get this treatment, ether for now, or forever.  I hope I will be proved wrong.  But the commonly held myth that season D is a lesser beast than the Maloney produced seasons, is something that I have re-assessed during the writing of this blog.  On a personal level, I’m really delighted about this – it’s given my brain a kick up the arse.  Suddenly the 13 episodes have opened up some new and exciting avenues for me – yes, even ‘Animals’.  At the end of this blog series, I’d like to explore what has changed for me.  Perhaps I go through each episode and identify this.  Oh I know!  A list!   But not a pecking order.

When I first wrote about ‘Volcano’ I noted a list of my own, based on likes, dislikes, and overall fan perception.  It went something like this:

The ones that are perceived by some to be good.  Gambit – Rumours – Avalon – Star One.
The ones that I have a lot of time for.  Shadow – Moloch (sorry) – Deathwatch – Voice (yep.)
The ones that are perceived by some to be bad.  Animals – Stardrive – Time Squad – Dawn.
The ones that I don’t have time for.  Deliverance – Ultraworld – Assassin – Countdown.
Then there are the ‘MOR’ ones.  Horizon – Bounty – Games…and Volcano.

So here I am, sitting down with my previously held views, trying to work out why I felt that ‘Volcano’ was middle of the road, and importantly should I treat it as such.  I felt this was a good opportunity to see if anything has changed in my head, in the two years since I wrote this post.

Let’s take a look.

EPISODE DISCUSSION

We open with a masterfully montaged collection of archive footage.  I’m expecting to see the following words focusing into view. (I apologise to fans of only Blake’s 7, I am aware of a strong Doctor Who flavour to this post, up to this point).

But instead of seeing Jon Pertwee driving into an industrial complex, we see some kind of archive shot of a craggy terrain that looks like it’s been lifted from a Blue Peter summer expedition to Iceland.

Before we know it, we’re in Yorkshire.

This early sequence is a potpourri of sunny footage, cloudy footage, shouty footage, and stock footage.  But it’s quite a punchy start, throwing in short bursts of exposition, rather than long, rambling dialogue.  It’s a stop-start approach, and I quite like it, as it seems to try something different to longer lines of exposition, that need to be squeezed into an episode as early as possible. 

In these early exchanges, you can feel the characterisation of the newbies starting to form.  But it is not quite there yet.  Dayna asks Tarrant why he didn’t just stay up on the Liberator and leave this mission to her alone. Tarrant doesn’t really answer the question directly, he’s too busy trusting only himself.  

Now I may be wrong here, but those early scenes of Tarrant and Dayna shouting their way along the rocky landscape, are their first recorded contribution to the show.  I can’t help but watch that scene with this in mind.  I’m putting myself into the minds of Steven Pacey and Josette Simon as they commit to performing in character, with probably very little rehearsal due to this being a location shoot.  Perhaps that’s why they just seem ever so slightly different from the performances we are familiar with.  But I must point out that they both turn in excellent portrayals, establishing a chemistry between the two characters that is not based on mutual trust or any kind of deep connection – ala Blake and Jenna – but simply based on the fact that they are both very keen and active characters that work nicely together.  Perhaps the loss of deeper connections between characters is a good basis for the changed dynamics of the new Liberator crew who are currently less ‘together’ than the season A and B set up.  It’s a chance to start afresh.

Ah!  A classic convention – a zoom into a surveillance camera, and a Dudley Simpson ‘sting’ accompanying a cut to whoever it is doing the surveilling.  

In this case it is Michael Gough, and the son of Michael Gough.  And the robot of Michael Gough, who is doing a good line in robotic movements.  I hope his two blue lights don’t get too hot under that costume – jolly uncomfortable if it does.  This is, after all, decades before LED technology.  

So far, the way this episode is edited is curious.  I like curious.  It’s like the director is just trying a subtly different way to depicting the story. Something new.  A good example is how we jump to a close up of the robot, suggesting it might may a big part in the episode (it isn’t) and then a rather sweet long shot of just the two of them.  

Cally says “Heroic rescues can be embarrassing if you’re are not actually in danger.”  Oh, it must be so nice to self obsess about embarrassment now that the Federation are nothing more than a minor irritant.  

On the flight deck, I’m noticing the little methods used to open scenes.  Blake’s 7 is littered with them – usually involving a key character doing something in close up – but this one might be my favourite.  Avon appears to be holding the sole of a small shoe in his hand.  He presses a button on it, right in front of the camera, and it makes a cute little high pitched fart noise.  

Ah, the three of them.  The survivors.  

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Vila mentions the galactic war.  Tarrant later mentions that they are survivors of the galactic war.  Dayna mentions what the galactic war has ‘just’ demonstrated.  I’ve heard discussion that it is different to the intergalactic war.  But I’m still not sure.  This story is still grounded in the aftermath of ‘the’ war, so it could be the same thing.   Or the fact that they are talking about a planet that has deliberately been avoided by the Federation, could relate to an earlier war. 

I do wonder – with the uncertain start of this series – whether there was a chance to explore the aftermath of the intergalactic war a bit more.  Vila’s comment about some planets apparently resorting to cannibalism made me wonder about the fate of some of the worlds affected by Star One, and the subsequent battle.  I’m guessing that Palmero (mentioned in ‘Star One’) will never recover its crown as the Federations leading provider of tropical fruit.

Either way, it is a little frustrating that we don’t get a little more explanation, considering that the galactic war is referenced frequently during these final two seasons.  

Zen mentions Federation teletext.  

Blake is name checked.  He has become a rumour, much to an exasperated Avon.  But again, there isn’t quite enough for the audience to bite on.  After all it was established that Avon would take over following the destruction of Star One.  

There’s a nice little camera shot, which sweeps down to Tarrant and Dayna as they are knocked out by some kind of gas gas gas.   

OK, Avon is not looking at the sole of a shoe.  It is a hand mirror, and he is admiring himself in the reflection.  Fair enough, he knows he is a hit.

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As Dayna and Tarrant come to, in Hower’s base, I’m reminded of a frequent Blake’s 7 characteristic – fully formed sound design.  This atmosphere is particularly good, as Elizabeth Parker throws in hums, chirrupy control panel sounds, and a mechanical whirring, which I assume belongs to the robot.  

We’re around nine minutes in, and despite some inconsistencies in the wider details of Blake’s 7 – the need of a base, the war, and why Blake is being searched for – this episode is ticking over reasonably well.   But now we are reaching a more interesting point, as Hower reveals views about the advancement of technology.  At is at this point where Bershar cuts off the discussion abruptly, as he appears more preoccupied with the Liberator crew and their ship.  These questions and mysteries mean I’m properly interested in this episode.  

So Prior has thrown in some major curiosity for us.  But now it is time for a change…

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When Dudley Simpson, throws in some ominous, deep brassy notes, it has been – up to this point – accompanied by the familiar ‘FedSat’ satellite, AKA Federation Space Command.  But for this episode we see something different, when a fascinating, and somewhat organic looking craft flies into shot.  

Servalan waltzes into the interior of the ship.  It’s no longer white, with a rising and falling sonic tone and Jeremy Bear triangles adorned to the wall.  It is dark, shadowy, and full of clunky and chunky metal.  

We understand that Obsidian is of strategic importance to the Federation once more, and that Servalan’s main goal, now the dust has literally settled, is to acquire the Liberator.   I love the way she shows utter contempt to Commander Mori, by rather patronisingly explaining his mission.  

“You make it sound very simple, Madame President.”

“It is very simple.”

We quickly cut to a distinctive model of Obsidian, with what looks like the universe’s biggest mountain ranges.  

On the flight deck, there is a conference between the old guard.  In fact, watching this now, I’m realising that this is the first crisis meeting without Blake and Jenna.  So what has changed?  We get a hint that Avon purposefully didn’t mention to Cally about the fact that Zen picked up a signal from the surface.  Cally picks up on Avon’s hesitancy, and the conflict is clearly between them alone.  But this is frustratingly sidestepped by some Vila bashing, although fortunately, this is wonderfully played by all three actors.  

Back on the surface, there are more intriguing little moments, namely when Hower appears to either bite his lip in anger at Tarrant…or is prevented from being angry.  

I love how Michael Gough delivers the line “You still sound like one” in response to Tarrant’s confirmation that he was once a Federation space captain.  

There’s another nice little directorial touch as we get two profile shots of Hower and Bershar, with Tarrant in the middle.  

Is it me, or does Servalan just seem really pissed off in the scenes on her ship?  It’s like she is fed up with talking to second rate commanders, and heartless mutoids.  A good example is when she says “I’m going there aren’t I?

I love Servalan’s final command to Mori, once they get all his ambition stuff out in the open.  Careful at first, then you know what to do” – so meaningless as a command, and meaningless to the audience really.  

We’re a third of the way through the episode, and it is time for a bit of a shift in narrative.  Avon decides to teleport down to Obsidian, and Servalan also makes it onto the surface too.  

I like it when Blake’s 7 goes all handheld.  It’s like it is breaking free of the traditional stick-it-on-a-tripod method of shooting.  I also like it that it is a method used sparingly, meaning it has more impact.  In this case we follow Servalan and her troopers navigating their way across the terrain.

Another interesting little directorial touch is when Mori notices two figures advancing towards them.  Desmond McCarthy elects to take chunks out of time by having them fade in and out of shot as they reach Servalan’s party.  And there is a curious sound effect that accompanies them which completely throws me.  I like that.    

I am Milus.  And this is my brother Nutty.”  (Yes, I know that’s not his name really).

I love the following shot.  It is so Blake’s 7.  It’s summer in a beautiful part of the United Kingdom.  There’s optimism with the cast and crew that the next couple of weeks will be a lovely opportunity to enjoy the weather, while working hard on the film exteriors.  But quickly it dawns on everyone that Servalan has to take care not to get her glamorous costume dirty, and looking at the sky it looks not only cold, but like it is about to pour down with rain.  That’s showbiz.

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Alas Milus and his brother are dispatched in a typical Blake’s 7 manner.  And from a directorial point of view, the close up shots of them falling backwards are quite effective.

The brain of homo sapiens has developed too much for his animal to bear.  Dayna talks further with Hower, and they are discussing classic Allan Prior themes of human behaviour and society.  His episodes might not be my favourite examples of Blake’s 7 but they are certainly not superficial. 

Following the post about acting styles – see ‘Rescue‘, I’ve tried to adopt a very loose policy of not highlighting acting blunders or failings – after all, it’s down to the direction, time and pressure.  But I must confess to enjoying how Michael Gough keeps on going when he falters on the line “minute electric shock” – elongating three words into a three act play.  

We move into a typical mid episode lull, where the scenes are extended a little – Avon discovering the two dead bodies, Bershar showing Tarrant around, and Mori leading the troopers to the signal point.  

We reach the midpoint of the episode in suitable fashion, as a very pale Bershar leads Tarrant and Dayna into the hands of the Federation.  The traitor is revealed.  

As we go into the second half of the episode, there is a ramping up of action, as Servalan discusses tactics with her battle commander, who performs his lines with a slight delay, almost as though his scenes are pre-recorded in the same set as Servalan is currently in. 

The scene is set for battle.

Cally and Vila sense something is wrong, and typically have two differing ways of dealing with this.  Cally takes the time to consider, which is fatal when your compare it with Vila’s trigger happy brand of quick thinking.  Of course, this results in the teleporting of Mori onto the Liberator.  

The alarm is raised, but it is too late.  Even Cally’s drippy telepathic music can’t save the moment.  

But there is a twist, as Avon leads Mori on a tour of the flight deck as though he is an estate agent leading a victim through a house viewing.  

There is more action, but somehow this section of the episode feels curiously less involving than the first half of the episode.  We’ve seen these explosions and neutron blasters many times.  Avon has fun with the Federation troopers, before getting a shot in the arm from Mori, while Cally and Orac are shuffled off the ship.  Vila once again displays some quick thinking.  Not necessarily the right thinking, but thinking none the less.  

Servalan tells the Mutoid to put in a course for Space Command Headquarters.  So I like to think the satellite did survive the war, even though – bar a couple of brief shots in ‘The Harvest of Kairos’ – it doesn’t feature in Blake’s 7 for the rest of its lifespan.  

Servalan stops to think about the big picture, pondering Blake, the Liberator and the urgency of capturing it.  It’s a curious scene in how it is delivered.  We’ve not seen Servalan think aloud like this, and even the Mutoid seems to be both surprised by her words, and opinionated in her view of the rebels.  Of course, this seems to go against the notion of a Mutoid. 

And off Servalan flies, her voice echoing into the distance.  It’s as though she will not feature any further in this episode.  We’re moving into the final third of the story, so it seems likely she won’t. 

In the aftermath, it is down to Vila and Avon to debrief.  Naturally Vila is drunk, and Avon is damaged.  It is my favourite scene of the episode, as it reminds me of how polar opposite they are, which in turn reminds me why I love the moments where they do work together in various Robert Holmes scripts.  

In contrast there’s a pressure point on the Obsidian base, as Bershar reaches fever pitch, and Hower commands his Robi robot to end the life of his own son.  

As we move into the last quarter of the episode, all the talk moves to the vow that hangs over Obsidian, and a race against time to rescue Cally and Orac before it is put into action.  Tarrant makes a valiant attempt to get a definitive answer about the volcano and the radioactive fallout, but Hower reveals nothing more.  It’s another small, but frustrating note in an episode that I’ve found to be reasonably entertaining, but littered with little inconsistencies.  

Desmond McCarthy throws in a whopping deep zoom from a far away angle, and then there is more climbing.  

And there’s more tying up of hostages.  Come on Cally, where’s your fighting spirit gone?

Servalan does a three point turn, and the battle fleet return to Obsidian.  I really love the delivery of the Battle Commander, who starts off his scene with Servalan, looking rather disinterested, and then offers to destroy the Liberator with B-movie relish.  

They’re waiting by the rim, apparently.  

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Mori ends up in a warm bath in a death scene that reminds me of Travis falling down the well in ‘Star One’, which I much prefer – it’s quicker and nastier.  

We’re into the final two minutes, narratively speaking.  The Federation make their attack and the vow is put into place.  

The ending of the episode is typically Blake’s 7 – full of apparently witty one liners and a philosophical pay off.  All delightfully naff.  

Funny one this.

This episode, along with ‘Dawn of the Gods’, were the last two episodes I watched for the very first time.  The final VHS cassette purchased.  They seemed at the time to be one of the more forgotten entries.  It felt like less had been said about these two, in comparison to some of the bigger, more notable stories in other series.  Perhaps the lack of big set pieces in these episodes relegated them down the pecking order of desirability.

Perhaps the problem with ‘Volcano’ is that it is neither one thing or another. The early Liberator scenes feel like season C has started proper, following the two part introduction to the re-formatted series.  The action is split between the old and new. While the latest recruits explore the rocky terrain, we are treated to what feels like a confessional between the three characters who we have followed almost since the beginning. It’s like we are dropping in on their first real chance to have a chat with the old guard.  They make sense of Tarrant and Dayna, they discuss Blake (briefly) and fail to mention Jenna.  This is a significant point.  Forgetting Jenna on-screen clearly indicates a shift to a new series of situations, and the mention of Blake here, is the last time he will play a present part in the dialogue (after this he is mentioned retrospectively) until…well you know when… and then again after that.  This is perhaps a less successful element of season C.  Jenna needed more closure, and something more needed to be made of Blake’s absence, or alternatively, a clear indication that Blake is no more part of the series.

Some might argue that the unknown whereabouts of Blake simply added an extra layer of expectation for the established audience, and this would have worked had the scripts committed to this idea throughout the rest of the series.  However,  what we are left with is a half-hearted indication that the crew will search for Blake, and then the idea is forgotten from this point on.   As a result Avon’s character is at its least certain here, as he balances a reluctance in finding Blake with his new found leadership.  He has never stated that he is interested in any continued fight with the Federation as Blake was.

This is the problem that season C will face in its early stages.  It doesn’t seem to know where it is going.   Servalan seeks the Liberator, only to discard the idea later, dismissing the Liberator crew as merely petty criminals.  Tarrant and Dayna (who seem to be taking the lead here) are trying to secure a base for the group, perhaps at odds with the lack of a Federation threat, but again this search is something that disappears quite quickly into the series.  So whose strategy is this?  It doesn’t sound like Avon’s.

In fact, as Avon gets kitted up to rescue Tarrant and Dayna, it feels like Allan Prior is simply re-writing his earlier episode ‘Horizon’ as Blake and Jenna teleport to explore the possibility of securing a base, only for Avon to come and rescue them later.  And Vila’s relationship with drink is at the foreground again, as Prior likes to establish repeatedly.

There is some good stuff here, and the pacifist idea is interesting, and the devotion to creativity and creation is intriguing (trivia fans take note –  actor Russell Denton who played Milus, reportedly quit acting to become a gardener).  But there is nothing great, and some elements that prove to be a proverbial cul-de-sac.  When Tarrant asks about the nature of the nuclear device, Hower says ‘No more questions.’  I remember feeling frustrated by this.  I don’t demand answers to everything in drama, and the unexplained can often be an effective plot device (see ‘Sarcophagus’.)  But here there is nothing to be gained by not explaining the device.  And perhaps that’s the problem with this episode.  It doesn’t quite go far enough.

‘Volcano’ has much intrigue, and while it isn’t ever going to win any awards for innovation in the way it was written, Allan Prior does throw in enough to suggest that  while his episodes may not be highly regarded by many in Blake’s 7 fandom, he is an experienced scriptwriter who really thinks about his storylines.

Director Desmond McCarthy enters the fray, and he brings some interesting touches.  We have the location footage that makes good use of the landscape of northern England, and the camerawork is interesting at times.

Generally speaking, he is trying new things.

Shots of Almscliffe Crag and Greenhow Hill, Yorkshire, England.

The sound mix is muddy here, with the music and effect work being too high up in the mix, making the some of the dialogue not as easier to pick up as it could be.

The robot – I understand it even had name at one point (Robi) – is a cut price C3P0, whose movements are based on how robots are mimicked on something like ‘Give us a Clue’ or even worse, on the dance floor.  And then at other times, the movement is just a guy (actually, his name was Guy…Guy Hassan) just bumbling along a studio floor dreaming of bigger roles.

And has my perception changed?  On this occasion – yes.  ‘Volcano’ remains not a favourite, but one I admire much more than I did.  It is Blake’s 7 scrambling around in the dark, trying to rebuild itself from a previously successful formula.  Not everything is working just yet, but through the on-screen dynamics, the wider plot threads, and new blood in the directors chair, it is really trying hard.  So it’s right up there, this one!

Away from the script, I’ve been trying to put my finger on what prevents ‘Volcano’ from at least being a minor classic.  Watching it again, I’m thinking it might about something to do with the energy of the characters which the performers are translating.  I’m not criticising acting ability but more the direction and the script.  This means there’s something slightly charmless about a number of character depictions.  Servalan is moody, and come to think of it, her chief Mutoid seems equally brassed off.  Avon is his usual cold self, but he seems flat too, as though the idea of looking for Blake has meant that he has lost his fizz.  Tarrant and Dayna are enthusiastic, but I am still at a point where I’m not caring about their characters enough just yet.  Meanwhile Vila and Cally don’t bring anything more to their characters.   Bershar and Hower are well written, but they purposefully lack any stratospheric heights.  Mori needs to be more of a rogue than he is, meaning that I feel very little when we reach his signature death scene.    I think ‘Volcano’ is a touch too earnest for its own good.  It needs to be a little more O.T.T, with bigger bolder gestures.

Actor Judy Matheson, famous for her involvement in many a Hammer Horror film, appeared in the very first colour episode of Coronation Street, alongside Paul Darrow.

Malcom Bullivant, who apart from being the same name of different characters that appear in Steven Moffat dramas, is someone who switched from acting to casting director.  His name featured in the Independent newspaper once, in an article about a Spotlight database.

The Search Card is perfect for casting directors. Malcom Bullivant, for instance, who casts commercials, was rung up and asked to get hold of a dozen French-speaking scuba-divers. He was only given a day’s notice so he turned the job down. Two weeks later he bought the Spotlight CDs and realised his mistake. When he was asked to find actresses under 5ft for an Austrian commercial (it was a short women, tall men scenario) he pulled up the list in seconds. (1)

Ben Howard (Mori) was a regular in Dixon of Dock Green until 1976, but for me, I always get the shivers when I see him on the receiving end of a giant maggot in Doctor Who – The Green Death (1973).

Russell Denton appears to have appeared alongside Malcom Bullivant an obscure 1979 UK movie called Phoelix, and in a scattering of smaller roles throughout the 1970’s and 80’s.  Milus’ brother, Natin, was played by Tim Hindle, whose only credit would appear to be this episode.

Guy Hassan (the Robot) also appears from time to time here and there.  He makes a good stab of a speaking role in Testament of Youth (1979).  

Barbie Denham (the one who does the needle and thread work in the Obsidian base) appears to be an object of desire for middle aged comics, and has also appeared in both Star Wars and James Bond franchises.

There are plenty of other names within the supporting artist roles, but I would be here for days.

Oh, and it’s got Michael Gough in it.

MUSIC SCORE
This isn’t one of Dudley Simpson’s better episodes, as we are treated to lumbering deep brassy motifs, much of which is trombone heavy – hardly conveying the excitement quota of the episode.  It’s worth noting that this is, I think, the first time we hear Cally’s telepathic score, laden with violins, subtle synth, vibraphone, and tons of reverb. It is also the introduction of a new Federation motif for Servalan.

SET DESIGN

setvolcano
Pretty good.  OK, I’m not a fan of Servalans command set,  but there is a level of detail and texture in the Obsidian base, that suggests the world of creation that Hower mentions.  It is worth noting Gerry Scott’s contributions to the series here.  There are some intricate patterns and details to be seen.  BBC designer Jim Clay – the man responsible for ‘Terminal’ – noted ‘her finely crafted eye for detail, texture and her manipulation of space and light provided the reality and drama that allowed characters to unfold in the inspired worlds she created.’  The Obsidian base is one of the best, supported by both sympathetic and creative lighting by Brian Clemett.

I have to comment on Servalan’s new command set.  I’m not a fan.  Clunky and chunky metallic control panels compete with a horrid dark green background with decorative touches in the form of charts and maps.  This is made worse by the addition of a shrill and intrusive sound effect that often clashes with the dialogue in this, and the episodes that follow.  It’s a poor substitute for the simplicity of the space command sets in the first two series, which itself was a perfect counterpoint to the Liberator flight deck.

There are chairs.

This episode is the debut of the Tractor Chair designed by Rodney Kinsman, seen frequently in this season.

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 21.46.40

Hower’s ‘throne’ is a 1970’s Leather & Rattan Swivel lounge Chair by Gerard vd Berg for Montis.

Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 21.52.25

There are other chairs scattered around the base, but alas I can’t identify them.

HOW TO SELL THIS TO A NON BELIEVER?
It’s got Michael Gough in it.

MY FAVOURITE MOMENT
Avon’s resigned “Oh yes, now we’re here”  when discussing the rumour that Blake is on the planet.

THE MOMENT I’D RATHER FORGET
Mori’s death. It lingers too long.  Travis’s death was far better (and rapid) in Star One.

VERDICT IN 10 WORDS EXACTLY
It is worthy, and very much stuck in the middle.

(1) https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/one-click-for-dont-call-us-1590672.html
http://www.aveleyman.com/ActorCredit.aspx?ActorID=1879
https://www.lumixgexperience.panasonic.co.uk/gallery/lmsi80/almscliffe-crag/#.WJYck4XJWEI

https://www.theguardian.com/media/2007/may/12/broadcasting.guardianobituaries
http://coronationstreetupdates.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/exclusive-judy-matheson-on-working-with.html
http://www.combom.co.uk/2009_09_11_archive.html

 

 

  

 

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