1.3: Cygnus Alpha
Well, the quality couldn’t last. Vere Lorrimer does a solid job directing this one, and the night shooting adds atmosphere in spades. Unfortunately the religious cult on a prison planet just isn’t that interesting (notably, big Brian Blessed was about the only well-known British thesp who wasn’t cast in the similarly themed Alien³).
It’s Who-central from the off with lovely lovely lovely Kara (Pamela Salem – The Robots of Death and Remembrance of the Daleks) and the Caber, I mean Laran (Robert Russell, Terror of the Zygons) noting the incoming London. Which reuses a shot from Space Fall (the spinning object is a planet, clearly one with an unhealthy speed of rotation).
The length of journey issues in this story don’t bear much analysis. It’s now four months since the events of Space Fall, and poor old Leylan has clearly been affected badly by what went down. But he’s only now sending his report? Useful for the wayward viewer, but a bit slack otherwise.
So… On the Liberator how much time has passed? They’ve not done much investigating, as they’re only now discovering the hand guns (“single function isomorphic response” smartarse Avon advises), G-force inducing “negative hyperspace” (whatever that is) and, lo and behold, Zen (Jenna seemed to very much enjoy having her mind probed). Presumably Zen only calls himself Zen for his own amusement at the expense of the Terran plebs. Well, I hope so. The extended discussion on computer sentience and Avon’s desire to turn the screws to make Zen talk is entertaining enough (far more so than the later Cygnus Alpha scenes), but giving Zen co-ordinates for the planet (at standard speed, which is obviously very quick compared to the London) exposes how ill-thought out the timeframes are. It’s amusing that Avon spends most of these scenes armed, almost nonchalantly so.
Poor old Leylan really is depressed, refusing to allow Artix to stretch his legs and letting his thoughts replay the report he sent. It’s quite sad; a man with no recourse other than to accept the situation he’s been involved in. And we never find out what happens to him.
The discovery of the transporter area is just another example of Nation loading up goodies for the motley rebels. It’s clear from discussions (aquetar?) that the Federation is far from such technology. Blake and Avon were both involved in the project (small world).
Jenna: I didn’t work on it.
Avon’s (unscripted?) look in response is pricelessly dismissive.
Nation/Boucher establish a nascent crew dynamic as we see Zen being, er Zen (“Wisdom must be gathered. It cannot be given”), Avon’s instant belligerence in response and Jenna’s amusement.
On Cygnus Alpha, Arco (Peter (“I aven’t got strength to lift a toby!” Childs from Mark of the Rani) doesn’t much care for Vila’s sour humour, but Keating is served some choice quips:
Arco: What’s that smell?
Selman: It’s like something rotting.
Vila: Dinner probably.
Unfortunately, none of the business with the cult is very intriguing. But Blake’s run around on the planet is energetically involving because there are other factors at play (will the transporter work, will the hoodies get him) and Jenna’s hug on his return is further indication that she has a thing for him.
Meanwhile, line of the episode goes to Vila:
Gan: It’s a building.
Gan: What do you think it is?
Vila: The architectural style is early maniac.
I don’t blame Gan for being instantly smitten by Pamela Salem, or Vila saying what everyone else is thinking (“I like God’s taste in servants”) but it doesn’t exactly dial up the tension.
Brian Blessed. Wearing trainers. Nice white trainers too. He’s always tearing a chunk out of the scenery is Brian, and this is no exception. The whole Curse of Cygnus bit is rather laboured (SURPRISE: It’s not real!)
As noted earlier, the Liberator sequences are far more interesting in this episode, with Avon overtly expressing his disinterest in his fellows throughout (first at spurious gunpoint, then telling Jenna she is on his list to get rid of after Blake). This exchange is interesting:
Jenna: Would you kill someone? Face-to-face?
Avon: I don’t know, could you?
Jenna: There’s one sure way to find out.
For starters, it suggests neither have (though Avon would be unlikely to admit it anyway). Secondly, is Jenna suggesting she’d kill Avon if he did the nasty to Blake? Notably, it’s Vila’s who has killed someone by episode’s end (but stabbed in the back).
Blake’s further planet-bound encounters, with Gan & co, then Vargas (Blessed), don’t muster up much vitality. We learn that the transporter bracelets are of dreadful workmanship if Blessed can break them in his hands. Brian is predictably loud. THIS IS WHAT GIVES ME THE RIGHT TO RULE. POWER! THEY WORKED HARD! Etc.
The best scene in the episode follows Avon’s return from the “treasure” room (he and Jenna have also changed into different clobber). There’s millions in there, almost as much as in the Federation banking system. His persuasive tone with Jenna is entirely understandable. They could leave now, buy their own planet.
Jenna: What about Blake?
Avon: What about him?
What follows is remarkably accurate in predicting the fate of Blake’s gang. Avon labels him a crusader, “He’ll look upon all this as just one more weapon to use against the Federation. And he can’t win. You know he can’t win. What do you want to be? Rich or dead?” Jenna ultimately gives Blake an hour, but it’s canny to set the stakes so overtly like this so early. Canny to give rein to a character such as Avon who you can see forming his own life before the eyes of Boucher and Nation, likely beyond anything they initially envisaged.
There are some reasonably energetic fight sequences following Blake persuading Gan and co to rebel (Gan is laid on a slab, but it’s a set up, thanks to handy hoodies) Of note is that David Jackson does a convincing impression of a horse and poor Pammy gets stabbed. Vila (convincingly shocked) saves Blake by stabbing a hoodie.
The various altercations end when Vargas, Gan, Vila and Blake are transported to the Liberator, Vargas foolishly manages to get himself transported (and exploded) into space. In his nice white trainers. This answers Jenna and Avon’s hypothetical earlier conversation about transporter range, at any rate. These weren’t the best of parts for either Salem (covered up) or Blessed (he doesn’t beg for nuance but his role was particularly was one-note).
And so we end with the Liberator pursued by Federation ships, which will become something of a stock device.
Story-wise, it’s a bit of a duffer. We’re engaged by the discovery of functioning of the teleport and the capacities of the Liberator. But Cygnus Alpha, despite Blessed and Salem, is atmospheric yet boring. Nevertheless, by the time the credits roll Blake has a crew of four. And Zen. The Liberator too, if we’re being generous. So Blake’s 6. He needs another.