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Cally. Help us, Cally. Help Auron.

Television

Blake’s 7
3.7: Children of Auron

 

Roger Parkes goes a considerable way towards redeeming himself for the slop that was Voice from the Past with his second script for the series, and newcomer Andrew Morgan shows promise as a director that never really fulfilled itself in his work on Doctor Who (but was evident in Knights of God, the 1987 TV series featuring Gareth Thomas).

That said, there are some serious issues with it that I will come to (and if anyone can make sense of the biggest plot hole I’d be interested to hear). There also appears to be considerable retconning of Auron going on, since the straight-edged, only recently telepathic society we’re introduced to doesn’t bear much resemblance to the quasi-mystical one, stretching into the distant past, that’s suggested by The Lost in The Web and the myths in Dawn of the Gods. Psychic abilities were a side-effect of the cloning process, we learn (although we’re never told why cloning has taken over from human reproduction) Also, Cally had previously referred to her mother and father so unless she had foster parents this doesn’t quite tie up with what we’ve been told.

The opening scenes feature Servalan, again front and centre on her Geigerseque spaceship, apparently still obsessing over the Liberator rather than concentrating on rebuilding her empire. Shouldn’t she at least be occupying a central base (Earth, for example) in order to provide an image of solidity? The shrewd, calculating persona of previous seasons has taken a serious knock in this one and while there’s some excellent character development in this story there’s also some very wobbly material.

Servalan gets two underlings to trade banter with this week, the senior being the terminally dull Captain Deral (Rio Fanning, Harker in The Horror of Fang Rock) and the balaclava-clad Ginka (played Ric Young – probably best known as Kao Kan in Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom).

Ginka’s a much more interesting character than Deral; insubordinate to him (as he believes Deral was unjustly promoted over him due to his connections) and quite willing to lie to his superiors if it suits his purposes. This also seems to be one of the few examples of ethnic diversity we’ve seen within the Federation thus far.

Servalan knocks out an Auron vessel with an ionic beam, which luckily renders its pilot, Michael Troughton of The New Statesman fame, incapable of telepathy. Troughton wears a silver inflatable buoyancy aid round his neck; presumably silver because he’s a space pilot.  Servalan then infects him with a deadly pathogen and sends him on his way home.

At least it initially looks as if Servalan may be up to something that doesn’t directly involve the Liberator. Of course, we are told later that this is part of her plan – which is a bit of a groan-inducing “Not again!” And then we find that including them really is incidental, in a surprising development that convinces just because it comes so out of left-field. It is curious that she sets up various reasons for taking the course of action she does; making an example of Auron, which has remained independent of the Federation is one such. Linking in  to her true objective she zeroes in on the need to acquire the skills of an Auron geneticist, Franton, now that the Clone Masters have been destroyed (this is not expanded upon, but I like the shout back to Weapon). The skill of “pure genetic replication” is now exclusive to Auron, it seems. I find this as unlikely as I found the hallowed role of the Clone Masters, to be honest. Why wouldn’t the Federation just take the technology by force (or infiltration – although that might be more difficult with a race of telepaths)?

As it turns out, Servalan really wants to ensure her own cloned progeny are produced at the Auron bio-replication plant. Wiping out an entire civilisation to facilitate your extended lineage is so extreme it’s actually one of the more believable plans pursued by Servalan (who has no doubt become conscious of her ticking biological clock).

Setting out its stall as a Cally-centric episode, she’s the first crew member we see. And we’re clumsily reminded that she’s from Auron by Parkes; who’d have thought that just after she’d talked about how she was exiled from her home planet she would pick up a telepathic message and the Liberator would receive a distress call from that very place?

The sudden mention of Avon’s nemesis the Shrinker is also rather clumsy. We are told that he is a Federation para-investigator and that Anna Grant was one of his victims. Avon has set course for Earth. Why this quest for revenge now, suddenly? A debate between Avon and Cally over the morality of seeking vengeance is struck up.

AvonThe trouble with the people of Auron is that they all suffer from a superiority complex.
VilaYou should get on well with them, then.

Avon’s contempt is well-portrayed here; “Neutrality or pacifism. It all boils down to the same gutless inanity.” Avon is outvoted over going to the aid of Auron; he is correct to be suspicious that this may be a trap, of course.

Of note concerning the rest of the crew; Tarrant is dressed as a cowboy, so the designers really are throwing any old crap at him from the costume department. Vila’s nursing a drink, an increasingly used prop for the character.

Auronian central control looks just like any other Earth colony, and is a bit of a come-down after the myth-building we’ve heard regarding Cally’s people. Indeed, the realisation that her generation is only telepathic due to genetic manipulation is as much of a puncturing of the mystical balloon built up concerning her as finding that level of the Force flowing through the Jedi can be scientifically measured in an individual’s Midichlorian count.

The banality of this bunch is only emphasised by the appearance of Ronald Leigh-Hunt (The Seeds of DeathRevenge of the Cybermen) as CA One. God, the man is dull. And shouty. He may or may not have a bit of thing going with CA Two (Beth Harris).

There are some very impressive shuddering jump cuts of the dying pilot in the shuttle, a sign that director Morgan is not approaching his work by-the-numbers. Good sound barrage too.  And the plague sores on Troughton are extremely nasty-looking. Of course, this is the second virus story the series has seen after Killer the previous season. This is by some distance the more effective one. Indeed, the sight of the dead Troughton leaking mustard from his mouth is rather gruesome.

On Auron, we learn that the disease is affecting the “children” of Auron and spreading; the older generation (CA One’s age group) remains immune as they were the only ones who had contact with other worlds (although, Troughton’s character is flying about the place so I’m not sure how much sense that makes), prior to Auron’s isolationist policy.

We are also introduced to Cally’s twin sister, Zelda. Maybe it was just the very fetching balaclava she wears throughout, but I found Chappell entirely convincing as Zelda, never doubting that she was playing a different character. It is Zelda who sends the telepathic message that her sister responds to.

Avon believes the crew is displaying “crass stupidity” in their approach. But this doesn’t stop him teleporting down with Tarrant, Dayna and Cally to the infected planet. It renders the decision not to dock the Liberator void, as Dayna immediately teleports back to the ship with the infected Patar.

There’s also a lucky lack of communication in terms of the Auronians omitting to inform the crew that a Federation ship has docked and that they are also assisting in helping the Auronians. It certainly assists the plot, but it makes for a certain level of ineptitude on the part of the crew that they didn’t take sufficient precautions to scan for a Federation presence before landing. On the other hand, Franton accurately suspects that the Federation infected the pilot.

It is Franton who receives the first medical treatment by the Federation, overseen by Ginka. And she is completely cured, but the Federation have put obstacles in the way of treatment (only six at a time may be processed and the Federation will only allow this on its ship).

We’re increasingly aware of the conflict between Deral and Ginka at this point, and this is well-portrayed. Indeed, it helps ensure that there is very little dead-weight to the episode; mostly that’s down to CA One.

Avon is very quick to hone in on the dubious aspects of how Troughton was infected, dismissing the suggestion that the disease was a result of the space war. But the assertion that the Liberator crew are now also infected doesn’t make sense if we are to assume that the diagnostic analyses by both Orac and Auronian scientists were correct. Servalan and the Federation troops weren’t infected, neither were the crumbly Auronians. So why would the Liberator crew, who should be in exactly the same situation immunity-wise, succumb (although, might Cally become infected if she did not build up a resistance in during her time away from Auron)? This is the plot hole that really damages the integrity of the story. There are minor niggles and then there’s whacking great flaws you could drive a truck through. This is definitely in the latter camp.

Vila provides a bit of comic relief, attempting to protect himself from infection by wearing a space helmet.

Dudley Simpson, clearly not having got over scoring The Talons of Weng-Chiang, uses a highly inappropriate gong to announce the reveal of Ginka in Control (taking Avon, Tarrant and Cally prisoner not long after Dayna has teleported back to the ship).  It’s a real “Lin Futu” moment.

On the Liberator, Patar reveals that the Federation are present on Auron at about the same time Avon and co find out down below. This initiates a rather amusing exchange between Servalan and Vila (their second this season, after Powerplay) in which she attempts to persuade him that she has always had some degree of personal regard for him and that if she lets him aboard she will make him governor of Earth.

That Vila needs telling by Dayna that this is bullshit means that Parkes’ reverts the character to type after his balance was redressed in the previous story. It also seems a little silly to announce to Servalan that she’s been tricked after Deral is teleported aboard and quickly captured. Couldn’t they have tried to play out the deceit a little longer? As Servalan observes, she has three hostages to their one. Given this, it’s fortunate that Deral is willing to play ball and tell them about what Servalan’s been up to in the bio-replication plant (she commandeered a gestation unit for her monstrous spawn, demanding the use of it in return for inducting resistance to the disease into the genetic stock that Franton and Zelda are prepping for evacuation).

Indeed, fortunate too that Franton is able to lead the escaped Avon and co to the replication plant. It’s a relief that, by this point, Ronald Leigh-Hunt has been shot off screen. His last exchange with Servalan is memorable:

CA OneWhy have you brought this on us? I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe that anyone can be so …
ServalanSuccessful? Well now you know.

Ginka’s deception of Servalan, telling her that Deral replaced Servalan’s cells with his own, in order to get the go ahead to bomb the replication plant is a surprising twist (it made me question whether Deral actually did that for a moment), and Servalan’s psychic pain as her foetuses die is a superbly performed moment by Pearce.  A very rare instance where she drops her veneer and displays vulnerability.

So powerful is this, that it completely overshadows Cally’s loss of her sister; everyone else, Franton and the gene stocks included, teleports back to the Liberator but Zelda remains behind to adjust the nutrient flow to the foetuses.

It’s a needless sacrifice (as Avon says, “They’re going to die anyway”). Avon, Tarrant and Cally are looking fairly sickly by this point. Tarrant, in particular, has some virulent sores on his pasty face.

Morgan stages the death of Ginka very effectively; Servalan presses a button and he writhes in agony, his head becoming a red CSO ball. Deral meets the same fate, but off-screen, when he is teleported back to Servalan.

The final scene is firstly peculiar, and then risible. We are told that the Liberator is setting course for Kahn, where Franton and Pater will found a new Auron colony with the gene stocks (perhaps the Sisterhood could lend a hand – how many Karns can there be?)  No mention is made of the fate of Auron. Presumably everyone under a certain age is destined to die; Servalan will have no interest in helping them now, and we’re not told that Orac has passed on the cure to help the rest of the Aurons on the planet. Indeed, one might have expected the Liberator to stick around and help out (although the presence of the Federation might work against that).

The risible part of the scene is a laugh-about the like of which we haven’t seen since Breakdown. Avon makes a crack about not wanting to look after a nursery of 5,000 and everyone dissolves into hoots of mirth amidst their drinks and nibbles. While Cally, presumably, is mourning the fate of her sister and planet into her pillow. It’s a real stinker and so utterly inappropriate to the preceding fifty minutes you have to wonder who was on what when it was kept in the final cut.

A tense and poignant episode, but let down by some illogical plotting and a terrible final gag. Jacqueline Pearce, in particularly, has probably her best scene in the entire series (certainly to date) and Jan Chappell is very effective in dual roles that finally give Cally a storyline of substance.

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