On an unnamed ice planet Travis and his Mutoid accomplice (who looks strangely familiar) meet with a member of the local rebel group, working under a famed leader named Avalon. This man is a traitor. It becomes apparent that Blake is on his way to pick up Avalon and Travis wants to use this as an opportunity to both kill Blake, but also capture the Liberator.

Oblivious to Travis’ machinations (as always) Blake and co find out what they can about their destination, there’s a smidgen of world building as it appears the planet is heading for its winter. The Long cold, which is well named as it lasts over eight years. Zen is asked if the planet supports intelligent life, never one to miss an opportunity Avon asks, “Does the Liberator?” We also learn that Jenna has met Avalon before.

Meanwhile in the caves below the surface Travis and Soolin…er I mean his Mutoids, have surrounded Avalon’s group and we discover that Avalon is—shock!—a woman! After she’s taken into custody, we get another early evening massacre as the Mutoids gun down the entire (unarmed) resistance cell, including the guy who betrayed them. Karma and all that. Before leaving, Travis ensures the homing beacon leading Blake in remains active.

After checking their suit’s heating elements are on Blake and Jenna teleport down to find Avalon, instead finding only dead bodies, and a sole survivor.

Travis and Avalon have a not so pleasant conversation, meanwhile Blake has a plan to save Avalon, what he doesn’t realise is that saving Avalon will play into the hands of Travis, who has an exceptionally convoluted plan that involves biological weapons and a ridiculously sophisticated android….

Vila: “I’ve got a weak chest.”

Avon: “The rest of you isn’t that impressive.”

That exchange alone is worth the price of admission, though Project Avalon is another episode I didn’t have hugely fond memories of, there is a lot to enjoy. Another cunning plan of Travis that fails miserably as Blake outwits him yet again, some gunplay during the rescue which sees Jenna go in guns blazing (though I’m not sure she hits anyone) some Avon sass and some Vila cowardice. Oh and Jacqueline Pearce swans into the Federation base, drops her fur coat on the floor and firmly cements her place as the show’s big bad. Sorry Travis, but it was never going to be you.

In fairness to Travis there is an interesting exchange where it becomes clear that the Administration’s insistence that he take the Liberator intact is somewhat tying his hands. I don’t think Servalan is buying this however, although she shows some loyalty to her man, even if she makes it clear that she’s only there to take the credit if the plan succeeds.

Spoiler alert. Travis’s plan doesn’t succeed.

Julia Vidler doesn’t quite convince as a great military leader, but having her lie half naked while Travis smugly pontificates at her doesn’t help, and takes away some of the points the show gets for being progressive enough to show a female revolutionary leader. She does get something of a Princess Leia moment when she talks about thirty planets breaking away from the Federation. Travis almost seems to accept the Federation may fall eventually which is surprisingly self-aware of him.

This is primarily a Blake and Jenna episode, knowing what’s coming for Ms Stannis I’ll take having her front and centre whenever I can. Vila gets some moments too, even if he is mainly relegated to opening doors and providing the comic relief by turning his suit’s thermostat up to incinerate. He gets more to do than the other three at least, Gan is outfought by an android which Avon then gets to reprogram and Cally? Well I’m sure she does something. The android really is a ludicrous concept, and if the Federation can produce something that convincing you wonder why there aren’t more of them running about?

Talking of robots our old friend the security robot makes a reappearance, as does the crazy visual Walkman, this time it’s Jacqui’s turn to look silly. Slipping the, with the best will in the word clunky, security robot back in again just serves to make the flawless android seem even more ridiculous. The biological weapon test is suitably gruesome, however.

Blake wins again, and this time you think maybe Travis has had his last chance, Servalan certainly seems to suggest so.

The only thing I don’t get is why Travis doesn’t kill Blake at the end, to hell with unleashing the virus, you’d think he’d die a happy man knowing he’d put Blake out of his (Travis’) misery first? I guess his training kicked in and he was protecting his Supreme Commander, that’s the only thing that makes sense.

It is a real shame about Travis, each time we see him he’s initially portrayed as a ruthless officer and a tactical genius but by the end of the episode he’s an easily outwitted fool. It doesn’t have to be this way of course, Servalan will be thwarted numerous times over the years yet somehow never feels like a failure.

And talking of the Supreme Commander, while I docked the show some points for the way it treats Avalon, they get way more points back for giving us such a wonderful female villain, though much of that is of course down to Jacqueline Pearce’s performance. I try not to fall into the trap of ‘actor-X is the only person who could play character-Y’ but I do think few could have walked the tightrope between camp and menace as surely as Pearce did.

Anyway, a decent episode that rattles along at a good pace, and while it’s never going to trouble my top ten list, there are much worse episodes out there. Talking of which, I suspect Gan might be getting some headaches…

On a desolate alien planet two women, the younger Sinofar and the elderly Giroc, watch lights in the sky. They discuss the lights and Sinofar says it isn’t clear that the ships will come their way, or that this planet will be their battle ground. It seems they may be the last of their race and act as some kind of guardians. Sinofar is resigned to her fate and seems to be almost proud of the responsibility, while Giroc is petulant; she didn’t ask for the responsibility.

In space it becomes clear that some of those lights are federation pursuit ships where Travis and his Mutoid crew are stalking Liberator. Blake sees Sinofar’s planet as a handy hiding place to rest up and recharge their energy banks, unaware Travis is closing.

Back on Pursuit 1 Travis is irked when his Mutoid pilot ingests some blood serum, which is seems all Mutoids must do at regular points, leading some to call them vampires.  Travis isn’t squeamish but he does have a space battle to win!

Blissfully unaware that old eyepatch is on the way, Blake, Jenna and Gan teleport down to find nothing but a giant graveyard. Not for the first time Gan spots a beautiful woman no one else sees, but there’s nothing imaginary about the pursuit ships Blake sees in the sky.

After waking up Vila (not only asleep at his post but he’d even taken his shoes off!) they’re teleported back aboard ship and battle is joined. Travis has them outnumbered and tactically outgunned. Blake has a desperate plan, but it involves ramming Travis’ ship! The leads to a great interaction between Blake and Avon when Roj asks Kerr if he agrees. “Do I have a choice?” asks Avon. “Yes.” “Then I agree.” It’s a lovely moment demonstrating the grudging respect the two men are developing.

Blake enacts his plan, but before impact time slows and suddenly Blake and Travis are down on the surface, summoned by Sinofar and Giroc who explain their race destroyed itself and now they want Blake and Travis to learn the lesson of the futility of war by, er, checks notes, fighting each other to the death. There’s just one more thing, the death of an enemy is only half the lesson, there’s also the death of a friend…

The hero battling an enemy with only his wits and a pointy stick is, of course, a well-worn trope, just think back to Kirk vs the Gorn in Star Trek, and here it comes again, Blakes 7 style and we get a more than solid entry into the series that again highlights the differences between Blake and Travis.

Before we get to mano-a-mano (and smuggler-a-mutoid) we have Blakes 7’s first space battle, and it’s a doozy, exceptionally well done on a limited budget, and much like Trek’s Balance of Terror it’s played very much like submarine combat from World War 2. Travis’s tactics are effective, though treating two ships as expendable highlights, yet again, how coldblooded he is. The only slight niggle I have is that when Sinofar freezes the ships, the Pursuit ship seems hugely out of scale. I don’t believe Pursuit Ships are equal in size to Liberator.

Though obviously a set, the location where our characters interact with the two aliens is nicely done, there’s an eerie, desolate feel to it and the statutes/gravestones depicting a figure breaking a weapon in half are a really nice touch.

That said it’s probably for the best that the actual battle takes place on location in a forest. There’s nothing especially original about the combat and the time leading up to it. Lots of spear sharpening and campfires, ambushes and traps, but it’s handled well.

Despite being trussed up like a turkey Jenna at least gets some nice interactions with Blake, the rest of the cast are less well served as they watch the battle remotely. This could have worked but they’re not given much of interest to say, bar two examples. The first is that it’s nice to see Cally appraising Blake’s actions with a cool, tactical eye. The second is Darrow’s delivery of the line; “I’ve never understood why it should be necessary to become irrational to prove you care, or why it should be necessary to prove it at all.”  You know, I think he may have a heart after all…

On the other side of the divide the interactions between Travis and his Mutoid pilot are quite chilling. At times Grief almost imbues Travis with a warped sense of honour, but not here and the way he taunts her with her real name is almost as terrifying as the realisation that Mutoids were all people whose memories were wiped. He doesn’t go into details but says enough to add to the creepiness. Blakes 7 has rarely been quite so unsettling. It’s shame Mutoids are never looked at in as much detail again, and Carol Royle does a great job in the role.

Sinofar and Giroc make for interesting characters as well, once you set aside the logic of seemingly immortal beings who live just to make others fight in the hopes they’ll learn some lesson or other. Isla Blair is lovely and ethereal (though the outfit is, ahem, a little distracting) and Patsy Smart at times appears to be having a ball as the bloodthirsty Giroc.

For a show that at times has felt like Dr Who, for perhaps the first time it feels a little more like Star Trek. It’s a solid episode though, with good performances and some eerie sets and music. The outcome is fairly predictable, and relies on Travis making a huge tactical error, but Blake’s rationale for not killing Travis is a nice bit of reasoning. Do we learn anything new about any of the characters or do they grow in any way? No, but it’s diverting all the same.

Anyway, turn you suit heaters up to maximum. It’s about to get a mite chilly….    

Directed by Peyton Reed. Starring Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly Jonathan Majors, Kathryn Newton, Michelle Pfeiffer, Corey Stoll and Michael Douglas.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Earth, Ant-Man Scott Lang (Rudd) is feted as a hero and celebrity. He’s written a bestselling book and everyone wants his autograph or a selfie. He’s happy living with his girlfriend Hope Van Dyne (Lily) or Wasp as she’s also known. His only problem is his grown up daughter Callie (Newton) who’s been arrested during a protest and who wants him to star helping people again.

 While visiting Hope’s parents, Hank Pym (Douglas) and Janet Van Dyne (Pfeiffer) Scott discovers that Cassie has been working on a device to allow them to view the Quantum Realm. Upon learning this Janet, who’d been trapped for decades in the Quantum Realm, becomes anxious and turns off the device. It’s too late, the message Cassie sent got through and now all five of them have been pulled into the Quantum Realm.

The group are split up, but soon learn that the people of the Quantum Realm are being ruled over by a despotic overlord. Can Ant-Man, Wasp and the others help overthrow Kang the Conquer (Majors) and more importantly can they all get home?

I’m not sure whether I’m getting a little fatigued with the MCU, or whether its quality has dropped off, but I’m not feeling it the way I used to. Quantumania is a perfectly diverting film, but it’s average at best and given this is supposed to be the film that launches Phase 5, you have to be concerned about what’s coming next.

The biggest problem with the film is relocating Ant-Man to the Quantum Realm. The main selling point of the Ant-Man and Wasp characters has always been their interaction with the real world and how they relate to it, either in tiny mode, or in giant mode. Consider the finale to the first film which saw a battle take place, not across a city, but in a little girl’s bedroom. It’s fun to see Scott almost taken out by a Thomas the Tank Engine toy that looks like a life sized train from his miniaturised perspective, and both films are chock full of such fun.

Quantumania denies us this USP, instead we’re faced with a generic alien world that feels like a knock off version of the garbage planet in Thor: Ragnarök, even down to giving us a knock off version of Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster in the form of Bill Murray.

The cast do their best. Rudd’s natural charm goes along way (just not far enough) and it’s always good to see Pfeiffer and Douglas. In particular Pfeiffer gets a decent amount to do, unlike Lily whose Wasp seems short-changed, and it feels like maybe some of her role has shifted onto a re-casted Callie. Newton is fine but it’s hard to see this as the same character from the first two films.

The one redeeming feature is Majors as Kang, who walks a fine line between charm and menace with aplomb. Given he’s the big bad of Phase 5 this does give me hope, though I can’t help feeling that multiverse versions of him risk diluting his impact.

Corey Stoll is interesting, returning from the first film only in a radically different form as M.O.D.O.K. who is, to say the least, an odd character!

What’s interesting about the cast is who isn’t here. Much as taking Ant-Man and Wasp out of the real world makes them less interesting, the loss of  Michael Peña’s Luis, and his crew, dents the film as well. Sure, he wasn’t a major character but he, and his associates, were such a joy. None of the residents of the Quantum Realm come anywhere near close to being as interesting.

There are weird and wonderful inhabitants of the Quantum Realm, and lots of CGI thrown at the screen, yet it all feels bland and by the numbers, and people taking their masks off every ten seconds becomes a trifle annoying. The first third is terribly edited, and while it does settle down somewhat, it isn’t enough to salvage it as anything beyond mid-tier MCU (and that’s being generous).

(Seen in February)

When a new law is proposed limiting individuals to only 140 words a day, musician Oliver (Turner) and lawyer Bernadette (Coleman) have differing views. They’re still in the early days of their relationship, and while Oliver is angry and vehemently against the proposed bill, Bernadette is more pragmatic, and doesn’t think the ‘Hush Bill’ will pass.

When it does it will have a profound impact on their relationship. 

“You’re going to speak more than 123 million words in your lifetime. What will you do when they run out?”

Something a little different as I haven’t seen much live theatre, but I made the effort because I’m a fan of Ms Coleman and I’m glad I did because I enjoyed this a lot. There’s no expansive set design, no wild costumes or huge cast, just two actors on stage talking for around 85 minutes and it worked really well.

Sure you have to accept the preposterous notion of a law limiting each person to 140 words a day (how could this remotely be enforced?) but once you accept the premise what you’re left with is an interesting two hander that tackles love and communication, and questions whether love can survive when our ability to communicate is curtailed.

I was lucky enough to have a front row seat and have to say both Coleman and Turner were fantastic. The story is nonlinear, bouncing back and forth between pre and post the Hush Law, which gives us the opportunity to see how Oliver and Bernadette’s relationship began, and thrived before their word count was cut short. It’s testament to both the script and the performances that I think there was only one moment where I was confused over which time period we were in.

Bernadette and Oliver are polar opposites. She’s the working class girl made good, he’s the son of wealthy parents (mention is made of growing up in a castle) who’s gravitated towards a life in the arts. He’s all anger and passion, she’s all calm logic yet each of them transcends stereotypes.

The story itself was written before Brexit, yet it feels like it’s a story about Brexit—the scene where they watch the result of the vote on television felt awfully familiar. It could equally be about freedom of speech however, but at its heart this is a romance not a political diatribe however, and it’s sweet and funny and heart-breaking, and if anything, the thing it most reminded me of was Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, another tale that used a fantastical premise to explore the realities of romance. 

Turner is much funnier than I’d taken him for having only seen him in very serious roles, but for me its Coleman who shoulders much of the heartbreak and I was close enough to see her tears.

Highly recommended if you get the chance to see it, and it definitely shows the benefits of steeping outside one’s comfort zone every once in a while.

We’re on a spaceship. The pilot is a handsome chap who’ll go on to play the lovely Mr Hopwood in Grange Hill before becoming an evil serial killer in Corrie, but right now he’s just our first victim as someone comes onto the flightdeck and lamps him one!

Meanwhile on Liberator Jenna has spotted the ship, which seems to be locked into a circular flight path. “That ship’s in trouble. It’s the only thing that makes sense,” says the smuggler who just a few episodes ago in Time Squad was wary of ships that appear to be in distress because it’s a known pirate tactic! Given the same man wrote every episode of this first series you’d expect some consistency!

Blake, Avon and Cally teleport over to the ship and find the crew unconscious. There’s also an odd smell. They split up, with Avon heading for the engine room on his own (cue a great line and a great Darrow delivery “It’s very quiet here, if it should get noisy, I’ll be in touch.”

When Blake and Cally start getting drowsy Blake puts two and two together and realises there’s sonovapour in the air which put everyone to sleep. After turning off the vent in the room they’re in which perks them up, Blake goes off to find Avon and they turn off the gas at the source. Meanwhile Cally’s found the pilot, and discovered that he’s only gone and scrawled a message in his own blood with his dying breath. Cally assumes it’s a random series of numbers, and though I know it isn’t just numbers, it still looks very obvious!

Soon the crew is awake and being decidedly catty with one another. There’s a definite Robots of Death feel to the crew (only not quite as good but then in Who Boucher did have twice as long to flesh them out.)

A crewmember is missing and a life rocket has been launched, which suggests the murderer has legged it. The leader, Kendall, then shows Blake the cargo they’re carrying, a neutrotope needed to help them recover from a fungal infestation and a global famine on their planet of Destiny (a planet outside the Federation). It doesn’t look like much but as Kendall explains, it’s very expensive. Quite a motive for murder.

With the ship, the Ortega, badly damaged it will take them five months to get back to Destiny at sublight speeds (which suggests they aren’t that far away but guessing Nation threw terms like this around without necessarily fully comprehending what they meant) which will see them lose another growing season. Blake offers a solution, Cally and Avon will stay on the Ortega to help with repairs (and act as hostages) while Liberator delivers the neutrotope to Destiny in a matter of days before coming back to pick up Avon and Cally. There’s a vote and the decision is to trust Blake. Interestingly the person eventually revealed as the killer votes in favour of Blake which is a nice misdirect.

Now really this doesn’t make a lot of sense. Why doesn’t Blake just take the whole crew and the neutrotope to Destiny, abandoning the Ortega? Maybe it’s Destiny’s only ship, but there’s nothing in dialogue to suggest this, or that it’s important enough not to abandon.

Setting this glaring plot hole aside, there’s a lot to like about Mission to Destiny and it’s always been one of my guilty pleasure episodes, maybe it’s the Agatha Christie vibe, or because it’s the first time Cally and Avon spend a lot of time together, and they bounce of each other very well. This is still one of my favourites interchanges:

“My people have a saying. A man who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken.”

“Life expectancy must be fairly short amongst your people.”

Cally genuinely wants to help, Avon agrees to stay purely because he doesn’t like an unsolved mystery. That’s very on brand for both of them.

The mystery itself isn’t anything ground-breaking, but everyone throws themselves into looking and acting as suspicious as they possibly can so if you don’t know, you might suspect anyone.

Cally skulks around the ship. Cue her seeing Mandrian checking out Sara’s handbag (which is in the worst hiding place ever, under a mattress but it’s so bulky that the mattress sticks up in the air.) Cally checks on what he found and discovers a small box with a flashing light on it. She pockets it and then proceeds to forget she has it until later!

Things get curiouser when the body of Dortmann (played by Stuart Fell, the wonderfully named stunt coordinator all through the series) the man they thought had scarpered, is found by Cally and a very creepy Sonheim. “You’re an attractive girl.” Yuk!

Meanwhile Liberator has to fly through a giant asteroid field to get to Destiny. Despite protests from one crew member (guess who) Blakes decides not to go around. Cue a very bumpy ride.

Avon’s Poirot impression is fun, shame he has to be the detective and Cally his assistant (not for the first time there’s a very clear Dr Who feel here).

Another murder, Mandrian dead with Sonheim standing over him with a bloody knife, which as everyone knows immediately makes him innocent, but Avon clears him anyway by pointing out that the sabotage Mandrian chanced upon required a laser saw, so if Sonheim killed him, where’s the saw?

Avon has now figured out the numbers. And we get another great line. “Rafford was dying, it’s difficult to be neat in those circumstances.” He smugly reveals that the numbers are letters, and they equate to SARA! Rather foolishly everyone has their back turned to Sara when they discover this, giving her chance to pull a gun and make a run for the cockpit.

Meanwhile on Liberator the turbulence causes the neutrotope box to fall and when checking if it’s ok Blake discovers it’s missing and Sara’s plan becomes clear.

With Sara’s co-accomplices on the way, Avon and Cally come up with a cunning plan to trick her out of the cockpit, after which Avon gets a tad violent by punching her out, compounding this violence towards women by saying “I really rather enjoyed that.” I feel guilty for always laughing at this!

Liberator arrives in the nick of time to rescue everyone except Sara who stays behind and dies when the pirate ship docks, thanks to an explosive left on the docking hatch!

And in the end Blake takes everyone to Destiny, I mean he could have just done that in the first place and saved time and lives! This aside the story on the surface is another, like the Web, that takes Liberator away from the battle with the Federation and doesn’t advance the ongoing story. Watching it again I have a different interpretation. Firstly, unlike The Web this is an enjoyable story. Secondly Destiny’s problems do seem related to the Federation.

What if the Federation caused the fungus? Kendall makes it clear the Federation would love nothing more than to make Destiny a member. Even if the Federation isn’t behind the fungus, the effects were likely to leave Destiny no choice but to join if they lost the neutrotope, so whether the infestation was down to natural disaster or biological warfare, the actions of the Liberator crew have stopped Destiny being subsumed into the Federation, at least in the short term. So I’m going to call that a win.

One final thought. How did Liberator get back through the asteroid field when they used all their power going through it in the first place?

Anyway, I wonder what Travis is up to…

Another planet (Centero this time) and another refinery standing in for another Federation communications base. This one is guarded by a terrifying robot however. Sorry I meant this one is guarded by a robot, you can see why they never used it again.

Blake teleports down alone to scout around before calling for Vila to join him. Up on Liberator Vila is proposing a new plan which involves running away. Of course Vila is given no say in the matter and is teleported down to join Blake.

They find a gate with a hilariously low key “Top Secret” sign on it. This at least gives Vila a chance to show what he can do, and as hokey as the gate looks, the biometric security system is really ahead of its time.

For saying Blake keeps telling Vila to be quiet he’s making a lot of noise himself. Oi, Roj, practice what you preach!

Cue one of the classic Vila quotes; “There isn’t a lock I can’t open, if I’m scared enough.” Followed by a wonderful scene where Vila walks up to the guards and tells them he’s a saboteur and wants some advice on what best to blow up. He and Blake take care of the guards and make it into the cipher room. Moments later Avon, Cally and Gan teleport down, leaving Jenna alone on the ship (un-oh, and so it begins!) While Cally takes the Federation prisoners to another room, Gan starts setting explosives.

This is just a cover though, as Avon steals a Federation cipher machine, Blake’s plan being that the explosion will cover the theft and they’ll never know Liberator is listening in.

There’s always something slightly unsettling when Vila gets heroic, him chasing a Federation guard is quite out of character, or maybe not, face one guard or dozens! Unfortunately the alarm is raised. Vila makes it back to the others but while they teleport up Cally is ambushed by the men she’s guarding. She fights one of them off, but she’s lost her bracelet and the charges are about to go off…

Back on Liberator everyone fails to notice for several minutes that Cally isn’t with them. Guys, there’s only six of you!

Liberator has to run from pursuit. Blake wants to go back but Avon, cold bastard that he is, points out that Cally is dead!

We scoot over to Space Command for our first sight of Supreme Commander Servalan (the gorgeous goddess that is Jacqueline Pearce) who’s getting a bit of a roasting from Senator Bercol and Secretary Rontane who are representing the President of the Federation who isn’t too happy about the havoc Blake is causing (one imagines there must have been some off screen sabotage because Blake hasn’t done that much yet). It’s a wonderful scene that digs into the politics of the Federation at this point. Don’t worry about Bercol and Rontane, you’ll see them again one day. Servalan reassures them that she’s taking the Blake situation very seriously and has appointed a Space Commander to take personal responsibility for eliminating Blake.

Cue the arrival of Travis (mk1). Who’s more machine than man and…oh no, actually that’s Darth Vader isn’t it. Travis has met Blake before, and lost a hand and an eye to him, so he’s in this for revenge. Before you can say Seek-Locate-Destroy he’s off to Centero where he’ll have a prisoner to interrogate. Cally!

   After the misstep that was The Web, Blakes 7 is back on form this week with an action packed episode that not only sees our heroes kicking Federation butt, but introduces the series’ prime ongoing antagonists. Servalan and Travis. As Servalan Pearce is wonderful. She’s so young here though! She puts her marker down from the off, Servalan is all glamour and smiles, yet behind the facade she’s all snake, it’s a steely performance and she’ll only get better. It’s great to see her schmooze with the politicos before cosying up with a handsome aide (rank hath its privileges and how great to see a reversal of the male boss/sexy secretary trope) before she gets to be all business with Travis.

Talking of Travis, Greif is equally good, playing it completely straight and making you ignore the fact that his bionic implants look a little silly from some angles. He’s all straight back and repressed rage, yet cold and clinical at the same time, and once he gets to Cenero he makes all the right decisions, which quickly leads to Blake’s plan being uncovered. That Blake gets the drop on him later shouldn’t make him any less threatening as an opponent.

Having Blake and Travis take turns in recounting the story of their prior meeting is a nice touch that breaks up the exposition slightly, the fact that Travis arrived days before Blake and his people is nice foreshadowing of what’s to come, and it’s good to have the memory blocks in Blakes head mentioned. From Travis’ perspective it’s an interesting character point that Travis could have his face fixed, but as he says, he’s a field officer not a decorative staff man. Yes Greif is a touch too Shakespearean at times (“I am your death, Blake”) but its still a great performance.

Cally isn’t having a good day, not only tortured but dragged down the corridor as well. She has a nice scene with Travis, defiant despite her situation. Blake’s rescue of Cally is superb, especially the fact that he learned from Travis and got there early, what was seen as a quick recon flight, Liberator dashing towards the planet then pulling back, was nothing of the sort, it was a quick dash into teleport range.

Blake’s “You don’t matter enough to kill,” is a great line, always better to have an adversary you know you can outwit, and we get a further glimpse into just how obsessed Travis is with seeing Blake die as he begs his own men to come in guns blazing, telling them “it doesn’t matter about me”. He’s happy to die if it means Blake’s death.

Blake and Cally teleport to safety just in the nick of time (I fear I should be keeping count of the last second teleports) and there’s a nice scene with them in the teleport bay.

All in all a great episode that packs a lot in. Everyone, except Jenna, gets something to do, Vila in particular has some great comedy moments, yet the show still has time to introduce not one but two recurring bad guys and flesh both of them out. There are plenty of shows today with huge budgets and crowded writer’s rooms that couldn’t do that as well as Nation did here. There’s even time to mention Starburst class Pursuit ships and tease us with mention of Mutoids.

We’ll have to wait for more of Travis though, first I regret to inform you that there’s been a murder!


Posted: February 15, 2023 in Book reviews, horror
Tags: ,

By Thomas Olde Heuvelt.

Black Spring seems to be a picturesque town in the Hudson Valley in New York State, but its quaint shopfronts hide a dark secret. The town is haunted by the ghost of Katherine van Wyler who was put to death as a witch in the 17th century. After death her mouth and eyes were sewn shut. Now the town is cursed. Katherine randomly appears around town, in the street, in shops, even sometimes in people’s homes. She doesn’t explicitly harm people, but the nature of the curse means that once someone become a resident of Black Spring they can never leave, or rather they can leave but not for long because if someone is away from the town for long enough, they get an overwhelming urge to kill themselves.

The townsfolk track Katherine’s presence using CCTV and an app where people can report her current location. There’s a local group named Hex in charge of this tracking to ensure that visitors to the town don’t find out about her. This can range from closing businesses and redirecting traffic to hiding her under a box!

The townsfolk have mostly accepted her as a curious part of life, but now some teenagers are going out of their way to push the boundaries of what is acceptable in terms of interaction with Katherine, with terrifying results.

This wasn’t a book I had any foreknowledge off and was something of a blind buy based on the blurb on the back, a cool cover and the high praise of the likes of Stephen King. Sadly the book didn’t live up to the promise of the premise, which isn’t to say its without good points, but it’s hardly the ground-breaking horror novel its made out to be.

The first issue is around language.  Olde Heuvelt is Dutch and so the novel has been translated into English, in fact more than this the novel has been rewritten, not only to accommodate the English language, but also an American setting. The original novel was set in a small Dutch town, but this edition the story is relocated to New York state. As such even to someone who isn’t American it doesn’t feel authentic. This isn’t the be all and end all, plenty of writers set stories in foreign countries without being a citizen of those countries (I’ve done it myself) but you should try as far as you can to seem authentic. This doesn’t. It feels like a small Dutch town, only one in America. The other issue with the translation is that the prose doesn’t always flow very well, in fact at times it’s downright clunky. 

On the face of it the plot is a doozy, though Olde Heuvelt doesn’t always seem to know where to go with it beyond the initial premise. This wizened ghost of a woman with her eyes and mouth sewn shut appearing at random in people’s homes should be creepier than it is, in fact at times it’s played for laughs. As unsettling as Katherine is at times it doesn’t feel like she has any agency or is any kind of threat, except for the risk if you get close enough to listen to her whispers eking out from the corner of her mouth where one of the stitches was cute decades ago. Towards the novel’s end Olde Heuvelt tries to turn things on their head and much like The Walking Dead there’s a narrative thread suggesting that the humans are the real monsters, but this feels like something of a cheat, and the ending seems to come somewhat out of nowhere. Worse still there are plot threads left dangling (who climbed into a bedroom to play Katherine’s whispers to one character for starters).

The story could have worked if the characters had been better, but despite comparisons to King the cast here is formulaic and two dimensional. The angry teen, the token Muslim, the fire breathing gospel quoting council leader. Even the four POV characters are thinly drawn. There’s Steve, a decent man, his son Tyler, a decent kid railing against the restrictions of life in Black Springs. There’s Robert Grim, a decent man and the guy in charge of Hex, and then there’s Griselda, the overweight, ugly widow of the town butcher (and mother of the angry teen™) who despite being a victim of historical domestic violence, and sexual assault in the present, is still presented as just a villain. It’s a reductive stereotype especially jarring in a book about a woman persecuted for being a witch hundreds of years ago.

Proof that a cool premise alone isn’t enough to make for a strong book. It isn’t terrible by any means, but I can’t really recommend it.

On an alien planet a forest is coated in a curious web. Cut to a base composed of prefabricated buildings. Inside a man and a woman lie still, alive but unresponsive. In another room there’s a tank filled with liquid and inside it a tiny, emaciated body with a normal sized head. We hear the words “Come to us.”

Meanwhile in space Liberator is experiencing malfunctions that cause it to increase speed. Jenna calls Blake to the flightdeck, Blake obliges, without properly dressing. No one needs to see your chest hair, Roj!

Meanwhile Cally is acting suspiciously. Vila wants to show off his new outfit and Cally responds by lamping him. Later she’s asking Avon where the sensors are controlled from. Avon rather foolishly tells her.

Eventually everyone figures out that Cally is responsible for the sabotage, or is she? Her hands are burned yet this doesn’t seem to be bothering her. Jenna correctly identifies that this isn’t Cally. Cue a nice call-back to last episode as Jenna reiterates that bringing Cally on board was a bad idea.

Cue a lot more backbiting before Blake and Avon run down some corridors to locate a bomb, unfortunately not in time to stop it exploding, though Avon does save Blake’s life, and immediately regrets doing so.

Eventually they get the ship to slow down, but its too late, they’ve arrived in an uncharted system and the ship is caught in a web that seems like a larger version of the one we saw on the planet.

Cally says she’s fine now and everyone blithely believes her, moment’s later it’s Jenna’s turn to be possessed. Cally correctly identifies the possessors as being The Lost, Aurons who were exiled long ago.

Blake ignores their entreaties and tries to blast Liberator free. Cue Vila getting to try out the neutron blasters (after raising the flare shields of course) but to no avail, they punch a hole through the web but it closes up again almost immediately, and Liberator doesn’t have the power reserves to keep doing this.

With no choice Blake teleports down, he arrives outside the base and is attacked by tiny creatures called Decimas. The two humanoids we saw earlier, Geela and Novara,  come to his aid, but not before a Decima begs Blake for help. He’s murdered moments later. Inside the base Blake speaks to the curious creature, a corporate identity named Saymon, one body containing the thoughts of the six Lost exiled from Auron. He explains that he created the two humanoids, and the Deceimas, and that he can project a fungicide that will clear a path through the web, but only if Blake will supply him with new power cells.

There’s just one problem, once he has the power cells Saymon plans to wipe out the Decimas.

I thought Time Squad was going to be the first dud of the season, and was wrong. I then thought The Web would be the first dud, and sadly this time I was right.

There’s a lot wrong with The Web, for starters it doesn’t really advance the story, aside from reference to Pursuit Ships there’s nothing related to the Federation going on here. If anything it feels like a story that might have worked better with Tom Baker’s Doctor turning up with Leela and getting annoyed because Saymon wants to wipe out the poor Decimas and I do wonder if this was an unused Doctor Who idea that Terry Nation had in his bottom drawer.

Cally sets the standard for what’s to come by being possessed in only her second episode (maybe Jenna’s right!) and all in all it feels a trifle pointless. If Saymon had just kept his mouth shut Blake would have given him the power cells and been on his merry way, unaware that Saymon was about to commit genocide. The Decimas are funny little things (one of them played by Deep Roy who we’ll see playing chess with Vila in a year or so) and they are cute, but Blake risking his crew to save them feels slightly at odds with his compulsion to fight the Federation, but I guess he wasn’t quite the fanatic he’d become here.

There isn’t even much in the way of pithy dialogue to ease the pain of the plot, which is a shame, witty banter has elevated more than one episode of Blakes 7 above the gutter.

In the end Blake hands over the power cells after Avon is threatened, and Saymon transmits the fungicide. Then the Decimas get inside, presumably because either Geela or Novara left the door open. They proceed to cause havoc and Blake and Avon take the opportunity to leave.

All in all, it’s a meaningless episode, the only thing they learn is that they need to raise the radiation flare shields to fire the neutron blasters but beyond this they’re in exactly the same state they were before the episode started.

Any redeeming features? Well, the Decimas are cool, and the web draped planet quite eerie. Jenna has a nice moment when she decides not to update Blake with their precarious position for fear of weakening his bargaining position. There’s some unusual camerawork, first the use of a fisheye lens to show Cally’s possessed, and later some extreme close ups on the Decima’s attack. Beyond this the only point of note is another appearance of the space Walkman first seen in The Way Back, which we see Gan wearing. It’s just like a regular Walkman, only instead of headphones it comes with an eye mask. No, I don’t understand how it’s supposed to work either…

Our valiant crew are getting to know Liberator, with Jenna teaching them how to operate the ship. There’s some great snippy dialogue early on. From Avon’s sarcastic “Well hurray for us.” To Vila’s “Outrun them? In this we could out stroll them.” But the best exchange is probably Vila (to Blake) “I don’t follow you?” Followed by Avon’s “Oh but you do, and that’s the problem.” Darrow’s gleeful delivery is, as always, worth the price of admission alone.

Despite out strolling the Federation Pursuit Ships, Blake doesn’t want to merely run and hide, he wants to strike back, and he’s already chosen a target, the planet Saurian Major. When the population revolted half were executed and the other half exiled to frontier planets, but Blake is sure there’s still a rebel army on the surface who he wants to contact, and with their help he wants to destroy the Federation communications complex.

Again Gan gets to prove he’s smarter than he appears. When Avon says he doesn’t see the point of attacking the station Gan remarks that “for a clever man, you’re not very bright.” If Federation comms are disrupted that means Liberator will be that much harder to find.

Before they can reach Saurian Major however there’s the small matter of a drifting spaceship transmitting a distress call. Jenna rightly explains that this is a trick pirates use, but Blake being Blake he ignores her and they teleport on board, interesting that the teleport reintegrates Blake and Jenna at an angle to account for the low ceiling! Also interesting that Blake gets to take a gun and Jenna doesn’t. Inside the ship they find aliens in suspended animation.

Suddenly the teleport won’t work and Blake and Jenna are running out of oxygen. Lucky Jenna showed people how to fly the ship earlier as between them they’re able to manoeuvre Liberator to bring the capsule into the docking bay. (Quick note to say that the alien spacecraft is a lovely piece of set design, expect to see it again in a few episodes though!)

After deciding, for some reason, to wake the frozen aliens, Blake, Avon and Vila teleport down to Saurian Major to join up with the rebels while Jenna and Gan mind the ship. Things don’t go to plan for either group; down on the planet Blake is accosted by what turns out to be the sole surviving rebel, while on Liberator the aliens are awake, and boy did they get out of bed on the wrong side!

I’ll be honest, this wasn’t an episode I recalled fondly, and so I expected this review to be a case of ‘and so we come to our first dud’ but as is often the case, I was wrong. I also remembered the Blake et al stuff on the planet being the interesting part of the story, while Jenna and Gan battling manic aliens was less exciting, but I’d say the reverse was true.

The A and B stories are both decent, and everyone gets something to do, and some juicy dialogue. Yes, Saurian Major appears to be a quarry, but at least they decorate it with some weirdly alien plants, and the arrival of Jan Chappell’s Cally as our final main cast member is nicely handled, even if her standing as another female badass will probably last even less time than Jenna’s. Her telepathy is an intriguing character trait, and while (I think) eventually it will become clear that Aurons are just another branch of humanity, here at least she’s played very much as an alien.

Up on Liberator Gan suggests that Zen perhaps has a limiter that prevents him from helping them too much, it’s nice foreshadowing, even if only foreshadowing for ten minute’s time when we get our first look at Gan’s limiter, and discover that there are limits (sorry) to how much good Gan can be in a fight. It’s a nice angle on the character, but it will somewhat restrict Gan going forward.

With Gan in chocolate teapot mode Jenna has to handle the dangerous aliens alone, and again she handles herself well, both in hand to hand combat (biting one of the men when he grabs her) and with her gun (interesting point but the guns seem to work even when not plugged into the powerpacks). It should be noted as well that the Liberator corridors can be quite eerie and there’s a nice feel to the scenes on the ship given Jenna might as well be all alone with the newly defrosted psychopaths.

Down on the planet Cally is telling everyone that she plans to attack the base, to kill and kill until she herself is killed. It’s quite grim and Cally will probably never be this nihilistic again. Vila lightens the mood by advising he plans to live forever, or die trying.

The attack on the communications complex (Oldbury nuclear power station near Bristol) is ridiculously easy, and Blake and co make it quite far inside before we get a hint of Federation troopers. Vila gets to open doors and Avon gets to reprogram the reactor to explode.

Cue another last second teleport because Jenna is a little distracted. The team vanish just as the door bursts open and the reactor…well I want to say explodes, but it’s more of a damp squib to be honest, though despite being little more than a firecracker the Federation troopers duly throw themselves to the floor.

Back on Liberator there’s one last guardian to deal with before Blake asks Cally to join them.

Cue Jenna’s “This should have taught us the wisdom of bringing aliens on board” while staring cattily at Cally.

Meow! Saucer of milk to table 2. I mean, come on, Jenna, it’s not like Cally will immediately be possessed in the very next episode and lead you all into danger…

All in all a better episode than I remembered, and a nice bookend to the first quarter of the season.


Posted: January 29, 2023 in Film reviews, horror

Directed by Gerard Johnstone. Starring Allison Williams, Jenna Davis, Violet McGraw and Ronny Chieng.  

Cady (McGraw) is left an orphan when her parents die in a car crash, and she’s sent to live with her aunt Gemma (Williams) who is well meaning but whose job as a roboticist for a high tech toy company leaves her little time to spend with her niece. In desperation Gemma resurrects a project that was shut down by her boss, a life sized humanoid doll with an AI brain.

Cady immediately bonds with M3GAN (Model 3 Generative Android) and pretty soon Gemma’s boss sees the potential to make millions, but as time passes Gemma becomes concerned about the strength of the connection forming between Cady and M3gan, and the question arises, just how far will M3gan go to protect Cady?

Maybe it’s because I didn’t go into this with high hopes, but I had a lot of fun with M3gan. It’s incredibly flawed, and you can’t help thinking there was a better film squirreled away somewhere, but I was never bored, it flew along at a clipped pace and it made me laugh.

The central dynamics are nicely done. Williams is great as Gemma, a woman who wants to care for her niece but who has no idea how to look after a child, ironic given she works for a firm making toys, and is an avid collector of toys herself (which aren’t to be played with.)

McGraw (who it took me ages to realise is young Nell from the Haunting of Hillhouse) is excellent as well, angry and petulant at times, but wouldn’t you be if your parents had died and you’d been sent to your aunt who then wouldn’t let you play with all the toys she has in her house? She and Williams have a great dynamic that evolves over the course of the film.

Similarly McGraw’s dynamic with M3gan herself is nicely done. Part animatronic, partly though it was actor Amie Donald for the things the animatronic couldn’t do. Davis provides an eerily cheerful yet threatening voice as well.

M3gan herself looks wrong, but then that’s probably intentional. Looking eerily like a Gerry Anderson puppet (sans strings) at times she does seem a little too mobile but if you watch a film like this I think you have to just go with it.

The main problem with the film is that it leans a little too much towards comedy and isn’t remotely scary, or in fact gory. M3gan doesn’t kill that many people, and her kills aren’t that vicious, all in all it feels a bit tame and you can’t help feeling they toned things down to get a lower rating which means more people would watch it. And while it did make me laugh, especially one scene featuring Gemma’s boss Dave (a delightful Chieng), it isn’t exactly a laugh riot.

Diverting enough that I’m more than up for the inevitable M3gan sequel, and it does at least have something to say about the perils of parenting by device, but you can’t help feeling there’s a less sanitised version left on the cutting room floor.