Tuesday, January 15, 2008

After Blake Part 1

[or what I thought of the audio play 'Mark of Kane' which continues the Blakes 7 story]

War Crimes

From this remove, Alan Stevens and David Tulley's War Crimes comes across as pretty schizophrenic. With its purpose being to fill in the background for Travis' betrayal of humanity to the Andromedans, it would seem to be aimed specifically at the hardcore Blakes 7 fan and yet barely five minutes go by without one character or other info-dumping all over the tape.

In short order, for instance, Travis explains what Central Control (why not call it Star One?) is in torturous detail, then follows it up by talking about Klein aka Docholli aka Masterton without bothering to give even a vague idea of who he is. An joke about Bayban the Butcher follows directly on from the action stopping so that a supporting character can spell out to Travis exactly why he's wanted by the Federation, as though he didn't actually know (and this in itself is a fannish continuity fix designed to show that Travis was responsible for both the massacre on Zircaster and the one on Auros, thereby clearing up an apparent contradiction between the TV episodes 'Seek-Locate-Destroy' and 'Trial').

If the play seems unsure of its audience, the primary sub-plot (if something so flimsy could be called something so concrete) simply makes matters worse. As he tries to corner Blake, Travis first allows one of his blood-sucking Mutoids to become dangerously low on serum and then reveals that the weakening Mutoid is in fact the remnant of the widow of the surgeon who saved Travis' life after Blake shot him (the sheer clumsiness of that sentence exemplifies the unnecessarily convoluted nature of the relationship). That established, Travis allows the Mutoid to replenish herself whilst briefly expressing disappointment that she has no emotional link to the surgeon, who Travis is keen to exonerate in her eyes from accusations of treason to the Federation.

This is presumably intended - along with another scene where Travis explains that he never betrayed Kline/Docholli because he too was once in the military - to show that Travis has his own code of honour and then contrast that with his betrayal of the entire human race. But if so, the play is too brief and the pertinent moments too trite to convince.

The acting is generally fine, except it takes Brian Croucher as Travis about half the play to warm up and stop sounding as though he's reading directly from the script. Croucher, like Paul Darrow, has a fairly flat intonation anyway so it's not quite as distracting as it might be with a more flamboyant actor, but it's not ideal.

Friendly Fire

If War Crimes seemed unsure of its audience, the linked second play, Friendly Fire is aimed squarely at the most rabid of Blakes 7 fans. Peppered with minor continuity references and fannish in-jokes, it should be a guilty pleasure for those likely to be listening, but instead it ends up a mishmash of missed opportunities and self-indulgent writing.

These problems are evident from the very beginning. In only the second scene, Blake (played as excellently as ever by Gareth Thomas) enquires after a bounty hunter named Kane who is described to him as tall with a false hand containing a built in weapon and what sounds like an artificial eye. We quickly find out that it's not in fact Travis, but what could have been a decent bit of audience misdirection by the authors is completely wasted by the fact that in the first scene Kane is introduced and is clearly not played by Brian Croucher.

To be honest, and not wanting to be cruel because Alan Stevens and David Tulley are much better writers than these two plays suggest, Friendly Fire sounds for all the world like Blakes 7 as written by Gary Russell. Like Russell's series of dreadful novels and plays for Big Finish, the humour is forced and hackneyed:

TANDO: I 'ate sharkas... sarcum... er... shack... eh... people bein' clever like.

TANDO: Why 'ave I got to be the one who 'as to sit by the vampire? The smell's 'orrible.
KANE: Don't worry. She'll get used to it.

and the script littered with repeated references to earlier TV episodes (Jevron, Blake's clone, Tando being a friend of Gan, Tando himself, Blake calling himself Dev Varon the same surname as his defence lawyer from the first episode, Jenna, trekkers and more) and fannish in-jokes (Boucher rifles, for instance, and 'shooting zombies off an elevator').

Finally, and most Russelly of all, the authors can't help themselves but (a) unnecessarily provide continuity fills (now we know how Blake got the scar across his eye seen in 'Blake') and (b) interject their own per theories into semi-official canon. This last is particularly annoying for two reasons. First, for all that Stevens and Fiona Moore's excellent guide to Blakes 7 makes an interesting case for the idea that Olag Gan was a multiple rapist and sex murderer, there is really no concrete on-screen evidence to back it up and plenty to suggest it's just a clever if incorrect reading (the death penalty clearly still exists and a multiple killer would surely be executed not provided with an expensive limiter and shipped to a penal colony). Secondly, and more pertinently, the description of Gan as serial killer is a long and dull info dump which takes up several minutes of an already short play.

Finally, the Mutoid from War Crimes provides a link between the two plays (Kane is the other) but as with the earlier part it's entirely unclear what her purpose is. Badly damaged and left behind by the late Travis, Kane finds her and feeds her, without knowing who her former Commander was. In the end she is killed by Tando and dies whispering the name of her dead husband, Maryatt. Which is sad and all but not actually all that interesting.

Both as seperate plays and as a combined whole, The Mark of Kane (a title as confused as the rest of the play), is a big disappointment, especially considering that Stevens and Tulley went on to collaborate with Jim Smith on the far better Logic of Empire and Stevens eventually launched the absolutely first-rate Kaldor City series.

Best I think to view this as a piece of historical juvenalia and makes excuses for it on that basis...

[The complete script to Mark of Kane is available here]


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Blogger SAF said...

Where have I been? I've never heard of these. It sounds like I've been spared :)

1:00 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

It's a bit car-crashy, which is a shame because the authors can write when they put their mind to it.

Basically, it's Blakes 7 as done by Big Finish.

Oddly this is the second blog post in the past three I've done to compare someone to Gary Russell - I must be getting monomaniacal.

4:54 pm  

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