Cygnus Alpha

review by Ariana

So this is the very second episode I've watched in sequence so far, and it was nice to be plunged back into the direct consequences of what happened last week. Here are some miscellaneous impressions, all entirely MHO and open to discussion, of course. :)

I could probably have done without Brian Blessed and his sect of Capuchin nutters, and in particular their gratuitous female acolyte. The latter served no practical purpose IMHO than to look pretty and snog Gan... neither of which were particularly worthwhile pursuits, plotwise. If she had been Vargas's daughter who betrayed her father and freed the prisoners, then there would have been a point to her presence. OTOH, the episode would then have been a rehash of the Space:1999 episode "The Metamorph", also starring Brian Blessed as a madman with nefarious plans for Our Heroes. :)

The BBC presenter quipped about "wobbly walls" before the show, but these were not in evidence in this episode. Instead, we had people trotting around in front of blown-up photographs, and a lot of scrambling around the same bit of a heap of gravel. That starfield they used for every space shot is going to get old quick, too. The "early maniac" building looked OK in the exterior shot, though I felt Blake was wandering around the ready-built set for a Hammer Horror once he got inside. I'm wondering if we'll be visiting that gravel pit again; it looks like an ideal Planet Hell location (to use Star Trek terminology :).

Something which did strike me as slightly odd was the way the episode carefully avoided showing us more than the command room and the teleport room on the Liberator. This was noticeable in the bits where Jenna and Avon kept leaving to explore, returning to *tell* each other what they had found. A rule of "paper" writing is "show, don't tell" and those scenes definitely contravened the recommendation. I wonder if it was to save time or money, or if the effect was deliberate.

The strengths of the episode are those which I gather have made the strength of the show itself: dialogue and characterisation. The three characters on the Liberator, and Vila down on the planet, get a few chuckle-inducing lines; the result both of a talented author and, IMHO, the British habit of sharpening their wits on absolutely *anything*. Although serious American sci-fi series will also have their share of witticisms, these are generally confined to lower-rank or secondary characters (the resident Ferengi, for instance), or to strictly *appropriate* moments. They don't just insult their fellow crewmen for the sake of a good line. I've collected a few of my favourite quotes from this episode lower down. :)

As far as the character relationships are concerned, it'll be interesting to see how things develop. I'll leave aside the people on Cygnus Alpha and just concentrate on the Liberator crew during this episode. For the moment, the relationships between Avon, Jenna and Blake seem mostly to revolve around the latter.

The rapport between Jenna and Blake seems pretty straightforward. She jumps into his arms when they succeed in teleporting him back, and none of the sharp dialogue in the episode is between them. Presumably, he respects her as a pilot, she respects him as a leader. Her loyalty to him is visible in the scene where Avon wants to take off with the loot. Whether or not she seriously considers his offer, she's the one who successfully argues that they should wait longer.

Avon is more complex... what a surprise. ;) My impression so far is that he's on the Liberator for two reasons: it beat going to Cygnus Alpha (obviously), and he's flattered by the trust Blake places in him. If you're a bit of a tech-head and some prominent person, albeit a rebel without a force, comes along and offers you an opportunity to show off, you'd probably take it. Avon obviously has a pretty high opinion of himself; while the rebellion means diddly-squat to him, I think showing off his technical skills to the Fearless Leader is a bit of an ego-trip.

OTOH, that's nothing compared to the ego-trip he could buy with all that jewellery! His keenness to scamper off is consistent with the crime that stuck him on the London; it also reminds us that the character is very much a loose cannon, someone Blake may need to keep an eye on.

I thought the interaction between Avon and Jenna was interesting. As I said before, Jenna doesn't make any snide remarks about Blake, reserving those for Avon. On the one hand, she neither likes him nor trusts him (and in her situation, neither would I!). On the other, she gives him two 'opportunities' to misbehave, as it were. She leaves him alone in the teleport room, and she tells him about the jewellery. Given her hostility toward him, I'd have expected her to keep an eye on him for the full four hours of Blake's absence. OTOH, perhaps she is merely following Blake's lead; he didn't take Avon's threat seriously when they found the weapons, and maybe Jenna decides that she's better off treating Avon normally rather than antagonising him. Or maybe she did feel tempted by the jewellery and knew that Avon would take the lead in arguing for them to use it. By then allowing Blake an hour to contact them, she lets chance decide whether she's going with Avon and the money, or staying with Blake and the rebellion. Though I'm not sure the character is designed to be that scheming and/or passive.

Completely weird thought: is the Liberator *creating* these things the humans want, by any chance? Seems strange that it should sudden spout weapons, chic 1970s fashions and plastic-bagfulls of costume jewellery that just happen to be what Blake, Jenna and Avon have always wanted. Or am I just inventing a red herring here? <vbg>

Anyway, enough disjointed rambling. Let's have some disjointed enumerations instead...

Nitpicks and Preposterous Props:

"I think he means it'll only let us have one gun each," says Blake, handing *two* guns to Jenna.

Talking about the guns: the ones Blake and Co were exploring at the beginning of the show have short lengths of telephone wire on the end of them. The one Brian Blessed inspects and eventually fires has a longer lead which is visibly wired to what is presumably a plug socket on the table.

Is it my imagination, or was Avon using those little sticky rings you put on perforated binder paper to mark the controls on the teleport system?

Those were nifty tennis shoes Vargas was wearing under his monk's outfit. I couldn't help noticing that Blake's shoes looked remarkably like something one might pick up at Clark's too. I take it the costume department drew the line at designing footwear. :)

Dialogue Gems:

BLAKE:(taking one of the guns) Handgun?
AVON:It's a bit elaborate for a toothpick.

(As Jenna prepares to press another button after the high-speed acceleration one)

AVON:(points to another control) Try that one. (He grabs the back of a seat)
AVON:(as no obvious change occurs) Something of an anti-climax.

[[Not great dialogue, but an interesting snippet, as Avon also comes back to the console and *smiles sheepishly*. I take it this isn't an expression we'll see very often...]]

AVON:I handled the computer analysis for a research project into matter transmission. It was based on a new alloy...
AVON:That's right.
BLAKE:Yes, I worked on that project too.
AVON:Small world.
BLAKE:Large project.
JENNA:I didn't work on it.

[[If every episode has dialogue like that, I can see this column becoming a regular feature!]]

(after Zen reprimands Avon for not addressing him properly)

JENNA:I don't think he likes you, somehow.
AVON:I think I may have to reprogram this machine.
JENNA:That still won't make you likable.

[[you tell him, Jenna ;) ]]

ARCO:What's that smell?
SELMAN:It's like something rotting.
VILA:Dinner probably

(When the prisonners reach the haunted house... er, Vargas's castle)

GAN:What do you think it is?
VILA:The architectural style is early Maniac.
ARCO:We need food and shelter.
VILA:But do we need them that badly? [[I think I'm going to like Vila - sensible fellow]]


I hope Avon will soon get over that habit of tossing guns around. He throws away the Liberator weapon when Blake and Jenna ignore his threat, and later, when they all saunter out after meeting Zen, I'm pretty sure Avon tossed away his Federation gun as well.

One nice touch was Blake nearly falling over when Avon and Jenna teleport him onto the side of a heap of gravel. You never see that happen to a Federation officer in That Other Federation. <g> Enough from me...

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