Tag Archives: Planet of the Apes

The magnificent Blake’s 7: Robin Hood in space

With the death of Blake’s 7 actor Gareth Thomas it’s time to strap on your transporter bracelets to The Liberator and THAT ending for ‘Robin Hood in space’.

Such was the basic premise of Blake’s 7 back in 1978, and that idea was pitch perfect for one of the most beloved TV series of the last 40 years. Always seen as something of Doctor Who’s younger sibling, it springing from the mind of Who-alumnus, Terry Nation, for many it was never held in as high regard or as beloved. But, for me, I probably loved it even more than the fellow in the blue box.

You can see the similarities to Sherwood’s finest with its original character set-up, with Gareth Thomas headlining as Roj Blake, who leads a rebellion against a tyrannical regime (hey, even in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), The Norman Soldiers were likened to Nazis). More ‘Marauding’ than ‘Merry Men’ his reluctant heroic crew, perhaps sharing as much with the likes of The Dirty Dozen and The Magnificent Seven as much as with those from the trees of Nottingham.

We are then introduced to corrupt computer genius, Avon, (Paul Darrow), essentially Will Scarlett, a man who you wouldn’t trust as far as you could throw him, even if he was classed as your friend, but you would far rather he be your friend than your enemy. Avon quickly become the show’s favourite, with his sardonic wit and no nonsense behaviour, he had the same appeal as the likes of Han Solo.

Master thief, Vila, steps up as your Much the Millers Son, as he is essentially the light-hearted comedian who is something of a coward. Avon and Vila were the perfect foils for one another and have the zingiest dialogue this side of the galaxy that is still as crisp and clever to this day

Gan, is clearly the Little John of proceedings with his mighty frame and heart, but I’m not quite sure how a smart arse computer, Zen, fits into it all Merry Man wise, um, Friar Tuck…well he is at least the voice of reason and calm. The rest of the original crew were made up of Jenna, a smuggler, and Cally, a telepath, and these feisty, gung-ho women were clearly reminiscent, in their fighting spirit, of Maid Marian. After all, you have to remember that this was the late 70s and that women did as much of the rescuing as well as the being rescued.

The ship, The Liberator, a wondrous design whose Corgi model once bestowed my birthday cake as a child, which was a brilliant backward-looking design with its (Lincoln) green bubble at its rear, so my hats off to you Matt Irvine for a ship that even outclasses the Millennium Falcon for being so ugly and impractical – Einstein would have a fit on the Physics front – that it is a thing of beauty.

If Blake and his crew represent Robin Hood and his Merry Men, then the Federation forces, personified in the obsessive, psychopathic Space Commander Travis, complete with eye patch, and his superior, the ruthless Supreme Commander, Servalan, represent Sir Guy of Gisbourne and the Sheriff of Nottingham, respectively. You only have to look at the mid 80s rebirth of Robin of Sherwood on ITV, and latterly, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, to see how similar the working relationship between Servalan and Travis was to that of the Sheriff and his lapdog.

The show was quite revolutionary in terms of structure – the arcing plot is ahead of its time, something seen as commonplace in the likes of the Battlestar Galactica reboot – and characterisation. It also features a surprisingly cynical world view with a healthy dash of dystopia and dash of moral ambiguity, this is no Star Wars black and white – which premiered in the UK the same year the show was launched – instead there are massive grey areas in the ensemble cast, like we see in everything from 24 to Lost and The Walking Dead, people who aren’t just the well-rounded, good-looking good guys of programmes like, say the original Star Trek.

It may have had its peak and troughs throughout its four-year series, not to mention cast changes galore and Blake jumping ship come the end of series two, but it had a fantastic concept, multiple major character deaths and perhaps the finest ending of any TV show past, present or future, an ending from which Planet of the Apes writers would find hard to get out of, an ending that gave my chin carpet burns from the force it struck the floor, an ending that had the balls to kill off the entire remaining cast and still have Avon going out (or did he?) in the coolest TV moment of my life.

Not bad, essentially being a kids tea time programme and taking in political intrigue and terrorism (remember the IRA were still out in force) and harrowing deaths of beloved characters. The sets may have wobbled and it was probably filmed in one too many quarries, but hey that is BBC budgets at that time for you, but the writing still holds true and is pretty blistering stuff most of the time, clearly helped in part with many of the main actors being RSC trained.

Thomas came back for that last episode having left after series two and he claimed never to have watched an episode. That’s a shame and a real loss, despite its somewhat dodgy sets and special effects it had some great Orwellian dystopia which meant that it was well-ahead of its time, especially in that time slot. And, story wise it still really shines today and remains relevant with terror and political intrigue riding high in the headlines and a major staple of TV drama, the rebooted ‘gritty’ Battlestar Galactica was of course dubbed ‘The West Wing in space’.

And these unjust times of political unrest and times of terror Blake et al  would fit in perfectly. Stories about anti-government dissidents and corrupt, totalitarian governments never seem to go out of fashion (it’s no coincidence that the series villain was a woman – just as Thatcher came into power), and surely that’s doubly true of this era of terrorism.

Crucially, it had drama and conflict in spades, and most of this came from within the crew, especially between Blake and Avon or Avon and Vila, which was full of crisp, foil-bag fresh dialogue that even JJ Abrams or Joss Whedon would be proud to have scribed today.

Although it has been resurrected as an audio drama, getting a new lease of life in a series of audio adventures which has attracted a whole host of talent from Bond and genre fave, Colin Salmon as Kerr Avon and guest stars from Ashes to Ashes’ Keeley Hawes and new Sherlock Holmes, Benedict Cumberbatch.

Like the Who audio adventures it has also lured back cast members from the original series, Michael Keating and Jan Chappell, all of which shows there is still plenty of talent and interest in the project.

It keeps threatening to return to screens with aborted attempts from Sky and the Syfy Channel in recent years. With the return of Star Wars to the big screen and another Star Trek series in the offing, as well as on the big screen, we are in the same alignment as when Blake’s 7 first materialised on our screens.

And after all in this world niche audiences for The Walking Dead and original dramas produced for the likes of Amazon, with The Man in the High Castle, and Netflix, with House of Cards, or Sky Atlantic with Fortitude, then there is nothing to stop the return of The Liberator and its crew.

Who knows, perhaps the real life death of Roj Blake, from heart failure and not shot by Avon, could be the right catalyst for his rebirth. Roj Blake is dead, long live Roj Blake?

As Zen may have stated: “Probability of reboot, 80%.”

 

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Top Ten Film and TV Reveals

10. The Phantom of the Opera… as seen in Phantom of the Opera (1925)
Even some 90 years later the image of the Phantom as he is first revealed in the classic Lon Chaney silent version is an indelible image that still possesses the power to repulse and shock, so one can only imagine the impact it had in its day.

 

9. Norman Bates… as seen in Psycho (1960)
Oh mother! Another classic that still retains all of its power to this day, even if you know the true identity of the murderer, it is still an impressive reveal, and is one of double proportions if you count Mrs Bates in the rocking chair and that swinging light bulb!

 

8. Doctor Who… as seen in Doctor Who (1963 – Present)
No matter the Doctor, no matter the transformation, the regeneration of one Doctor to the next has always made for must see television. For me the most memorable has to be Tom Baker falling off a giant satellite dish and turning into Peter Davison via some bizarre figure dressed in white (dunno either) to the most emotional, that of David Tennant into Matt Smith. Tennant pretty much was the Doctor so we really felt his emotional exit and the humility he brought to his final moments, moments that had been deftly built over the course of a year of specials and three final episodes. This really was the end of an era as it also spelt the end of show head writer, Russell T Davies, who clearly left no emotional stone unturned.

 

7. An ape on horseback… as seen in Planet of the Apes (1968)
We are as gobsmacked as Chuck Heston and his fellow astronauts when the hunting horns bellow to the crescendo of horse hooves and the sight of apes on horseback with ruddy rifles. It’s the first reveal that Heston and co are on a whole darned planet of them. As shocking and memorable as the final Statue of Liberty shot is, for me, it is this first stark reveal that truly sets the tone for all that follows.

 

6. James Bond… as seen in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969)
Connery had gone, James Bond was dead…but long live James Bond as another actor filled his shoes, namely George Lazenby. I can hardly comprehend on what the mammoth search for Bond must have been like or the anticipation of a new actor filling the role that Sean Connery had made his own. Cleverly, we are teased by the filmmakers who show us glimpses of Bond here and there in his rear view mirror behind the wheel of his beloved Aston Martin DB5 as he drives onto a beach to rescue a damsel in distress from some thugs. Once the villains are dispatched and the woman runs off and drives away in her car. Bond stands up and wryly talking directly to camera, the only time this ever happens, says to the audience as much as to himself: “This never happened to the other fellow!” A text book physical reveal that has rarely, if ever been bettered.

 

5. A Body Snatcher… as seen in Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
It’s the final reel of the film and we are just relieved to see that Donald Sutherland, despite his Hair Bear Bunch barnet, is safe and not been nobbled by the pod people, but wait. He stops as Veronica Cartwright approaches, points, eyes roll and mouth opens distinctly inhuman like to let out one of the most chilling sounds and images ever to greet cinema going audiences. ‘They’ had finally caught up with him. The screen freezes and that image of Donald stays with you for ages after you first see it.

 

4. A Chest Burster… as seen in Alien (1979)
We know that John Hurt seriously hurts when he is flung around the Nostromo and that all is not well with his belly, in what is surely one of cinema’s greatest ever entrances as the aptly named chest burster, doing exactly what it says on the tin, and promptly shrieking as it exits Hurt’s body and splattering the white exterior crimson red. Primal stuff.

 

3. The Thing… as seen in The Thing (1982)
In the end the reveal is a massive relief of sorts, as you feel the anguish and paranoia of all the scientists and researchers sat on the chairs strapped to each other. We know the reveal is coming, but like those men on the chairs, we do not know when it is coming or from whom and we certainly aren’t prepared for what follows.

 

2. Doug Quaid… as seen in Total Recall (1990)
One of Arnie’s true classics I am of course talking about Arnie’s disguise as an overweight middle aged woman – thankfully not him in drag in the risible Junior – to get him through security before ‘she’ ends up with a facial tick of sorts only for her head to fall off and Arnie to step out from her as she opens up, with her head exploding as a bomb, as you do, with the immortal line “get ready for a surprise!” prior to detonation.

 

1. Keyzer Soze… as seen in The Usual Suspects (1995)
Who’d have thunk that weedy little Kevin Spacey was the murderous criminal mastermind behind it all. As ‘Verbal Kint’ states: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he never existed.” It’s a bravura performance that doesn’t need prosthetics or a fake accent to pull it off. Spacey dragging his foot one moment, then walking normally the next and then miraculously regaining the use of his withered hand is misdirection of the highest order and never fails to delight. It is unsurprising that Spacey won a best-supporting actor Oscar for his mesmerizingly understated performance.

The Best Old Skool Cameos

Remakes, reimaginings, reboots, revamps, call them what you will. Hollywood may perennially suffer from ‘sequelitous’ but it also has something of a soft spot for the remake and big screen reboot. Dean Newman checks out the best blink and you’ll miss em moments where the new remake kids on the block feature a nod to their originals.

10. Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978)
It’s a masterful remake but it’s the small things that make this chilling paranoid classic really shine. A case in point is the moment when the star of the original, Kevin McCarthy runs into a car screaming that they are here already and the pure genius here is that this is exactly how the original film ended, with McCarthy running down a busy road screaming those very words.
This might have meant that he had been running for some 22 years but it also meant that in another sense it could be considered as something of a continuation of events  rather than just a straight remake. Genius.

9. The Incredible Hulk (2008)
Perhaps my second favourite old skool cameo is from Bill Bixby in The Incredible Hulk who didn’t let a little thing called death stop him turning up for a knowing nod and wink. Bixby is seen on TV in an episode of “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father” (1969).
Mr Marvel himself, Stan Lee, who has pretty much done an ‘Alfred Hitchcock’ in every Marvel movie, turned up this reboot as a man who slurps a soft drink contaminated with Bruce Banner’s blood.

8. Battle Beyond the Stars (1980)
A space-set riff on The Magnificent Seven from the pen of John Sayles and produced by one Roger Corman. It’s a film full to the brim of wonderful memories from when I was young and the crisp writing and early score by James Horner gives it some much needed weight. But the glue that holds this ragtag group of mismatched aliens together is surely Robert Vaughn, who of course appeared in the original Magnificent Seven. A complete guilty pleasure with able support from George Peppard, as a cowboy just in case you didn’t get it, John Saxon and John Boy from The Waltons.

7. Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987)
The pilot may have had DeForest Kelly passing on the Trek baton to the brand new crew in the very first episode but the best nod and wink to the original series was from the original ships transporter system. Its ceiling was now transformed into the floor of the brand new transporter. Recycling, the possibilities are endless.

6. Smallville (2001)
It has an irritatingly catchy theme tune and many may have labelled it Dawson’s Cape, but this series, which is set to take the crown as having the most episodes of any sci-fi show, treats those previous Superman incarnations with supreme reverence. And it’s an impressive roll call.

Christopher Reeve (Dr. Virgil Swann) played Superman in Superman (1978) and its three sequels; Terence Stamp (Jor-El) will forever be General Zod in Superman II (1980); Annette O’Toole (Martha Kent) played Lana Lang in Superman III (1983); Dean Cain (Dr. Curtis Knox) played Clark Kent in “The New Adventures of Superman” (1993); Helen Slater (Lara, Clark’s mother) played Kara/Supergirl in Supergirl (1984). Marc McClure (Dax-Ur) played Jimmy Olsen in Superman (1978), its three sequels, and Supergirl (1984), Margot Kidder (Bridgette Crosby) played Lois Lane in Superman (1978) and its three sequels. Teri Hatcher (Lois’s mother) played Lois Lane in “The New Adventures of Superman” (1993).

 

5. Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
Until Russell Crowe went round hiding in bushes last year, Sean Connery was the oldest person to have portrayed the Hooded Man on screen, which he did in1976’s Robin and Marian. With nod, wink and a favour to old The Untouchable co-star Kevin Costner, Connery turned up as an uncredited King Richard at the end of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves giving permission for Costner’s Hood to marry Maid Marian.

4. Dawn of the Dead (2004)
One of the better received remakes of recent years is Dawn of the Dead. For me it lacks the social and satirical bite of the original but a great effort with some memorable imagery. Getting in on the ‘brains’ action again were some of its original stars, including make-up supremo Tom Savini and Ken Forlee, who even gets another chance to give his classic line from the original – “When hell is full the dead will walk the earth”.

3. The Omen (2006)
Harvey Stephens, who portrayed the cute but evil moppet Damien in the original The Omen (1976), appears in this remake as the tabloid reporter (a devilish job if ever there was one) who asks Robert Thorn if the deceased nanny “was on drugs”. Apparently he is a property developer now after being a futures trader in London, almost jobs the devil would be proud of then.

2. Cape Fear (1991)
The classic Bernard Herrmann score made a welcome return, thanks to Elmer Bernstein, in this Martin Scorsese helmed remake and original stars, Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck came along for the ride, as did Martin Balsam. Quality. Their roles this time round are played by Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte and Joe Don Baker respectively.

1.Planet of the Apes (2001)
Clearly written by a group of monkeys with typewriters this good-looking but completely vacuous retread is a major misfire from the mind of Tim Burton. At least original star, Charlton Heston, got to hide his embarrassment behind some admittedly good Ape make-up where he delivered a twist on his classic “get your filthy paws off me you damned dirty ape” to Marky Mark (no doubt in desperate need of a funky bunch of bananas).