Blakewatch- Week 29 Volcano

Season Three Episode 3- Volcano
(1980) Writer: Allan Prior / Director: Desmond McCarthy
The crew follow up a rumour that Blake is on the volcanic planet of Obsidian- where a friend of Dayna’s father also resides, but upon arrival discover the people there strangely untouched by the war.

So Dayna and Tarrant are looking down at a volcano and he asks “what is it?” This is not a good sign and the subsequent episode turns out to be uneven. Writer Allan Prior never quite manages to get to the heart of what the story seems to be about which is how for the inhabitants of Obsidian, the Liberator crew and the Federation are two sides of the same coin. Obsidian’s society is built on an enforced pacifism, an intriguing concept that Prior simply uses as a plot convenience rather than anything more substantial. As for the volcano itself, it proves as much a hazard to the writer as it is to the participants.

To relieve the boredom of being so peaceful the Obsidians sometimes do a tea pot dance
One of the frustrations of an episode like this is you can see how some re-writing might have made something better of it but there was probably not enough time. The whole thing is too crowded so the Obsidian’s story is short changed and their people not made interesting enough. Clearly the thought was that if people were pacifists they would be bland, but a different way to go would have been to have created a pleasure based world full of frivolous fun people. Then you could have the real feelings bubbling underneath. Instead the episode points to the volcano as the centre of intrigue but this ends up being superfluous as there is a big self destruct button to be pressed in the event of invasion. Do we really think the Federation would have been frightened away by this earlier in the war? Then there’s the totally surreal scene where two of the Obsidians are running towards Servalan and co disappear then re-appear as if teleporting. Also, what was the point of spending money on the robot? Where these hangovers from an earlier draft?  As Lord Sugar mumbles when faced with unconvincing blather; “Mmm..”

Servalan’s obligatory arrival further clouds matters. While she remains enjoyable and perfectly out of place having Servalan in every single episode is beginning to seem silly. Her ability to cross the Universe and turn up exactly where the Liberator is each time is rather more weak writing than Presidential guile. As it is, her plan here seems unbelievably contrived and it never seems to occur to Avon and co that they should wait for Blake to contact them rather than go chasing after every rumoured sighting of him.

"I brought your iPhone back"
Michael Gough is perfect as the urbane, everything’s fine Obisidian leader Hower but you’d question some of the other acting choices. In particular his son Bershar whose secret rejection of the planet’s ethos is poorly conveyed even when he is unmasked- surely he should let loose being released from any need to maintain a facade but actor Malcolm Bullivant (and Prior’s script) offers nothing to convince us. Then there’s the ending where the planet does indeed operate its self destruct and the Liberator crew seem barely moved by such a shocking sacrifice.

That’s not to say `Volcano` is without its better moments. Director Desmond McCarthy handles the outdoor sequences with a flair that goes someway to compensating for the jarring cutaway shots to real volcanoes. His cameras are fluid and catch the sunlight and smoke at interesting angles. In his first episode as a full crew member Steven Pacey gives a decent enough performance and seems to have a good rapport with Josette Simon. There is something appealing about the newly constituted Liberator quartet that are good at breathing character into the sometimes stilted dialogue the series offers. Prior even has a few amusing lines for them, a contrast to the blander platitudes on the planet surface.

Throughout the episode though, the tone is all over the place and Prior’s story telling motives unclear leaving `Volcano` as a serviceable enough 50 minutes that could be better but hardly an essential entry in the canon.

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