The Syndeton Experiment is a vast improvement on The Sevenfold Crown. Barry Letts seems to have taken note of many of the criticisms aired by fandom and has made adjustments accordingly.
To start with, Avon is now killing people (in one instance he actually makes a point of exchanging his own gun, which has a maximum stun clip, with Tarrant's, which is armed with deadly plasma bullets) and is very much more in character. I particularly like the line Avon has at the end of the play, where he says to Dr Rossum, "Who are you saying sorry too, *old* man?" It's well written and Darrow delivers it brilliantly.
Vila also is a lot better, being less of a eater and more of a drinker, and appears in some very funny scenes. I was also greatly impressed with Angela Bruce's much improved performance as Dayna, and even Soolin isn't quite as wet as she was in the last one, though still not a patch on Glynis Barber.
In addition, Orac is less obstreperous, Slave less moronic, (the latter now referring to the crew by their proper titles of "Master", "Sir", and "Madam"), Tarrant sounds more like Tarrant and the reduction in story length to sixty minutes has given this adventure a lot more pace and drive.
Furthermore, Judy Cornwell (Whose kisses sound divine!) puts in a very good guest performance as Madam Gaskia and Peter Jeffrey is quite superb as the dotty Dr Rossum, the man responsible for accidentally burning two million people to death.
Barry Lett's grasp of radio writing also seems to have improved. The scene where Avon, Dayna and Vila use a pair of futuristic binoculars to looked down onto the Neurobot city, is very well written indeed, and in describing the Neurobots, Barry cleverly exploited the medium of radio to produce a creature which would defy *anyone's* imagination. It's got three arms, three legs and is bright purple, but what it actually looks like I have no idea.
In my review of The Sevenfold Crown, I listed all the Blake's 7 episodes that Barry appeared to have watched and been influenced by, however, this time round it's not so easy to do because, unlike the last adventure, The Syndeton Experiment is less of a hotchpotch of borrowed ideas, and more of a story in its own right.
There are also some indicators that Barry has heard Alan Stevens' Blake's 7 audio production The Logic of Empire, because the Scorpio clip-guns now fire on semi-automatic (this only ever happened in Logic of Empire) and the annoying pseudo-swearing of The Sevenfold Crown has been replaced by the real thing. Furthermore, Barry appears to have noticed the intentional double entendre that ends act 1 of The Logic of Empire, (AVON: Are you coming? ELISE: Yes!) and in response has stuck a whole load of his own into the scene where Tarrant tries to get Soolin to untie him;
TARRANT: What could I do with one hand? And you could always keep out of reach. Word of a gentleman?
SOOLIN: Oh, all right, but I warn you... Ohhh, ohhhhh...
TARRANT: Remarkable what you can do with one hand, and I gave up being a gentleman years ago. (Quite!)
It's not just Blake's 7 episodes that Barry is referencing either. The idea of Federation troops being sent in as a 'peace keeping force' to control dissident miners, comes straight from the Doctor Who story The Monster of Peladon. The Scorpio crew's first meeting with Dr Rossum is taken from The Wizard of Oz. The plays climax is very similar to that which ends the Barry Lett/Robert Sloman Doctor Who story Planet of the Spiders. (Though instead of eight legs we now have three.) The scene where Avon get Servalan all excited by telling her that she has become "Empress of the Universe", bears a likeness to the baiting of Eric Klieg in the Doctor Who story The Tomb of the Cybermen, and finally, there is more than a passing resemblance between Dr Rossum (a name taken from Karel Capek's play R.U.R. or Rossum's Universal Robots) and the mad Human/Robot building professor Algor, from Paul Darrow's (thankfully unproduced) season four Blake's 7 script, Man of Iron.
There's nothing wrong with "borrowing" of course (Chris Boucher and Robert Holmes did it all the time), as long as you change it enough to make it your own, and on these occasions Barry has done just that.
Not so good though is the plot structure, which still rely too much on coincidence or our 'heroes' switching off their brains, but then, as the story is ludicrous anyway, perhaps this can be forgiven.
What can't be forgiven so easily is Barry's characterising (or should that be caricaturing?) of Servalan. She was poorly written in The Sevenfold Crown, but in The Syndeton Experiment she's nothing like Servalan at all. Since when did Servalan cook? And from the sound of clanking plates, since when did she do the washing up? Servalan has now been turned into a sexually frustrated housewife, who first feeds her officers smoked coelacanth (with caterpillar mousse for dessert) and then takes them to bed for a damned good rogering!
Jacqueline Pearce's approach to this appalling blasphemy is very similar to Paul Darrow's approach to the Doctor Who story Timelash and later Emmerdale Farm, which was of course to send it up rotten and hope that everyone can see from your performance that you know it's shit and you aren't taking it seriously. Ms Pearce's performance is quite remarkable, and reminds me greatly of Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
I think it would be best for all concerned (including the audience) if Barry left Servalan out of his next adventure. He evidently can't write for her, and all that he is doing is screwing the character up (sometimes literally).
Finally, lets look at the production - and it's not good I'm afraid. Last time around Brian Lighthill had the advantage of a crap script. This time though he's not so lucky, with the better story showing up the thin production. (though to be fair it is an improved on *The Sevenfold Crown*) and terrible music.
Dudley Simpson's Da-De-Da-Da-Da-Dum-Dum-Dum theme that accompanied every teleport during the TV series was bad enough, but to have an even worse musical accompaniment during The Sevenfold Crown and The Syndeton Experiment really does take the biscuit. For God's sake, get rid of it, Brian!
Another problem with the production is the small cast. If the BBC sold twelve thousand copies of The Sevenfold Crown, then surly they can spare some of the money made from these sales to employ a couple more actors? Getting the regulars to double up really is cheap, and for the listener can prove very confusing.
Peter Tuddenham is quite clearly the 184 year old Fed Sec Sergeant (Fed Sec? What crap! It sounds like the Fed Ex name you often see on the side of vans) who interrogates Vila at the beginning of the play, and Michael Keating is obviously the Tour-Guide that appears later on. Angela Bruce is another who has a clearly discernible voice. In fact at one point I thought Dayna had gone undercover as a Geordie!
I'm also not impressed with those bloody stupid clicks and bangs that accompany lines like, "Switch off the light," or "drop that knife." Though I suppose it did add some unintentional humour to this enjoyable romp, and that's what The Syndeton Experiment is really, a jolly romp in the style of an incredibly violent Carry On... film. It's definitely not Blake's 7, but as a play in it's own right it's very entertaining, and when you think about it, that's the best you can say about anything! So from me anyway, The Syndeton Experiment comes highly recommended, though probably for all the wrong reasons.
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