This month, I’m guest blogging for the Oxford Doctor Who Society about one of my very favourite series: “Gangsters”, the Birmingham-made surrealist postcolonial crime drama you might not have heard of, but which runs through the DNA of every series you love, including Doctor Who! Read it here— you can buy a print copy of the society magazine at the link too!
I’d expected the series to play with parallel storylines– Stan and Xev on Fire, Kai and 790 on Water– for longer, but Kai finds a damsel in distress, the titular May, and before you can say “that makes sense in the context of developing parallel narratives, Prince as a love-interest for Xev and May for Kai,” Kai is off Water and meeting up with the others pretty fast, so that’s the end of that.
We don’t actually learn a lot about Water, and certainly it’s unclear which, if any, of the narratives the characters spin about it are true (May, apparently the Water equivalent of Prince, is no less manipulative). We do learn that Prince can regenerate, and possibly May can too. Kai definitely gets all the lines this episode, but Xev seems to have developed a terminal case of naivete, apparently falling in love with Prince despite him being clearly dodgy AF. I should say, though, that I’m really being won over by Xenia Seeberg’s performance as Xev; she slithers about like a lizard and sniffs people and things in a credibly non-human way.
Finally, the crew of the LEXX appear to have abandoned their mission to roam the universe trying to get laid, presumably because they’ve got enough opportunities where they are.
And before you can say, “isn’t LEXX’s third season the point where they find the right series length, and the right balance between mind-twisting space opera and occasionally tasteless body horror?” we’re back! The opener to this leaner, shorter season is an amusing riff on the Sleeping Beauty legend, as the LEXX crew have been drifting in cryogenic suspension for millennia, only to be wakened by a Prince– arguably handsome, depending on how you feel about a young Nigel Bennett. Personally I think Bennett is one of the most watchable actors of his generation, but I also watched “Fire and Water” suffering some whiplash from having recently seen Bennett as the police chief with the Dreadful Unspeakable Secret Life on Murdoch Mysteries.
The setup for the season, the war between the desert planet Fire and ocean planet Water, are well set up and the crew get separated off to their destinations nicely; there’s the usual body-horror grotesquery, rather toned down from the telemovies, but much in line with what we saw in Season Two.
Overall the only thing wrong with this one is that it was rather heavily padded out with flashbacks to explain a setup which was clear from five minutes’ worth of expository dialogue.
With some trepidation I’ve been watching Hawkeye And The Last of the Mohicans. Trepidation, because it was made in 1957 and clearly is going to warrant TPTV’s Contains Racist Language And Depictions title card; however, it’s one of the oldest, if not THE oldest, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation television programme still viewable, so I felt I should give it a try for historical reasons.
- While the brownface is indeed shocking to a modern audience (Cec Linder in makeup and a war bonnet as an “Indian Chief”, no kidding), and the depiction of Native culture ridiculous (e.g. Hurons living in tipis), one point in its favour is that the Native characters are all given fully rounded characterisation and interesting motivations; their resistance to colonisation is presented as fully legitimate, and they have as complicated internal power politics as you can depict in a 30-minute episodic series. So not to apologise for, or forgive, the other parts, but at least it didn’t go the route of having the Natives as the unreasonable faceless horde of cowboy movies or Laura Ingalls Wilder.
- Clever old CBC, making a “settlers and Indians” series which is set before the American revolution, and in a vaguely defined “Huron territory” that could be anywhere from New York to Eastern Ontario. That way you can sell it on both sides of the border without having to deal with the sticky political wicket of rebellion against/loyalty to the Crown.
The LEXX pick up Norb, the child who escaped the hillbilly clans in episode 2.8, drifting in space, and before you can say “it’s been a while since they touched base with the Mantrid storyline,” he turns out to be an undead Trojan horse for Mantrid’s self-replicating autonomous zombie arms.
This story has some great moments of genuine horror, with the sense of strangeness reinforced by the fact that, 790’s usual protestations of love for Xev aside, this is a completely sex-free episode. On the downside, they again have more episode than plot, and while the effects are again on the upward curve there’s some rather obvious repetition of footage.
The LEXX discovers an all-male monastic society who reproduce by cloning and have never seen a woman in real life, and before you can say “party’s at Xev’s place!” it is. A generally cheerful, life-affirming, sex-positive and even queer-positive story (Stan initially rebuffs the advances of one of the monks, but eventually decides, Chuck Tingle fashion, that love is love), with an interesting philosophical twist (the monks are the guardians of all the knowledge in the universe, but only one of them’s allowed to actually know what it is– and he’s the one who disapproves of all this sexual hedonism). I also liked the implication that Stan is getting over the trauma of his previous same-sex encounters and is at least theoretically capable of forming a positive relationship with a man. The CGI backgrounds are outstanding, but Kai seems to be bizarrely in angry mode, and also strangely insistent that only heterosexual sex can lead to reproduction, which is surprising since at least three of the people he shares a ship with weren’t created through it.
The crew find a camper-van full of teenagers in suspended animation. There’s a jock, a fat guy, a bully, a party girl and a virgin, and before you can say “wow, all that setup needs to become an American-style slasher-horror movie is a serial killer,” Kai’s woken up and is butchering his way through them in the classic approved horror movie order. It’s really a lot of fun, particularly after watching “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” last week, to see the tropes in reverse, with the story being from the point of view of the murderer/s rather than the victims.
Finally, this episode we get to see what toilets are like on the LEXX, which really doesn’t disappoint.
The LEXX is hijacked by a family of cannibal inbred hillbillies, and before you can say “Garth Ennis called and would like them back please”, Stan, Xev and 790 have figured out that not only is this not an impediment to their quest to get laid (at one point Stan states that their goal is to “find a home” but we all know better), it’s actually an asset, at least until the father/brother/husband finds out Stan’s banging his daughter/sister/wife, and Xev finds herself caught in a genocidal war between hillbilly clans. Light on plot but heavy on fun double-entendres, and it’s nice to see Lyekka back in the story.
The crew of the LEXX go down to a pleasure station and before you can say “isn’t this the third time they’ve done this plot?” it turns out to be a honey-trap, and Stan finds himself standing trial for war crimes, of which he is in fact guilty (not a spoiler if you’ve seen S1).
There’s some clunky bits– it takes Xev 50 minutes of screen time to realise that if Stan is executed, they can’t fly the LEXX, and although the Chief Prosecutor gets all the lines, her delivery’s so wooden you could miss them easily– but the final third is a rather deep meditation on justice versus compassion that’s impressively nuanced and ambivalent. Despite the presence of killer mealworms.
The ship encounters a TV satellite station where hapless travellers must compete for ratings in programmes with android presenters where losers meet a gruesome fate-worse-than-death, and before you can say “did Russell T. Davies watch this series by any chance?” Kai is having to climb out of cold storage and rescue Xev, Stan and 790 from their own libidos yet again.
Kai gets all the lines, for a change, and the Xev storyline does a good job of subverting the usual sexploitation tropes (as she first dominates a harem of handsome male androids and then forces the audience to recognise her humanity in a way they clearly don’t like). Nonetheless, the series still feels like it’s floundering, with the premise for going down to the station handwaved rather than emerging from the characters and situation, and the resulting action predictable.