Kaldor City: Occam's Razor Review
by Daniel O'Mahony
Blake's 7 was always a bit odd. British television, on uneasy terms with science fiction in general, has never been comfortable with the notion of 'future history'. It took Terry Nation, wowed by Star Trek, to import this peculiarly American idea to our screens, but it was Chris Boucher to make it real. The galaxy of the Federation wasn't just an exciting backdrop for space adventures but a lived-in world with its own logic, customs and diversity. And, cross-pollinating through dusty BBC corridors, he got at Doctor Who as well, dropping a plonking great skiffy-mag hokey robot revolution plot into a society painted broadly but with no little skill. Kaldor City, in all but the most literal sense, stands at the point where these two adjacent series meet, sometime around 1978.
The only drawback is that occasionally "Occam's Razor" feels as though it's set in 1978. The plot drips back in time even further. When a guest at a swish party describes a string of recent murders as a 'dreadful business' it's a line out of Agatha Christie, and sure enough someone drops dead almost immediately, choking on poison, the most genteel of murder weapons. Unlike Christie's sleuth heroes, Kaston Iago has already anticipated and 'solved' the case and is only present to witness the inevitable so he can go home. The deliriously macabre mix of cynicism and comedy has already delivered a priceless scene where another corpse is sent gift-wrapped through the post to another potential victim. Cash on delivery.
There's a trade-off between the science fiction and the more traditional (more television perhaps?) comic-thriller elements, which the SF tends to lose. In The Robots of Death, Boucher refracted Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert through a BBC prism, losing detail but not energy; the same applies to "Occam's Razor". I've not read Corpse Marker - the novel where, I'm told, the seeds of the Kaldor City series are sown - and the world feels lived in but confined. We hardly see the city - most of the action takes place in offices, luxury homes and a slightly less luxurious hotel. Again the TV ethic wins out, this is small-set, hyper-soap stuff in the tradition of The Power Game or The Troubleshooters; or in fact most TV SF. Scott Fredericks (as Psychostrategist Carnell) is probably the least used of the three leads (though he does get the best line). The planet-ranging schemes that tested the talents of his obvious literary antecedents - the Mentats from Frank Herbert's Dune - aren't apparent here, not yet. There are moments when the script looks ready to turn on the class structure of the city but, apart from providing one or two good jokes, it's mainly window-dressing for an entertaining corpse-fest.
So "Occam's Razor" has a TV thriller plot (which is, of course, no mean achievement) but at heart the plot is secondary to the set-up. This is a lovely series opener, a get-together tale to kick-start a series and showcase some interesting acting. Russell Hunter's character is plummy and impulsive, probably the most attractive in the story if not precisely the moral centre. He has just enough bluster to hold his own against Fredericks - smug, superior and frustrated like any exile - and, particularly Paul Darrow. Iago, as a name, suggests the kind of Revenge Tragedy villain that Darrow was born to play, and is a role that allows him to live up to the self-image he created in Blake's 7. It's still 1978 and Iago can still bed any passing female with a single gravel-toned line (and, presumably, those penetrating dark eyes that we can't see - listening, I tried to picture Iago as four-foot tall with wild ginger eyebrows, but it didn't work). Peter Miles manages to prick his pomposity but mainly Darrow can get away with anything - and frequently does.
With Trevor Cooper and Brian Croucher in the major supporting roles, Kaldor City seems to run on testosterone with women mainly victims or voices. And there's another under-represented section of the population - the robots, surprisingly enough, barely register, to the extent where it's hard to visualise them as a visible and essential element of this society (as they are in The Robots of Death). Kaldor City should be bristling with interesting technology and intriguing people and I hope we leave the airless boardrooms and get to hear from them in later episodes. Besides, a Voc isn't a proper Voc unless it's red-eyed and chanting 'kill... kill...' And anyone hoping for further adventures of the Dum-class really ought to give up now - you're only going to be disappointed.
There's a lot to be said for not overloading the series with story elements at this stage. The story's also well-served by precise, straightforward sound design that doesn't suffer from the clutter that's affected some other Who-related audio productions. This is an impressive start that promises a lot for later episodes.
Daniel O'Mahony is the author of the Doctor Who novels Falls the Shadow and The Man in the Velvet Mask.