Comments on 'The Syndeton Experiment'
by Nicola Mody

Caution: spoilers.

Another comedy. Pity Blake's 7 wasn't one. It's entertaining, but it's not what we hoped for.

The Good

A good story if you can ignore the hyper-jumps, difficult as that is.

Michael Keating, Paul Darrow, Peter Tuddenham, and Jacqueline Pearce are once again very good, as is Steven Pacey, who gets Tarrant's voice right this time.

I enjoyed the guest characters, especially Vledka, now promoted to Captain. His scenes with Servalan are a delight and I hope he appears in any future radio plays.

Although Madame Gaskia is almost a female version of King Gheblakon, she is amusing enough, especially when she kisses an unwilling and disgusted Avon, and her voice conveys her size well.

Still unable to get his mind off food (see the Ugly section) Vila does get drunk which is more in character, but sensibly draws the line (so to speak) at cratch.

Dayna's line "They’re all three asleep now." gave me a mental image of her solicitously tucking Avon, Vila, and Tarrant in and perhaps telling them a bedtime story, which did make me smile.

I liked Rossum's matter-of-fact offer of toasted cheese after his rave about his incipient godhood, and Vila's single-minded pursuit of it. I hope he got some, back at Xenon base.

And I'd echo Vila: why were the neurobots purple? Rossum's favourite colour perhaps?

The Bad

Once again, neither Angela Bruce nor Paula Wilcox sound at all like Dayna and Soolin. And why didn't they get some extras in to do the walk-ons? It was confusing to have the cast double up like that, especially Michael Keating as the tourist guide, who sounded confusingly Vilaesque.

There is a scene of exposition where Soolin and Orac tell Dayna (and us) about the syndeton that is used in the hyperdrive. It was both clumsy and not in character for the cool and reserved Soolin to be so giggly and almost playful.

The crew would never refer to the Federation as 'Feds', and we've never heard of FedSec. Soolin's "You’d better get your rollers on. The Feds are in town, Servalan’s lot." is just cringe-making. And as for Avon's "scuttling away, whimpering like a bunch of mutant mongrels from the backstreet gutters of Balaksom."...enough said.

What is the synthesised voice that tells Servalan about Dr Rossum? If it's a computer, it sounds confusingly like one of Rossum's neurobots later on.

I can't imagine Avon being "kicked out of the Academy", nor knocking about the more unsavoury parts of the galaxy, particularly given that he almost died buying a forged exit visa. It can't have been easy to get off Earth, so it's both out of character and very unlikely.

Rossum calls Avon 'the tall one' but he's not much taller than Dayna or Vila. In fact, when Vila / Keating forgets to slouch, he's taller than Avon. And how does Rossum have access to the FedSec computers?

Soolin had joined the crew only recently and had never been seen with them before The Sevenfold Crown, in which Servalan refers to her as "your lovely friend", obviously, quite rightly, not knowing her name. So why does Dr Rossum assume Dayna to be Soolin? She isn't known to be with them, and I don't think she ever is. Even if she were, and he hacked into the FedSec computers and followed the viscasts about them as avidly as he seemed to, he should know she wasn't Dayna as they don't look much alike. It would have been much better and a nice touch had he thought she was Cally.

Also, why does Rossum call Vila 'Vila'. The FedSec computer and news viscasts would refer to him as Restal. Similarly, the robot calls him Mr Vila, not Mr Restal. Letts is obviously unaware that Vila is his first name.

Avon tells Soolin to get the landed Scorpio into a geostationary orbit, which she does. Surely Modnitz in the Titan would have seen her and fired on her.

How did Rossum convince two million people to have their consciousnesses transferred to robots? Even using his syndeton nanochip for mind control, he would have had to inject the lot of them. Or were they just very gullible people?

Rossum says that unnecessary things like emotions do not get transferred, though there is "small residue of learned patterns of feeling after the transfer". This is patently not the case with Robo-Vila / the Vilabot—he's appalled to find he's a robot, and seems to be a complete copy of Vila, emotions and all.

How did Avon deduce that Vila had not been transferred to the robot? He believes that he was at first, as he says, "You must change him back!". What made him realise that Vila had been copied rather than moved? I would have liked an explanation of Avon's deductive brilliance.

The Ugly

Not only has Letts used Babylon 5-style hyper-jumps again, he made them a major plot device. And what's this about missing the coordinates for one of them? Do the hyper-jump positions move? It appears that ships did go through hyperspace in Blake's 7, but it was unlike that which is described in The Syndeton Experiment which is a place with no directions and no way to change course—and if there are no directions, how does one find the next jump point? In Blake's 7, ships did however change course within a visible starfield—if very slowly and ponderously—and even encountered and fired on each other. Also, given that monopasium 239 was mentioned in 'Horizon' as the basis for a new intergalactic hyper-drive, it's a pity this wasn't used instead of yet another fictitious element, syndeton 279. Hmm, The Monopasium Experiment, partially set on Horizon AKA Silmareno, with Ro or the widowed Selma playing the Gaskia role...

Vila's eating disorder now appears to be involuntary bulimia brought on by hyper-jumps. Pity there was no sign of it or its cause in the series. And if hyper-jumps make him throw up, how come he didn't in 'The Sevenfold Crown' when they did two very close together. Internal consistency matters.

Klissak the drug dealer dying under torture, the 'death' of a self-aware robot, and the genocide of two million people is very B7 but does not suit a comedy, which is what I assume this to be.

A Footnote

Barry Letts used the names Rossum and Kapeka either in homage or as an in-joke.

The word robot comes from the Czech word robota meaning drudgery or servitude (a robotnik is a peasant) and first appeared in the Czech play R.U.R. by Karel Capek. It was written in 1920 and was immensely popular. R.U.R. stood for 'Rossum's Universal Robots', which was a father-and-son enterprise. The inventor, the mad Old Rossum, wanted to reproduce humanity, while Young Rossum simply wanted to sell cheap labour to industry.

For more information on the play that gave us robots, please visit this site.

Thanks to Jackie Speel for pointing this out.