Killer was the first of four Blakes 7 scripts written by Robert Holmes. He’d recently finished a lengthy stint as script-editor on Doctor Who and was looking for some freelance writing jobs. Chris Boucher, who’d been commissioned by him on Doctor Who, was naturally keen to bring him aboard.
Holmes’ strengths were many, but strong characterisation was always key. It’s therefore no surprise that he latched on immediately to the possibilities of teaming up Avon and Vila (three of his stories feature them together). It’s a joy to watch Darrow and Keating sparking off each other and it’s one of the main pleasures of the episode.
Killer is an interesting script for several reasons. It does feel slightly different to what we’ve previously seen (although it’s not as much of a departure as Holmes’ next story, Gambit). This difference is mostly due to the way Blake is portrayed.
The Liberator has travelled to the planet Fosforon where Avon and Vila teleport down to meet with Tynus (Ronald Lacey). Tynus is the commander of a Federation scientific research base and is an old friend of Avon. Vila’s delighted to hear that Avon has a friend (“I always knew you had a friend. I used to say to people ‘I bet Avon’s got a friend, somewhere in the galaxy'”.) but within minutes we learn their friendship doesn’t run very deep.
Avon and Tynus were involved in a fraud some years back and Avon kept quiet about Tynus’ part. Now he expects Tynus to do him a favour (otherwise he’ll have no qualms about reporting him to the authorities). The reason for Avon’s visit (he needs a TP crystal) is little more than a MacGuffin to pad the story out – the main plot concerns a mysterious and deadly virus which is unleashed on the base.
Whilst orbiting the planet, Zen picks up a Wanderer spacecraft apparently drifting. Blake’s amazed to see it – since it must be over seven hundred years old – and he’s also baffled as to how it reached this part of the galaxy. There’s some brief debate about whether they should investigate (clearly nobody remembers the problem they had in both Time Squad and Bounty when they were curious about derelict crafts).
Luckily for them it’s salvaged by a colleague of Tynus, Dr Bellfriar (Paul Daneman). But Blake remains worried that it could be dangerous (thanks to a rare display of Cally’s telepathy) and decides to warn the base. This is highly unusual – it’s a Federation base so it’s strange that he should be concerned.
Whilst it’s possible to argue that this is due to Holmes’ unfamiliarity with the series (although presumably Chris Boucher would have rewritten the script had he felt it didn’t fit with established continuity) maybe it’s actually another stage in humanising the Federation. Exactly what research they do is never really specified, but Bellfriar is both urbane and welcoming. Blake does tell him he’s a wanted criminal but Belfriar responds by muttering that he’s an absent-minded scientist who’s forgotten his name already.
But presenting the Federation as rounded characters, rather than mindless killers, does create something of a problem – it makes Blake’s various attempts to disrupt the natural order (especially as seen in Star One) seem much more like acts of terrorism than blows for freedom.
If his interest in the fate of the people on the base is a touch uncharacteristic, so is his explanation about what he thinks is happening. It’s the first and last time that Blake ever referenced old-Earth history and is pure Holmes.
BLAKE: Have you ever heard of Lord Jeffrey Ashley?
BLAKE: Mm, pre space age, planet Earth. He was the commander of a British garrison in America, having trouble with hostile natives, redskins. Ashley ordered blankets from smallpox victims to be baled up and sent to the hostile tribes.
BELLFRIAR: Germ warfare.
Killer is an excellent story for Thomas, Darrow and Keating. Alas, it’s much less satisfying for both Jan Chappell and Sally Knyvette, both of whom remain on the Liberator not doing much. Ronald Lacey is typically slimy as Avon’s fair-weather friend whilst Paul Daneman is impressive as the acceptable face of the Federation. His eventual fate (and that of everybody else on the planet) is very grim.
There’s some bizarre looking costumes (Michelin Men in space!) and a rather unconvincing matte painting at the start which looks like it was put together by a child in about five minutes, but apart from these minor niggles it’s a solid production and an impressive debut script from Holmes.