Where to start with Voice from the Past? There’s some good ideas in Roger Parkes’ script but ultimately the story is incoherent and illogical. It does have a decent opening hook though – Blake starts acting oddly and changes course from the idyllic sounding Del Ten to a lifeless asteroid called PK One One Eight. He offers no explanation, beyond “try trusting me.” Paul Darrow has the best of the early exchanges especially when he decides that Blake is “certainly not normal, not even for Blake.”
This is somewhat ironic, since Blake’s command style has so often kept everyone in the dark whilst he formulated elaborate plans that sometimes (as in Pressure Point) end in disaster. So his behaviour here isn’t particularly out of character, though Cally picks up a faint tone oscillation which suggests somehow he’s being manipulated.
With the unstable Blake under restraint it falls to Vila to look after him. Bad move. It recalls a similar scene in Breakdown, where Gan was restrained and Cally was monitoring him. Both Gan and Blake appeared quite normal and asked to be freed, but Vila proves much more gullible than Cally was – he not only releases him but also swallows his story that Avon and Cally have been plotting against the rest of them. This whole part of the story does no favours at all for Vila, since it portrays him as an easily duped simpleton.
With Avon, Cally and Jenna locked up, Vila teleports Blake down to the surface of the asteroid. The opening shot of Blake on the asteroid’s surface is a stunning example of incredibly poor CSO – not helped by the fact that the background image seems to have been drawn by a child. Things then get stranger still when he meets the people who have summoned him.
Ven Glynd (Richard Bebb) was the arbiter at Blake’s trial, but he’s now defected from the Federation and has in his possession information which he claims will bring down both the civil administration and the space corps. Also present is a broken, bandaged figure who we’re told is Shivan, a notable resistance leader.
Sadly Robert James wasn’t able to reprise his role as Ven Glynd, so Richard Bedd stepped into the part. Whilst he’s not as compelling an actor as James, he still manages to do his best and there are the odd signs of just how wily an operator Ven Glynd is (he wants Blake to rule as a puppet leader whilst he enjoys the real power). Glynd asks Blake and the others to accompany him to the Governor’s Summit Meeting at Atlay. There, along with a powerful ally, Governor Le Grand (Freda Knorr), they will present their evidence.
One of the most obvious plot-flaws is why Ven Glynd and Le Grand should attempt to manipulate Blake by beaming messages into his mind. Why not just contact the Liberator direct? The most obvious answer is that they’re not telling the truth, but although they have agendas both are honest in what they want Blake to do – so why attempt to brainwash him, when he probably would have agreed to help anyway?
Le Grand explains to Blake what will happen and that they want him to be the new ruler of the Terran administration.
LE GRAND: For years now, the Arbiter General and I have prepared for this moment. He gathering evidence of the Administration’s infamies, while I lobbied the support of my fellow governors. However, we could not challenge and discredit the Administration until we had found an alternative leadership, capable of uniting all factions.
BLAKE: Well, you, Governor.
LE GRAND: No. He who leads must be from Earth. Someone of renowned integrity, someone who has become a legend of hope to the great mass of the oppressed. A messiah.
It all comes to nothing though, since Servalan has been pulling the strings all along. Shivan is really Travis in disguise(!) and Servalan seems to have allowed Ven Glynd and Le Grand to hatch their plot just so she can enjoy crushing their feeble attempt at rebellion in the most dramatic way. Again, this doesn’t make much sense – why not simply arrest Ven Glynd and Le Grand? Even if the evidence wasn’t particularly strong we’ve seen how the Federation can easily trump up charges, so the only possible reason for letting them live was so Servalan could enjoy their ultimate humiliation.
As for Shivan really being Travis …. words almost fail me, but it’s an undeniably enjoyable piece of very bad acting. His initial scene is notable for the appearance of two of the most familiar faces from this era of television – highly experienced walk-ons Harry Fielder and Pat Gorman (who between them racked up hundreds of television and film credits). They don’t do anything, but their presence is remarkably comforting.
Gareth Thomas struggles somewhat in this one. Blake’s sudden mood swings would be difficult for any actor to cope with, so I wouldn’t want to be too hard on him. Paul Darrow gets some great lines and makes the most of them whilst Michael Keating isn’t best served with a script that turns him into a credulous fool.
Jan Chappell and Sally Knyvette both have a little more to do in this episode. Especially Jenna, who agrees (rather reluctantly) to undergo dual therapy with Blake in order to probe the reason for his erratic behaviour. But Brian Croucher need not have taken part at all – Travis serves no useful function in the story which means that Shivan might just as well have been the man he claimed he was. Jacqueline Pearce’s role is quite small, but her scene at the end (as her image is presented in widescreen) is a memorable one.
Not an episode you could say is actually good, but it’s certainly never dull.