Gambit is an unusual story, certainly for the series to date. Robert Holmes’ script is laced with his usual love of wordplay and the camp quotient is set to eleven. Krantor (Aubrey Woods) and Toise (John Leeson) are an unforgettable double-act – both actors seem to delight in upstaging the other (not least with their costumes – Leeson’s headgear is especially memorable).
There’s a throwaway line that it’s Mardi Gras time at Freedom City, which explains why they’re dressed as they are – and presumably all the extras (dressed as clowns, nuns, etc) are entering into the spirit of the occasion as well. Or their costumes could have just been pulled off the shelves – this is Blakes 7, so it’s always a fair bet that money was tight.
The lack of a decent budget is probably best reflected in the main room of Freedom City’s casino, which is pretty sparsely decorated. So what funds were available seem to have been spent on a handful of new costumes (especially Servalan’s stunning red number).
Servalan, and her assistant Jarriere (Harry Jones), have travelled to Freedom City to find both Travis and cyber-surgeon Docholli (Denis Carey). It’s believed that Docholli knows the location of Star One – so Servalan is anxious to locate him before Blake does. She offers Krantor a substantial sum of money in exchange for his co-operation, but whilst they’re perfectly pleasant to each other on the surface it’s plain that neither trusts or likes the other an inch.
Servalan on Krantor. “He is a despicable animal. When the Federation finally cleans out this cesspit, I shall have that vulpine degenerate eviscerated with a small and very blunt knife.”
Krantor on Servalan. “One of these days, Toise, I am going to have Supreme Commander high-and-mighty Servalan ravaged until she does not know what month she’s in. I’ll have her screaming for death.”
This is typical Holmes, although it’s a little surprising that Krantor’s wish to ravage Servalan made it to the screen. He always delighted in putting lurid dialogue into his scripts and sometimes (especially when Terrance Dicks was script-editing his work on Doctor Who) the more extreme examples were excised. Here, it seems that Chris Boucher was happy to keep them in (unless of course he removed even worse!)
If Krantor and Toise are a great double-act, then so are Servalan and Jarriere. Harry Jones couldn’t have looked less like a Federation trooper if he tried, but maybe this is why he was cast. Jarriere is present mainly to listen admiringly to Servalan’s increasingly convoluted plans about how she intends to deal with both Docholli and Travis. Delightfully, after she’s explained herself in great detail he then admits he doesn’t understand a word of it!
The third excellent double-act in the story are Avon and Vila. Homes had already latched onto the comic possibilities of teaming them up in Killer and he wastes no time in doing so here as well. Their subplot is a little bizarre, but it fits into the odd nature of the story.
Both are aggrieved at having to remain behind on the Liberator with Vila complaining that “if it was a desert down there, so hot your eyeballs frizzled, poisonous snakes under every rock” then Blake would have sent the pair of them. Avon agrees and then decides they should teleport down and break the bank at the casino.
Why they should want to do this (the Liberator possesses untold wealth) is never made clear, plus the concept of Avon sneaking down is also bizarre – it’s difficult to imagine he cares that Blake would disapprove. Some of his dialogue (“you dummy”) seems out of character too.
Avon and Vila intend to win a fortune at the roulette table with the aid of Orac. But since Orac’s rather bulky, after a brief discussion about molecular reduction the computer obligingly reduces himself to one eighth of his normal size. You can either enjoy the comic moment or fret that the episode once again isn’t taking itself seriously.
Blake, Cally and Jenna’s search for Docholli doesn’t last very long (they find a trace of him in the first bar they come to) so they don’t really have a great deal to do. Jenna and Cally’s brief staged cat-fight is easily the highlight of their scenes. Travis skulks about, wearing a silly hat, guarding Docholli as he knows that Blake will turn up to find the surgeon (although how Travis knows about Docholli is never explained).
Thanks to Orac, Vila wins a fortune but then finds himself conned into playing speed chess with the Klute (Deep Roy). If he wins or draws he’ll earn another fortune, but it he loses it’ll cost him his life. Naturally with Orac on hand to whisper suggestions, Vila manages to earn a draw and he and Avon return to the Liberator a good deal richer.
Blake, Cally and Jenna have returned too, with information that will send them off to the planet Goth to locate a tribal chief who wears the brain-print of someone who knew the location of Star One around his neck. When Blake asks Avon and Vila if anything’s happened he’s immediately suspicious by the sight of their innocent expressions (Darrow deadpans terribly well).
If you like your Blakes 7 on the gritty side, then Gambit may not appeal but everyone else should find something to enjoy here.