Back to May 1986 (21st May 1986)

The first series of Jossy’s Giants comes to a conclusion, and as it’s the big cup match I might tune in. Written by Sid Waddell, it was always an entertaining watch with Jim Barclay giving an engaging performance as the eponymous Jossy, the new manager of the Glipton Grasshoppers (a youth football team that prior to his arrival seemed doomed to remain at the bottom of the league). My previous thoughts on the series can be found here.

Later also on BBC1 there’s a repeat of Lame Ducks. A P.J. Hammond sitcom, it’s always piqued my interest for that reason if nothing else. But you can’t grumble about the cast (John Duttine, Lorraine Chase, Tony Millan, Brian Murphy, Cyd Hayman) and it’s one of those forgotten series (not repeated in decades, never released on DVD) that’s considerably more entertaining than its low opinion suggests. Even so, I think Hammond did the right thing by concentrating on drama ….

Undoubted pick of the evening is the first episode of A Very Peculiar Practice on BBC2 (which I’ve written about elsewhere). Whilst the first series of AVPP hasn’t had a terrestrial repeat since 1990, it’s a programme that still seems to have a profile today. The DVD release has helped of course, but it’s interesting to remember that although it was well received at the time, ratings-wise it only attracted modest figures.

Some programmes, despite average ratings, seem destined to endure whilst others might top the charts but are forgotten soon afterwards (although of course, the reverse can also true). For further reading about neglected television drama, I can’t do worse than point you in the direction of the Forgotten Television Drama blog.

Back to May 1986 (20th May 1986)

Once again, the number of prime time repeats rather surprises me. My recollection of this era tended to confine re-runs mostly to July and August (a dead couple of months,  which saw the impatient viewer counting down the days before the exciting new season launched in September).

One Arabian Night is the Terry and June episode on offer. Written by Colin Bostock-Smith, it’s a politically incorrect half hour – Derek Griffiths guests as an Arab Prince who takes a shine to June and offers to buy her for fifty camels.

We’re on firmer ground with Juliet Bravo (The Day The Circus Left Town). The Kenny Everett Show is also worth a look – it’s a re-run from the third series, so the strike rate is still pretty high (the show tended to tail off somewhat during the next few years).

Over on ITV there’s Duty Free – a series that was incredibly popular at the time (even displacing Coronation Street at the top of the ratings) although didn’t seem to generate an equal amount of love. Even today, it’s seen as a lesser part of the Eric Chappell canon – but I’ve always loved it. Very studio-bound, it has the feel of a stage farce which is one of the reasons why I’ve always found it appealing. When the Christmas Special went to Spain for location filming it seemed to kill the comedy stone dead, which suggests that the artificiality of studio VT work can sometimes be a positive.

And if there’s time I’ll catch a bit more of Edward and Mrs Simpson.

Back to May 1986 (18th May 1986)

Peak time BBC1 repeats of Hancock’s Half Hour (or, strictly speaking, Hancock) are almost impossible to credit now (or indeed, even just an off-peak BBC4 slot). Although some channels (Talking Pictures TV, say) are content to play monochrome material, there’s still a wide assumption that “the masses” just wouldn’t accept it.

But back in the eighties I don’t recall any particular revulsion against these HHH re-runs. Although that’s possibly because back then colour television was still a relative novelty. It might have been introduced in the UK during the late sixties and early seventies, but many would have stayed with black and white until later in the 1970’s (or possibly even into the 1980’s).

Anyway, tonight’s episode, The Radio Ham, is a must watch. I’ll have my tray of bread pudding and the results of the Daily Herald brass competition to hand ….

When rifling through these schedules it’s very noticeable how many repeats there were in primetime. Along with Tony Hancock, there’s another chance to see the second and final episode of Miss MarpleThe Moving Finger. This is a swifter re-run than the Lad’s effort though (originally broadcast in February 1985).

The Moving Finger might not be Christie’s most baffling mystery, but it’s always been a favourite of mine. Julia Jones’ adaptation treats the source material with respect – she makes changes along the way (Miss Marple, for example, only made a fleeting appearance in the original novel) but Christie’s voice remains clear. Some recent writers who have tackled the Dame’s work and twisted it almost out of recognition, should take note …

And with direction from Roy Boulting and an excellent cast (Michael Culver, Richard Pearson, Sabina Franklyn, Hilary Mason and John Arnatt) you can’t really go wrong.

Back to May 1986 (16th May 1986)

The randomiser has taken me back to 1986, to sample a week’s television. What does Friday the 16th of May offer? Let’s take a look ….

BBC1 offers a repeat of Home and Dry, the final episode from Big Deal’s first series (watching this might spur me into attempting a complete rewatch). There’s more repeats on ITV – Me and My Girl and Home to Roost. Me and My Girl isn’t greeted with much enthusiasm by the Daily Mirror blurb writer, Tony Pratt (who also seems unaware that the show had already clocked up three series by this point) but you can’t argue with the combined talents of O’Sullivan, Brooke-Taylor and Sanderson.

Home to Roost isn’t a sitcom that’s ever really clicked with me (which is surprising, since I’ve always enjoyed most of Eric Chappell’s output). Maybe time to give it another go and see if it’s more engaging this time round.

The undoubted pick of the evening is Quo Vadis, Pet, the final episode of Auf Wiedersehen, Pet‘s second series. At the time this seemed to be the final end (although it’s slightly disturbing to realise that the first comeback series aired twenty years ago. Where has that time gone?)

The second series, of course, was overshadowed by the death of Gary Horton – especially towards the end of the run when his absence had to be explained away by a double passing through shot or amended dialogue. Despite this, all of the series’ remaining story threads are neatly tied up and even if the second half of series two did sag a little, I’d have to say it slightly edges the first run as my favourite.

Back to April 1986 (10th April 1986)

TOTP, EastEnders and I Woke Up One Morning are all tempting on BBC1. EastEnders is still in the middle of the who fathered Michelle’s baby saga, so sparks look likely to fly – especially when the normally mild-mannered Arthur finds his dander is well and truly up.

I Woke Up One Morning is one of those programmes that seems to have totally slipped from view – despite a first-rate cast and sharp scripts by Carla Lane. The series’ theme (it’s centered around the travails of a group of recovering alcoholics) doesn’t look like it promises merriment but it manages to be wryly amusing (although bleakness is never too far away).

I might catch the repeat of Star Trek on BBC2 whilst bemoaning the lack of Karen Kay’s show online. Rounding things off with an episode of Kojak on ITV that’s a pretty full evening.

Back to April 1980 (5th April 1980)

I’ll be sticking with BBC1 today. First there’s Wonder Woman, with the series three episode The Starships are Coming. An everyday tale of alien invasion (or is it?). By this point the show was beginning to run out of steam, but this is a decent one – very silly of course, but that’s the appeal of WW.

A sharp change of pace next, for All Creatures Great & Small. Big Steps and Little ‘Uns is a key episode – the final episode of series three (which at the time seemed to spell the end of the series) it ends on a sombre note as James and Siegfried, with WW2 looming, both face the prospect of leaving the security of the Dales for an unknown future. This is obviously the cue for a series of emotional farewells which the regulars play pitch-perfectly.

I’ll round off the evening with a double dose of Dallas, which sees Jock stands trial. My Dallas rewatch has somewhat run aground during the last year, so possibly dipping in here might reignite my enthusiasm to pick it up again.

On this day (22nd January)

The Odd Job, the third episode of Six Dates with Barker, was broadcast on ITV in 1971.

My Six Dates rewatch has reached this episode. It’s always good to see Ronnie Barker and David Jason teamed up (and for this era it’s a rarity for Jason to be playing his own age).  I’ve previously written about the episode here.

Look to the Lady – Part One, the first episode of Campion, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1989.

Both BBC and ITV had already scored successes earlier in the decade with heritage detectives (Miss Marple, Sherlock Holmes) so it wasn’t a surprise to find the BBC scouring the bookshops for another Golden Age detective writer ripe for adaptation.

Margery Allingham had been a contemporary of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L.  Sayers, but it’s fair to say that over the decades her profile had dipped somewhat – making her stories ideal for rediscovery. Her later Campion novels became rather ponderous, but the early ones, like Look to the Lady, had an appealing light-hearted tone (it’s not surprising that the series tended to favour her earlier efforts).

Adapted by Alan Plater, Look to the Lady was the ideal way to kick off the series. Peter Davison and Brian Glover both hit the ground running and there’s strong support from the guest cast (such as Gordon Jackson in one of his final television appearances).

Hopes for Campion were obviously high as a second series was commissioned before the first was transmitted. But it never reached a third – possibly scheduling (the early episodes of series one were put against David Suchet’s Poirot whilst series two was placed opposite The Charmer) had a part to play in this.

Even now though, I still hold out hopes that Peter Davison might reprise the role in adaptations of some of the later novels (like The Tiger In The Smoke). Maybe one day ….

On this day (10th January)

The first episode of Children of the Stones was broadcast on ITV in 1977.

ITV in general (and HTV in particular) were on something of roll when it came to spooky children’s television dramas during the 1970’s. Children of the Stones was a strong entry on that roll call, and is still remembered by many with a shudder of unease.

Written by Jeremy Burnham and Trevor Ray and with a cast including Gareth Thomas, Iain Cuthbertson and Freddie Jones, it stands up today very well. For a relatively obscure programme, it’s enjoyed something of a rebirth in recent years – there was a 2012 Radio 4 documentary, a reprint of the original novelisation as well as a new sequel book (also written by Burnham and Ray), audiobook readings by Gareth Thomas and a new audio adaptation in 2020, which is still available as a podcast.

The first episode of The Price was broadcast on Channel 4 in 1985.

A six part serial, featuring fine lead performances from Peter Barkworth and Harriet Walter, I’ve previously reviewed it here. For a short while a few years back, Simply Media dug into the Channel 4 archives and came up with a fair few items of interest – this being one.

The Firefly Cage, the first episode of Lovejoy, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1986.

Developed for television by Ian La Frenais from the novels by Jonathan Gash, the tv Lovejoy lacked the rough corners of the literary original – in the hands of Ian McShane, Lovejoy was simply a loveable rogue rather than being an underhand and unscrupulous one. I haven’t dipped into the series for a while, but when I do I tend to go for this first run (which although successful, wasn’t followed up for another five years).

The Firefly Cage is a decent set up episode, with all the regulars introduced effectively as well as an alluring performance from Kim Thomson as Nicola Paige, the first of many femme fatales to cross Lovejoy’s path.

Also debuting today – Nanny, The District Nurse, Charters and Caldicott (reviewed here) and Constant Hot Water. If Constant Hot Water is remembered at all, it’s only because it was Pat Phoenix’s last series (although her final transmitted television performance was in an episode Unnatural Causes). Maybe one day Constant Hot Water will resurface, hopefully so as I’d be curious to see how she worked with a studio audience.

On this day (9th January)

Strangers on a Train, the first episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads?, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1973.

There might be previous examples which have slipped my mind, but WHTTLL has to be one of the first sitcoms which allowed its characters to grow and develop. Most sitcoms prior to this (Steptoe & Son or Dad’s Army, say) existed in a kind of stasis, but the Bob and Terry of 1973 were certainly different from the young lads we first met in the early sixties.

Given Bolam and Bewes’ later estrangement, it’s hard not to rewatch the series without pondering how far real life mirrored fiction. Graham McCann’s summation of their relationship (click here) might be a little waspish towards Bewes, but it does help to redress the balance previously painted (largely by Bewes as a victim, it must be said).

Throughout WHTTLL it becomes obvious that Bob and Terry have little now in common and it’s mainly the ties of childhood friendship which still keep them together. For Bolam and Bewes during the 1970’s, it was only the work that kept them together – like Bob and Terry they were totally different people with few shared interests.

Mind you, I don’t have a problem with discovering this and am always surprised when someone states that they find it difficult to now watch the series after learning that the stars weren’t the best of friends. For me, they’re simply giving an acting performance – and if they convince, then they’re very good actors.

The Grand Design, the first episode of Yes Prime Minister, was broadcast on BBC2 in 1986.

I think that the first series of YPM has to be my favourite run of episodes (Yes Minister was always consistent, but these eight episodes just have the edge). By now the formula was well established, the three regulars were totally comfortable with their characters and the elevation of Jim Hacker to the PM’s chair gave the series a little extra spice.

Sitcom fans were well catered for this evening, as you could then switch over to BBC1 to catch the first episode of Blackadder IIBells.

Sirens, the first episode of Rockliffe’s Babies, was broadcast on BBC1 in 1987.

For the best part of thirty years the BBC pumped out a series of top-rated police series – Dixon of Dock Green, Z Cars and its various sequels and Juliet Bravo. After Juliet Bravo came to an end in 1985, they struggled to find a long-running replacement.

Rockliffe’s Babies briefly looked like it might have the legs, but in the end it only ran for two series. Oh, plus there was the faintly bizarre spin-off in which Rockliffe became a country copper (which was almost as jarring as seeing DI Maggie Forbes in the C.A.T.S. Eyes environment).

Reviewing it now, Rockliffe’s Babies is patchier than I remember, but there are some strong episodes and it has the same urban feel of The Bill from this period (like its Thames counterpart, the show was shot entirely on VT).

Ian Hogg’s always good to watch (although in this one he’s only called upon to utter a few words) and maybe casting seven relatively unknown young actors was done in the hope that one or two stars might emerge who could then be given their own series (as had happened with the likes of Auf Wiedersehen Pet). Most are still acting today, although Susanna Shelling’s post Rockliffe career was fairly brief (her last television credit was in 2007).

All Memories Great and Small – Expanded Edition by Oliver Crocker (Book Review)

With one notable exception (Doctor Who) the production histories of many British television programmes aren’t terribly well documented. There are exceptions of course (the sterling work carried out by Andrew Pixley for a variety of series, David Brunt’s painstaking Z Cars tomes and recent books about programmes as diverse as Star Cops and The Brothers have all been more than welcome).

Until the original edition of All Memories Great and Small in 2016, the BBC version of All Creatures was one of those neglected series, but Oliver Crocker’s wonderfully exhaustive book certainly rectified that. Now reissued with additional interviews and fascinating production information for 35 of the series’ 90 episodes, it’s better than ever.

Since the original publication, several of the interviewees (such as Bill Sellars and Robert Hardy) have sadly passed away, which makes the book even more of a valuable resource as there’s no substitute for first hand recollections. The roster of those who agreed to be interviewed is impressive – not only key regulars such as Christopher Timothy, Robert Hardy, Carol Drinkwater and Peter Davison, but also a plethora of guest stars and behind the scenes crew who are able to share many stories about the series’ production.

The icing on this particularly succulent cake has to be a slew of wonderful production photographs with the odd studio floor plan thrown in for good measure,

The format of All Memories Great And Small is straightforward and effective. Each episode (from Horse Sense in 1978 to the final Christmas Special in 1990) is given its own chapter. All have reminiscences from a variety of contributors (some specific to that episode, some more general) whilst selected episodes also contain production info (handy if you’re looking to pinpoint specific locations used, for example).

Clocking in at just over 400 pages, it’s plain that this book was a real labour of love. If you’ve got the original edition then it’s still worth an upgrade for the additional material. But if you’ve yet to buy it and have any interest in the BBC series, then All Memories Great and Small is an essential purchase. An absolute treasure trove of a resource, I know that it’ll be something I’ll return to again and again in the future.

All Memories Great and Small can be ordered directly from Devonfire Books via this link or from them via this Amazon link.

Blakes 7 coming to Forces TV – September 2021

Blakes 7 will be teleporting to Forces TV (Sky 181, Freeview 96, Freesat 165, Virgin 274) from next month.

For us old sweats who have the series on DVD (and before that VHS) this won’t be news to get the pulse racing, but it’s always worth bearing in mind that most people have never really assembled DVD archives of any size, so this will be their first opportunity to see the series for a few decades (and it might even pick up a few new fans along the way).

Forces TV have made some interesting digs into the BBC archives recently (such as No Place Like Home, which was only ever partly commercially available) and hopefully they will continue in this vein.

The Day of the Triffids on Blu Ray

When The Day of the Triffids came out on Blu Ray late last year it was greeted with a chorus of disapproval. Having recently acquired a copy, I was intrigued to find out how the various reviews published at the time addressed the hotly debated picture issues.

Some quick Googling later, it appears that whilst most of the reviewers were aware of the negative comments, they went on to dismiss the concerns raised – either because they hadn’t watched the serial since its original broadcast and so were unaware of how it had always looked or they simply believed that VT interior shots would never have the same quality as the film exteriors.

The arguments against the BD were basically threefold. Firstly the film sequences (which make up approximately 60% of the serial) had been oversaturated, lending some sequences a bright, sunny feel (rather at odds with the gloomy feel of the original). Next, the VT studio shots had all been “filmised” – but unlike various previous releases where this had been done accidentally, apparently this time round it was an artistic choice. Hum.

Lastly, the credits were remade. This is something that happens regularly on the Doctor Who DVDs and BDs, but they take extreme care to find fonts which match the originals – whereas on the Triffids BD a close approximation was used. Good enough for most, but an irritation for those who have lived with the serial for forty years ….

I could cope with the titles issue, but the grading and filmising are the sort of things which raise my hackles. We’ve been here before with grading problems – some of the Peter Davison Doctor Who DVDs looked a little odd (Black Orchid springs to mind) whilst accidental filmising has bedeviled various DVDs such as Softly Softly: Task Force series one (eventually fixed) and Grange Hill series one – four (never fixed, alas).

Modern televisions tend to handle filmising better than old ones (when I rewatched the early Grange Hill DVDs recently I found that it didn’t look quite as bad as I’d remembered) so the VT scenes in Triffids aren’t totally horrible, although knowing that they could and should be better is a tad irritating.

The film sequences are certainly dazzling – Jo’s yellow boiler suit leaps out of the screen, for example – but I think overall I prefer the more muted feel of the DVD. When I come back to Triffids in future it might be the DVD I’ll reach for, rather than the more glossy BD. What’s certain is that unlike some BD upgrades, I’ll be hanging onto the DVD.

Irrespective of how you watch it, you certainly should. John Duttine is very solid as the everyman cast in an almost impossible situation, with Emma Relph (an actress with surprisingly few credits) offering him strong support. Maurice Colbourne is always watchable whilst there are plenty of vividly sketched cameos (from the likes of Jonathan Newth, Stephen Yardley, David Swift and John Hollis).

With a limited budget, director Ken Hannam managed to effectively depict a London in turmoil during the early episodes (it’s amazing what a few sound effects and a handful of extras can achieve). There are some drawbacks – it was a pity that Bill (John Duttine) didn’t witness Dr Soames’ suicide as he did in the book – but having Bill return to find Soames’ body did mean that the production was saved the cost of an expensive stunt ….

Coming up to its 40th birthday, Day of the Triffids has lost none of its power to discomfort (amazing to think that it was deemed to be acceptable pre-watershed fare).

Terrance Dicks (1935 – 2019)

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Growing up, Terrance Dicks’ Doctor Who novelisations were my staple reading diet. The Target range had other writers of course, but some of their books (like the two by David Whitaker) seemed a bit intimidating (especially the dense Crusaders).

Terrance may sometimes have been criticised for being a plain, straight-ahead sort of writer, but it’s undeniable that his books were perfectly pitched for his young readership. When I was slightly older I had the confidence to tackle The Crusaders, but had Terrance not been there first then maybe I wouldn’t have made the leap.

It’s a common refrain to hear people say that Terrance Dicks taught them to read, but it’s also true in so many cases ….

His contribution to Doctor Who in general was immense.  He wrote and co-wrote some excellent stories, but his work as possibly the series’ most efficient script editor really stands out. Having witnessed the script chaos which bedevilled the series during the late Troughton era, Dicks (with Barry Letts as a strong and supportive producer) brought stability back to the production office.

Dicks’ formula was simple – find a small group of writers you could depend on (Robert Holmes, Brian Hayles, Terry Nation, Malcolm Hulke, Robert Sloman, Bob Baker & Dave Martin) and then keep on recommissioning them. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Outside of Doctor Who, his work as first script editor and then later producer on the Classic Serials is worthy of further investigation. Like Doctor Who they had to get by on fairly small budgets and this might be one of the reasons why eventually they fell out of favour. By the mid eighties, glossy all-film productions of classic novels were the way forward and the humbler Classic Serial began to look second best by comparison. But many have stood the test of time well and still entertain today (such as the 1984 Invisible Man).

I’m also prepared to fight the corner of Moonbase 3, a series which I have a great deal of love for. It’s far from perfect (indeed Letts and Dicks’ series opener is especially stodgy) but it’s something I find myself drawn back to again and again. Although I’m not quite sure why ….

This evening I’ll be spinning Horror of Fang Rock in tribute. Not only is it a great story, it’s also a perfect example of Dicks’ no-nonsense style. Forced at the eleventh hour to cobble together a new story (after his previous submission was vetoed) Dicks didn’t panic – he simply rolled up his sleeves and got on with it.

Fang Rock is archetypical Doctor Who – take a group of bickering characters, trap them in an enclosed space with no hope of escape and then kill them off one by one.  It’s hard to go wrong with such a formula and Dicks didn’t disappoint.

He was inadvertently helped by Tom Baker who was in an even more stroppier mood than usual – but his disdain for the script, his co-star, Pebble Mill studios, director Paddy Russell and just about everybody and everything else actually seemed to work in Fang Rock‘s favour. Tom’s Doctor was never more alien and foreboding than he was in this story – and even if this was something to do with the fact that Tom was missing his regular Soho drinking haunts, no matter.

The Fang Rock DVD also boasts a lovely Terrance Dicks documentary and a lively commentary track where Dicks, Louise Jameson and John Abbott swop stories (often about Tom of course).

Judging by the way Terrance is trending on Twitter at the moment I’m sure I won’t be alone in paying tribute tonight. RIP sir and thank you.

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Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Blake


Blake is all about the ending. An obvious comment, but it means that the first forty five minutes, interesting as they are, feels like a very long prologue (a bit like one of those Dalek stories by Terry Nation, where you’re simply waiting for the Dalek to pop up at the first cliffhanger).

But there are plenty of compensations before the final, fatal meeting between Blake and Avon. The initial appearance of Blake – now a grizzled, embittered bounty hunter – is striking, although his later conversation with Deeva (an underused David Collings) does undercut his first few scenes.

The realisation that Blake is simply playing the role of a bounty hunter (indulging a strange whim it seems) turns out to be his downfall. Blake’s autocratic command style often led to disaster during the Liberator days, but this was his most comprehensive blunder.

There’s no reason why Blake needed to personally vet every new recruit to his latest army, and indeed it seems odd that he’s trawling amongst the dregs of the Galaxy on Guada Prime for likely suspects. Or does he now believe, after his exploits on the Liberator, that criminals are the only honest people left?

I’m not quite convinced by the shot of the model Scorpio crashing through the trees, but the destruction of the full-sized set is nicely done.

“Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?”. Paul Darrow doesn’t hold back here, but since Avon is clearly a man well past his breaking point I think we can forgive his enthusiastic delivery of the line.

I wish I could share some interesting anecdote about how shocking I found the episode to be back in 1981, but alas there’s no such memory. I certainly would have watched it, but I think I just shrugged my shoulders and moved on with my life. Possibly I was already anticipating a fifth series ….

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Warlord

Warlord has a striking opening. The inhabitants of Zondar – heavily drugged with Pylene-50 – are mown down by Federation troops whilst the following encouraging words (“You are cared for. You are loved”) seep out of the tannoy. A brief, but welcome, return to the nightmarish themes of The Way Back.

After that encouraging start, things return to normal when we start to focus on the delegates. Um, they’re an interesting bunch ….

Mind you, although they look more than a little silly they do brighten up the episode. Indeed, I was a little disappointed that Rick James’ appearance was so brief.

Avon’s desire to form an alliance with numerous interested parties, including the warlord Zukon (Roy Boyd), seems to have come out of nowhere. Although there was a vague attempt to recruit experts in their respective fields earlier in the year (along with the odd mention of Pylene-50) it’s a shame that this arc wasn’t developed a little more.

Of course this grand alliance is doomed to failure since Zukon is in cahoots with Servalan (shock, horror). Jacqueline Pearce exits the series with something of a whimper – her involvement in this story is minimal and not terribly interesting

I know that many were disappointed Servalan didn’t appear in Blake, but having her pop up at the end of the final episode would have been such a cliché, so I’m glad they didn’t go down that route. But they could have made a little more effort with her role in this one.

Poor Tarrant is unlucky in love yet again. His dalliance with Zeeona (Bobbie Brown) was obviously going to be short-lived (especially after we learnt that her daddy, Zukon. is a baddy). It’s hard to take their scenes together that seriously (mainly because of her Toyah hair-cut) but her final scene is nicely played.

Never a favourite, Warlord still chugs along quite nicely.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Orbit

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You don’t really need to see Robert Holmes’ name on the opening credits to know that Orbit is one of his. Doubtful than anybody else would have had the nerve to do a story quite like this ….

Egrorian (John Savident) is a grotesque who, despite his camp capering, still manages to come across as sinister and threatening. Savident is clearly enjoying himself, but he still reigns it in from time to time – most notably when he’s torturing the hapless Pinder (Larry Noble). “Can you feel your extensor muscle tearing? Can you feel your humerus grating against your radius? Hmm.? Just a little more… a little more… now you’re feeling it, aren’t you?”. Holmes’ dark streak is really noticeable in this story – possibly Boucher had decided that since the series had virtually run its course they might as well go for broke.

To nobody’s great surprise, Servalan is discovered to be lurking in the shadows, but on the positive side Jacqueline Pearce gets the rare opportunity to play comedy – her scenes with an amorous Egorian are wonderful (you can see a whole range of expressions flitting across her face as Egorian launches into his spiel). It seems slightly strange that Servalan has no backup at all, but if she had then the scene of her trapped with a randy Egorian wouldn’t have quite had the same impact.

The dialogue zings throughout. Egorian’s description of the qualities required by a great leader is a delight. “Natural leaders are rarely encumbered with intelligence. Greed, egotism, animal cunning, and viciousness are the important attributes. Qualities I detect in you in admirably full measure”.

But as entertaining as all the Egorian byplay is, it’s the final ten minutes or so (as Avon and Vila find themselves in dire straits) that really stands out. A pity that Paul Darrow couldn’t make his innocent, pleading voice a little more convincing (or was it supposed to be deliberately off-kilter?). The sight of a sweating and tear-stained Vila carries a real punch (the sight of Avon attempting to shift a small Perspex box, slightly less so).

Had the show ran to a fifth series it would have been interesting to see how the Avon/Vila dynamic would have developed. Unfortunately it’s only lightly touched upon during the final two episodes.

But no matter, Orbit might be uncomfortable in many ways, but it’s still one of the series’ best episodes.

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Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Gold

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Avon’s old friend Keiller (Roy Kinnear), the purser of a pleasure liner called the Space Princess, has a foolproof plan to steal a fortune in gold. What could possibly go wrong?

Gold works as well as it does mainly because of Kinnear’s performance. He plays perfectly to type – a shifty, ingratiating sort of person – and it’s the way that Keiller interacts with his “old friend” Avon as well as his vain attempts to flatter the ice-cold Soolin which provides the episode with pretty much all of its comic highlights.

Interesting that Vila largely sits the story out, was this because it was felt that the characters of Keiller and Vila were too similar? It’s a slight pity, but the little that Michael Keating has to do is impressive – I particularly like Vila’s first meeting with Keiller (which sees Vila in a faintly sinister and threatening mood).

To be honest, the plotline of cross, double-cross and triple-cross isn’t totally engaging, so it’s the smaller moments which make the story a rewarding one. The terrible lift music which haunts the Space Princess, Tarrant’s glassy-eyed and toothsome fake drugged persona and the orgasmic sound of the doors, to name but three.

The late arrival of Servalan is one of those totally unsurprising plot-twists. This does allow her to have a little natter with Avon though (which they didn’t do often throughout S4). Avon’s hysterical guffawing after he realises that Servalan’s totally outplayed him is either a further example of his fractured mental state or it demonstrates what a good sport he is. I know which I favour ….

Not a bad yarn, but I do find my attention drifting every so often. Slightly tarnished gold then.

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Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Sand

“I know a land beyond the heart of time. The sun never comes there. No moon ever shines. And man, a grain of sand, nameless and lost, blows with the dust”.

This monologue is an early warning that, as befits a Tanith Lee script, this will be an unusual episode. But unlike Sarcophagus we don’t get an oblique opening – instead the first five minutes are spent with Servalan and her mismatched crew.

Investigator Reeve (Stephen Yardley) is the alpha-male of the party. Reeve, hands on hips, appears to be brim-full of testosterone (although maybe the sand felt otherwise since his services were fairly quickly dispensed with). It’s hard to maintain any credibility when you’re dressed in silver, but Yardley does his best.

The episode is really Servalan’s show – it’s easily the story which delves deepest into her personal life (even though certain threads remain a little nebulous – if Don Keller was that important to her, why did she wait so long before travelling to Virn to discover his fate?).

Minor quibbles apart, there’s so much to enjoy in Jacqueline Pearce’s performance – especially the small non-verbal moments of distress, highly uncharacteristic for the former Supreme Commander. After a run of stories in which she seems to have been crowbarred into the action somewhat, Sarcophagus makes for a pleasant change.

The opening modelwork shots of Virn are very nice and the film work on the planet’s surface is also decent (just a pity that a few studio shots are dropped in, as these are inevitably jarring).

There are plenty of good dialogue moments. The way Servalan rebuilt her life after Don Keller, for one. “He left me. I grew up. Power became my lover. Power is like a drug. It is beautiful. Shining. I could destroy a planet by pressing a button”.

Orac’s bizarre declaration of love and Avon’s rejoinder to Soolin’s comment that Vila’s pulse is weak (“well that should go very nicely with the rest of him”) are a few other highlights. I also like Avon’s cock of the walk strutting and the reaction of Dayna and Soolin when they realise what they’ve been saved for ….

The obvious move would have been to lock Avon and Servalan together. I’m glad they resisted the obvious since it was about time Tarrant was given something to do. Steven Pacey holds his own against Jacqueline Pearce and the scenes between them flow nicely.

I assume it was Chris Boucher who dropped in the explanation about how Servalan escaped from the Liberator (“The teleport. A malfunction. A power surge. Suddenly I was back on a Federation world”). This doesn’t make much sense – surely the only planet close to the Liberator was Terminal, and she didn’t end up there. Or had the dying Liberator suddenly developed the power to teleport somebody over a vast distance?

Although not as memorable as Sarcophagus, Sand is still several cuts above the B7 norm.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Games

Stratford Johns really is the saving grace of Games, without him it would be a much less interesting affair. Belkov may not be a very developed character – he’s a devious games player and that’s about it – but Johns is wonderfully watchable. Belkov’s face-off with Servalan about ten minutes in is a definite highlight (for once, Servalan is on the back foot).

Speaking of Servalan, not for the first time she’s pretty much surplus to requirements – this episode does smack of an attempt to fill Jacqueline Pearce’s episode allocation and little else. Her part in the plot (interrogating Belkov) could easily have been filled by any middle-ranking Federation officer.

There’s an awful lot of info-dumping early on as Avon expounds at length about the wonders of Feldon crystals. This isn’t the most effective part of the episode and neither is the sudden appearance of Gerren (David Neal). His fake beard doesn’t help, but Gerren isn’t a very memorable sort (although he’s useful as a demonstration about how ruthless Avon can be. A little light blackmail before breakfast …)

Positives? Virtually every scene with Stratford Johns, especially the byplay between Belkov and his computer Gambit (Rosalind Bailey). Vila gets a generous number of good one-liners and also demonstrates his resourcefulness on more than one occasion.

Not a bad episode, but it’s not really much more than a fairly diverting runaround.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Assassin


Assassin is a story of two halves. The first half – on the planet Domo – is a guilty pleasure. Domo is a barren, sandy sort of place (rather like a quarry, in fact) where men are men and wear the strangest looking beards as well as cast off costumes from Doctor Who.

Avon’s decision to get himself captured and sold into slavery is a bit of a hoot, as is his brief but energetic spot of fisticuffs (I think it was the comment about being skinny that pushed him over the edge).

The early part of the episode also has the unforgettable appearance of Betty Marsden and the fan-fic pleasing concept of Avon being sold to Servalan as her slave. “I think, if you don’t mind, I would prefer my slave to address me as `mistress’.”

Although the beardy types and Betty Marsden are something of an acquired taste, Richard Hurndall, as the doomed Nebrox, is much more solid. It’s interesting that Avon and Soolin – the coldest of our heroes – both seem to form some sort of connection with him.

After this early spot of fun and games we head into the second part of the episode, which is an even guiltier pleasure. Caroline Holdaway’s performance as Piri is a rum old thing. I’ve seen her in various other programmes (All Creatures Great and Small, Rumpole of the Bailey, Codename Kyril) and she never stood out in those, so her turn here must have been a deliberate choice rather than a lack of acting ability.

It’s still very, very odd though as a more subtle characterisation would surely have been better (for one thing, it would have made Tarrant look like less of a gullible idiot).

Having sat out most of the first half of this series, Assassin finally gives Steven Pacey something to do. True, Tarrant’s scenes with Piri are rather torpedoed by Holdaway’s hysterical playing, but it was nice to see the return of the Avon/Tarrant conflict. Another bonus is that Soolin’s given some very acerbic lines, most of them at the expense of Piri.

The main problem with Assassin is that it’s a story with very little plot. So things have to proceed very slowly until the big reveal just before the end. Still, the scenes set aboard Cancer’s ship do have an air of tension, so that’s a plus point for David Sullivan Proudfoot (but several marks off for all the screenwipes).

Not the most tightly plotted story, it’s nevertheless good, goofy fun.