Blakes 7 – The Keeper

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The Keeper isn’t a story that has a great deal going for it.  The setting is the planet Goth and its inhabitants, led by Gola (Bruce Purchase), clearly favour a faux-medieval feel (plenty of flickering torches and over-ripe dialogue).

Purchase, who’d played the Captain in the Doctor Who story The Pirate Planet shortly before, approaches this role with a similar lack of subtlety.  But whilst there was slightly more to the Captain than initially was apparent, Gola is just a blustering fool who spends his time shouting – it’s almost as if he’d taken lessons from Brian Blessed.

Blake, Vila and Jenna teleport down to find the brainprint of cyber-surgeon Lurgen.  Once they have that they’ll be able to establish the location of Star One.  Avon asks Blake what they’ll do once they know where Star One is.

BLAKE: Finish what we started.
AVON: Destroy it?
BLAKE: Of course. And the entire Federation with it. Does that bother you suddenly?
AVON: Star One is the automatic computer control centre for the entire Federation.
BLAKE: Get to the point, Avon.
AVON: That is the point. Through Star One we could control everything. The Federation could belong to us.
VILA: I could be president.
AVON: Ah.

Blake and the others are only on the planet’s surface for a few minutes before they’re overpowered – it’s a remarkably inept display by Blake (strategic planning has never been one of his strengths).  Vila and Jenna are carried off whilst they leave Blake behind (why?).  Blake urgently requests teleport, but Avon and Cally have moved out of teleport range in order to destroy Travis’ ship.

How Avon manages to identify the ship as Travis’ is never explained – surely there must be others in the galaxy that are similar?  It probably won’t come as a surprise that Travis wasn’t on board – he and Servalan are both on Goth.  Their on/off working relationship is now back on and Travis is in a remarkably mellow mood as he attempts to forge a more permanent alliance with Servalan.

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TRAVIS: Look, Star One is the computer control centre. It controls the climate on more than two hundred worlds, communications, security, food production, it controls them all. It is the key to our very lives. Think of all that power.
SERVALAN: You can see why the Council themselves don’t know where Star One is. In the wrong hands …
TRAVIS: Yes, but in the right hands: yours and mine.
SERVALAN: Be very careful you don’t overreach yourself, Travis.

One part of the story that does work very well is Travis’ contribution to it.  It seems obvious that he’ll be around for the duration, tangling with Blake and the others, but about twenty minutes in he disappears and it slowly becomes clear that he’s not coming back.  He’s already found Star One’s location and not only has he betrayed Servalan but as the next episode makes clear he’s betrayed the whole human race …..

A quick mention for his personal communicator, which is the size of several house-bricks (almost like the most primitive mobile phone).  Considering that Kirk and the Enterprise had pocket sized communicators a decade earlier you’d have imagined B7 could have done something similar. It’s hard to imagine him putting that into his pocket!

Whilst Blake runs around achieving very little, Jenna and Vila are making the acquaintance of Gola.  Vila becomes the King’s fool, supplanting his existing one (played by Cengiz Saner) whilst Jenna immediately attracts Gola’s attention.  It’s a good thing that The Keeper gives Sally Knyvette something to do, it’s a bad thing that she has to spend her time as the object of Gola’s attentions.  But Knyvette does manage to mine some comic moments from this fairly unpromising material.

Elsewhere, Blake meets Rod (Shaun Curry) who is Gola’s brother and plans to challenge him for the throne.  It won’t come as surprise that Rod is a bluff and hearty fellow (he’s not quite in the Purchase/Blessed camp for loudness, but he comes close).

Blake also runs into an old man locked in the dungeon (played by Arthur Hewlett) who turns out to be Gola and Rod’s father – and so is the old, disposed king.  Hewlett’s performance is notable for his moaning (he may be playing for laughs or he may not, I can’t be sure).  Also eschewing any subtlety is Freda Jackson as Tara, Gola’s sister.  She can cackle with the best of them and when she’s not doing that she maintains a baleful watch over the unfolding events.

Eventually (thank goodness) Blake discovers the location of Star One, which means we can happily leave the planet of Goth far behind and journey onwards to the climax of series two.

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Blakes 7 – Hostage

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Hostage was something of a troubled production.  Duncan Lamont had been cast as Ushton but he died after completing the location filming, necessitating a remount with John Aberini stepping into the part.

The episode opens brightly enough though, with the Liberator coming under attack from a mass of Federation ships.  The unnamed Federation commander (played by Andrew Robertson) seems close to destroying the Liberator, but Blake and the others just manage to sneak away.

The all-out attack does contradict the likes of Project Avalon, which saw Servalan insistent that the Liberator had to be captured, not destroyed.  But if her objectives have now changed it does beg the question as to why she hasn’t ordered attacks of this magnitude before, as it’s clear they stand a good chance of succeeding.

Servalan is seen to be under some pressure in this episode.  It was hinted in Trial that the enquiry into the continuing inability of the Federation to catch Blake could be damaging for her and the visit of Councillor Joban (Kevin Stoney) restates this.  He’s only onscreen for a few minutes but it’s a pleasure to watch Stoney at work, especially since Hostage tends to be blessed with fairly indifferent performances from the guest stars.  John Aberini was a fine actor, but his part was rather limited.

There’s another lapse in continuity during the following exchange between Servalan and Joban –

JOBAN: Some members of the council are concerned. Many of our citizens now know of Blake’s activities, and those of the renegade Travis.
SERVALAN: But there have been no public spacecasts on either Travis or Blake.
JOBAN: People talk, Servalan. There’s no way of stopping them.
SERVALAN: This is a major breach of security. The punishment is total. Who are these people who have been talking? I want their names, councillor.
JOBAN: All sorts of citizens from Alphas to labour grades know of Blake’s defiance of the Federation. They talk of him as a sort of hero, many of them.
SERVALAN: What rubbish.
JOBAN: His men impede progress and more importantly order. Order, order Servalan. It is all that matters.

It seems strange that Servalan should react with surprise to the news that Blake has become something of a hero, since she’s commented on this fact several times before.  Only a minor point, but it does appear that Chris Boucher’s attention was elsewhere when this script was written.

Following the attack on the Liberator, Blake is surprised to receive a message from Travis.  He’s on the planet Exbar and he is holding Blake’s cousin Inga (Judy Buxton) hostage.  He asks Blake to come to Exbar to talk and maybe join forces – if he doesn’t, the girl will die.

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Five of the last six stories of series two feature Travis and that’s at least two too many.  Hostage is one of the episodes when it would have been nice to take a break from Travis’ painfully obvious villainy (and Brian Croucher’s not at his best in this one anyway) but it wasn’t to be.

The notion that Travis might be interested in teaming up with Blake was a fascinating one which I’m sorry wasn’t developed.  With them now both renegades it would have made sense – plus it would have provided the later stories with a great deal of dramatic tension.  But Travis (as might be expected) wasn’t really interested in an alliance – he merely wanted to steal the Liberator.

What happened to his Muto crew from the end of the last episode is never made clear, instead he’s recruited a number of crimos (criminal psychopaths).  They’re hardly the most threatening bunch – despite the odd half-hearted attempt to show how truly evil they are (slapping the unfortunate Inga, for example).

Also present on Exbar is Ushton, Blake’s uncle.  It’s revealed early on that he’s working with Travis (who’s agreed not to hurt Inga if he co-operates).  His betrayal of Blake is rather pointless as Blake was coming to meet Travis anyway.  John Aberini does his best, but Ushton isn’t much of a part and his mild betrayal is later forgotten when he and the others battle with Travis and the crimos.

Forty four minutes into the episode, Blake, Avon and Ushton send a number of the most painfully obvious polystyrene rocks ever seen on film down a slope to frighten away Travis and the crimos.  It’s a moment that never fails to amuse – not least for the crimo who runs away with his hands high in the air.  The scene where they throw a crimo down a cliff (so obviously a dummy) is comedy gold as well.

Yet another odd lack of continuity occurs when Travis asks Ushton which of the three members of the Liberator crew he holds prisoner (Blake, Avon, Vila) is the weakest.  Travis has been pursuing them all for some considerable time, can we really believe he didn’t know the strengths and weaknesses of all of them?

The final scene is nice though, with Jenna very huffy towards Blake.  This always seems to happen whenever he meets or talks to an attractive woman, clearly her unrequited love remains unrequited.

But all in all this is a somewhat forgettable episode.  The brief meeting between Servalan and Travis at the end is possibly the most significant moment.  He asks if they’re still enemies and she replies that “officially, yes. Unofficially, you lead me to Blake whenever you can. If you help me get him I’ll see you officially listed as dead. There’s no one as free as a dead man.”

Although his next appearance (in Voice from the Past) shows him working closely with Servalan, which is a far cry from how matters were left here.  Maybe that’s another case of slightly inconsistent script-editing.

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Blakes 7 – Horizon

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Allan Prior contributed five scripts to Blakes 7 (Horizon, Hostage, The Keeper, Volcano and Animals).  It’s fair to say that none of these episodes would feature in most people’s top tens (unless it was a top ten of least favourite stories).

Prior’s work on B7 tended to range from the competent to the mediocre, which is slightly surprising given his very lengthy list of writing credits.  He wrote over a hundred episodes of Z Cars and also contributed to many other popular series during the 1960’s, 1970’s and 1980’s (such as Sergeant Cork, Armchair Theatre, Dr Finlay’s Casebook, Warship, The Sweeney, The Onedin Line, Secret Army, Juliet Bravo, The Charmer, etc etc).  It’s an incredibly impressive CV, but it’s notable that apart from Blakes 7 he never wrote for any other science fiction or fantasy series.

His debut script, Horizon, is possibly his best.  The science fiction in this one is laid on fairly gently – as it’s essentially a colonial story that could easily have been set in any African country (for the Federation just substitute the British Empire).

The regime on the planet code-named Horizon is one with obvious parallels in history.  The Federation needs the minerals it has in abundance (such as Monopasium two-three-nine) but a full occupying force would tie up too many people.  So the Federation “educates” the elite of the planet who remain nominally in charge whilst the Federation rule behind the scenes and siphon off the resources for their own use.

Ro (Darien Angadi) is a textbook example of a native who has been educated to think and act as a member of the Federation.  His former teacher is now the Kommissar ultimately response for the planet (played to perfection by William Squire) and he’s confident that he can continue to bend Ro to his will.

The heart of the episode is the relationship between Ro and the Kommissar.  Partly this is because the only other native speaking role we see is Ro’s finance Selma (Souad Faress).  The remainder of the natives tend to toil in the mines and are hairy, grubby and mute.  It’s slightly surprising that Ro doesn’t have a council of leaders that he has to report to – that would have created some decent dramatic tension, but restricting everything down to just a single man does work as well.

It’s interesting that Ro is aware that the mortality rate in the mines is high, but he’s just not terribly bothered about it.  To him they’re savages, little more than animals.  The fairly heavy irony that he was in exactly this position before he was lifted up by the Federation never seems to occur to him.

Blake and the others turn up to Horizon after they follow a Federation supply ship.  It’s travelling to Zone Nine – far off the beaten track – and Blake is intrigued.  But everybody else is exhausted from a series of close shaves and it’s fair to say they don’t share his curiosity.  The ratty, bad-tempered banter at the start is a nice touch and it gives all of the regulars a few decent character moments before the episode proper begins.

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Blake and Jenna teleport down and are captured.  When they don’t return Gan and Vila teleport to look for them and are captured.  Cally then teleports down to look for them all and she is captured as well.  This leaves Avon by himself (“and then there was one”) apart from Orac and Zen.  We then see Avon wrestling with his conscience – can he simply run out and leave the others?

AVON: If I go alone, can I pilot the Liberator indefinitely?
ORAC: With the help of the automatics, of course you can.
AVON: I know that.
ORAC: Then why did you ask the question?
AVON: I didn’t. How long can I maintain myself?
ORAC: Is that a question?
AVON: Yes.
ORAC: We have concentrated food for one person for a thousand years.
AVON: And our power is self-regenerating.
ORAC: Affirmative.
AVON: Can you plot courses to keep out of the range of any known spaceship manned by the Federation?
ORAC: The battle and navigation computers can handle that perfectly adequately.
AVON: I asked if YOU could.
ORAC: Of course, should it be necessary.
AVON: Failing that, we are powerful enough to resist all but an attack by three Federation pursuit ships at once.
ORAC: Is that a question?
AVON: No. If we go now, we can sail the universe for as long as we like in reasonable safety, provided we keep out of everybody’s way and we do not do anything rash.

When he learns that three Federation pursuit ships are en-route to destroy the Liberator he decides to stay and fight.  Was he ever seriously intending to cut and run?  Maybe not, as I’m sure the pleasure he derived from rescuing everyone else was immense!  And once he teleports down Paul Darrow looks like he’s enjoying himself as Avon turns into a Wild West gunslinger, cutting down Federation troopers left, right and centre.  He nearly blows Blake’s head off as well, but luckily(?) the shot goes wild.  There’s a lovely expression on Gareth Thomas’ face as he deadpans the line “missed”.

If there’s a weak part to the story then it’s when Blake is initially captured and interrogated by both Ro and the Kommissar.  Blake’s quickly able to gain Ro’s trust by telling him that he knew an old friend of his, Paura.  Blake and Paura were both convicts on the ship London, bound for Cygnus Alpha.  This just seems a little contrived – had Blake travelled to Horizion, armed with this knowledge, expressly to talk to Ro it might have seemed more reasonable.

This niggle apart, Horizon is a pretty good stuff.  As I’ve said, William Squire (best known as Hunter in the Thames version of Callan) is perfectly cast as the arch-manipulator.  Darien Angadi also has a decent amount of screen-time as the apparently subservient puppet ruler.  Brian Miller and Souad Faress exist to act as sounding-boards for the Kommissar and Ro respectively, so have less chance to impress – but both are capable enough.

And Sally Knyvette looks rather lovely, which is always a plus point for me.

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