Gambit‘s an odd one. The main plot – the hunt for Docholli – moves very slowly whilst the production design is somewhat on the tacky side. But since Robert Holmes’ script is packed with entertaining one-liners this isn’t really a problem.
If you like your B7 stories on the gritty side, then you’re out of luck. Aubrey Woods’ overpowering Krantor sets the tone. Woods is clearly having a great deal of fun – the banter between Krantor and Servalan being one of the episode highlights.
Blake, Jenna and Cally (the two girls glammed up to the nines) are involved in the main plot, but it’s Avon and Vila (attempting to break the bank at the casino) who get all the best scenes. The Avon/Vila subplot is so played for laughs that it feels more like a parody than proper B7 – the notion of Avon sneaking down to Freedom City (is he afraid of getting a ticking off from Blake?) and the way he persuades Orac to shrink himself (how handy and how odd it was never done again) are just two examples of this.
Oh, and the moment when he spits out his food after learning that Vila’s been tricked into playing the Klute at speed chess ….
With Holmes scripting, it’s possibly not surprising that the dialogue is a little different from the norm (Avon’s comment of “you dummy” doesn’t feel like something he would ever say).
There are also some prime examples of Holmes’ colourful command of the English language. Servalan’s thoughts on Krantor for one. “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’s counter-comments are equally as eye-opening (“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 …”).
With an unforgettable turn from Sylvia Coleridge, an appearance from Bill Filer and Travis in a silly hat, Gambit is top class entertainment.
If you’ve seen The Pirate Planet then you’ll know what to expect from Bruce Purchase’s Gola – except that the Captain had hidden depths, whilst there’s no such luck with Gola (who’s just all bluster). The Keeper is another example of Blake’s shaky leadership qualities – no sooner has he, Vila and Jenna teleported down to the surface of Goth than they’re overpowered with embarrassing ease.
Vila (obviously) becomes the King’s new fool whilst Jenna becomes the King’s new … well, you can probably guess. Sally Knyvette manages to mine a few comic moments from this fairly unpromising scenario. Meanwhile, Blake mooches about doing nothing much whilst Avon, aboard the Liberator, leaves the others on Goth to fend for themselves as he sets off to destroy Travis’ ship. One point, how did he know that the ship belonged to Travis?
If you like ripe overacting then you’ve come to the right place. In addition to Purchase there’s also Freda Jackson as Tara (she has a nice line in cackles). Servalan’s on/off relationship with Travis is now back on, since he’s once again at her side (Travis changing from being Servalan’s enemy to her ally multiple times since Trial has been decidedly odd). The way he cuts and runs some twenty minutes in does generate the episode’s only surprising moment though.
Fifty minutes of running on the spot, The Keeper ends up as something of an also-ran although with Derek Martinus onboard as director there’s some decent camerawork in evidence.
Star One (rather like Terminal and Blake in fact) does indulge in a fair amount of running on the spot. Some of the scenes set on Star One (especially the hunt for Lurena) aren’t that interesting, but since the episode also features several of B7‘s most memorable moments the good outweighs the bad. Despite the fact that this is Blake’s last hurrah as a regular, Avon is still the one who gets all of the best lines. “As far as I am concerned you can destroy whatever you like. You can stir up a thousand revolutions, you can wade in blood up to your armpits. Oh, and you can lead the rabble to victory, whatever that might mean”.
His face-off with Travis (“Now talk or scream, Travis, the choice is yours”) is also rather good.
But at least Blake does have that brief chat with Cally, where the pair discuss the ethics of destroying Star One. It’s a fascinating scene – not least for the fact that Cally (next to Blake the most fanatical) was the only one to voice a tentative concern that killing millions of people might possibly be a bad thing.
Some of Star One’s functions are discussed in the opening few minutes. They seem rather benign (climate control) rather than oppressive and domineering. And the way the episode begins with Servalan effectively cast in the role of the goodie (discussing how to bring Star One under control in order to prevent further deaths) before crossing over to the Liberator (where Blake and the others are plotting to destroy it in order to generate chaos) shows how far the lines between good and evil have become blurred.
Servalan’s surprisingly a fairly minor character in this one, but the moment when she instigates a palace revolution is chillingly played by Jaqueline Pearce. “The President and those members of the Council who are unable to accept the realities of the situation are even now being arrested, as are those of our own people whose loyalties may be divided. At a time like this complete unity is an absolute essential”. The inference is that under military rule the Federation will become an even more oppressive force, although the aftermath of Star One rather negates this.
Travis’ death is a mercy killing (both for the character and the audience). A shame the effects shot of him tumbling to his doom isn’t terribly effective though.
And that cliffhanger ….