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.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Headhunter 

Like Roger Parkes’ first script for the series (Voice from the Past) Headhunter is as mad as a box of frogs … and I love it.

The plot doesn’t really make any sense. Why has Muller spent his life creating a homicidal android intent on dominating all humanoid life? It also seems a little remiss that the android is only restrained when he’s wearing the correct head (there’s shades of Worzel Gummidge here). And since Tarrant was in a rush, I’ll let him off the fact that he didn’t seem to notice the corpse under the table was missing his head.

Android Muller as played by John Westbrook is a hoot. Westbrook isn’t on-screen for too long but he’s certainly memorable (a small performance it isn’t). Android Muller as played by Nick Joseph is equally as entertaining – as Joseph’s android is headless, he compensates with the most over-expressive hand acting you’re ever likely to see. Oh, and where’s his voice coming from? Hmm, never mind.

Lynda Bellingham has a decent amount of screentime but not a very interesting character to play, alas. But at least Vena gets a good death scene, crushed to death by (she thinks) her husband whilst the others look on with a varying selection of emotions. The fatal bear-hug is clearly Android Muller’s favourite way of despatching people.

As for the regulars, Avon smiles a few times but otherwise he’s in full brooding mode. This is prime S4 Darrow – whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on how much you enjoy S4 Darrow of course. Tarrant and Vila make for a good double-act, Dayna doesn’t really do much that’s memorable whilst Soolin’s character continues to grow as she’s given some decent lines once again.

Soolin’s parting shot to a seductive Orac, promising to fulfil her every desire (“you wouldn’t know where to start”) is delivered in a nicely deadpan way. I also like surly Slave, a bit more of that would have been welcome.

The sight of the headless android stomping very slowly around the base never fails to raise a smile. Whatever else Headhunter is, it’s not dull.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Animals

The main plot – which seems to be drawing inspiration from The Island of Doctor Moreau – is reasonable enough, but Animals has several major problems. Let’s begin with the beasts themselves – perhaps wisely, Mary Ridge elects to show them in all their (ahem) glory within the opening few minutes. No point in attempting to create any suspense, let’s just see them and once the shock’s passed we can move on.

The Dayna/Justin relationship is put at the forefront of the story and it’s one that’s positively dripping with subtext (“my little pupil Dayna, lovelier than ever”). The icky feeling that both have been carrying a torch for each other since their teacher/pupil days isn’t confined to the dialogue – there are several instances when Dayna gives a knowing smirk, each one is worth a thousand words.

Peter Byrne’s performance is very strong – if the script somewhat glosses over the dodgy ethics of Justin’s experiments (note the way that Dayna switches from disgust to acceptance rather too rapidly) then that’s not Byrne’s fault, he does everything he’s required to do by the script.

With Dayna shouldering the bulk of the action, the rest of the regulars are relegated to playing second fiddle (indeed Vila. Soolin and Avon even sit out the opening quarter of an hour or so). Tarrant has a nice scene with the ever apologetic Slave, Vila gets rather dirty and complains a lot whilst Soolin has one good line (when Vila wonders why he gets all the dirty jobs, she responds “typecasting”). Slim pickings for Soolin then, but better would be just around the corner.

Avon’s not a barrel of laughs today. There are some who maintain that series D was one long nervous breakdown for him whilst others contend that he was perfectly fine (just a touch unlucky from time to time). I lean towards the former viewpoint – his inability to crack a smile along with Tarrant and Soolin at Vila’s grubby predicament is one reason why. In years gone by he wasn’t afraid to show his lighter side – but it’s in very short supply at the moment. Increasing pressure due to the heavy burden of command?

Not for the first time Servalan doesn’t add a great deal to the story. I also find it odd that when Dayna is captured, we don’t see the moment when she and Servalan are brought face to face. Considering their past history this is a strange omission. It’s nice to see Kevin Stoney, although he’s wasted in a role which doesn’t really develop the plot (his character imparts a few morsels of information which Servalan could have easily discovered elsewhere).

Hmm. Those new Mutoids (I assume that’s what they are) are interesting, aren’t they?

Animals isn’t a total write-off but it’s a few drafts short of being a satisfying story.