Blakes 40 – Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch: Series One, Episodes Eleven to Thirteen

Bounty

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Terry Nation’s draft of Bounty was one of his shortest (running to around 25 minutes) which meant that it had to be considerably bulked out. This probably explains why the story proceeds at such a leisurely pace (it takes Blake fifteen minutes to reach Sarkoff – in another episode he might have teleported to him straight away).

But the early part of the episode has some nice film work, which is a small recompense. The Federation guards – remarkably inept – are good for a chuckle as well.

T.P. McKenna is a class act. As soon as he appears the story moves up several gears (he’s perfect as a defeated, tortured politician, surrounded by trinkets of a vanished age) and it’s fair to say that without him Bounty would be much weaker. Carinthia West is really rather lovely, so that’s another good reason why I can’t dislike this one too much.

The other plotline – the Liberator’s been captured by space pirates! – is less involving. If you see a mysterious vessel floating in space, for goodness sake leave it alone ….

But no, they can’t do this. Gan pops over for a look and reports back that everything’s fine. Except, of course, it’s painfully obvious from the tone of his voice that something’s badly wrong. That nobody – not even Avon – picked up on this is difficult to credit.

Blake and the others returning to an apparently deserted Liberator is nicely done, but things wobble downhill after that. Gareth Thomas’ funny faces following his gassing by the Amagons is memorable in one way though.

From the later part of the story, it’s – yet again – the interactions between the regulars which provides the best moments. For example, Gan and Cally declaring how they’d like to revenge themselves against the Amagons (“companions for our death”) which causes Vila to mutter that the conversation’s suddenly turned rather morbid.

Pretty average, but perfectly watchable.

Deliverance

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Deliverance is quite dull. From our first sight of the primitives on Cephlon, it’s plain they’re not going to be great conversationalists (it’s poor Jenna’s fate to be mauled by them). At least it gets her off the Liberator, but it’s not really much of a storyline.

Avon, naturally, has a better time of it (although it doesn’t quite ring true that he’d be so keen to teleport down to Cephlon in order to lead the rescue party). His interaction with Meegat (a nice performance from Suzan Farmer) is easily the highlight of the episode – the feeling of ambivalence at being cast in the role of “Lord Avon” for example.

For once, Travis is isolated from the main storyline. His contribution is quite small but both Greif and Pearce play off each other very well, as they always do. During their scenes there’s some unusual incidentals playing – it doesn’t appear to be in the style of Dudley’s usual score, so presumably Servalan likes a bit of ambient music when she’s working.

Fair to say that Servalan’s plan doesn’t make a lick of sense. Given that Maryatt was a not unimportant figure, he seems to have been sacrificed for no good reason. Why didn’t Servalan detain or kill Ensor Jr after he’d offered her Orac? That way she could have simply waited for Ensor Sr to die and then stroll in and pick up Orac.

That’s pretty much her plan anyway, so there was no reason to faff around with bombs, etc. Also, it’s a tad convenient that Blake and the others just happen to stumble across Ensor Jr’s distressed ship.

Probably my least favourite S1 episode, this one’s sadly a bit of a chore.

Orac

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An air of lassitude and despair permeates this episode. And that’s just the script ….

It’s pretty clear by now that Terry Nation was running on empty, since he falls back on some old favourites (radiation sickness!). But it’s a plot thread that doesn’t really work – not only is it hard to believe that the Liberator is out of radiation drugs in the first place, it’s also pretty obvious that Ensor will have a supply, hence the tension generated by this story point (will Avon and the others live or die?) isn’t very effective.

It’s interesting that Servalan shows fear when groped by the Phibian (incredibly silly though the scene is). Seeing her out of her comfort zone is one of the memorable parts of the episode. When Servalan asked Travis what it was and Stephen Greif deadpans “some kind of lizard” you do get the sense that Greif was counting down the days before he’d be free of the series. A pity that he wasn’t able to get his teeth into the meaty Travis stories of S2, like Trial, but he would also have had to trawl through some rubbish too (Hostage) so you can’t blame him for jumping ship.

Travis’ series arc concludes with a bit of whimper here. The fact that Greif wasn’t available for the studio session didn’t help (nor did his flat-footed stand in) but even had he been present I doubt it would have been that much more effective.

Derek Farr’s good, but the plot of Orac is little more than Blake paying a visit to an elderly man. Amazing they managed to spin it out to fifty minutes really.

At this point it’s clear that the series needs a varied mix of writers. Luckily series two was just around the corner …..

Blakes 40 – Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch: Series One, Episodes Eight to Ten

Duel

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This is a good episode for Travis – especially since for once he doesn’t have to run around after Servalan. Although even this early on it’s easy to see just how limited a character he is (something which Greif had quickly picked up on – pondering just how credibility could be maintained if every time Travis and Blake met, Blake ended up winning). The answer, of course, is that it couldn’t – but we’ll leave that topic until series two ….

Although the duel part of the story was clearly designed to be the showpiece, I prefer the earlier dogfight in space scenes. With Dudley absent (although not, as long assumed, because of his feud with Camfield) the selection of discordant stock music helps to raise the tension nicely. A number of simple visual effects – slowing the camera down, coloured lights – are cheap but effective ways of showing the ships – post intervention by Sinofar and Giroc – stuck in space.

Given Camfield’s skill with a film camera, it’s maybe a little surprising that there’s not a great deal from the woodland scenes that’s terribly memorable. It’s also a shame that the climatic fight between Travis and Blake is a little rushed (and Travis’ grand plan to ensnare Blake – a spiky trap – looks a little feeble too).

Avon might be playing second fiddle today, but he still gets some very decent moments. His “nuts” speech (cut from the original compilation VHS) is one and I also love his brief smile and headshake when he realises that Blake won’t be able to kill Travis. The fact that Vila, Gan and Cally were all urging Blake on at this moment is another example of Avon’s self-imposed distance from the others.

Solid, but it’s possible that Douglas Camfield helped to cover a few cracks. With a more run-of-the-mill director it may have been rather more forgettable.

Project Avalon

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Although the plot is a bit thin, as so often with B7 the performances make up for it. Stephen Greif continues to impress, especially when he’s teamed up with Glynis Barber’s icy Mutoid. Barber doesn’t have anything much, dialogue-wise, to work with, which means she has to work extra hard to make an impression. A pity she didn’t return as a Mutoid, since she and Greif made a good double-act.

Less impressive is Julia Vidler’s Avalon. I’m not sure when she’s more wooden – during the scenes when she’s playing Avalon, or later when she’s Robot-Killer Avalon. True, her one big showdown scene with Travis is somewhat compromised by the fact she’s been reduced to her underwear and strapped to an operating table, but even had she been fully clothed I’ve a feeling her delivery would still have been as stilted as it is.

Wookey Hole, as ever, is a good-looking location and Stuart Fell falls very nicely. The late twist – Chevner (a slightly underused David Bailie) is moved into position for a few seconds as the baddy – doesn’t really work as it needed more of a build up or a tense hunt through the corridors to sell it. And the way that poor old Travis is humiliated again at the end seems to have been the point when Greif decided he wouldn’t have a long term future with the series.

Breakdown

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Breakdown is something of a bottle show (and a cheap one). Largely set onboard the Liberator, when they do reach their destination (XK-72) it’s nothing more than a few studio flats, populated by a couple of actors. The Federation ships are represented by reused footage, which makes it all the more surprising that they decided to splash out on some filming (the scenes in the medical wing could just have easily have been shot in the studio).

This sort of budget scrimping isn’t necessarily a problem though, since it enables the regulars to have more screentime than usual. But it’s ironic for a story where Gan is the plot motivator that he spends most of it either unconscious or dangerously feral. Poor Gan never got a decent crack of the whip.

He does have one standout scene though – the moment when he gleefully throttles Cally in the medical centre. His sudden switch, from the apparently recovered Gan to an implacable killer, is more than a little disturbing.

Gan’s fight with Blake in the first few minutes is also good – thanks to the hand-held camerawork. Although whenever Blake is thrown against the Liberator’s controls it’s impossible not to worry that they’ll break ….

Avon, as always, shines. His continuing distance from the others (markedly telling Blake that “you” rather than “we” are running out of time to save Gan) is thrown into sharp relief later on when he elects not to hide away on XK-72 but take his chances with Blake instead. Blake and Avon continue to clash entertainingly, this following exchange being one of my favourites –

AVON: Blake, in the unlikely event that we survive this ….
BLAKE: Yes?
AVON: I’m finished. Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable.
BLAKE: Now you’re just being modest.

Julian Glover adds a touch of class as Kayn. I love the face-off between Kayn and Blake where our hero threatens to destroy Kayn’s hands if he doesn’t operate on Gan.

Breakdown is a little slow but, as noted in some of the previous episode summaries, the interactions between the regulars always helps to shore up an average episode. A few points off for the chucklesome ending though – considering that XK-72 had just been blown to smithereens it hardly seemed the right time.

Blakes 40 – Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch: Series One, Episodes Five to Seven

The Web

The Web has a rather creepy opening – albeit somewhat negated by the sight of Saymon. Poor Richard Beale has a pretty thankless role to play during this story – but although visually Saymon is a bit of a disaster, Beale (always a very decent voice actor) impresses whenever we don’t see too much of the silly body in the tank (as above, close-ups are quite effective though).

Odd that Michael E. Briant chose to reveal Saymon so early on. Presumably he felt that it was best to get it out of the way ….

The first half of the story is Liberator bound. There’s a healthy dose of bickering and character conflict which, as always, is rather entertaining. Gan and Avon briefly team up (Avon is very sarcastic towards Gan) whilst Jenna seems to relish bringing Cally to her senses via a good hard slap! The controlled Cally’s gleeful smile as she advances on an unsuspecting Vila is another nice touch.

It feels slightly contrived that Cally’s only been onboard the Liberator for a short time before mystical legends from her past start calling to her. But on the plus side, it does raise the possibility (quickly negated, though) that Blake’s judgement was flawed when he asked her to join the crew. Having Cally as an unpredictable character for a few episodes could have been the spur for some decent character development – but it wasn’t to be.

The Decimas may, like Saymon, look rather silly, but elsewhere Miles Fothergill and Ania Marson (as the emotionless Novara and Geela) are both rather good. Even though Fothergill was masked when he appeared in Doctor Who, it’s easy to work out the Who role he played. Did he specialise in emotionless roles?

Odd and faintly disturbing, The Web has its moments although it’s never been a top tier S1 episode for me.

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Seek-Locate-Destroy opens with our first sight of the very silly-looking security robot. Complete with a fixed grin and flappy arms, it’s fair to say it was never going to rival the Daleks ….

Blake and Vila make for an interesting combination (a shame we didn’t see them team up more regularly). The first fifteen minutes are similar to the events seen in Time Squad – Blake and the others penetrate a Federation top security establishment with embarrassing ease – but at least there’s a wrinkle here (Cally is overpowered and left behind when the others teleport back).

Minus points for the others not realising at first that Cally was missing. It’s also a pity that Cally (presented to us only two episodes ago as a fanatical freedom fighter) now seems to have regressed somewhat – she really does fight like a girl (her tussle with a Federation trooper isn’t one of B7‘s greatest ever action scenes). But she partially redeems herself with some nice taunting of Travis at the end of the episode.

One moment which has stuck in my memory since the original transmission is when the Federation trooper removes his helmet to reveal …. a very ordinary looking man. Whether this was intentional or not, I don’t know, but it’s always resonated with me. With their helmets on, the troopers are faceless goons who can be mown down with impunity by Blake and the others. But when we can see their faces, they become people.

The introduction of Servalan and Travis helps to raise the stakes as now Blake has tangible opponents to fight against. Both Jacqueline Pearce and Stephen Greif make strong first impressions and they help to turn what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward run-around into something much more satisfying. Travis is a paper-thin character but Greif – right from his wonderfully camp, hands on hips, introduction – certainly catches the eye. Pearce’s silkily smooth delivery is equally as compelling. Over time both would become overused, but we’ll leave those debates for another time. One of my favourite S1 episodes.

Mission to Destiny

Mission to Destiny boasts an impressive guest cast of familiar faces. No stars names, but a good selection of decent actors – although it’s a slight shame that their characters are all very thinly drawn. Terry Nation ladles on the murder mystery cliches (the dying man writing a clue in his own blood) but as most of the crew are pretty unlikable it’s hard to be too concerned about whodunnit.

After sharing a few knowing looks in The Web (although Cally was under the influence back then) Avon and Cally team up for the first time. Avon’s in his element playing detective (“we all know that one of you is the murderer”) and he and Cally share some lovely moments together. The look he gives her when she blithely tells the crew that they should consider them to be hostages is one …

This exchange is another:

Cally: My people have a saying. A man who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken.

Avon: Life expectancy must be fairly short among your people.

It’s never been a favourite (the plot is rather loose) but there are worse episodes.

Blakes 40 – Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch: Series One, Episodes One to Four

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Since 2018 marks the fortieth anniversary of Blakes 7, it seems like the ideal time for a complete series rewatch (and as there are 52 episodes in total, it fits nicely into a one-a-week watching pattern). I’ve been logging very brief capsule reviews elsewhere on the Internet with fellow travellers since January, but I thought it would be handy to re-publish them all here – with possibly the odd tweak or two along the way.

The Way Back

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A nicely twisted dystopian opener, even if there are a few plot points which have always niggled. Clearly the Federation’s brainwashing process isn’t terribly effective (Blake quickly regains all his forbidden memories shortly after his meeting with Foster). And since the children have had false impressions planted, why not do the same with Blake – thereby convincing him that he did assault them?

The child abuse angle is rather jarring and it’d be interesting to know whether it was originally intended to reference it in later episodes. Blake attempting to clear his name would have been a decent running theme, but the matter is quietly forgotten after this episode.

Being generous, you could take it as an early example that the Federation aren’t terribly efficient at smearing their political opponents (clearly they don’t know how to work the media). As the series progresses, Blake quickly builds a legend – but it’s for all the right reasons (striking a blow against his oppressive Federation overlords) rather than the wrong ones (nobody ever asks him if he’s Blake the convicted paedophile).

Wonky logic aside, The Way Back boasts some impressive modelwork (the Dome) which helps to balance out some of the more threadbare studio sets. Gareth Thomas is suitably impassioned whilst Michael Keating and Sally Knyvette – with their limited screentime – both catch the eye. A pity that the borderline psychotic Vila we see here didn’t last long.

Space Fall

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Leylan is an interesting character. At heart he seems like a decent man, but he allows his subordinate – the sadistic Raiker – free reign across the ship. The moment when Leylan tells Raiker to be “discreet” with their female prisoner is an oft quoted one. It’s easy to see parallels between the Federation and the Nazis (with Nation scripting, possibly not a surprise).

Leylan is positioned in the narrative as the complicit German/Federation type. Not intrinsically evil himself, but willing to turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of others. What strikes me most about this sort of character is that whilst Blake seems to believe that the Federation is a monolithic entity with a single voice or heart (“I intend to see that heart ripped out!”) people like Leylan suggest that Federation society is much more complex than the black and white picture painted by Blake. So every time he goes on a killing spree, Blake might be mowing down careerists such as Leylan and Artix.

When we first see the prisoners on the flight deck, it’s not surprising that our eyes are drawn to those we’ve met before – Blake, Jenna and Vila. Apart from these three, Gan is prominent in the frame (the camera very much favouring him) whilst we don’t see Avon at all to begin with. It can’t be a coincidence that he’s disconnected from the others, even when he’s only sitting in his flight seat …

Once Blake and Avon meet, the series begins to pick up momentum. Was it scripted or an acting choice that Avon didn’t look at Blake during their first conversation? Either way it’s a nice touch which – right from the start – tells us that their relationship is fated to be an uneasy one.

Cygnus Alpha

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Cygnus Alpha has two main plot threads – Blake, Avon and Jenna getting to grips with life aboard the newly christened Liberator and the power struggle down on Cygnus Alpha.

It’s the former which is by far the most engaging. The continuing bubbling conflict between Blake and Avon – with Jenna caught in the middle – is nicely done. It’s interesting that both Blake and Avon discover they worked on the same project (a teleport system) which implies that they’re more similar than either would like to admit.

The timescale of this episode and the previous one makes no sense. In total, it takes the London eight months to reach Cygnus Alpha, yet it seems like Blake and the others have only been onboard the Liberator for a few hours. Are we to believe that Blake waited nearly eight months before inciting the others to take over the London? That seems barely credible, but neither does the notion that Blake’s spent months kicking his heels in the Liberator whilst following the London at a snail’s pace ….

Cygnus Alpha may be a quarry, but the night filming – and the well executed glass shots – ensures that it’s a memorable location (the model shots are excellent too – plain to see that a fair chunk of the budget was spent on these early episodes). It’s notable that once the prisoners are released from the London, Gan is easily the most proactive. He’d rarely get the opportunity again to be quite so front and centre.

With Blake looking for his “people” down on the surface, that leaves Avon and Jenna alone on the ship. The scenes where they debate whether to cut and run are amongst the most memorable of the episode. Easy to believe that Avon would, but Jenna already seems to be hero-worshiping (at the very least) Blake so it’s just as easy to understand why she wouldn’t.

It’s a pity that – although we didn’t know it at the time – Jenna’s character had already peaked. When Vila comes aboard, the pecking order of Blake/Avon/Vila with Jenna and Cally jostling for position lower down and Gan a very distant last was pretty much established. Given this, it’s not surprising to learn that Sally Knyvette was keen to leave at the end of the first series.

Once Brian Blessed begins ranting and raving then my interest begins to dip a little, but overall this is a pretty decent episode. Especially when compared to the next two ….

Time Squad

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Time Squad has two separate plotlines, neither of which are completely successful. The first five minutes or so, which takes place on the Liberator flight deck, might be mostly info-dumping but the dialogue is nicely sparky.

The communications centre on Saurian Major is rather like a proto Star One. Destroy it, says Blake, and the Federation will be crippled. The problem is that when they do this, life in the Federation goes on as normal. This is either sloppy scripting from Nation or it’s an early example that Blake really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I prefer to think it’s the latter.

The Saurian sequences are mainly memorable for Cally’s debut and the location filming at Oldbury. A pity that Cally is fooled by Blake’s look over there trick, but the arrival of a fanatical, obsessive freedom fighter (happy to die for her cause) promises to shake things up. Sadly her character loses this early aggressive spark very quickly.

Security at the base isn’t very good is it? Blake and the others just swan in and reach their destination with embarrassing ease. This rather beggars belief and helps to blunt the effectiveness of the Saurian subplot.

But Blake’s adventures do rather play second fiddle to the saga of a space capsule which contains a number of deep-frozen homicidal warriors, who – once they’ve been thawed out – jerkily spring into life and menace Jenna and Gan. This is the first – but by no means the last – time our heroes come across a derelict object floating in space. You’d have thought that the hard lesson they learn here would make them more cautious in future – but no, every time they spot a piece of space flotsam they can’t help but poke their noses in (always with disastrous results).

Jenna, unusually, gets to drive the action. With Gan fainting all over the place she has to step up to the mark and demonstrate her unarmed combat skills. Thanks to a few decent camera moves and Dudley laying on the tense music, these scenes are, at times, quite good. No classic then, but decent enough fare.

Blakes 7 – Blake

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The opening of Blake, following on from the events of Warlord, finds Avon and the others at a low ebb.  They’ve been forced to destroy their base at Xenon, due to fears that either Zukan or one of the other members of their recent meeting might have betrayed its location to the Federation.

This rather begs the question as to why Avon decided to hold the meeting there, but by now it should be fairly clear that he’s not operating in the most rational manner.  He explains that the death of Zukan leaves them with a problem – they need to find another figurehead to lead their attack against the Federation.  This doesn’t quite tie back to the events seen in Warlord though as whilst Avon was keen to use Zukan, it wasn’t as a unifying leader.

No matter, it’s only a slight continuity error and it does neatly explain why Avon’s suddenly decided to track down Blake after all this time.  He explains to the others that Blake “is strongly identified with rebels, you see, and very popular with rabbles. They will follow him, and he will fight to the last drop of their blood.”

Blake’s apparently on Gauda Prime, a totally lawless planet which has recently made an application to restore its former legal status.  In order to do this they need to ensure that all criminals are caught as quickly as possible.  And this is Blake’s job.  As improbable as it sounds, Blake’s working as a bounty hunter.

Our first sight of Blake is an arresting one.  Viewed from the side he appears to be the same man that we’d seen at the end of series two, but it’s only when he turns to face the camera that the wicked scar running down the right hand side of his face is visible.  It’s never explained how he came by this, but it’s clear that the last few years haven’t been easy for him.  Gareth Thomas instantly commands the screen as an older, wearier, bitterer Blake, seemingly reduced to catching criminals for money.

Humour is in short supply in this story, but I like the squabble between Orac and Slave, which sees Orac exasperated that Slave would have the temerity to interrupt him.  After a few minutes, Slave sounds the alarm and after everyone’s rushed about for a few seconds he admits that there’s no danger, he simply wanted to get their attention!  This moment of amusement doesn’t last long as Scorpio then really does come under attack and the painful descent to Gauda Prime begins.

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They all throw themselves around the set with abandon whilst fairly feeble explosions go off.  It all looks a little half-hearted, but once everybody except Tarrant has teleported to the surface the fun can really begin.  That’s when the ship is comprehensively destroyed and Slave speaks his final words.  If the model shot of Scorpio crashing through the trees looks a little underwhelming, then the full size destruction of the ship is impressively done.

If Blake has a problem then it’s the fact that nothing much really happens for the first forty five minutes.  Everything’s geared up for the meeting between Blake and Avon, meaning that everything else is just preamble – apart for one important revelation.  Blake captures Tarrant and manages to convince him that he’s a fearsome bounty hunter, but it’s all a sham, revealed in this conversation between Blake and Deva (David Collings).

DEVA: These stupid games you insist on playing, Blake, will get someone killed eventually.
BLAKE: I have to test each one myself.
DEVA: No, you don’t have to! I set up systems for that. I broke the security codes on their central computer. I got us access to official channels, information, everything we could possibly need! You don’t need to be involved at all.
BLAKE: All right, I find it difficult to trust. It’s a failing, I admit!
DEVA: And any one of our people could select the people you’ve collected. You don’t need to do the bounty hunter routine, either!
BLAKE: Indulge me.
DEVA: Do I have a choice?
BLAKE: Oh, there’s always a choice, Deva.

If some of Avon’s recent behaviour has been bizarre, then so is this. Blake couldn’t foresee that Avon wouldn’t listen to reason when they met up, but Deva was quite right when he told Blake that he was playing a dangerous game. This part of the story doesn’t quite hold water anyway – we assume that Blake is recruiting an army from the criminals on Gauda Prime to fight the Federation. But is picking the scum of the earth (a group of lawless murderers) really the wisest choice? Why isn’t he going from planet to planet, inciting rebellion?  This begs another question (sadly unanswered), namely is Blake’s scar as fake as his bounty hunter story?

The fact that he doesn’t even have to be there at all – he’s simply playing games – is bizarre.  And pretending to Tarrant that he’s prepared to turn them all over to the Federation proves to be a fatal mistake. Tarrant rushes over to tell Avon (who has coincidentally just stepped through the door) which means that the reunion between Blake and Avon doesn’t quite end the way either of them hoped for.

Darrow’s delivery of the line “have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?” has come in for a little criticism over the years. True, he’s more than a little arch here, but in context it works if you accept this is now an Avon at total breaking point.  As Avon repeatedly shoots Blake you can see a range of expressions play across Darrow’s face which indicate that Avon realises, almost as soon as he’s pulled the trigger, that he’s made a horrendous mistake. It’s a little too late though ….

Then all the others die (possibly) in slow motion. With the destruction of Scorpio and the entire crew seemingly dead, that would appear to have been a fairly final ending. But it’s always intrigued me that Gareth Thomas agreed to return only if Blake was shown to be 100% dead at the end – that way, he argued, he’d no longer have to worry that he’d lose parts due to people assuming he was still the star of Blakes 7.  But if the series was coming to an end this makes no sense.

Was a fifth series on the cards?  There’s always a way out – demonstrated by the oodles of fan fiction which states that the others weren’t really dead, they were merely stunned (even though we’ve never seen Federation guns set to stun in the series).  True, we don’t see Avon die, but unless the guards were really poor shots it’s pretty much a certainty.  And even though Blake appears to be very dead that can easily be explained away – it wasn’t Blake, it was his clone from Weapon.  Of course ….

Whether you like to believe that they all lived to fight another day or that this really was the final end, Blake offers as uncompromising a conclusion to the series as you could possibly ever expect to see.  It’s certainly worth sitting through the first forty five minutes for the final five.

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Blakes 7 – Warlord

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The Federation’s pacification drug, Pylene 50, continues to spread through the galaxy – affecting more and more planets.  Avon calls together a number of interested parties in the hope that together they’ll be able to form an alliance.  Success seems to hinge on the cooperation of the notorious warlord Zukan (Roy Boyd).

Although Zukan’s thirst for war and conquest is well known, he tells the others that he’s here in good faith and has the means to produce a toxin to combat the pacification drug.  But matters are complicated after Zukan’s daughter, Zeeona (Bobbie Brown), is found to have stowed away on her father’s ship – especially since she and Tarrant have something of a history ….

Warlord has never been a terribly well regarded B7 story, possibly because of the interesting clothes and hairstyles.  There’s no getting away from it, the delegates look if they’d be more at home at a fancy-dress party rather than a summit meeting which will decide the fate of the galaxy.  Zukan and Zeeona also sport the most amazing haircuts, especially Zeeona who looks like a cut-price Toyah.

There’s also the Rick James problem.  If you’re a Doctor Who fan then you’ll probably be aware of his idiosyncratic performance in the 1972 story The Mutants.  Nearly a decade might have passed since that unforgettable turn, but James pretty much picks up where he left off – wooden doesn’t even begin to describe him.  Mind you, given what he’s wearing it’s no surprise that it’s hard to take him seriously.

But if you can put all that to one side, there’s plenty here to catch your attention.  After being touched upon earlier in the season, Pylene 50 makes a comeback – and in a very striking way.  The opening sequence, set on the latest planet to fall to the pacification process, is an eerie and disturbing one.  The population of Zondar, heavily drugged, are mown down by Federation troops, whilst all the time encouraging words (“You are cared for. You are loved”) can be heard over the tannoy.  This has elements of the harder-edged vision of a drugged future seen in The Way Back (although rarely glimpsed afterwards).

After enduring defeat after defeat, it looks as if Avon’s luck has finally turned.  But it shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn that Zukan’s a dirty double-crosser, secretly in cahoots with Servalan.  This is where we must bid farewell to Servalan and it has to be said that she exits with a whimper rather than a bang.  It’s long been debated as to why Jacqueline Pearce didn’t appear in Blake – you’d have assumed it would have been an obvious move, especially if it was known that the series definitely wasn’t coming back.  We’ll touch upon this again next time, but maybe Chris Boucher and Vere Lorrimer were eyeing a possible fifth series – that would certainly explain why Servalan’s final appearance is little more than a not-terribly-interesting cameo.

Simon Masters’ script (his only effort for the series) is well tailored for most of the other regulars.  Avon and Soolin carry the action, although Soolin’s proactive presence does mean that Dayna rather fades into the background.  Vila spends his time drinking and seemingly avoiding Avon.  A nod back to the events of Orbit maybe, as he tries to come to terms with Avon’s actions?

Tarrant spends his time making eyes at Zeeona, although just as Zukan is obviously a wrong-‘un, so it’s clear that Tarrant and Zeeona’s love is going to be somewhat on the short-lived side.  Her death is an interesting moment.  After learning of her father’s treachery she attempts to undo some of the damage he’s caused, but a flesh-eating virus puts paid to her.  Dayna tells Tarrant that she died because she took her glove off – was this an accident or did she, wracked with guilt about her father’s actions, decide to commit suicide?  Either possibility is valid.  Bobbie Brown may be saddled with a silly haircut but is still rather good as the doomed Zukan.

After a run of disasters, it seems that only one man can unify them, so next time Avon sets out to find Blake.  I wonder if this will be where his luck finally changes?  Hmmmm …….

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Blakes 7 – Orbit

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A renegade scientist called Egrorian (John Savident) has an offer that Avon can’t refuse – a weapon of incredible power (the Tachyon Funnel) in exchange for Orac.  You possibly won’t be shocked to hear that there’s a catch though ….

After his previous story, Traitor, failed to hit the mark, Robert Holmes certainly bounced back with Orbit.  Maybe one of the reasons why Traitor didn’t work that well was because it was the only one of Holmes’ four B7 scripts that didn’t team Avon and Vila up.  It’s plain that Holmes saw plenty of possibilities in the Avon/Vila relationship – it’s certainly of the reasons why this one works as well as it does.

Holmes’ Doctor Who scripts tended to feature double-acts, a tradition he carries on here – apart from Avon and Vila there’s also Egrorian and Pinder (Larry Noble).  Egrorian is the sort of role that’s a gift for an actor of a certain type – i.e. one who’s not afraid to go soaring over the top.  John Savident was clearly that sort of actor.  It’s a grotesque (in a good way) turn, totally lacking in subtlety but with the occasional hint of menace to counter the fairly flippant dialogue.

This must have been a fairly cheap show to make, with just a couple of new sets and only two guest stars.  But it never feels like a bottle show or something cobbled together on the cheap because the end of season was fast approaching and the money had run out.  Holmes concentrates on just four characters – Avon, Vila, Egrorian and Servalan (yes, of course she’s lurking about) – and gives them some sparkling dialogue, such as here when Egrorian lays eyes on Avon and Vila for the first time.

EGRORIAN: Surprisingly, you don’t look like the ruthless desperados of legend. But you have, of course, killed a great many people.
AVON: Only in the pursuit of liberty.
EGRORIAN: “O Liberty! O Liberty! What crimes are committed in your name!” Do you know the source?
AVON: No.
EGRORIAN: No, why should you? 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.

Larry Noble, as Egrorian’s assistant Pinder, has very little dialogue, but he still manages to catch the eye.  Noble manages to suffer incredibly well and his hangdog expression immediately engenders sympathy from the audience, something which is increased after we see how badly Egrorian treats him.  There’s a certain cruelty and sadism that runs through Holmes’ Doctor Who scripts which is also present here – best demonstrated after Pinder beats Egrorian at chess.  Egrorian doesn’t like this and proceeds to twist Pinder’s arm.  “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?”

It’s more than a little unpleasant, but it helps to shine a light on their dysfunctional relationship.  Quite how they’ve entertained themselves during the last ten years (they’ve been in exile together) is probably best left to the imagination, although Egrorian’s comment that “naughty boys must be punished” offers a world of possibilities.

Hey, here’s a surprise – Egrorian plans to double-cross Avon and the others because he’s secretly working for Servalan.  Bet you didn’t see that coming.  So far, so familiar, but Holmes continues to give Savident some choice dialogue and he doesn’t disappoint.  Here, Egrorian outlines to Servalan his vision of a shared future.  “A connubial partnership, Servalan. Why not? Alone you are formidable enough, but together we would stand like mountains.”  Jacqueline Pearce also seems to relish the chance to play something a little different, as we see Servalan ever-so-slightly discomforted by the effusive and fulsome Egrorian.

The key part of the story takes place during the last few minutes.  Avon and Vila are heading back to Scorpio in Egrorian’s shuttle, but there’s a problem – they’ll never make the escape velocity as the shuttle’s carrying too much weight.  Frantically they jettison everything they can think of, but they still need to find another seventy kilos.  Avon wonders what weighs seventy kilos, to which Orac replies that “Vila weighs seventy-three kilos, Avon.”

Paul Darrow’s facial expression after Orac delivers this bombshell is a treat.  He shakes his head ever so slightly, but then seems to pull himself together and goes hunting for Vila.  Darrow’s S4 Avon was not known for its subtlety, and so it proves here, as he goes into “I’m not going to kill you, I’m your friend, honest” mode.  It’s not terribly convincing, so you can’t blame Vila for staying hidden.

All turns out well in the end, Avon stumbles (literally) against the problem – a microscopic fragment of a neutron star, planted by Egrorian to kill them – and is able to get rid of it.  But the damage has been done.  Vila might not have mentioned it to the others, but he now knows exactly how far Avon will go to protect his interests.  It’s a nice dramatic moment for Michael Keating, something of a rarity this late in the series.

This may be a talky, studio-based story, but it doesn’t really get any better than Orbit, thanks to John Savident’s exuberant performance and the way that Holmes skewers the Avon/Vila relationship.

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