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.

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.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Stardrive

Nobody loves Stardrive. The reason’s pretty obvious – the Space Rats look very, very silly (things don’t improve when they open their mouths either). Their leader, Atlan (Damian Thomas), is briefly given a moment of character development when it’s revealed that he’s not actually a Space Rat. But since this revelation isn’t developed it proves to be something of a dead end.

Another issue with the Space Rats is the fact that Vila was given a few minutes to big them up – so after you’ve been told that they’re the baddest of the bad, the reality can’t help but be a disappointment ….

It’s nice to see Barbara Shelley, just a pity she’s wasted in a nothing sort of role. Doctor Plaxton is a very pallidly drawn character – we never really learn anything about her (especially why she’s so obsessed about perfecting the stardrive).

But if the guest cast are a little thin, at least the regulars are well catered for. Avon continues to blunder about (his wonderful plan to hitch a lift on an asteroid nearly kills them all). Quite why the others are still content to follow him after his recent string of command disasters is a bit of a mystery.

I love Vila’s drunk act – it’s an excellent demonstration of his natural cunning. Teaming Vila and Dayna up is another good move, even if Vila does revert to his more usual persona of a clumsy coward during these scenes.

The fact that Avon’s quite happy to use Vila and Dayna as a diversion is a telling moment (whether they live or die doesn’t seem to matter to him). Ditto poor old Doctor Plaxton, whose only reward for developing the stardrive is a painful death. The way that Avon comments “who?” after being asked about her, post-death, is a fascinating character touch – has he already blocked her death from his mind, or is he just attempting to?

Stardrive feels like a cheap story. Most of the new modelwork is pretty basic whilst the location (yet another quarry) doesn’t add any visual flair to the episode. But although it’s by means the series at its best, it’s not an absolute disaster either. The Space Rats thankfully aren’t on the screen for very long and the regulars (apart from Tarrant, who doesn’t do much at all) get a decent crack of the whip.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Power

The omens for Power aren’t good. Firstly you have two little words which strike fear into the hearts of many (‘Ben Steed’) and secondly, within the first few seconds a group of hairy tribesmen lurch into view (hairy tribesmen are always one of my least favourite B7 sights). And yet ….

Dicken Ashworth’s Gunn-Sar might appear at first glance to be a typically stereotyped tribal leader (“I am Gunn-Sar, chief of the Hommiks. I rule by right of challenge, which means I’m the biggest, toughest, meanest son of a Seska on this planet”) but there’s much more to him than meets the eye. Ashworth mines the script for comic material and surprisingly for a Ben Steed episode there are some gems to be found.

The way that Gunn-Sar becomes increasingly exasperated at having to repeat his leadership mantra, his duelling (both verbally and physically) with Avon and the revelation that he’d much sooner put his feet up and embroider a nice rug are all nice little character touches. Frankly, I was sorry to see him meet a sticky end.

Gunn-Sar’s relationship with Nina (Jenny Oulton) is something which seems like it’s been dropped into the script specifically to wrong-foot viewers who were aware of Steed’s style. In public Gunn-Sar treats Nina with contempt, but in private there’s a tender bond between them. Gunn-Sar’s public/private facades are an interesting part of the story.

Isolated from the others for most of the script, Avon swans around as if he’s in a Western (which maybe he is). Avon’s easily able to get the better of Gunn-Sar but he meets his match when tangling with Pella (Juliet Hammond-Hill).

There’s something a little uncomfortable about the way Avon forces her to submit and – as so often with post S2 Avon – then grabs her for a quick snog. Just in case we aren’t following, Steed gives our hero a short speech which reinforces why men are best. “You see, Pella, it’s your strength, and however you use it, a man’s will always be greater. Unfair, perhaps, but biologically unavoidable.”

Slightly icky, but since Pella then levitates a computer keyboard to knock Avon out (Paul Darrow’s shocked expression and his slow descent to the floor are the funniest thing in the episode) it suggests that honours are pretty much even between them at this point. This is another moment where Steed seems to be subverting the male stereotypes from his previous stories (unless I’m just being too generous).

Dayna gets to challenge Gunn-Sar, Tarrant stands around a lot whist Vila becomes increasingly hysterical. All three do their best with what they’re given, but this one is really Paul Darrow’s episode. And what of Soolin? The way she turns up a minute before the end is unforgivable (just what has she been doing for the previous 48 minutes?). It would have been nice had Chris Boucher rewritten the script to give her at least a little something to do.

The Western theme is seen again in the closing minutes as Avon proves to be quicker on the draw than Pella. It’s a shocking moment, which Avon sums up thus. “You can have war between races, war between cultures, war between planets. But once you have war between the sexes, you eventually run out of people”.

If that’s the case, then he shouldn’t have killed her. Oh well.

Overall Power‘s not as bad as it might have been (even if the ease at which they gain a teleport system beggars belief). It’s never going to be a favourite, but the series did far worse.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Rescue 

The first ten minutes or so are fascinating. Dayna and Tarrant – two people who you’d assume would both be good in a crisis – somewhat go to pieces. Dayna has to be rescued several times (first by Avon and then Dorian) whilst Tarrant seems to have turned into a drunk, wallowing face down in the snow. I might be doing him a disservice though, possibly the canister contained nothing stronger than water and he’s simply feeling the side-effects from their Terminal adventures.

Even more unexpected (although welcome) is the way that Vila’s temporarily recast as the hero – not only rescuing Tarrant (“If I’ve broken my back hauling a corpse about, I’ll never forgive you”) but also saving the day at the end of the episode.

As for Avon, well he’s still Avon, although given their reduced circumstances it’s maybe not surprising that he’s even more ruthless than usual. Although Dorian is later revealed to have unfriendly plans for them all, Avon wasn’t to know that at first – so the casual way he cheerfully hijacks Dorian’s ship is a reminder that he isn’t a very nice person at all ….

There’s not a great deal of plot in the episode, but I don’t have too much of a problem with this. Since there’s only six speaking parts everyone is given a good share of the action (although it’s ironic that Soolin – later to become a regular – comes off the worst). Geoffrey Burridge is more than memorable as Dorian, although things do go slightly awry around the thirty minute mark (when he starts to age). It’s then that all pretence at subtlety goes out of the window.

When Dorian tells Avon that “you really are most welcome here, my friend” it’s possible to read considerable subtext into those simple words. An acting choice or as scripted? I wonder.

I do like the way that once Dorian reveals the truth about his secret room he suddenly starts speaking like a character in a florid 19th century melodrama (“all the madness and rotting corruption which would have been mine”). There’s an obvious reason for that, but it’s nice that the script doesn’t feel the need to hammer the point home. Had this been a contemporary Doctor Who story it’s easy to imagine the Doctor muttering something about Oscar Wilde just before the TARDIS left the scene.

The plot isn’t exactly watertight. How fortunate that Dorian – who has been searching for Avon and the others for a while – happens to find them immediately after the Liberator has been destroyed (and therefore at a point when they’re at their most vulnerable. The reason why he needs them, rather than any other group, is a little puzzling too. Dorian requires people who are close to each other (“You care for each other. After what you’ve been through together, you couldn’t fail to care for each other. Even you, Avon”.). Only Avon and co fit this bill? Hmm, okay.

The cut price monster at the end is a bit of a disappointment and it’s a pity that Soolin isn’t given more to do, but all in all this is a solid season opener.

Blakes 7 – In Praise of Series A

Last year I treated myself to a fortieth anniversary Blakes 7 rewatch (one episode per week). It was jolly good fun (well, apart from Hostage and a few others) and by the time everybody had bitten the dust on Gauda Prime, I did feel a more than a twinge of regret.

I also came away from the rewatch with a new appreciation for series A, which (if I was the sort of person to bother about rankings) I’d have to claim as my favourite run of B7 episodes.

Partly this is borne out of nostalgia as I acquired ex-rental VHS tapes of The Beginning and Duel back in 1987. With the unedited, episodic releases not beginning until 1991, for a number of years these were the only B7 episodes I had. So I watched them again and again and again ….

Trimmed as they are (The Way Back was reduced to a mere 15 minutes, the others clocked in at around 40 minutes each) there’s still something magical to me about these video presentations. A pity that nobody’s uploaded good quality versions to YouTube. Oh well.

Trevor Hoyle’s first novelisation also helped to stoke my interest in these early episodes (I’ve no idea why I didn’t buy the others at the tine). Roj Blake’s struggles after leaving the security of Dome City (from the publishers of Star Wars no less) certainly fired my imagination.

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Occassionly this question is posed from a B7 newbie – where to start? The Way Back would seem to be the obvious choice, but some say no. That’s baffling to me (I suspect they’re rabid Avon fans, pining for their hero) as whilst The Way Back is totally atypical, you really need to watch it in order to understand just what makes Blake tick.

Playground dispute question, who’s best – Blake or Avon? I’m a confirmed Blake fan (although series C and D weren’t without their moments of interest).  Both characters have plenty of layers which can be unpeeled, but Blake has always fascinated me more.

Series A also boasts strong roles for Jenna and Cally (well, strong-ish). I always got the feeling that Sally Knyvette’s decision not to re-sign for series C was the reason why Jenna was written out of large parts of series B (on more than one occassion the girls were relegated to the job of teleport operators whilst the boys went out to play). Both are certainly better served by Series A, even if they’re not driving any of the plots.

Series A also benefits from the best Travis and only a handful of appearances by Servalan. Of course I love Jacqueline Pearce, but Servalan was hopelessly overused during the next three years. Ideally she should have had strong roles in three or four stories each year. Alas, they couldn’t resist the temptation of shoe-horning her into any old plot, whether she fitted or not ….

Terry Nation may have run out of steam towards the end (Deliverance/Orac and also had to rely heavily on Chris Boucher at times (Nation’s first draft of Bounty was very weedy) but the fact that Series A featured a single authorial voice is something else which appeals. The series had to broaden its writers pool in order to survive, but there’s an undeniable unity to these stories and this helps to compensate for some of the more clunkier or familiar plot devices (radiation sickness! anti-radiation drugs!)

The fairly drab costumes also anchors the series into some sort of reality. Clearly at this point they hadn’t discovered the Liberator wardrobe with the more outlandish clothing creations. We’d have to wait for series B for that.

So there you have it. Series A is really rather good. In fact I think I’m going to go and watch it again.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Series Three, Episodes Eleven to Thirteen

Moloch

Any clues that this is a Ben Stead script? Well, one or two ….

Sardos is a planet where the gross Section Leader Grose (John Hartley) rules with an iron hand although the unseen Moloch seems to be pulling most of the strings. Moloch doesn’t do much though, apart from occasionally piping up off-screen to advise that any miscreant female should be handed over to Grose’s men. It hardly needs to be spelled out what their fate will be.

Servalan later sums up the state of affairs on Sardos. “Well, Section Leader, the records were accurate. Women, food, and inflicting pain – in no particular order”. At least with Power, Stead would subvert expectations from time to time – sadly there’s no examples of that here. When Grose slaps a serving wench on the bottom and suggests that she’d look better with a “bit of dressing, and an apple between her teeth” we have to take his comments at face value.

The expectation is that one of the downtrodden females, such as Chesil (Sabina Franklyn), will be the one to strike the killer blow and bring Grose’s misogynistic empire crashing to the ground. That would have been something, but it wasn’t to be.

Vila later makes friends with Doran (Davyd Harris), an initially affable rogue who later turns out to be far less affable (that fact he hates women shouldn’t really come as any surprise – even though he’s not one of Grose’s men). Michael Keating is a little better served by this script than the previous one. His best moment comes when Vila runs into Servalan and the pair form an uneasy (and very brief) alliance. A whole episode featuring a team-up between Vila and Servalan would have been delicious, a pity it never happened.

The fortunes of the Federation have fluctuated during series three, mainly depending on who was writing the script. In Moloch, things seem so bad that Servalan has traipsed across the galaxy in order to retrieve Grose’s legion of ships. That doesn’t exactly chime with what we’ve seen previously, but that’s the least of this episode’s problems …

As we lurch towards the conclusion, things get more and more lunatic. The appearance of Colonel Astrid, Grose’s former commander, is bad enough but then we finally get to see Moloch himself. If you’re going to hold something back for a shock reveal at the end, you need to make sure that it’s worth waiting for. Oh dear.

Mind-boggling stuff. What were Chris Boucher and David Maloney thinking?

Death Watch

Armed with nothing more than a bad wig, Steven Pacey very credibly manages to make Deeta Tarrant seem like a very different character from his younger brother Del. The Deeta scenes give Pacey better material to work with than he’s had for most of series three and it’s one of the obvious highlights of the episode.

Vila’s amazing range of drinks and snacks is another and I also like the rare example of playful banter between Vila and Cally – which ends when the pair, acting like a couple of children, chase each other off the flight deck!

There’s some nice self-referential touches in this story. The commentator (David Sibley) serves a dual purpose – not only does he info-dump a considerable amount of detail about the upcoming combat, but when that’s over there’s time for a few sly digs at the artifice of television broadcasting (“it was your usual delicate mixture of enthusiasm and dignified cliché”). The portentous voice-over (“Space, the final frontier”) is another obvious bit of mockery.

Servalan does very little, but her scene with Avon is worth the price of admission alone. Paul Darrow manages to overcome the handicap of looking ridiculous (that jacket isn’t the best thing he’s ever worn) as he spits out his dialogue in trademark fashion. You just knew that another snog was around the corner and he didn’t disappoint on that score. Two other moments are especially delightful – the way Avon holds Servalan in an embrace whilst at the same time calling the Liberator for teleport as well as Servalan’s smile after he departs.

The POV shots during the Deeta/Vinny battle are nicely done, as are Deeta’s final moments which the audience are invited to share. A pity that the space suits are all a bit glam rock though.

Overall, there’s not a lot wrong with this one. It’s certainly rich in small character moments which means that it’s a rewarding story to revisit.

Terminal

Terminal offers us a preview of the irrational Avon we’d see in series four. The destruction of the Liberator is a direct consequence of his overweening hubris – had he taken the advice of the others and steered the ship around the unidentified particles then the Liberator would have lived to tell the tale. But Avon knew best, or thought he did …..

“Well, you certainly took your time finding me”. It’s the briefest of scenes, but even this small dose of Gareth Thomas is a sharp reminder of what the series has lacked this year. Although a few half-hearted attempts had been made to strike up a rivalry between Avon and Tarrant, it never sprung into life. Had – as originally intended – an older actor been cast as Tarrant then possibly their spats might have been more impressive. But Steven Pacey always seemed like a lightweight when lined up alongside Paul Darrow.

The plot’s a little loose in places. Did Avon really just track Blake down in order to take part in his get-rich plan? We’ve previously been told that the Liberator contains untold wealth, so this seems unlikely. Or did Avon – even after all their squabbles – really want to reconnect with his former ship-mate? Again, this is slightly hard to swallow but it seems the more likely reason of the two.

But I do like the way that Avon’s motives are rather cloaked – when Servalan (shock, horror) makes an appearance, she wonders if Avon teleported down alone because he didn’t want to share Blake’s spoils with the others (Avon maintained it was because he didn’t want to put them in danger). The brief smile on his face after Servalan’s comment leaves this point moot.

Of course, there was no Blake, it was all an illusion conjured up by Servalan in order to (yawn) capture the Liberator. The only good thing about the destruction of the ship in this story is that we’ll be spared any more of these Servalan-hatches-a-crazy-plan-to-steal-the-Liberator plotlines in the future.

Best not to question why neither Servalan nor her minions notice that the Liberator’s not exactly looking in tip top shape. She’s been onboard before, so surely all the gloopy pustules on the walls should have started the alarm bells ringing.

Terminal’s ominous and constant heartbeat (which only increases the closer that Avon gets to his prey) works well and it’s nice to see Vila take charge for once. Left on the ailing Liberator with Dayna, he hatches a plan to hopefully buy them some more time.

The death of Zen (“I have failed you. I am sorry”) has always been more upsetting to me than the death of Gan. Sorry David.

Terminal does sag in parts (it takes an awfully long time for Avon to reach faux-Blake and the less said about the links the better) but it’s still a good’un.

So that’s that. The final end. At least until there was a last minute reprieve ….

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Series Three, Episodes Eight to Ten

Rumours of Death

I love the cold opening – a pity that the show didn’t do more of this. Unshaven and in pain, we share Avon’s disorientation as he’s visited in his cell by Shrinker (John Bryans). The prison cell is a simple set, but off-camera screams from other, less fortunate, inmates helps to create a sense both of scale and oppression. Fiona Cumming’s direction here, and throughout the episode, has some nice choices – with Shrinker standing and Avon sitting, the low camera angle reinforces the Federation man’s dominance (at least initially).

Avon’s ruthlessness is perfectly demonstrated in this episode (as well as his single-minded desire to withstand anything – even days of torture – to achieve his ultimate goal). Whether this is a good or bad thing is debatable – it’s easy to argue that the seeds of his eventual downfall were sown here. After killing the most important woman in his life (who betrayed him) it surely would make killing the most important man in his life (whom he believed had betrayed him) much easier.

After some of the more pulpy sci-fi stories of series three, Rumours of Death is a pleasingly straightforward thriller/spy yarn. And whilst the palace revolution – and Servalan’s temporary dethroning – was achieved rather easily, this could be taken as an illustration of just how tenuous her grip on power was at this point.

Jacqueline Pearce doesn’t have a great of screentime, but her scenes with Avon are pulsating (especially “It’s an old wall, Avon, it waits. I hope you don’t die before you reach it.”). Although once again it’s remarkable that Avon and Servalan keep on running into each other when they’ve the whole galaxy to play with.

Greenlee (Donald Douglas) and Forres (David Haig) are a couple of interesting characters – Federation types who also seem like fairly ordinary people. The fact they’re a likeable double-act helps to blur the lines between the “good” and “bad” sides. Sula (Lorna Helibron) is another example of this – is she a pure rebel, keen to restore democracy with a People’s Council, or does she just have her eye on replacing Servalan?

The revelation that Sula was Anna (and therefore everything Avon thought he knew was wrong) means that he has – in his own mind – no choice but to kill her. Whether she did really love him (as her dying words suggest) is another of those moments that’s open to interpretation. And that’s one of the reasons why Rumours of Death is such a good episode – few B7’s have this level of nuance. Who do you trust and who do you disbelieve?

Although the episode Blake wasn’t even a gleam in Chris Boucher’s eye when he scripted this one, in retrospect it’s easy to see how even at this point Avon was firmly set on the road to Gauda Prime.

Sarcophagus

You can’t help but love and respect a story which begins in such an oblique and bewildering fashion. Sarcophagus‘ first five minutes pass by with no explanation, although the roles of the masked servitors will become clearer later on (when we see the Liberator crew occupying the same positions).

As with most of S3, there’s a definite feeling of ennui hanging over the crew. With no particular goal in sight, they spend their time doing relatively little (you know things are desperate when Vila and Avon are indulging in a game of space draughts). Tarrant’s asteroid (“something else to chase” as Cally says) is the latest example of a mission which seems to be designed more to keep them busy, than for any other pressing reason.

Largely set aboard the Liberator and (apart from some non-speaking extras) solely centered around the regulars, Sarcophagus may have been designed as a cheap show, but Tanith Lee was able to work with these limitations and unlike, say Breakdown (another Liberator heavy story), ensure that everybody was well served by the script. Avon and Cally top and tail the story (with other intriguing scenes scattered throughout), Tarrant might be his usual annoying self when interrogating Cally early on, but he gets a decent scene with the alien later (although largely it feels like he’s just softening her up for Avon’s killer blow). Dayna gets to warble a tune(!) whilst Vila’s conjuring tricks (with a dose of non-diegetic sound) ends up as a decidedly creepy moment.

Easy to see why this is a slightly marmite story, since it’s almost totally a tale of dialogue and concepts with little or no action. But I’m glad that Boucher took a chance on a television novice like Tanith Lee, as both of her B7 stories are ones which repay multiple viewings.

Ultraworld

Vila seems to have had a nervous breakdown, that’s the only possible explanation I can find for his behaviour in this episode (chuckling with Orac at a series of lame riddles and gags). One sample will suffice – “Where do space pilots leave their ships? At parking meteors”. True, in the end this becomes an important plot point, but it’s still incredibly lame (you can’t blame Michael Keating, he could only work with the material he had, but the script gives him little scope to portray Vila as anything over than a childish buffoon).

Jan Chappell, who spends most of the episode unconscious, also has limited room to shine. So with Vila out to lunch and Cally asleep, that leaves the trio of Avon, Tarrant and Dayna. This does have its compensations – especially as we’re treated to some typical Avon jibes (when Tarrant declares that he takes calculated risks, Avon counters “calculated on what? Your fingers?”). And with Avon sitting most of the second part of the episode out, this leaves Tarrant and Dayna at the forefront – it’s notable how Tarrant takes control (even if you sense he really doesn’t know what he’s doing).

Although Ultraworld had a fairly small guest cast, it doesn’t seem to have been a particularly cheap show. The modelwork is impressive (the huge pulsating brain is gloriously icky whilst the capture of the Liberator is another nice sequence – albeit a bit wobbly). Location filming at the Camden Town shelter also helped to create a sense of space.

Of course the story is a very silly run-around (Trevor Hoyle, like Tanith Lee, was a science-fiction novelist and a television novice, but their two S3 stories couldn’t be further apart – one was lyrical and layered, and the other was called Ultraworld). This is a story that you sense Hoyle wasn’t taking terribly seriously.

Especially played for laughs is the scene where the Ultras decide that Tarrant and Dayna should demonstrate the human bonding ceremony. Dayna seems up for it (“kiss me. Come on. I can’t be all that repulsive”) as she, ahem, sets to work on Tarrant. The way the Ultras are looking in (“has the bonding ceremony begun?”) sets the tone of this sequence.

Everything’s sorted out with embarrassing ease – Cally and Avon might have had their memories stolen but luckily Tarrant was able to find their data stores just lying about. A pity they weren’t swopped around, as an episode with Avon stuck in Cally’s body (and vice-versa) would have been very interesting.

It’s silly, but it’s fun.

Blakes 40. Blakes 7 40th Anniversary Rewatch – Series Three, Episodes Five to Seven

Harvest of Kairos

This one is odd, very, very odd. For just this episode, Tarrant has become the unopposed leader of the group (Servalan keeps chuntering on about his command skills, and when she boards the Liberator once again reminds everybody that Tarrant’s the boss). Wat’s Avon doing whilst Tarrant’s running the show? He’s staring at a rock he’s found (Darrow plays this episode like the Avon of S4 – whether that’s a good or bad thing depends on how much you enjoy S4).

Andrew Burt’s not a bad actor, but he’s woefully miscast as Jarvik (mind you, any actor would struggle with this role). From his first words (“Woman, you’re beautiful” as he grasps Servalan for a quick snog) it’s hard to keep a straight face whenever Jarvik has any dialogue.

How he temporarily humanises Servalan is interesting, but it’s a pity that it’s done in such a ham-fisted way. “When was the last time you felt the warmth of the Earth’s sun on your naked back? Or lifted your face to the heavens, and laughed with the joy of being alive? How long since you wept at the death of a friend?” Another actor might have delivered this with a little more subtlety, I’m afraid that Burt’s line reading only generated tears of laughter from me ….

Jarvik is a man. Tarrant is a man. Therefore they have to do what men do – face each other in combat. It’s possible that there’s an element of satire in Ben Steed’s script, but I don’t really think so – it seems we’re required to take everything at face value. The climax of the story (Jarvik is accidentally shot dead) is incredibly unconvincing (I assume the clock was ticking round to ten pm). But it does allow Tarrant to remind everybody that Jarvik was a special kind of man. A man’s man, you might say.

The creature is monumentally silly as well, but that’s the least of this episode’s problems. And yet, like Voice from the Past this is an episode that I still derive some pleasure from. It’s illogical and made on the cheap (Servalan seems to be flying around in a space station) but whatever else it is, it’s not dull.

City at the Edge of the World

Whether by accident or design, all the regulars get at least one starring episode during series three (Cally is especially lucky as she gets two – Children of Auron and Sarcophagus). City is Vila’s chance to shine and it’s nice to see Michael Keating given more to do for once than just act as the comic foil. The episode’s a bit of a run-around, but Colin Baker’s performance as Bayban helps to keep things ticking along nicely. Subtle his turn isn’t, entertaining it is.

Always nice to see Valentine Dyall, although he isn’t called upon to do much more than stand around looking noble. Carol Hawkins looks lovely, although Kerril’s sudden mood swing (from hating Vila to loving him) is a little hard to swallow. Maybe this was all just one of Vila’s soma induced dreams?

The relationship between Vila and Kerril is delightfully chaste (their ‘sex’ scene seems to mainly consist of them lying on adjoining couches). An agreeable romp then – not a story with great depth or impact but thanks to the performances it breezes along nicely.

Children of Auron

Oh no, not another story where Servalan attempts to steal the Liberator ….

On the plus side, Liberator pinching does very much play second fiddle to her other (frankly bonkers) plan – feeling a little broody, she intends to wipe out vast swathes of Cally’s people just so she can use their cloning facilities to create a race of mini-Servalans. But compared to Roger Parkes’ previous script (Voice from the Past) this seems quite sensible.

Auron never really comes alive as a planet. Their isolationist nature is touched upon (but if this is the case, why was a pilot tootling around in space?) and Ronald Leigh-Hunt does his usual gruff act, but it’s hard to really connect to the tragedy that befalls them.

Cally has a twin! I love Chris Boucher dearly, but sometimes his script-editing was odd. Cally has a twin? Fair enough, but pulling the same trick with Tarrant a few episodes later makes this harder to swallow (you can’t help but expect the same thing to happen with Avon, Vila and Dayna too).

Odd that Zelda wasn’t given more to do, although her final scene with Cally was touching.

All the regulars get some decent lines (plus Paul Darrow has some serious brooding time) but it’s really Jacqueline Pearce who gets the best of the script. Even though Servalan once again displays an astonishing lack of judgement, it’s impossible not to feel something after she’s tricked into destroying her embryos. “They were mine, I felt them die”.

Rio Fanning and Ric Young (as Deral and Ginka) offer some light relief (although I’ve a feeling this wasn’t intended). Poor Servalan, good men must be hard to find if these two are the best she can come up with.

Serious points off for the chucklesome ending (almost as bad as Breakdown – we’ve just witnessed a catastrophe, so let’s have a bit of a laugh). Children of Auron is a bit static and wordy (and the plot isn’t exactly watertight) but it’s a solid character piece.

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

Aftermath

The great galactic battle is a bit of a damp squib – with various bits of reused footage being pressed into service. Interesting that Cally and Vila only play a small role in this one – partly this enables new arrival Dayna a decent slice of the action, but it also means that Avon can move centre-stage unchallenged. What are the odds that Servalan would have ended up on the same planet as Avon? Hmm. If that’s hard to swallow, then so is the fact that Avon and Servalan immediately lock themselves into a hate/hate (with maybe a dash of love) relationship.

How many words had they previously exchanged? Judging from what we see here, they seem like the best of enemies with a lengthy history, which isn’t the case at all. Avon’s roughhousing (“Imagination my only limit? I’d be dead in a week”) is played nicely.

My interest always flags when hairy primitives pop up, although since they only feature in a fairly minor subplot it’s not too much of an issue (the Avon/Dayna/Servalan triangle is the main point of interest during this story). Josette Simon makes an instant impression whilst Paul Darrow easily steps up to the mark as a leading man. And another good cliffhanger!

Powerplay

I’m not the greatest S3 Tarrant fan, but he does have a decent introductory episode. Not quite sure though weren’t more explicit about making him a rogue Federation officer rather than just another freedom fighter. Although maybe Tarrant was fibbing about his freedom fighter status – this would have been an interesting angle to develop at a later date.

Michael Sheard is entertainingly gruff and Darrow and Simon continue to work well together. On original transmission, I was sure that Blake was the secret killer. Alas, that was a bit wide of the mark.

Cally doesn’t do a great deal but Vila’s subplot – especially his “we’ve got you surrounded” shtick – is good fun. Mind you, his effusive appreciation of the lovely young ladies is so overdone that you just know a sting in the tail is coming.

Following Servalan’s encounter with Avon last week (straining credibility) this time she runs into Vila and Cally. It’s clearly a small galaxy.

I’ve always been fond of this one. The fairly small guest ensures that pretty much all the regulars get a good crack of the whip. Mind you, given the number of times I watched the VHS omnibus back in the day, it does seem odd not to be carrying on with Sarcophagus ….

Volcano

Some of the volcano stock footage looks familiar. Was it also used for the Doctor Who Inferno title sequence?

As it’s an Allan Prior script it’s probably best to ratchet down your expectations. The planet Obsidian does at least boast one decent actor – Michael Gough as Hower – but even he struggles with most of the dialogue. Malcolm Bullivant, as Hower’s son Bershar, is pretty wooden throughout though.

Things aren’t much more promising on the Federation front – Ben Howard (as Mori) is operating in Travis (Brian Croucher) territory. The fact that he, and a small group of Federation troops, manage to take over the Liberator should be a standout moment, but it turns out to be something of a damp squib.

The battle fleet commander (Alan Bowerman) maintains the generally low standard of the guest cast.

Why did they gag Cally but not Vila? Anyway, it’s pretty pointless to gag a telepath ….

There are a few bright spots though. With only Avon and Vila left aboard, Vila has to step up to the mark after Avon is injured. He taunts Servalan very nicely. Vila doesn’t do much in the story, but STILL gets many of the best lines.

Servalan’s plan (she wants the Liberator, then at the last minute decides she doesn’t) sums up the incoherent nature of the story.

Dayna and Tarrant get a nice slice of the narrative down on the planet, even if Hower and Bershar aren’t great conversationalists. They do possess the most wonderful robot though. It’s hard not to take your eyes off him.

The most intriguing part of the story occurs when Tarrant tells Hower that they’re mercenaries and in exchange for the use of his planet he’d be in line for a percentage of the spoils. Was Tarrant fibbing or did he seriously think they’d be setting off for a life of crime as intergalactic pirates? I suppose this does anticipate later stories such as Gold though.

Not a very good story, but it’s fitfully entertaining.

Dawn of the Gods

I love the fact that everybody – except killjoy Tarrant – begins the episode by enjoying a nice game of Space Monopoly.

This is one of those stories which features a great many Liberator scenes. On the positive side this means there’s ample time to develop and explore the characters of the regulars, the negative is the sense that the story is proceeding at a snail’s pace.

The needle between Avon and Tarrant is entertaining though.

TARRANT: One day, Avon, I may have to kill you.
AVON: It has been tried.

I love Vila’s dazed comment as well (“I’m in hell — and it’s full of Avons”).

Actually, the Liberator part of the story is easily the best thing about Dawn of the Gods – when we reach the artificial satellite of Krandor things get very odd. The sight of the top-hatted Caliph for starters.

Groff, with his eye shade, also looks out of place, but at least he’s played by a decent actor (Terry Scully) who’s able to take the paper thin character and flesh it out a little, thereby ensuring that we care just a little about Groff’s fate.

Yet another mystical legend from Cally’s home planet, at least the Thaarn looks impressive, even if it’s difficult to work up much interest about his politely spoken desire to rule the universe.

The way the story stumbles to a conclusion is a bit of a problem, but this time round I didn’t find Dawn to be that painful (whereas in the past I recall it being much more of a slog). Perhaps I was just in a good mood today.

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

Gambit

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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.

The Keeper

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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

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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 ….

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

Hostage

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Oh dear, this isn’t very good is it? Plus points, we get a brief smidgen of Kevin Stoney whilst Servalan placed under a little pressure is always good to see.

Continuity isn’t a strong point of this story. Servalan reacts with amazement when Joban tells her that Blake’s become a hero amongst the rank and file of the Federation, which flatly contracts previous stories where Blake’s growing reputation was becoming a problem.

I don’t know if it was ever seriously considered, but the possibility of Travis teaming up with Blake would have been very interesting. Having Travis as a new crewmember aboard the Liberator opens up all sorts of possibilities (which would have been more satisfying than the increasingly odd way his character was used – Voice From The Past, anyone?).

The crimos are pretty rubbish, as are the polystyrene rocks, whilst Travis seems stupider than usual (does he really not know who is weakest out of Blake, Avon and Vila?).

So not good, but there’s a few good one-liners scattered about and – as ever – great interaction between the regulars, so it’s not completely unwatchable.

Countdown

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The main drawback with a story which has a ticking countdown throughout is that things only really get exciting during the last few seconds. And so it proves here – even though we know that Avon and Del will save the day just in the nick of time, there’s still some decent tension wrung out as the clock ticks down to zero.

As for the rest of the episode, the development of Avon’s character (especially the revelation about his love for Anna and his uneasy relationship with her brother) is clearly the main point of interest. Darrow and Chadbon spar very effectively and it’s a pity that Del was never seen again (although given what we learn about Anna in Rumours of Death that’s possibly not too surprising).

Elsewhere, the characterisation of the remainder of the guest cast is pretty sketchy. Provine is a nasty piece of work and that’s about it – his only function in the plot being to give Blake another clue to the location to Star One (which is done in a highly unconvincing way). The locals are all pretty forgettable as well but I’ll give a bonus point out for the fact that there’s a female amongst their number (I’ll then deduct a point for the fact she’s such a wet lettuce).

Once again the girls are stuck by the teleport whilst the boys go down to play. This is becoming rather monotonous. Since it was already known that Sally Knyvette wouldn’t be returning for S3 (indeed she wouldn’t have done S2 had her contract not forced her to) it almost looks like all the writers had given up any interest in developing her character.

I do like the way that the Federation troops (supposed to be the best of the best) spend the opening few minutes doing nothing except running away as fast as they can from the advancing rebels!

Decent enough, but never a favourite.

Voice From The Past

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It may be mad as a box of frogs, but it’s impossible not to love Voice From The Past. I like the notion that Cally has badgered the others into doing exercises although it doesn’t seem to be agreeing with Blake, who is having the funniest of all funny turns.

Gareth Thomas goes right over the top and then back up again during the first fifteen minutes or so. It’s great stuff, as are Paul Darrow’s karate chops when Avon attempts to subdue a hysterical Blake!

Given Blake’s often arbitrary command style, it’s surprising that the others twig quite quickly that he’s not himself. Avon, as so often, is gifted most of the best lines (“Well, he’s certainly not normal, not even for Blake”).

Jenna, looking especially lovely today, is persuaded to share Blake’s nightmares (so she too gets the chance to register high on the hysteria scale). But once that moment of fun is over, the plot starts to fall apart somewhat.

It’s barely credible that Avon would leave Vila in sole charge of Blake. Equally hard to believe is the fact that a gullible Vila swallows Blake’s story that Avon and Cally are the guilty ones. Also, why are Avon, Cally and Jenna all sitting in a room with a door that Blake can lock? A touch careless of them ….

All of this messing with Blake’s mind ultimately does feel like filler, since when the main plot kicks in – Blake is invited to join a cabal of notable Federation types who plan to bring down the current administration – it seems clear that Blake would have been happy to join them without any manipulation.

What can you say about Shivan? Words fail me ….

Servalan’s tussle with Governor Le Grand tops the episode off in style. Servalan on the big screen is some sight.

Something of a messy episode, but it’s also great fun.