Blakes 7 – Pressure Point

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Whilst the initial reason for scripting Pressure Point was borne out of necessity (Gan had to be written out) in the end it proved to be something of a watershed for the show.  Since the start of series one we’ve seen that Blake is a far from infallible character –  he may have positive qualities which mark him out as a natural leader but his decision making can often be deeply flawed.

This is shown most brutally in this episode.  Blake has returned the Liberator to Earth – to howls of protest from everybody except Cally.  She, like Blake, is a fanatic.  They value their own personal safety far less than the cause they’re fighting for – you know that either would be only too willing to sacrifice their life and become a martyr.  But Avon, Jenna and Vila don’t share their burning intensity – they might be happy to ally themselves to Blake, but personal preservation is never far from their minds.

And what of Gan?  We can say for certain that he’s always been (with the odd exception, such as Shadow) one of Blake’s most staunchest allies.  But it’s possible to consider that his frequent shows of support for were designed mainly to allow Avon to score cheap points at their expense.  Blake would announce a risky scheme, Gan would give him his whole-hearted support, Avon would roll his eyes and mutter something disparaging along the lines that only someone as stupid as Gan could ever think it was a good idea.

Blake tells the others the reason for returning to Earth. “Two hundred years ago, when the Federation began expansion and conquest, the Administration established a computer complex to monitor information: political, civil, military – everything. That computer is the nerve center of ALL Federation activity. Smashing that would be the biggest single step toward the destruction of their power. I don’t think they would ever recover from it.”

This seems not dissimilar to the space control complex on Saurian Major as seen in Time Squad.  That was also seen by Blake as a vital part of the Federation’s empire – although after he destroyed it there seemed to be no change at all to the smooth running of the Federation.

Coming fresh to Pressure Point, and especially if you’re aware of Terry Nation’s history as a writer, it would be reasonable to assume that Control on Earth would be similar to the space control complex on Saurian Major – just a MacGuffin which exists for the sole purpose of giving the Liberator crew something to attack.  They teleport down, shoot some guards, lay some explosive charges and teleport back up – job done.

But this doesn’t happen.  Control is an empty shell designed to lure people like Blake into a trap and the moment of revelation is a stunning one.  Blake falls to his knees, speechless, whilst Travis explains.  “You see, it’s the great illusion, Blake. You give substance and credibility to an empty room, and the real thing becomes undetectable, virtually invisible.”

The only thing worse than Blake having risked all their lives for nothing is that Gan dies as they make their escape.  And it’s the complete pointlessness of his death which is striking .  Nation could have scripted a story where Gan dies a heroic death – saving Blake and the others – instead the last shot we see of his lifeless body is deliberately anti-heroic.

It’s a far cry from, say, Planet of the Daleks (a 1973 Nation-scripted Doctor Who adventure).  In that story we see various Thals die during the course of the six episodes and each time the Doctor is on hand to deliver a short moral homily.  The Doctor’s speeches were intended to demonstrate that the Thals didn’t die in vain – they were sacrificing themselves for the greater good.  No such comfort can be drawn from Pressure Point though.  Gan did die in vain – there’s no two ways about it.

Although George Spenton-Foster (something of a bogey-man for Brian Croucher) directed this one, Croucher does seem more settled as Travis.  There’s far less of the histrionics we saw in Shadow and a touch more of the calculating Travis of old.  Possibly this is because he’s convinced that the plan to capture Blake is such a good one.

The focus is slightly more on Servalan though, thanks to her interaction with Kasabi (Jane Sherwin).  Kasabi is the rebel leader who Blake intends to contact – without her help he won’t be able to breach the outer defences.  Servalan and Travis capture her, but she proves uncooperative.  Kasabi’s previous relationship with Servalan helps to shine something of a light on the Supreme Commander.  “Don’t try and browbeat me Servalan. Or have you forgotten that I knew you as a cadet? You were a credit to your background: spoilt, idle, vicious. My confidential assessment listed her as unfit for command.  But I forgot how well-connected she was.”

As Kasabi doesn’t survive the interrogation it’s lucky that Servalan and Travis have an alternative – Kasabi’s daughter Veron (Yolande Palfrey).  This was a fairly early credit for Palfrey (who died far too young in 2011) and she’s not always entirely convincing (although we could be charitable and say this is because she was feeling the pressure of being a traitor to the cause).

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It’s notable that when Blake and the others find her it’s Gan who’s the most solicitous.  This may be a decision from Nation to bulk up his part (too little, too late if so) or it could be a nod back to Project Avalon which saw Gan rather taken with the android Avalon.  Poor Gan, never a good judge of females (real or manufactured) it would seem.

I do have to mention Jacqueline Pearce’s dress (as seen in the first picture).  Not very practical, but it’s certainly memorable.

Another point of interest is an exchange between Blake and Avon before they launch the attack.  Avon rather surprises Blake by giving him his full support, but Avon being Avon there’s a reason behind it.  “If we succeed, if we destroy Control, the Federation will be at its weakest. It will be more vulnerable than it has been for centuries. The revolt in the Outer Worlds will grow. The resistance movements on Earth will launch an all-out attack to destroy the Federation. They will need unifying. They will need a leader. YOU will be the natural choice.”

With Blake unifying the resistance, Avon will take over the Liberator.  As we’ll see, this is something that will ultimately come to pass …..

But not for a little while as Blake’s defeat here will only intensify his desire to find the true location of Control.  This will form a loose running thread which will carry on until the the conclusion of series two – Star One.

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Blakes 7 – Horizon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blakes 7 – Weapon

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Weapon gives us our first opportunity to see Travis Mk 2 (Brian Croucher) in action.  And he’s angry, very very angry.

One of the main character flaws with Travis is that he exists for one purpose only – to kill Blake.  And when, week after week, this doesn’t happen he can’t help but become something of a figure of fun (or contempt).  But it’s not only Blake and his friends who hold him in contempt, in this episode it’s clear that Servalan loathes him as well.

As we go through series two there will be the odd highlight (Trial) as well as plenty of lowlights (Voice from the Past is easily the most bonkers use of him).  Given that he became something of a marginalised character almost immediately,  it’s no surprise that Stephen Greif decided to bail after series one.  This leaves Brian Croucher with an almost impossible task.

Croucher has made no secret of the fact that his time on Blakes 7 wasn’t terribly happy – he’s singled out director George Spenton-Foster as someone he had serious problems with.  And since Spenton-Foster directed this episode it looks obvious that the problems start here.

From the first scene Travis is struggling with barely suppressed rage.  It’s a totally different acting choice from Greif, who had much more of an ironic detachment, and it doesn’t really work (it’s easy to imagine Greif saying the same lines, but in a very restrained way).  If Spenton-Foster wasn’t giving Croucher adequate direction then it’s probable that he just went his own way – resulting in a performance where Travis is little more than a thug.  He’ll tone things down as we move through the series, but it’s not an auspicious start.

His first scene is quite arresting though – as he kills Blake!  Or at least, someone who looks remarkably like him (is this a nod to the pre-credits sequence of From Russia with Love?).  Travis has, of course, just killed a clone of Blake – but one that’s identical to his arch-enemy in every physical way.

Clonemaster Fen (Kathleen Byron) is clearly a being of awesome power – we can tell this because Dudley Simpson goes overboard on the organ and there’s a great deal of dry ice floating about.  I do always worry when she’s walking rather gingerly down the stairs though, one false move and she could have had a nasty accident.

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In Project Avalon we saw it was possible to create a perfect android replica of someone (something that’s never done again after that episode).  In Weapon we see that it’s possible to create a perfect clone of someone (something that’s never done again after this episode).  I sense a pattern emerging here.  Given how incredibly useful both android duplicates and clones could be, it’s remarkable that once they’ve served their purpose in their respective stories they never crop up again.

Although the Blake clone will be an important figure in a great deal of post Blake fan fiction ……

I like the idea that Servalan commissions two clones of Blake, since she knows that Travis will be unable to resist killing one of them.  Their dialogue after this happens is instructive and it clearly indicates the current stage of their relationship (not good).

SERVALAN: Travis, you are pathetic.
TRAVIS: If you say so.
SERVALAN: Of all the cripple-brained idiots.
TRAVIS: Me – or you?
SERVALAN:What did you say?
TRAVIS: You’re angry, Supreme Commander. Surprised by what I did. You devious – you always have been devious. You knew what would happen.
SERVALAN: Take your hand off me.
TRAVIS: You knew if it was Blake I’d kill him. I’d have to kill him.

The clone of Blake is part of a highly complicated plan by Carnell (Scott Fredericks).  Carnell is a psychostrategist (who are unflatteringly nicknamed “puppeteers”) and Servalan appears to have commissioned him to kill two birds with one stone.  Eliminate Blake and his crew as well as acquire IMIPAK (a deadly new weapon).

If you’re not particularly aware of Blakes 7 fan-fiction and spin-off fiction then it might come as a surprise than Carnell (a one-shot character) has had quite an extensive after-life – appearing in numerous fan-fiction stories as well as novels and audios by Chris Boucher (superior fan-fiction you might say).  Most of his appeal has to be down to Scott Fredericks’ twinkling performance – his sparring with Jacqueline Pearce is a highlight of the episode.

The main guest star is John Bennett.  He plays Coser, the inventor of IMIPAK, who’s been manipulated by Carnell to not only have a nervous breakdown but to escape from the Federation’s weapons development faacility with IMIPAK.  Servalan then plans to use the clone of Blake to retrieve this from Coser.

The most obvious question is why go to all that trouble to create a clone of Blake when it doesn’t actually do anything?  Servalan could have simply turned up herself and taken IMIPAK (which is basically what happens – Coser gives it to clone Blake and he hands it over to her).

I always had a lot of respect for John Bennett, he was an actor who enlivened many a dull programme.  But he’s got his work cut out here as Coser is such an unlikable sort right from the start – he’s a terrible bully to the lovely Rashel (Candace Glendenning).  And once you see what he’s wearing it’s even harder to take him seriously …..

An odd story then and somewhat illogical.  Some of the banter between the Liberator crew does go some way to salvaging things and Jenna and Cally look rather fetching in their blue and red outfits so there is some small recompense.

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Blakes 7 – Shadow

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Shadow was the first Blakes 7 story to be scripted by Chris Boucher (as well as the first not to be written by Terry Nation).  Because of this it’s pretty clear there’s a difference in tone – although it is believed that Boucher had already contributed fairly considerably to series one.

Legend has it that Nation’s season one scripts became thinner and thinner as time wore on – meaning that Boucher had to add more and more of his own material to flesh them out.  But even if that was so, Shadow was the first chance he had to craft something entirely of his own making and one of the most interesting parts of his debut script is how Blake himself is portrayed.

Blake and the others arrive at Space City.  It operates outside of Federation law and is reputed to be the base of the Terra Nostra.  The Terra Nostra are responsible for virtually all the organised crime on every Federated world – and Blake can only see the positives in allying with them.  “Think what they’ve got – men, material, information. Think what we could do with a fraction of the resources they control.”

For once Avon seems to be in agreement with him, so it’s left to Gan to be the main dissenting voice.  “No, YOU think, Blake. Think what it is they control. Everything dirty, degrading, and cruel on just about every colonized world.”  Moving Gan into a position where he can oppose Blake is welcome for several reasons, especially since it gives David Jackson a more meaty role than usual.  Gan’s time was already ticking though, so it’s sadly too little too late.

Blake’s use of semantics is instructive.  He tells Gan that they’re going to use the Terra Nostra, not do business with them.  But as he later offers them money in exchange for access to their infrastructure on Earth, the distinction is far from clear.  Is Blake simply deluding himself?  He’s obviously quite happy that the ends justify the means – the Terra Nostra can help him in his fight against the Federation so he has no moral qualms in using them.

Space City might be the “satellite of sin”, according to Vila, but it’s very underpopulated.  We only see Largo (Derek Smith) and one of his enforcers (Archie Tew) on the side of the Terra Nostra whilst Hanna (Adrienne Burgess) and Bek (Karl Howman) represent the Terra Nostra’s “customers”.  Hanna is an addict and her drug of choice is Shadow – the Terra Nostra’s most successful product.

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It’s a little surprising that director Jonathan Wright Miller didn’t employ a few extras to at least give some impression that Space City was a thriving and bustling place, so you simply have to use your imagination.  As for the actors he did cast, Derek Smith is rather good as Largo – he manages to exude a rather silky menace.  Smith could sometimes go soaring over the top but is fairly restrained here and is all the better for it.  Tew has little to do for most of the episode except wave a gun around and look menacing, but he does later manage to move up the pecking order at the expense of Largo (proving that there had to be more to him than met the eye).

Karl Howman is very much the weak link, delivering his lines rather unconvincingly.  Dialogue such as “killing a Terra Nostra pusher will be the best fun I’ve had all day. You stupid murdering scumball.” is delivered with all the intensity of a first year drama student.  What’s odd is that he was already quite an experienced television actor at this time.  Much better is Adrienne Burgess as Hannah.  She’d been teamed up with Michael Keating a few years earlier in the Doctor Who story The Sunmakers, and is able to give Hannah, a hopeless drug-addict, some sort of character.

If there’s one thing that Shadow tells us, again and again, it’s that Blake’s operating way out of his depth.  Vila sums it up quite succinctly.  ” Look, he was an Alpha grade on Earth. A highly privileged group, the Alphas. Wouldn’t last five minutes among the Delta service grades where I grew up. And it’s the service grades where the Terra Nostra really operate. Without anesthetic, usually.”

This is proved when Blake, Avon, Jenna and Gan are detained by Largo, who dismisses them as “amateurs” and they only manage to escape from Space City by the skin of their teeth, taking Bek and Hannah along for the ride.  Blake’s not finished though – if he can’t buy the Terra Nostra’s co-operation then he’ll force them to help.  His plan?  To locate the planet where they refine Shadow and take control of it.

Again it’s Gan who provides the main voice of dissent.  This, he says, would make them little more than pushers.  Tellingly Blake again brushes off his protests.  Shadow may cause misery and death for millions but if it helps him in his fight against the Federation then he’s content.

The planet Zondar is supposed to be incredibly warm (the rather overcast sky in the quarry gives the lie to this, but at least it wasn’t raining!).  Whilst Blake, Avon and Jenna explore (and to be honest achieve very little) Cally has also teleported down to the surface.

She’s been locked into her own subplot for most the episode, battling with Orac – or an unidentified entity that’s taken over Orac.  This seems to have been bolted on to the main story in order to pad the running time out and doesn’t quite work.  The shots of Cally being isolated (done quite simply with lights and a few simple video effects) is effective but it’s frustrating that the identity of the invader is never established.  It also seems something of a contrivance that Cally is able to force it back into its own dimension with the aid of the telepathic creatures on Zondar.  How fortunate that the Liberator’s next port of call was able to provide her with the allies she needed!

The ultimate revelation that the Terra Nostra is controlled by the Federation (“It’s quite logical. To have total control, you must control totally. Both sides of the law. The Terra Nostra, the Federation – two sides of the same power.”) provides a neat ending to the story and demonstrates that the Federation’s influence is more insidious and far-reaching than was previously thought.

Following on from the gung-ho space adventure of Redemption, Shadow offers a subtle re-tooling of the direction the series would take during series two.  There would be plenty more gung-ho adventures to come, but this is the first time that Blake’s decision-making has come under strong scrutiny.  And in a couple of episodes time, following the events of Pressure Point, it will again.

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Blakes 7 – Redemption

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The easiest way of knowing we’ve reached series two of Blakes 7 is to look at the costumes of the Liberator crew.  In series one you could best describe them as drab, but now June Hudson’s been recruited things have certainly changed (and this is only the beginning).  Highlights are Avon’s natty black studded number (which he later donates to Tarrant) and Blake’s rather extraordinary green plastic jacket with enormous puffy sleeves.

But if the costumes are different then the story is much more familiar (not surprising since it was Terry Nation’s fourteenth script in a row).  Like The Web or Breakdown it’s a story of two halves.  The first takes place on the Liberator and the second kicks into gear once they’ve reached their destination.

Before things start happening there’s an interesting exchange between Blake and Avon.  Blake is still concerned by Orac’s prediction that the Liberator apparently faces imminent destruction.  He’s been poring over the data, only for Avon to provide him with the solution.  They can pinpoint exactly where the event will happen by the starfield shown behind the ship – so all they need to do is to ensure they never travel to that part of the galaxy and the prediction will be null and void.

When Avon admits that he worked this out several hours ago, Blake asks him why he’s not said anything to the others. “Well, all they had to do was ask. Perhaps in future, they won’t rely on you to provide all the answers”.  This battle of wills between the pair of them will bubble on for the remainder of the second series.  As to who will gain the upper hand, Vila puts it best when he says that “if it ever comes to a showdown, my money’s on Blake. Well, half of it. I’ll put the other half on Avon.”

Another fascinating little moment occurs just after Avon’s scored this point over Blake.  An explosion rocks the ship and as they fall to the ground Avon puts a protective arm around Blake.  I wonder if this was scripted or something worked out in rehearsal?  It’s only a throwaway thing, but it’s a lovely touch – proving that although he may profess to despise virtually everything Blake stands for, Avon still seems to have an automatic reflex to protect him.

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Shortly afterwards, the ship comes under attack and they then lose all control of the Liberator, ending up as little more than helpless passengers (any repairs are rejected by the ship).  Avon tells the others his theory.

AVON: Think of the ship as a living entity with massive networks of electronics acting as a nervous system.
JENNA: All linked into a central computer.
BLAKE: The brain.
AVON: Carry the analogy a stage further. When a living creature is hurt – a cut or a wound – antibodies gather around the injury to repair it and to fight infection.
VILA: You mean the computers are treating us like germs.
AVON: Crude, but accurate.

Blake has first-hand experience of this when he’s attacked by a cable in one of the service areas.  Yes, the wires holding it up are rather obvious but it’s not as bad an effect as it could have been.  Once again it’s Avon who saves the day and he’s not slow in telling Blake that one day, probably quite soon, he’ll require payback!

The Liberator is under the control of its creators and soon all the crew are prisoners.  Blake has a chat with Alta 1 (Sheila Ruskin) and Alta 2 (Harriet Philpin).  This is a part of the story that doesn’t quite hold together.  Both Alta 1 and Alta 2 are linked to the System (a supercomputer which controls the three planets in this sector).  We’re told that the System has ruled for several generations.  As Blake discovers when he speaks later to a slave (played by Roy Evans) this means that whilst there’s no war or famine, there’s also no freedom.

Could the System have been responsible for designing the Liberator?  Surely if they had it would have been much more functional.  And if they did create it, what was its purpose?  The Federation has clearly never come across a ship like the Liberator before (even though it’s established later that it’s not unique) so it doesn’t appear that the System is interested in expanding its empire or has very often ventured into Federation territory.  Visiting the civilisation that designed the Liberator was an obvious thing to do, it’s just a pity that it falls rather flat.

The System also bears a passing resemblance to the Conscience of Marinus as seen in Terry Nation’s Doctor Who story The Keys of Marinus – proof that Nation was never averse to reusing a good idea.

Neither of the Altas are great conversationalists, but they’re dressed in tight blue lycra which is some consolation.  Another plus-point is the filming at the Oldbury Nuclear Power Station which adds a little gloss to what otherwise is a fairly routine story.

But Redemption is still an effective season opener.  It reignites the Blake/Avon power-struggle as well as giving the rest of the regulars a moment or two to shine.  And although the plot, once we reach the System, feels a little undercooked there’s still enough going on to ensure that the story never seems to drag too badly.

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Minder – The Smaller They Are

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When Scotch Harry (Phil McCall) and his faithful friend Big Stan (David Jackson) steal a case from the airport they get more than they bargained for – it contains half a million dollars. And when Arthur learns of this he’s keen to offer his services, for a small commission naturally.

He tells Harry they’ll have to give it back, whoever these people are for this sort of money they won’t hesitate to get very nasty indeed.  Arthur agrees to negotiate the case’s return, although the presence of DC Rycott (Peter Childs) is an added complication.

It’s clear that The Smaller They Are is a very early Minder episode for several reasons – one of the most obvious is Arthur’s lecherous nature.  He casts an appreciative eye over a young woman wearing a tight pair of jeans in the Winchester and later attempts to chat up the pleasant airline receptionist (played by Hilary Ryan, probably best known for playing Rodan in the Doctor Who story The Invasion of Time).  Arthur’s roving eye is something that’s phased out pretty quickly, shortly after this he’ll leave that sort of thing to Terry!

We also see the first appearance of Peter Childs as Rycott.  Another sign that it’s the early days of the series is the notion that Rycott is corrupt.  After nabbing Scotch Harry, Rycott delivers him to the gang – rather than taking him to the nick – and on the way offers an oblique justification why (after years of solid service he’s still only a DC, due to a previous indiscretion).  Maybe Rycott was planned as a one-off character and when it was decided to reuse him his previous corruption was forgotten.  There’s certainly no suggestion after this episode that he’s a wrong ‘un.

Scotch Harry is such an unlikeable character (especially when he’s drunk, although he’s pretty bad when he’s sober) that it’s no surprise Terry’s keen to give him a slap to sort him out.  David Jackson (Gan from Blake’s 7) is his loyal, but none-too-bright friend.  Hans Meyer (best known as Hauptmann Franz Ulmann from the classic BBC series Colditz) is suitably intimidating as Bonnett, the leader of the money smuggling operation.

Although Meyer radiates intimidation, the episode does rather end in farce after Arthur, Terry and Big Stan return the case to him.  Stan’s upset to find that Harry’s been badly beaten up and attempts to retaliate – he’s not very successful, but Terry’s rather more so.  In the melee, Arthur attempts to take the case back (given all he’s previously said about how dangerous these people are, that does seem rather reckless).  He doesn’t succeed, but in the general confusion Bonnett ends up dropping the case on his foot and hops around the room in pain, whilst Arthur manages to take another wad of money before leaving!

But it has to be shown that crime doesn’t pay and it’s down to Dave to break the bad news – the notes are forgeries and therefore worthless.  Even this early on, it’s clear that Arthur’s only going to end up on top very infrequently.

Blakes 7 – Orac

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The Liberator is en-route to Aristo, to deliver medical supplies to a seriously ill man called Ensor (Derek Farr).  He isn’t the only sick person though, as Avon, Jenna, Vila and Gan all display signs of radiation poisoning following their time spent on the planet Cephlon.  Since there aren’t any anti-radiation drugs on the Liberator they have to hope that Ensor will be able to help them.  Also travelling to Aristro are Servalan and Travis, who are keen to acquire the mysterious Orac, an invention of Ensor.

Orac was the second episode of a two-part story (a unique occurrence in Blakes 7).  Rather helpfully, for the benefit of anybody who might have missed the previous installment Blake spends the first few minutes recapping the events of Deliverance to Avon (and of course the people watching at home).  This is a rather obvious device (there’s no logical point for Blake to tell Avon what he already knew) but it sort of works.

The lack of anti-radiation gloves (sorry drugs) on the Liberator is hard to swallow.  It’s the most fantastically equipped ship in the galaxy and there’s nothing suitable?  Hmm, okay.  Even odder is that they make no attempt to stop off at any other planet before visiting Ensor, which means they pin all their hopes on the possibility he’ll be able to help them.  Yes, they know that Ensor’s life is at stake, but so are theirs – you’d assume they’d put their own interests first.

Derek Farr was a very familiar face with numerous television and film appearances to his credit.  On television he had decent guest spots in the likes of Bergerac, Rumpole of the Bailey and Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em whilst his film credits included The Dam Busters.  He also appeared with Gareth Thomas in Star Maidens, but I doubt that’s a credit either would have put at the top of their cv’s!  He’s rather good as the seemingly cranky and bad-tempered Ensor, who displays a much more human side when he realises that his son is dead.

CALLY: We went to the aid of a spacecraft that had crashed, one of the crew was already dead and the other man was dying, but before he died he asked us to get these to you.
ENSOR: Both men dead, you say?
CALLY: Yes.
ENSOR: One of them was my son.
CALLY: I’m sorry. He tried desperately to reach you. He did everything he possibly could.
ENSOR: Oh, such a waste. He had a good mind. Death is such a waste. You were with my son when he died?
CALLY: Yes.
ENSOR: It’s always too late, isn’t it? I wonder if he knew how much I loved him?
BLAKE: I think he did.
ENSOR: Oh I, I’m sorry if I snapped at you. It’s, it’s just my way. Thank you, for doing all you could to help.

Orac isn’t a story that serves either Servalan or Travis especially well.  Neither are central to the story and the sight of Jacqueline Pearce being mauled by a man in a rubber suit (one of the Phibians) isn’t one of her finest moments, although the concept of Servalan not being in control is an intriguing one.

It’s probably just as well that Greif’s role wasn’t especially large, as an accident meant he was unable to shoot the studio scenes.  A body-double was used and Greif dubbed Travis’ dialogue a few months later (though he was far from impressed with the actor they used, remarking that he had flat feet!)

Blake offers to take Ensor back to the Liberator so he can perform the operation that’ll save his life.  Travis’ arrival forces them to escape via the tunnels and Ensor dies before they reach the surface.  His death is rather perfunctory alas, but it’s necessary in story terms – since it allows Blake to take charge of Orac.

And once Orac is back on the Liberator, everybody is keen to test his limits.  They know it can draw information from any computer without a direct input (not very impressive in the modern internet age, but this was 1978, remember) but what else can it do?  Orac boasts it can effectively see into the future and demonstrates this by showing the apparent destruction of the Liberator ….

Thanks to Terry Nation, the first series of Blakes 7 had a consistent tone, although he would later admit that he found difficulties in finding ideas for some of the later stories in this first run.  So he fell back on some familiar storylines (radiation poisoning, for example) and also had to rely on Chris Boucher to take more of an active scripting role.

From series two onwards, Boucher’s voice in the series would be even stronger and he also bought on board a group of different writers (some better than others) who would take Blakes 7 into various different directions.

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