Blakes 7 – Assassin

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Assassin opens with Vila crowing to the others about the following message he’s intercepted from Servalan.  “Utilizer to Cancer, Utilizer to Cancer. Domo the ninth, five subjects.”  This allows Avon to glower and mutter “Servalan!” in a way that only Paul Darrow can, leaving the others wonder what on earth the message can mean.

Luckily it doesn’t take them long to work it out.  Domo is a planet, Cancer is an assassin who kills people for a great deal of money and the 9th must be a date.  And there’s five of them … so it looks like Servalan has hired Cancer to bump them all off.  Why she would want to go to all this trouble is a slight mystery, since Avon and the others haven’t exactly been striking many blows for freedom recently, but no matter.

Domo is a planet colonised by a gang of space pirates who capture unwary space travellers and sell them into slavery.  Avon elects to pose as one such unfortunate, which gives us an opportunity to marvel at Paul Darrow’s ability to wring pathos and emotion out of even the most innocuous lines.  Churlish folk might call this over-acting or simply bad acting, but I’ve always found there’s something compelling in Darrow’s S4 interpretation of Avon – a man constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Avon might start off by acting weak and feeble, but the goading he receives from Benos (Peter Atard) means that he can’t resist showing his true colours and so knocks a few of the pirates about for fun (I think it was the taunt about being skinny which pushed him over the edge).  Vila, watching from a safe distance, is asked by Soolin if all had gone well.  “Oh yes, wonderful. First they beat him to a pulp, then they dragged him off”. The unconvincing facial hair sported by the pirates is an early episode treat.

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Avon’s thrown in a cell with an old prisoner called Neebrox (Richard Hurndall).  He tells Avon that Servalan is here and that she purchased a member of an entertainment troupe (a plot-point which will become important later on).  As probably everybody knows, this appearance led to Hurndall being cast as the First Doctor in The Five Doctors.  It’s easy to see why, with his long hair he does have more than a touch of Hartnell’s Doctor about him. Hurndall was always an actor of depth and dignity and his presence helps to lift the story no end.  Alas, the same can’t really be said for Verlis (Betty Marsden), the slightly tipsy slavetrader in charge of the slave auction.

The auction part of the story is rather … well, it’s just rather.  The notion of Avon being paraded in chains before Servalan no doubt pleased a section of the audience (and I’m sure led to numerous fan-fiction sequels) but the actuality is a little embarrassing. The various bidders look ridiculous, all clothed in fancy dress it seems (plus fake beards of course). Servalan wins the bid for Avon, telling him that he now needs to refer to her as mistress. That was a late-night spin-off show just waiting to happen.

We can now bid the slavers a fond farewell as Neebrox comes up trumps and he and Avon hot-foot it back to Scorpio. This leads us into the second (and better) part of the story as Cancer’s ship is tracked down and they get to grips with the galaxy’s finest assassin.  Everything seems rather straightforward at first- they find a ship which contains Cancer (John Wyman) and a young woman called Piri (Caroline Holdaway).  Piri might be a rather limp lettuce but she’s invaluable in helping Avon and Tarrant overpower Cancer. Tarrant’s fight with Cancer is a hoot.

After being rather anonymous during her first few stories, Soolin has more recently developed a sharp and cynical sense of humour, which Glynis Barber plays very well.  Soolin quickly becomes irritated with the weepy Piri and gives her a well-deserved slap.  Well done that woman! Tarrant is rather upset with this, but Soolin’s comeback line is rather good. “There are two classic ways of dealing with an hysterical woman. You didn’t really expect me to kiss her, did you?”

Tarrant isn’t well served by the script, turning into a rather gauche schoolboy whenever Piri’s around.  And since Piri is really Cancer, that makes him look more than a little foolish.  Yes, the mysterious assassin Cancer is a woman, who decided to masquerade as Piri whilst Servalan bought a slave (remember the earlier plot point) to pose as Cancer.  It’s fair to say that Caroline Holdaway’s performance has come in for a little bit of stick over the years and it’s easy to see why.  True, the hysterical Piri isn’t the easiest role to play, but Holdaway never really convinces as the ice-cold killer either.

But although her casting is a bit of a problem, the concluding half of the story, set aboard Cancer’s ship, is still strong – David Sullivan Proudfoot elects to keep the lighting low, thereby creating a nice sense of tension.  Generally the direction is solid (this was his third and final B7 story following Traitor and Stardrive) although he’s a little too fond of Star Wars style screenwipes ….

Rod Beacham’s sole script for the series, Assassin is another story which signifies that after a shaky start series four was finding its feet.  This was Beacham’s debut as a television script-writer (he’d previously been an actor) and he would go on to contribute to a number of series, most notably Bergerac, before his death in 2014.  For a television debut, it’s a very solid effort.

On the negative side, Assassin would have worked better without Servalan, who doesn’t do a great deal (mind you, there are quite a few stories we can say that about) but thanks to a nice guest turn from Hurndall and some sharply scripted lines for Glynis Barber it’s still a good ‘un.

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Blakes 7 – Headhunter

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The previous episode, Animals, established the concept that Avon is keen to recruit a whole group of experts to join him in his fight against the Federation.  Alas, Justin didn’t make it the end of that episode, I wonder if top cybernetics expert Muller (John Westbrook) will fare any better here?  Gosh, that’s a tough one …..

Tarrant and Vila have drawn the short straw of escorting Muller back to base.  Tarrant teleports down to the rendezvous, but it seems obvious that Muller’s colleagues don’t want him to leave (there’s a dead body under the table, although Muller himself seems unharmed).  Tarrant takes a cursory look at the body but seems to miss the obvious point, mentioned later, that the corpse is missing its head.  You’d have thought a small thing like that would be easy to spot, but clearly not.

Muller is a man of peace, something confirmed by Vena (Lynda Bellingham) who’s back at base with Avon, Dayna and Soolin.  But when they teleport back to Scorpio, Muller goes crazy and attempts to bear-hug Tarrant to death.  Vila gives Muller a tap on the shoulder with a monkey-wrench which apparently kills him.  Muller’s brief homicidal interlude is one of several (I assume unintentional) comic highlights.

Muller went mad after Tarrant brought back a box from Muller’s workshop.  After we learn of the headless corpse it seems obvious that the box contains Muller’s head, but not so, the truth is even stranger.  Muller’s android killed his creator, cut off his head and put it on his own, android, body.  Quite why the apparently peace-loving Muller would have created a homicidal android (who incidentally wants to enslave all human life) is anyone’s guess.  But it explains the faux-Muller’s strange dress sense and robotic delivery.

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Poor Lynda Bellingham isn’t very well served by the script.  Vena spends most of her time moping that her loved one is dead, only to briefly spring back into life when it appears that he isn’t.  But her joy is short-lived as the android with Muller’s head then bear-hugs her to death.  It’s not a very dignified way to go I’m afraid.

So far, so strange, but the best is yet to come.  During the last fifteen minutes or so, Muller’s head drops off – meaning that we’re able to enjoy the vision of a headless android stomping around Xenon base, threatening to kill everyone.  There can be few funnier sights in all of B7‘s 52 episodes.

I also have to mention the wonderfully expressive hand acting from Nick Joseph who plays the headless android.  When you don’t have a head it’s hard to get your point across, so Joseph elects to waggle his hands and arms in a very emphatic fashion.  Another great comedy moment.

Muller was a protégé of Ensor, which means that Muller’s android is keen to join up with Orac in order to fulfil his dream of universal domination.  Quite how one android hopes to dominate all life is another of those small plot points which never gets adequately explained, but it does give Peter Tuddenham the chance to do a little more with Orac for once.  And indeed also with Slave, who subtly changes from servile to surly as the mysterious effect of Muller’s android takes hold.

Since Headhunter only features the regulars plus Muller and Vena, everyone – even the rather underwritten-to-date Soolin – gets a chance for a decent share of the action.  Paul Darrow elects to intone his lines with the sort of distracted, far-away delivery which would be his trademark style during S4.  He has the odd killer line (“Tarrant, what have you got up there apart from yourself, a half-wit and a corpse?”) but the best exchange is saved until the end.  After a big bang organised by Tarrant, Avon asks him what’s happened to the android.

TARRANT: Gone to the great cyberneticist in the sky.
AVON: You fool! It’s superstitious half-wits like you who hold back every advance we make.
ORAC: And arrogance, Avon, like yours and Muller’s which threaten to destroy …
AVON: Shut up!
ORAC: Yes, master!

After a less-than-serious romp, this small moment once again highlights how detached Avon has become from reality. The android, if controllable, would have been an asset, but everyone except Avon is clearly able to see that it would have been suicidal to keep it operational. Yet another example of Avon’s lack of judgement.

Whatever else Headhunter is, it certainly isn’t dull. The third and final of Roger Parkes’ scripts for the series, it falls somewhere between his other two.  It’s not as good as Children of Auron, nor is it as crazy as Voice from the Past (although it’s close).  But whatever its faults, the loopy concept never fails to raise a smile.

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Blakes 7 – Animals

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Long regarded as one of the worst episodes of Blakes 7, I have to confess that my latest rewatch of Animals has found me in a generous mood.  But when you start with low expectations (it’s an Allan Prior script for goodness sake) the only way is up …

Now that Avon’s gang has a base there’s no need for all of them to venture out on each adventure, which explains why only Tarrant and Dayna are aboard Scorpio as the episode opens.  The downside to this is that we don’t see Avon, Vila and Soolin until we’re about twenty minutes in, but the opening part of the story is undeniably a good opportunity for Josette Simon, who gets a series of lengthy two-handed scenes opposite Peter Byrne (playing Justin).

We’re told that Justin was one of a number of specialist tutors who helped to educate the younger Dayna.  Given that Dayna’s father was a rabid isolationist, this is rather hard to understand – the later revelation that Justin was working for the Federation at the same time is another slight head scratcher.

If Animals is remembered for anything then it’s for the animals.  Mary Ridge makes no effort to hold them back for a shock reveal (we first see them head-on when the episode is only two minutes old).  I guess that when you’ve got a group of actors standing around in such ridiculous costumes you might as well just bite the bullet and show them in all their, well, glory.

Rather like the Space Rats in the previous story, the animals are a major problem.  If their design had been a little less comic then I’ve no doubt the story would have a slightly higher reputation.  It’s also interesting that there’s another obvious parallel with Stardrive – both stories feature an ex-Federation scientist working in secret on an obscure planet.  A pity Chris Boucher couldn’t have jumbled the running order up a little ….

With Tarrant limping back to base in the damaged Scorpio and the others yet to make an appearance, it’s Dayna who has to carry the narrative onwards.  Her relationship with Justin is an odd one which has attracted a certain amount of debate over the years.  There’s off-hand comments on both sides to suggest that they previously had a bond which went beyond teacher/pupil boundaries, which given Dayna’s age at the time strays into slightly uncomfortable territory.  Or was it unrequited love back then, which is now suddenly flourishing?  Either possibility is valid.

Before teleporting Dayna down, Tarrant offhandedly refers to Justin as a mad scientist.  Dayna shrugs this off, but his genetic experimentations on the animals certainly seems to cross the bounds of acceptable behaviour. She asks him why.

DAYNA: Look, what was the object of the work? It must have had some object, some war object if the Federation backed it and built this place.
JUSTIN: The war object was to create a species, not necessarily human, that could go into areas heavy with radioactivity and act as shock troops. The federation had suffered losses of up to sixty percent front line troops. Now just think what a few squads of radiation proof space commandos could do.
DAYNA: Oh, I’m glad you never succeeded. It was a horrible idea.
JUSTIN: No, it was justified by the times.

It’s all slightly heavy-handed, but it taps into similar debates regarding animal experimentations which have raged for decades. Dayna’s reaction is interesting – she starts off appalled but slowly changes her mind.  Is this because of her lingering respect and love for Justin or does she see a way that his research could be used by Avon and the others in their fight against the Federation?

Compared to Doctor Plaxton in Stardrive, who barely had a handful of lines to outline her worldview and motivations, Justin is generously given several lengthy speeches in order to present his case. He says that his experiments on both humans and animals (which included painful brain grafts) now distress him, but he has to carry on. “I’m trying in a way to make sense of it all, trying to get something good out of it all. Don’t you see that? If this discovery simply goes for war purposes, to kill, then it’s all been in vain.”  His desire to continue the work so that eventually he can achieve something good out of the pain, misery and suffering he’s caused is logical, even if we don’t necessarily have to agree with it.

Rather unexpectedly, Servalan’s lurking about and becomes interested in Justin’s research. She interrogates the only man left alive who knows about it – Ardus (Kevin Stoney). You have to feel a little sorry for Stoney, he appeared in two different episodes of B7 playing rather small and nondescript parts. And both were scripted by Allan Prior too, which seems a tad unfair!  Although it should come as no surprise to learn that Stoney’s cameo here is played very well – his character may exist simply as an infodumper, but Stoney was too good an actor not to impress even with a very minor role.

Servalan’s (or Sleer’s I should say) ship is piloted by a female crew who apper to be Mutoids – although if so they’ve undergone something of a glam makeover. She also has several male subornates on hand – who are very much the type we’ve seen so often in the series before. But there’s no point in taking too much interest in them as I’m sure they’ll have been replaced next time with almost identical characters.

Servalan’s manipulation of Dayna – first torture and then brainwashing to hate Justin – is ruthless even by her standards.  Josette Simon does seems a little stiff when she’s playing brainwashed Dayna, but luckily these scenes don’t go on to long.  The ending is a typically bleak late period B7 one – everybody loses, but Dayna loses the most.  Possibly Josette Simon might look back on her hysterical sobbing with a tinge of regret (that is if she ever rewatches her B7 episodes – which I guess is rather unlikely) but apart from her over emoting and the silly looking animals, this one stands up pretty well.

Peter Byrne, who’d played Andy Crawford on Dixon of Dock Green for twenty years, makes the most of a very substantial guest role, whilst the peerless Kevin Stoney livens up proceedings for a few minutes.  All in all this was pleasantly entertaining.

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Blakes 7 – Stardrive

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Stardrive opens with Avon deciding to tangle with an asteroid.  He tells the others that if they want to keep Scorpio operational “we have to visit Altern Five in order to recover selsium ore to make fuel crystals. Hitching a ride into the Altern system on that asteroid is the only way we’re going to get past any Federation patrols and within teleport distance of Altern Five.”

Everybody else considers this to be a very bad idea indeed, but as usual Avon gets his way.  It’s a sign of things to come that Avon’s proven to be badly wrong, since all that happens (via some fairly shaky modelwork) is that Scorpio gets badly holed and so ends up in an even worse state than before.  The first ten minutes or so are somewhat superfluous to the rest of the story, partly existing to demonstrate two interesting character points.  The first, as we’ve seen, is that Avon is liable to shocking lapses in judgement and the second concerns Vila’s skills at manipulation.

After the ship is holed and all looks bleak, it’s not surprising to see Vila staggering about with a flask of alcohol, clearly more than a little merry.  In his drunken state he blurts out a possible solution, which makes perfect sense to Avon, who rushes off with Tarrant to apply the fix.  But Vila wasn’t drunk at all, he was simply pretending, the crafty devil!

The most important reason for this section of this story is that it allows a stranded Scorpio to observe three Federation pursuit ships apparently blowing up.  But they didn’t blow up, they were destroyed by a small craft travelling at standard by twelve – which is impossible.

Very quickly Avon realises that Doctor Plaxton (Barbara Shelley), formally head of the Federation Space Drive Research Centre, must have developed a new Stardrive.  Oh and she’s teamed up with the Space Rats who, according to Vila, “live for is sex and violence, booze and speed. And the fellows are just as bad.”

It’s impossible to ignore, the Space Rats look absolutely ridiculous even by Blakes 7 standards.  Goodness knows who thought their look was a good one, but it rather negates the little menace they possessed.  Apart from their dress sense their characters aren’t terribly well drawn either.  This possibly isn’t surprising since they’re supposed to be hedonistic speed-freaks who love to live life on the edge, but at least their leader, Atlan (Damian Thomas), is a little different.

He’s not a Space Rat, but he dresses like one and the others accept him as their leader because he’s able to give them what they want (the opportunity to pilot fast spacecraft and kill people I guess).  There was potential for Atlan to have a more interesting character motivation than the others but this opportunity is rather frittered away.  Thomas’ rather mannered performance doesn’t help either.

Doctor Plaxton is a rather pallidly drawn character too.  We learn that she’s no longer a member of the Federation, hence the reason why she’s teamed up with the Space Rats (they scour the galaxy providing her with the raw materials she needs in order to continue her work).  But it’s never made clear why she wants to complete the Stardrive.  The scientific challenge or because she plans to sell it and make a fortune?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Avon sends Dayna and Vila down to investigate, but it quickly becomes obvious that they’re simply diversions – the others land Scorpio and launch a second front.  Avon’s callous disregard for the others couldn’t be clearer – he’s hoping and expecting that Dayna and Vila will get captured, which will make his job of pinching the Stardrive a little easier.  And if they get killed, well that’s just tough luck.

Part of the problem with this part of the story is that whilst Dayna and Vila are already inside the base, tangling with the Space Rats, the others – Avon, Tarrant and Soolin – are some distance away.  And the three of them seem to move so very slowly, giving proceedings a rather lethargic air.  The scenery – a typical quarry in winter – isn’t terribly appealing either.

Vila’s done his best to big up the Space Rats but frankly they’re rubbish and Avon’s easily able to nab the Stardrive and make his escape.  Indeed, if they hadn’t been there at all then the story wouldn’t really have suffered (and maybe might be a little better regarded).

Doctor Plaxton’s returned to Scorpio with the others, although it’ll come as no shock to learn that she doesn’t last very long.  Just as there was no need for Ensor to stick around once Blake and the others had Orac, so we can wave goodbye to Doctor Plaxton now that the Stardrive is fitted.  But the manner of her death is another shocking example of Avon’s single-mindedness.

Doctor Plaxton volunteers to fix the Stardrive into place and Avon elects to fire the motors as soon as the final connection is in place, meaning that the unfortunate Doctor Plaxton ends up rather dead.  Avon does say that she’s dead either way, although it isn’t quite clear what he means by this.  After it’s over, Avon’s already put her out of his mind, saying “who?” when Dayna mentions her name.

A lack of characterisation (the Space Rats and Doctor Plaxton) means that Stardrive is rather disposable.  Better motivations might have made this a more compelling story, but as it is it’s just another episode where the regulars mooch about in a quarry.

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Blakes 7 – Traitor

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The Federation is beginning to expand agaim and Avon has decided that the planet Helotrix holds the key.  The native species, the Helots, are once again Federation members after a long period of resistance and Avon is keen to find out why their resolve crumbled so quickly.  Dayna and Tarrant teleport down to the surface but quickly lose contact with Scorpio.  The arrival of Federation Commissioner Sleer further complicates matters ….

Traitor is the most anonymous of Robert Holmes’ four Blakes 7 scripts.  Lacking the flamboyant characterisation of Gambit and Orbit or the rock-solid narrative of Killer, it’s simply there – solid enough, but a little uninspiring and never likely to be anybody’s favourite.  There’s some nice dialogue, but maybe Holmes felt straightjacketed by the various story elements he was required to include (the pacification drug Pylene-50 which becomes a running theme and Commissioner Sleer, who turns out to be, shock horror, Servalan).  It’s also a pity that his original title – A Land Fit For Helots – was rejected in favour of the descriptive, but dull, Traitor.

Avon’s transformation into Blake pretty much starts here – he suddenly decides to take the fight to the Federation.  After spending the first two series sniping at Blake from the sidelines for exactly this sort of gung-ho approach, it’s an unexpected move, although there are several possible reasons.  The boring real-life possibility is that since series three had been rather aimless, reintroducing the Federation as a tangible enemy helps to give the show a more cohesive feel.

There’s a more interesting fictional possibility though – Avon’s character is slowly being subsumed by Blake’s, meaning that he’s turning into a carbon-copy of his former colleague.  To support this theory, the final episode – Blake – provides us with plenty of evidence that Avon’s obsession with Blake is colouring his actions.  Can’t live with him, can’t live without him ….

There’s intrigue aplenty on Helotrix, although the downside of this is that the regulars, especially Avon and Vila, are rather sidelined.  Dayna and Tarrant have more to do, but Traitor is really concerned with the various squabbling factions who are jockeying for position on the planet’s surface.

Colonel Quute (Christopher Neame) and the General (Nick Brimble) are in charge of Federation operations.  They’re an odd couple, to put it mildly.  It’s easy to tell that Quute is a baddy – he’s got a scar down his face and an eyepatch (two dead giveaways).  The General doesn’t have any such facial embellishments, but he is caked in make-up.  Both also have uniforms which sport the most amazing shoulder pads.

This may all sound fairly unpromising, but Neame and Brimble are good enough actors to be able to transcend the fact they look faintly ridiculous.  They’re also aided by Holmes’ script, which isn’t content to paint them as simply another couple of faceless Federation killers.  The General (he doesn’t seem to have a name) is a military bore, forever droning on about battles from the past, meaning that Quute is forced to feign politeness on a regular basis.

GENERAL: Do you remember the Fletch expedition of twenty-nine?
QUUTE: No, I don’t think I do, sir.
GENERAL: Fletch used gas, against the Wazis. Hmm. Complete massacre, bodies everywhere. Took dinner with his officers that night, suddenly the Wazis came over the wall, butchered the whole expedition. Seems the Wazis are gill breathers – they can lie dormant for days.
QUUTE: Ahh, that’s very interesting sir.

Just before this, the General mentions that the best way to deal with these rebel types is with a dose of the cold steel. It’s very hard not to think of Corporal Jones ….

Star Major Hunda (Robert Morris) leads the rebels, but frankly he’s rather dull (as are his grimy cohorts). By a staggering coincidence, Tarrant and Dayna teleport down right beside him – which means that he’s able to fill them both in on the plot. Handy that.

Forbus is a cut-price Davros.  He looks a little like Peter Sellers (or possibly Lewis Fiander in the Doctor Who story Nightmare of Eden) and he’s there to explain to Dayna and Tarrant all about Pylene-50. His appearance suggests that the budget was running rather low, although there are also signs of penny pinching elsewhere. The Federation HQ features some very familiar-looking panels (if you watch far more Doctor Who and Blakes 7 than is healthy that is) as well as flashing disco lights which I assume are supposed to represent power lines. The unconvincing studio grassy knoll is at least lit quite low and covered in mist.

The return of Servalan (or Sleer as she’s now calling herself) is odd.

A few lines of dialogue confirm that the Federation is now under new management and those loyal to Servalan have been executed. This makes the idea that she’d have assumed another identity just about feasible, but it’s strange that she’s made no effort to disguise herself, meaning that everywhere she goes there’s the risk she’ll bump into someone who’ll recognise her. She was the President for goodness sake, it’s a safe bet that most people would have a fair idea what she looked like.

This happens here, as the new puppet leader Practor knew Servalan of old, which means he has to die. For some reason the story attempts to keep her presence a secret until the end, but earlier on her voice (albeit distorted) was heard, so I doubt many were shocked when she did turn up in the flesh.

Although the return of Servalan is a non-surprise and the rebels aren’t terribly interesting, thanks to Holmes’ dialogue for Quute and the General plus the location filming (I’m a sucker for a nice quarry) this isn’t too bad at all.

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Blakes 7 – Power

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Power opens with Avon being chased by some hairy tribesmen.  I don’t know about you, but whenever I see hairy tribesman in Blakes 7 my heart sinks a little – it suggests that the story is going to be a little disappointing.  And since this one was written by Ben Stead it’ll be no surprise to learn that we’re in for fifty minutes of dodgy sexual politics.  But it’s by no means all bad as Stead, for once, doesn’t always go down the most obvious routes.

Gunn-Sar (Dicken Ashworth) is the leader of the Hommicks and he wastes no time in introducing himself to Avon.  “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.”  It doesn’t take long before you realise that there’s an air of mockery about Gunn-Sar.  He knows it and the others know it too.  Ashworth is clearly having fun with a role that’s a little bit more interesting than the male chauvinist leader of a hairy tribe that it first appeared to be.

Apart from Nina (Jenny Oulton), the Hommicks appear to be a totally male enclave whilst the Seskas are entirely female.  We therefore see a battle of the sexes play out which initially paints the Hommicks as oppressors and the Seskas as victims, although the truth is a little more complicated.  The revelation that the Seskas are captured and operated on in order to make them compliant breeding stock is somewhat horrific (as is the fact that any girls born are left out in the wilderness to die).

This is odd though.  If most of the girls are killed immediately after they’re born it stands to reason that eventually the Hommicks will die out.  We later learn that Nina is Gunn-Sar’s woman, as it were.  So what about the rest of the Hommicks, don’t they want a little female company as well?  There’s more than one answer to this, but I don’t think we’ll go any further down that road ….

We seen an operation being carried out – by Nina – which poses another question.  The Hommicks appear to be primitive, but they’re surrounded by advanced technology.  This becomes a little clearer after Avon runs one of Gunn-Sar’s men, Cato (Paul Ridley), to ground in a computerised observation room.  Avon realises that Gunn-Sar is ignorant about many things, including this room.

CATO: He thinks we have scouts posted everywhere and runners.
AVON :Impractical. So why do you keep up the illusion?
CATO: For the Hommicks, the people. If they see this they’ll want more. Hydroponic food, machines, neutron blasters.
AVON: And you don’t have them to give. Because your civilization died a long time ago.
CATO: Yes.
AVON: What killed it?
CATO: A war. Everything was lost. Industry, people. Afterwards, the Council of Survivors decreed that we should start again, from the very beginning. Wooden tools, flint arrowheads, the wheel. Ten thousand years advancement destroyed in a day.

There’s something quite pleasing about this. An apparently primitive society being subtly guided with the help of advanced technology.

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Pella (Juliet Hammond-Hill) is the foregrounded Seska.  All the Seskas have mental and physical powers well in advance of the average woman, but of course she’s no match for Avon.  In a scene that I’m sure had Paul Darrow’s many female admirers swooning, Avon subdues Pella and then explains why he’s better than her.  “You see, Pella, it’s your strength, and however you use it, a man’s will always be greater. Unfair, perhaps, but biologically unavoidable.”  Score one for the male sex then.  But Pella later knocks him out by levitating a computer keyboard (this is probably the funniest thing in the episode, mainly for Darrow’s expression and the way he seems to plummet to the floor in slow-motion) so I think we’ll have to call it a draw.

Dayna later challenges Gunn-Sar to a duel (Avon also did this earlier but was unsuccessful).  Dayna fares better, although she did have the help of the Seskas , even if she didn’t realise it.   By the laws of the Hommicks, Dayna is now leader, although unsurprisingly she doesn’t stay for the coronation.  This raises another question – Dayna has effectively plunged the Hommicks into chaos (the revelation that only a handful of Seskas are still alive is another problem) so what will happen to them now?  Nina suggests they should leave, but do they have a ship?  Avon and the others certainly don’t stick around to see if they need a helping hand, which is a little unfriendly.

Pella turns out to be a wrong ‘un, which I’m sure proves something, although I’m not entirely sure what.  Avon sums up what we’ve learnt.  “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.”  A battle of the sexes script from Ben Stead could have turned out a lot worse, so I guess we have to be thankful for what we got.  Power isn’t perfect but it clips along at a good pace, even if it doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

Right at the end Soolin pops up from nowhere, offering to join the crew.  This is the sort of scene that really should have come at the end of Rescue as it does make you wonder what she’s been doing for the duration of this episode.  No matter, we’ve got a new crewmember and we’ve got teleport facilities (which was sort of what the story was about) so things are looking up.

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Blakes 7 – Rescue

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Although series four has its critics, I’ve always been rather fond of it.  For me it’s similar to the previous three series, since it has about the same mixture of good, bad and indifferent stories.  It’s been a couple of years since I’ve given them a spin so will I now be less or more forgiving?  Let’s find out ….

I’m not terribly impressed with the new title sequence.  The planetscape is nicely shot but there’s a distinct lack of menace.  The previous series titles had an element of pursuit and danger, here we just see a ship out for a joyride.  And the new logo appears in a rather muted, half-hearted way (very different from the bold appearance of the previous one).  Oh well, let’s press on.

Avon and the others are still marooned on Terminal.  The weather’s taken a decided turn for the worse, which is good news in one way as the snow makes the location look a little more interesting.  Paul Darrow’s snugly protected against the cold, but Josette Simon isn’t so fortunate.  When they both fling themselves to the ground (after a booby-trapped spaceship left by Servalan explodes) I can’t help but feel that the poor girl’s going to catch her death of cold.  Clearly coats for ladies were short supply on Terminal.

Avon’s worried that Servalan might have also booby-trapped the living quarters where the others are.  You may wonder why she just didn’t kill them all before she left, rather than leave elaborate traps scattered around the planet, but that would have been far too straightforward.  True to her character, Danya’s keen to rush off and warn the others whilst Avon, equally true to type, is more cautious.  Dayna does nip off and is menaced by a thing which actually looks rather good.  Avon deals with it, forcing Dayna to admit that Avon was right once again.

Alas, they don’t all make it out alive as Cally is killed in the explosion (it’s an off-screen death as Jan Chapell declined to return for series four).  Her final word is “Blake!” rather than “Avon!” which is interesting.  Vila has the chance to be a hero by rescuing Tarrant although Tarrant doesn’t seem to be terribly grateful (he later hits the bottle and is found by Avon lying face down in the snow).  Quite why Tarrant has gone to pieces isn’t obvious.

With no ship or escape route, what they need is someone to turn up and rescue them.  And fancy that, just a few minutes later Dorian (Geoffrey Burridge) and his ship Scorpio turns up.  Dorian claims to be a humble salvage merchant, but it’s plain there’s more to him that meets the eye.  Avon likes the look of his ship and decides to commander it.  It has a computer voiced by Peter Tuddenham (although Slave is no Zen that’s for sure) and there’s a space that would be just right for a teleport area.  Of course the fact we haven’t seen any other ship apart from the Liberator with teleport facilities would make it highly unlikely that they’d be able to lash up something from scratch.  That would just be silly, wouldn’t it?

Danya’s impressed with Dorian’s gun collection.  “Each of these is a different mode. You clip them into the basic handgun and you’ve got a weapon for every occasion. Laser, plasma bullet, percussion shell, micro grenade, stun, drug. They’re all here. I worked for nearly a year on a gun like this. I never did get it right.”  They do look a little lightweight though, much more plastic than steel.

We then meet Dorian’s associate, the feisty gunslinger Soolin (Glynis Barber) and after we’ve finished admiring her we can then admire the rather nice modelwork as Scorpio docks at Xenon base.  The destruction of the Liberator meant they could no longer use the same old stock shots that had been seen multiple times over the past three years.  So instead there’s some new footage which will become just as familiar ….

Once on Xenon base, Avon takes command.  He makes it plain that he’ll kill Dorian if he doesn’t do exactly what he says.  Danya succinctly sums him up.  “Beneath that cold exterior, beats a heart of pure stone.”

Things then get slightly odd as Dorian meets something menacing in the depths of the planet.  Burridge has the chance to indulge in some ripe over-acting whilst the thing writhes about in the dark.  I’ve a feeling that if we see it with the lights up it’s not going to look terribly impressive.

Those with a working knowledge of late 19th century literature should be able to work out exactly what Dorian’s secret is.  It’s a nice touch which serves as a decent in-joke for those who are aware of the original source material but the story still makes sense if you don’t.  Once Avon discovers Dorian’s secret, it’s plainly not a coincidence that he begins to speak as if he’s just stepped out of the pages of a Victorian melodrama.

DORIAN: You think I’m insane, don’t you?
AVON: It had occurred to me.
DORIAN: The room exists, Avon. And since I found it I haven’t aged one day. It cleanses me of all the corruptions of time and appetite.
AVON: Appetite?
DORIAN: I can do anything, Avon.
AVON: Most madmen can.
DORIAN: I can indulge any taste, any sensation, any vice I wish and the room …
AVON: Cleanses you.

Thanks to Geoffrey Burridge’s unhinged performance, Rescue is good fun, although a little disposable.  Given the small number of speaking parts it’s a little odd that Soolin didn’t have more to do – since she’s going to be a new member of the gang (although that’s not evident by the end of the story) you’d have expected her to be a little more foregrounded in the narrative.

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