Blakes 7 – Children of Auron

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Servalan’s always been insanely ruthless, but Children of Auron is extreme, even by her standards.  She infects the whole population of Auron with a deadly pathogen to achieve two goals – firstly to capture the Liberator and secondly to continue her bloodline.

She explains why capturing the Liberator remains such a high priory – with the Federation in tatters she’ll be able to take control again quicker with the most powerful ship in the galaxy.  Does this really make sense?  The galaxy’s a big place and the Liberator, powerful though it is, is only one ship.  I can’t see that it would make that much difference (and anyway, it’s not ships she needs but good men).  The fact that she effectively wants to have children (although the technique on Auron is only able to create clones of herself) is even more startling.  Servalan’s never shown any sort of maternal instinct, so this revelation is rather hard to take.

It was perhaps inevitable that we’d return to Cally’s home planet one day and although there isn’t a great deal of time to develop its backstory, we still learn a little.  C.A. One (Ronald Leigh-Hunt) has kept Auron strictly neutral – any contact with outsiders has been discouraged, but the unfortunate result is that the pathogen is able to spread unchecked (few of his people have any sort of resistance to space viruses due to their strict isolationist policy).  It’s a shame that Leigh-Hunt doesn’t essay a subtler performance, as C.A. One ends up as little more than a bluff blusterer.

Cally has an identical twin, Zelda.  Given Auron’s skills in cloning this is reasonable enough (although credibility is stretched later in the series when we meet Tarrant’s identical twin – no cloning involved there).  Zelda isn’t a very proactive figure and doesn’t do a great deal to further the plot (although she has an inevitable and pointless death).  It’s a pity that more couldn’t have been done, as her demise does feel like a wasted opportunity.  Jan Chappell is, of course, excellent as both Cally and Zelda – especially when we see Cally take on Avon.  Avon is keen to head to Earth for a mission of vengeance (sowing the seeds for Rumours of Death).  Even when the plight of the Aurons is known he’s still disinclined to get involved, so there’s a nice tension that exists between them (which pays off later in Sarcophagus).

If Servalan’s going to rebuild the Federation then she needs good men, but alas they seem hard to find.  In Children of Auron she’s lumbered with a right pair – Deral (Rio Fanning) and Ginka (Ric Young).  They spend most of the episode bickering (Ginka’s unhappy that Deral was promoted ahead of him) and generally bumbling about.  Deral is unable to capture the Liberator even when only two of the crew are aboard and one of them is Vila, now back to his default setting of cowardly.

Ginka’s lack of judgement is even more striking.  Avon, Cally and Tarrant are taking refuge in the replication plant – they know they’re safe there, as Servalan wouldn’t destroy her own clones.  But Ginka is able to convince her that Deral switched her genetic material for his, so she gives the order to fire.  As the plant is destroyed Jacqueline Pearce gives one of her finest performances in the series – Servalan clearly feels intense pain as her clones go up in flames.  But Ginka obviously never stopped to think that possibly, just possibly, Servalan wouldn’t be terribly pleased when she discovered that he’d tricked her (as I said, he’s not the sharpest knife in the draw).  So he’s not long for this world (and neither is Deral) which leaves Servalan with yet another staffing crises.  Possibly she’s pining for the good old days with Travis.

If Auron remains a rather undeveloped world and Servalan’s schemes are barmy, that doesn’t stop Children of Auron from being a strong mid series episode.  Sandwiched between City at the Edge of the World and Rumours of Death it probably slightly pales in comparison, but it’s still much stronger than the likes of Volcano and Dawn of the Gods.

Ten points docked for the final scene though, as everybody has a good laugh on the bridge of the Liberator.  It’s not the first time it’s happened (the crew had a chuckle at the end of Breakdown, seemingly oblivious to the loss of life they’d just witnessed) but again it just feels so out of place.  We’ve just witnessed a planet devastated, so a little show of solemnity wouldn’t have been out of place.  Apart from that, this is decent stuff.

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Blakes 7 – City at the Edge of the World

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Most of the regulars take centre-stage in at least one series three episode.  Avon features heavily in Aftermath and Rumours of Death, Cally’s the main character in both Children of Auron and Sarcophagus whilst Tarrant (and his identical twin brother) stars in Death-Watch.  Danya is the only one who doesn’t really have an episode of her own, unless you count her introductory tale, Aftermath.

For everybody’s favourite thief, City at the Edge of the World is a chance to see a more proactive and heroic Vila.  Even when the script didn’t really feature him, Michael Keating could always be guaranteed to take whatever material he had and make it work to the best of his ability.  Unlike some actors he didn’t do this by upstaging others – it was simply down to his natural comic timing.  A great example can be found in Powerplay.  Vila, wounded and alone in a strange forest, attempts to frighten off any would-be attackers by pretending to be a whole troop of fighting men!  It’s an old gag – and only a throwaway moment – but Keating’s a delight to watch.

But there’s no doubt that it’s good to see Vila right in the thick of things for once.  Too often he tended to end up as either the butt of other people’s jokes or simply blissed out on adrenaline and soma.  In City at the Edge of the World he’s witty, resourceful and gets the girl.  What more could you ask for?

We open with Tarrant being irritating (yet again).  The Liberator needs crystals for its weaponry systems and he’s struck a deal with the mysterious inhabitants of a nearby planet.  It’s simple enough – the crystals in exchange for Vila’s help.  When Vila disappears and the box of crystals turns out to be a booby-trapped bomb, Tarrant is forced to eat humble pie (not before time!)

Vila’s been brought to the planet by Bayban the Butcher (Colin Baker).  A vision in black, Baker is clearly having a ball (Paul Darrow later repayed the favour by going even further over the top in the Doctor Who story Timelash).  It’s a cartoony performance but it works perfectly in this context.  Following a couple of stories that were played too straight, City bubbles along with an infectious sense of humour and many quotable lines.  This is one of my favourites, courtesy of Bayban who’s peeved to find out that he’s top of the Federation’s Most Wanted list – after Blake.  “What do you mean, ‘after Blake’? I was working my way up that list before he crept out of his creche. WORKING my way up. I didn’t take any political shortcuts.”

Bayban has a crack force of mercenaries, led by Kerril (Carol Hawkins) and Sherm (John J. Carney).  Carney, who’d previously given an excellent comic performance as Bloodaxe in the Doctor Who story The Time Warrior, is just as good here.  He’s got little to do except react to the others – but he does it so well.  Hawkins plays the unlikely love interest (or at least it’s unlikely to begin with).  Their first meeting is memorable – we see Vila cowering at her feet, whilst she mocks him (“little man”).  He then suggests she bathes more regularly (and uses mouthwash too).

The unexpected thaw in their relationship seems to happen after she changes out of her black leathers and into something more feminine.  Possibly Chris Boucher was attempting to make a point here.  She spends the early part of the story attempting to be one of the boys (and acting aggressively) but once she changes clothes she becomes a more passive and submissive character – effectively acting as Vila’s assistant.

To be honest the story isn’t the strongest – a mysterious race seek entry to a new world, but rather carelessly they’ve lost the key to the door.  Only their leader Norl (Valentine Dyall) ever speaks, so they remain rather undeveloped – but then they’re not really the focus here (it’s more of an excuse for Vila to demonstrate his skills and Colin Baker to chew the scenery).  Dyall is compelling though.  He had the sort of voice that instantly commanded attention, so whenever he speaks it’s hard not to listen.

Vila is given a chance to cross over to this new world with Kerril.  It’s a beautiful, unspoiled planet where they could live out their lives in peace.  He declines, and his reason gives an insight into what makes him tick.  “There’s nothing there worth stealing. You know why I neutralize security systems, open safes, and break into vaults? It’s because I can and most people can’t. It’s just that, it’s what makes me, me. Kerril, a thief isn’t what I am, it’s who I am.”

After a couple of average stories, City at the Edge of the World gets us back on track.

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Blakes 7 – The Harvest of Kairos

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The Harvest of Kairos has a feel of a hastily rewritten S2 episode.  Otherwise, how do you explain that Tarrant seems to have become Enemy Number One in Servalan’s eyes?  She spends the opening few minutes musing about what he’s going to do next, whilst her cringing subordinate Dastor (Frank Gatliff) hesitatingly breaks the bad news that there’s dissent among her crew.

Some believe that she’s too afraid to attack Tarrant(!).  Chief amongst the dissenters is a worker from the construction grades, Jarvik (Andrew Burt).  Since he’s clearly designed to be an alpha-male, Burt’s casting is eccentric (to put it mildly).  Burt, the original Joe Sugden from Emmerdale Farm, also has to battle with Ben Stead’s script and his first line to Servalan sets the tone.  “Woman, you’re beautiful” he says, before grasping her for a quick snog.  There’s always the possibility that Stead had his tongue in his cheek, but I’m not so sure (there’s the evidence of his subsequent B7 scripts for example).  The sexual politics are skewered towards the dominance of men, with even Servalan seeming to melt under Jarvik’s winning ways (“But first, there is the question of that degrading and primitive act to which I was subjected in the control room. I should like you to do it again”).

Jarvik also attempts to humanise the very inhuman Servalan.  “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?”  It’s a decent enough line and if delivered well it could have some impact (it brings to mind similar comments from Kasabi during Pressure Point) but Burt rather torpedoes it.  He’s a good actor, just hopelessly miscast.

Meanwhile, onboard the Liberator Tarrant is being his usual annoying self.  He intends to steal a cargo of Kairopan (a highly valuable crystal found on the planet Kairos).  Kairos is a dangerous planet, so Tarrant plans to hijack the freighter after it’s left the planet.

As the Liberator comes under attack from Federation ships commanded by Jarvik (he’s been given a chance by the clearly impressed Servalan) Avon is strangely distracted.  Maybe this is as scripted, or possibly Paul Darrow simply wasn’t interested that week.  Avon’s absorbed with a mysterious crystal called sophron – it’s no ordinary rock, as it seems to have a capacity for reasoning that slightly exceeds Orac’s (and many other qualities as well).  No surprises that we never hear of it again, so its only function is to operate as a get out of jail free card.  After Jarvik’s plan to capture the Liberator succeeds, the crew are exiled to the definitely unfriendly Kairos.  Escape seems impossible, until Avon’s magic rock saves the day.

It’s jarring to see Servalan in control of the Liberator (a warm up for the apocalyptic events of Terminal) and once Avon and the others have been exiled to Kairos her victory seems complete.  We then lurch into the next unexpected event – Servalan is so taken with Jarvik that she’s keen to make him co-ruler, but first he has to prove himself.  And how does she decide to test him?  He has to take on Tarrant, man-to-man, and defeat him.  Yes, okay then.

Just when you think you’ve seen everything, up pops the silliest looking giant insect …..

The Harvest of Kairos is dumb fun.  It’s never less than entertaining (if you can stomach all the “ah well, he’s a man” talk) but it doesn’t fit as an early series three episode (had it come towards the end of the third series then Tarrant’s status would have been more credible).  Chris Boucher seems to have taken his eye off the ball, script-editing wise, but luckily he’d also been penning a number of decent stories and the next episode will see a marked upswing in quality.

Blakes 7 – Dawn of the Gods

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Dawn of the Gods is very, very odd.  Logic and reason seem to take a holiday during this one, beginning with Orac’s bizarre behaviour.  He decides to investigate a nearby black hole, thereby endangering both the Liberator and its crew.  Once they enter the black hole, Cally hears voices in her head as a figure from Auron mythology – the Thaarn – has plans for her.

It would have made more sense for Cally to be drawn to the black hole by the Thaarn’s entreaties (which would have meant that Orac’s suicidal curiosity could have been dispensed with). Possibly this wasn’t done since it would have seemed like too much of a retread of The Web.

But as it stands, getting the Liberator into the black hole feels very contrived, as does the fact that the Thaarn has such an urgent need for Cally. I’ll say one thing for him though, he thinks big. “I’ve been alone with my plans for so long. Cally. Plans to build a new universe, with no one to share them with, until now. The universe, Cally. And the great univeral force that controls the universe, is gravity. The orbit of the planets, the slow turn of the galaxies. I have built a machine that can generate gravity. When it’s complete, it will be powerful enough to move planets, and stars. He who controls gravity, controls everything. We will be rulers of the universe, Cally.”

Exactly what Cally can offer him that no-one else can is never made clear. Presumably it’s telepathy, but you’d assume that someone who’s planning to create a new universe would be able to obtain a telepath from somewhere.

Like The Web, Dawn of the Gods has a bizarre creature, but here it’s unwisely held back until close to the end of the story. Let’s be generous and say that when the Thaarn does pop up he’s something of a disappointment – it certainly torpedoes any lingering credibility that James Follett’s script had.

But even before the Thaarn was revealed in all its glory, things were wobbling. Avon and the others meet several of the Thaarn’s underlings, the Caliph (Sam Dastor) and Groff (Terry Scully). The Caliph seems to have wandered in from a Charles Dickens play, whilst Groff sports a natty eyeshade. It makes a change from the usual sci-fi cliche of silver suits, but the reason for this cosplay isn’t clear. If you’d have told me it was budget related I might have believed you!

Dawn of the Gods does have the air of a low-cost episode, especially since the first half takes place aboard the Liberator. There’s a few decent bits of character interaction though – it’s particularly nice to see Avon, Vila, Cally, Dayna and Orac enjoying a game of Space Monopoly. Yes, even Avon! And Orac gets very peeved when the others become distracted.  It’s notable that the only one not playing is Tarrant (is he sulking by himself?) He’s certainly pretty insufferable, insulting Cally and generally rushing around trying to solve the crisis, but achieving very little.

So we’re currently in a bit of a dip, story-wise. I wonder if the next will be any better?

Blakes 7 – Volcano

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Dayna and Tarrant have teleported down to the surface of Obsidian.  It’s a planet that has managed to remain unaligned from the Federation and also emerged unscathed from the recent galactic war.  Tarrant believes the planet would make a good base for them, but their pacifistic leader Hower (Michael Gough) isn’t interested.

Bad news, it’s an Allan Prior script.  Good news, it’s not Animals.  It’s not that much better though as Prior’s dialogue doesn’t exactly sparkle and few of the guest cast emerge with much credit.  Michael Gough, of course, is able to instill Hower with a certain dignity but Malcolm Bullivant, playing Hower’s son Bershar, is wooden in the extreme.  Frankly there’s more animation to be found in the extremely silly looking silver robot.  The Graham Williams era of Doctor Who (with its slapstick air) has many critics but the alternative is something like Volcano – an episode delivered with such an air of relentless earnestness that it becomes impossible to take it seriously.

Pacifistic planets are something of a sci-fi cliche.  Hower explains to Dayna how they’ve arrived at this state. “We have taught them peace from the cradle, and we have blocked, usually with a minute electric shock, every tendency towards an aggressive act. Plus of course, daily psychological propaganda. We have no war, no fights among ourselves, no lawlessness, no crime. Our people devote themselves to creation and not destruction. We are at peace here on Obsidian.”

This is all well and good, but what happens when the Federation turns up?  Although we’ve been told that the Federation are in disarray they seem in fine fettle here.  Led by Servalan (of course) their first act is to attempt to capture the Liberator.  This rather begs the question as to how Servalan knew the Liberator would be there.  And with an empire to rebuild you’d assume she’d have more pressing things on her mind than settling scores with Avon and co.  Volcano is one of those series three scripts that seems a little out of place, although it would have worked during series two (when the Federation was dominant).

The Federation, led by Mori (Ben Howard) are able to take over the Liberator with embarrassing ease.  This should be a dramatic highlight of the story but it’s pretty much a damp squib, even after we see Avon shot by Mori.  Ben Howard, a regular in the last series of Dixon of Dock Green, is the first of Servalan’s Travis substitutes and, bless him, he’s almost bad enough to make you pine for Brian Croucher.  The Battle Fleet Commander, played by Alan Bowerman, offers another amusingly rotten performance.

The Federation don’t hold the Liberator for very long and amazingly Servalan then decides to run away and fight another day.

SERVALAN: Without that ship we’ve lost a strategic advantage.
MUTOID: Madam?
SERVALAN: But, no one else has gained it. Without Blake the Liberator’s no immediate threat to our plans.
MUTOID: No, Madam President.
SERVALAN: Well the crew have no political ambitions.
MUTOID: They are merely criminals.
SERVALAN: So they’ll keep. Until the rule of law has been restored. Until my rule of law has been restored.

This doesn’t ring true – if Servalan doesn’t believe the Liberator poses a threat without Blake, why go to all that trouble to try and capture it?  The capture-the-Liberator sub-plot seems to have been rather awkwardly bolted onto the episode in order to pad out the running time.

One interesting part of the script is that Servalan’s assessment of Avon and the others seems spot on.  Tarrant tells Hower that they’re mercenaries and in exchange for the use of his planet he’ll offer them a percentage of their spoils.  I wonder if serious thought was ever given to turning them into a gang of intergalactic criminals?  This notion tends to be downplayed as we move through series three – pure sci-fi takes over – and when we reach series four there’s a return to the theme of the struggle against the Federation.

Hower’s decision to destroy his planet rather than see it colonised by the Federation should be a powerful one, but it’s another moment that doesn’t have a great deal of impact since we’ve never been given any cause to believe that Hower’s people are a real, functioning society.  Unfortunately, they’re just a series of faceless extras.

Although Volcano‘s problems are many, it’s by no means unwatchable.  It has its fair share of bad acting and illogical plotting, although that hardly makes it unique in the Blakes 7 universeIt’s undemanding stuff, but it’s frustrating as the series can do so much better.

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Blakes 7 – Powerplay

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With the departure of Gareth Thomas, Blakes 7 needed a new central dynamic.  It’s easy to see how the Blake/Avon relationship was recreated with Avon/Tarrant, but there’s one major difference.  Tarrant, like Avon during series one and two, is presented as the questioning figure of the group – often wondering if the plan they’re embarking on is wise – but he clearly lacks Avon’s experience and so ends up as a much less forceful figure.

So whilst Blake/Avon was more of a meeting of equals, Avon/Tarrant has something of a father/son feel with poor Tarrant coming off second best more often than not.  No doubt this is also a consequence of the slow rise of Avon’s megalomania – as we’ll see (especially during series four) Avon becomes increasingly disinclined to listen to anyone – with disastrous results.

Stephen Pacey, like Josette Simon, does his best with the hand he’s dealt, although Tarrant does sometimes come over as intensely annoying (Harvest of Kairos, springs to mind).  But he does start off with an interesting character dynamic.  He’s presented as the enemy (so it comes as a surprise when he joins the crew at the end of the episode).  Tarrant is the leader of a Federation raiding party who’ve taken control of the Liberator (much to Avon’s barely concealed disgust) but in the end it turns out he wasn’t a Federation type after all, he was only pretending.  Hurrah!

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To be honest, there’s something of a lost opportunity here.  Tarrant claims that he’s a fugitive from the Federation but we’ve only got his word for it.  Could he really have been a Federation officer all along?  He’s certainly very convincing in the role.  The possibility that Tarrant may be untrustworthy and liable to sell them out at any minute would have provided a nice spark of tension, but this angle was never explored.

But if Tarrant is faux-Federation, then his second-in-command, Section leader Klegg (Michael Sheard), is Federation through and through.  With several day’s stubble and a perpetually irritated expression (like he’s just swallowed a space-fly) it’s a highly entertaining performance from Sheard – a cult film and television favourite of many, including me (he had umpteen Doctor Who‘s to his credit, along with films like Star Wars and Indiana Jones).

I wonder what Michael Keating and Jan Chappell felt when they received the first two scripts of series three?  They were barely in the first episode and spend episode two languishing in the sub-plot.  Both Vila and Cally seem to have landed on their feet after they’re taken to what appears to be a spotless hospital on the planet Chenga.  Vila thanks the two attractive young women – Zee (Primi Townsend) and Barr (Julia Fiddler) – most effusively for rescuing him. “You get paid for helping me? That’s what the primitives meant when they said that you get a bounty. You see, they’ve got it all wrong, they just don’t understand. You look after yourselves and thanks once again. I really, really mean that.”

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Vila and Cally are being set up to take a fall.  The Chengans plan to harvest them for their organs – and wouldn’t you know it, the happy news is broken to them by Servalan.  If credibility was stretched to breaking point in the previous episode when she turned up on the same planet as Avon, there’s no words to explain how ridiculous it is that she just happens to bump into Vila and Cally.  Small universe, isn’t it?  Luckily the Liberator picks them up just before they’re sliced and diced.

Like Aftermath, this is a story that works well on a character level.  Terry Nation doesn’t provide us with any major surprises, but whilst it’s not subtle stuff it does clip along at a decent rate.

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Blakes 7 – Aftermath

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Following Gareth Thomas’ departure, Paul Darrow moved centre-stage and it’s easy to see how Aftermath was crafted to facilitate this transition.  In one way this was something of a risk – Avon (and Darrow) had worked so well during the first two series by operating as an outsider – someone who sat on the sidelines, caustically criticising Blake’s plans.  Therefore the series format had to be somewhat re-tooled (Avon’s dislike of Blake’s freedom-fighter heroics was so strong that it would have been implausible for him to simply pick up where Roj left off).

Instead we see the Federation retreat into the distance, at least for now.  Following the galactic war they’re no longer the dominant force they were (we’re told that 80% of the Federation fleet has been destroyed).  The war between humanity and the aliens is played out during the first few minutes of Aftermath in the most cut-price way imaginable – numerous model shots are reused from previous episodes in order to give the impression of a vast galactic battle.  It’s not terribly convincing, it must be said.

The Liberator has suffered severe damage, which means the crew have to head for the life capsules.  Avon says that Blake and Jenna have gone off together – whilst this may have been a script necessity to cover for the absence of Gareth Thomas and Sally Knyvette it does also make sense (since Jenna harboured a long, if subtle, pash for Blake).

I’ve never quite understood why Avon and Orac end up on the planet Sarran whilst Vila and Cally’s planetfall is somewhere else entirely – they all left at pretty much the same time so you’d have assumed they’d have ended up together.  The reason in script terms is obvious though – Keating and Chappell are written out of this one so that Darrow can establish his credentials as the new leader (similar to how The Way Back focused on Blake).

It’s a Terry Nation script, so it should come as no surprise that Sarron has its share of murderous primitives.  They’re led by Chel (Alan Lake) who observes the battle raging above the planet’s atmosphere.  “This is the day that was prophesied. The day our law foretold. They will come from the sky to destroy us. They will burn the stars to light their way. We must be prepared.”  Lake was never the most subtle of actors, but Chel isn’t a role that demands method acting so that’s fair enough.

Two hapless Federation troopers (played by Richard Franklin and Michael Melia) fall victim to Chel and his men but Avon is luckier as he’s rescued by Dayna (Josette Simon).  Following Sally Knyvette’s departure there was a vacancy for a new crew-member aboard the Liberator and Dayna certainly fits the bill.  The casting of a young, black actress would have been quite noteworthy at the time (1980) and Simon, despite her lack of experience, hits the ground running.  Although the question is, can Dayna’s character be maintained over the remainder of the series?  Jenna had been introduced as a hard-bitten smuggler but eventually found herself as little more than the Liberator’s teleport operator.  Dayna does turn out to be a little luckier, but Blakes 7 remains very much a boys show and the female characters tend, too often, to play second fiddle.

Still, Dayna has a good chunk of screen-time in this episode.  Her initial meeting with Avon is a memorable one – she kisses him on the lips, telling him that she was curious.  Avon, as befits his new status as a dashing action hero has an immediate response. “I’m all in favor of healthy curiosity. I hope yours isn’t satisfied too easily. I think you’ve cured my headache.”  The arrival of Servalan shakes things up.  Pearce and Simon share a lovely two-handed scene, which sees Servalan dripping with fake sincerity and Dayna barely able to hide her loathing.

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Dayna is presented as something of a flawed character – the life she’s led to date (an isolated one with her father) has left her with little understanding of other people.  She regards the Sarrans as animals, who exist to be killed as and when she decides.  Her potential awkwardness with others was something that could have been developed, but never really was.

A major change in series three concerns the relationship between Avon and Servalan. Let’s be honest, during the first two series they never had a relationship at all (try counting the number of lines they exchanged during the first twenty six episodes). All that changes now as we see that love/hate is in the air.  Servalan tells Avon that Star One is destroyed, which means that the Federation has been crippled.

AVON: So Blake’s rabble finally get freedom of choice. He won after all.
SERVALAN: Forget Blake. You have control of the Liberator now. There’s no more powerful ship in the galaxy. You have Orac. Avon! Don’t you see what that means?
AVON: You tell me about it.
SERVALAN: You could rebuild it all. All those worlds could be yours, Avon, they’re there for the taking. You and I could build an empire greater and more powerful than the Federation ever was or ever could have been. Now, Avon. At this moment we can take history and shape it in our own image. Think of it: absolute power. There is nothing you can imagine that we couldn’t do.
AVON: I am thinking of it.
SERVALAN: We can do it, Avon.
AVON: I know we can.
SERVALAN: We’ll be answerable to no one. Ours will be the only voice. Imagination our only limit. [They kiss. Avon grabs her by the throat and pushes her to the ground]
AVON: Imagination my only limit? I’d be dead in a week.

There’s no doubt that Avon and Servalan’s kiss (and his manhandling of her) launched a thousand fan-fics.  Darrow and Pearce are electrifying in this scene and it’s worth the price of admission alone.

The death of Dayna’s father, Hal Mellanby (Cy Grant) and her adopted sister Lauren (Sally Harrison) means that she no longer has any ties to the planet and is free to join the Liberator.  And the fact that Servalan killed her father will provide the series with some nice scenes of dramatic tension whenever the two meet again.

Although the primitives sub-plot of Aftermath is fairly tedious it doesn’t really impact on the main thrust of the story, which revolves around the Avon/Dayna/Servalan triangle.  All of them, especially Darrow, benefit from generous amounts of character development.

Unusually, we end on a cliffhanger.  Avon and Dayna return to the Liberator but find themselves on the wrong end of a Federation gun.  The curly-haired officer asks them why they’ve boarded a Federation ship ……

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Blakes 7 – Star One

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There are two key scenes in Star One – both of which take place on the Liberator during the opening minutes.  The first demonstrates Avon’s wish to end his association with Blake.

AVON: We can take Star One, let’s get on with it.
JENNA: Very stirring. When did you become a believer?
AVON: Are you just going to sit there? You have led them by the nose before.
BLAKE: Excuse me, are you going to answer her question?
AVON: Show me someone who believes in anything and I will show you a fool.
BLAKE: I meant what I said on Goth, Avon. We are not going to use Star One to rule the Federation, we are going to destroy it.
AVON: I never doubted that. I never doubted your fanaticism. 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. Just so long as there is an end to it. When Star One is gone it is finished, Blake. And I want it finished. I want it over and done with. I want to be free.
CALLY: But you are free now, Avon.
AVON: I want to be free of him.
BLAKE: I never realised. You really do hate me, don’t you?

Blake agrees that Avon will take him back to Earth after the destruction of Star One and that the Liberator will then be Avon’s.  This is a pointer towards the general direction that series three will take.  With Blake absent it wouldn’t have been credible for Avon to simply inherit his crusading zeal, so we see a shift towards more SF stories and less battles with the Federation (the balance changes again in series four).  Paul Darrow is excellent in this scene and it easily demonstrates that he’s more than capable of carrying the series.

Even more fascinating is the following exchange between Blake and Cally.

CALLY: Are we fanatics?
BLAKE: Does it matter?
CALLY: Many, many people will die without Star One.
BLAKE: I know.
CALLY: Are you sure that what we’re going to do is justified?
BLAKE: It has to be. Don’t you see, Cally? If we stop now then all we have done is senseless killing and destruction. Without purpose, without reason. We have to win. It’s the only way I can be sure that I was right.

This is such a key moment, as it shines a very cold and clear light on Blake and his convictions.  Earlier in the episode Servalan is shown examples of what happens when Star One fails – droughts, storms, terrible devastation, etc.  If Blake destroys Star One then these disasters will just be the tip of the iceberg.  Can any cause possibly justify this loss of life?  It’s hard to agree with Blake that it does – his sole motive for continuing is because he’s gone too far down the road of freedom fighter/terrorist (delete as applicable) to stop now.  It seems a monumentally poor reason for such wholesale destruction.

As we’ll see, Blake doesn’t destroy Star One.  Aliens have infiltrated the complex and the Liberator finds itself allied with a fleet of Federation ships in a desperate attempt to stop a massive alien invasion.  It’s possible to argue that the unexpected appearance of aliens is something of a cop-out.  The Federation in series three is shown to be in disarray following the battle with the aliens and had Blake destroyed Star One there would have been a similar amount of disruption.

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Star One is manned by a small number of Federation personnel, most of whom have been replaced by the shape-shifting aliens.  This makes no sense – we’re told nobody ever visits, so why didn’t the aliens simply kill everybody and then take over?  It’s also not clear why Star One has been failing recently – were these problems caused by the aliens or was Star One starting to run down of its own accord?

It also seems that quite a few events have been happening off-screen – when did Travis decide to ally himself with the aliens and why should he now wish to destroy all humanity?  He’s always been more than a little unstable, but this sudden desire to kill everybody doesn’t really sit with what we’ve previously seen.

With Gareth Thomas’ departure it was decided that Travis’ main function in the series was over.  And it’s difficult not to raise a cheer as Avon finally kills him off and sends him spinning down a very deep hole (via some very unconvincing CSO).  The problems with Travis during series two weren’t all down to Brian Croucher, but there’s no doubt that Travis’ death is a mercy killing (both for himself and the audience).

We end with a cliffhanger as Avon leads the Liberator in an apparently hopeless battle against the oncoming alien fleet.  There’s one final moment between Blake and Avon (“Avon, for what it is worth, I have always trusted you, from the very beginning.”) and then the credits roll.

After some wobbles in the second half of the season (Hostage, Countdown, Voice from the Past, The Keeper) Star One manages to close the second run on a high.  It’s a very talky episode, with little in the way of impressive visuals or effects (the alien fleet looks to be cobbled together from whatever was lying around the Special Effects workshop for example).  But the dialogue heavy nature of the story isn’t a problem as it allows all the regulars a chance to shine.

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Blakes 7 – The Keeper

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The Keeper isn’t a story that has a great deal going for it.  The setting is the planet Goth and its inhabitants, led by Gola (Bruce Purchase), clearly favour a faux-medieval feel (plenty of flickering torches and over-ripe dialogue).

Purchase, who’d played the Captain in the Doctor Who story The Pirate Planet shortly before, approaches this role with a similar lack of subtlety.  But whilst there was slightly more to the Captain than initially was apparent, Gola is just a blustering fool who spends his time shouting – it’s almost as if he’d taken lessons from Brian Blessed.

Blake, Vila and Jenna teleport down to find the brainprint of cyber-surgeon Lurgen.  Once they have that they’ll be able to establish the location of Star One.  Avon asks Blake what they’ll do once they know where Star One is.

BLAKE: Finish what we started.
AVON: Destroy it?
BLAKE: Of course. And the entire Federation with it. Does that bother you suddenly?
AVON: Star One is the automatic computer control centre for the entire Federation.
BLAKE: Get to the point, Avon.
AVON: That is the point. Through Star One we could control everything. The Federation could belong to us.
VILA: I could be president.
AVON: Ah.

Blake and the others are only on the planet’s surface for a few minutes before they’re overpowered – it’s a remarkably inept display by Blake (strategic planning has never been one of his strengths).  Vila and Jenna are carried off whilst they leave Blake behind (why?).  Blake urgently requests teleport, but Avon and Cally have moved out of teleport range in order to destroy Travis’ ship.

How Avon manages to identify the ship as Travis’ is never explained – surely there must be others in the galaxy that are similar?  It probably won’t come as a surprise that Travis wasn’t on board – he and Servalan are both on Goth.  Their on/off working relationship is now back on and Travis is in a remarkably mellow mood as he attempts to forge a more permanent alliance with Servalan.

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TRAVIS: Look, Star One is the computer control centre. It controls the climate on more than two hundred worlds, communications, security, food production, it controls them all. It is the key to our very lives. Think of all that power.
SERVALAN: You can see why the Council themselves don’t know where Star One is. In the wrong hands …
TRAVIS: Yes, but in the right hands: yours and mine.
SERVALAN: Be very careful you don’t overreach yourself, Travis.

One part of the story that does work very well is Travis’ contribution to it.  It seems obvious that he’ll be around for the duration, tangling with Blake and the others, but about twenty minutes in he disappears and it slowly becomes clear that he’s not coming back.  He’s already found Star One’s location and not only has he betrayed Servalan but as the next episode makes clear he’s betrayed the whole human race …..

A quick mention for his personal communicator, which is the size of several house-bricks (almost like the most primitive mobile phone).  Considering that Kirk and the Enterprise had pocket sized communicators a decade earlier you’d have imagined B7 could have done something similar. It’s hard to imagine him putting that into his pocket!

Whilst Blake runs around achieving very little, Jenna and Vila are making the acquaintance of Gola.  Vila becomes the King’s fool, supplanting his existing one (played by Cengiz Saner) whilst Jenna immediately attracts Gola’s attention.  It’s a good thing that The Keeper gives Sally Knyvette something to do, it’s a bad thing that she has to spend her time as the object of Gola’s attentions.  But Knyvette does manage to mine some comic moments from this fairly unpromising material.

Elsewhere, Blake meets Rod (Shaun Curry) who is Gola’s brother and plans to challenge him for the throne.  It won’t come as surprise that Rod is a bluff and hearty fellow (he’s not quite in the Purchase/Blessed camp for loudness, but he comes close).

Blake also runs into an old man locked in the dungeon (played by Arthur Hewlett) who turns out to be Gola and Rod’s father – and so is the old, disposed king.  Hewlett’s performance is notable for his moaning (he may be playing for laughs or he may not, I can’t be sure).  Also eschewing any subtlety is Freda Jackson as Tara, Gola’s sister.  She can cackle with the best of them and when she’s not doing that she maintains a baleful watch over the unfolding events.

Eventually (thank goodness) Blake discovers the location of Star One, which means we can happily leave the planet of Goth far behind and journey onwards to the climax of series two.

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Blakes 7 – Gambit

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Gambit is an unusual story, certainly for the series to date.  Robert Holmes’ script is laced with his usual love of wordplay and the camp quotient is set to eleven.  Krantor (Aubrey Woods) and Toise (John Leeson) are an unforgettable double-act – both actors seem to delight in upstaging the other (not least with their costumes – Leeson’s headgear is especially memorable).

There’s a throwaway line that it’s Mardi Gras time at Freedom City, which explains why they’re dressed as they are – and presumably all the extras (dressed as clowns, nuns, etc) are entering into the spirit of the occasion as well.  Or their costumes could have just been pulled off the shelves – this is Blakes 7, so it’s always a fair bet that money was tight.

The lack of a decent budget is probably best reflected in the main room of Freedom City’s casino, which is pretty sparsely decorated.  So what funds were available seem to have been spent on a handful of new costumes (especially Servalan’s stunning red number).

Servalan, and her assistant Jarriere (Harry Jones), have travelled to Freedom City to find both Travis and cyber-surgeon Docholli (Denis Carey).  It’s believed that Docholli knows the location of Star One – so Servalan is anxious to locate him before Blake does.  She offers Krantor a substantial sum of money in exchange for his co-operation, but whilst they’re perfectly pleasant to each other on the surface it’s plain that neither trusts or likes the other an inch.

Servalan on Krantor.  “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 on Servalan.  “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.”

This is typical Holmes, although it’s a little surprising that Krantor’s wish to ravage Servalan made it to the screen.  He always delighted in putting lurid dialogue into his scripts and sometimes (especially when Terrance Dicks was script-editing his work on Doctor Who) the more extreme examples were excised.  Here, it seems that Chris Boucher was happy to keep them in (unless of course he removed even worse!)

If Krantor and Toise are a great double-act, then so are Servalan and Jarriere.  Harry Jones couldn’t have looked less like a Federation trooper if he tried, but maybe this is why he was cast.  Jarriere is present mainly to listen admiringly to Servalan’s increasingly convoluted plans about how she intends to deal with both Docholli and Travis.  Delightfully, after she’s explained herself in great detail he then admits he doesn’t understand a word of it!

The third excellent double-act in the story are Avon and Vila.  Homes had already latched onto the comic possibilities of teaming them up in Killer and he wastes no time in doing so here as well.  Their subplot is a little bizarre, but it fits into the odd nature of the story.

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Both are aggrieved at having to remain behind on the Liberator with Vila complaining that “if it was a desert down there, so hot your eyeballs frizzled, poisonous snakes under every rock” then Blake would have sent the pair of them.  Avon agrees and then decides they should teleport down and break the bank at the casino.

Why they should want to do this (the Liberator possesses untold wealth) is never made clear, plus the concept of Avon sneaking down is also bizarre – it’s difficult to imagine he cares that Blake would disapprove.  Some of his dialogue (“you dummy”) seems out of character too.

Avon and Vila intend to win a fortune at the roulette table with the aid of Orac.  But since Orac’s rather bulky, after a brief discussion about molecular reduction the computer obligingly reduces himself to one eighth of his normal size.  You can either enjoy the comic moment or fret that the episode once again isn’t taking itself seriously.

Blake, Cally and Jenna’s search for Docholli doesn’t last very long (they find a trace of him in the first bar they come to) so they don’t really have a great deal to do.  Jenna and Cally’s brief staged cat-fight is easily the highlight of their scenes.  Travis skulks about, wearing a silly hat, guarding Docholli as he knows that Blake will turn up to find the surgeon (although how Travis knows about Docholli is never explained).

Thanks to Orac, Vila wins a fortune but then finds himself conned into playing speed chess with the Klute (Deep Roy).  If he wins or draws he’ll earn another fortune, but it he loses it’ll cost him his life.  Naturally with Orac on hand to whisper suggestions, Vila manages to earn a draw and he and Avon return to the Liberator a good deal richer.

Blake, Cally and Jenna have returned too, with information that will send them off to the planet Goth to locate a tribal chief who wears the brain-print of someone who knew the location of Star One around his neck. When Blake asks Avon and Vila if anything’s happened he’s immediately suspicious by the sight of their innocent expressions (Darrow deadpans terribly well).

If you like your Blakes 7 on the gritty side, then Gambit may not appeal but everyone else should find something to enjoy here.

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Blakes 7 – Voice from the Past

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Where to start with Voice from the Past?  There’s some good ideas in Roger Parkes’ script but ultimately the story is incoherent and illogical.  It does have a decent opening hook though – Blake starts acting oddly and changes course from the idyllic sounding Del Ten to a lifeless asteroid called PK One One Eight.  He offers no explanation, beyond “try trusting me.”  Paul Darrow has the best of the early exchanges especially when he decides that Blake is “certainly not normal, not even for Blake.”

This is somewhat ironic, since Blake’s command style has so often kept everyone in the dark whilst he formulated elaborate plans that sometimes (as in Pressure Point) end in disaster.  So his behaviour here isn’t particularly out of character, though Cally picks up a faint tone oscillation which suggests somehow he’s being manipulated.

With the unstable Blake under restraint it falls to Vila to look after him.  Bad move.  It recalls a similar scene in Breakdown, where Gan was restrained and Cally was monitoring him.  Both Gan and Blake appeared quite normal and asked to be freed, but Vila proves much more gullible than Cally was – he not only releases him but also swallows his story that Avon and Cally have been plotting against the rest of them.  This whole part of the story does no favours at all for Vila, since it portrays him as an easily duped simpleton.

With Avon, Cally and Jenna locked up, Vila teleports Blake down to the surface of the asteroid.  The opening shot of Blake on the asteroid’s surface is a stunning example of incredibly poor CSO – not helped by the fact that the background image seems to have been drawn by a child.  Things then get stranger still when he meets the people who have summoned him.

Ven Glynd (Richard Bebb) was the arbiter at Blake’s trial, but he’s now defected from the Federation and has in his possession information which he claims will bring down both the civil administration and the space corps.  Also present is a broken, bandaged figure who we’re told is Shivan, a notable resistance leader.

Sadly Robert James wasn’t able to reprise his role as Ven Glynd, so Richard Bedd stepped into the part.  Whilst he’s not as compelling an actor as James, he still manages to do his best and there are the odd signs of just how wily an operator Ven Glynd is (he wants Blake to rule as a puppet leader whilst he enjoys the real power).  Glynd asks Blake and the others to accompany him to the Governor’s Summit Meeting at Atlay.  There, along with a powerful ally, Governor Le Grand (Freda Knorr), they will present their evidence.

One of the most obvious plot-flaws is why Ven Glynd and Le Grand should attempt to manipulate Blake by beaming messages into his mind.  Why not just contact the Liberator direct?  The most obvious answer is that they’re not telling the truth, but although they have agendas both are honest in what they want Blake to do – so why attempt to brainwash him, when he probably would have agreed to help anyway?

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Le Grand explains to Blake what will happen and that they want him to be the new ruler of the Terran administration.

LE GRAND: For years now, the Arbiter General and I have prepared for this moment. He gathering evidence of the Administration’s infamies, while I lobbied the support of my fellow governors. However, we could not challenge and discredit the Administration until we had found an alternative leadership, capable of uniting all factions.
BLAKE: Well, you, Governor.
LE GRAND: No. He who leads must be from Earth. Someone of renowned integrity, someone who has become a legend of hope to the great mass of the oppressed. A messiah.

It all comes to nothing though, since Servalan has been pulling the strings all along.  Shivan is really Travis in disguise(!) and Servalan seems to have allowed Ven Glynd and Le Grand to hatch their plot just so she can enjoy crushing their feeble attempt at rebellion in the most dramatic way.  Again, this doesn’t make much sense – why not simply arrest Ven Glynd and Le Grand?  Even if the evidence wasn’t particularly strong we’ve seen how the Federation can easily trump up charges, so the only possible reason for letting them live was so Servalan could enjoy their ultimate humiliation.

As for Shivan really being Travis …. words almost fail me, but it’s an undeniably enjoyable piece of very bad acting.  His initial scene is notable for the appearance of two of the most familiar faces from this era of television – highly experienced walk-ons Harry Fielder and Pat Gorman (who between them racked up hundreds of television and film credits).  They don’t do anything, but their presence is remarkably comforting.

Gareth Thomas struggles somewhat in this one.  Blake’s sudden mood swings would be difficult for any actor to cope with, so I wouldn’t want to be too hard on him.  Paul Darrow gets some great lines and makes the most of them whilst Michael Keating isn’t best served with a script that turns him into a credulous fool.

Jan Chappell and Sally Knyvette both have a little more to do in this episode.  Especially Jenna, who agrees (rather reluctantly) to undergo dual therapy with Blake in order to probe the reason for his erratic behaviour.  But Brian Croucher need not have taken part at all – Travis serves no useful function in the story which means that Shivan might just as well have been the man he claimed he was.  Jacqueline Pearce’s role is quite small, but her scene at the end (as her image is presented in widescreen) is a memorable one.

Not an episode you could say is actually good, but it’s certainly never dull.

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Blakes 7 – Countdown

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The major flaw with Countdown is the countdown itself.  The planet of Albian has a population of around six million but the Federation have been able to keep control with a very small force of troops due to their ultimate deterrent.  Somewhere on the planet is a bomb which will destroy all life at the first attempt at insurrection.  A group of rebels, lead by the mercenary Del Grant (Tom Chadbon) manage to take control but they’re just too late to stop the countdown from being activated.

One of the odd things about the countdown is that the time remaining seems to jump about somewhat.  It starts at 1,000 and as each digit doesn’t seem to last more than two seconds there should be about half an hour left to diffuse the bomb.  However, we’re told that the time in hand is double that – sixty minutes.

But the main problem is that there’s very little tension about this part of the story.   You know that the bomb’s not going to explode (the idea that six million people could be killed – even if most of them exist off-screen – wouldn’t be something that the series would ever contemplate).  So if the bomb part is a bit of a damp squib (as it were) where does the drama come from?

It’s the meeting between Avon and Del Grant which forms the heart of the episode.  It could be that Terry Nation created this sub-plot with no thought of a sequel and it was Chris Boucher who decided that the story of Avon and Del’s sister, Anna Grant, could be further developed (see the series three episode Rumours of Death).  That would make sense, as the later episode does throw up some continuity issues – not least concerning Del himself ……

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But here, the story of Avon and Anna seems to have been crafted purely to open up the character of Avon a little.  Although he’s always completely self-contained it’s clear he does possess feelings – he’s just incredibly guarded and has never let any of the Liberator crew close enough to find out exactly what he thinks or feels.

His chance meeting with Del, a man who’s vowed to kill him, therefore provides us with a opportunity to understand a little about what makes him tick.  Del believes that Avon ran out on Anna, leaving her to the mercy of the Federation and is therefore directly responsible for her death.  Avon obviously carries a burden of regret but insists that the true events were somewhat different.

GRANT: There’s one thing I never understood. Why did you leave her alone?
AVON: I had arranged to buy some exit visas, but I had to go right across the city to collect them. It was safer for Anna to stay out of sight.
GRANT: What happened then?
AVON: There were patrols out everywhere looking for us. I was late at the rendezvous. And then the man from whom I was buying the visas increased the price. He wanted ten times what we had agreed. He said he could get even more if he turned me in and collected the Federation reward.
GRANT: You should have killed him.
AVON: I did.
GRANT: So you got the visas. Why didn’t you go back for her?
AVON: Killing the dealer wasn’t quite so straightforward. He was expecting something and fired first. I started back but I was losing a lot of blood. Somewhere along the way I passed out. I was lucky. Some people found me and got me under cover.
GRANT: You could have got a message to her, told her to get out.
AVON: I was unconscious for more than thirty hours.
GRANT: You used the visa and got out of the city. You left her there.
AVON: That’s right. But that was a week later. Anna was already dead.
GRANT: You’re lying. You left the city the same day, before the Federation found Anna. You could have got her out.
AVON: No. She came looking for me, the patrols found her. It was only after we got word that she was dead that I left.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Avon and Del Grant are the only two people that can diffuse the bomb and have to forget their differences and work together.  And it also should come as no surprise that by the end Del Grant has accepted Avon’s story and they part on friendly terms.

The other main plot element is Blake’s search for Control.  A number of episodes from now to the end of the second series contain hints and information about Star One (the new name for Control).  These various plot-threads do feel a touch contrived though – we’ve been told that Star One is the most closely guarded secret in the Federation, so why have various clues been scattered about like breadcrumbs?

In Countdown, Blake arrives at Albian to find Major Provine (a boo-hiss turn from Paul Shelley).  Provine served at Control and Blake hopes that he’ll be able to tell him where it’s now located.  He doesn’t do this, but he does give him a lead. “Docholli. Cybersurgeon. Only Docholli knows.”  Quite why Provine should decide to assist Blake with his dying breath is a mystery – and it’s even harder to swallow that he would be allowed to walk about with such a vital piece of information.

It’s very noticeable that this is the third story in a row where Blake, Avon and Vila teleport down and enjoy all the action whilst Jenna and Cally remain marooned on the Liberator.  So it’s easy to believe that around this time Sally Knyvette decided not to return for series three.

Countdown is fairly formulaic stuff then, enlivened only by the insight into Avon’s character.  In many ways it’s a taster for the way the series would develop once he moved centre-stage following Blake’s departure.

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Blakes 7 – Hostage

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Hostage was something of a troubled production.  Duncan Lamont had been cast as Ushton but he died after completing the location filming, necessitating a remount with John Aberini stepping into the part.

The episode opens brightly enough though, with the Liberator coming under attack from a mass of Federation ships.  The unnamed Federation commander (played by Andrew Robertson) seems close to destroying the Liberator, but Blake and the others just manage to sneak away.

The all-out attack does contradict the likes of Project Avalon, which saw Servalan insistent that the Liberator had to be captured, not destroyed.  But if her objectives have now changed it does beg the question as to why she hasn’t ordered attacks of this magnitude before, as it’s clear they stand a good chance of succeeding.

Servalan is seen to be under some pressure in this episode.  It was hinted in Trial that the enquiry into the continuing inability of the Federation to catch Blake could be damaging for her and the visit of Councillor Joban (Kevin Stoney) restates this.  He’s only onscreen for a few minutes but it’s a pleasure to watch Stoney at work, especially since Hostage tends to be blessed with fairly indifferent performances from the guest stars.  John Aberini was a fine actor, but his part was rather limited.

There’s another lapse in continuity during the following exchange between Servalan and Joban –

JOBAN: Some members of the council are concerned. Many of our citizens now know of Blake’s activities, and those of the renegade Travis.
SERVALAN: But there have been no public spacecasts on either Travis or Blake.
JOBAN: People talk, Servalan. There’s no way of stopping them.
SERVALAN: This is a major breach of security. The punishment is total. Who are these people who have been talking? I want their names, councillor.
JOBAN: All sorts of citizens from Alphas to labour grades know of Blake’s defiance of the Federation. They talk of him as a sort of hero, many of them.
SERVALAN: What rubbish.
JOBAN: His men impede progress and more importantly order. Order, order Servalan. It is all that matters.

It seems strange that Servalan should react with surprise to the news that Blake has become something of a hero, since she’s commented on this fact several times before.  Only a minor point, but it does appear that Chris Boucher’s attention was elsewhere when this script was written.

Following the attack on the Liberator, Blake is surprised to receive a message from Travis.  He’s on the planet Exbar and he is holding Blake’s cousin Inga (Judy Buxton) hostage.  He asks Blake to come to Exbar to talk and maybe join forces – if he doesn’t, the girl will die.

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Five of the last six stories of series two feature Travis and that’s at least two too many.  Hostage is one of the episodes when it would have been nice to take a break from Travis’ painfully obvious villainy (and Brian Croucher’s not at his best in this one anyway) but it wasn’t to be.

The notion that Travis might be interested in teaming up with Blake was a fascinating one which I’m sorry wasn’t developed.  With them now both renegades it would have made sense – plus it would have provided the later stories with a great deal of dramatic tension.  But Travis (as might be expected) wasn’t really interested in an alliance – he merely wanted to steal the Liberator.

What happened to his Muto crew from the end of the last episode is never made clear, instead he’s recruited a number of crimos (criminal psychopaths).  They’re hardly the most threatening bunch – despite the odd half-hearted attempt to show how truly evil they are (slapping the unfortunate Inga, for example).

Also present on Exbar is Ushton, Blake’s uncle.  It’s revealed early on that he’s working with Travis (who’s agreed not to hurt Inga if he co-operates).  His betrayal of Blake is rather pointless as Blake was coming to meet Travis anyway.  John Aberini does his best, but Ushton isn’t much of a part and his mild betrayal is later forgotten when he and the others battle with Travis and the crimos.

Forty four minutes into the episode, Blake, Avon and Ushton send a number of the most painfully obvious polystyrene rocks ever seen on film down a slope to frighten away Travis and the crimos.  It’s a moment that never fails to amuse – not least for the crimo who runs away with his hands high in the air.  The scene where they throw a crimo down a cliff (so obviously a dummy) is comedy gold as well.

Yet another odd lack of continuity occurs when Travis asks Ushton which of the three members of the Liberator crew he holds prisoner (Blake, Avon, Vila) is the weakest.  Travis has been pursuing them all for some considerable time, can we really believe he didn’t know the strengths and weaknesses of all of them?

The final scene is nice though, with Jenna very huffy towards Blake.  This always seems to happen whenever he meets or talks to an attractive woman, clearly her unrequited love remains unrequited.

But all in all this is a somewhat forgettable episode.  The brief meeting between Servalan and Travis at the end is possibly the most significant moment.  He asks if they’re still enemies and she replies that “officially, yes. Unofficially, you lead me to Blake whenever you can. If you help me get him I’ll see you officially listed as dead. There’s no one as free as a dead man.”

Although his next appearance (in Voice from the Past) shows him working closely with Servalan, which is a far cry from how matters were left here.  Maybe that’s another case of slightly inconsistent script-editing.

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Blakes 7 – Killer

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Killer was the first of four Blakes 7 scripts written by Robert Holmes.  He’d recently finished a lengthy stint as script-editor on Doctor Who and was looking for some freelance writing jobs.  Chris Boucher, who’d been commissioned by him on Doctor Who, was naturally keen to bring him aboard.

Holmes’ strengths were many, but strong characterisation was always key.  It’s therefore no surprise that he latched on immediately to the possibilities of teaming up Avon and Vila (three of his stories feature them together).  It’s a joy to watch Darrow and Keating sparking off each other and it’s one of the main pleasures of the episode.

Killer is an interesting script for several reasons.  It does feel slightly different to what we’ve previously seen (although it’s not as much of a departure as Holmes’ next story, Gambit).  This difference is mostly due to the way Blake is portrayed.

The Liberator has travelled to the planet Fosforon where Avon and Vila teleport down to meet with Tynus (Ronald Lacey).  Tynus is the commander of a Federation scientific research base and is an old friend of Avon.  Vila’s delighted to hear that Avon has a friend (“I always knew you had a friend. I used to say to people ‘I bet Avon’s got a friend, somewhere in the galaxy'”.) but within minutes we learn their friendship doesn’t run very deep.

Avon and Tynus were involved in a fraud some years back and Avon kept quiet about Tynus’ part.  Now he expects Tynus to do him a favour (otherwise he’ll have no qualms about reporting him to the authorities).  The reason for Avon’s visit (he needs a TP crystal) is little more than a MacGuffin to pad the story out – the main plot concerns a mysterious and deadly virus which is unleashed on the base.

Whilst orbiting the planet, Zen picks up a Wanderer spacecraft apparently drifting.  Blake’s amazed to see it – since it must be over seven hundred years old – and he’s also baffled as to how it reached this part of the galaxy.  There’s some brief debate about whether they should investigate (clearly nobody remembers the problem they had in both Time Squad and Bounty when they were curious about derelict crafts).

Luckily for them it’s salvaged by a colleague of Tynus, Dr Bellfriar (Paul Daneman).  But Blake remains worried that it could be dangerous (thanks to a rare display of Cally’s telepathy) and decides to warn the base.  This is highly unusual – it’s a Federation base so it’s strange that he should be concerned.

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Whilst it’s possible to argue that this is due to Holmes’ unfamiliarity with the series (although presumably Chris Boucher would have rewritten the script had he felt it didn’t fit with established continuity) maybe it’s actually another stage in humanising the Federation.  Exactly what research they do is never really specified, but Bellfriar is both urbane and welcoming.  Blake does tell him he’s a wanted criminal but Belfriar responds by muttering that he’s an absent-minded scientist who’s forgotten his name already.

But presenting the Federation as rounded characters, rather than mindless killers, does create something of a problem – it makes Blake’s various attempts to disrupt the natural order (especially as seen in Star One) seem much more like acts of terrorism than blows for freedom.

If his interest in the fate of the people on the base is a touch uncharacteristic, so is his explanation about what he thinks is happening.  It’s the first and last time that Blake ever referenced old-Earth history and is pure Holmes.

BLAKE: Have you ever heard of Lord Jeffrey Ashley?
BELLFRIAR: Who?
BLAKE: Mm, pre space age, planet Earth. He was the commander of a British garrison in America, having trouble with hostile natives, redskins. Ashley ordered blankets from smallpox victims to be baled up and sent to the hostile tribes.
BELLFRIAR: Germ warfare.

Killer is an excellent story for Thomas, Darrow and Keating.  Alas, it’s much less satisfying for both Jan Chappell and Sally Knyvette, both of whom remain on the Liberator not doing much.  Ronald Lacey is typically slimy as Avon’s fair-weather friend whilst Paul Daneman is impressive as the acceptable face of the Federation.  His eventual fate (and that of everybody else on the planet) is very grim.

There’s some bizarre looking costumes (Michelin Men in space!) and a rather unconvincing matte painting at the start which looks like it was put together by a child in about five minutes, but apart from these minor niggles it’s a solid production and an impressive debut script from Holmes.

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Blakes 7 – Trial

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Travis is facing a court-martial, charged with the murder of one thousand four hundred and seventeen unarmed civilians on the planet Serkasta.  Whilst he remained useful to Servalan she was prepared to ignore his previous misdemeanors but following the events of Pressure Point she has no hesitation in throwing him to the wolves.  She also plans to make sure that the verdict is the one she requires by suborning Travis’ defence counsel Major Thania (Victoria Fairbrother).

It does seem slightly strange that Servalan decided to go to all the trouble of arranging a court-martial when she could have either simply ordered one of her troopers to put a bullet in Travis’ head or (as mentioned in Weapon) sent him to the slave pits on Ursa Prime.  It’s a pity that Blakes 7‘s script editor couldn’t have liaised with the writers of Weapon and Trial.  Oh wait ……

But although the reason for the court-martial does feel a little spurious, Trial is compelling since it asks us to consider the morality of the Federation in general.  There’s no doubt that Travis committed the crime (although he pleads not guilty, for a reason we’ll come to later) but is his action typical of a Federation officer?

In Travis’ debut episode Seek Locate Destroy, Servalan was confronted by a junior officer who registered his disapproval that Travis had been reinstated into the corps.  For him, Travis was a killer and someone who disgraced the uniform of a Federation officer.  In Trial, the court-martial is conduced by Samor (John Savident) a highly respected officer (Thania calls him “a rule book officer of the old school.”)  Are they more typical of the average Federation officer than Travis is?

On hand to observe events are Bercol (John Bryans) and Rontane (Peter Miles).  Like a space-age Waldorf and Statler they exist to provide an ironic commentary on events.

RONTANE:One almost has to admire that woman.
BERCOL: What, Thania?
RONTANE:Servalan.
BERCOL: Oh.
RONTANE: We know that she’s sending Travis to his death in order to keep his mouth shut, but she is doing it with such an impeccably honest and painstaking tribunal that her real motives can’t even be hinted at.
BERCOL: Has a date been set for the Blake inquiry?
RONTANE: Does it matter? Without Travis’ evidence the mishandling of the Blake affair becomes a matter of conjecture. The inquiry becomes a formality.

The idea that the court-martial has been convened to silence Travis before he can implicate Servalan in the inevitable enquiry that will no doubt shortly be held into the continuing inability to capture Blake is a compelling one, but as I’ve said it would have been easier to just quietly dispose of him.

Bryans and Miles are once again a great double-act in this, their second and final appearance.

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Trooper Par (a slim-looking Kevin Lloyd) served with Travis for five years.  He tells Thania that he could always guarantee that Travis would not “get you killed unnecessarily. He never wasted troopers.” He’s certain of Travis’ guilt though – he heard him give the order – but it’s telling that he doesn’t feel any personal responsibility (“he gave the order. We just did the shooting.”)

Given that the Nazis often featured in Terry Nation’s scripts (most famously disguised as the Daleks) it’s not a particular stretch to assume that Chris Boucher was also drawing parallels between Federation troopers and, say, SS soldiers (who would also no doubt insist they were only obeying orders).

Brian Croucher has said that he wished Trial had been his debut episode as it would have allowed him to get a much better grip on the character of Travis.  He’s certainly very good throughout and is never better than the climatic scene where Travis offers his defence.

A field officer, like myself, is frequently required to make fast, unconsidered decisions. You were all field officers, you know that’s true. Time to think is a luxury battle seldom affords you. You react instinctively. Your actions, your decisions, all instinct, nothing more. But, an officer’s instincts are the product of his training. The more thorough the training, the more predictable the instinct, the better the officer. And I am a good officer. I have been in the service all my adult life. I’m totally dedicated to my duty and highly trained in how to perform it. On Serkasta I reacted as I was trained to react. I was an instrument of the service. So if I’m guilty of murder, of mass murder, then so are all of you!

It’s no surprise that Samor does not accept this.  “Space Commander, we have considered your sentence at some length. Your contention that what happened on Serkasta was a direct result of your training concerned us greatly. We accept that you are trained to kill. As are we all. What we cannot accept is that this training leads inevitably to the murder of innocents. Your behavior was not that of a Federation officer, but rather that of a savage, unthinking, animal.”

Since Samor is never presented as an officer that Servalan could influence, this must be his honest opinion.  If so (and if it’s also held by his brother officers) then it shows the Federation in a very different light from the unthinking murderers that Blake considers them to be.  It’s therefore deeply ironic that Blake decides to attack Servalan’s headquarters (where Travis is being tried) partly to regain some confidence after the death of Gan.

His attack kills the majority of the people present at the trial (including the reasonable Samor) and allows Travis to escape.  And as the credits roll, the question must be which was the greater crime?  Travis’ murder of the unarmed civilians on Serkasta or Blake’s murder of the unarmed Federation personnel on Servalan’s base?  Exactly how many are killed by Blake’s attack isn’t certain (although it’s presumably a lot less than Travis’ massacre) but it’s a uncomfortable possibilty that the scene was designed to show that Blake and Travis aren’t that far apart.

As for Blake himself, he also finds himself on trial in this episode – although in his case it’s a self-imposed one.  He spends most of the time having an odd adventure with a creature called Zil (Clare Lewis).  This would be a strange interlude in any story but it really jars here when it interrupts the drama of Travis’ trial.

Avon, of course, gets some good lines at Blake’s expense – such as this one, after Blake announces his plan to teleport down to the planet alone. “It occurs to me that if you should run into trouble, one of your followers – one of your three remaining followers – might have to risk his neck to rescue you.”

Following Gan’s death there had to be some pause for reflection, but it doesn’t last long and by the end of the episode everyone pretty much carries on as before.  This might seem a bit callous or it could just be that Gan was someone who was tolerated by the others as a work-colleague might be, rather than a close friend.

Minus points for the episode ending on a shot of Avon and Blake laughing after a rather weak joke.  Not only for the sub-Star Trek feeling but also because it feels a tad inappropriate after they’ve just killed so many people.  A similar thing happened at the end of Breakdown though, so maybe it’s a running theme that I’ve not picked up on before.

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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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