Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Five – The Expedition

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The Expedition opens with Ian ranged against the Doctor and Barbara.  The fluid link needs to be retrieved from the Dalek City, but Ian is reluctant to ask the Thals to help them (“What victory are you going to show these people when most of them have been killed? A fluid link? Is this what you’re going to hold up to them and say, ‘Thank you very much. This is what you fought and died for’?”).

The Doctor has no qualms in asking for the Thals’ help – he needs the fluid link back and they’re a ready made fighting-force, so it’s of no concern to him whether they all die in the attempt.  Barbara is equally keen to retrieve the fluid link and escape from Skaro – she’s convinced that the Daleks will find a way to travel out of the city and kill them all (“Oh, they’ll find a way. They’re clever enough. They’ll find us and kill us, you know that as well as I do.”)

There’s no evidence to support this though (is she simply playing on Ian’s fears for their safety?) and he remains resolute.  It’s a key part of the story and it’s a little surprising to find this debate in a Terry Nation story – his yarns tended to be drawn in more clearly defined shades of black white.  In the end Ian does persuade the Thals to help – by making them see that they will also be guaranteeing their own survival.  At one point Barbara complains that Ian is only playing with words and there’s more than a kernel of truth in this.

In the Dalek City there’s some interesting things going on, thanks to Christopher Barry’s direction.  A group of Daleks have elected to take the Thals anti-radiation drugs (inducing death).  We see one of the Daleks die from their POV, in a slightly trippy, drug-induced way.  The moans emanating from the Dalek do sound slightly comic, but it’s another reminder that in this story they’re not portrayed just as mindless killing machines.  These signs of vulnerability, together with their more conversational mode of speech, would later be dropped as the Daleks lose any spark of individuality (except maybe for David Whitaker’s two Troughton stories).

It does feel a little contrived that the Daleks only now realise the anti-radiation drugs don’t  work since they’ve become conditioned to radiation and need more of it to survive.  Therefore they intend to release another bomb which will also have the pleasing side effect of wiping out of Thals.  The war ended five hundred years ago, why have the Daleks only just twigged that radiation is essential to their survival?

The Doctor elects to mount a two-pronged attack – one group to distract the Daleks on the city wall whilst the others attempt to break into the city from the rear – braving the jungle and the lake of mutations.  This is the first of Terry Nation’s Doctor Who jungles and despite it’s small size is effectively realised.  Partly this is due to Brian Hodgson’s sound design which creates a real sense of unease (Ian beating off a clip of stock footage is less impressive).

The monster that rises out of the swamp is another decent moment, although it does slightly look like a rubber ring with two glowing eyes.  As previously mentioned, on the lower resolution televisions of the time this no doubt would have looked more convincing.  Although I’m quite convinced now – maybe I’m easily pleased?

Ian and Barbara are accompanied by five Thals – although their party is quickly reduced by one when the hapless Elyon is sucked into the lake at the end of the episode (via another decent inlay shot).  Antodus complains to his brother Ganatus that they’re all doomed, doomed (a theme which will continue into the next episode).

Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Four – The Ambush

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The range of camera effects at the disposal of the Doctor Who production team in 1963/64 was incredibly limited, but The Ambush has some very effective shots (which were also quite easy to achieve).  Inlay effects are used to show the Dalek lift moving up and down and also a section of wall scorched by a Dalek gun.  Simple stuff, compared to what can be achieved today, but it works very well.

The Doctor’s capacity for self-preservation is still very much to the fore –

DOCTOR: Lets get back to the ship.
SUSAN: No, no, I must warn the Thals.
DOCTOR: Susan.
SUSAN: We can’t let them walk into a trap.
DOCTOR: The Thals are no concern of ours. We cannot jeopardise our lives getting involved in an affair which is none of our business.
BARBARA: Of course it’s our business. The Thals gave us the anti-radiation drug. Without that, we’d be dead!

The ambush scene is a little odd. Before the Thals arrive there’s a creepy scene showing the Daleks slowly backing into the alcoves. If they had stayed there and killed the Thals from the shadows this would have made sense. But instead, as Temmosus makes his impassioned speech about working together, the Daleks move out into the open. Since the Thals would have expected to meet the Daleks, why would they hide themselves?  It makes the moment a dramatic one, but that’s about all.

Also, why does Ian just stand there waiting as the Daleks move into position? He seems certain that the Daleks mean the Thals harm, so it’s baffling that he doesn’t speak until after the Daleks have opened fire.

This is very much Ian’s episode and it goes without saying that William Russell is very solid. And as the Doctor spends his time researching the history of Skaro (seemingly caring little for the modern-day plight of the Thals) it falls to Ian to try and make them understand that they may have to fight to secure their future.

ALYDON: If only I knew why the Daleks hated us. If I knew that, I, I could alter our approach to them, perhaps.
IAN: Your leader, Temmosus.
ALYDON: Yes?
IAN: Well, he appealed very sensibly to them. Any reasonable human beings would have responded to him. The Daleks didn’t. They obviously think and act and feel in an entirely different way. They just aren’t human.
GANATUS: Yes, but why destroy without any apparent thought or reason? That’s what I don’t understand.
IAN: Oh, there’s a reason. Explanation might be better. It’s stupid and ridiculous, but it’s the only one that fits.
ALYDON: What?
IAN: A dislike for the unlike.
ALYDON: I don’t follow you.
IAN: They’re afraid of you because you’re different from them. So whatever you do, it doesn’t matter.
DYONI: What would you have us do? Fight against them?
IAN: I didn’t say that. But you must teach them to respect you. Show them some strength.
DYONI: But you really believe we ought to fight.
IAN: Yes, I think it may have to come to that.
DYONI: You understand as little about us as the Daleks do!

Barbara later comments that “I don’t understand them. They’re not cowards, they don’t seem to be afraid. Can pacifism become a human instinct?” But the Doctor’s not concerned about the fate of the Daleks and the Thals and is keen to leave.  Ian, Barbara and Susan may feel more invested in the Thals’ fate, but they also agree with the Doctor that it’s time to move on.

Indeed, at the end of this fourth episode it does feel that the story has come to a conclusion. We didn’t witness the fate of the Tribe of Gum, so would there have been an expectation of the audience back in 1964 that this story would have been any different?

The Doctor’s missing fluid-link is the only reason that he decides to stay – ensuring that he’s forced to help the Thals (although as we’ll see, he’s ruthless in using them to help himself).

Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Three – The Escape

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The Escape opens with Susan meeting Alydon (John Lee).  Born in Tasmania, Australia, Lee didn’t have a trace of an Australian accent and instead spoke in the RP tones that were so prevalent during this era of British television.  Every line he intones is spoken with deadly seriousness (and note how, in his initial scene with Susan, he stays remarkably still).  It’s the sort of performance that can so easily seem wooden and unnatural, but Lee manages, just about, to give Alydon a spark of life.

Much more naturalistic is Philip Bond as Ganatus.  Bond (father of Samantha) has more to play with in the script, since Ganatus has a mocking sense of humour as well as a questioning nature.  If their leader Temmosus (Alan Wheatley) is inclined to think the best then Ganatus is a more reflective character.

Temmosus might well have had cannon fodder written on his forehead.  He’s no fool, but it seems clear that the Daleks have no intention of helping the Thals – and that he’s ill-suited to lead them in the struggle that will follow.

TEMMOSUS: I believe the Daleks hold the key to our future. Whatever that future may be, we must accept it gracefully and without regret.
ALYDON: I wish I could be as objective as you. We’ve lived for so long a time.
TEMMOSUS: Perhaps we have lived too long. I’ve never struggled against the inevitable. It’s a vain occupation. But I should always advise you to examine very closely what you think to be inevitable. It’s surprising how often apparent defeat can be turned to victory.

Ganatus’ brother Antodus in mentioned, but we don’t see him in this episode (although he’ll play a key part later on in the story). The suggestion that he’s a flawed character is established when Dyoni (Virginia Wetherell) wonders if he’s still afraid of the dark. A small point, but it helps to sow a seed of doubt about his ability to deal with stressful situations.

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Terry Nation never really excelled when writing for female characters (except, maybe, for Servalan in Blakes 7 – and that was probably only because she was originally written as a man) and Dyoni is no exception.  Wetherell spends most of her time in this episode pouting and reacting jealously to any mention of Susan.  Dyoni’s comment that Alydon should have given the drugs to a man, not Susan, are slightly wince-inducing.  As we’ll see, Dyoni’s only value to the plot seems to be her relationship to Alydon (she’s the lever that Ian later uses to persuade the Thals to fight the Daleks).  Apart from this, she’s very much a cipher.

And what of our four heroes?  They remain prisoners, but they work together to devise a plan to escape.  These scenes are particularly interesting because all four characters contribute to the debate.  In years to come it’ll mainly be the Doctor who has the solution – with everybody else relegated to sitting on the sidelines.  But the Doctor doesn’t have all the answers here, and it’s only after they pool their resources that a workable plan is produced.

DOCTOR: Let’s concentrate on the Daleks. Have you noticed, for example, that when they move about there’s a sort of acrid smell?
SUSAN: Yes, yes, I’ve noticed that.
BARBARA: I know. A fairground.
IAN: That’s it. Dodgems.
DOCTOR: It’s electricity. I think they’re powered that way.
IAN: Yes. But just a minute. They have no pick-up or anything. And only the base of the machine touches the floor. How do they complete the circuit?
SUSAN: Batteries?
DOCTOR: No, no. I believe the Daleks have discovered a way to exploit static electricity. Very ingenious, if I’m right.
BARBARA: What, drawing power from the floor?
DOCTOR: Precisely. If I’m right, of course.

This is a good episode for Carole Ann Ford. She’s typically wide-eyed and appealing in her initial meeting with Alydon and later has an excellent scene with the Daleks when they dictate a letter promising to help the Thals. It’s plain that they don’t intend to keep their promise though, reinforced by the push one of them gives to Susan with their sucker arm once the letter is written. It’s just a throwaway moment (possibly worked out in rehearsal) but it helps to give the Daleks more of a human touch.

The scene where the Doctor and the others disable a Dalek and remove the creature (in fact, nothing more than a joke-shop gorilla hand) is a memorable one and it leads into a strong-cliffhanger as Ian (inside the Dalek) leads the others out into the corridors as they attempt to make their escape.

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Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode Two – The Survivors

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Once the Doctor eventually realises that the planet is contaminated with a very high level of radioactive fallout it’s chilling to see how keen he is to abandon Barbara to her fate –

IAN: We’re not leaving until we’ve found Barbara.
DOCTOR: Very well. You may stay and search for her if you wish, but Susan and I are going back to the ship. Now, come along, child.
IAN: All right, carry on, fine. How far do you think you’ll get without this? (he shows him the fluid link)
DOCTOR: Give that to me.
IAN: Not until we’ve found Barbara.
DOCTOR: Give it to me, I say.
IAN: No! It’s time you faced up to your responsibilities. You got us here. Now I’m going to make sure that you get us back.

The point’s a moot one anyway as they shortly all end up prisoners of the Daleks. The iconic nature of this episode is pretty much self evident – the first meeting between the Doctor and the Daleks – although it’s understandable that the mythos would only be added in later years. Nobody really expected in 1963 that the Daleks would ever be anything more than a one-shot monster (especially since the series was struggling for survival) so they’re presented here not as a universal menace, but simply as a group of frightened, scarred survivors.

The Daleks are all that remains of a civilisation who fought a deadly war with the Thals.  So Galactic conquest isn’t their aim – that would be difficult anyway, since they can’t move out of their city – they just want to survive. But their survival doesn’t include the Thals and this is how the story will develop.

As in An Unearthly Child, the four time-travellers are prisoners.  Thanks to radiation sickness they’re in a pretty wretched way and Ian (after a tussle with the Daleks) is unable to walk.  A mysterious package of drugs left outside the TARDIS by an unknown hand might be their salvation and suspiciously the Daleks are keen for one of them to bring them back to the city.

But who will get it?  Ian is keen to go – there’s an unspoken sense that he should, since he’s a man (why send a woman or a child out, when he’s there?) – but since he can hardly walk it seems impossible.  Both the Doctor and Barbara have been badly hit by radiation, so that leaves Susan.  She doesn’t want to face the terrors of the forest (we’ve seen how she was affected by a brief encounter with a stranger in the previous episode) but it’s clear that their survival depends on her.

Christopher Barry certainly makes the most of his limited resources and the scenes of Susan’s return to the TARDIS are memorable – thanks to close-ups of her frightened face and the flashes of lightening in the forest.  And the occasional flash of light only serves to make the forest more, not less, intimidating.

So far the story has had an interesting structure – in episode one we concentrated on the four regulars, episode two has introduced the Daleks (with mention of the disgustingly mutated Thals) and episode three will see the arrival of the Thals proper.  With seven episodes to play with, it makes sense to hold back certain elements for a while – but once we get to The Escape there’s the sense that the story can really begin.

Doctor Who – The Daleks. Episode One – The Dead Planet

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The Daleks was the second William Hartnell story I watched, a mere eight years after the Five Faces screening of An Unearthly Child.  The year was 1989 and BBC Video had released a double-pack of The Daleks on VHS.  With every existing episode now accessible at the touch of a button it’s difficult to describe just how exciting it was to own this story – something I could watch again and again (and those early Doctor Who VHS’s did get many, many plays!)

As part of the generation who became fans in the period before the programme was widely available, I’d grown up with a distinct picture of many stories via the Target novels and articles in DWM.  The Daleks had also featured in Jeremy Bentham’s lavish 1986 book Doctor Who – The Early Years.  I’d pore over the numerous photographs and Ray Cusick’s designs for hours, wondering whether I’d ever get the chance to see these episodes.

David Whitaker’s novelisation is a must read and equally recommended is the talking book read by William Russell.  Although it compresses the seven episodes down to about a hundred pages (the first few chapters are basically an alternative version of An Unearthly Child – lots of fog, Barnes Common, lorries, everlasting matches, etc) nothing vital from the teleplay is omitted and for me the book was instrumental in painting a vivid picture of the story.

But before that, my first exposure to this tale was via the Peter Cushing movie Doctor Who and the Daleks.  BBC Genome confirms my memory that it received an airing on my birthday (the 10th of June 1978) and although the film strips away much of the subtlety of the orignal, the vivid comic-strip nature of the film was very much what this seven-year old wanted.

Therefore, watching The Daleks for the first time I was approaching it with a good deal of baggage – the same way I initially viewed every story from the first three Doctors.  I knew how the stories should look (the images were crystal clear from the Target books) and there was sometimes disappointment when things didn’t match up.  No doubt I’ll touch on this again, probably when we get to Day of the Daleks, but over the years I’ve come to love the series for what it was and not what I’d expected it to be.

One thing that’s always slightly irked me about The Dead Planet is the way the Doctor never even considers that the planet might be radioactive.  There are not-so subtle hints (“The heat must have been indescribable. Look at this soil here. Look at it. It’s all turned to sand and ashes.”)  I do love the way that the TARDIS radiation meter only flashes that it’s dangerous once everybody leaves the console room (and presumably stops flashing as soon as they re-enter!).  Is this an early example of the TARDIS’ sentience and had it therefore decided to kill them all?!

Ian and Barbara are still very unwilling adventurers –

BARBARA: Ian, where are we?
IAN: I don’t know.
BARBARA: Well why doesn’t he take us back?
IAN: I’m not sure that he can.
BARBARA: What, ever?
IAN: I hate it as much as you. I’m just as afraid. But what can we do?

This is a far cry from 21st Century Who, especially the RTD incarnation, where the TARDIS at times seemed to be similar to Starfleet – only the brightest and best are allowed.  Contrast this to the original series – the likes of Ian, Barbara and Tegan were abducted against their will, Vicki, Victoria and Nyssa were orphans taken in by the Doctor since they had nowhere else to go, Leela and Adric were stowaways, etc.

At this point in the series there’s a compelling sense of dramatic tension as Ian and Barbara are positioned against the Doctor.  The Doctor is now firmly established as an explorer with an unboundless sense of scientific curiosity.  He wants to explore, but Ian is unhappy (if anything happens to the Doctor, who will operate the ship?)   This is of no concern to the Doctor, he has little interest in Ian and Barbara’s opinions and is determined to get his own way.  This plot-line could only really happen right at the start of the series, very soon we’ll see that everybody will be keen to explore any new location and no thought is ever given to how dangerous it might be.

Terry Nation.  The series owes him a great debt (without this serial the programme might very well have come to an end after just thirteen episodes) although there’s no doubt that he collected this debt – these seven scripts, written in a great rush, were instrumental in making him a very rich man.  Often mocked by fandom (sometimes affectionately, sometimes not so) for his reliance on rehashing his own scripts, The Daleks is where it all began.  If you want to see it again then there’s always Planet of the Daleks in 1973 (was this a homage by Nation, paying tribute to the series’ 10th anniversary, or simply another lazy plundering of past glories?  With Nation, it’s not always easy to tell).

The cliches start here though, especially when the four decide to split up to explore the strange city.  The division is distinctly odd though – Barbara goes one way and the other three head off in the opposite direction.  This doesn’t seem plausible at all – there’s no way that Ian would allow Barbara to go off by herself (but it had to happen, so we could have that cliffhanger).

Mention must be made of Raymond Cusick’s design work and Tristram Cary’s music.  Cusick, along with Barry Newbery, would define the early years of Doctor Who and it’s staggering to see what they achieved with so little money.  In this episode we have the petrified forest, impressive model-shots of the city and our first brief glimpse at the city itself.  Yes, the painted backdrops do look a little obvious (although they would have been less so on the lower resolution televisions in 1963) but it’s the small details that impress – such as the cameras that focus in on the increasingly distraught Barbara.

Cary’s series of cues were impressive enough to be used in three more stories (although it’s also possible to argue that this was a cost-saving measure).  But I’d like to think they were used again because they were so good – they certainly help to create a sense of unease and tension which climaxes as Barbara is menaced by a threatening sink plunger.

Doctor Who – Destiny of the Daleks

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There may be a few production missteps (tatty looking Daleks, David Gooderson squeezed into Michael Wisher’s old mask) and scenes which should have gone to a second take (“spack off!”)  but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Tom’s on fine form, switching from playful to serious in a heartbeat (for example, the moment when the Doctor learns he’s on Skaro).  The Doctor might have plenty of gags, courtesy of Douglas Adams, but there’s also a pleasing somberness about him, especially in episode one as he and Romana explore the mysterious planet (the lack of incidental music increases this sense of unease).

Ken Grieve’s low-angled shooting favours the Daleks but it’s also used to good effect elsewhere.  And these low angles make it clear that several sets, including the TARDIS, have ceilings – which is very unusual, especially during a period when the series was rather cash-strapped (you’d have assumed it was an extravagance the show could ill afford).

Lalla Ward is Romana.  Within a few minutes any thoughts of Mary Tamm have been banished and although Romana II might be somewhat hysterical at times (especially when confronted by the Daleks) possibly we can put this down to post-regenerative trauma.

But her fear and panic during the Dalek interrogation scene does help to sell the notion that the Daleks are powerful and dangerous opponents, something which is rather negated as the story progresses.  The nadir of this comes with the unforgettable sight of the sad suicide Daleks shuffling awkwardly across the Skaro plains.

Terry Nation ends as he began, with a trip to Skaro.  Familiar Nation tropes are given a final outing – such as an obsession with radiation and the sight of the TARDIS made inaccessible.  Although it’s a little bizarre that the radiation subplot goes nowhere (the Doctor warns Romana that they have to take radiation pills regularly, she’s then separated from the Doctor and the pills, but no matter since they’re never mentioned again). Also, it’s a little irritating that Nation seems to regard the Daleks as purely robotic, a far cry from David Whitaker’s devious schemers.

Holding back Davros until the end of episode two was a good move, since it gave the second half of the story fresh impetus.  Although it does mean we have to consider the Davros problem.

It seems that poor David Gooderson has never been regarded with a great deal of affection by the majority of Doctor Who fandom, although in his defence he was dealt a pretty rough hand.  His Davros doesn’t have any of the signature moments that Wisher enjoyed and this – together with the reused mask – ensured he was always going to come off second best.  But he’s by no means bad and is certainly closer to the original than Terry Molloy’s frustrated Ena Sharples from Resurrection was.

It may be comfortable and rather predictable, as only a Terry Nation story could be, but there’s plenty to love across these four episodes.  So long Terry and thanks for all the scripts.

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Blakes 7 – Terminal

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As is probably well known, Terminal was due to be B7‘s final episode, but the show was granted a last-minute reprieve by BBC bigwigs who had apparently enjoyed the series so much they asked for an announcement to be broadcast over Terminal‘s end credits stating that the series would return.  Which came as something of a surprise to the cast and crew.

Having said that, it’s easy to see that Terry Nation crafted the script in such a way as to make a fourth series eminently possible.  Terminal ends with Blake and Servalan apparently dead (although both make a miraculous comeback in S4) and the Liberator destroyed (which doesn’t) but everyone else is alive and kicking.  But even if it’s not the final end it’s still an ominous, unsettling installment.  Paul Darrow’s performance (as well as the very brief return of Gareth Thomas) are the undoubted highlights and help to paper over some of the more glaring plot holes.

The main talking point has to be Avon’s bizarre behaviour. Terminal seems to look ahead to the increasingly paranoid man who’d lead the others through a number of misadventures during series four, losing just as often as winning.  If Rumours of Death started to chip away at his air of invulnerability (by revealing that he was never as close to defrauding the Federation’s banking systems as he’d previously thought) then Terminal is another nail in his coffin.  His obsession to find Blake has several consequences, the most serious is that it loses them the Liberator.  Enroute to their destination Zen detects unidentified matter in their path – he recommends going around it (“the consensus of computer systems favour a course deviation to avoid contact. In this environment, it is prudent to treat any unexplained phenomenon as potentially dangerous”) but Avon is adamant – there will be no course deviation.

Why?  It wouldn’t have cost them a great deal of time and would have been the prudent course of action.  And Avon’s always been prudent – never willing to risk either his life or that of the Liberator unnecessarily.  It’s tempting to think that Servalan’s operating a similar mental suggestion on Avon that we saw Blake suffer from in Voice from the Past.  That would also explain his burning desire to find Blake, which also seems very out of character – he spent two years trying to get rid of him!

There is the possibility that Avon is motivated to find Blake purely because of the get-rich plan that Blake was offering, although that doesn’t really hold water either – surely Avon has the ability to create his own get-rich plans if that’s what he wants?  And the Liberator is supposed to carry untold wealth anyway.

But for all the slight niggles about his motivation, the brief meeting between Avon and Blake is still magical.  It may last only a minute or so but it’s a reminder that as good as Darrow’s been during S3, he’s not had an equal – like Thomas – to measure himself against.

BLAKE: Well, you certainly took your time finding me.
AVON: There didn’t seem to be any hurry. Anyway, I always said I could manage very well without you.
BLAKE: It must have been so dull having no one to argue with.
AVON: Well, now, there were times when your simple-minded certainties might have been refreshing.
BLAKE: Careful, Avon. Your sentiment is showing.

Before teleporting down to the planet (an artificial satellite called Terminal) Avon makes it quite clear to the others exactly how he feels about them. “I don’t need any of you. I needed the Liberator to bring me here so I had no choice but to bring you along, but this is as far as you go. I don’t want you with me. I don’t want you following me. Understand this: anyone who does follow me, I’ll kill them.”  Not very friendly.

The obvious irony is that he does need them and despite the way he’s treated them they won’t just abandon him.  It’s all done in a typically understated way – no loud declarations of friendship and loyalty – but it’s there all the same.  Later, Avon explains to Servalan that he decided to do everything on his own as he felt it could be a trap – although she wonders if it had more to do with his desire not to share Blake’s mysterious treasure with them.  He smiles, but doesn’t deny it (this is a nice moment, as it offers several  different motivations for Avon’s actions).

Of course it all turned out to be a dream – Blake was never on Terminal and his image was created in Avon’s mind by some clever people working for Servalan.  This is yet another of her hopelessly over complicated schemes to capture the Liberator (in one way it’s a good thing this’ll be the last time she’ll have to do this).

If Servalan’s once again rather surplus to requirements, there’s two moments when she earns her money.  The first is when she tells Avon that Blake’s dead.  She appears to be quite emotional – was this Pearce’s choice or as scripted, I wonder?  And was it meant to imply Servalan’s sorrow at the death of a worthy enemy or (even though this seems unlikely) was she emphasising with the fact that the news would have upset Avon?

No prizes for guessing that the second is “Maximum Power!” as she finally gets command of the Liberator.  But by now it’s a very sick ship as the cloud of unidentified matter has caused irreparable damage .  It’s more than a little odd that neither Servalan or her underlings twig that something’s wrong – the whole ship’s covered with big gloopy blotches for goodness sake!

Her apparent death is an interesting moment – I wonder if they ever intended to keep her dead when S4 was being mooted.  Probably not, as she was such a powerful character, but her overuse during S3 had been a problem and a fresh adversary could have been what the series needed.

Is it wrong that I find the death of Zen to be more upsetting than the death of Gan?  Zen’s final words (“I have failed you. I am sorry”) always raises a sniffle and the slow disintegration of the Liberator is also mildly upsetting.

No story is ever perfect and the links (small men in monkey suits) help to keep this proud record going.  But apart from them, and a bit of a mid-episode sag, there’s not much wrong with Terminal (if you can accept Avon’s odd behaviour).

As they watch the Liberator disintegrate, Avon and the others face an uncertain future ….

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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 – 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 – 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 – 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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Blakes 7 – Orac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Blakes 7 – Deliverance

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Approaching a planet called Cephlon, the Liberator crew comes to the aid of a stricken ship.  Avon, Jenna, Vila and Jenna teleport down to the surface to see if anybody survived the crash-landing.  Of the two-man crew, one of them, Maryatt (James Lister), is already dead, but the other, Ensor (Tony Caunter), is alive – although badly injured.

They teleport him back to the ship, but when the others realise that Jenna hasn’t returned, Avon, Vila and Gan return to look for her.  Ensor is insistent that they leave straight away (to the planet Aristo and his seriously ill father) and he forces Blake at gunpoint to comply.

This leaves the others stranded on a planet high in radiation and surrounded by distinctly unfriendly primitive types …..

Like several previous stories, Deliverance has two main plot-threads running throughout the episode.  The first, concerning Ensor and the deal he’s made with the Federation, is set up here, but won’t be concluded until the series finale, Orac.

Ensor and his father have enjoyed a long period free from Federation interference, but his father’s declining health has meant they now need to trade something to pay for the medical attention he desperately needs.  They offer the Federation Orac and in return the surgeon Maryatt travels back to Aristo with Ensor Jr.

There’s several major flaws with this.  Are we to suppose there’s no non-Federation surgeons available?  Even more ridiculous than this is Servalan’s plan.  She’s rigged Ensor’s ship with a bomb and once it detonates (killing both Ensor and Maryatt) she plans to travel to Aristo and take Orac.  Ensor Snr will be dead by then, since the medical attention he requires wouldn’t have arrived, so she foresees no difficulties.

The obvious question is why didn’t she simply detain Ensor Jr after he’d approached her.  Why go to all the trouble of allowing him to leave and with a top Federation surgeon who she needlessly sacrifices?  When she later discusses this with Travis, he expresses a twinge of conscience when he realises that Maryatt has been killed – he was the surgeon who saved his life.

Travis is more subdued in this episode, no doubt this has something to do with the loss of his command during the Project Avalon debacle.  After he enters Servalan’s office, she deliberately ignores him for a moment.

TRAVIS: You sent for me?
SERVALAN: You’ve lost some of your fire, Travis. Whatever happened to your pride?
TRAVIS: My pride, Supreme Commander?
SERVALAN: I ignored you. A calculated insult. You obviously recognised it as such.
TRAVIS: I did.
SERVALAN: And yet you remained silent. There was a time when you wouldn’t have taken an insult like that from anyone. Not even me.
TRAVIS: True. I want my command back. To get it I’ll do whatever’s necessary. If you think my silence is weakness, you mistake me.

Both Jacqueline Pearce and Stephen Greif are excellent in this scene.  Travis is more restrained and rational than we’ve previously seen – though he still has an intense desire to hunt Blake down.  Servalan’s murder of Maryatt clearly disturbs him, but he’s prepared to ignore that (and help Servalan steal Orac) if it means he’ll get his command back.  By now, hunting Blake is his sole motivation and he’ll do anything which will ultimately lead to Blake’s destruction.

As for Servalan herself, she oozes ruthless, smiling villainy in a way that would become very familiar over the next three series.  This is highlighted when she tells Travis that Maryatt will be posted as a deserter (ensuring that his family will be sold into slavery into one of the Frontier Worlds).

The second plot, on the surface of Cephlon, has its problems, mainly centered around the shambling, skin-covered primitives.  Once you’ve seen them, you know you’re in for a rocky ride – articulate conversationalists they’re not.  The most interesting game to be played when they pop up is to try and identity them, as the likes of Harry Fielder and Pat Gorman are amongst their number.

But the last fifteen minutes or so are livened up by the arrival of Meegat (Suzan Farmer).  She is convinced that Avon is an all-powerful Lord, sent from another world to aid her people.  “Counting yourself, that makes two people who think you’re wonderful” says Vila acidly.

Paul Darrow has some nice moments here.  He manages to show us that Avon is both uncomfortable and slightly flattered to be worshiped as a God.  And Avon lives up to his God-like status by reactivating a dormant spaceship, which contains genetic banks and brood units.

GAN: Do you really think we could launch that ship?
AVON: If the people who built it did their job properly, I don’t see any reason why not. And it does seem we have a reputation to live up to.
VILA: Oh, you certainly do, Lord Avon. I wonder why she picked on you?
AVON: Well, now, you are hardly the stuff that gods are made of.
VILA: And you are, I suppose?
AVON: Apparently.

On its own, Deliverance isn’t that impressive, since it’s mainly concerned with setting up the plot for the final episode (and the stand-alone part of the episode, with the grunting primitives is quite tiresome – although Meegat is some consolation).

The line about the high levels of radiation (always a favourite Terry Nation trope) on Cephlon seems to be merely a throwaway one – but we’ll see how it pays off in Orac.

Blakes 7 – Bounty

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Sarkoff (T.P. McKenna) was formally the president of Lindor, but following a crushing election defeat he now lives a comfortable, if restrictive, existence on an unnamed planet as an effective prisoner of the Federation.  Blake and Cally attempt to persuade him that he needs to return to Lindor as he’s the only man who can unite his people and resist the Federation’s plans to invade.

But Sarkoff appears to be a broken man, haunted by his past defeats.  Eventually Blake does convince him, but when they teleport back to the Liberator they find it eerily deserted.  The ship has been captured by a number of Amagon bounty hunters, led by Tarvin (Mark Zuber), who plans to sell the crew and the ship to the Federation …..

Bounty is the first example of a Blakes 7 episode that opens “cold” – we see Cally in a forest, hiding from Federation troops, and shortly after she’s joined by Blake.  We don’t know where they are or what they’re doing – which gives us a strong hook into the story.  Previously, we’ve opened with at least several minutes exposition on the bridge of the Liberator (as in Project Avalon) before they teleport down.  The absence of this helps to move the story along a little quicker.

To be honest, this is very much an episode of two halves – the first concerns Blake’s attempts to persuade Sarkoff that he needs to return to Lindor and the second takes place on the Liberator as Blake and the others attempt to overpower the Amagons.  The first is by far the stronger, helped no end by T.P. McKenna.

McKenna was an incredibly prolific actor, with a list of credits far too numerous to mention (although his appearances as Richmond in the final series of Callan are especially good).  He’s perfect as the ex-politician who lives in comparative luxury (surrounded by various treasures from 20th Century Earth) but appears to have an inability to grasp the reality of his situation.

It’s obvious to Blake that Sarkoff is a prisoner of the Federation and that they’ll return him to his planet only after they’ve taken it over – so he can rule as a puppet President.  Sarkoff, on the other hand, tells Blake he’s merely their guest and the guards are there to prevent his assassination.  But Tyce (Carinthia West) is convinced that Sarkoff knows the truth of the situation, even if he won’t admit it.

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But whether Sarkoff is a guest or a prisoner, he declines Blake’s invitation to return to Lindor and he tells him why.  “I’ve wasted my life listening, listening to people who are arrogant, or vacuous, or just plain vicious. I smiled and acquiesced in the face of prejudice and stupidity. I’ve tolerated mediocrity and accepted the tyranny of second-class minds. But now all that is over. I am ready to die, here among the things I value.”

Sarkoff is a spent force and even though he redeems himself at the end of the episode, the question has to be, will he ever be anything more than a figurehead?  He could very well unite his people in the short-term, but beyond that there’s the uncomfortable possibility he’ll find himself manipulated by others for their own ends.  It’s interesting that Blake latches onto Sarkoff as a unifying figure.  Later in Blakes 7 (especially in the final episode, Blake) Roj Blake himself becomes a figurehead capable of inspiring trust and loyalty in others – which is the reason why Avon attempts to find him again.

Whilst I like Bounty (mainly for McKenna’s performance) it’s fairly sloppily scripted.  Firstly, Sarkoff is guarded by very inept Federation troops.  Although they know that at least two intruders are at large, they don’t exactly leap into action (and one of them also misses the fairly obvious sight of Cally climbing a wall and pulling a rope up behind her!).  It’s also baffling that none of them decide it might be a good idea to check on Sarkoff – thus allowing Blake plenty of time to win him round.  Added to this, the actor (Mark York) playing the guard commander is, shall we say, not terribly impressive.

Whilst Blake and Cally are down on the surface, the others discover a ship which seems to be in distress.  You’d have thought that by now (especially after the events of Time Squad) they’d be rather cautious – but instead they just blunder straight into the trap.  Gan teleports over and a few minutes later we hear him report back that everything’s fine.  It’s clear that something’s not right – he’s talking in a slightly strange, emotionless way – but nobody twigs.  And by the time they do, it’s too late and the Amagons (all three or four of them) have taken over the ship.

It’s difficult to take them seriously, mainly because of their exotic clothing.  Mark Zuber does do his best though and Tarvin’s past relationship with Jenna is an intriguing touch – as it allows her a reason to apparently change sides.  Had this been earlier in the series, her shifting allegiance might have been more believable, but it’s not really a surprise that she hasn’t really betrayed her friends.

An interesting part of Bounty is that it shows us that Blake does have some purpose.  So far in his fight against the Federation, he’s actually done very little – destroying the transceiver complex on Saurian Major (which seemed to have little effect) and stealing the Federation’s cypher machine (which was detected almost immediately) have been his main achievements.  But although they weren’t able to get a great deal of useful material from the cypher machine before the Federation changed the code, at least they managed to learn about the Federation’s plans for Lindor, which initiated Blake’s visit.  In the general scheme of things, helping to keep one planet out of the Federation’s clutches is still pretty small beer, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Apart from McKenna, another noteworthy appearance comes from Carinthia West as Tyce.  Late on, it’s revealed that Sarkoff is her father – prior to this, the exact nature of their relationship (older man, younger woman) was open to other interpretations.  Tyce operates as her father’s conscience and there’s good reason to suppose that she’ll be as important, if not more so, than Sarkoff himself when the new government on Lindor is established.

One odd moment occurs after Blake, Cally, Sarkoff and Tyce teleport back to the ship.  Blake and Cally are captured and locked up with Avon, Gan and Vila, whilst Sarkoff and Tyce are allowed to remain on the flight-deck with Tarvin.  What’s strange is that despite all the commotion, Tyce is able to change her top and hairstyle!

Thanks to T.P. McKenna (and some nice banter between the regulars) Bounty is a decent watch.

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Blakes 7 – Breakdown

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Gan’s limiter has malfunctioned and it’s turned him into an uncontrollable psychopath.  Although Blake and the others manage to subdue and sedate him, it’s obvious that he needs urgent medical attention.  After reviewing the various options, Avon mentions to Blake that the nearest facility, XK-72, would be ideal.

Zen refuses to take the Liberator on a direct course (due to unspecified dangers) so Jenna has to pilot the ship without computer assistance in a desperate race against timeBut although they eventually reach their destination, can they they trust the brilliant surgeon Kayn (Julian Glover)?

Poor Gan.  Always something of a third wheel, even this episode (in which he ostensibly takes centre-stage) doesn’t really do him any favours.  The main problem was that he was just too nice and affable.  Blakes 7 thrived on character conflict – you could take any two from the remainder of the crew (Blake, Avon, Vila, Jenna, Cally) and instantly an interesting dynamic would be created.  For example, Blake/Avon, Avon/Vila, Vila/Jenna, Cally/Blake, etc.  But teaming Gan up with anyone else never worked nearly as well because of his status as a friendly everyman.  True, there was a slight edge between him and Avon, but then Avon disliked everybody!

And whilst the others were defined partly by their skills (Blake the organiser, Avon the computer expert, Vila the locksmith, Jenna the pilot, Cally the telepath) Gan had little to offer apart from his strength.  So he was fated to remain a background player, constantly overlooked in favour of the other, more dynamic, crew-members.

It’s therefore ironic that Breakdown – the one episode in which his problems are the main part of the story – doesn’t allow him a great deal of effective screen-time either – he spends the majority of it either unconscious or in a mad rage.  So basically Gan just becomes a piece of malfunctioning machinery which Blake and the others need to fix.

Having said that, he does have one good scene.  Gan is under restraint in the Medical Room (both for his own safety as well as the safety of the others).  Although the limiter is causing him extreme pain, he’s still devious enough to pretend that he’s fine.

CALLY: How are you feeling?
GAN: Tired. Very tired. What’s been happening?
CALLY: You were ill. We’re trying to get to a place where you can receive medical treatment.
GAN: I’m all right. Just that I, I can’t remember. Why am I being held down like this?
CALLY: When the pain was too much for you, you became violent, and we were frightened you might harm yourself.
GAN: I’m sorry, I just can’t remember. I’d like to sit up. Help me, will you, Cally?
CALLY: I think you should stay where you are until we can get help.
GAN: I’m all right. A bit uncomfortable. I’d like to sit up.
CALLY: There is some turbulence. You’re safer where you are.

But Cally does release him and by way of thanks he throttles her.  Although brief, it’s a disturbing moment – not only for the visual image, but also for the questions it raises.  We know that Gan was a convicted murderer – but was that a one-off crime or is the malfunctioning limiter now showing us his true nature?  This would have been a fruitful area to explore in a future story, but alas it was never exploited.

Gan’s opening fight with Blake is good fun and it’s also quite noteworthy as director Vere Lorrimer chooses to shoot it with a hand-held camera.  This style of shooting is commonplace now, but at the time it was quite rare.  It helps to add a little punch to what is otherwise a fairly static episode (that’s unavoidable since the majority of it takes place on the Liberator).

Breakdown was clearly written as a budget-saving show.  Apart from the regular Liberator set, we only see a small office on XK-72 (which looks like Servalan’s office, redressed) and there’s just three guest actors.  But it’s a great consolation that one of them is Julian Glover.  Glover is someone who seems incapable of giving a bad performance and his presence helps to boost the second part of the episode considerably.

Before they reach XK-72, they have to brave the terrors of the unknown.  This is a fairly blatant plot device to slow their journey down and if it works at all it’s because the regulars convince us that they’re in danger.  Although this section of the story does drag a little, there’s the odd dialogue gem, such as –

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

The other interesting part of Breakdown is the way in which it shows us where Avon’s loyalties lie.  Blake and Avon discuss various likely places that could treat Gan.  Avon dismisses one and tells Blake that because it’s six hundred hours away “you haven’t anything like that much time.”  It’s a moment that goes unremarked, but the fact Avon says “you” and not “we” helps to highlight that he still sees himself as an outsider – Gan is Blake’s problem, not his.

Later, his loyalty is put to the test when he considers leaving the Liberator and remaining on XK-72.  Whilst visiting the facility, he’s told that Federation pursuit ships are on their way.  He knows he could stay in safety on XK-72 but decides to go back and warn the others.  When he returns he also backs up Vila who’s persuading the reluctant Kayn to begin his operation on Gan (Kayn is the one who’s called for the Federation and earlier declared he had no intention of operating).  Avon’s decision to return to the ship is a key moment, but it’s another character beat that’s underplayed – he’s the only one who knows he had a chance to escape and it’s obvious he won’t share this information with the others.

The operation succeeds, but the bad shooting of the Federation pursuit ships has serious consequences for XK-72 (“say goodbye to one bolt hole” remarks Avon).  Minus points for the final scene featuring all the Liberator crew having a good laugh – partly because these endings are reminiscent of Star Trek (Spock and McCoy clashing, whilst Kirk looks on with a grin) but mostly because it seems a little off, especially since XK-72 is now a smouldering ruin.

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Blakes 7 – Project Avalon

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The Liberator has travelled to an icy, inhospitable planet in order for Blake to make contact with the resistance leader Avalon (Julia Vidler).  Avalon has started resistance movements on a dozen Federation planets and has requested Blake’s help in relocating somewhere safer.

Blake is keen to assist, but when he and Jenna teleport down they find a scene of devastation – clearly the Federation has beaten them to it.  Avalon isn’t amongst the dead though – they learn from the sole survivor, Chevner (David Bailie), that she’s been captured.  So Blake sets out to rescue her, not realising he’s fallen into Travis’ trap …..

Time has obviously moved on since the events of Seek Locate Destroy and Duel and it’s interesting to note how the Federation’s plans have changed.  In Seek Locate Destroy, the apprehension of Blake was their main objective – now it appears that capturing the Liberator is just as important, if not more so.

The notion that there’s been some unseen adventures between Blake and Travis is confirmed when he bitterly mentions to Servalan he’s twice had the chance to destroy Blake, but it would have meant destroying the Liberator as well, so he was forced to disengage.  Servalan concedes this, but in an early display of the same needling relationship they’d enjoy from now on, tells him that whilst she’s defended him, he needs to capture Blake soon or he’ll be replaced (and no doubt his life will be forfeit).

It’s clearly meant to be a surprise that Avalon is female – a mere girl leading a resistance cell! – and this is reinforced by Dudley Simpson’s tinkling piano just before she’s captured by Travis.  Once she’s in his power, she’s reduced to her underwear and strapped into a very uncomfortable-looking machine for a purpose which only becomes clear later on.  Whilst it’s no surprise for a female character to become an objectified figure in a late 1970’s British science fiction series (or indeed any series of this era) it’s still slightly eye-opening.  When Blake found himself in a similar machine, his modesty was rather better preserved!

Whilst Avalon is helpless, Travis tells her that she should be flattered to receive such “special” attention.  She replies that “anyone who opposes the Federation knows what to expect if they get captured. It’s a risk we’re all prepared to take.” It’s a difficult line to deliver and it’s fair to say that Julia Vidler does struggle somewhat in depicting the idealistic young rebel (her delivery tends to stay on something of a monotone).  It’s probably a blessing that later she reappears as an emotionless android – she manages to play this rather more convincingly.

Rather more engaging is Glynis Barber as this week’s Mutoid sidekick.  I’m not sure whether it’s as scripted, or just her performance choice, but Barber’s considerably more assured and confident than Carol Royle’s Mutoid in Duel was.  This works very well –  as she operates more as an equal with Travis in the early part of the episode, rather than living in his shadow.

Director Michael E. Briant had previously filmed in Wookey Hole for the 1975 Doctor Who story Revenge of the Cybermen.  Although the caves are a lot smaller than you might think, it’s still a very good location and makes a nice change from Blakes 7′s default locations (quarries, refineries, nuclear power plants, etc).   This wasn’t the only link to Briant’s previous work on Doctor Who as he cast David Bailie (who had appeared in The Robots of Death) as the doomed Chevner.

Alas, the silly looking robot pops up again.  His first scene is priceless – since he speeds along a such a lick it’s obvious he’s being wheeled on a board.  Indeed, if you freeze frame, there’s a tell-tale flash of the board to confirm this!  Like the Daleks and K9, he was clearly a robot with serious mobility issues.

Gan’s very taken with Avalon (or at least what appears to be Avalon).  His hero-worship (if that’s what it is) does allow David Jackson an entertaining scene towards the end of the episode.  Once it’s become clear that Avalon isn’t all she appears to be, Gan attempts to strangle her – but Avalon’s super-human strength stops him.  I wonder why the limiter didn’t prevent him from hurting her?  Is his implant so clever that it knows what appeared to be Avalon was only an android or is it just a case of selective scripting?

It may come as no surprise to learn that Travis’ rather elaborate plan doesn’t succeed and he finds himself, for the first time but certainly not the last, relieved of his command.  His closing words are a none too subtle hint that he may be down but he’s far from out. “If it takes all my life, I will destroy you, Blake. I will destroy you. I will destroy you.”

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Blakes 7 – Duel

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Round two of the battle between Blake and Travis is interrupted by two mysterious and powerful characters – Sinofar (Isla Blair) and Giroc (Patsy Smart).  Both Blake and Travis are ordered by Sinofar to fight to the death.  Blake isn’t keen – he has no desire to fight for anybody’s amusement – but there’s no alternative. Sinofar also tells them that whilst half the lesson they will learn concerns the death of an enemy, the other relates to the death of a friend.

Blake is given Jenna as a companion, whilst the friendless Travis is accompanied by one of his Mutoid subordinates (played by Carol Royle).  The rest of the Liberator crew watch on helpless as Blake and Travis duel.  The question is, can Blake kill in cold blood?

This has always been a favourite episode of mine and one of the chief reasons is Douglas Camfield’s direction.  Camfield had, by this time, directed more episodes of Doctor Who than anybody else, as well as a host of other series (including The Sweeney).

He’d gained a well deserved reputation as an excellent director of action (so it’s no surprise that the fight scene in Duel is well staged) but he was also someone who looked to make all of his shots as visually interesting as possible. There’s some good examples in this episode – such as the early scenes on the barren planet of Sinofar and Giroc (it’s something of a challenge to make it look other than it is – a small studio set – but some tight camera angles and lighting effects help to create the illusion of space and depth).

Another major difference with Duel is the lack of Dudley Simpson’s music.  After a falling-out at a party in the mid sixties Camfield had declined to use Simpson from then on, so here the music is drawn from stock.  And much as I love Simpson, it really works to the benefit of the story – indeed, more variety with the composers during Blakes 7‘s run would have been very welcome.

Although the duel between Blake and Travis is the centre of the episode, it takes a while before we reach that point.  Before then, there’s an extended battle between the Liberator and Travis’ fleet of ships.  All of Travis’ crew are Mutoids – emotionless alien creatures who depend on blood for their survival.  They are also highly efficient and this is one of the reasons why Travis is able to bring the Liberator to the brink of defeat.  Blake decides there’s nothing left to do but ram Travis’ ship – but before he can carry out this potentially risky manovure, both he and Travis find themselves plucked off their respective ships.  Sinofar and Giroc explain why and what will happen to them.

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SINOFAR: Our powers grew out of a thousand years of war, out of hate, and fear and the will to survive.
GIROC: We built destruction, weapons that your peoples have not yet dreamed of. Every passing year brought new ways to kill, and throughout the centuries the war raged across our planet.
SINOFAR: With each generation there were fewer of us. The dead vastly outnumbered the living. There was not victory for either side.
BLAKE: How did it end?
GIROC: How? Another development of another weapon. We demanded their surrender, they refused, the weapon was used. Those that we call our enemy were annihilated. TRAVIS: You won, that’s all that matters.
SINOFAR: It wasn’t a victory, only the end of the war. We were left with a planet made barren by radiation. Our children were monsters, or died, or were never born. This, we won.
BLAKE: How many of you are there now?
GIROC: None. We are a dead race.

Isla Blair and Patsy Smart are both impressive – Blair is calm, whilst Smart is mischievous.  True, their main function is to provide a large infodump mid-episode, but there’s a certain poetry to their tale of a dead world.  It’s not an original concept, but in an era when the threat of nuclear attack was still an ever-present concern it must have carried a certain resonance.  Terry Nation had form for this of course (such as the first Dalek story, set on the radiation-soaked planet of Skaro).

After the fairly routine previous episode, Mission to Destiny, Duel is a major step up – especially when it comes to the dialogue.  There’s plenty of memorable lines to be found and one of my favourite exchanges is this one aboard the Liberator.  The others are able to watch Blake and Jenna but can’t do anything to help.  When Avon gets up, Vila asks him if he’s thought of a plan.

AVON: Yes. I’m going to get some sleep.
VILA: How can you sleep with all this happening?
AVON: With all what happening? Blake is sitting up in a tree, Travis is sitting up in another tree. Unless they’re planning to throw nuts at one another, I don’t see much of a fight developing before it gets light.
GAN: You’re never involved, are you Avon? You ever cared for anyone?
VILA: Except yourself?
AVON: I have never understood why it should be necessary to become irrational in order to prove that you care, or, indeed, why it should be necessary to prove it at all.
VILA: Was that an insult or did I miss something?
CALLY (smiling): You missed something.

The next day, Blake and Travis continue to hunt each other down.  Eventually, Blake has Travis at his mercy and prepares to strike the killing blow.  Gan, Cally and Vila (like us, acting as the audience) urge him on, but Avon spots Blake’s hesitation and in another lovely character moment, smiles.  Does he regard Blake’s inability to kill as a strength or a weakness?

Although Blake didn’t kill Travis, he’s won the contest and when he admits that one of the reasons he didn’t kill him was because he would have enjoyed it too much, Sinofar concedes that maybe there’s not a great deal for him to learn.  Duel is very much a vehicle for Gareth Thomas and Stephen Greif, although Paul Darrow does have some good moments, even though he’s absent from the main narrative.

Travis and Servalan tended to be joined at the hip rather, but this episode indicates that he works best on his own – too often Servalan just seems to be there to berate his bungling after he’s left slip another chance to catch Blake (which can’t do anything but seriously weaken his character). The next episode, Project Avalon, is another strong Travis tale – but it would have probably been wise to retire the character after that.  Alas they didn’t, so it’ll be a case of diminishing returns from then on.

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Blakes 7 – Mission to Destiny

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The Liberator’s sensors pick up a ship, Ortega, which is drifting in a circular pattern.  After getting no response from their hailing call, Blake, Avon and Cally teleport over to investigate.  They find the entire crew unconscious, incapacitated by a tranquilising gas called Sono Vapour.  Once roused, Blake and the others question the crew.

Dr Kendall (Barry Jackson) believes that somebody is attempting to steal an energy refactor which they are taking back to their planet, Destiny.  Destiny depends on agriculture for its survival and has been hit hard by a fungal disease.  The energy refactor will eliminate this problem, but without it Destiny is doomed.

The sabotage aboard the ship means that they won’t reach home for five months, so Blake offers to take the refactor in the Liberator (this will only take four days).  The crew agree and Avon and Cally remain behind as hostages.  As the Ortega slowly drifts along, there is another death – and Avon finds himself in the unfamiliar role of detective as he unravels the mystery ….

Nobody’s favourite story, Mission from Destiny is a rather dull murder-mystery.  It does boast a decent supporting cast though – Barry Jackson, Stephen Tate, Beth Morris, John Leeson, Brian Capron, Nigel Humphreys, Carl Forgione, Kate Coleridge – most of whom are familiar television faces.  The problem is that most of their characters are only sketchily drawn, so it’s hard to invest a great deal of interest in their fate.

This week’s plot contrivance, which keeps the Liberator crew involved in the plot, is the MacGuffin-like energy refactor.  Without it, it’s hard to imagine Avon sticking around (he admits that “I don’t care if their whole planet turns into a mushroom”).  Although in the next breath he does tell Cally he’s staying because he doesn’t like an unsolved mystery.  This is rather uncharacteristic – until now, Avon has appeared to be motivated mainly by self interest.

Whatever the reason, Avon and Cally begin to investigate the crew.  It’s the first time that Avon and Cally have teamed up and Darrow and Chappell’s interaction helps to lift the episode.  There aren’t that many quotable lines in the story, but I do like this short exchange –

CALLY: My people have a saying, a man who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken.
AVON: Life expectancy must be fairly short among your people.

Avon also gets to demonstrate the special way he has with women, when he punches Sara, played by Beth Morris.  “You’d better get her out of here, I really rather enjoyed that.”

Despite the strong supporting cast, most of the performances are perfunctory at best.  Nigel Humphreys and Stephen Tate spend most of the time skulking around in a suspicious manner, John Leeson appears to be friendly and helpful, Beth Morris is hysterical and tearful, whilst the others don’t seem to have any particular personalities at all.

Mission to Destiny reuses the spaceship set from Space Fall, suitably redressed, so it was obviously planned as one of the cheaper series one episodes.  It’s therefore odd that some of the interiors were shot on film at Ealing.  This would be understandable if there were explosions or other effects, but there’s nothing of this type – so it seems an unnecessary expense.

I noted that in The Way Back that Dudley Simpson’s music was on the sparse side, but that’s not an observation that can be made of this episode’s score.  Like most of Simpson’s work on Doctor Who and Blakes 7 around this period, it’s very much a case of Dudley’s Greatest Hits.  Many of the cues are very familiar (it has more than a hint of Spearhead from Space, for example), but since there’s stretches where not much of interest occurs on screen, playing spot the cue does help to pass the time.

Somewhat of a filler episode then, particularly since it’s sandwiched between two key Blake/Travis showdowns.

Blakes 7 – Seek Locate Destroy

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The Liberator crew teleport down to Centero to steal the Federation’s cipher machine.  They achieve this successfully, but Cally is left behind and is apprehended by Federation troopers.  Blake, of course, vows to rescue her, whatever the cost.

Blake’s devotion to his crew will be used by Supreme Commander Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) and Space Commander Travis (Stephen Greif).  Servalan has been tasked with the job of capturing Blake and she assigns Travis (who has history with him) to carry out the mission.  Using Cally as bait, Travis lures Blake into a trap, where he plans to destroy him …..

Everything changes in Seek Locate Destroy.  Until now, the Federation has provided Blake with rather faceless opposition.  But here, Servalan and Travis are strong, defined characters who will obviously be much more of a challenge to overcome.  And for those who regard Blakes 7 as a sci-fi version of Robin Hood (Blake = Robin, Jenna = Maid Marion, Gan = Little John, etc) the parallels are strengthed by the arrival of Servalan (the Sheriff of Nottingham) and Travis (Sir Guy of Gisbourne).

As with most Robin Hood series, we’ll see how regular returning villains tend to lose their effectiveness over time (due to overexposure).  Of the two, Travis was always going to be harder to write as a continuing character.  When Greif decided to leave at the end of the first series it probably would have been best to create a new character, rather than recast, since there’s only so many times that Travis can be bested by Blake before it becomes monotonous.

But Greif certainly does his best with the material he’s given – he even manages to invest his ripe closing speech with a striking intensity. “Run, Blake. Run. As far and as fast as you like. I’ll find you. You can’t hide from me. I am your death, Blake.”  His replacement in series two, Brian Croucher, was rather less successful unfortunately.

What gives the Blake/Travis conflict extra spice is the history the pair have.  Blake explains to the others exactly what happened.

BLAKE:  The group had arranged to meet in a sub-basement. There were about thirty of us. I was very particular about security. I had our people watch the entrances and exits for a full twenty-four hours before we were supposed to meet. No Federation forces came anywhere near the place. I was absolutely sure that we were safe. That night we were assembled and about to begin, and Travis and his men suddenly appeared from nowhere.

AVON:  Didn’t you post any guards?

BLAKE:  Of course I did. Travis was already there. He’d been hiding in that basement for more than two days. We made no attempt to resist arrest. There was no point, we had no chance. I said to Travis, “We will offer no resistance.” And he just stared at me. And then he ordered his men to open fire. Everybody was diving for cover that wasn’t there. I, I ran, I found myself grappling with a guard, and I managed to get his gun away from him, and then I was hit in the leg. But as I went down, I saw Travis. And I fired. I saw him fall. I was sure I’d killed him.

Another character who would suffer from overuse is Jacqueline Pearce’s Servalan – plus she would become camper and camper as the series progressed.  She’s quite different here – efficient, charming (when she needs to be) but also capable of barely suppressed fury (when speaking to her old flame Rai who dares to question the appointment of Travis) as well as showing occasional moments of hesitancy.  It’s a controlled performance which works very well.  In this episode we see Servalan the politician, manouvering others to do her bidding.  Later, she’d become more mobile and would appear to run into the Liberator crew nearly every week, which didn’t always work.

Pearce and Greif help to bolster what is a fairly flimsy story – Blake steals the cypher machine, realises Cally has been captured and then rescues her.  The location filming (at Fulham Gasworks) does help matters – Blakes 7 always loved an industrial setting – but several minus points for the rather silly-looking robot.  Sadly it reappears in a later story – presumably (despite appearances) it was expensive to make, so I assume they felt they had to get their monies worth.

It’s difficult to believe that nobody realises Cally hasn’t returned with the others, but given the excitement of the raid it’s just about believable I guess.  Jan Chappell’s fight with the trooper, which results in her losing the teleport bracelet, is rather ineffectual – had it been shot on film there would have been time to cut it together properly, but the unforgiving medium of multi-camera VT simply didn’t allow this (so it’s less a fight, more a series of shoves!).

Afterwards, it’s interesting to see the Federation trooper remove his helmet – to reveal a fairly nondescript looking man.  The masked troopers have a nightmarish and dehumanised appearance, so this moment (whilst understated) helps to show us that the troopers aren’t monsters, they can be just normal people.

A similar point is touched upon later, when Rai (Ian Oliver) expresses to Servalan the disquiet that he and his fellow officers have concerning the reappointment of Travis.  Travis has been suspended after another massacre of unarmed civilians and in Rai’s opinion he should have been dismissed from the service.  Whilst the series in general tends to paint the Federation en-masse as tyrants and killers, here we see Rai presented as a decent and honourable officer, disgusted with the return of a psychopath like Travis.  And the fact he’s not the only one to feel this way about Travis does suggest that maybe the Federation isn’t quite as black as Blake believes.

Although Travis is the centre-point of the story we don’t actually see him until more than half way through the episode.  His first scene in priceless though – to the strains of Dudley Simpson at his most dramatic, Grief strides in, hands on hips, as he confronts Servalan.  He’s already spoken a good few lines before the camera cuts to his face and we see the signs left by his last tussle with Blake.

Any episode is always enlivened by a touch of Peter Miles (at his most cutting here),  He forms a nice double-act with John Bryans and the pair will also return in the series two episode Trial (Bryans also pops up in series three, in a different role, in Rumours of Death).  Ian Cullen (formally a Z Cars regular) is rather wasted as Escon and Peter Craze (brother of Michael) is Prell.

Solid stuff then and it’s obvious that Travis will be back again and again – only death, it seems, will end the feud between him and Blake.

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