Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Blake's 7 Season One

The Way Back written by Terry Nation and directed by Michael E. Briant

What’s it about: Roj Blake is about to have a very bad day…

A Good Man: By choosing to expose the dirty deeds that are occurring on the Earth through Blake, an everyday man about to turn into somebody exceptional because of his circumstances, was a stroke of genius. This is a man who was happily getting on  with his life before he was dragged into the darkness by the rebels and exposed to the truth about the Federation and their misdeeds. He’s resistant to a point, rejecting the idea that he has been drugged and that his memory has been altered. Gareth Thomas plays the part superbly, Blake the living embodiment of somebody being thrown in at the deep end and not being able to swim. The suggestions that his life has been manipulated are so far out of his frame of reference that he can only object and threaten to walk away. As he learns about his past he is like a Russian Doll being slowly peeled away until there is only a frightened, trapped man left at the end. Learning that you have been duped in such a sinister way must be quite a shock, his brother and sister were killed four years ago and the communications he has been receiving from them are fakes. A previous life as an activist leader unfolds, a rebellion that was suppressed and buried out of sight. To from a fully functioning member of society to a man curled up in a padding cell screaming at himself in 20 minutes of screen time is quite some development and the camera never shies away from the psychological horror of the process, getting right in his face as he suffers post traumatic stress. By the end of the episode his defence lawyer has been murdered, his reputation is in pieces, he has been dragged off world en route to a penal colony and he is vowing to return home and clear his name. After the injustices witnessed in The Way Back, you can’t help but be behind him all the way.

Blonde Bombshell: Jenna is icy cold from the off, refusing to give Blake any kind of comfort in prison. She feels like a new kind of female role model in science fiction, with no concessions to her gender. She’s just another criminal, shoved in with everybody else and suffering the same punishment.

Petty Thief: Michael Keating makes an instant impression because he is the only actor that is allowed to display any degree of charm. He’s quite different here from the drunken comedy figure he was to become but then his life is about to spiral out of control in a pretty dramatic way.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘There can be no justification for deliberate murder.’

The Good: Despite having many stylistic, tonal and narrative differences, the majority of Blake's 7 was created by the same people that brought you Doctor Who, both in front of and behind the camera. I was always a Doctor Who fan first and a Blake's 7 one second (there is so much more Doctor Who for a start) but much of my initial joy was seeing lots of actors I recognise for parts in Doctor Who (wait until we reach the Colin Baker episode) stretching their wings in other roles. Plus with some Who’s most impressive writers and directors on board, this show was always going to see some modicum of success. However there is no point in the shows run where you can make a genuine parallel with the content of Doctor Who and Blake's 7 distinctively made its own mark from the first episode and never looked back. For a show that can be terribly downbeat for large chunks, the title music has a triumphant ring to it. Like all good themes it is the sort that will be stuck in your head for days after you have heard it and if you are like me you might even find yourself catching the eye of other Blak'es 7 fans when you are whistling the damn thing down the street! From the off you get the impression that there is something very wrong with this vision of the future – cameras rove the corridors and unpleasantly happy music pollutes the air, the unseasonably cheerful tone of which suggests it is covering something much more sinister. It is a world where nobody can be trusted, where anybody not conforming is monitored, where the food and drink keeps you docile and unquestioning and where the Federation is backed up by a military force that shoots first and asks questions later. For anybody who finds the Star Trek universes idea of the Federation promoting universal harmony just a little too simplistic and twee (that’s why DS9 was my favourite, it so often stuck its fingers up Roddenberry’s ideals) then the Federation of Blake's 7 is the perfect antidote. A sinister, insidious, murderous regime, that would think of nothing of massacring a whole batch of rebels in order to keep their grip on society. Even something as simple as going outside is a category four crime. We go from shiny white BBC sets exposing the apparent squeaky cleanliness of the facilities on Earth to some drab location work in some concrete atmosphere underground where the rebels fester and plan. The latter is an aesthetic that the show revels in over its four season, industrial chic that provokes an atmosphere of realism. Whilst infamous for its occasionally dodgy effects cooked up on a BBC budget, like Doctor Who, Blake's 7 is capable of taking your breath away with visuals that are truly innovative for the time. I would count the impressive shot of Blake and friends walking away from the Dome one of them, suggesting a real sense of scale. I like how the dissidents aren’t portrayed as saints either, everybody in this pilot is painted in shades of grey. If Blake doesn’t acquiesce to their wishes they have planted evidence that links him to their activities. He is a guilty man either way. As Blake remembers his past, a hand held camera exposes his ‘therapy’, a particularly nasty example of frying his brain of any thoughts of rebellion. They got the look of the Federations troopers exactly right; faceless masks, functional weaponry, the dispassionate face of this dystopian regime. How comes Jeremy Wilkin always plays the slimy little back stabbers in these programmes? Because he does it so well! It isn’t until 20 minutes in to the episode that we shift to a perspective other than Blake’s, finally seeing some of the decision makers of this terrorizing administration. They sit around a discuss a mans fate like gossiping about what they are going to have for dinner. Again setting this apart as a very different kind of science fiction show, one of Blake’s fake charges is for interfering with children. The fact that this government would go as far as to have children admit that Blake tried to corrupt them reveals that they will stop at nothing to bring him down. It’s truly disturbing that they are willing to implant memories of assault into the minds of minors in order to get their conviction. The mistake that the Federation makes is in hiring an honourable man to defend Blake because he soon starts to notice the flaws in their faked evidence. Suddenly he has to be disposed of too as he gets too close to the truth. It is tragic watching Tel Varon trying to amass evidence against Glyn because you know it is going to be a lost cause. We’ve already seen the lengths these people are willing to go so we are watching a man walk into the lions den with no form of defence. I really miss model work on television – check out the shots of shuttle craft taking off for Cygnus Alpha and bask in how cinematic it could be made to look with a little time and effort. The model work on this show wasn’t always this impressive, but it sure does have its moments.

The Bad: The rebels on display look like a right ragtag bunch, the sort of extras you would find milling about in the back of Doctor Who stories. I can’t believe they didn’t dispose of the bodies…even if nobody is supposed to go outside. I was perfectly convinced that Tel’s missus was going to be a traitor and the one to gun him down – the show is geared towards this sort of twist and I was quite surprised when she was slaughtered with him.

Musical Cues: This was the point where Dudley Simpson was working on both Doctor Who and Blake's 7 and his work wasn’t exactly distinct on either show. Interestingly both shows would benefit from him being stripped of one of them.

Moment to Watch Out For: The foreboding silhouette of Federation troopers on the walls is the first sign that the dissidents are doomed. I’m not sure that Blake's 7 was ever quite this brave again, showing a group of innocent civilians being massacred in cold blood after they have tried to surrender. Like a slap around the face, it exposes the festering tumour at the heart of the Federation and gives Blake all the reason he needs to run and try and bring them down. It’s jaw droppingly grim and adult and really puts this show on the map. As if seeing a mass execution isn’t enough, the camera lingers over the bloody corpses for longer than my stomach could handle. Doctor Who it aint. This is a society where evidence is fed into a machine and your guilt or otherwise is determined – that seems like a perfect way of being able to manipulate the outcome of any trial.

Result: ‘No, I’m coming back…’ A startlingly opening episode that suggests that Blake's 7 is going to be a very different sort of science fiction show. You would be hard pressed to find a single episode of any show that is as bleak and without hope as this one, even stretching as far forward as Babylon 5, Deep Space Nine and the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. An on screen massacre, a terrorizing government, trumped up charges of paedophilia, a man suffering from a nervous breakdown and a climax where the good guys don’t just lose but are dragged off planet in chains. At no point does the show compromise it’s dark tone with humour and the resulting piece is as beguiling as it is depressing. You don’t realise it whilst you are watching but it is an exciting time for the show, where the regulars could be any one of the cut throats and criminals that Blake ends up shacked up with in prison. There’s also a stimulating feeling of uncertainty about the show, that by the end of the first episode you still have no idea where it is going or what the formula for the finished product will be like. Normally that would be suicide for a new show since you have to lay down much of the groundwork in the first episode to ensure that your audience will return the following week but Blake's 7 plays by its own rules and the material is so strong that there is no doubt that the ratings will remain consistent after such a shocking opener. It’s a pretty decent production too, with the show grounded on Earth and offering a realistic vision of the future. Occasionally Blake's 7 would attempt to realise some over ambitious ideas as they head off into space but there is no sign of that here and Michael Briant’s careful direction ensures that the piece unfolds with strong moments of psychological intensity. Gareth Thomas makes a strong impression and the pilot pretty much belongs to him, Blake being our viewpoint character into this sinister administration. The episode changes genre effortlessly; from almost documentary footage of the dissident massacre to a trial piece to a race against time to save Blake from being shipped off planet to Cygnus Alpha. I’ve seen this pilot dozens of times and it always surprises me with it’s raw sense of desolation. It genuinely feels as if there is no hope of defeating the Federation. Terry Nation comes in for some flack for his meat and potatoes writing (certainly as the season continues) but lets not forget what a great ideas man he was and how he knew perfectly well how to kick start a series (technically he put Doctor Who on the map, Survivors). A spellbinding beginning: 9/10

Space Fall written by Terry Nation and directed by Pennant Roberts

What’s it about: Blake and his fellow criminals work to free themselves from confinement…

A Good Man: ‘You may not be tranquillised anymore but you’re still dreaming…’ One of things I really love about this show is how it revels in moral ambiguity. Whilst Raiker’s treatment of the prisoners is appalling, it has to be remembered that the motley crew that Blake winds up traversing the galaxy with are a bunch of cutthroats and criminals. They have committed criminal acts and there might be some justice in sending them to Cygnus Alpha to answer for their crimes. As we get to know them it becomes clear that they are (mostly) agreeable people but it’s worth remembering that Blake is the only crewmember on board the Liberator who doesn’t deserve be hounded down by the Federation. Blake has to co-erce Avon into helping, a decision that four seasons down the line he would come to regret. He wants to see power back in the hands of the honest man but even his cohorts agree that is probably an unrealistic goal given the ethics and ability of the current administration. Raiker must have seen something honourable in Blake to try and force him to surrender by mowing down his fellow prisoners – had the same offer been made to Avon then none of them would have made it.

Anti-Hero: Introducing Avon, who is a little subdued in his first appearance but then having watched the show through it is clear that Terry Nation has a great character arc waiting to play out for the character. When asked why he failed to steal an exorbitant sum from the Federation bank he replies simply, ‘I relied on other people’ which tells you everything you need to know about his excitement at joining a crew of merry criminals. Would Avon have made a deal with the crew, sold out his fellow prisoners and walked away with a cut of the profits? You bet your ass he would. That’s what makes him unique in SF – a totally ruthless character who is always out for number and yet capable of committing selfless acts despite his nature. Some of the best moments in this show feature Avon not behaving in the typical manner of an SF protagonist, from flirting outrageously with the central villainess to attempting to murder his Vila to save his own skin. He wont be manipulated or flattered, the only reason he helps Blake out is because he was going to take that course of action anyway. It is the first chance to see Paul Darrow’s unforgettable fighting acting which will go down in infamy (although Avon’s method of smacking somebody in the ears looks like it would hurt a lot). His dreams are simple, wealth, and his aim is to take it away from those who already have it. Avon comments wryly on the action, disgusted with Blake’s morality which cripples him from making the tough decisions.

Blonde Bombshell: Raiker tries to play the perfect gentleman with Jenna, deploying charm to purchase some under the cover favours. We’re not privy to what she whispers in his ear to rebut his advances but it is obscene enough for him to clout her around the face. The horror that we see in Jenna’s mind provoked by the Liberator is of Federation troops tormenting her mother. Goodness knows what she has suffered at her hands but this glimpse is enough to suggest that it was highly invasive.

Petty Thief: Vila proves to be a decent distraction when needed, playing silly ticks on the guard so that the other prisoners can scheme behind his back.

Gentle Giant: I have to be honest, Gan doesn’t make much of an impression at all. The character or the actor. That’s his problem overall, there doesn’t seem to be the same thought put into his characterisation as the other regulars. Perhaps that was why they got rid of him first. He’s strong and useful in a fight but that was all I really took from this.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Find a way of getting back to Earth’ ‘Earth?’ ‘Yes that’s where the heart of the Federation is. I intend to see that heart torn out’ ‘I thought you were probably insane.’

The Good: Blake’s 7 is again proving to be a different kind of science fiction show by allowing the sort of characters that are usually ciphers (the crew of the prison ship – did we even get to know any of their names in Ressurection of the Daleks?) to be living breathing individuals with their own stories to tell. With Leslie Schofield playing pure slime like only he can and Glyn Houston imbuing the Captain with some integrity (he embodies world-weary ambivalence) whilst still trying to get the job done you have a decent supporting cast for this claustrophobic thriller. The quiet warning from Leylan to Raiker (‘be discreet…’) about the female prisoner speaks volumes about the moral standards upheld on this ship. Whilst his work on Doctor Who might be open to some criticism (especially his work in the 80s on Warriors of the Deep and Timelash), Pennant Roberts proves to be a much better fit for Blake’s 7 when the show is concentrating on it’s characters. He casts brilliantly and knows how to get the best out of his performers. It is when it comes to directing action that he stumbles. Take a good luck at the rest of the prisoners that Blake is locked up with because it this point any one of them could have been part of the regular ensemble. Nova looks like he might be a good bet until he volunteers to do his bit for the escape plan and winds up being consumed by sealant. It’s a good demonstration that nobody is safe on this show. His death is dramatically directed, with holes puncturing the hull and the foamy sealant being pumped into the claustrophobic space he is trapped in. There is also every chance that Gan and Vila could have ended up dead when Raiker shoots his way through the hostages in order to force Blake to surrender. Leylan shows his dissatisfaction when Raiker murders a hostage after Blake has surrendered but doesn’t have a leg to stand on if he complains given that he gave him carte blanche to deal with the situation as he saw fit. His crew are a necessary evil that he cannot do without.  An abandoned ship in space of glorious design and armed to the teeth. A ragtag bunch of criminals needing somewhere as a base of operations. It’s almost too perfect, isn’t it? What helps the arrival of this convenient refuge is the uncertainty that surrounds it. Nobody knows anything about this particular design of ship, where it has come from or who manufactured it. Stargate Atlantis tried something similar many years later, but Blake’s 7 got there first and did a more intriguing job of having their crew setting up shop in a location that is a complete mystery at first. The model work is still off a high standard here, the docking of the Liberator matching up with the physical sets beautifully. With two guards killed, the Liberator is initially something to be feared. The control deck of the ship is still an impressive piece of design to this day, a split level set which is both functional and beautiful and lit in exotic colours. It is a shame that you can see the wire briefly because the stunt of Raiker being sucked out into space otherwise nicely handled, and dramatically very satisfying.

The Bad: Only a problem for continuity buffs but Avon and Gan were clearly not in the seats they occupy at the beginning of this episode in The Way Back. Whilst there is nothing wrong with either plot in this episode (the prisoners attempting to escape and the discovery of the Liberator), you do feel as though you are being pulled in two directions at times. They don’t compliment each other until the climax. I don’t usually find the cuts between video and film distracting but given that this story is set in one location in space, it is a little jarring at times. Usually it is the film work which looks expensive but in this setting it has the reverse effect, the sets are well designed enough that this looks perfectly adequate on video. Perhaps sending your prisoners across to a ship that could bring down the Federation and handing it to them on a plate wasn’t the soundest tactical move. Saying that Leylan thought they were going to go the same was as the guards.

Musical Cues: Dudley Simpson’s music is so similar to Doctor Who in the first season of Blake’s 7 that if you shut your eyes and listened to the score alone there are plenty of moments when you wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the two. Saying that his melodramatic flair comes out more forcefully in this episode and certain moments are given an extra layer of frisson thanks to his score.

Moment To Watch Out For: The first shot of the Liberator still gives me goosebumps. It is obviously an important moment since it comes with it’s own Dudley Simpson fanfare indicating its significance.

Result: Continuing the serialised nature of the show, Space Fall is an unpredictable episode that only falters because its pace crawls to a halt at times. The show is still taking itself deadly serious at this point and I think that was essential to its early success. If there had been the slightest doubt that any of the actors were playing there material up it might have been quite hard to believe in this universe Terry Nation is slowly creating. The actors and director are working so hard to convince that this is a gritty prison drama that the spaceship setting almost feels irrelevant at times. It is just a genuinely gripping prison break with characters that it is easy to be enticed by. Pennant Roberts gets to play to his strengths, working with strong actors to ensure that the piece unfolds with strong dramatic moments. When not asked not to bring action adventure fare to life (see his work on Tenko and Survivors as well) he can be excellent. Space Fall’s faults lie in it’s twin narratives that feel as if two separate stories are taking place and only come together at the climax. The plot seems to come to an abrupt halt with nothing actually resolved, this feeling like another stepping stone to formulating the series rather than an individual piece in its own right. The introduction of the Liberator is the first real indication of the show starting to fall into place but at this stage it is still only a case of Blake’s 3. It’s it superbly designed, both as a model and as a set and shows a great deal of promise that this wont be a BBC SF series that looks like it has been made on a shoestring budget. There are so many questions to be answered about the ship, the characters and much still to be explored within the Federation itself. What Terry Nation has done is set all the groundwork in place for much of the blistering capers that were to follow. With all the talk of Cygnus Alpha it is nice that we are going to head there anyway to rescue Vila and Gan. I can’t wait to see what horrors await there at a Federation penal world: 7/10

Cygnus Alpha written by Terry Nation and directed by Vere Lorrimer

What’s it about: Blake heads to Cygnus Alpha to free the rest of the Federation prisoners…

A Good Man: Somebody had to try out the teleport eventually and it doesn’t surprise me that Blake was the selfless volunteer. Blake attempts to ask Vargas rationally to release him and his fellow prisoners but if he thinks that he is going to be able to traverse this universe with such placid tactics he is going to be quite shocked at the response. Eventually Blake plans to stop running from the Federation and fight, but only once they have learnt how to operate the Liberator.

Anti-Hero: There are some early indications that Avon and Zen may not be the most agreeable of bedfellows. A techno-whizz and a smart ass computer probably aren’t destined to be the best of friends. One of the benefits of having a crew of criminal misfits is that theirs is only an uneasy alliance and a conversation between Avon and Jenna exposes the fun in watching them flirt with the possibility of selling each other out. Avon admits that he would have to get rid of Blake before Jenna and she recognises that there is some truth in his intimation. Avon knows that Blake can’t win against the Federation and yet he will stop at nothing to try.

Blonde Bombshell: Jenna turns a corner in this episode as she has to make a decision whether to abandon Blake on Cygnus Alpha and head off with Avon and all the riches that could secure them a good life or maintain her principles and attempt to save him. She opts for the latter and proves her worth to the audience.

Petty Thief: It’s nice to feel wanted, isn’t it? Vila and the other prisoners are offloaded onto Cygnus Alpha and the London blasts off almost immediately. This episode sees the first sign of Vila’s cowardice, his refusal to walk into any situation that might threaten his life. In later seasons this would be played for comic effect but in the bleak situation of being dumped on a penal planet and exploring its miserable surface it seems like a sensible precaution to me. Clearly one with an eye for the ladies too.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Hand gun?’ ‘It’s a bit elaborate for a tooth pick.’

Dreadful Dialogue: ‘Don’t philosophise with me you electronic moron!’ – thank goodness Avon’s barbs get a little more cutting that this.

The Good: We’re still following the journey of the London and since the show hasn’t set up any ground rules yet it is still perfectly possible at this point that Leylan and his prison ship would feature as a regular part of the series. The communications to Earth recapping the events of Space Fall is a very handy catch up for anyone who might have caught wind of this spanking new SF show (the ratings were particularly good so it is perfectly possible that there was a lot of talk about Nation’s latest effort) and missed the first two episodes. There’s a particularly impressive model shot of the Liberator caught in the soft light of a nearby sun. I like the simple aesthetic of the hand guns, they look unlike any other guns seen before in SF. Rather than having a crew of highly trained officers controlling a ship that they know inside out and back to front like Star Trek, Blake’s 7 takes a far more dangerous approach of a bunch of cut throats working a mysterious vessel where one flick of a switch could possibly end your life. There is real dramatic mileage in the idea of a ship of salvation of alien origin, it gives the crew a chance to go on a real journey technologically as well as geographically. At this point it is simply a case of pressing buttons and seeing what happens. They could also have opted for a soulless and efficient computer system but instead Zen is a marvellous character in his own right, a slightly aloof, supercilious AI who obeys the instructions of the crew on sufferance. Like K.9, the success all comes down to the voice and the aristocratic charm of Peter Tuddenham ensures that this is one of the most unique artifical intelligences to feature in the genre. Does Zen have any feelings towards its latest occupants? Is it alive? Can it exist autonomous of the ship? At this point these questions hang in the air like fascinating possibilities. It is going to be a lot of fun finding out. I had echoes of Doctor Who’s The Daleks’ Masterplan during Cygnus Alpha, Nation plundering his own back catalogue for a penal world and ships that dump prisoners down and scarper (Desperus). After half an hour of reasonably ponderous material it is great to see Brian Blessed turn up and offer a little personality. There’s a pretty decent fight at the climax that is luxuriously shot on film (amazing how the sets look so much more authentic on film) and is the sort of action that the episode needed in bursts every ten minutes or so to ramp up the pace.
The Bad: It’s great that the show is taking a realistic approach to space travel and it has taken the London eight months to reach Cygnus Alpha. That’s all well and good but judging by the behaviour of the crew the events of Space Fall feel as if they happened just yesterday. Perhaps it is a little early in the day for this series to be falling back on passé ideas like religious zealots. The atmosphere on Cygnus Alpha might have been a lot more exciting had the planet been a landscape of fear with wild, desperate criminals warring amongst themselves. It is not so much the physical effects that look prehistoric on this show but the electronic ones and the wibbly teleport transference and corpse chalk outline effects both come from a bygone age. Unfortunately these are effects that stick with the show.  Whilst it is perfectly possible that the first prisoners to be dumped on Cygnus Alpha might pull together to create a religious order it is hardly the most gripping scenario to have taken place. Imagine a space bound religious order spreading the word of God – a bit like Stargate SG-1’s Ori but being lead by a particularly verbose Brian Blessed! It’s not an idea that has legs and so it is hard to take the dramatic thrust of this episode seriously. We learn nothing significantly interesting about this community or get to know any of them well enough to give a damn about their fate. Another Terry Nation cliché, the infection storyline, is only half baked here and fails to go anywhere. What was the point of killing of Pamela Salem’s character at the climax? Perhaps if she had displayed any kind of personality and piqued my interest I would have shed a tea but instead it feels like a perfunctory act to provoke a response. The prisoners that refuse Blake’s offer are mad, clearly their lengthly incarceration has driven them doolally. 

Musical Cues: I remember the musical sting that accompanies the teleport scenes used to bug the hell out of me but time has mellowed me and before re-watching it was one of my most vivid memories of the show.

Moment To Watch Out For: The only way Brian Blessed can adequately exit a series as operatic as Blake’s 7 is to be beamed into space screaming of becoming a God and combusting in a vacuum. It is absolute madness and a clear highlight of the episode.

Fashion Statement: Teleport bracelets are a fine idea but did they have to make look quite so glam? The pink jewel encrusted on each one makes it look as if the crew are beaming down to a planet dressed up for a gay disco.

Result: It is at this point that Nation’s earnestness starts to take its toll slightly, this is the third humourless installment of this show and I’m starting to yearn for a little entertainment. These early episodes are so out of kilter with the outrageous camp and witty tone of series once other writers start to get involved that they feel as though they are part of a different, much more formal series. The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica managed to maintain its fatalistic tone across four incredible seasons but I have a feeling that if Blake’s 7 had continued in this sombre vein it might not have secured a second year. That’s not to say that Cygnus Alpha is all bad but when it comes to a episode that concerns itself with the machinations of religious zealots it might not have been the best approach to have taken itself quite this sincerely. Cygnus Alpha is convincingly realised with some unwelcoming location work and decent sets but as our first pit stop it lacks any kind of sparkle or excitement. Pamela Salem is wasted in a bland role (she stares at the sky and awful lot but doesn’t do much else) but at least Brian Blessed is on hand to add a little colour (read: volume) to proceedings. There are no great surprises, just a logical continuation of the story that began in The Way Back and Space Fall and without much action or interplay (there are scenes of endless exploration of the planet) it winds up being a less than impressive gathering of further crewmembers for the Liberator. Let’s chalk this one up to experience and not repeat the exercise again. Blake now has six crewmembers and is on the run in a sophisticated alien spaceship with the Federation dogging his tracks. That is still an idea to get excited about: 5/10

Time Squad written by Terry Nation and directed by Pennant Roberts

What’s it about: Blake decides to target a Federation facility…

A Good Man: Blake is toughening up, wanting to make a nuisance of himself and target Federation outposts. It is definitely a shift in his favour, making him less of a victim of circumstance and more of a genuine terrorist. His victory here gives him some confidence to keep going and now he has a full crew compliment things are finally looking a little brighter.

Anti-Hero: The second there is any talk of companionship and working together as a team, Avon’s pessimism kicks in immediately. He is so refreshingly honest, every show should have a character like this to keep the audience grounded. His logic is impeccable, figuring that they wouldn’t put people into suspended animation if the journey wasn’t going to take longer than the lifespan of a man.

Blonde Bombshell: Jenna is savvy enough to recognise that the distress signal that they have received might be false. If they’re campaign is going to endure they are going to need tactical cynicism like that. Clearly what she and Avon discussed in Cygnus Alpha hit home for Jenna. She is still wondering whether it would be a good idea to opt out of this madness and find a safe planet to hide on. Women might be notorious for using dirty tricks in a fight and Jenna is no different, sinking her teeth into one of the aliens when he tries to attack her. They really have bucked the trend of female stereotypes in SF with Jenna, she really knows how to look after herself.

Empath: Cally is intriguing from her first appearance, roughing up Blake and shoving a gun in his face whilst she communicates with him telepathically. Jan Chappell is one of those actresses that is rather underrated in science fiction, much like Sarah Sutton in Doctor Who she is often sidelined from the main action and yet can often be seen acting quietly on the sidelines of any scene.

Gentle Giant: Gan is an odd one for sure. He’s the most quietly played and so pretty much vanishes into obscurity next to the powerful personalities of the rest of the crew but he’s also the one that if you go digging for subtext actually has the most interesting (and potentially disturbing) backstory. We learn a little more about his backstory, that his wife was killed by an armed security guard and Gan murdered him in kind. It is when he mentions that he doesn’t trust himself to be alone that fascinates me, he seems to be suggesting that he either has homicidal tendencies that he isn’t able to control or that his violent desires are of a sexual nature. I’ve heard it argued elsewhere that his inhibitor is implanted to prevent him from receiving a sexual thrill from violence (because it certainly isn’t there to prevent from committing acts of violence because we have seen him do nothing but since Space Fall) and the way he remains paralysed at moments when Jenna is frightened could go some way to providing the evidence for that. Having a potential sex killer on board is troublesome and might be a step too far in this shows grasping for realism, especially considering as played Gan is the most cuddly of the lot. I’ll see how the character is handled before I make up my mind about this approach.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Well that’s a comfort. I’d hate to be eaten by something stupid.’

The Good: We’re starting to get more of a picture of the Federation’s reach and their tactics on other worlds. It would appear that Blake’s intimate story of a rebellion crushed is playing out in a macrocosm on other worlds, the slightest whiff of independence and they send in the troops to slaughter half the population and bring the survivors in line. It is fascinating to think that this entire story would be played out in many years to come in DS9’s The Siege of AR-558 but instead of the good guys attacking the communications relay point, they are trying to hang onto it. Blake’s 7 has captured something that has never been done before in science fiction, turning the criminals into the heroes and the administration into the bad guys. It means that we are in the fascinating position of cheering on the terrorists, something which would probably be unthinkable in these post-9/11 days. Beaming Blake and Jenna into a cramped compartment is a nice touch, and I like the design of the shuttle, which is functional and sparse. The fact that it turns out to be a floating tomb with figures in cryogenic storage with Blake and Jenna trapped and running out of air adds much claustrophobia to the scene. I was having the model work vs CGI debate with my husband earlier today and the effects triumph of the docking procedure, with an awesome POV shot as the ship approaches, cements my opinion that the former is my preferable option. Whilst CGI can be more dynamic and expensive looking, to me it always looks rather cartoony and whilst model work can wind up looking hideously embarrassing (although so far B7 has avoided this), when it is done well it has a sense of realism and live action that cannot be beaten. This is purely a juvenile observation but it is about time somebody designed a ship with controls that emulate a game in a video arcade. Who doesn’t want to get in the pilot seat of the Liberator and grab hold of those joysticks? I don’t want to harp on to much about the production values on this show (although I know I will) but on the evidence of the first four episodes the producers are really going for an authentic feel. In Time Squad they go to the lengths of building the pod in the studio for Blake and Jenna to climb out of. In modern days that would be a small expense but at the time that is a lot of time and effort to further convince that these events are playing out in as natural a way as possible. Another example of Federation brutality is wiping out the resistance on Saurian Major. They obviously don’t believe in talking things through. British science fiction of the time loved using power stations because they offered a solid industrial visual and a lot of space to run around in. Whilst the location work is impressively vast, I would have liked to have seen more Federation troops about the place and for their infiltration to be a bit more of a struggle.  

The Bad: Oh dear, sticking fake looking alien foliage into quarries. Clearly nobody learnt any lessons from Doctor Who’s attempts to do this sort of thing (Colony in Space). Terry Nation is playing about with some exciting ideas (a terrorist attack on a Federation outpost) and so it is something of a shame that it takes so long to reach it and we spend too much time wandering around the usual Doctor Who quarry posing as an alien world. Whilst this unconquerable administration has been built up extremely well, it is about time there was a spokesperson for the Federation. Somebody that we can hiss at. After devoting half of the episode to the discovery and menace of the aliens in the cryogenic pods it does seem like there is something missing in failing to expose their backstory. Mind their relative obscurity might be another effort to resemble real life, in which there are plenty of mysteries that never go explained.

Musical Cues: Simpson’s best score yet, especially for the creepy scenes where Jenna investigates the cryo-pods. It does me good to be reminded that Simpson can underscore with chilling effectiveness from time to time and not always go for melodramatic bombast.

Moment To Watch Out For: The rather shoddy explosion of the facility. After all that build up I would saved back a little cash to have seen the communications complex go up in true style. Instead it looks rather like limp fireworks on a screen.

Result: I rather like the early scenes in Time Squad that focus on the Liberator crew still trying to understand the ship, formulating plans to attack Federation outposts and exploring space. With them discovering space flotsam and exploring, it feels a little like Star Trek with the central difference being the deliciously cynical characterisation of the regulars which prevents this from being a jaunt in space and highlights the dangers. One thing that jumps out at me whilst re-watching this series is how different television is paced now. Somebody watching who is used to the fluid and energetic speed of modern day television would find Blake’s 7 desperately slow moving but I prefer this approach. I find so much of television these days skips logic and bypasses decent storytelling to hit the big set pieces and effects as soon as possible. The slow but sure approach of Blake’s 7 ensures that we are with this crew every step of the way, feeling our way into the relationships, discovering the abilities of the ship and really going on an extended journey with the characters. Whilst I don’t think the show loses anything when it does pick its pace up in later seasons, it is this groundwork that ensures that once the big moments come that we really care because we have taken the time to enjoy experience with the characters. The first half of Time Squad is very useful in this respect, but a whole episode in this rather pedestrian vein might have dragged and the second half gets things moving considerably faster, with the duel plotlines of the aliens waking from cryo sleep and Blake attacking the Federation communications relay point. For a director that I have always applauded for his work with actors rather than his way with action, I was genuinely surprised at how well Pennant Roberts brought the quieter moments of suspense alive (check out Jenna in the cargo bay). The seventh member of the crew has arrived so the title of the series finally makes sense (with Zen an honorary member of the crew) and I took an instant liking to Cally. Things were getting a little testosterone fuelled so its nice to have another woman board to balance things out. Once again the show opts for two storylines that fail to gel, but both are fairly interesting regardless, even if one is unresolved by the conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed Time Squad, it never aspires to greatness but it has plenty to recommend it regardless – particularly the further insights of the crew and some nicely directed atmosphere: 7/10

The Web written by Terry Nation and directed by Michael E Briant

What’s it about: Blake comes to the rescue of some primitive lab rats…

A Good Man: I realise his is the titular name, but isn’t it about time Jenna had some planetary action instead Blake hogging the limelight every week? Avon suggests that Blake has an ‘irrational conscience’, which has a grain of truth to it but to my mind it also keeps the crew grounded and focused on one mission. Without his guiding influence I could see everyone pulling the Liberator in different directions and the crew splitting very quickly. ‘These are what you wanted to protect?’ spits Avon as the Decimas run riot through the facility. Fighting for their lives they may be, but are they capable of organising themselves into any kind of progressive society once the fighting is over? Perhaps Blake needs to choose his battles a little more carefully and think about the consequences of his actions more. 

Anti-Hero: I still get a thrill of excitement when Cally starts flirting with Avon. Both characters are so ice cold for much of their screen time that it makes a real impact when they react in such a teasing way. When Cally proves herself to be under the influence, Avon’s response is caustic, licking his wounds. The moment he viciously grabs her throat says everything you need to know about his reaction to being let down by women. Mind you later in the episode Blake describes Avon as being more at homes with machines than people but his reactions here show that he isn’t all logic. Avon is already positioning himself to take over from Blake and dropping hints that there will come a time when their illustrious leader wont be making all the decisions. If only he knew how right he was. These hints prevents things from getting too comfortable aboard the Liberator.

Empath: Cally is still an relatively unknown personality on board the Liberator so this the perfect time to suggest that she is going to be more trouble than she’s worth and susceptible to mind control. Briant’s clever camerawork makes the potentially dodgy sequence of her turning on Vila into something genuinely creepy, especially the way she smiles straight out at the audience. Jenna expressed distrust at having an alien join the crew and for the moment it seems that racial intolerance is (at least partially) justified. When it comes to placating her, Jenna is right in there with a good slap to knock the alien influence out of her. The Lost were also from Auron, which explains why Cally was so susceptible.

The Good: It’s Michael E. Briant’s first time in the directors chair since The Way Back and instantly the show has a lift in the area of creative direction. The opening pan across a cobweb strewn forest is memorable, as is the way the camera slides secretively around the sets and builds up the mystery of the Lost. The whispering presence adds much atmosphere. Already there is a story custom made for the crew of the Liberator to stumble across. An alien presence infiltrating the ship, a bomb ready to blow them all sky high…when people call his scripts page turners this was precisely the sort of material they were referring to. What I really took from these early sequences was how well cast the regulars have been, this are situations that need a strong ensemble to try and convince that they are in real danger and they do an admirable job. Whilst it might be disguised behind some pretty shoddy production values, The Web echoes the journey that Blake took on Earth facing up to his oppressors, the Lost are attempting to suppress (such a pleasant word with so many connotations) the Decimas because they think they are a threat. Miles Fothergill is excellent in the role of Novara, but I kept getting flashes of SV7 from Doctor Who’s Robots of Death every time he opened his mouth. It is nice to have the constant reminder of Federation pursuit ships, this isn’t simply a jolly around the galaxy but a ship of desperate criminals on the run. For once they are unable to outrun them, trapped in the Web like sitting ducks. For a moment I was worried that this was going to turn into some preachy God destroys his subjects parable but the revelation that the Lost were also laboratory grown meaning that lab rats are trying to eradicate lower forms of lab rats turns this into something far more interesting.

The Bad: How somebody the size of Gan (especially with Jenna looking square at him) could sneak up on Cally boggles the mind. Puppetering is still a few years away from the standard that the show needs to convince. If you were being unkind you could suggest that the bizarre puppet suspended in water (those pipe cleaner arms!) and the embarrassingly designed primitives hammering on the flimsy plastic door is exactly the sort of cheap looking tosh you would expect from Blake’s 7. In an unfortunate moment of poor direction, one of the Decimas is clearly visible behind Blake before they have been given their cue to make a fuss. It probably says something about me and the sort of television that I have grown up watching that I couldn’t take the sequences of the Decimas jumping about and talking excitedly to each other seriously. They look ludicrous, they sound ludicrous, the are ludicrous. It’s Blake’s 7 first real duffer, production wise. I bet the outtakes were hilarious though. As much as Briant tries to convince by having the Decimas literally attack the camera during the climax, I was still laughing my head off at their absurd appearance.

Fashion Statement: Jenna’s scarlet dress with the grotesque multi coloured shoulder pads has to be seen to be believed. It’s garish, even for Blake’s 7.

Moment To Watch Out For: The moral of the story is don’t play God if you can’t keep control of your subjects. Saymon screams as his experiments tear him apart should be a lesson to anybody who is thinking of going down that route.

Result: Not a bad story but the production values are atrocious and for the first time since the show began tested my patience beyond the levels of conviction. Being a fan of Doctor Who, I can suspend my belief to quite some extent but I was often wrenched out of the story that was being told and reminded that this was a low budget BBC production struggling to hang together. When Michael E Briant is asked to direct atmosphere he is all over it; deploying some nifty handheld camerawork, POV shots and luxurious pans across the atmospherically lit sets. It is the physical effects that let him down. The first half of the episode works for the most part, setting up the mystery of the Lost and featuring some decent possession and bomb threat action on the Liberator. What elevates all the material is the quality of the characterisation of the regulars, something that I have never given Nation much credit for in the past. Everybody is still getting know each other at this stage but there are some intriguing developments in this episode, especially a moment of sexual chemistry between Avon and Cally which is crying out to be followed up at a later date. Blake and Avon’s clash of ideologies comes into play when it comes to the fate of the Decimas and I’m pleased that to see Nation starting to build on the potential of their differences. If I’m honest I thought this tale promised far more than it delivered, the first ten minutes seemed to be suggesting we are in for some spooky hard SF but instead it devolves into a farce of primitives getting over excited and bring down their oppressors. It should be triumphant but instead it is absurd. A disappointment, it’s the regulars that salvage any worth: 5/10

Seek-Locate-Destroy written by Terry Nation and directed by Vere Lorrimer

What’s it about: A raid on a communications outpost – part two!

A Good Man: It’s clear from the early scenes of Seek-Locate-Destroy (what a wonderfully melodramatic title that is) that Blake is much more engaging as a character when he has somebody to bounce off. Vila fulfils that role perfectly and they make quite the double act, outsmarting the Federation guards and stealing the decryption cipher. It’s certainly more enjoyable to watch than his solo exploration in the previous episode. Blake is an idealist and is clinging onto his morals with his bear hands – a risky business when he is in this line of work. He wants to go back for Cally because she is a part of his crew but it would be an act of suicide and undo everything that they have achieved. It takes Avon to viciously point out that they will all go the same way as Cally if he turns them around to save her, another terrific example of their very different approaches to the work they are doing. It was a great idea that Blake and Travis already have history, his actions have only exacerbated the tension between them. Blake’s memory eras is starting break down and he is starting to remember his dissident past on Earth, because the same events are occurring again. Travis knows that whatever the danger, Blake would risk everything to rescue Cally.

Maximum Power!: Introducing Servalan, one of the most exquisite femme fatales that science fiction has ever known. Whilst it is immediately clear that she is an important figure within the Federation, there is no indication of the central role that she is going to play throughout the shows four seasons. It is about time that the Federation was given a spokesperson and Jacqueline Pearce’s icy cold performance perfectly captures the oppressive government that our heroes have been paradoxically running away from and attempting to tear down. She listens quietly to the objections of the President’s staff about her handling of the Blake crisis and then quietly cuts through their grievances, with a threat lingering in her tone when she asks if they are complaining about her actions to date. She reminds me of a snake, slivering seductively in the grass but always ready to strike when the opportunity presents itself. Servalan will thaw out for certain men, like Rai, but there is always a feeling that she likes to be in control of the men she is willing to share her bed with, that there is a thirst for power inherent in her lust.

Eye-patch Killer: Travis’ introduction reminds me of a similar approach that Terry Nation took with Sara Kingdom in The Daleks’ Masterplan, building up the character by having others talk about him with awe before they make an appearance. This way we are already expecting great things before we have even met him. Fortunately Stephen Grief does not disappoint, he brings a whole new level of threat to the series with his barely restrained thuggery. The double whammy of both Servalan (the face of the Federation) and Travis (a much needed nemesis for Blake) gives the series a massive injection of adrenalin, it suddenly feels as if Blake’s 7 is taking off and all the pieces are falling into place for a memorable show. A thug with a reputation, he has caused the Federation some political embarrassment in the past and the fact that he is Servalan’s assassin of choice to take down Blake gives the administration cause for concern. A black and white man who cuts through red tape, one who proves his skill through action and an advocate of total war, he is definitely one to watch. There is the feeling of something dangerous simmering beneath the surface in Stephen Grief’s performance that was lacking when Brian Croucher took on the role in season two. He always feels like he is ready to snap, despite his intense coolness. After his face was injured he felt no need to have cosmetic surgery, his eye patch makes him stand out from a crowd.

Blonde Bombshell: Poor Jenna, stuck up on ship again like mum left to spring clean the house whilst the boys all go to work. A shame, she has a great deal of promise that isn’t being taped into by being sidelined like this.

Petty Thief: ‘Tell him I’ve just worked out a completely new strategy…it’s called running away’ – there’s the Vila I recognise. The first handful of episodes have felt a tad unsure about what to do with this character (and he certainly would never be as creepy as he was in the pilot again) but now Nation (and through his work as script editor Chris Boucher) have decided to shoehorn him into the role of comic relief character. That’s no bad thing (although it’s a hand that would be overplayed in later seasons) because the regulars are so deadly serious at times that a little humour is missing. There isn’t a lock he can’t open if he is frightened enough. It is great to see Vila being used for his technical skills for a change, exposing there is cunning mind beneath all that cowardice. I could have kissed him when he walked up to a pair of armed guards and admitted, rather charmingly, that he was planning on committing an act of terrorism. Enjoy these moments with Vila whilst the writers still feel that there is a great deal of potential with the wily fella, because he would very often be plugged as the stereotypical drunk as the show wears on.

Empath: Supposedly the gentlest member of the crew, I rather think that Cally enjoyed holding a gun on a Federation trooper. Mind you she gets a real clout around the face for her efforts. This show really isn’t afraid of abusing women and whilst that is hardly something I condone, does show a level of realism that I admire. Anyone who thinks she is just a pretty face watch as she beats the crap out of a Federation guard – this is not a woman that you want to get angry. Later she is seen dragged along the floor like a sack of old rubbish. You have to feel sorry for Jan Chappell. After being subjected to torture, she is more than willing to give Travis a taste of his own medicine.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’ve come to blow something up. What do you think would be most suitable?’
‘You don’t matter enough to kill, Travis’ – a great line, puncturing his ego but the truth is that this is too strong a character to let go after one episode.

The Good: There are no establishing scenes on board the Liberator where we discover what precisely Blake’s plan is this week. We are dumped straight into the action with Blake and Vila being teleported to a Federation base and it really feels like this episode has hit the ground running. Given past form, these planet side scenes usually come during the latter half of the episode and reversing that trend is only to Seek-Locate-Destroy’s favour. Federation facilities all seem to aim for the same aesthetic, a practical, industrial nightmare of pipes and metal walkways. It also helps to add to that feeling of the Federation being a cold, grey, lifeless administration, one that prefers functionalism over beauty. Wherever this was filmed, it scrubs up fabulously on film and once again gives a sense of scope the series is often aiming for but sometimes lacks because of it’s studio bound limits. Again, I have to re-iterate that the idea of the central protagonists of a show committing acts of terrorism was a bold move to take and it still gives a little thrill watching them attempt to bring down the corrupt Federation. It is certainly a more exciting way to explore space than the beige approach in Star Trek, it gives this show teeth that Gene Roddenberry’s baby could only dream of. By all accounts you could put a spin on the scenes where they hold the guards and scientists hostage and steal data where the Federation is the victim and they are the gang of terrorizing rebels. Whilst the Federation is clearly a corrupt and insidious administration (as exemplified in The Way Back), it is great that Blake and his colleagues have to adopt some of their nastier methods to strike back. It means that liberating the Federation worlds comes at the price of their morals and that is a very interesting position to put ‘heroes’ in. It looks for a moment as though Cally is another casualty of Blake’s crusade and given the shows previous form in introducing potential regulars and then slaughtering them it would be understandable for the audience to believe that that is the case. I’ve read complaints that the crew are blind not to realise that Cally has been left behind and that it takes them an age to figure out that she is missing but that isn’t the case at all. It is discovered as soon as the beam on board the Liberator and if I’m honest my thoughts would not be of my fellow crewmates if I had just escaped a lethal explosion in the nick of time. I guess that doesn’t make me much of a hero. What a terrific piece of design Federation HQ is, I always get a little Star Wars thrill when it comes into view because it reminds me of the Death Star, a bleak construction at the heart of a corrupt administration. You might say it looks like a hub cap hanging in space but it is a beautifully shot piece of model work. Cutting between both Blake and Travis as they tell the story of their previous encounter is clever, we get to hear the story from both points of view.

The Bad: Another dodgy robot to add to the scrap heap. Up there with the Quarks, the War Machines and Styre’s Robot. 

Fashion Statement: Servalan is dressed like Snow White as if butter wouldn’t melt. Travis is a sado masochist’s dream come true, dressed from head to foot in black leather and with the largest eye patch known to mankind. Although his bling heavy false hand does at a certain sparkle.

Musical Cues: There’s a fantastic piece of music that greets every scene with Servelan, Dudley Simpson at his moody best.

Moment To Watch Out For: Travis is a cunning old fox, using the communications equipment they have stolen against them to lead them into a trap. However Blake is one step ahead, not believing a word of it, getting their first and laying a trap within a trap. These games are great fun to watch play out and I can only hope they are booked for a swift reunion.

Result: After letting the storytelling wane a little in the previous handful of episodes, it now feels that Terry Nation is buoyed up and ready to deliver something with a real punch again. Starting with a gripping terrorist raid on a Federation facility, Seek-Locate-Destroy avoids the usual pitfalls of season one (the split episode syndrome where one half is usually better than the other as the story kicks in) by saving the introduction of Servalan and Travis for it’s latter stages. It means there is plenty of quality material to spread across the episode and the resulting drama is the most engaging (and by co-incidence the most polished) since the pilot. Jacqueline Pearce and Stephen Grief are great casting choices and they fill out their substantial roles with aplomb, both suggesting lives that stretch far beyond the reach of this one episode. It is easy to see why they both became such dominant figures in the series. Great character moments abound for the regulars too with Vila getting a chance to prove his worth, Cally suffering at the hands of the Federation, Avon leaving Blake with no illusion that he would have left her to die and Blake clashing with his old nemesis in true style. The rivalry between them is brimming with testosterone, and gives the conclusion a real kick. It is a shame that Jenna is left manning the teleport again, it really feels as if Nation has run out of things to do with her already and Gan (as ever) barely impacts. The only production blooper is the clunky robot of the first set piece and in all honesty the episode could have happily have done without it. It feels as we are getting a broader picture of this universe now and it is being painted in dark, sobering colours. I can’t wait to explore it further. A tight piece of writing, superbly acted and presenting exciting new possibilities for the show: 8/10

Mission to Destiny written by Terry Nation and directed by Pennant Roberts

What’s it about: Murder on the Ortega

Anti-Hero: I was discussing Paul Darrow with a friend of mine the other day and he was expressing his sadness that his career never took off quite in the way that it perhaps should have. I would argue that he peaked in Blake’s 7, that he was given a role that fitted his style of acting perfectly. He is very capable of bringing his performance right down and delivering subtle menace but he also proves in this run that he can misjudge a script and pitch his performance way over the top at times too, reaching for something operatic when the budget can only stretch to bog standard theatre. He’s electrifying as Avon but my point is that I haven’t seen him in another role where he has impressed even half as much. It was a case of right place, right time. Whilst on paper this might not seem like the sort of episode that would allow Avon to shine, he slips into the role of devious investigator with some aplomb; observing every detail, formulating theories and taking to the stage at the conclusion to provide the Poirot wrap up. You wont be able to tell the difference between the Blake of Mission to Destiny to the Blake of any other episodes but Avon is far more chameleonic, adapting to his environment. It’s an early sign that he would make a far more interesting central protagonist for this series, and certainly one with much more potential for diverse storytelling. Avon is perhaps not as cold blooded as he might appear, when he discovers what he takes to be a corpse he looks genuinely shocked. Avon must have been mocking Kendall when he pointed out that the suggestion that men betray their colleagues for small rewards is a cynical thought, considering that is his raison d’etre. He doesn’t like an unsolved mystery, and that is the only reason he is going along with Blake’s plan. Avon gets all the best lines in this episode, in particular throwing some caustic barbs at Cally.

Blonde Bombshell: Wow, it is easy to see why Sally Knyvette might not have felt that she was getting enough exposure on this show. Once again Blake, Avon and Cally get a decent cut of the action whilst she is back on the Liberator painting her nails. Considering she only lasted two seasons, this feels like a waste of a potentially fascinating character.

Petty Thief: Vila takes a step backwards this week, the coward of the crew rather than the resourceful rogue of the previous episode.

Empath: It takes Jan Chappell a little while to ease into this episode, initially stiff and expressing her dialogue in an awkward monosyllabic fashion that is supposed to make her sound more alien. Later when the plot gains some momentum, that style of delivery is dropped as she has regurgitate great gulps of exposition in a far more naturalistic manner.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘It is frequently easier to be honest when there is nothing to lose.’
‘You better get her out of here, I really rather enjoyed that’ says Avon after punching Sara in the face!

The Good: Whilst I am questioning the leap into a whole new genre that perhaps the series should never have touched because it is so far outside of it’s formula, I cannot fault the way that Pennant Roberts sets up this murder mystery story. Dudley Simpson provides a moody underscore as we see through the eyes of the killer bashing the brains of the pilot out and smashing the equipment. Like The Web, this is an intriguing enough opening. Plus the idea of setting a murder mystery in space (although Doctor Who had already mastered that approach in Robots of Death and would have an entertaining crack at it again in Terror of the Vervoids) is a novel one. It’s the first time since Space Fall that the series has taken the Star Trek approach of stumbling across something in space - Time Squad and Seek-Locate-Destroy saw Blake starting to take action against the Federation and attack their facilities and The Web found its story by having Cally force the ship to Decimas planet. Whilst I think I prefer it when this show has a focus and the storytelling arises out of the central premise of Blake threatening to tear down the Federation, a little variety is nice from time to time. This is one of those Blake’s 7 episodes that seems constructed out of actors who have also appeared in Doctor Who – in one room you have a convergence of K.9, Drax and one of the least interesting members of the Sea Base (and that is saying something) from Warriors of the Deep. There is a little expansion of detail regarding the Federation and it’s tactics, if they can’t encourage you to join them as with Destiny they will threaten you instead. It sounds like the Federation has adopted the same methods of IMC (destroying the crops and starving the people of Destiny).

The Bad: I think logic escapes Terry Nation when he attempts to have a crack at this genre, having characters behave in a bizarrely indistinct way in order to preserve the mystery. In The Keys of Marinus he had a character scream out a chemical formula with his dying breath in order to point Ian and Barbara to where the key is located when he could have just said ‘it’s in one of the jars.’  In Mission to Destiny he has a character scrawl out a mysterious code in blood that has to be figured out rather than simply writing Sara’s name clearly. It must be that these characters know in their last moments on this mortal coil precisely what sort of story they are taking part in and leave their cryptic messages appropriately. Brilliantly, Beth Morris seems to be auditioning for the role of Melanie Bush as she discovers a corpse and exercises her lungs in an ear piercing fashion for the length of a bible. She’s such a shrieking violet I had her pegged from the start. I question the point of shooting some scenes on film during studio bound stories, the mixture of video and film is far more jarring than it is when there is location work. Bizarrely, the sets look less authentic on film, the luxurious technique highlighting their simplicity. When you compare this crew to that of the Sandminer in Robots of Death (both vessels full of suspects of which one is guilty of sabotage and murder), the crew Ortega is severely lacking. There simply isn’t enough backstory for us to buy into these characters or enough interaction for us to engage in their relationships, they are simply there to fulfil plot functions. Chris Boucher understood that to involve the audience in a good murder mystery, you have to get under the skin of the characters and find out what makes them tick. Terry Nation has proven (with the aid of Chris Boucher as his script editor) that he can offer some scintillating characterisation (which often elevates the lesser episodes of Blake’s 7) so it is a shame that the effort that they put into the regulars couldn’t have been extended to the guest cast here. ‘I wanted the money it would give me…it’s that simple’ – Sara’s motive is depressingly conventional, lacking the ingenuity and coherency of a good Christie. The joy of her best work is watching all the details fall into place so effortlessly, the narrative cohering with crystalline precision. Destiny’s twist is so humdrum it makes you wonder why bothered to sit through the past 40 minutes. Sara is so daft that she is lured out of her refuge by the most obvious of ploys. She doesn’t really deserve the title of villainess and is leagues apart from Servalan.

Musical Cues: Dudley seems to be having fun this week indulging in a little Agatha Christie, his fingers dance across the piano as the mystery deepens.

Moment To Watch Out For: Avon’s Poirot moment where he spells out the plot for anybody with half a brain cell that hasn’t been paying attention. Less compelling for it’s plot detail, this delights because Darrow (and consequently, Avon) is having a ball.

Result: I’m a sucker for a murder mystery and so while I question the sudden lurch into Sunday afternoon storytelling, I still managed to enjoy the atmosphere of Mission to Destiny even if it avoids the strengths of the genre by a country mile. Blake’s 7 isn’t the sort of show that lends itself naturally to aping Agatha Christie but Terry Nation tries to have a good stab regardless, turning this into the cheapie all studio story of the season and filling the tale full of suspects. Avon is in his element here; at the heart of a mystery, loaded with witty lines and commanding the situation with his unique skills. It’s the first time we have had the chance to see Paul Darrow step out of Gareth Thomas’ shadow and take centre stage and it is a role that suits him very well. It is also one of the few episodes in season one that doesn’t feel like two stories meshed together, although the downside to this is that I don’t think there is anywhere near enough plot to go fill up 50 minutes and the net result is endless scenes of characters walking around drab spaceship sets. Christie knew that to baffle her audience completely she needed to focus on the central mystery but at the same time over complicate things so the audience is trying to concentrate on too much at once (Doctor Who’s Terror of the Vervoids, for all its outrageous campness, understood that perfectly) but Nation has developed a very streamlined plot which goes from A to B to C with clunking simplicity. Cally is still being highlighted in favour of Jenna, and I don’t think I have seen Gan do anything of note for some time. Mission to Destiny isn’t a great moment in this series’ run but I find it rather entertaining despite my better judgement, especially for Avon’s increased participation. It is often touted as the worst of season one but I would rather watch this than Cygnus Alpha and The Web: 6/10

Duel written by Terry Nation and directed by Douglas Camfield

What’s it about: A showdown between Blake and Travis…

A Good Man: I never thought Blake had it in him hold his nerve in a Mexican stand off in space, threatening to ram Travis’ pursuit ship rather than surrender. Perhaps circumstances are starting to harden him up. Blake opts from a truce with Travis rather than entering a Duel for another races entertainment, but it is clear from his rivals body language that that is not going to be an option. At least he tried to think outside the box but he forgot he is being pursued by a man with bloodlust in his eyes. Would Blake offer his life up to save one of his friends? That is the dilemma that Travis puts Blake in here but the episode chickens out of him having to make the choice. Still, compensation comes in the startling moment when Blake admits that he didn’t kill Travis because he would have enjoyed it. Heading down that road would lead to a path of self destruction.

Anti-Hero: Avon is being compared to a machine, which he considers to be a compliment if it is coming from Vila and he is holding himself up as an example of humanity. One of his best ever observations comes when he states that he doesn’t understand why it is necessary to prove that you care about people. Surely that fact that you do is enough and it says something about their lack of faith in you that you have to take action to demonstrate it. What makes the moment when it looks like Blake is going to kill Travis the cut to Avon shake his head in disbelief, knowing that he could never go through with it.

One-Eyed: A quick return visit from either Servalan or Travis was inevitable and since there was already a juicy backstory to exploit, I am not surprised that it was the latter. It would seem that he has been living up to his promise, dogging Blake’s footsteps across the galaxy in an effort to finally bring his rebellion to an explosive end. Perhaps the reason he chose Mutoids for his crew is because he considers them reliable but expendable, since he is happy to lose as many ships as Blake wants to take out as long as he gets the opportunity to kill his enemy. He has no ideals about ceremony and is consumed by revenge, as soon as Blake is within arms reach he tries to kill him. Grief has truly embodied this character, his voices flows with honey when he discusses the chance to take Blake’s life. It is going to be heartbreaking to see him replaced by Croucher and his teenage bovver boy approach next season. He seems to enjoy trying to provoke his Mutoid companion, reminding her of her past as a beautiful, much admired woman. Blake is a good man and as such had nothing to learn from the Guardian but Travis was never going to take anything from their intervention.  He is trapped by his desire for revenge and ultimately like their people it will be his undoing.

Blonde Bombshell: Finally some action for Jenna. This is a chance for Jenna and Blake to discuss their situation, both on the planet and their wider cause against the Federation and it is observed voyeuristically by the crew and commented on.

Petty Thief: Fancy sleeping at the teleport controls whilst three pursuit ships surround the Liberator. He’s a pessimist by nature, certain that the Federation will catch up with them one day. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Logic says we’re dead!’
‘Oh that’s very amusing, Blake, for a dead man…’
‘He made one fatal error. He should have killed me.’

The Good: Not to dismiss the work of Briant, Roberts and Lorrimer (who have worked hard to introduce us to this exciting new universe) but the direction of Duel really is in a different league, and the programme feels instantly lifted by employing a craftsman of his skill. Just watch the opening sequence, a masterpiece of mood and atmospheric camera trickery on a storm lashed planet as two mysterious figures (the Keeper and the Guardian) meet to discuss Blake and Travis. The premise of Duel is so strong I have seen it repeated in many a SF show that feature two strongly characterised rivals – TNG’s Darmok plays out in almost exactly the same way in it’s early scenes and Farscape had great fun shoving Crichton and Crais together at the behest of a malevolent alien entity in a memorable first season episode. Check out the group dialogue sequences early in the episode, everybody is getting a slice of the pie, it flows beautifully and some of the lines are deliciously cutting. That’s how it should be done every week. It is as though Nation looked at which regulars have been given anything to do over the previous seven episodes and selects Jenna and Gan to accompany Blake because they’ve been sorely neglected. What an intriguing idea the Mutoids are. Humans who have had their memories wiped and have been afflicted with a genetically engineered addiction to blood serum. The last part is almost entirely the same specifications as the Jem H’adar in DS9 and if the are explored in anywhere near as much depth they will prove to be an extremely worthy addition to the show. I’m starting to notice many influences from Blake’s 7 in later, better established science fiction (especially Trek, Buffy and Babylon 5), clearly they owe some debt to this series and it’s creator. Giving them the nickname ‘vampires’ proves that many are uncomfortable around them and so it seems entirely appropriate that Travis should seek their servitude in his pursuit of Blake. He’s never exactly been a conventional man. The muscular, warlike sculpture that stands tall amongst the rocky plain looks startling and dramatic when struck by lightning, a massive coup for the set designer. It is the first time that Federation pursuit ships have been close enough to be a real threat to the Liberator and Camfield ensures that these scenes are given appropriate seriousness. It genuinely feels as though the ship is trapped with nowhere to run and time might have run out for the crew. Unbelievably, Camfield attempts to shoot a collision between the two ships and even more unbelievably (shot in slow motion) it actually works. Taking inspiration from Top of the Pops, Camfield utilises as many psycadelic video effects as possible to make Blake and Travis’ kidnap as surreal and dramatic as possible. Listening to the story of the Keeper and the Guardians dead race, torn apart by conflict is a great way of putting Blake and Travis’ conflict on an operatic scale, suggesting that they could wind up fighting in a sea of corpses if things continue to get out of hand. It is fascinating to see both hero and villain relying on their wits in an alien environment, having to fashion their own tools and use their surroundings to their advantage. There is an added element of frisson once the Mutoid is starved of blood and is seeking out Jenna to leech on her.

The Bad: The model shots in Duel lack any sense of movement, both Blake and Travis’ ships feel as though they are hanging in space rather than travelling through it. Travis is in the perfect position to stab Blake in the back as soon as they appear in the forest and yet he signals his presence to his enemy to give him the chance of a fair fight. I would have slipped the knife in his back and had done with it. The only issue I take with Duel is that by its very nature it has to have an open ended conclusion. Travis is too good a villain to kill off and Blake is the character that this series orbits so it was inevitable that there would be an intervention at some point and they would be forced their separate ways. Poor Travis, the one time he managed to catch up with his rival is the time when Godlike beings decide to get involved in their fight. Without their intervention though, it is very possible that they conflict would have come to a swift conclusion when the ships collided.

Fashion Statement: Another memorable offering from Jenna, her sophisticated blouse looking for all the world as though it is covered in constellations makes her look like she is expected at a cocktail party. The Guardians’ tight outfit leaves very little to the imagination.

Musical Cues: It is the one time during the first season that show wasn’t scored by Dudley Simpson. If there was ever an argument for variety, then this episode proves to be it as the stock music chosen by Douglas Camfield is some of the most atmospheric of the season. Proof, if it was needed, that the teleport doesn’t come with its own musical cue.

Moment To Watch Out For: A testosterone fuelled scrap between Blake and Travis intercut with a vicious catfight between Jenna and a Mutoid. I think I might be in heaven.

Result: Two ships locked together in space whilst bitter rivals slug it out on the planet below, Duel is dynamically directed by Douglas Camfield and a strong contender for the title of best episode of the year. Everything comes together in this installment; Terry Nation has written an excellent script that brings the Blake/Travis storyline into sharp focus and pits them against one another in a fascinating game, Douglas Camfield realises the ideas with his trademark muscle and imagination, the only non-Simpson score of the season provides some dramatic moments and all the performances are top dollar with great lines for practically everyone. I love how Duel combines archetypal Blake’s 7 (the Liberator being pursued relentlessly through space, the dramatic face off, Blake and Travis’ rivalry) with something that is a bit alien and way out (the atmospheric storm lashed planet, alien psychedelia surrounding the Keeper and the Guardian) – it really is exploiting the best of both worlds. It cannot quite break out of the season one formula of feeling like two stories bolted together, with the first half devoted to setting up the contest and the latter half devoted to the conflict on location. When Camfield gets outside he proves what he can really do, suggesting an oppressive environment and dramatic backdrop for Blake and Travis to battle it out. What impressed me the most were the guest performances; Patsy Smart provides a sarcastic and bloodthirsty Keeper, Isla Blair is the picture of Godlike eminence and there is a fascinating, almost flirtatious chemistry between Grief and Carol Royle’s Mutoid. Extremely macho, but for once Nation entirely justifies that approach: 9/10

Project Avalon written by Terry Nation and directed by Michael E. Briant

What’s it about: Another game of strategy between Blake and Travis…

A Good Man: Blake is becoming much better at the art of guerrilla warfare. Whilst it would appear that his plan to liberate Avalon has succeeded, he soon figures that there are many detail so their raid don’t quite add up. For anybody who has been following this show religiously, there is little that could be more satisfying than the moment when Blake has both Travis and Servalan hostage.

Anti-Hero: Avon has a relatively small role in Project Avalon but he makes every one of his lines count – Darrow is shamelessly stealing every scene he appears in at this point. He’s like a little piranha in the fish tank, biding his time, waiting for the moment to strike and take over.

Maximum Power!: Servalan is working on two levels in this episode, officially scalding Travis for his failiure to catch Blake and unofficially giving him all the support he needs. Nothing pleases me more than to see this woman caught off guard and Blake’s bold move to beam into the facility and demand to speak to Travis certainly qualifies. Whilst this episode is far more concerned with the Space Commander’s schemes, it is good to see that Servalan will be a recurring role as it is clear from both Jackie Pearce’s excellent performance and the quality of the writing when her character appears that the villainess has the ability to run and run. Ultimately she would have potential that far outstrips Travis, she is the Avon of the other side, quietly biding her time on the sidelines and waiting for her moment to dominate proceedings.

One-Eyed: Travis is still obsessed with catching and killing Blake to the exception of all else. Nothing ever comes well of these vendettas, usually the villains lose all sense of perspective and their careers suffer as a result (can anybody say Captain Crais or Scorpius in Farscape?). Already there are hints that his pay masters are unhappy with his handling of the situation. As much as he detests anybody that opposes the Federation, he wishes he could find the same kind urge to sacrifice amongst his subordinates. The Federation wants the Liberator, and that ties in perfectly with his desire to bring catch up with Blake. It is the second episode in a row where Travis is almost able to kill Blake but this time he is hoist by his own petard, prevented from claiming his prize because the plan he set up to ensnare him. Whilst it has provided a muscular backbone to the first season, I can see why they took Travis’ storyline in a different direction in the second year. There is only so long you can watch these two growl at each other without the story moving on (because the writer is unable to kill either off them off) before the audience starts to switch off. I think they let it run for just long enough, exploiting the rivalry to the full, before turning Travis into a desperate man himself.

Blonde Bombshell: Check out the small scene between Jenna and Cally and spot the deepening relationship between the two of them. Their chemistry springs naturally from the actresses but Nation acknowledges that Jenna has been teaching her friend that art of war. Jenna has no compunction about attempting to murder a Federation guard that gives away their advantage. This is a show where our heroes are willing murderers, and I like that.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Does it support any intelligent life?’ ‘Does the Liberator?
‘Is your suit fully heated?’ ‘About ready to burst into flames.’

The Good: Having Travis walk through a biting snowstorm wrapped up in furs and his Mutoid companion strolling gracefully beside him really highlights how alien these creatures are. Shooting the opening sequence in real caves gives the production a more expensive feel than many of the other episodes of the first season. That is one of the more convincing snowy landscapes I have ever seen conjured up in England, up there with The Seeds of Doom’s attempts to recreate Antarctica. The trouble with hiring Stuart Fell to play a minor part is that his face is so familiar as a stuntman at this point that I just knew something violent was about to occur for his character. Another example of Federation brutality, massacring the scientists as soon as Travis has Avalon in his clutches. It was during this episode that I realised that the show has managed to fix upon a style of design that convincingly offers a glimpse into the future. With the exotic sets of the Liberator, the cold aesthetic of Federation pursuit ships and the harsh location work on every planet they teleport down to, the show has managed to build a visual identity for itself in a very short space of time. Even Servalan looks shocked during the experiments as the scientists identity gets eaten away and his face his replaced with hideous green fungus. I am willing to believe that there are unethical experiments of this nature occurring all across the Federation, pushing the limits of science to oppress the masses. This is the first time that tables have turned on Travis, and there is something nail biting about (what appears to be) Blake presenting a sneak attack on him. There is an in built tension in Blake’s 7 that most shows can only dream of. Genre television has to contrive circumstances to shake up the formula and push the characters into uncomfortable situations but Nation has cleverly handed the BBC a show where the central characters are always on the run, always being hunted and always in danger. It adds a level of frisson to every situation they step into. I can only think of a handful of other shows (the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica, DS9 and Babylon 5 when they got their war arcs on the move) where the tension is so well established and that the plots that they stumble across simply add to that anxiety. It would seem that the art of corridor action sequences has not been lost on Blake’s 7 and Briant shoots the attack on the facility with some verve. These corridors are sufficiently well designed to allow for guards to leap out of nowhere and start blasting (things are usually pretty desperate when you start discussing the design of the corridors but that simply isn’t the case here, it is a staple of both Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 that when done well can really enhance the story being told). Suddenly we’re dealing with a potential Federation spy on board the Liberator; another exciting, fresh idea. Many people bemoan the use of handheld camerawork but I find it often adds a realistic edge to scenes and Briant takes full use of the opportunity as the fake Avalon attacks the crew on the Liberator during the conclusion. Check it out, it is far more dramatic than the usual point and shoot approach.

The Bad: That daft old Federation robot is back, cruising the caves. It was obviously made at some expense and as such the production team are getting their money’s worth. I’m not sure what is more farcical, its stubby little arms or it’s glowing eyes on either side of its head. I’m not sure the twist about Avalon works – even if the kidnap was convincing enough, surely the Federation have mind control techniques that could have bent her to her will. The fact that she is an android duplicate seems to come out of nowhere and so isn’t very satisfying. It is a twist that you had no chance of guessing because there was never a hint that this was a possibility. Where Nation scores his victory is in having Blake exploit the twist to his advantage.

Fashion Statement: Servalan always knows how to make an entrance, strolling through Travis’ pursuit ship draped in the most outrageous white furs.

Moment To Watch Out For: It is extremely satisfying to see Blake defeating Travis and Servalan, combining the two elements of their scheme against them; the android and the virus. Travis stepping gently towards the programmed android might just be the tensest moment of the season and if you didn’t know how the rest of the series played you might well believe that this was to be their curtain call. That’s how convincingly it is played.

Result: ‘The Federation chases you all over the galaxy with the highly understandable desire to destroy you, then when they’ve got you pinned down they let you go. Why?’ We’re already getting into the territory where the villains are far more interesting than half of the protagonists on this show. It is a strength of all the best shows when there are fully fleshed out characters on either side of the conflict. The inclusion of Travis and Servalan lift this episode considerably, far more than had it focused on Gan, Cally or Vila as they are currently being (under)written. Project Avalon is a handsomely produced episode too, featuring some dynamic action sequences and stylish location work, making this one of the most convincingly realised alien worlds to date. Watching Blake and Travis play their game of war is extremely engaging, each trying to outsmart the other with the audience hanging on to their coat tails to see how has gained the upper hand. At first I thought Travis was being extremely stupid by giving Blake an easy opportunity to raid the base until I realised that was all part of his (much larger and devious) scheme. Then I thought Blake was being an idiot for teleporting the virus on board the Liberator and almost allowing the Federation to claim it from under their noses until he used their plan against them and almost wiped out his strongest opposition. This is probably the peak of their rivalry at play and their storyline is soon to take a very different path so let’s enjoy it while it lasts. Whilst many of the regulars get the short straw (always a problem with such a large central cast, a handful are always going to lose focus to give the rest an opportunity to shine) the triumvirate of Blake, Travis and Servalan win through and prove that when an episode gives them centre stage it is almost a guaranteed winner: 8/10

Breakdown written by Terry Nation and directed by Vere Lorrimer

What’s it about: Gan’s limiter is on the blink and he’s on the rampage…

A Good Man: There is another moment of vicious tension between Blake and Avon, a pressure that is developing with every passing week. Thomas and Darrow often do their best work when their characters are squaring off against one another, it isn’t your traditional macho tension like the testosterone fuelled scenes between Blake and Travis but an intellectual disparity, a clash of principles. That’s far more interesting because in any given situation they are both right to some extent.

Anti-Hero: ‘Blake, in the unlikely event that we survive this, I’m finished. Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable.’ You can always count on Avon to cut to the heart of the matter. I recently watched the superb Survivors episode Law and Order (another inspired series created by Nation – I really didn’t give this guy enough credit) which built to the uncomfortable conclusion that to maintain a sense of law and order they would need to execute an apparent murderer. No such debate is needed here, Avon points out there are other ways that Blake could kill Gan quicker than fiddling with his inhibitor. In Avon’s mind the man is a liability and needs to be put down. No reasoned argument, just cold fact. He’s a devious one and no mistake, covering his own back by sniffing out a bolt hole to hide out in just in case things get to hot to handle with Blake and his lackeys. Avon is battling with Zen once again, questioning his data. He takes nothing on trust and certainly doesn’t listen to superstitious warnings from alien computers, losing his head when Zen rejects their command. Paul Darrow’s overly theatrical fighting techniques come into play when Gan attacks him, he is thrown around the set with such gleeful abandon it is a shame that there was a slow motion effect or two to capture the glorious look on his face. Avon seeks the opinion of members of the crew, trying to discover why they remain loyal to a man who throws them in the most dangerous of situations. Vila certainly can’t give him the answers that he seeks.

Blonde Bombshell: ‘I love girls with a sense of humour’ ‘Yes I can see why that would be an advantage.’ In an episode that sees Gan attacking the two ladies on board the ship, it seems a bit much that Jenna should be sent to work her feminine wiles on Kayn’s assistant. Has Terry Nation forgotten the excellent work he did encouraging strong female characters as leads in Survivors?

Petty Thief: Vila admits that he stays with Blake because he likes him and he has nowhere else to go. Holding a weapon on Kayn and ordering him to start the operation took me completely by surprise. I didn’t think he had it in him. I love it when these characters break outside of their stereotypes and shock me with their actions.

Empath: Anybody would deserve a good thrashing for falling for that obvious trick of Gan’s to escape from his bonds. Talk about green. Even Blake is aghast that she could be so stupid rather than sympathising with her plight.

Gentle Giant: The story about David Jackson handing Chris Boucher a piece of paper in a read through with the number four written on it and when questioned he pointed out that’s how many lines he had in that particular episode is heartbreaking. Unfortunately it is symptomatic of a show with a large pool of regulars, especially when you are the least interesting and (according to a BBC report) the least popular. Jackson really has been abandoned on the sidelines of most of the season and so this is a long overdue piece of drama that focuses on his character. It seems sad that the episode that is designed to showcase his character is the one where he is given the least to do. Whether it is a malfunction of his limiter that makes him violent or whether the fact that he has broken down means that he reverts to his true nature, Gan is clearly a dangerous sort of fella to be around. The way he tosses Jenna about like a rag doll is proof of that. In fact it takes the entire crew of the Liberator to bring down this brute of a man and even that is after he has tackled them for some time. Despite the comedy gurning the idea is to make this man appear as brutish as possible and Nation and Lorrimer certainly succeed in that respect. I sure wouldn’t want to come by him in a dark alley at night. It is stated that the limiter is supposed to cut in at the point where stress levels drive him to the point where he might kill, which makes you believe that there might have been more incidents than the one he confided in Jenna earlier in the season. If he doesn’t get treatment he will either be a vegetable or die. It’s interesting that we only see Gan approach and attack the women on the ship, another suggestion that there was a sexual element to the reason he was fitted with the inhibitor.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Two of them would flatten any one of us for about a hundred hours’ ‘If he comes round he’ll flatten all of us for a good deal longer than that!’

The Good: It makes for a nice change of pace to have what looks like it is going to be a bottle show on board the Liberator. We have had enough episodes in a row involving attacks on Federation facilities and featuring Travis’ pursuit of Blake to set up this corner of the universe to allow for a pause in the action to catch up with the characters. There is a nice shift in Breakdown from the crew protecting each other because they have stepped into a dangerous situation to them looking out for each other because they are allies. There is no reason for any of them to put their head in the noose for Gan because they were all thrown together out of necessity rather than choice but they make an active decision to get him the help he needs, despite the risk involved. Lost, powerless and alone in a region of space that Zen was trying to avoid, Nation finds another unnerving avenue of space travel to explore in the first season. Although they keep using that establishing shot of the ship flying past the same sun week after week, there was an abundance of new Liberator model work in this episode that pleased me a great deal. Seeing the ship caught in the psychedelic light of the gravity vortex was startling and it looks more pristine than ever when approaching the facility. Given his CV seems packed full of appearances in every TV series and movie franchise going (Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Space: 1999, The Avengers, Harry Potter, Merlin) it would have been a crying shame had Julian Glover not turned up in Blake’s 7 at some point. He’s the consummate guest performer, never delivering less than excellence and adding a touch of class to any story he appears in. It is fascinating to listen to an intelligent, reasonable man (or at least portrayed as such until he turns psychopath in the final few minutes and even then he stares at his hands as though he cannot believe what he has done) give his opinion Blake and his fellow terrorists. Kayn is clearly an advocate for the Federation but there is no reason to believe that he has been co-erced into his allegiance to them. It offers a glimpse into another element of the administration, those who are privileged enough to secure high ranking positions and are happy with the way things are being handled. There will always be those who are willing to take advantage of a situation.

The Bad: Vere Lorrimer adopts exactly the same handheld camera technique for shooting the fight scenes on the Liberator as Michael E. Briant did in the previous episode but they are nowhere near as effective. It might have something to do with the close ups of David Jackson gurning as though he is having some form of comedy stroke or auditioning for caveman of the year. Episodes later in the shows run would see the Liberator set torn to pieces and explosions tearing equipment apart. The best Breakdown can manage is a light fitting falling through the ceiling and some dodgy close ups of the crew. The ending is too glib by half with everybody (including the women he assaulted) all sharing at joke at Gan’s return to the fold. I’m not sure if I would feel quite so at ease around a man who had tried to attack me, malfunctioning limiter or not.

Fashion Statement: Jenna and Vila appear to have been shopping in the outer space version of GAP. However their colourful wears hardly match their sombre personalities in Breakdown.

Moment To Watch Out For: There is a fascinating decision for Avon to make when he is offered the chance to stay on the station and work in peace and safety.

Foreboding: One of these days Avon intends to find out who programmed Zen and he certainly wouldn’t have long to wait…

Result: It is unfortunate for David Jackson that the one episode where his character is the centre piece he barely gets to do anything but act in a violent fashion and grab his head in the throws of a mental breakdown. For the audience though it is something a treat because this throws more time open for the remaining regulars and they each get a substantial amount of screen time in the ship bound first half of Breakdown. After weeks of action set pieces it is nice to catch up with the core characters and see how their relationships are working out. In particular the work that is done with Avon this week is compelling, not only his continuing tension with Blake but the also the possibility that he might abandon the crew when enticed to join the station personnel in secret. It again feels like Nation is still structuring his episodes as though he is writing two 25-minute Doctor Who episodes, with the narrative taking a new turn in the second half and kick starting in a fresh location. I enjoyed the character led first half enough to paper over any flaws in the shabby execution (it features one of the least dramatic ‘the spaceship will be torn apart!’ sequences I have ever seen) but once Julian Glover and the rest of the stations personnel joined the story it is a home run for Breakdown. We’re afforded a glimpse at how others might view (and debate) the actions of Blake and his crew away from the biased opinion of the Federation and it’s fascinating to learn that there is enough anti-terrorist propaganda being spread without any help from the administration. Nation and Boucher are still thinking about the wider universe whilst concentrating on the riveting dynamics of the regular cast and both are given some consideration in this underrated drama. It’s just a shame that Gan is sidelined in what should have been his one chance to shine: 7/10

Bounty written by Terry Nation and directed by Pennant Roberts

What’s it about: Blake attempts to prevent another planet from falling into Federation hands…

A Good Man: Blake is appalled to learn that Sarkoff thought he had sought him out to murder him. He has to get used to the idea that the Federation is spreading convincing propaganda about his happy band of rebels about the terrible crimes they have already committed and what they are capable of if they come after you. Blake considers himself something of a hero, a good man and it really hits home that his actions are not being upheld in that way. It is something of a wake up call. Mind you in Sarkoff’s case he thought that Blake was an inhabitant of Lindor that has caught up with him but the point still stands. Bounty sees Blake taking a very different approach in his fight against the Federation. Not attacking one of their facilities or trying to hamper their subjugation of the Earth but trying to prevent another world falling into their hands. He’s firm in his intent, threatening to smash Sarkoff’s retreat to pieces, one artefact at a time, if he doesn’t do the right thing and return to save his people from Federation rule.

Blonde Bombshell: Here’s a chance for Nation to explore a little of Jenna’s history but all that we learn of value is that she had a terrible choice in former colleagues and that Tarvin believes that money can turn her head away from her friends. She plays on this reputation to convince him that she is on his side. Was anybody convinced that Jenna had genuinely turned on her friends? No, me neither. Had she proven to have betrayed them then this episode might have carried some dramatic weight but Nation takes the easy option instead.

Petty Thief: Vila must have been taking an especially large dose of stupid pills to think that the voice that slurs robotically over the communication system is Gan. Nobody sounds quite that clipped and mechanical unless they have been hypnotised, drugged or their voice has been faked. 

Gentle Giant: Plenty of group scenes and once again Gan is given scant lines. Did Nation not take to the character?

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m entitled to my opinion’ ‘It is your assumption that we are entitled to it as well that is irritating.’
‘The test is not whether you are suspicious, but whether you are caught.’
‘It wasn’t a rejection of my policies. The vote was merely a rejection of me.’
‘Well it’s faster than the automobile but not as amusing.’
‘What does she have to do to convince you, Blake? Personally blow your head off?’

The Good: I like being dumped straight into the middle of situation without being told what is going on straight away and the opening sequences with Cally evading Federation troopers on a planet certainly intrigues from the get go. It’s interesting to see that cars are not a regular feature in the future since Blake and Cally have no idea what one is when it comes shooting along the road past them (bizarre because we saw a troop transport in The Way Back so clearly they are used to some extent on the Earth). The location work is extensive giving the early scenes a very polished look – say what you will about the budget of Blake’s 7, it sure polishes up nicely outside on film. Ever since I saw his spectacular turn as Captain Cook in the Doctor Who story The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, it has been my pleasure to seek out further work that features T.P. McKenna, a charismatic actor who always makes his presence felt in any production. Sarkoff might not be his most inspiring role but he attacks with all the gusto at his disposal and provides moments of charm. The Lindor strategy began with rigged elections to remove Sarkoff from power and the end game was always to return him to his former position but as the puppet leader of a subjugated people. That’s Federation politics in a nutshell; underhanded, machiavellian and just devious enough to be hidden from plain sight. Sarkoff is one of those characters that has been sufficiently well thought through that you believe that he has life beyond the confines of this episode. I enjoyed the moment where he was about to be taken away from his sanctuary and played a record for the last time, one final moment of pleasure before he faces whatever the future brings. It only struck me once the crew had been half inched but the Liberator sets are quite eerie when they are devoid of people. Teleporting out of a speeding car (or as speedy as this vintage old banger can achieve) is quite a fun idea, although we can’t see it crash because the production team obviously didn’t want the expense of writing the car off. It is interesting to learn that there is a substantial bounty on Blake’s (and his crews) head, proof that the Federation are getting desperate in their attempt to quash his rebellion.

The Bad: Clearly Federation training school doesn’t put its potential troopers through its paces enough to include looking up when patrolling a perimeter. Cally is clearly visible atop one of the turrets of Sarkoff’s palace but the guard wanders around beneath her none the wiser until it is too late and she has jumped on his head. Whilst there is nothing wrong with duel narratives to give all the characters something to do, it does feel as if the planet side and space bound storylines are pulling in completely different directions. Chopping and changing between the two means that the pacing suffers too with neither story being given enough attention to build any momentum. These really are the most inept group of guards we’ve experienced so far on the show, distracted by a minor explosion around the rear of the house whilst Blake and Sarkoff nip out the front into a getaway car. Maybe they were given the job of keeping an eye on Sarkoff because their incompetence was highlighted in their training. Didn’t Chaney think to leave someone out front just in case? Half an hour into the episode and we still don’t quite know what has happened to the Liberator crew and once Blake and his entourage teleport back up to the ship the two plotlines clash jarringly. It just doesn’t feel as if they both belong in the same episode, even if both the Sarkoff plot and the crew as bounty are both workable ideas (I’ve always though Nation was a better ideas man than writer). Having the villains being played by Asian men in headscarves definitely points this out as being a product of a more naïve time, suggesting that anybody with a dark skin might be cast in the role of a bad guy. It is not until ten minutes before the end of the episode that the link between the two plots is exposed – Tarvin has been hired by the Federation to deliver Sarkoff, Blake and the rest. Somehow it feels like the episode could have been plotted more efficiently to make this more of a shock rather than Jenna simply dropping it casually into conversation. There doesn’t seem to be any attempt to dramatise any of this material, it simply plays out as though all the events were inevitable. How bizarre that the guest characters from both plots and left to converse whilst the regulars are all locked away in a cupboard. It really feels like this script needs another draft or to iron out its awkward kinks. Middle Eastern nasties obsessed with wealth, these bad guys are the worst kind of stereotype. The conclusion rests on a confrontation between Sarkoff and Tarvin, the regulars are superfluous to requirement. Frustratingly the most potentially interesting aspect of this story (Sarkoff’s return to his people and an attempt to prevent a Federation presence) is never seen and we don’t learn (at least here) what the consequences of his return is. The entire purpose of the episode seems to be for the Liberator to have provided the service of a taxi cab from A to B. Thrilling stuff. Tyce was played in an unusual fashion by Carinthia West who at times seems to suggest that she is in league with Tarvin or at least working on behalf of the Federation, which is never the case. The last minute revelation that she is his daughter feels as though it is supposed to shock but is underplayed into insignificance.

Musical Cues: Darling Dudley seems quite excitable this week, getting his small orchestra to make an awful lot of noise for the most standard of moments. Perhaps he thought the script needed a little lift.

Fashion Statement: Cally’s choice of guerrilla warfare outfit leaves a lot to be desired. She’s scaling walls in a leopard print fur coat that makes her look as though she has just walked off the set of Dynasty.

Moment To Watch Out For: A Mexican standoff between President and a greedy Arab. I kid you not.

Result: From what I understand this script was a joint effort between Nation with heavy rewriting by Chris Boucher and even some on the job tinkering by Pennant Roberts. The resulting episode feels as if it is pulling in several opposable directions and fails to gel as perhaps it might have had it been written earlier in the season when everybody’s creative juices were still flowing. There are some interesting ideas posed but most of them are hinted at and then never explored; exposure to Jenna’s past feels as though it should be more revealing and personal, Sarkoff’s homecoming would have been experienced rather than simply eluded to and the idea of the Federation being desperate enough to place a substantial bounty on Blake’s head is tasty but to have a bunch of racist stereotypes attempting to make good on the offer was probably not the most elegant way of dealing with it. Given Boucher’s presence in the script writing there are plenty of lovely lines, especially for Avon who is at his most cynical and amusing and Sarkoff’s part in the Federation’s strategy shows their ability to pull strings on a galactic scale. When all the best moments are off screen and what makes it into the episode feels so functional (and frankly padded, you can feel that this one was under running), Bounty cannot help but feel like a missed opportunity. Having said that for the presence of T.P. McKenna it is still not as dreary as Cygnus Alpha or The Web and would recommend it for his scenes alone: 5/10

Deliverance written by Terry Nation and directed by Michael E. Briant (and David Maloney uncredited)

What’s it about: Blake and Cally are trapped at gunpoint, Avon plays God and Servalan conscripts Travis to her latest scheme…

A Good Man: This is the first I can think of from memory where Blake hasn’t been heading the landing party. It is almost as though he has been given a heads up about how appalling conditions on the surface are.

Anti-Hero: It is interesting to learn that originally it was Blake who was supposed to teleport down to the planet instead of Avon but for logistical reasons this had to be amended. The result is that we witness the first signs that Avon could lead this merry band should anything happen to Blake but that the tone of the show would be very different. He certainly shows signs of leadership when he teleports back down to the planet when he realises that Jenna is missing. The difference between Avon and his colleagues is highlighted when they discover one of the escape pods with a dead crewmember inside. Jenna and Gan are visibly appalled but when Avon discovers the news he coldly accepts it and moves on to find the other. I suspect Avon is in his element being heralded as a God and worshipped by a gorgeous young slip of a girl but he shows no sign of enticement despite her reverent advances (‘You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?’ ‘Probably.’). Meegat is determined that Avon is the prophet that has come to herald deliverance and every word he utters appears to have been prophesised. Avon informs Vila that he is hardly the stuff that Gods are made of, suggesting that he might have something of a complex himself. It is an ego trip that we will witness bloat out of control the more the series progresses.

Maximum Power!: Suddenly Servalan is less in awe of Travis and enjoying playing mind games with him instead. She can clearly see that the tide is turning against him as he stacks up one failiure to capture Blake after another. The power shift only serves to ramp up Jacqueline Pearce’s already attention grabbing performance. She was introduced in Seek Locate Destroy as quite a serious, political figure but here we see the emergence of the devious, slightly kinky temptress that we all know and love. The more of her underhanded plan that she reveals, the more provocative her poise becomes. It got the sense that for Servalan, machiavellian plotting is akin to political foreplay.

One Eyed: He has been suspended and subject to a court enquiry because of his mishandling of the Blake affair, a situation that has tempered the fire in his belly somewhat. It is clear from Grief’s performance though that Travis is simply waiting to make his move. For Servalan’s plan to include the surgeon that saved Travis’ life is a deliberate blurring of the professional and the personal, her way of keeping him on a leash and fucking with his mind at the same time. Although it is made clear that Travis’ only priority in life now is to see Blake dead. His obsession has cost him too much and he is determined that if his reputation is to be salvaged he has to see this vendetta through.

Petty Thief: It is nice to see him on a reconnaissance mission because Gan aside, he has been the most neglected character of the season. Perhaps down to Terry Nation’s dislike of how Michael Keating played the character.

Empath: Watch out for the groovy moment when the camera pulls away from Cally on teleport duty wearing space age glasses and listening to what sounds like a particularly mellow jazz session. This form of space age concert seen through a visor is a neat attempt to suggest future technology that is far in advance of anything that the 70s had to offer.

Gentle Giant: Gan is given more to do and say in this episode than practically any other in the season. I bet this was one read through that David Jackson was quite pleased to attend because he actually had something to contribute. Gan points out that when it comes to killing his limiter implants prevents him from doing so, something that would be completely abandoned in the second year.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You’re almost as ruthless as I am’ ‘You underestimate me, Travis.’
‘Our waiting brought you’ ‘That seems like a poor reward somehow.’

The Good: There is an ambitious opening shot of the small ship passing the camera with the crew of two visible through the right hand window. It doesn’t quite come off but is nevertheless quite impressive for the attempt. Then Briant follows that with a shot from inside the ship looking out at the planet Cephalon. He’s nothing if not a bold director who is willing to try effects shots that are striving to be more extraordinary than the norm in the hope that the overall product will be better for it. After the generally lifeless events of Bounty, Deliverance kick starts with some attention grabbing drama in the shuttle; perilously exploding off course and the two crewmembers choking on fumes, consoles burning as they plunge towards the planet. The escape capsules glide gracefully towards the camera and hit the surface with a fierce explosion. The situation is made to feel as critical as it can be. Doctor Who often get me very excited when the TARDIS landed in a new location and we headed outside the ship to explore not knowing where we were or when. The excitement was in the discovery. The early planet side scenes capture that sense of anticipation too with four of the crew crawling across the surface of Cephalon and not knowing what they are going to stumble across. Even Blake didn’t know that Ensor was quite as valuable as he would turn out to be, with a man with double A security clearance at their disposal the possibilities are endless. With the mention of Orac we are back to serial storytelling which has all but disappeared since the first handful of episodes. It gave the show an unpredictable nature to have the first two or three episodes segue into each other and make up one narrative and I’m pleased to see Nation attempting the same thing as the first year comes to a close. Whilst you could argue that the Travis/Servalan/Blake narrative has been ongoing, it has been told in episodes that are self contained. Deliverance is left deliberately open ended so the threads can be picked up and developed in the next episode. Tony Cautner is another stalwart of British television in the 70s and 80s (turning up twice in Doctor Who), but perhaps not in the same league as Brian Blessed, Julian Glover and T.P. McKenna. His role as Ensor Jnr is a vital one and I’m pleased to see guest characters spilling over into further episodes. At this stage there is no reason to believe that he wont be joining the crew. Clearly a desperate man, he is willing to threaten to kill both Cally and Blake in order to protect his secrets. As we cut back to Federation command and see how the dynamic between Servalan and Travis has changed so significantly, it feels as if all the threads of the first year are coming to a head. For Servalan to admit that Orac is worth ten times one hundred million immediately set my mind racing that if Blake managed to get hold of such a device it could potentially be the catalyst for the downfall of the Federation. There is a sense of Boucher looking back at his work on Doctor Who and transferring elements from The Face of Evil, the engaging notion of a technology based society evolving into a religious one. It is expressed through the sets most intoxicatingly, dead consoles decorated with candles, a command centre turned altar. Avon, Gan and Vila translating the passages of the sacred text into scientific fact is excellently written, having to remould religious metaphor into a technological narrative.

The Bad: It is never a good sign when people are introduced by offering up great lumps of descriptive dialogue (‘Because of it we’ve enjoyed thirty years of complete independence!’). This sort of information should flow freely from a script rather than feeling like it is being foisted upon mechanically. As good as David Maloney’s direction of the location work is, have we really reached the desperate stage of grunting savages in furs making their way through a blasted wilderness? That is usually the last resort of the desperate in science fiction terms. When they emerge and start tossing polystyrene rocks, it looks as though the show has hit its nadir (although to me mind that is still the cacophonous racket the rubber suited Decimas made in The Web).

Moment To Watch Out For: Nation concludes one of his plots by having Avon live up to his prophecy and launching the rocket. Given the events of the finale episode of Blake’s 7 it pleases me to think that Avon’s name will be venerated on an unknown world in a distant system long after he has slipped off this mortal coil. His name will live on.

Result: It would appear that Russell T Davies owes Terry Nation something of a debt because his first season of the revived Doctor Who (which also formed a blueprint for every subsequent series) is plotted in a very similar fashion to Blake’s 7’s opening year. You have lots of elements being introduced throughout the season which converge in the penultimate episode (Blake and his assembled crew, Travis and Servalan) where a bombshell is dropped (Orac) that leads into the climactic finale. Because the events of Deliverance are going to spread into the last episode it gives Nation the breathing space to introduce three separate narratives and they all work to a greater or lesser extent. There is a six minute scene in the middle of this episode where the characters of Travis and Servalan effortlessly steal the show and it is clear from their ongoing electrifying presence that they have earned a stronger role in the next season. Pearce in particular has already developed her character considerably with relatively little screen time. Avon’s adventures on the planets surface are fun and it is nice to see him take charge of the action for a bit. Deliverance is worth watching just for the chance to see Paul Darrow playing a benevolent God. We still haven’t discovered what Orac is at this point but it is clearly something that is going to change the fate of the show, giving one side of this ongoing conflict a considerable advantage. With two strong directors bringing this story to the screen it is unsurprising that it is one of the best looking of the season and in particular the location work captures the excitement of exploring another world that I thought only Doctor Who had managed to master. For once I can’t even complain about the storyline being open ended (like Bounty) because that is deliberate to convince you come back next week. If only we could excise the grunting savages and their polystyrene rocks, this would be a near perfect lead in to the finale: 8/10

Orac written by Terry Nation and directed by Vere Lorrimer

What’s it about: The hunt is on for a technical marvel and both Blake and Servalan want to get their hands on it…

A Good Man: No revelations about Blake, no exploration of his character, no climactic results to show for his campaign. Was this really supposed to be the finale?

Anti-Hero: I realise that he is (potentially) dying of radiation sickness but things are a little too amicable between Avon and Blake in what should have been the episode saw the cumulative effect of their clash of ideologies. As it stands we have to wait until the end of the next season to reach that point. In a rare moment, Avon nearly loses his cool as his sickness starts to get the better of him.

Maximum Power!: This is the first time we have ever seen Servalan look anything other than self satisfied (even at the end of Project Avalon when her life was in danger she had an air of superiority about her) – she is genuinely spooked by the (daft looking) creature that attacks her in the tunnels. She enjoys putting Travis in his place, reminding him that he is her subordinate.

One-Eyed: I don’t believe for one moment that Travis wouldn’t have blown Blake’s head off as soon as he caught up with him. The two times he has had the opportunity earlier in the season he had to be forcibly prevented. For him to bow to Servalan’s instructions makes him less of a character than I thought he was. He’s all but killed his reputation, the least he could have done was finish the job off. 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Die? I can’t do that!’ ‘I’m afraid you can. It’s the one talent that we all share. Even you.’
‘It’s ironic, isn’t it? We are racing to deliver medical supplies that will save a mans life in the hope that he will have medical supplies that will save ours.’
‘Good shot Avon!’ ‘I was aiming for his head.’

The Good: It is great to see Nation live up to his promise that space is dangerous and the world that Avon and the others visited in Deliverance genuinely was a radioactive wasteland. Way back in the misty dawn of Doctor Who, Nation had the Doctor and his companions suffer a similar sickness and it heralded similar results – that space travel is a dangerous business with potentially fatal consequences. Mind you the terminal effects of radiation sickness is played with much more conviction and devastation in The Daleks than it is here. Avon, Jenna and the others have sweaty brows but otherwise get on with their business as usual. The designers on Blake’s 7 often strike their best work when they are building a set that is supposed to personify a particular character, given hints by the script. Ensor’s laboratory says much about his character (it is contemporary and stylish but with lots of personal touches and I love the mechanical bird twittering that adds much atmosphere that he can switch off on a whim) in the same way that Sarkoff’s ancient artefacts expressed that he was a man stuck in the past in Bounty. A computer with the sum total of all the knowledge of all the known worlds – what an awesomely powerful device. Introducing Orac, the singularly cheapest piece of design work ever seen in science fiction, turning out to be a plastic cube with flashing lights in side. Whether he was trying to be ironic or facetious is open to debate but Nation put deliberate instructions in his script that the design of the smartest brain in this corner of the galaxy was to be unimpressive. Why this should be is a mystery because I imagine something much sleeker and less cumbersome to hulk about would have made the subsequent three seasons much easier on the actors. It has storytelling possibilities, that’s for sure and so on that level it is an exciting introduction but it also adds to the general feeling of ‘meh’ that pervades this finale that the awesome device that everybody is so eager to get their hands looks so naff. The fact that Orac is an arrogant little know it all with Ensor’s personality locked into his circuits is a lovely idea (it’s very K.9 but it’s still a lovely idea) and sees Blake’s 7 bowing to one of the conventions of the genre, the quirky computer.

The Bad: Blake’s equivalent of a Captain’s Log shows a lack of faith that the audience would have been following the entire season and remember the events of the previous episode (Nation should have had more faith in his writing because the ratings show that the audience was amazingly consistent throughout the first year). I understand the purpose of giving the memory a good jog seven days later or getting any newcomers up to speed but this is such an anomalous method – one that was never repeated again – that it really stands out as being what it is, the 70s equivalent of ‘previously on Blake’s 7…’ I thought that Lorrimer had discovered the drabbest beach on the planet until I realised that he was intercutting stock shots of a shoreline with filming that took place in a miserable looking quarry. The two don’t really make a complete picture. The map that Servalan carries looks like it has been drawn by a child and contains no real directions. When down in the tunnels Servalan is frightened by what is clearly a man trying to sound as terrifying as possible doing an animalistic growl (surely they could have modulated this?). When the monster reveals itself it has to shot in close ups to prevent us getting to detailed a look at the implausible looking creature. Weren’t there any Jim Acheson costumes lying about in the Doctor Who stores they could have borrowed? No wonder David Jackson was the first to be culled – he can’t even pull off a sickly groan convincingly. Whilst Ensor’s reaction to his sons death is hauntingly played it is also fleeting and skipped over in a hurry, exposing a flaw in the sort of exciting, pacy storytelling that Blake’s 7 is trying to tell. You don’t want to spend too long dwelling on the personal tragedy of a guest character because the story needs to keep moving (especially one as ponderous as this) but at the same time if a father genuinely heard this sort of news they would probably be too gripped by grief to bother with whatever Blake and Cally have come to pester him about. It’s a fine line between ignoring it altogether and giving it a brief moment of consideration – neither is ideal. It’s actually a little embarrassing that Travis and Servalan should spend 40 minutes wandering around a narrative cul de sac (lets call them tunnels) waiting for Blake and Cally to have away with Ensor (and they aren’t quick about it, he has to feed his fish and water his plants first) but the second they do they suddenly burst into the laboratory to find them all gone. It is so inelegantly plotted.

Moment To Watch Out For: The climactic confrontation between Blake, Servalan and Travis is a mundanely shot chat in a quarry squabbling over a metal box? It’s not what I’d hoped for I have to be honest.

Foreboding: Is the Liberator going to be destroyed? That certainly seems to be the case in the glimpse of the future that the crew witness in the last scene…

Result: It would appear that Russell T Davies also felt compelled to replicate Nation’s inability to tie up a season in an satisfying way. Twelve episodes of build up, twelve weeks of assembling a crew and setting them at each others throats, introducing strong villains and painting a bleak picture of the future only to climax on a forgettable filler episode like this. Whilst there isn’t anything actively wrong with any of the material in Orac, it certainly doesn’t feel like the culmination of this eclectic first year of Blake’s 7. When compared with the explosive finales of any of the other three seasons, this is more like a walk in the park. The first half an hour of Orac is deathly slow and not a great deal seems to be happening. Travis and Servalan have to hold off from reaching Ensor’s lab for a whopping 40 minutes until Blake and Cally have whisked him away and in that time they simply wander around some caves and tangle with hideously unconvincing creatures. The story seems to be sold on the revelation that Orac is the smartest computer in this corner of the galaxy and can hack into just about anything. Fair enough, that is an exciting prospect but its appearance is so deeply unimpressive the moment seems lost in a cry of ‘is that it?’ Pity the poor actors that will be lumbering around with the cumbersome prop for the next three seasons. Compiling this episodes problems you have four crew members that are given sod all to do (Gan, Vila, Jenna and Avon) and there is a distinct lack of the tense banter I have come to enjoy between them, particularly Blake and Avon who seem quite chummy here. If this was mid season filler it might just be acceptable but in a season that has sported episodes as strong as The Way Back, Seek-Locate-Destroy, Duel and Project Avalon this is limp, unconvincing stuff. Imagine, if you will, that Blake’s 7 had been cancelled after its first year. This would have been the least eventful series finale on record. Here’s to season two, let’s hope a mix of script writers gives the show a much needed boost: 4/10


Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

Brilliant! I was hoping you'd do Blake's 7 reviews.

BSC SSC said...

Great! Love the show too. Will you ever do Red Dwarf?

Joe Ford said...

Thanks for the comments guys and your support. I will get around to Red Dwarf one day (I love your handle - I wondered if that was Rimmer's swimming certificates!) as it is a show I adore. Trouble is I'd give practically every one 9 or 10/10! Thanks again :-)

BSC SSC said...

It is a reference. I used to wind up my teachers when I was younger by adding it to the end of my name and its stuck!

Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

There is an audio from Magic Bullet, that humorously sends up much of Blake's 7 including that eight month Cygnus Alpha gap, see here:


BSC SSC said...

I agree with lots of your points Joe but I'd rate Space Fall slightly higher and give The Way Back a ten. Also, do the eight months between Earth and Cygnus Alpha happen in Space Fall or Cygnuw Alpha?

Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

I don't mean to do Terry Nation a disservice, he did create the show after all, but I believe script editor Chris Boucher did a lot of work on these scripts too:

There's an infamous quote from Nation, that Boucher tells, which goes:

"You can have second drafts or you can have the next episode, but you can't have both."

Yet his name is conspicuously absent in your reviews.

Joe Ford said...

Whilst Nation's name is on the credits, I will credit Nation. I realise Boucher did plenty of re-writing in season one (I like the quote that not a single line spoken by Avon didn't have some input by Boucher) but Nation is credited as the writer of each episode. There will be plenty of time to praise Boucher, his solo scripts are some of my favourites. I do mention the script editor when it is apropriate (I often mention Eric Saward and Terrance Dicks) so perhaps I should keep that in mind when going forward.

BSC SSC said...

The Minimas are pretty rubbish but their eyes give me the creeps. The head in the jar was truly atrocious but this is Blakes 7 so I can forgive it. Another great review. I do hope they revive this series on TV or as a film (with Benedict Cumberbatch as Avon!).

Paul said...

Sorry Joe, I disagree with you entirely about Mission To Destiny. It's the first proper clunker in the series, in my opinion. Here's my thoughts if you fancy a listen: http://thetimevault.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/30-blakes-7-mission-to-destiny-duel/

Joe Ford said...

Well we can't agree on everything! It was harmless, and certainly better made than some other season one episodes, even if it didn't set my world on fire as a murder mystery. You know I can't get on with podcasts! M

Watched Duel today, looks like we are going to be in disagreement about that too!

BSC SSC said...

I found Mission to Destiney to be like The Robots of Death-which is no bad thing-and I like it. I also love Duel, for all its weirdness, because of several killer lines. I agree with your thoughts about The Web being a low point, playing a bit like Nation by numbers!

Paul said...

Im sure we can debate this on Monday evening :) Personally i think the first half of Duel is excellent, whereas the second half is good. Camfield had a falling out with Dudley Simpson in the early days of Who and never used him again. And did you notice that Servelan's fluffy white outfit is the same one Romana wears in The Ribos Operation? :)

Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

Thank you for your reviews, Doc Oho. I've enjoyed reading them. I will look forward to reading your thoughts on season 2.