The Way Back written by Terry Nation and directed by Michael E. Briant
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.
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.’
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.
Space Fall written by Terry Nation and directed by Pennant Roberts
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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
Another dodgy robot to add to the scrap heap. Up there with the Quarks, the War Machines and Styre’s Robot.
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
The Web written by Terry Nation and directed by Michael E Briant
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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!
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
Duel written by Terry Nation and directed by Douglas Camfield
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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
Project Avalon written by Terry Nation and directed by Michael E. Briant
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.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Does it support any intelligent life?’ ‘Does the Liberator?’
‘Is your suit fully heated?’ ‘About ready to burst into flames.’
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.
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
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.
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.
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!’
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.
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
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.
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?
‘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.
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.
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
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.
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.
‘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.
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