Redemption written by Terry Nation and directed by Vere Lorrimer
A Good Man: Blake recognises what an advantage he has with the Liberator and the fact that they probably wouldn’t have made it this far without technology this far in advance of the Federation. As a result he refuses to give up the ship without a fight.
Anti-Hero: There is more tension between Blake and Avon in their first scene together in Redemption than Nation managed throughout his entire season finale last year. Blake is in a bad mood; Avon is disinterested with his obsession over what might potentially destroy the Liberator and it takes a sharp tone and an insult for Blake to convince his ally that he means business. Avon figured out a while back that the star system that the Liberator is seen exploding in is on the other side of the galaxy, a fact that he hasn’t deemed necessary to inform any of the others about because he thinks they need a lesson in not relying on Blake to provide all the answers. It feels as though Nation and Boucher have taken a good hard look at the previous season and seen which characters worked and which didn’t and decided that Avon stood out amongst them as the one with the most potential. Paul Darrow was starting to steal every scene by the end of the first year, even if he had relatively little to do in the episode. He has been highlighted as the favourite and is going to be on the receiving end of all the best lines from now on. When you compare to how mechanically Gan and Cally are written for, the comparison makes it obvious that the quality dialogue is tipped in Avon’s favour.
Gentle Giant: ‘We’ve made a thorough search and there is definitely no trace of Gan’ – oh how I longed for somebody to pipe up and mimic Red Dwarf’s Cat (‘Quick let’s get out of here before they bring him back!’). No such luck, although it does say something about the character that he can be removed from the action and everything ticks on regardless.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Imagine you are standing on the edge of a cliff’ ‘As long as you’re not standing behind me…’
‘Are you alright?’ ‘All I am willing to admit is that I am still alive.’
‘I’ve got a shocking pain behind the eyes’ ‘Have you considered amputation?’
‘It’s more fundamental than that. We are the cause. It is rejecting us.’
The Bad: Once again the show is mixing scenes shot on video and film in all studio stories and the resulting contrast in picture quality clashes terribly. Why they couldn’t have gone for all of one or the other baffles me.
Musical Cues: Dudley seems to be having fun with the material he is being asked to score this week, especially during the chase sequences and the approach to the System.
Moment To Watch Out For: What works about the conclusion is Orac flexing his muscles and showing what he is capable of and proving that he doesn’t like any threads left hanging. He predicted that a ship that looked like the Liberator would be destroyed and thus he made it happen. This little dude is going to be one to watch out for.
Shadow written by Chris Boucher and directed by Jonathan Wright Miller
What’s it about: Blake turns to the criminal organisation, the Terra Nostra, in his attempt to bring the Federation to its knees…
A Good Man: Blake is approaching the Terra Nostra with a very clear vision in mind, obtaining their men, materials and information to aid in his campaign against the Federation. It might mean rubbing shoulders with men with insalubrious sorts but that is a small price to pay for victory. There is a shift in Blake’s characterisation here, not so much the lily white crusader he was in the first season but willing to get his hands dirty if it ensures that justice is served to the Federation. He admits that persuasion was the wrong approach to co-erce the Terra Nostra into helping them and they should have used force. If they can figure out where the drug shadow comes from and they can control its supply, they can control the Terra Nostra. Gareth Thomas’ pronunciation of telekinesis is unusual to say the least. Blake learns a valuable lesson in Federation duplicity here. He was hoping to use the Terra Nostra to attack the Federation only to discover that it is already being used to support. It is starting to look like whatever route he takes, the Federation will always be one step ahead. Blake makes a promise to come back for Bek in three years, a promise that he isn’t going to be able to keep.
Petty Thief: Vila coins Space City ‘the satellite of sin’, his typically sleazy view of the galaxy. Once he is left behind, Vila tries to use his powers of persuasion to convince Cally to teleport him over for Blake’s own good. She’s not buying it. I really enjoyed the minor comedy subplot of Vila trying to make his way onto Space City and sample its delights. Boucher remembers all of the characters and ensures that nobody is neglected. Avon highlights one of Vila’s few strengths, his ability to boil down every complicated scenario to its simplest explanation and thus ensuring nobody is left in the dark.
Gentle Giant: Gan is still the least interesting of the regulars (it comes as no surprise to me that he was the first to be written out) but at least he is allowed an opinion (he doesn’t think they should be seeking the aid of an organisation as filthy as the Terra Nostra) rather than standing around mute in the background. Gan has a problem with becoming a drug pusher in order to achieve their gain.
‘I thank you for your confidence, chairman’ ‘Largo, that is too small a thing to thank me for.’
‘Some people will collect anything’ ‘Look what you ended up with.’
‘To have total control you have to control totally, both sides of the law.’
‘Where are all the good guys?’ ‘You could be looking at them’ ‘What a very depressing thought.’
The Good: An unkind person might suggest that Space City is just a plastic bubble with a concentric ring but that would underselling the designers attempt to create something totally different from the standard space station designs of the time. Within this captivating looking structure there are mini domes with their own functions, separate buildings and what looks like an artificial gravity generator so that whether you are standing above or below you are always the right way up. Boucher is willing to push the adult content a little more than Nation but in a more subtle way. Where the shows creator is ready to massacre a group of rebels or invented charges of interfering with children, Boucher explores drug addiction. Largo enjoys making those addicted to shadow beg for their supply, if they don’t get a regular dose they will die in terrifying agony. This torture, both psychological and physical, is expertly underplayed and it is all the more adult for it. How the tables are turned on Largo so quickly, and his promise of retribution, shows a marked step up in the quality of the writing. It really feels like this show is going places now, guided by an expert hand. I like how the Liberator glides into view in the background of a scene after this episode has already well and truly kicked off, the narrative underway before the regular characters are even involved. The Terra Nostra work in secret on Earth and on Federated worlds, and it is Blake’s window of opportunity to get home and create some real damage. Boucher is less concerned with painting the galaxy in broad strokes like Nation, visiting one planet after another but instead focuses his attention on the sort of location that excites the mind and the hive of activity that goes on inside. We get to see the consequences of shadow early on, a lifeless body under a shroud. Zen points out that Orac is nit concerned for the safety of the Liberator, that could make him a dangerous prospect. The Enforcer is quietly hanging around in the background as Largo dices with Blake and waits to make his move, murdering him when the opportunity presents itself.
Moment To Watch Out For: Watch and marvel at the creepy atmosphere that the lighting designer creates as Orac is taken over by an alien intelligence and traps Cally in the command centre of the ship. It looks like Peter Grimwade might have been paying attention to Shadow and Cally’s mental breakdown under Orac’s thrall when it came to directing the sequences in Tegan’s mind in Doctor Who’s Kinda because they share some very similar visual techniques. It is trippy and surreal and suits the theme of the episode perfectly. Once he gets the chance to play something a little unusual and disturbing, you realise how much Peter Tuddenham is wasted as Zen.
Weapon written by Chris Boucher and directed by George Spenton-Foster
Maximum Power!: In his old guise, Servalan was not above flirting with Travis to stimulate him into getting the job done. Now he is younger and fitter, her treatment of him is more extreme on both ends of the spectrum. She’s both more tactile (seductively stroking his chest) and more violently critical of him. There has been a massive shift in power from Travis to Servalan (she treated him almost reverently in Seek-Locate-Destroy but now it is as though he is dirt beneath her feet) that represents the engaging journey they have taken on. Servalan is all graciousness to the Clone Master but abuses her behind her back. There is much more of a sense of Travis and Servalan playing games with one another now, uneasy allies in adversity. Even more interesting than the new tension between the established villains is the introduction of Carnell and Servalan’s sensual handling of him. This is a woman who is not above using her feminine wiles to get her own way and seduce men into doing her bidding but at the same time she makes the psycho-strategist fully aware that if he fails her he will lose far more than her respect. Whilst she is disappointed by Carnell, she cannot help but allow herself a small smile when he informs her she is the sexiest officer he has ever worked with. He also warns her that Travis is as mad as he ever was and that she should watch her back.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Auron might be different Cally but on Earth it is considered ill mannered to kill your friends whilst committing suicide’ – Boucher wanted Avon to take over this show, right? I cannot think of any other reason that he constantly gets all the best lines.
‘Unless of course you want your last words to be ‘so that’s IMPAK…’
‘Is there a defence against IMPAK?’ ‘Of course there is, it’s called slavery.’
Moment To Watch Out For: In a glorious moment of outright villainy, Servalan shoots Travis in the back with IMPAK and he is completely unaware of the fact.
Result: ‘IMPAK gives me the edge, Blake…’ By all accounts George Spenton-Foster wasn’t the easiest guy in the world to work for if you were an actor and he wasn’t keen on you. He could have favourites amongst the cast, whilst neglecting the people he wasn’t fond of (mind you at times I am of the opinion that actors can be amongst the most sensitive of people, whilst working in a field that deals out rejection far more than it does recognition) and he was fond of old directing techniques because he could be a bit of an old fossil. However I am reminded of Peter Grimwade in the Doctor Who universe, perhaps not the most fun to be around but the results are what matters and with Weapon (and later in the season, Pressure Point and Gambit), Spenton-Foster directs three very good episodes (on the other hand he also delivers Voice From the Past…but we’ll get to that later). As a side note he also handled Image of the Fendhal and The Ribos Operation for Doctor Who, two of the most imminently watchable Tom Baker stories for very different reasons (one is a spine tingling horror and the other a gentle character comedy). Weapon was penned before Shadow but they serve to compliment each other, this highlights the villains of the show in exactly the same way the previous episode played to the series’ protagonists strengths. Servalan takes on a dominant role and is proving to be more attention grabbing with each passing episode she appears in, Travis has undergone a massive personality shift (which to be fair to Croucher is scripted rather than all the work of the actor) and Carnell proves to be a delicious addition to the list of memorable scoundrels Blake’s 7 endorses. Boucher’s script is quite wordy, even by Blake’s 7 standards, but I don’t mind a verbose piece of drama as long as what is being discussed is interesting (many of the slower paced DS9 episodes were the more substantial because they explored the characters so significantly) and the performances match the quality of the dialogue. Happily, none of the villains on this show can be predicted and they are treated as nuanced characters in their own right rather than simply an opposition to the heroes morality. In Boucher’s hands the series is undergoing a welcome change, moving away from the cowboys and Indians in space that Nation promoted into something far more nuanced and immeasurable. Weapon never generates much pace but it is much more a story of ideas and interaction and it scores very highly in that regard. My one complaint is that it wastes John Bennett in a minor role that should have taken on more prominence as the episode progressed but instead he is summarily dispatched as a casual insignificance. Weapon is not so much a standalone episode but an intriguing piece of season two’s puzzle and thanks to Spenton-Foster’s careful handling it doesn’t betray the fact that it was rushed into production in the slightest: 8/10
Horizon written by Allan Prior and directed by Jonathan Wright Miller
Result: From the opening moments there is something different about Pressure Point, a mounting sense of doom and disaster lingers. The characterisation across the board is better than ever; Blake has discovered martyrdom and is asserting his control over his crew, Avon reveals his long term plans, Servalan is given some excellent background history and Travis has willingly settled into the role of being her lap dog. With high stakes, great interaction between the characters and a further sense of world building on Earth, Pressure Point looks set to be a true Blake’s 7 classic. Nation can’t quite resist shoving some of his adventure game flourishes into the mix which leads to a number of paceless scenes of the crew trying to gain access to Control and the inexcusable journey underground through the same set lit in various colours. However once that expedition is over there are a number of great twists that bolster the last ten minutes – Control is a trap for anybody that might try and threaten the Federation and Gan is killed in a moment of heroic self-sacrifice. The realisation of these moments might not be the finest but once again Blake’s 7 is shown to take the sort of risks that plenty of other shows at the time would have avoided like the plague. Pressure Point is clearly aiming for all the excitement and anticipation of a mid season climax, the sort that Doctor Who with its current split seasons is endorsing. It doesn’t quite work its way into the upper echelons of Blake’s 7 episodes because it fails to have the same visual and emotional impact of later examples such as Star One, Rumours of Death, Terminal and Blake but it is certainly trying a damn sight harder than most of Nation’s season one episodes and succeeds in giving the series a kick up the proverbial. There is plenty to take away from this episode too, with dark consequences for the future: 8/10
Trial written by Chris Boucher and directed by Derek Martinus
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘What would you know about guilt?’ ‘Only what I’ve read.’
Result: Trial is a fantastic episode in what is turning out to be a very accomplished second season of Blake’s 7. It serves to deal with the consequences of recent events, to brings some storylines to a head and to push the series forwards. As well as picking up the threads from Pressure Point and continuing the Travis/Servalan storyline, Trial also features the return of Peter Miles’ character from Seek-Locate-Destroy and highlights the serial nature of the programme in a very positive way. Rather than simply ticking all the right boxes (ala Peter Grimwade in Doctor Who’s Planet of Fire), Chris Boucher attacks the list of necessary developments with his trademark wit and intelligence and the dialogue is really in a league of its own. The Travis plots wins through for interest during the first half, offering an intimate glimpse into the political wrangling beneath the shiny Federation veneer and giving Croucher a chance to really claim the character of Travis as his own. The Blake plot seems a little childish in comparison as he mopes about on a nearby planet pondering his recent mistakes, meeting a bizarre alien creature and abandoning his crew. However there is a great deal of worth to be unearthed in their reaction to his abandonment and the lengths they go to get him back. It’s a necessary healing process before the show can move on and I thought I knew exactly where this plot was heading. So imagine my surprise when it takes a massive detour in the last ten minutes and Blake takes his willing crew on a potentially suicidal attack on Servalan’s base, the last thing she will be expecting him to do. Trial is further proof that if Blake’s 7 secures a decent director (Derek Martinus brings a whole new style to the series here) then the budget is an irrelevance to the unfolding drama, the relative cheapness doesn’t even register because the story plays out with such conviction. Any episode that sees Blake and Avon sharing a joke at the climax is a winner in my book: 9/10
Killer written by Robert Holmes and directed by Vere Lorrimer
Horizon written by Allan Prior and directed by Jonathan Wright Miller
A Good Man: Stress is finally catching up with Blake and his merry gang; with a collection of ailments that range of headaches to back trouble. Too many calls on their physical and mental reserves has put them in a state of mental shock. He’s tired of running and wants at least one planet that they can use as a got to base of operations and place to rest. Clearly their derring do adventures are having an adverse effect (although it has never been noticed before I might add, and they have been in some pretty hairy situations) and Horizon seems to have fallen into their lap at precisely the wrong time. Why Blake would choose a planet where there is already a Federation presence though seems a little odd – surely this is precisely the sort of conflict he is trying to avoid at the moment?
Anti-Hero: ‘If we go now, we can sail the universe in reasonable safety, providing we keep out of everybody’s way and we do not do anything rash…’ Avon isn’t interested in visiting Horizon and certainly doesn’t see Blake’s curiosity as a good reason to pursue the Federation supply ship to the planet. What we need is for Avon to take a small break from the Liberator, cross franchises into Star Trek and take up a position on the TNG Enterprise. The scene where he tells Cally that you don’t have to be telepathic to pick up on the general atmosphere and feeling of a place is exactly the sort of criticism I level at Counsellor ‘I sense anger from those two warring factions’ Troi. He would have cut through their bland amiability in no time. Is this the first time that Avon has been left alone on the Liberator? Blake raises the issue early on that if the chips are down he is afraid that Avon would run and now he is in the perfect opportunity to leave them to their fate on Horizon and do a bunk with the most powerful craft in the section of the galaxy. The question is will he do it? He certainly asks Orac all the right questions; whether they have enough supplies for him to continue on his own. I can imagine a highly amusing show featuring bitchy banter between Avon and Orac as they traverse the galaxy together – it would be the most caustic sitcom ever committed to film. Darrow looks positively wistful as Avon considers the idea of travelling on unencumbered by Blake’s morality, Vila’s foolishness, etc..
Empath: Since Shadow, both Cally and Jan Chappell seem much more confident. Watch the scene where she informs Avon that the others aren’t dead because she knows. There is real conviction in her attitude that wasn’t there before.
Gentle Giant: Gan dies in the next episode (it is hardly a spoiler when the show is this old) and all he gets to do is have a momentary argument with Orac and get chained to the wall. What a useless character as written.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Does the Federation frighten you?’ ‘Of course not’ ‘Then you must be part of it.’
The Bad: You cannot help but notice the step down in the quality of the dialogue as Chris Boucher hands the reins to other writers. It is not because Prior’s dialogue is clunky (although it does have a certain functionality to it) but because Boucher has such an ear for memorable dialogue and fills every scene to bursting with great lines. There almost seems to be too many reasons to visit Horizon (Cally’s medical advice, Blake’s curiosity and he wants a base of operations). I suppose it is to expected in a series where the central menace is a confederacy that has assumed power by reducing the status of its citizens, but Horizon is the umpteenth episode to deal with a slave planet that is ruled by an iron fist. We saw similar worlds in Cygnus Alpha, The Web and Redemption. It might come part and parcel with the premise of Blake liberating these worlds but Boucher proved in his previous two scripts that there are avenues for the series to explore. Watching Blake show a bunch of greedy slaves how to take their turn in taking handfuls of gruel isn’t my idea of a fun television experience. Maybe it has something to do with the depth of performance or maybe the strength of the writing but the best episodes of genre television can introduce societies and relationships and they will feel perfectly natural and that their lives will continue long after we leave the characters behind, as though they have an existence outside of the confines of the story. The Ro/Selma/Kommisar relationship failed to convince on any level – despite the references to events that have happened before this episode. Everything feels as little too contained, I never felt any attraction between Ro and Selma and the Kommisar was so obviously pulling the strings that Ro must have been blind not to see it. It’s one of those instances where it just doesn’t gel.
Musical Cues: A completely uninspired score by Dudley Simpson this week. It felt like the same old cues being played over and again. Perhaps a little variety with the musicians would have given the show less of a one-track identity and more of a chance to experiment with the tone and mood of the music.
Moment To Watch Out For: Blake and Jenna, apparently seasoned terrorists at this stage, somehow fail to miss a giant antenna working its way out of the local fauna when it is right in their faces. They are also incapacitated in record time. I’m not sure I would want them on my side in a fight. Later, Avon proves his worth by spotting the antenna immediately and blasting the crap out of them (and follows that up with half a squadron of Federation troops).
Result: After the more complex proceedings of two Boucher scripts, this feels like a return to the straightforward adventuring of season one. Within minutes of stepping on the potential forward base planet of Horizon, Blake and Jenna are captured and placed on the rake and subjected to invasive questioning. None of it is especially deep or interesting if I’m honest. Darien Angadi gives a decent performance as Ro (and he’s quite easy on the ey too) but he isn’t given the most interesting of characters to play. The whole scenario down on Horizon lacks conviction; I never believed in the relationships between the characters and I certainly wasn’t won over by the realisation of this society. The piece feels like it needs a great deal more oomph than we get with the pace slackening more often than it quickens and no moments of high drama or comedy to liven up events. When we end up stuck in the mines with a topless Blake we might have hit a new low for the show. Even the last minute approach by Federation attack ships feels like a final moment of desperation to inject a little excitement into the episode. If you were ever going to dramatise the liberation of a planet from Federation rule, this is about the drabbest way I can imagine going about it. All of my points go towards Avon and the consideration that is given to him potentially legging it with the Liberator and leaving the crew stranded on Horizon: 4/10
Pressure Point written by Terry Nation and directed by George Spenton-Foster
A Good Man: Blake has always been something of a maverick but this is the first time that he has asked his friends to follow him in a plan that even glanced over with hopeful eyes would be declared suicidal. Cally, as always, seems right behind him (does she have a thing for Blake?) but all the others object strongly. Given that the situation on the Liberator is an accepted autocracy, they don’t really have much of a choice. Blake is also starting to get something of a God complex, he knows uses the royal ‘we’ when talking about his proposals but instead declares with arrogant superiority ‘I think I can destroy it!’ The remainder of the Liberator crew rally behind him (although Avon is conspicuously absent) and accept that his is the only voice of command, but under the caveat that if they have a less than even chance of survival they will pull out. When he finally reaches Control he runs inside screaming ‘I’ve done it!’, a true declaration of his egotism. It is the moment of his ultimate defeat by cutting his friends free of responsibility and his own hubris delivering him into Travis’ hands. Has Blake started to lose his mind? Is he starting to buy into his reputation as the ultimate freedom fighter? Will the death of one of his friends be the ego check that he desperately needs? Blake has to look into the cold, lifeless eyes of Gan and see first hand the consequences of his haste.
One-Eyed: To give Croucher his credit, he already feels more natural in the role of Travis (whilst still never attaining the heights of Grief’s portrayal). Travis is finally in a position to capture or kill Blake and once again he slips through his fingers. Croucher displays a simmering anger at having to give the command to let them go that is only sated when he throws the strontium grenade that claims Gan’s life. Now Blake has even more of a reason to find and murder his nemesis.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I always understood you, you’re vicious, greedy, sick…’ – Kasabi assassinates Servalan’s character.
‘Oh yes, they’ll dig us out eventually and then I’ll bury you!’ and Servalan is as good as her word, for once.
The Bad: Watching the crew crossing the minefield is like a particularly explosive episode of the Krypton Factor, although there is one genuinely tense moment when it looks like Avon might have bought the farm (livened even more by Paul Darrow’s mincing gait when he runs clear). I realise this is a show with limited resources but the way that Spenton-Foster shoots every version of the descent down the corridor in exactly the same way but lit with different shades of the spectrum exposes the unfortunate budget more than a truly terrible effect ever could. He should have found a more inventive way to shoot this, trying different angles, lighting effects and perhaps even shooting through ready made sets redressed. There really is no excuse for direction quite this perfunctory. The monkey bars test is pure Boys Own Nation.
Moment To Watch Out For: The wonderful, wonderful moment when Blake rushes into what he thinks is Control which turns out to be an empty room and the realisation that he has walked right into a trap. It is the one part of the production that Spenton-Foster ensures hits its mark, with an appropriately sparse and hefty room to suggest just how ensnared Blake is.
Trial written by Chris Boucher and directed by Derek Martinus
A Good Man: Proving itself to be a very different kind of show when dealing with consequences than Doctor Who, Blake’s 7 doesn’t skip over tragic events in a few minutes but instead takes an episode to deal with the emotional cost. Blake needs time to think and teleports down to an unnamed planet to try think through his recent mistakes and try and come to terms with the loss of Gan. It was made clear in Pressure Point that Blake has started to buy into his own reputation and as a result of that egotism he started to make some risky decisions. He’s not an unreasonable man, he knows he has made mistakes and in his recorded message to the crew he asks for them to consider their continued presence as a part of his cause. They have the right to opt out given the recent botch up. Avon informs Blake that he handles his crew very skilfully but one more death will push them away for good. He recognises that every bounty hunter and criminal that might have looked up to them and their crusade against the Federation now knows that they are fallible. You might think that his cautionary tale might have made him step back and consider a break from his reckless actions but instead he wants to push even further, an unpredictable attack on Servalan’s main base. It is the last thing they will be expecting right now, because Blake should be licking his wounds. It’s either mad folly or insane genius. Brilliantly he never intended to destroy her base, merely to send a message to everybody that they are more dangerous than ever and have nothing to lose.
Blonde Bombshell: Jenna doesn’t trust unless she is trusted in return, and doubts Blake’s motives when he teleports away without a word of warning. This series continues to enjoy a thread of suspicion amongst the regulars that is unusual in television – the protagonists usually trust each other implicitly and it is to Blake’s 7’s credit that they maintain a working association without ever descending into comfortable (read: bland) relationships.
‘There aren’t even any people down there!’ ‘So it has at least one aspect of paradise.’
‘Besides, if either of us chooses not to keep the rendezvous then we needn’t think too badly of each other. Maybe the detectors failed…’ – I love this, Blake giving both sides an easy option out without hurting anybody’s feelings. Or perhaps he is just protecting his own if they all choose to abandon him, taking the cowards way out.
‘You think he was faking that?’ ‘Everything but the self pity.’
‘Is it merely that Blake has a genius for leadership or merely that you have a genius for being led’ – I may have to stop quoting Avon lines so in fear that this review will bloat out of all proportion.
The Good: Derek Martinus picks up the reins on this episode and like his Doctor Who tales he directs with an imaginative and polished results. The camera rarely stops moving and he always finds intriguing angles to shoot the story from. The set and lighting designers have truly upped their game in Trial too with some very stylish looking sets given full exposure by Martinus. It is nice to see that underneath those Federation masks there are living, breathing individual with their own opinions. That is one of Boucher’s gifts to the universe that Nation has created, to add a little more substance and character to the little people. The yare so frightened of disobeying Servalan’s instructions they will point a gun in the face of officials that they have not been informed will be arriving. ‘Space Command runs the Federation, and we look after ourselves’ says one of them. It is interesting to note that Trial features two guest actors that would go on to play even more memorable roles in the future; John Savident (here as Saymor and later as the mad as a box of frogs Egorian in season four’s Gambit) and John Bryans (Bercol, but later playing a vital role in Boucher’s stunning season three story, Rumours of Death). The scenes of the Federation court reminded me very strongly of similar courtroom scenes on the planet Cardassia in Star Trek, a legal system which is rigged so that the party is convicted before they even set foot into the courtroom. The actual business of the trial is just a formality, well played theatre to tick all the right boxes. The forest planet that Blake teleports down to is so convincing that for a while I couldn’t tell whether this was an atmospherically designed set or they had found somewhere in the South of England that looked genuinely exotic to shoot in. Add in the heat ripple effect and Dudley Simpson’s tribal score and you have something that approximates an glamorous locale. Boucher’s script cleverly puts the regulars in a situation where they have to work together to save Blake, thus proving their loyalty together and exemplifying why they are more effective sticking together.
Moment To Watch Out For: The confrontation between Travis and Servalan at the climax, where he forces her to aid in his escape is easily the most exciting moment in the series to date. It also re-enforces my opinion that the villains on this show are a great deal more interesting and exciting than the heroes (Avon, an anti-hero, is the one exception). I was on the edge of my seat as Travis forced the gun in Servalan’s face after every she has put him through, waiting to see if he would go through with her execution.
Killer written by Robert Holmes and directed by Vere Lorrimer
A Good Man: Avon genuinely thinks that that great big bleeding heart of Blake’s will get them all killed. Their differences are being highlighted more and more as the season progresses and it feels as if we are leading up to some explosive fireworks between the two characters. At the moment they are restrained by the fact that they need each other but I foresee a time when the chips are down and their real feelings will come bubbling to the surface.
Anti-Hero: ‘When Avon holds out the hand of friendship watch the other hand. That’s the one that’s holding the hammer…’ It’s time to meet one of Avon’s old associates, although he’s not in the mood to reminisce about old times but to get straight on with the job that Blake has entrusted him with. Somehow Darrow manages to act his way out of one of those godawful leather smocks, Avon throwing Tynus a look so vicious when he declares Avon’s intentions as impossible that I figured that was the moment he was informed of his imminent death. Vila had always thought that Avon might have one friend out there, but he wasn’t laying any bets that he would ever get to meet them. Avon was wise enough to keep his mouth shut about Tynus when he was arrested, figuring he could exploit that moment of kindness if he ever escaped.
Petty Thief: You can see how Vila got caught by the Federation in the first place, reacting to his situation rather than thinking it through. Thank goodness he’s got Avon’s cool intelligence to see him through this mission. Vila doesn’t like bugs; you can see them, feel them or know they’re there and suddenly you’re dead. Silent killers are the most insidious.
Empath: I’ve had it pointed out that Cally is a Telepath and not an Empath and yet at the beginning of this adventure she is behaving for all the world like Counsellor Troi from TNG, not just detecting life on the old Earth vessel but also malignant emotions. I believe she is very sensitive to others emotions as well as being able to reach into their minds (frankly I don’t see how the two are ever mutually exclusive).
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Did anyone see you?’ ‘If they did, they didn’t look twice.’
‘Well I suppose it could be from Blake. He has these generous impulses.’
Moment To Watch Out For: Holmes was never frightened to kill people off in inventive and horrible ways (indeed it got him into a great deal of trouble at times on Doctor Who) and he has found himself assigned to a show where that is the norm. The result is that he feels right at home. Seeing men collapsing in screaming agony, bloody welts bursting from their skin, is right up Holmes’ street. It’s also the sort of viral infection that Nation has enjoyed an obsession with recently, a fusion of the two writers approaches.
Result: Given the show that has already had a year and a half to gestate and Robert Holmes’ glorious work on Doctor Who, I cannot think of a match more made in heaven than to bring together a writer as sharp and as impish as Holmes with a series as expectation defying as Blake’s 7. It just works. He was something of a mentor of Chris Boucher’s on Doctor Who and it is nice to see his protégé return the favour and secure him a position on a show that is well suited to his rich style of writing. Holmes has a tough job here, following on from two dynamic episodes and being the first not to feature this series’ roll call of impressive villains. With silent killers on the loose, friends turned enemies and nostalgia turned into a genocidal weapon, the Q-Base on Fosforon soon becomes one of the more claustrophobic and frightening locations that the Liberator has delivered its crew. If I had one complaint it would be that the episode does take a little while to some to the boil but given Holmes’ propensity for sparkling dialogue the wait isn’t interminable and when things get tense we’re in real butt clenching territory. The last minute moral debate between Blake and Avon sees their ideologies clash over a genuinely horrific choice, providing a potent dilemma for the audience of whom to invest their outlook with. Gareth Thomas, Paul Darrow and Michael Keating all excel in an episode that gives them a decent share of the action, although it does worry me that Jenna has been criminally underused of late. Killer isn’t the most dynamic episode of Blake’s 7, but it is one of the most dramatic with some (forgive me) killer ideas at its heart. It is another strong season two installment. I always thought season three was the strongest year of Blake’s 7 but it is going to have to work quite hard to top the sophomore year: 8/10
Result: What is it with these one word titles in season two? No wonder I could never tell them apart! Hostage opens with a gripping ten minute action sequence the likes of which we have never seen on this show before and doesn’t release its grip. Prior seems to have a much better handle on both the series in general and its characters and this is the third episode in a row that segues in directly from the last, giving the audience extra incentive to switch on. After some humble efforts to cut his teeth in the shows debut year, Lorrimer has now become a director to look forward to. He handles the occasionally stagy studio scenes with a sense of urgency and manages to switch between that and atmospherically shot location work better than most. I’ve read some particularly scathing comments about this episode in the past and whilst it doesn’t soar to the heights of the best of this season (Trial, Gambit), it gets on with telling it’s story with some pace and with plenty of conviction. It is only when everybody has reached Exbar when things start to fall to pieces, Hostage going from a western in space to cowboys vs Indians in the blink of an eye. I honestly don’t see any real issue with the bulk of the episode though, certainly not when compared to duds such as Cygnus Alpha, Bounty and Horizon. By the last ten minutes we’re in race against time territory, Travis is behaving nastier than ever, Avon’s duplicity is revealed and there are number of nicely realised action sequences. It’s not an intellectual treat, but it is given enough oomph to scrap a decent pass. Inoffensive, and occasionally very good (although in the case of polystyrene rocks bouncing down a ravine, also occasionally very bad). How Brian Croucher could have been so good in Trial and so appalling here baffles me: 7/10
Countdown written by Terry Nation and directed by Vere Lorrimer
Result: Perhaps Nation should have only written four scripts for the first season two because with time he has produced far more consistent work. A planet wide rebellion that ends in a genocidal countdown, one Federation trooper trying to undermine the rebellion and a blast from Avon’s past revealing that he does have a heart encased in all that ice. Don’t get me wrong this pure macho Nation at it’s rawest but treated this seriously and given the appropriate production values and performances the material is spun into something immediate and gripping. After a fairly unpredictable first half things soon settle down into more knowable territory, as soon as the history between Avon and Del is exposed you could bet your bottom dollar that they would wind up working on the bomb together in an effort from the writer to reconcile the two characters. We don’t delve too deeply beneath the surface of Avon and Anna’s relationship which ultimately proves to be a smart move because the threads are picked up again in possibly the finest Blake’s 7 episode of its entire run (and Boucher handles the relationship drama far more effectively than perhaps Nation ever could). Ultimately this is something of a action drama but it is fulsomely realised for it and contains many great moments, particularly in it’s fast paced first half. It’s another consistently strong episode of the second season and proof that Blake’s 7 is learning as it goes along. This might have been incredibly dour and paceless in the first season but with this amount of gestation the series pulls off the war movie clichés with some style: 8/10
Voice from the Past written by Roger Parkes and directed by George Spenton-Foster
Gambit written by Robert Holmes and directed by George Spenton-Foster
Hostage written by Allan Prior and directed by Vere Lorrimer
A Good Man: Introducing Blake's cousin and his father’s brother, more useful backstory to build up a more profound picture of the character. He is firm with Avon, informing him in no uncertain terms that if he considers a risk worth taking then they take it. Despite Servalan’s best efforts the working man is talking about Blake as a hero for the people, a man who can bring about a better world. The difference between Blake and Travis is that the former can understand betrayal if something valuable is staked whereas the latter considers it despicable under any circumstances.
Maximum Power!: Servalan is losing her patience with her subordinates and their lack of ability to destroy the Liberator. You get one chance to prove your worth and if you fail then arrest and possible execution awaits you. Despite her attempt at a security blank over the Blake/Travis affair, people are talking and Servalan wants their names. I think she genuinely believes she can silence any dissenters with the barrel of a gun. Jobel supported Servalan’s appointment to Supreme Commander because he admired her willingness to take risks. There’s a terrific scene between Servalan and her Mutoid slaves that mirrors a similar sequence in Duel where she enjoys questioning their unwavering loyalty and puts them very much in their place. Servalan sits there dressed to the nines in her diamonds and fine clothes, convincing herself that she can play this dirty game and keep her outward appearance of being above all this nasty subterfuge.
Blonde Bombshell: Jenna, left once again on the Liberator to do sweet FA, beams down to Exbar just in time to see Blake and Inga say goodbye. This bizarrely timed gesture is clearly supposed to show her unease at their liaison, hinting at her increased affection for Blake. It might have worked had it been worked cleverly into the script but forced like this it fails to rouse any emotion.
The Good: Whereas nothing seemed to happen at all in Allan Prior’s first episode for the season, Horizon, his next effort doesn’t give you any time to relax by tossing twenty Federation pursuit ships at the Liberator in the first scene. Talk about getting my attention. The performances of the leads under fire are so good at this stage that you’ll believe a bunch of fireworks screaming through space towards the ship constitutes a genuine threat. Andrew Robinson is a consummate actor who can happily take on any role but I have to admit that I had a problem initially with his straight performance here, being so used to his flippant and hilarious turn as the toadying Mr Fibuli from Doctor Who’s The Pirate Planet. When the plasma bolts hit the Liberator, there is impressive explosions that tears through the set the likes of which we have never seen before! It feels like their time has well and truly run out. It would appear that after Blake launched his biggest attack yet on the Federation in Trial, they have decided to return the favour. So many impressive character actors turn up on this show but the appearance of Kevin Stoney lifts the show like never before. Watch as Joban pours himself into Servalan’s presence smoothly and charms her. I don’t think any acting is required for Michael Keating when Vila has to complain that he is freezing, both Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who were notorious for filming it’s exteriors in the least clement of conditions and Exbar looks like a particularly chilly winters morning in some depressing quarry. The Crimo’s (criminal psychopaths) sound like a typically macho Terry Nation idea (think of the planet Desperus in The Daleks’ Masterplan). Utterly melodramatic but still rather gripping when treated as seriously as this.
Musical Cues: Dudley has found his groove during the action sequences at this stage of the season with the brass sections of his audience growling in a low voice as the Federation pursuit ships dog the Liberator’s footsteps.
Countdown written by Terry Nation and directed by Vere Lorrimer
A Good Man: Blake can see the testosterone fuelled rivalry festering between Avon and Del and orders them to put their feelings aside to save Albion from extinction. In a moment of rare defence for his comrade, Blake warns Del that if anything happens to Avon he will come looking for him.
Anti-Hero: There is no reason to suspect the sort of development that Countdown offers Avon is even on the horizon until over halfway into the episode and he and Del Grant meet. Until then he is as cool and crisp as ever, but afterwards we see a side of the character that is previously unimagined. The woman that Avon loved lost her life protecting him it would appear and left a grieving brother with a promise to end her lovers life. It was the man who Avon was buying his escape Visa’s from that prevented him and Anna from getting away with the money, figuring that commercial terrorist was much more valuable to him if he informed the Federation of his plans. It cost him his life, but Avon lost his freedom and his lover in the process. We’ve never heard Avon make excuses before, clearly this woman was very important to him and he cares that her brother hears the truth about what happened. Anna was the last person that Avon truly cared for, that he would have given his life for. Perhaps this explains something of his frosty demeanour, losing somebody who was so close to him over something as superficial as money.
Petty Thief: Vila gets more cynical and less interested in leaving the ship with each passing episode. I can’t reconcile this man with the same one who spent the first half of Killer trying to infiltrate a Federation facility.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Typical Federation policy. Things are more important than people.’
‘I heard you were dead’ ‘I heard the same about you. Wishing thinking perhaps’ – typical macho Nation dialogue that circumnavigates melodrama and winds up being quite witty.
Voice from the Past written by Roger Parkes and directed by George Spenton-Foster
A Good Man: Blake is making course corrections without consulting his crew which forces Jenna to point out that whilst he leads, they do not take commands. His Blake finally succumbed to space madness as a Godlike voice fills his mind with the idea to renounce his cause. Gareth Thomas has managed to overcome everything that the show has asked of him (even those camp huge sleeved leather jackets) but try hard as he might even he can’t make a hysterical Hitleresque chant of ‘RENOUNCE! RENOUNCE!’ sound convincing. I don’t think any actor could. Blake is never going to fit through a door again after Le Grand declares him the man of the people, a renowned leader, even a Messiah!
Maximum Power!: Probably the only scene to escape this episode with any real worth is the coded conversation between Servalan and Le Grand where every sentence is laced with another meaning. It is not the most subtly written or performed of sequences (from her demeanour and over politeness it is clear that Servalan is planning to bring her down) but compared to everything else that is going on in Voice from the Past it is pure gold.
Petty Thief: Vila is shown to be spectacularly naïve when a clearly brainwashed Blake convinces him that Avon and Cally are sleeping together and planning on betraying the rest of them. Vila has many faults as a person; he’s cowardly, easily led and daft but he’s never been portrayed as stupid like this before.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He’s used a number of ploys to get his own way but just try trust me, that’s weak even by his standards.’
Moment To Watch Out For: In an episode full of shockingly bad scenes, probably the worst has to come when Le Grand teleports aboard the Liberator, bloats Blake’s ego out of all proportions, grabs his and the masked strangers hand and declares that they will make a triumvirate of power. So hideously overblown I was contemplating changing my underwear. Frieda Knorr has her own special melodramatic air that makes every sentence she utters sound like a declaration of intent to a gathered mass. It’s quite hilarious.
Gambit written by Robert Holmes and directed by George Spenton-Foster
Anti-Hero: It would appear that where money is concerned, Avon is willing to let his hair down and go a little wild. A no stake limit is just the sort of bait that would inspire him to disobey Blake’s instructions and earn himself a fortune. By appealing to it’s vanity, Avon manages to convince Orac to reduce its size so they can smuggle it into the casino to cheat at speed chess. Avon understands the thrill of staking your life on a bet, that’s why he offers Vila’s for the chance to get filthy rich.
Maximum Power!: ‘Eradicating this planet has long been in my mind…’ Turning up at Freedom City unofficially but on Federation business, Servalan refuses to allow Krantor the opportunity to have his way with her because it would put her at a disadvantage (or perhaps she simply finds him repulsive, since she describes him as a ‘despicable animal’). Giving her a cheeky leprechaun of an aide was a fabulous notion because it allows Servalan to interact with somebody and discuss her overcomplicated schemes, relaying them to the audience without having the heroes have to point them out in a more obvious way as is the norm. Both Servalan and Krantor are outwardly polite towards one another and insult each other as soon as their communications terminate (he calls her ‘Supreme Commander High and Mighty’). As perfidious and devious as a snake, Servalan has plans within plans to get her hands on Docholli and is willing to step on anybody to do it. Travis is so unimportant to Servalan now that she is willing to see him killed just to establish Krantor’s intentions. The discovery of Docholli at Freedom City is ideal for her aims because she has been trying to convince the Federation for years that they cannot allow this pestilential rat hole so close to their territory for years, not when they remain neutral.
Blonde Bombshell: Jenna perks up for her slag off with Cally and then offers to step in a kill Travis when Blake refuses him that mercy.
Empath: A cheap little space slut and a ten credit touch, apparently.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Avon there are times when I get to like you’ ‘Yes, well that makes it all worthwhile.’
Fashion Statement: Has somebody taken over the costuming for the season because of a sudden everybody is wearing reasonable clothing for the story at hand. Jenna and Cally look resplendent in black and white evening wear, perfectly suitable for a night on the Rink, Blake is sporting a fetching green tunic and Vila, left on the ship to run the teleport, wears a comfortable looking brown suede smock. Sylvia Coleridge in black velvet hot pants is enough to make your eyes hurt, as is the blood red cocktail dress that Servalan sports. Krantor is dressed up like an extravagant Prince Regent, his face painted silver with a mole shaped as a heart. He clutches a pussy as one would a handbag. Nobody at Freedom City quite conforms to expectation and that is all part of it’s unique charm. Toys’ overstated headgear has to be seen to be believed.
Moment To Watch Out For: Cally manages to remain reasonably restrained during her fake bitch fight with Jenna but her companion throws herself into the role a tad too enthusiastically.
Result: The standout episode of season two and one of my favourites of Blake’s 7’s entire run, Gambit is an eccentric piece that proves once and for all that whatever TV show Robert Holmes is contributing to he will always produce a script spun from gold (well, nearly always). Inspired by Mardi Gras, Jacobean drama and Westerns and strong enough to influence shows such as Babylon 5 in the future, it is a piece sporting a memorable setting, packed full of absorbing characters and a complete change of style and tone for a series that can occasionally err on the side of being po-faced. Whilst it favours the guest cast rather than regulars that is not such a bad thing from time to time and certainly not when they are as well written and played as this. You’ve got a guest cast that includes Denis Carey, Aubrey Woods, Sylvia Coleridge and Deep Roy and none of them disappoint. Servalan gets a fantastic role and it illicits Jacqueline Pearce’s most comfortable performance to date, the relationship between Servalan and Krantor is a bitchy delight to watch. Freedom City bursts with personality and quirks and like Space City before it becomes another unforgettable bolt hole in this corner of the galaxy. The arc storyline that leads to Star One is bubbling along very nicely and it looks like there is another stop before we reach there. The logical progression from one episode to the next and reaching from Pressure Point to the finale has been excellently plotted. Funny, camp as Christmas, imaginative and intelligent; Gambit is a very different sort of Blake’s 7 episode and is all the better for it: 9/10
The Keeper written by Allan Prior and directed by Derek Martinus
What’s it about: Everybody is after the brain print with the co-ordinates for Star One…
Anti-Hero: Whereas Blake wants to find Star One in order to bring down the Federation, Avon has a far more enticing idea of them taking charge of the administration. I never saw Avon as somebody who would take you from behind but I suppose it takes all sorts.
Maximum Power!: Astonishing how Servalan looks right at home surrounded by the cold technology of the Federation and in the decadent surroundings of Freedom City and yet just as comfortable lounging about on Goth, curling up on furs in front of roaring fires. She just seems to fit this show, wherever they happen to be visiting from one week to the next. Servalan scoffs the idea of sharing control of the Federation with Travis, but the idea of taking sole responsibility appeals to her ever bloating ego. The way she calmly enters a scene unnoticed and outs Jenna as a superior intellect who is playing to Gola’s ego is effortlessly cool. I’m starting to wonder if anything could ruffle this ones feathers.
One-Eyed: How unusual to watch Travis cutting loose and letting his hair down. After a season that has ritually humiliated him as much as this show could to any character, it is nice to see him enjoying himself for once in the company of similarly savage individuals.
Blonde Bombshell: I’ve banged on and on about how minimal Jenna’s involvement has been in season two and it seems the perfect fate for such a forsaken character that she should suddenly take to the limelight in the episode before her departure and suffer the indignity of being lusted after by a warrior king. When Doctor Who attempted to pull the same thing in Mindwarp it did so with much more humour and drama, and the chemistry between the actors was far more palpable. Watch the scene between Jenna and Tara, see how good Sally Knyvette is and weep at the missed opportunities this year. Jenna looks extremely comfortable lounging in the arms of Gola and watching Vila perform his comedy routines and for a moment I wondered if she might consider this a more luxurious option than continuing her allegiance with Blake.
Petty Thief: Vila has always conformed to the role of the fool so it is nice to see him embrace that role for the leader of the Goth. Decked in motley, performing tricks, he is more amusing than ever.
Empath: Cally has been getting mouthier with each passing episode, treating Avon with as much respect as he often deserves. It offers much hope for a Blake-less series, the two of them potentially taking control of a show where they have been subordinates until now.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘No indication that he’s seen us’ ‘Good, I have no objection to shooting him in the back’ – this why Avon survives whilst so many of contemporaries lose their lives.
‘Mind you, you could hardly miss at that range’ ‘What did you want me to do? Give him a sporting chance?’
The Good: Check out the quick interplay between the regulars in the first scene of The Keeper, this cast are like a well oiled machine by now. They discuss the possibility of Travis taking control of Star One, being in the position to take out all of his enemies from Servalan to Blake. Suddenly his fall from grace starts to make very good sense and coupled with the increasing prominence of Star One you can imagine how the two plotlines might converge with dramatic results. Doctor Who in the past eight years has often shied away from the idea of taking the audience to alien worlds because of some bizarre concept that the audience cannot except a completely alien culture and they might not have the money to pull it off to the standard that the audience would expect. I don’t really buy the argument because one of the most successful movie franchise of all time, Star Wars, was set in a galaxy far, far away and that didn’t seem to bother anybody. Hurrah for Blake’s 7 then that has confidently (not always convincingly, but definitely confidently) taken us on a whirlwind tour of this corner of the galaxy. We have visited Cygnus Alpha, Saurian Major, the planet of the Decimas (shudder), Centero, Destiny, Avalon, Lindor, Cephalon, Aristo, Horizon, Fosforon, Exbar, Albion and not to mention all manner of space stations and cities too. Goth proves that all Russell T Davies (who, as time went on, relented and started taking the show to more and more alien worlds) needed was a wily and imaginative director, not a humungous budget. The location work is excellent and Martinus is able to suggest that this is a sulphurous, volcanic worlds with the use of some simple stock physical effects and stock shots. Whilst it suggests that Travis has been written out for good, I’m pleased that he lived to fight another day because it would have been quite disappointing for such an important character to exit off screen like this. I really like the effect of arrows that explode into clouds of malevolent gas on impact, disabling their intended victims. What you have on Goth is a culture that is given far more consideration by the director, set designer and actors than it is by the writer, a stock sci/fi warrior race that looks utterly authentic thanks to the suggestions of historical significance (murals, music, artefacts). Blake’s 7 really did have the pick of the best British character actors of the time, just like Doctor Who. Bruce Purchase earned the title of most operatic performer before Brian Blessed took the mantle in the eighties – watch his considered and yet highly mannered and rambunctious turn Gola and bask in his theatricality. He outclasses Brian Croucher in the scene they share because he is so sure of himself on screen. I have to laugh at any character the ritually beats up his court jester whenever he gets bored and then seeks a more insalubrious form of entertainment. You’ve got Star One controls the climate on more than 200 worlds, communications, security, food production…it is the key to the lives of every Federation citizen. Whoever controls it, controls the Federation and it is a race against time between Blake, Servalan and Travis to assume that mantle. Tara’s lair, adorned with skulls and tribal art, smoke curling into shot, is one of the most atmospheric sets of the season.
The Bad: Mind you when Russell T Davies suggests that planets full of grunting warrior savages come across as stagy and unconvincing he does have a point. Having Blake, Jenna and Vila teleport to a planet where they are ambushed by Vikings who seek women folk might not have been the smartest move on Allan Prior’s part. It seems to be conforming to every cliché. The old ‘sneeze when you’re trying to remain undetected’ is deployed. Whilst I never guessed that Arthur Hewlett’s character was Gola’s father, it came as no surprise to me that he was the one with the information since he was the only character on the periphery of the story who was viable for this role.
Musical Cues: The only person who isn’t making enough of an effort to stress the exoticism of this planet is Dudley Simpson. I was hoping for some atmospheric tribal music to drive home the mysticism and barbarism of the tribe. There are themes in the third episode of The Deadly Assassin that would have suited this episode perfectly, or at least something similar in that style.
Moment To Watch Out For: Michael Keating’s apoplectic fit when Vila is mimicked by the fool and then sent to the dungeons. He even tops Purchase’s general hysteria during this insane shouting session.
Result: An unusual episode, well executed but I would argue whether we needed this trip to Goth on the road to Star One. I can only imagine this episode would have turned out had a less savvy director been handed the assignment since it concerns the politics of a group of warrior savages and their leaders attempts to woo Jenna. It sounds like a recipe for disaster. And yet Martinus is so devoted to making this culture work that something rather beguiling happens instead and we are whisked away into a convincing world of sword and sorcery for an entertaining hour. As amusing as Bruce Purchase is as Gola (playing what appears to be a carbon copy of the Pirate Captain from Doctor Who), the star performance in The Keeper is Freda Jackson as Tara, a deliciously malicious and gravel voiced old vixen who holds the tribe in the grip of her hand. The location work, sets, props and costumes all combine to make Goth one of the more fulsomely realised planets that the Liberator has visited despite the fact that we see little more than two or three rooms. The tone might be overly theatrical for some tastes and it certainly wouldn’t win any awards for understatement but every now and again you have to cut loose and really go for it to bring an alien civilisation to life. Blake has the grid reference for Star One now and we have been made fully aware of the importance of the facility to the Federation. As an appetite whetter for the season finale, The Keeper works a treat but it also provides a thoroughly entertaining hour of television in its own right: 8/10
Star One written by Chris Boucher and directed by David Maloney
What’s it about: The battle for Star One is over before it has even begun…
A Good Man: ‘Avon, for what it is worth I have always trusted you…from the very beginning.’ The opening sequences on the Liberator are proof that this has become The Blake and Avon Show (soon to be just The Avon Show) because it is their opinions that are given the appropriate attention before they proceed with the mission to Star One. Cally, Jenna and Vila are just there to bounce the odd bit of dialogue off of. Winning is the only way Blake can be sure he was right to start this crusade, to make their sacrifices worthwhile, to see this thing through to the bitter end and drive a knife into the belly of Federation and wound the administration beyond repair. Cally points out that he is once again making this his tirade rather than a joint effort – he might have learnt a little humility after the events of Pressure Point but clearly his ego has had plenty of time to swell again since. So close to his departure, Blake gets to prove why he was worthy of the mantle bestowed upon him. He walks into Star One and assesses the situation immediately, and pretends to the aliens to be Travis, their ally.
Anti-Hero: ‘As far as I’m concerned you can destroy whatever you like. You can stir up a thousand revolutions. You can wade in blood up to your armpits. Oh, and you can lead the rabble to victory, whatever that might mean. Just so long as there is an end to it. When Star One is gone, it is finished Blake and I want it finished. I want it over and done with, I want to be free’ ‘But you are free now, Avon’ ‘I want to be free of him…’ A rousing, passionate speech from Avon, delivered precisely by Paul Darrow and possibly his greatest moment in the entire series. It brings to a head Avon’s differences with Blake, their endless dance around each other and vying for power and it is the first time when he has laid all of his cards on the table and left no hint of a possibility of changing his mind. He’s done. What works so well about this is how this speech plays into the events that would transpire once this episode is over with Gareth Thomas stepping away from the series and Paul Darrow becoming the lead. It is genuinely climactic moment between the two characters on the cusp of their lengthly split. Avon never doubted that Blake was so fanatical that he would destroy Star One rather than exploit its tactical possibilities. Avon gave Blake his word that he would try and fight off the alien invasion force in anyway he can, a suicide mission that he intends to uphold regardless of the cost. Maybe he does have a heart after all.
Maximum Power!: ‘I will not be President of a ruined Empire…’ Servalan is so cold she brushes off the loss of five hundred Federation citizens as a ‘computer malfunction.’ These things happen, she brushes it off carelessly. The idea that Blake is in possession of the knowledge of the location of Star One is enticing because it frightens Servalan so much and it is always fascinating to see her off balance. She’s an ambitious harridan and no mistake, proudly declaring that Space Command no longer recognises the authority of the President or the Council. She’s taking over and relishing every minute of it. There are times when Jacqueline Pearce is delirious with the high camp of what she is being asked to perform and practically phones in her performance. She’s still fabulous, but it is like throwing on a second skin. Other times she is clearly geared up by the possibilities of what a script is offering her as an actress and she delivers something truly spectacular. Her performance in Star One is one such example, commanding, powerful and merciless.
One Eyed: Travis’ treatment in season two reminds me of what the writers would have to face in DS9 with Gul Dukat’s character after the occupation of the station was toppled in season six. He went from being the shows most powerful villain to a man whose reputation has bombed and they try to work him into the series in various new and interesting ways to see which one would stick. In Blake’s 7 we’ve had Travis on trial, Travis as a hired assassin, Travis the cowboy, Travis the victim and now on the eve of his removal from the show we are treated to Travis the traitor, allying himself with the aliens to bring down the administration that turned their backs on him. I would say the disgraced Dukat in DS9 works far better than the latter day Travis because Marc Alaimo is ten times the actor that Brian Croucher is and could pretty much turn his hand to anything the writers through at him. Croucher flounders in some episodes whilst excelling in others but in both cases some interesting work is being done to develop and keep the character interesting. At least Travis was able to finally shoot down Blake at close distance. His one regret at betraying humanity is that they will never know who really betrayed them. When his final end comes; shot by both Blake and Avon and he falls screaming down an infinite well, is both much deserved and a bit of a damp squib. Where on Earth has he gone?
Blonde Bombshell: It is the end for Jenna, a character that began with so much promise in the opening volley of episode but who has been acrimoniously mistreated ever since. There have been awkward suggestions that she has a thing for Blake and we have met a handful of people that she was associated with in the past but I don’t feel as though we have ever had a chance to get under the skin of the character. Don’t get me wrong I am not putting Jenna in the same category as Gan, she at least had potential and I think Sally Knyvette was capable of far more than the writers ever gave her to do but my overall impression of the character is one of a wasted opportunity. This is her last appearance in the show and pretty much all she gets to do is push buttons and look pretty. Story of her life, really. Unlike Blake and Avon’s relationship that has been nurtured and so can blow at climactic moments like this, there just isn’t anything to wrap up for Jenna because she has been examined in so little detail.
Petty Thief: Vila tries to convince himself that the approaching alien armada is a cloud of hulking great meteors. Nice try mate.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘No one knows where Star One is! No one at all!’
‘Show me someone who believes in anything and I will show you a fool.’
‘Avon this is stupid!’ ‘When did that ever stop us?’
‘Fire!’ – that line has ever been greeted with such breath of anticipation.
The Good: The opening sequence is unlike anything we have seen on this show before and a good lesson in how to build suspense without even showing an actors face. Ships cruise through space as we listen to their communications as an unknown vessel approaches silently and forebodingly. The tension mounts slowly but surely before it becomes abundantly clear that there is going to be a collision and a terrible loss of life. It’s almost a blueprint for scenes in Boucher’s short lived but well respected Star Cops. The models are detailed and they are shot with real care, another example of how physical effects can really add to the authenticity of a show. I was just mentioning in my write up of the previous episode how the writers have managed to populate this corner of the galaxy with a large number of worlds, convincing that the future is teaming with alien life. Boucher goes one better, offering a montage of worlds whose climate has suffered due to some unknown management. Unfortunately there are areas of the world that suffer from the most extreme of climates and weather conditions but fortunately for Blake’s 7 they have been caught on film and provide memorable footage for this tableau of ailing worlds. I’m now starting to see hints of Farscape in this series – if a ragtag bunch of terrorists trying to avoid capture by an insidious peacekeeping force wasn’t familiar enough, now Blake and his crew are about to head into the uncharted territories to find Star One. Is there no contemporary SF series that hasn’t been influenced by Blake’s 7? There is a apprehensive shot of the Liberator cruising away from the swirling galaxy they come from and entering the impenetrable darkness of what lies ahead. Dudley Simpson scores the moment with fitting menace. I can’t tell how exciting I get when deadly Dudley’s horns of death sound as the spinning bicycle wheel of Federation command pans slowly into view. It’s an involuntarily reaction, brought on by this series’ rejection of Star Trek ideals and the thought that Servalan is about to appear. Star One has been given such an incredible build up that the thought being able to visit sees the show reaching a thrilling apotheosis. The only thing more exciting than being able to reach the facility that has been on everybody’s lips…is if aliens have gotten there first and taken over. The Federation is already facing ruin from an unknown force before the Liberator even arrives. Boucher is always looking for new approaches in this series and here he brilliantly forces Blake into the uncomfortable position of having to save the administration that they have been trying undermine for the past two seasons. Blake has to try and salvage the lives of those who tried to destroy his for the sake of every man, woman and child on Earth. Star One = a single planet orbiting a dying star. An anti-matter minefield beyond Star One – now DS9 is getting in on the action! Is it a defence zone to keep mankind in or something else out? These are big, powerful ideas and either way that notion swings it opens out plenty of storytelling possibilities. Boucher thinks big for his finale, the opposite of Nation for his season one climax. The bodies hanging limp in a cupboard, eyes staring outwards sightlessly, says everything you need to know about this invading forces intentions. The effect of the aliens melting down into a pulsating, smoking green goo is a triumph, something that really repulses the senses. There is a wonderful ten minute countdown towards the end of the episode to get all of the explosives they have primed onto the surface of the planet and prevent Star One from being destroyed. Appropriately all this build up of tension ends in a ruddy great explosion in a quarry. Well we had to have a release somehow.
The Bad: The one moment that was unintentionally hilarious was Travis running off down the corridor away from Avon at a mincing gait. He’s such a nancy boy sometimes.
Musical Cues: Dudley brings his entire orchestra forth to present the cliffhanging battle sequence. It is one of his most bombastic and memorable pieces of music for any show, perfectly capturing the moment.
Moment To Watch Out For: The alien fleet hanging in space has the humiliating misfortunate to resemble a giant colander and all manner of other kitchen implements. However that doesn’t take away from the excitement of the moment that the invasion fleet is revealed nor what the implications for the Federation are if the shield should drop and they be able to encroach on our galaxy. Talk about leaving us in the lurch – we’re brought to brink of intergalactic war and before the first shot is fired the credits come up to steal us away from the action. It’s a brutally cruel cliffhanging ending of the sort that Boucher revels in.
Result: ‘We seem to have stumbled over an alien invasion…’ A climactic adventure that changes the layout of the series forever, Star One is an awesome end of season spectacular and takes the position of my favourite episode of the series to date. So often in television shows so much is promised but the delivery of that guarantee leaves a nasty taste in your mouth but Boucher has managed to pull together all the running threads of season two (including the hunt for Star One, the Federation getting jumpy, Blake’s ego trip, Avon questioning his leadership) into an extremely satisfying finale. Whether the direction is the work of David Maloney or Vere Lorrimer it is of no matter, the production matches the inventiveness and dramatic strength of the script and the resulting piece grabs hold of your throat from the beginning and doesn’t release you until the cliffhanging final flourish. You have to admire Boucher’s gall, he has managed to present a struggle for Star One and an alien invasion and he has done it all in a spectacularly cheap fashion without it ever appearing so or losing any of the excitement had we witnessed the entire spread of destruction. Jenna is monstrously sidelined in her final episode but the remaining regulars all get fine moments as it looks like time has finally run out for them all. It is a textbook example of how to pace a cliffhanger and when to cut to the credits, I can’t imagine there was anybody watching this on its original transmission that was screaming with frustration as the battle was whisked away before their eyes. Season two of Blake’s 7 has been a triumph, not always at the top of its game but showing far greater consistency of quality writing and production values than season one and hitting some unforgettable dramatic heights. Star One has left me hungry for more: 10/10