Blake’s 7: City at the Edge of the World (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Vila is taken prisoner by a notorious criminal and forced to unlock a mysterious door in a ruined city…

Series C, episode 6. Written by: Chris Boucher. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 11 February 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* As the episode begins, Tarrant (6) has been in touch with a group who want to utilise Vila’s lockpicking skills; in exchange they’ll provide some crystals that will help the Liberator weaponry systems. So he bullies and brow-beats Vila into teleporting down to a planet. Tarrant’s hubris comes back to haunt him, though, when the group kidnap Vila and give the others a booby-trapped box rather than the crystals.
* Vila (32) doesn’t take kindly to Tarrant’s tactics: as he points out, he’s been on the ship longer; he was with Blake. Tarrant isn’t impressed and Vila is guilt-tripped into teleporting down to a planet. Forty-three seconds later, he radios in to say the others can come and collect the crystals. Meanwhile, two mutes escort Vila to a ruined city, where he encounters first an aggressive woman called Kerril, then her boss: the infamous, murderous thug Captain Bayban – aka Bayban the Berserker, aka Bayban the Butcher, aka (by his mum) Baybe. Bayban wants Vila to open a mysterious door, behind which – he thinks – are hidden all the treasures of the planet. Vila sets to work, his fear dissipating as he focuses on the challenge of cracking a complex lock. He also enjoys a bit of flirting with Kerril, who’s starting to warm to him. Eventually, Vila opens the door and he and Kerril enter but are soon teleported to a far-away spaceship. An automated message tells them they are now 3,000 light years away from the planet; the ship has been searching for a new colony for the planet’s inhabitants. Resigned to being trapped, Vila and Kerril have sex – then Vila deduces that the ship has landed. They step outside onto an idyllic planet they dub Homeworld, but then Vila spots expensive crystals lying at his feet – coincidentally the kind needed for the Liberator weapons systems – so resolves to get back to his colleagues.
* Cally (29) follows Vila down to the planet to collect the job’s payment, but find no one there. She spots a box on the floor; fearing it’s booby-trapped, Cally stands back and triggers its explosion from a distance. Realising Vila’s in trouble, Cally and Avon mount a search-and-rescue mission, and are later joined by Tarrant and Dayna.
* Avon (31) won’t let Vila teleport down to the planet without a tracer on his person. Tarrant says he agreed with his clients that Vila wouldn’t be carrying surveillance equipment. “I gave them my word,” he says. “You didn’t give them mine,” replies Avon. But after Vila has gone, Avon realises that he deliberately left the tracer behind.
* Orac (16) tells the others that there are scant records on the planet’s history. But an archaeological survey discovered that its ancient people may have called it Kezarn.
* Dayna (6) gives Vila a gun for his trip to the planet – again, against Tarrant’s wishes. She also declines to back Tarrant when the others tell him he mucked up by risking Vila’s life.
* Zen is mentioned but doesn’t appear.

Best bit: The Vila/Avon dynamic has been great for a long time now. The two characters are like warring brothers: Avon as the cooler, more accomplished, more arrogant, older one and Vila as the cheekier, less responsible, less capable younger one. They spar, they insult each other, they never openly show any affection. And yet, as in this episode, there’s a subtext to it all. Avon challenges Tarrant when he bullies Vila. He warns him off. It’s clearly a case of ‘no one beats up my brother but me’.

Worst bit: The Kezarnians’ plan is utterly bonkers. Thirty centuries ago, a planetary leader reckoned that society was inevitably going to descend into chaos. So he sent a ship, which was hooked up to a teleport machine housed behind an elaborately sealed door, into deep space to look for a new home. Then he recorded an audio message that he somehow knew would be heard by someone in 3,000 years’ time. Riiight…

Review: This vivid episode is alive and engaging in every moment and is powered by some brilliantly rich, razor-sharp dialogue. It’s also a great showcase for Michael Keating, giving Vila his usual comedy and cowardliness but also scenes of ingenuity, smarts and even romance. And there’s a very Colin Bakery performance from Colin Baker as Bayban: highly theatrical, highly bombastic, and highly entertaining. Marvellous stuff.

Nine stupid sons of a slime crawler out of 10

Next episode: Children of Auron

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Blake’s 7: The Harvest of Kairos (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Tarrant comes up with a plan to steal some valuable crystals, but Servalan is hunting the Liberator…

Series C, episode 5. Written by: Ben Steed. Directed by: Gerald Blake. Originally broadcast: 4 February 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Dayna (5) – looking sexy in a blue jumpsuit – spots a space craft near the Liberator. This eventually leads to Servalan taking control of the ship, and when aboard the president orders an underling to kill Dayna but our heroine just fronts up and refuses to be scared. Later, on the planet Kairos, actress Josette Simon has to put herself through the indignity of acting opposite, and taking seriously, a large, cockroach-like monster that spins cobwebs. She also gets some fight scenes with the episode’s main guest star.
* When Dayna spots that ship, Tarrant (5) deduces there’s more than one – and he recognises the tactics: the Liberator is being shadowed by Federation forces. Having escaped them, Tarrant then convinces his colleagues that they should head for the planet Kairos and steal its valuable harvest of crystals. They ambush a ship leaving Kairos and nab its cargo, but it’s actually a trap – the crates are full of enemy soldiers! Later, having lost the Liberator and been stranded on Kairos, Tarrant finds an ancient and basic space craft and gets it working. With help from Avon, he’s able to bluff that it’s more powerful than it really is and the gang take the Liberator back from Servalan.
* Zen (27) provides some important information about Kairos, then is forced to accept commands from Servalan after she takes control of the ship.
* Cally (28) helps Avon investigate a rock he’s found. It reminds her of her parents. No, seriously. More on the rock in a moment…
* Servalan (16) is initially bemused by Tarrant’s response to her ships stalking the Liberator. (And she does just assume that Tarrant, a man she’s barely met, will be in command.) Why doesn’t he run or attack? She’s then shocked to hear that a low-grade worker has openly criticised her strategic decisions, so she demands that he come to see her… Jarvik (Andrew Burt, giving a hands-on-hips performance of virility and confidence) reacts by grabbing hold of her and kissing her. It turns out he used to be a Federation officer but gave it all up to lead a simpler life. Intrigued by his sheer arrogance, Servalan dares him to do better than her and ensnare the Liberator. He uses a Trojan-horse trick and smuggles some soldiers aboard. After they’ve taken control, Servalan teleports over and swaggers around her new domain. She wants Jarvik to be her consort, but he’s later killed by accident when a soldier nervously opens fire.
* Avon (30) is off-ship as the episode begins, then returns with a rock he’s found on a nearby planet. It’s some sopron, a mineral that is – in a rather vaguely defined way – alive and capable of reasoning. He seems disinterested in the Liberator’s plight, leaving Tarrant to deal with the situation while he obsesses over the rock. Nevertheless, he’s still on hand to save his colleagues’ skins when Tarrant naively allows some Federation soldiers aboard; then later, Avon’s able to use the sopron to trick Servalan into thinking she’s outgunned. (It has the ability to reflect someone’s thoughts back at them, you see. Or something.)
* Vila (31) gets to run the flight deck while Tarrant leaves to look for Avon, and he has some success. Later, when the team decide to steal the Kairos crystals, Vila says he’ll use his cut of the booty to start a family.
* Orac (15) has to grudgingly admit that Avon’s rock has a bigger capacity for reason than he does.

Best bit: Servalan addresses the fact that Jarvik grabbed her roughly and kissed her: “There is the question of that degrading and primitive act to which I was subjected in the control room… I should like you to do it again.”

Worst bit: The monster. Obviously.

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Review: The episode is especially interesting because of two men. The intriguing Jarvik is a rarity in Blake’s 7 – a doesn’t-give-a-fuck, isn’t-trying-to-prove-anything scoundrel who cuts through the other characters’ bravado. Matching him with Servalan makes her more interesting and shakes things up. You can see her develop more in this one episode than the first two seasons put together. (Jarvik disrespects computers, though, so can’t change her that much – she still trusts a digital readout when her eyes and common sense are telling her something different. It’s her downfall; it’s why she loses the Liberator.) Meanwhile, Tarrant – in only his fourth full-length episode – has quickly become a vital part of the show. He’s moved into Blake’s position as the nominal team leader very smoothly, and has also taken over the role of butting heads entertainingly with Avon. The episode as a whole is fun, for the most part. Sadly, though, towards the end the wheels start to fall off one by one. There’s the monster, perhaps the most embarrassingly awful visual we’ve had so far (and that’s saying something). There’s the dreary deux ex machina of Avon’s conveniently helpful rock. And there’s the fact Cally and Vila are reduced to little more than glorified extras.

Seven weeks following the vernal equinox out of 10

Next episode: City at the Edge of the World

Blake’s 7: Dawn of the Gods (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Liberator falls through a black hole and encounters a mythical being…

Series C, episode 4. Written by: James Follett. Directed by: Desmond McCarthy. Originally broadcast: 28 January 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Vila (30) is losing a board game he’s playing with Cally, Avon and Dayna – it’s clearly modelled on Monopoly. But he then has bigger things to worry about when the Liberator is dragged off course and heads towards an uncharted area of space (Vila soon reaches for a bottle). When the ship ends up in a mysterious location, he’s persuaded to put on a space suit and venture outside. He finds a surface, gravity and wreckage of other ships. Eventually, Vila and the others encounter a flamboyant man who tells them that the Lord Thaarn – a mythical figure that Cally learnt about in childhood – rules this artificial planet…
* As the episode begins, Cally (27) is actually on her way home: the Liberator is en route for Auron. But after the ship is dragged into a black hole, she’s knocked unconscious and spends time in a resuscitation capsule. She then starts to hear voices: specifically the Thaarn, a being from a children’s story about gods who oversaw the development of Auron. When she encounters him for real on the artificial world, he says he wants her to join him…
* Avon (29) is concerned by the Liberator’s course deflections. Soon he and the others realise that it’s gravity pulling them away from their target – the ship is falling towards a black hole. As it passes the event horizon, however, the crew are not crushed down to the size of an atom (or whatever actually happens when things fall into a black hole). Instead, they experience a sluggish, dreamlike period of time… and then are basically fine. After landing on the artificial planet, Thaarn imprisons them, and soon Avon and Tarrant are put to work… on maths. You see, the all-powerful Thaarn doesn’t like computers so wants his new captives to work out how to control gravity or something. Avon, not unreasonably, decides to escape.
* Dayna (4) tends to the ill Cally, fires the neutron blasters, then stays on the ship while the others investigate outside. She’s the new Jenna, it seems.
* Orac (14) admits that the Liberator’s new course is his fault: he changed it simply because he fancied seeing a black hole up close. What a twat.
* Tarrant (4) is the one who notices that the ship is falling off course. At first he thinks they’ve been snared by a tractor beam. Interestingly, despite only joining the crew about five minutes ago, Tarrant smoothly assumes the role of operational commander during a crisis. He issues orders and plans strategies. He’s the new Blake, it seems.
* Zen (26) claims nothing is wrong with the ship when the crew can’t work out why it’s going off course. He’s right – it’s Orac who’s changing the heading – but not very helpful. Later, after the ship has landed on Thaarn’s world, Zen and Orac team up to repel some salvagers trying to break up the Liberator.

Best bit: On the artificial planet, the mandarin who takes the crew prisoner wants to know who Orac is and where he is. He also has the means to cause pain if our heroes lie. So first Dayna and then Tarrant must answer his questions truthfully but without giving any information away. The dialogue is carefully written to fulfil both aims.

Worst bit: The half-arsed attempt at a Vila-is-dead story beat? The Robot Wars-style machine that has to filmed in glimpses to hide how naff it is? The painfully underwhelming, Wizard of Oz-ish reveal of the Thaarn? Take your pick.

Review: Dawn of the Gods is reaching for something big and important; it’s trying to be upper-case, bold-font Science Fiction. There’s more than a hint of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, while the guest characters feel vaguely Star Trekian. (Why is an Auron god’s spokesperson dressed like a Regency fop? Answers on a postcard please.) It’s certainly not typical Blake’s 7. In fact, you get the impression that this script was written by someone who’d never seen the show before. It’s also another episode that backloads its story. Not for the first time, a Blake’s 7 adventure features just the regular characters for its opening half, then squeezes a hell of a lot of storytelling into the second. Very little of it works, sadly. The worst episode so far.

Three neuronic whips out of 10

Next episode: The Harvest of Kairos

Blake’s 7: Volcano (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Tarrant and Dayna attempt to forge an alliance with a secretive group of people on a planet dominated by a volcano…

Series C, episode 3. Written by: Allan Prior. Directed by: Desmond McCarthy. Originally broadcast: 21 January 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Tarrant (3) teleports down to the planet Obsidian with Dayna. Their aim is to make contact with the planet’s leaders because the Liberator crew need a base of operations for their continuing rebellion, and Obsidian has never been affiliated to the Federation. They’ve also heard a rumour that Blake has been spotted there. Tarrant offers the Obsidian leader, Hower (Michael Gough), a slice of any spoils for the use of his planet. But Hower is a pacifist and says no. So Tarrant next tries to nobble Hower’s son, who then betrays him by contacting Servalan… Luckily for our heroes, Hower then steps in and, er, kills his own son. Hashtag overreaction.
* Dayna (3) has a connection to Hower: he knew her late father. During the negotiations she acts as the good cop to Tarrant’s bad, and by using her charm learns the reason they’re not going to get any help. Hower and his cronies have turned the whole population into pacifists – mainly by education, but partly by electro-shock treatment and propaganda. Detective Dayna also finds out why the planet has never been invaded by the Federation: there’s a massive atomic bomb under the surface, and Hower is willing to wipe out his own people rather than see war. Hower even shows Dayna the convenient planet-destroying button. Hashtag Chekov’s gun.
* Back on the Liberator, Cally (26) is worried when Tarrant and Dayna don’t radio in with news. Later, after the Liberator has been breached, she’s able to use her often-forgotten-about telepathy to warn Avon. But the Federation troops that have come aboard then steal Orac and take Cally hostage. Taken down to Obsidian, Cally is hidden in a cave until Tarrant and Dayna come along and rescue her. Hashtag damsel in distress.
* Avon (28) is worried as the episode begins. He knows the Federation once visited Obsidian and carried out a survey. Why did they not colonise the place, then? He’s also cynical about the rumour Blake has been spotted there. When Tarrant and Dayna fail to check in, Avon teleports down to look for them. He finds dead bodies and then spots Servalan and a squad of soldiers so beams back up. Not long after, the soldiers manage to get aboard the Liberator – and one of them shots Avon in the arm during a gunfight. Hashtag ouch!
* Vila (29) points out the oddity that Obsidian has just one volcano on the entire planet. (Earth today has approximately 1,500 of the fuckers.) Avon and Cally also tease him about how he fancies their new colleague Dayna. Later, Vila acts rather foolishly and accidentally teleports some Federation soldiers aboard the Liberator. But he also gets a nice moment when he hears Servalan’s voice on a discarded radio so answers her sarcastically. Hashtag pwned.
* Orac (13) is asked to operate the teleport and is not happy: he points out that it’s a menial job more suited to someone like Cally. Hashtag patronising.
* Zen (25) reports that Obsidian has not had serious volcanic activity for ‘some years’, a vagueness that does not go down well with Avon. Hashtag get your act together.
* Servalan (15) has regained power since we last saw her. She’s now President of the Universe or something, but rather than lounging about in a mansion she’s commanding a ship staffed by thugs and mutoids. Their mission is to snatch the Liberator! (How many times has she tried that now?) Down on Obsidian, she encounters some locals and orders her second-in-command to kill them. He’s shocked. (Has he never met Servalan before?) She then manages to get a squad of agents aboard the Liberator, who snatch Orac. She also receives word of how to wipe out Obsidian’s control bunker – but before she can act, Hower pushes the button and destroys his entire planet. Hashtag overkill.

Best bit: Hower has a robot butler! It’s not vital to the plot. Nor is it especially remarked upon by the characters. It’s just a cute bit of texture.

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Worst bit: Michael Gough plays Hower and gives one of *those* performances where a clearly capable actor shows up in a genre show and just goes through the motions. You get no sense at all of Hower – and therefore the society at large – having a life outside his scripted dialogue. Gough also has a moment or two where he’s obviously grasping to remember his next line.

Review: Volcano begins with Tarrant and Dayna landing on the surface of Obsidian – two characters who weren’t seen or mentioned in the show’s first 26 episodes. It feels like a mission statement: a chance for the two to get some screentime. And it works, at least until the pair go missing from the episode for a 10-minute chunk in the middle. Not especially gripping, Volcano as a whole doesn’t offend either. The dialogue contains some clunky exposition, while Servalan has a moronic sidekick who says stupid things just so she can then explain things. But there’s been worse. One thing in its favour is the impressive location work. There might be some stock footage thrown in, but director Desmond McCarthy sells the idea that the scenes are taking place on the slopes of a volcano. There’s smoke, wind and actors shouting over roaring sound effects that must have been added later. (Having said that, there’s also one CSO shot of a soldier falling into the lava that just makes you howl with laughter.)

Six narcotic spray guns out of 10

Next episode: Dawn of the Gods

Blake’s 7: Powerplay (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

While Avon and Dayna attempt to wrestle command of the Liberator away from an enigmatic Federation officer, Vila and Cally find themselves in danger…

Series C, episode 2. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: David Maloney. Originally broadcast: 14 January 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Del Tarrant (2) – who seized the Liberator in the previous episode – tells Avon and Dayna that he’s a Federation captain; he and his men found the ship abandoned. He also warns them that he may execute them for trespassing. Avon plays dumb, pretending that he and Dayna are a married couple and that he’s only vaguely heard of Blake. It’s clear Tarrant has a fractious relationship with his second-in-command, a snarling thug called Klegg (Michael Sheard). And when some Federation soldiers are killed off, observant viewers should be able to work out that Tarrant is not all he seems… It’s eventually revealed that he *isn’t* a Federation captain. He’s a rebel who found a Federation uniform so posed as an officer.
* When he first encounters Tarrant, Avon (27) thinks quickly and claims to be an innocent civilian caught up in the recent space battle. He and Dayna are locked up but soon escape. After learning who Tarrant really is, Avon seemingly betrays him to Klegg. But it’s actually just a ruse: Avon, Dayna and Tarrant are now working together…
* Dayna (2) boarded the Liberator for the first time at the conclusion of the previous episode. Now she proves to Tarrant and Klegg that she’s not one of its famous crew by demonstrating that Zen doesn’t recognise her voice. Later, after being knocked unconscious and locked up, she takes her revenge by killing the sadistic Klegg with her bare hands. Avon and Tarrant look on appreciatively. In the episode’s final scene, she and Tarrant are officially welcomed as new members of the Liberator crew, in effect replacing Jenna and Blake.
* After abandoning the Liberator in the previous episode, Vila (28) has ended up alone on a planet in some woods. He’s first found by some more of Terry Nation’s medieval-natives-played-by-middle-class-actors, who tell him they’re being hunted for sport. Vila is then separated from them and meets the hunters: two not-unattractive women in sci-fi helmets and cloaks, who explain that they’re not killers; they just tranquilise the locals and help them with their superior technology. It’s a big social-divide subtext, you see – the hi-techs versus the low. The women are seemingly very kind to Vila and take him to a nearby city, where he bumps into Cally…
* At the start of the episode, Cally (25) is aboard a hospital ship, having been picked up after the space battle. She suffered burns but they’re on the mend. Then the ship lands on a planet to collect another patient… Servalan! After also meeting up with Vila, Cally and he learn the awful truth: the doctors and nurses are actually organ harvesters and intend to operate on them. Thankfully, the Liberator then arrives and the pair are teleported to safety.
* Servalan (14) – still wearing the hand-me-down frock she was given in the previous episode – is determined to regain her authority. The fact the Federation has been crippled by the destruction of its Star One facility doesn’t deter her, and by the episode’s end she’s managed to coerce the hospital ship’s captain into getting her back to Earth.
* When Avon sneaks onto the flight deck and talks to Zen (24), the computer fills him in on his crewmates’ statuses. Blake is safe and en route to a planet. Jenna was injured, though not badly, and is now aboard a neutral cargo carrier. There’s been no contact from Cally, while Vila is in trouble so the Liberator is heading to pick him up.

Best bit: While alone in a strange forest, Vila hears the gurgles and rumbles of a monster nearby. So he mimics the voices of a well-armed military team to scare it off.

Worst bit: At the start of season three, the regular characters were scattered to the four winds by a massive space battle. But ever since, for plotting expediency, they keep bumping into each other – Avon and Servalan last week, now Cally and Servalan, then Cally and Vila.

Review: There are three strands to this episode: Avon and Dayna’s Die Hard dealings with Tarrant; Vila’s rather odd encounters in the woodlands; and Cally’s experiences on the hospital ship. The whole thing moves well and is never boring, but the standout element is clearly the character of Tarrant. He only appeared briefly last week, so this is our first chance to see him in action. He’s terrific. The storyline is a great way to introduce a new regular character, showing him off in several different situations, and while Steven Pacey was joltingly young – just 22 when the episode was recorded – the character feels older, with authority and steel.

Eight inspiring epitaths out of 10

Next episode: Volcano

Blake’s 7: Aftermath (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Liberator is attacked and its crew dispersed. Avon finds himself stranded on a planet where he encounters some fellow rebels, some aggressive locals, and Servalan…

Series C, episode 1. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 7 January 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* As the third season gets underway, Zen (23) reports that the alien attack force seen at the end of season two have destroyed the Federation base Star One. He also urges the crew of the Liberator to abandon their damaged ship. Later, while off-ship, Avon contacts Zen and the computer tells him that Blake is uninjured but his location is unknown, while Jenna is aboard a hospital ship.
* Cally (24) and Vila (27) feature in the early scenes aboard the chaotic Liberator as the ship comes under attack from the aliens. Cally gets dialogue to explain why Blake and Jenna aren’t in this episode – saying they’ve decided to remain on the flight deck – while Vila is now the last remaining character who’s been in every episode of Blake’s 7.
* Avon (26) is knocked unconscious aboard the Liberator, so Cally and Vila bundle him into a Star Wars-style escape pod and activate it. He crash lands on a nearby planet called Sarran. He’s challenged by some natives – the kind of vaguely Anglo-Saxon/Viking-ish locals that Terry Nation seemed to like so much – but is saved by a young woman called Dayna. The pair then form a shaky alliance with Servalan, who has also been stranded on Sarran. Dayna takes them to her home (a space craft submerged under the sea) and introduces them to her father and sister. Servalan then offers Avon a deal: with the Liberator and Orac at their disposal, and the Federation in tatters after the loss of Star One, they could build a new empire. Avon wisely deduces that she’d be bound to double-cross him. So when the repaired Liberator arrives in Sarran’s orbit, Avon and Danya teleport aboard, leaving Servalan behind. But there’s a shock in store: the ship has been taken over by a Federation officer…
* Orac (12) is also loaded into Avon’s escape capsule. He’s later able to keep Avon apprised of the Liberator’s condition.
* Dayna Mellanby (1) was born on Earth. Her father is a weapons developer called Hal, who has long been on the run from the authorities. She’s a smart and capable young woman who enjoys using basic weapons like knives and bows and arrows – actually, there’s more than a hint that she’s sexually excited by the danger they provide – but also has a skill at building complex guns. When she rescues Avon and takes him to the safety of a cave, she kisses him – purely out of curiosity. Later, her father is killed by Servalan so she vows revenge, but Avon talks her out of killing the Supreme Commander because she’s hidden the vital Orac. After her sister is also murdered (talk about a bad day…), Dayna joins Avon when he returns to the Liberator… Dayna is played by Josette Simon, who was only about 20 but gives the character confidence and energy.
* Servalan (13) soon stumbles across Avon when she ends up on Sarran after the space battle above. (He isn’t surprised to see her: after all, the chances of them bumping into each other are so remote that it was bound to happen.) She doesn’t initially remember who Hal Mellanby is, but subtly grills his daughter for information. This happens during a scene where the two girls chat about fashion and Dayna gets changed behind a screen with her silhouette cast upon it. After she remembers who Mellanby is, Servalan kills him and steals Orac. She’s soon captured by the plot-device locals, but Avon and Dayna rescue her and force her to reveal where she’s hidden Orac. She’s then left behind on Sarran…
* When Avon and Daya arrive on the Liberator, they’re confronted by a Federation officer (1) who tells them the ship is now his… Actor Steven Pacey gets one line of dialogue in the episode’s final scene.

Best bit: For two seasons Servalan has been a one-note panto villain. Admittedly, that one note entertains a lot of people, but it’s hardly been dynamic storytelling. Aftermath, however, adds a bit of drama by giving her some concrete obstacles. Shorn of her power, her resources, her back-up and her underlings, she now has to be *an actual character*, rather than someone who just makes dry quips with a withering look in her eye. Actually, coupled with the debut of the entertaining Dayna, it feels like a feminist has had a word in Terry Nation’s shell-like between seasons.

Worst bit: Two Federation soldiers are introduced into the story *solely* to give us some badly written, badly played and badly directed exposition about the massive space battle. They’re then promptly killed off.

Review: Blake’s 7 without Blake. Or Jenna. In fact, given that Gan and Travis were killed off in season two, we’ve now lost half of the human regulars introduced in the first season. So this episode is doing some very specific things in order to refurbish the format. Most obviously, Paul Darrow is taking centre stage. Avon is now the de facto lead, the character who drives the story and who we identify with. (This is a season opener and, significantly, Vila and Cally barely feature.) As mentioned above, Aftermath also works to adapt Servalan into someone more interesting and introduces two new regular characters. It’s admirable that it also manages to be a fun, enjoyable story in its own right. Well, mostly. The guest cast are quite variable. (Cy Grant as Hal and an overacting Alan Lake as the native chieftain are especially poor.)

Eight usual punishments for boarding a Federation ship without authority out of 10

Next episode: Powerplay

Blake’s 7: Star One (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Blake and his colleagues find the Federation’s secret and all-powerful control centre, but there’s a shock in store…

Series B, episode 13. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: David Maloney (uncredited). Originally broadcast: 3 April 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Servalan (12) learns that various accidents and freak weather conditions are occurring across the Federation. The cause? The top-secret Star One facility, which essentially runs the entire galaxy, is going haywire. And fixing it is doubly difficult because no one knows where it is. Servalan, ever the plotter, sees an opportunity and openly revolts against the president. A coup has begun, with Servalan declaring herself the new leader…
* Blake (26) has the coordinates of Star One and says he’s going to destroy it – in part, to see whether he was right to fight the Federation in the first place. He leads his colleagues to a remote star all on its own in the vast openness between galaxies (er…what?), which is orbited by a single planet. He, Avon and Cally teleport down and are surprised to learn that they were expected. Blake plays along until he realises that Star One’s crew have assumed he’s Travis, who has done a deal with them and plans to trigger the ‘final act’: the destruction of humanity. Later, the real Travis arrives, rumbles Blake’s deception, and shoots him. Blake is badly injured…
* Avon (25) angrily tells the others that he wants an end to their crusade. He also wants to be free of Blake. ‘I never realised,’ says Blake. ‘You really do hate me, don’t you?’ Avon reminds him of their arrangement: if Blake’s rebellion works, Avon will take control of the Liberator. (What Jenna, Vila and Cally think about this isn’t important to him.) When the gang reach Star One, Avon points out a huge minefield positioned in space between the planet and the next nearest galaxy – but is it there to keep humanity in, or aliens out? Down on the planet, Avon bumps into Travis then discovers that the crew are actually dead and have been replaced by alien agents in human form. After Blake’s injury, Avon effortlessly assumes command of the Liberator. Passing the baton, Blake tells him: ‘For what it’s worth, I have always trusted you, from the very beginning.’
* Vila (26) makes lots of wry, cynical jokes.
* Cally (23) questions Blake’s plan to destroy Star One. After all, it may result in many innocent deaths. When the crew find Star One, however, she uses the Liberator’s scanners to find its entrance, then joins Blake and Avon in teleporting down. She later uses her telepathy to warn Avon that she and Blake have been captured by the base’s crew. Despite being prisoners, the pair still manage to sneakily set some explosives…
* While Blake, Avon and Cally are on Star One, Jenna (26) realises that a huge alien attack fleet is coming their way. She has no choice but to send a message to Servalan asking for help…
* Zen (22) confirms that the Liberator is crossing the barrier of the galaxy and entering the intergalactic void.
* Orac (11) investigates the minefield and deduces that it was set up over many years, as much as an alarm system as a defensive set-up.
* Travis (13) shows up at Star One (he found out its location in the previous episode too) and shoots Blake. In a nihilistic kind of mood, he’s done a deal with aliens from the galaxy next door: he’ll arrange for the Milky Way’s defensive minefield to be deactivated and they can sweep in and destroy humanity. (You’re presumably intended not to consider the fact that space is rather enormous and three-dimensional, so how effective could a manmade minefield be?) Later, Blake regains consciousness and shoots at Travis; Avon then kills him.

Best bit: The plot is structured around some fun ironies that put characters in odd positions. Blake and co end up having to *save* Star One from destruction (so it can be used to defend the galaxy). Servalan has to send help to the Liberator crew. Avon has to pick up Blake’s role and fight for defenceless people.

Worst bit: It doesn’t seem as if the idea was considered for too long, but Terry Nation famously mooted that the invading aliens could be the Daleks from Doctor Who. It’s a shame the notion was vetoed. Would have been a laugh.

Review: The story arcs that have been running throughout the second series – Travis’s fall from grace, the search for Star One – conclude in an engaging and appropriately epic season finale. The tension and pace ratchet up more and more as we progress, then things peak with a final scene of mighty energy. As we see our heroes in Sergio Leone-style close-ups, the alien fleet approaches their position. The galaxy is under attack with the Liberator on the front line. ‘Fire!’ orders Avon. Roll credits…

Eight psycho-manipulation teams out of 10

Next episode: Aftermath

Blake’s 7: The Keeper (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Liberator crew head for the planet Goth, looking for information that will lead to the secretive Star One base. But Travis and Servalan have beaten them there…

Series B, episode 12. Written by: Allan Prior. Directed by: Derek Martinus. Originally broadcast: 27 March 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Vila (25) accompanies Blake and Jenna on a mission to Goth, a planet with a thick, toxic atmosphere and medieval-level people living underground. He and Jenna are soon captured by the locals and taken to see the chief, who’s a bombastic, arrogant man called Gola. Vila uses close-hand magic tricks to appease Gola’s aggression, but this enrages the official court Fool. (Demarcation! Everyone out!)
* Blake (25) has come to Goth to find out what happened to former Federation surgeon Lurgen, a man who knew the location of the all-important Star One installation. His digital ‘brain print’ – or maybe his actual brain – is now in the possession of someone called the Keeper. But Blake doesn’t know who that is. On Goth, Blake’s friends are captured by the natives then he bumps into the chief’s brother, Ron. With Ron’s help, Blake gains access to the chief’s tent but eventually discovers that the Keeper is not the chief, nor Ron, nor their soothsayer sister… It’s their dad, a decrepit old man Blake had earlier seen in some cells. In the meantime, the brain-print has been stolen by Travis. But – and how’s this for a spot of luck? – the chief’s Fool also knows the location of Star One.
* Avon (24) points out that, instead of destroying Star One, the Liberator crew could take it over and run it themselves. Blake says something about power corrupting. Avon then stays on the ship while Blake, Jenna and Vila are on Goth. On two separate occasions he sees Federation ships nearby – he destroys the first, assuming Travis is on board, then assumes Servalan is on the second. Er, Avon… What’s that saying about never assuming things?
* Jenna (25) reminds Blake (and us) that Travis will be looking for the brain-print too. Down on Goth, she’s caught and tied up by the locals. But then Gola takes a shine to her (in that way that primitive, tribal chieftains always do in stories when they meet an attractive blonde woman), so installs her as his consort. He also wants to ‘pair bond’ with her to produce a son. Jenna plays along as a chance to search for the brain-print and soon realises that both Gola and his sister are wearing amulets that could contain the information.
* It’s not a great week for dogsbody Cally (22). She operates the teleport, pilots the Liberator, fetches Blake a glass of water, defers to Avon…
* Zen (21) reports that some Federation pursuit ships are nearby. That’s all he seems to do some episodes.
* Travis (12) wasn’t on the ship that Avon attacked – he had stayed down on the planet, having arrived before the Liberator. Like the others, he’s searching for Lurgen’s brain-print. But then he vanishes from the story after just a couple of scenes. We later learn he found the print and scarpered.
* Servalan (11) is *also* on Goth, though spends most of her time lazing around eating grapes. She and Travis have reached an uneasy truce, then Travis pitches a new idea: why don’t they seize control of Star One and command the galaxy together? He next borrows her ship so he can send a message to the Federation. At least, that’s what he tells Servalan…

Best bit: The first and last scenes of the episode are both nicely directed in single, uninterrupted takes. We start with an 88-second shot featuring all five members of the Liberator crew moving choreographically in and out of frame as they discuss the plot. Then the episode concludes with a simpler but still effective 16-second shot as the same characters return to the flight deck and set course for Star One…

Worst bit: The OTT, panto performance from Bruce Purchase as Gola.

Review: Notwithstanding the fun shots mentioned in ‘Best bit’ above, The Keeper is a badly staged episode of television. At several points, important pieces of storytelling are fumbled. For example, we’re seemingly shown Travis being destroyed… but then there he is in a later scene, with no comment or focus or attention. Similarly, Jenna’s realisation that Servalan is on Goth – a rather big piece of information – is simply skipped over. Less vitally, there are also scene transitions that break the ‘law of re-entry’, the theatrical convention that says a character can’t appear in consecutive scenes without some time ‘off stage’. The script is no masterpiece, admittedly, but it’s not being given a chance. In its favour, the episode is a rare chance for Jenna to drive some plot and it’s also another example of how well Blake’s 7’s serial format works.

Five torches (I don’t like the dark!) out of 10

Next episode: Star One

Blake’s 7: Gambit (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

On the hunt for a doctor who knows the location of the Federation’s Star One facility, the Liberator crew visit the hedonistic Freedom City…

Series B, episode 11. Written by: Robert Holmes. Directed by: George Spenton-Foster. Originally broadcast: 20 March 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Travis (11) is now working as a bodyguard for a man in hiding – although the man is using a pseudonym, he’s actually Docholli, a cyber-surgeon and one of the few people who know the location of the Federation’s vital Star One control centre. Travis is duffed up by some heavies and taken to see his old boss Servalan, who’s recently arrived in the Las Vegas-like Freedom City. She wants him to identify Docholli so she can eliminate him before he blabs what he knows. She also secretly hides a bomb in Travis’s robotic arm.
* Blake (24), Jenna (24) and Cally (21) teleport down to Freedom City to look for Docholli. Blake needs to know Star One’s location so he can attack and cripple it. During their search, Jenna and Cally stage an argument (“You slut!” “A 10-credit touch!”) as well as a sadly unseen cat fight so Blake can sneak into a back room unnoticed. Eventually, they track down Docholli – he confesses that he doesn’t know where Star One is (d’oh!), but tells them that a colleague called Lurgen did. The problem now is that Lurgen may have been killed…
* Vila (24) is killing time on the Liberator, playing computer chess and having a bitching session with Avon (23), when they come up with a plan. While Blake, Jenna and Cally are looking for Docholli, why don’t the pair visit Freedom City’s casino? Eventually, Vila – with some secret help from Orac – wins five million credits. But he was drinking while playing, and in a drunken stupor agrees to a double-or-nothing (nothing meaning death) bet on a game of speed chess with a grandmaster called the Klute. When Avon realises what’s happening he spits out his food. But he needn’t have worried – again with surreptitious guidance from Orac, Vila is able to tie the game, survive and waltz off with the cash.
* Servalan (10) has come to meet Krantor, Freedom City’s flamboyant casino boss, because she needs help to find both Docholli and Travis. She has with her a never-mentioned-before sidekick called Jarriere – basically so she has someone to collude with. When she has Travis brought to her, Servalan offers him a deal: if he points out Docholi, she’ll let him kill Blake. But she’s actually double-crossing her old colleague (obviously!) and secretly plants a grenade on him…
* Orac (10) is tricked by Avon and Vila into – and this is a real head-scratcher of a moment – reducing his size to an eighth. The men can then smuggle him into the casino and use his amazing abilities to cheat at the roulette table. Let’s reiterate that: Orac, the universe’s most complex, most amazing, most perfectly productive computer, is conned into doing something because Avon and Vila use reverse psychology on him.

Best bit: Krantor has an ornate dressing mirror that, at the swipe of a hand, turns into a video phone. It’s a fab piece of direction, allowing us to see both characters as they FaceTime each other.

Worst bit: At one point there’s a tiresome scene – admittedly played for laughs – as Servalan tries to explain the plot. It takes *two minutes* of exposition and Jarriere asking questions. Jacqueline Pearce really earnt her money that week.

Review: I’m taking neither the credit nor the blame, but this was the first episode of Blake’s 7 broadcast after my birth. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility that, at four days old, I was near a television while Gambit was being transmitted. Obviously it wouldn’t have made much sense to me then. But it doesn’t *totally* make sense to me now. Writer Robert Holmes, director George Spenton-Foster and especially the design team worked hard to create an interesting, entertaining and playfully postmodern setting for the story – and Freedom City is a very enjoyable place to visit, not least because we viewers can spot the influences. We start in a bar that combines a Western saloon with a 1920s speakeasy. In the casino, the aging hostess emcees proceedings like she’s in the film Cabaret. Krantor models himself on the Prince Regent. There are definite echoes of Star Wars too, especially from the 1977 movie’s famous cantina. In its exterior scenes, Freedom City feels like a precursor of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles, with decent filming in an underpass near the Royal Festival Hall in London – a wind machine, a smoke machine, some set dressing and sound effects making the location feel otherworldly and textured. There’s also a close-up of Jenna that looks like something from an ABBA video.

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But as much fun as all this is, the episode feels punch-drunk with its fictional world and its flamboyant guest characters. The episode weaves about between science fiction, the heist genre, Blake’s 7 politics and various levels of camp, never really knowing which area it prefers. The Liberator crew are all squeezed out to the edges, feeling like interlopers in someone else’s story. And the performances are hardly what you’d call consistent. There are two plots – the search for Docholli and the casino con – yet both are overshadowed by actors indulging in so much ham you could revive the pig with the kiss of life. What a maddeningly perplexing episode of television. For the first time in over 500 blog reviews, I honestly don’t know what score to give something…

God knows how many trekkers ready to challenge the Klute out of 10

Next episode: The Keeper

Blake’s 7: Voice from the Past (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When Blake begins to act oddly, his colleagues deduce he’s being controlled by an outside force…

Series B, episode 10. Written by: Roger Parkes. Directed by: George Spenton-Foster. Originally broadcast: 13 March 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* The episode begins strangely. Cally (20) has convinced her pals to try some exercises, so she, Avon, Jenna and Blake are in a small gym room aboard the Liberator. When Blake claims he can hear a tone, then changes the ship’s course without explanation, Cally realises what’s going on. Her leader is haunted by memories of what happened to him five years previously (when he was brainwashed by the Federation), and Cally realises that his trauma has been triggered by an outside force. She has this insight because people from her home planet of Auron developed the technology.
* Jenna (23) looks amused during the early exercise scene: Cally, Blake, even Avon are taking things more seriously, while she just lies on her front, smiling coquettishly. When everyone finds out that Blake has made yet another executive decision – and turned the ship around – she points out that, while he leads, the rest of them don’t take commands. Blake is essentially ill, however, and Jenna agrees to help. This involves undergoing the same hypno-treatment, as a kind of control case. She therefore shares his nightmares and is clearly shaken by the experience.
* Blake (23) sets course for an asteroid called PK-118 – without any discussion. Wracked by nightmares (and voices in his head), he’s in a bad way. The others try to help, but Blake is clearly troubled. He privately tells Vila that Avon and Cally are a) a couple, and b) colluding against them. He then locks Avon, Cally and Jenna in a room, teleports over to the asteroid and encounters a resistance cell. They want him to act as their leader… At the end of the episode, Blake is left with no memory of what happened.
* Avon (22) has to punch Blake when he gets unruly during his treatment – bet he enjoyed that! He then takes command when Blake is incapacitated. After Blake tricks them and escapes down to PK-118, Avon follows and finds Blake with the rebels. He’s suspicious, but reluctantly goes along with the group’s plan…
* Vila (23), sadly, has to be a bit of a moron this week. Despite Blake clearly being unhinged and lying, Vila sides with him and helps him. Perhaps he enjoys being included; he’s certainly proud when the rebels assume he’s Blake’s deputy.
* Zen (20) explains that PK-118 has been mined out, so while abandoned it still has buildings, life-support systems and an artificial-gravity field.
* Orac (9) carries out a diagnosis of the tone Blake can hear. It’s a trigger noise used by the crimino-therapists who brainwashed Blake years previously. It’s now being sent remotely to order to control him, so Orac suggests a process that involves a friend of Blake’s being hypnotically linked to him; he reckons Jenna would be the best candidate due to their ‘closer’ origins (ie, they’re both from Earth).
* The most revered member of the group of rebels is a man called Shivan. He’s a legendary figure in the anti-Federation community and had been thought dead. Covered in bandages and speaking in a croaky voice, he has a plan to expose Servalan’s crimes at a conference of regional governors. However, after everyone else has left for the conference, Shivan whips off his bandages and reveals that… he’s Travis (10) in disguise! Oh no! It was a trap! None of us saw that coming! He’s in league with Servalan (9), whose forces then ambush the rebel leaders and kill them.

Best bit: Servalan’s long-con plan is revealed when the rebels reach a plush auditorium (in reality: Wembley Conference Centre). They realise they’re in trouble when pre-recorded footage of Servalan is projected onto the cinema screen. She gleefully tells them they’re fucked in a short film that contains avant-garde editing and extreme close-ups.

Worst bit: Blake’s visit to the surface of the asteroid is dramatised by some of the cheapest-looking visual effects ever broadcast on British television. Greenscreened against what seem to be paintings, Gareth Thomas looks like he’s in an episode of Mr Benn.

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Review: This demented episode is incredibly difficult to fathom. For about half of its running time, it’s a bottle episode: the Liberator crew are involved in a slice of sci-fi gibberish that requires a lot of explaining and calls for Gareth Thomas to give a mannered, theatrical performance. We then switch to a political plotline with lots of connections to Blake’s 7 continuity. But despite the presence of Travis and Servalan, the references to Blake’s backstory and a return of a minor character from episode one (unfortunately played by a new actor), Voice from the Past doesn’t feel very Blake’s 7-ish. The storytelling is too formal, too aloof. There’s no bite to what’s happening, no guts to it. Some moments are also oddly directed – such as when guest actress Frieda Knorr delivers dialogue straight down the camera lens – and there’s some strangely contemporary filming locations. Most irritatingly, we get the lame television convention of disguising a character’s identity by covering his face and having the actor muffle his voice.

Five so-called course interceptors from Auron out of 10

Next episode: Gambit