Blake’s 7: Gold (1981)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The crew of the Scorpio attempt to steal a large consignment of gold…

Series D, episode 10. Written by: Colin Davis. Directed by: Brian Lighthill. Originally broadcast: 30 November 1981, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Avon (48) has had Scorpio chase after and hook up with a cruiser called the Space Princess. He’s seeking out old acquaintance Keiller, who has a proposition for the team: the ship may appear to be a luxury liner, but is actually used to transport gold incognito; they could steal a cache worth 17 billion. There’s a snag, though: the gold is processed in such a way that they need a special code to restore its glistening amber loveliness. So Avon, Soolin and Keiller teleport down to the processing plant on the planet Zerok… Later, during the heist attempt on the Space Princess, Avon learns that Keiller used to work for ‘the president’ so confronts him. He admits that he was told to contact Avon and co, but is twisting the plan so he can escape with the gold for himself. Near the end, Avon is nearly caught in the air lock between the two ships, but Vila manages to teleport him to safety just before his air runs out. He then leads the gang to a rendezvous to meet the gold’s enigmatic buyers…
* Vila (49) stays aboard the Scorpio when the others go to hear Keiller’s pitch. He doesn’t want any part in the heist, thinking it’s a trap.
* Dayna (23) and Tarrant teleport to Zerok as back-up when Avon and Soolin attempt to break into the processing plant, but find Keiller unconscious and two scarred bodies. Assuming Avon and Soolin are dead, they take Keiller back to Scorpio, and he explains there was a fight and an explosion. Later, during the gang’s attempt to steal the gold, Dayna has to take drugs that make her appear desperately ill; this then gives the team an excuse to move her to the Scorpio… with the gold stored under her bed.
* Soolin (10) frisks Keiller when he comes aboard Scorpio (bet he enjoyed that). He then flirts with her, unsuccessfully. Soolin later helps Avon sneak into the processing plant. After Keiller has been found unconscious and taken away, we viewers learn that Soolin and Avon are alive and well – it was actually two security guards who were burnt to crispiness.
* During the heist, Tarrant (23) and Soolin mingle with the Space Princess’s passengers, who have been drugged to keep them in line.
* Orac (32) pipes up to explain why the team can’t just teleport the gold off the ship. After the successful robbery, however, he points out that the cash the team have gained from selling the gold is now worthless: Zerok has just ceded to the Federation, invalidating its economy.
* Slave (9).
* Servalan (27) shows up at the end of the episode – turns out, she’s Keiller’s buyer. Avon has seen the twist coming. (We all have, mate.)

Best bit: Keiller is played by Roy Kinnear, an actor who often combined slyness and guile with bumbling humour.

Worst bit: The tiresome twist that Servalan has been pulling the strings. (The revelation also means that last week’s connection between Servalan and Tarrant has to be all but ignored.)

Review: A heist episode with all the usual conventions: twists, turns, complications, booby-traps… It’s fun, fast-paced, engaging and entertaining.

Eight notes drawn by the Bank of Zerok out of 10

Next episode: Orbit

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Blake’s 7: Sand (1981)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

While on a mission to find out why the Federation is so interested in the planet Virn, Tarrant has an encounter with Servalan…

Series D, episode 9. Written by: Tanith Lee. Directed by: Vivienne Cozens. Originally broadcast: 23 November 1981, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Servalan (26) has come to the planet Virn to investigate a distress call from a pilot called Keller. He crashed there five years previously and had reported a unique trace of life on the planet. Along with an officer called Reeve (Stephen Yardley), Servalan lands on and walks across the barren, rocky desert to Keller’s prefab base. But it’s not a successful sortie: they get lost, a lackey mysteriously dies, and then they bump into Tarrant. After Tarrant has killed Reeve, Servalan flirtatiously offers a truce – and the enemies investigate the base together. There’s sand inside, the computer system has gone loopy and they find Keller dead, though his body is still warm. The base is then enclosed by shifting sands, trapping them inside…
* Vila (48) gets drunk when things start to go pear-shaped aboard the Scorpio.
* Dayna (22) and Tarrant teleport down to Virn to learn why the Federation expedition has gone there. But Reeve soon spots them and shoots Dayna in the arm, so Tarrant sends her back to Scorpio. Unbeknownst to anyone, she brings some sand up with her on her boots…
* Soolin (9) pilots the Scorpio; tends to Dayna’s flesh wound; and generally stands around looking fiercely sexy with a side-on ponytail.
* Avon (47) is the one who pitches the idea that the team should visit Virn. If the Federation are there, he argues, it must be for something useful – and he’d rather the Scorpio gang have whatever it is. Later, when Avon sees the sand that Dayna has brought up from the planet, he deduces that it’s dangerous and in some way sentient. But he also discovers that liquid can combat it, so he engineers a rainstorm on Virn.
* Once Dayna’s teleported back to the ship, Tarrant (22) encounters Reeve and kills him. After Servalan has revealed that she’s on the planet too, the pair are locked inside the base. They share a meal and flirt. (The fact the characters have barely interacted before this episode doesn’t seem to be important.) Tarrant also realises that the sand is alive – it has the ability to suck life out of people like a vampire and also has the power of reason. For example, it leaves potential couples alive so they can breed and produce more ‘food’. Servalan and Tarrant end up sleeping together, but later – after the rainstorm has dampened the sandy threat – he teleports back to Scorpio, leaving Servalan alone…
* Orac (31) has to be switched off when he’s affected by the goings-on and tells Avon that he loves him.
* Slave (8) also gets some bizarre dialogue.

Best bit: In a rare moment of sincerity and vulnerability, Servalan tells Tarrant that she was once in love with Keller. He left her when she was a teenager and, bitter at the rejection, ‘power became my lover.’ Tarrant later admits that she might have been lying to him as a manipulation, but we viewers know she wasn’t.

Worst bit: While speculating on the plot, Soolin tells the others that she ‘seems to recall you telling me of an alien trying to take over the Liberator through Cally.’ Do we think the others have sat her down and explained the storylines of all the episodes she missed? There were 39 of them, so it must have been a long evening: ‘Then Brian Blessed showed up… There was that time Avon thought he was Columbo… Dayna got menaced by a giant crab-spider-thing-type-thing… We met Cally’s sister and Tarrant’s brother, both of whom looked exactly like them… Did we mention when we got sucked into a black hole?’

Review: This is an episode high on both atmosphere and subtext, and there’s a real richness to the dialogue. It’s also plotted and paced very well and the drama is brilliantly played and directed. Sadly, the production lets the side down now and again. The scenes on the surface of Virn – a jarring, embarrassing clash of CSO, videotape, film and model shots – are pretty naff, for example. But it’s easy to forgive when the story keeps the attention, when the key scenes are so enjoyable, and when Servalan is more than just a Cruella de Vil with caustic quips.

Nine girls next door out of 10

Next episode: Gold

Blake’s 7: Games (1981)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Attempting to steal a valuable resource of energy, the crew of the Scorpio encounter both an old foe and a man who enjoys playing games…

Series D, episode 8. Written by: Bill Lyons. Directed by: Vivienne Cozens. Originally broadcast: 16 November 1981, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Avon (46) has heard about a new power source – Feldon crystals, which provide an infinitely inexhaustible supply of energy – so has devised a plan to steal a large stash worth 900 million credits. Without telling his colleagues, he’s even made contact with an expert to help them – an academician called Gerren. The geezer who runs the crystal mine then gets in touch and offers to give the gang some Feldon if they help him escape the clutches of the Federation… Belkov is a fruity, charismatic man who enjoys playing all manner of games and puzzles. (If this episode were made today, he’d be a teenage hipster who gulps Red Bull as he bashes away at a keyboard.) However, when Avon and co finally reach where the Feldon crystals should be, they’re not there. The whole thing was a con: Belkov just needed someone to take the blame for his theft of the loot.
* Dayna (21) doesn’t trust Belkov as far as she could throw him, which as Vila underlines wouldn’t be very far. (Well, he is skimming millions of credits’ worth of profit off the top of his Federation-sanctioned mining operation.) Later, she stealthily comes to the rescue when Tarrant and Vila are caught by guards near the mine – but soon after, Belkov betrays the team and locks them up, hoping they’ll be blamed for some Feldon he’s swiped.
* For the most part, Soolin (8) has another episode where she hangs around on Scorpio, looks pretty, and asks male characters questions so they can appear clever. Her one moment of focus this week is when the gang attempt to break into Belkov’s ship, Orbiter. He’s booby-trapped it with interactive computer games (of course he has), so Soolin uses her quick-draw skills to win the first round.
* Orac (30) explains that Feldon is the hardest substance in the universe. (‘And currently the most valuable,’ adds Avon.)
* When Avon lays out his plan, Tarrant (21) has a concern: he wants to ensure they’re stealing the crystals in order to use them, not to sell them and risk them ending up back with the Federation. When the crew arrive at mining planet Mecron II, Tarrant, Dayna and Vila take Gerren with them to find the cache of crystals. Tarrant also has to try his hand at one of Belkov’s booby-traps: a flight simulator not too dissimilar to that land-a-jumbo-jet game they used to have on The Krypton Factor.
* Vila (47) is initially bored by Avon’s lecture about Feldon, but perks up when he learns how much money they could make On Mecron II, he uses his lockpicking skills and then is given a side mission by Orac: steal a complex circuit from Belkov’s female-voiced artificial-intelligence unit. He tries talking her into giving up the circuit and letting his friends free from their prison… and he succeeds on both counts. Yay, Vila!
* Servalan (25) has come to Mecron II because she – rightly – assumes Belkov is on the take. But when she makes it clear that he’s in deep shit, he uses the fact he’s made contact with Avon and co as a bargaining chip.
* Slave (7).

Best bit: Pitching his plan to steal the Feldon crystals, Avon lists the problems they face. One is the fact that the prize is ‘protected by a security system that’s supposed to be impassable.’ Vila replies, ‘They’re *all* supposed to be impassable.’ That’s an amazing pun, that is.

Worst bit: Servalan’s appearances got monotonous and unimaginative a while ago. It’s also dreary that the show has distilled the entire threat of the galaxy-wide Federation into one character – the regulars never come up against other officers or officials.

Review: There’s an awful lot of plot for a 50-minute episode of Blake’s 7. It’s a nice change from previous stories that take half an hour to gear up, but maybe there’s too much here. Games is occasionally so swift it’s hard to follow. Some moments – the rescue of an injured Gerren, for example – are simply skipped over. But things are kept enjoyable, thanks in part to a fun, detailed performance from Stratford Johns as Belkov. He’s a game-player, a manipulator, so it ain’t a huge shock when he betrays our heroes. But he’s very entertaining along the way.

Eight recalcitrant chiefs out of 10

Next episode: Sand

Blake’s 7: Assassin (1981)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Hearing that a killer has been hired to hunt them down, the Scorpio crew decide to find him first…

Series D, episode 7. Written by: Rod Beacham. Directed by: David Sullivan Proudfoot. Originally broadcast: 9 November 1981, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Avon (45) and the others discover that a mysterious and expensive assassin called Cancer has been mentioned on a communique of Servalan’s. Assuming that Cancer has been employed to kill them, Avon argues they should bump off Servalan before she can make the payment. So, following a clue from the communique, Avon and Vila teleport to the planet Domo and the former deliberately gets himself captured by some space pirates. He’s then placed in a cell with an elderly man called Nebrox (Richard Hurndall), who comes over all Basil Exposition and tells Avon about the slave auction they’re both due to be part of. Nebrox also recently saw someone arrive, buy a prisoner and leave – Avon reckons it must have been Cancer. At the auction, where Servalan is one of the bidders, Nebrox manages to help Avon escape. So Avon takes his new pal back to the Scorpio and the gang chase after Cancer’s fleeing ship (which handily has a painting of a crab on its hull). When they catch up and teleport aboard, Avon finds Cancer – a large, imposing man – holding a simpering woman hostage. After the assassin has been subdued, the woman, Piri, explains that Cancer bought her from the slavers for sexual purposes. Avon then lies in wait for Servalan to show up. But soon Cancer gets loose, Nebrox is found dead, and is ship is disabled. Oh no! It gets worse: Avon is then knocked unconscious and tied up. When he comes round, Piri reveals the shock plot twist that no one saw coming: *she’s* Cancer, and the large, imposing man is an actor she got from the slavers as a decoy. She tries to kill Avon with her signature weapon – a poison-delivering mechanical crab – but thankfully Tarrant and Soolin burst in and kill her.
* Vila (46) is the one who stumbles across Servalan’s message about Cancer and Domo and ‘five targets’. Later, he and Dayna take the Scorpio back to base while the others continue with this week’s plot.
* As well as Servalan (24), one of the bidders at the slave auction – which, like so many Blake’s 7 location scenes, takes place in a non-descript bit of wasteland – is played by Betty Marsden off of Carry On Camping. (Others are non-speaking white actors in various ‘ethnic’ costumes.) We’ve come a long way since the fascist psycho-drama of episode one…

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Servalan wants to buy Avon and is willing to outbid anyone – but he then scuppers her plan by escaping. Later in the episode, it’s revealed that the communique giving away her plan to hire an assassin was a plant: Servalan masterminded the whole thing, and actually ends the episode believing that Avon and Tarrant have been killed in an explosion.
* Tarrant (20) thinks Avon might be scared of Cancer – and he’s right. Tarrant later flirts with Piri, who at this point still seems to be a dippy drip of a woman.
* Dayna (20) teleports down to Domo to help with Avon’s escape. When she spies Servalan, she attempts to kill the woman who murdered her father (yes, it’s time for that plot point to be remembered!) but she fails.
* Soolin (7) has heard of Domo, the planet mentioned in Servalan’s message. Ten years earlier it was colonised by space pirates. Later, during a Die Hard section of the episode set aboard Cancer’s ship, Soolin is brilliantly cold and harsh towards the wet Piri. She’s then nearly attacked by a mechanical crab… but just as it approaches unseen, she has a eureka moment and jumps out of its reach. What has she realised? That Piri is not what she seems…
* When the initial threat is discovered, Orac (29) counsels the gang to find Cancer before he finds them.

Best bit: There’s a great sequence when our heroes are searching the ship for Cancer. It’s compelling and there’s good incidental music too.

Worst bit: Sadly, this episode has a real disparity between the quality of the location filming and the scenes recorded in the studio. The latter stuff is well paced, well lit and inventively shot. Tension and atmosphere are generated. But when the episode is outdoors, the filming style is so drab and staccato.

Review: A decent and fun episode marred by two things: the hamfisted location scenes and the spectacularly obvious plot twist, which is based on the idea that the audience won’t even consider the possibility that an assassin might be female. The characters assume Cancer is a man, and we’re meant to as well. In the plus column, Soolin has a meaningful role to play in the storytelling. A rarity.

Seven vems out of 10

Next episode: Games

Blake’s 7: Headhunter (1981)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Things go badly wrong when the team attempt to contact a cyberneticist…

Series D, episode 6. Written by: Roger Parkes. Directed by: Mary Ridge. Originally broadcast: 2 November 1981, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Slave (6) wakes up Vila as the Scorpio approaches the planet Pharos, where the gang have come to recruit an expert to their cause. But later the computer is mysteriously incapacitated.
* Vila (45) has come on the mission to Pharos with Tarrant. Their aim is to collect a genius called Muller, who works for a robot-development cartel. When the guest’s on board, however, he acts oddly and attacks Tarrant – so Vila whacks him with a spanner, apparently killing him. They put his body in a cryogenic capsule and head back to base, but due to some bizarre problems with Scorpio the craft has to be quarantined with Vila and Tarrant still on board. When the life-support system then fails, the two men need rescuing. After he’s recovered, Vila is given the job of opening a box that belonged to Muller…
* Tarrant (19) is suspicious when Muller changes the rendezvous for his pick-up at the last minute – it seems ‘they’ are on to him. Armed, Tarrant teleports down to Pharos to collect him; he also picks up a box Muller seems wary of. After Muller’s death, Tarrant orders Vila not to open the box until they can deduce what’s inside – then the ship suffers from unexplained buffeting and power failures and a course change…
* Meanwhile, Avon (44) is keeping Muller’s wife company back at the base. When news comes through that Muller has been killed, Vena (Lynda Bellingham) is distraught and accuses Avon’s friends of being murderers; Avon reminds her that they needed him alive. Then contact is lost with the crippled Scorpio – and Avon is torn over whether to risk a mission to rescue Vila and Tarrant. Eventually he agrees and sends Dayna and Soolin to fetch their colleagues. Later, Avon and Vena go aboard too to check on Muller’s body – but it’s gone walkabouts! They find him back on the base – alive and seemingly well. But he then kills Vena. Avon deduces that Muller is able to manipulate nearby electrical circuits, hence Slave incorrectly diagnosing his decease. Then when the gang look inside the box, they find an android’s head. ‘Muller’ is actually a rebellious robot who’s propped the murdered Muller’s head on his body as a disguise. The whole thing was a ploy to gain access to Orac.
* Orac (28) mentions his creator, Ensor, who we met way back in season one and was coincidentally Muller’s teacher.
* Dayna (19) teleports over to the stricken Scorpio with Soolin to retrieve Vila and Tarrant. She later tries to deal with ‘Muller’ by throwing a grenade at him – at the time he’s conveniently in a corridor of the base that’s shot on film. Sadly for Dayna, he survives… sans head. Eventually, the gang manage to lure the robot outside and onto a metallic bridge, which they then electrocute and disable their nemesis.
* Soolin (6) consoles Vena and gives her a drink when she learns her husband is dead. But she’s later surprised when Orac begins to waffle on about philosophy and then asks to be switched off and hidden. She later has to play fox to the hounds and run around the base with Orac in an attempt to lure ‘Muller’ to follow her.

Best bit: The spacesuits worn by all the regulars at some point are beautifully retro-futurist. They’re like something from Dan Dare.

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Worst bit: Due to the actress having to time her dialogue to some 1981-style computer graphics, a six-second countdown read aloud by Soolin actually lasts for 15 seconds.

Review: It’s certainly from the pulpy end of Blake’s 7 storytelling spectrum, but this is really enjoyable stuff. A decent plot always keeps the interest. It’s also the first episode where Soolin feels like a proper part of the line-up.

Eight superstitious halfwits out of 10

Next episode: Assassin

Blake’s 7: Animals (1981)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Dayna attempts to recruit her old mentor to the gang’s cause, but Commissioner Sleer gets wind of the plan…

Series D, episode 5. Written by: Allan Prior. Directed by: Mary Ridge. Originally broadcast: 26 October 1981, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Tarrant (18) hopes Dayna’s old friend Justin, who he calls a ‘mad scientist’, will be worth the trouble. The Scorpio has come to the planet Bucol-2 so Dayna can visit him, but once she’s teleported down Tarrant is menaced by some Federation pursuit ships. With Scorpio damaged in the encounter, he has no choice but to leave Dayna behind and head back to base…
* Dayna (18) hasn’t seen Justin for a long time and hopes he remembers her; he was a friend of her father’s, who used to visit their home to mentor Dayna. On the surface of Bucol-2, she’s stalked by strange creatures – humanoid animals with fur and large horns. Thankfully Justin then appears and they retreat to the safety of his lab. He reveals that the creatures are the result of his Federation-funded experiments in merging humans and animals into troops who are immune to radiation. When he tried brain implants, they rebelled and escaped. Dayna is disgusted but still asks Justin to join her anti-Federation group. Later, she goes outside to try to reason with the lead animal, Og. But he bashes her on the head and she falls down a ravine… and then is found by Servalan’s soldiers, who have just arrived on the planet. Servalan brainwashes Dayna into thinking she hates Justin, so she’ll lead Servalan to him. Later, though, Dayna manages to escape when Justin sacrifices his life for her – leaving her distraught.
* Slave (5) and Orac (27) get some functional dialogue.
* Upon hearing that the Scorpio is damaged, Avon (43) orders Tarrant home. The repairs take a long time, but eventually Avon, Tarrant and Soolin are able to head to Bucol-2 to look for Dayna.
* Servalan (23) – who’s still going by her new identity, Commissioner Sleer – learns that some pursuit ships had an encounter with a super-fast planet-hopper near Bucol-2, and her interest in both the ship and the planet is piqued. After some investigation, she learns about Justin and his experiments, so journeys to Bucol-2, captures Dayna and forces her to help find Justin.
* Soolin (5) flashes a cheeky smirk when Vila (44) is forced to crawl into Scorpio’s gloopy, mucky innards to fix a fault.

Best bit: Idiosyncratic character actor Kevin Stoney drops in for a single scene as a decript, blind old man who Servalan interrogates about Justin. He realises who ‘Sleer’ really is, but then has to smartly backtrack when she makes it clear what will happen to him if he reveals the information.

Worst bit: Does Servalan’s new persona make any sense at all? Isn’t it like Vladimir Putin showing up with a moustache and expecting no one to recognise him?

Review: At least it’s a Dayna-centric episode, which is a nice change. (The storyline was planned for Cally but then the actress quit the series.) There is also some fun season continuity going on: the Sleer storyline and the pacification drug were set up in Traitor, the Scorpio’s new engine in Stardrive. But this is a script with very little panache and quite a lot of leaden dialogue. Meanwhile, the design of the animals themselves – more like Muppets than a menacing threat – really makes it difficult to take things seriously.

Five inertial-guidance glycolene ballast channels out of 10

Next episode: Headhunter

Blake’s 7: Stardrive (1981)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When Avon learns about a new, super-fast propulsion system, he insists the crew track down its creator…

Series D, episode 4. Written by: James Follett. Directed by: David Sullivan Proudfoot. Originally broadcast: 19 October 1981, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Tarrant (17) and the team have found an asteroid that, if they shadow it, will allow them sneak into the Altern system and acquire some much-needed fuel for the Scoprio. Later, though, the craft is damaged and Tarrant and Avon have to set about fixing the problems – they work with only a force field shielding them from the vacuum of space.
* Avon (42) advocated the mission to Altern 5 to get some selsium ore, but then takes the risky decision to fly within just 50 yards of the asteroid. After the plan goes wrong and Scorpio is badly struck, his colleagues quickly turn on him. A new mission then presents itself when Avon learns about a high-tech stardrive – can they steal one for the Scorpio? Their quest leads them to the planet Caspar, home of the vicious Space Rats. (Vila explains that they’re ‘maniacs, psychopaths; all they live for is sex and violence, booze and speed.’) Avon callously sends Vila and Dayna on as a distraction, then teleports to the Rats’ base with Tarrant and Soolin. They manage to nab a stardrive and also rescue a scientist called Plaxton (Barbara Shelley, trying gamely to add some dignity to proceedings).
* Soolin (4), Dayna and Vila spot three pursuit ships while Avon and Tarrant are repairing Scorpio, but then the ships mysteriously explode. Later, Soolin watches a recording of the disaster and realises that there was another craft nearby – one so fast it must have a new type of engine.
* When the explosions are still a mystery, Dayna (17) is given the first shift of analysing the 10,000 frames per second of the recording. Later, she and Vila are sent on a mission to negotiate with the infamous Space Rats. But the Rats turn on them and kidnap them. Dayna then attempts, unsuccessfully, to pretend that she knows Dr Plaxton, the Federation scientist who developed the new drive and who has been working with the Space Rats.
* Vila (43) isn’t happy with Avon’s asteroid plan. Then, after it’s gone awry, he quickly gets drunk and leary. (Or so it seems. He actually fakes it so Avon won’t ask for his help in fixing the Scorpio.) When the team watch back the footage of the explosions, Vila recognises that the killer craft belongs to a Space Rat.
* Slave (4) does some more answering-questions-and-sounding-like-Parker-from-Thunderbirds.
* Orac (26) watches the recording of the explosions but refuses to tell the others what caused them. He does later reveal that Dr Plaxton has perfected a photonic drive that uses light to exert thrust. It’s nicknamed the ‘stardrive’.

Best bit: With the Scorpio damaged and drifting in space, Slave reports that the life-support system will last a further 151 hours. ‘By the time the oxygen runs out we’ll be bored as well as dead,’ quips Soolin. (The episode’s Star Wars-style screenwipes for passages of time are quite fun too.)

Worst bit: The Space Rats. They should be violent, threatening, sneering, dangerous Hell’s Angel punks – like something out of Mad Max. But they just come across as silly with their Day-Glo costumes and love of words like zap and splat.

Review: It takes around 20 minutes for the Space Rats to show up, and this is emblematic of episode as a whole. It wants to be an urgent, visceral, life-on-the-edge thriller, but there’s no drive, no momentum. The Scorpio crew don’t actually affect what’s happening on Caspar until the last few minutes of the story.

Six gooks of 10

Next episode: Animals

Blake’s 7: Traitor (1981)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Scorpio crew investigate why the Federation is rebuilding so quickly and encounter a mysterious figure called Commissioner Sleer…

Series D, episode 3. Written by: Robert Holmes. Directed by: David Sullivan Proudfoot. Originally broadcast: 12 October 1981, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Avon (41) hears that the expanding Federation has annexed another planet, and wants to know why they’re making so many gains all of a sudden. So he sets course for Helotrix, one of the oldest Earth colonies. Despite his burning curiosity, however, Avon is happy to stay aboard Scorpio while his colleagues teleport down and investigate. Later, he’s stunned when Dayna and Tarrant return and tell him that while on the planet they encountered Servalan…
* Orac (25) is working on a redesign of the Scorpio that will increase its speed – and rather naively hacks into the local Federation network to glean some information. Prat.
* Dayna (16) is also concerned by how many worlds are being brought under the fascistic wing of the Federation. Once at Helotrix, she and Tarrant beam down and do some snooping. They find a population who have been pacified by drugs, allowing the Federation to take over with ease, then hook up with local resistant leader Hunda. (For the second episode running, there’s also a reference to Dayna’s skin colour – which was never an issue in the third season.)
* Vila (42) moans about the Federation expansion, fears the gang will soon be caught, laments that they no longer have a ship as fast as the Liberator, advocates fleeing, and generally spends the episode being a whiny little bitch.
* Soolin (3) is now part of the gang but spends the whole episode sitting around, occasionally saying something disposable and not actually doing anything. (The story goes that Glynis Barber is saying lines written for Cally before Jan Chappell quit the show. No wonder the latter left.)
* On Helotrix, Tarrant (16) and Dayna also meet a Federation officer who’s supplying information to the resistance and learn that the pacifying drug is being synthesised nearby. (They don’t know, however, that Officer Leitz is a double agent working for a shadowy Federation figure called Sleer.) The pair head for the refinery and find a blind man in a wheelchair. He invented the drug that ‘adapts’ people, but only did it under duress from Sleer, who’s been torturing him. Before they escape the planet, Tarrant and Dayna catch a glimpse of the elusive Sleer…
* Slave (3).
* At first, Federation bigwig Sleer is only discussed – and anyone who’s ever paid attention to how dialogue works will spot that every character refers to Sleer in an unusual way. Whenever mentioning Sleer, the person will call Sleer by Sleer’s name, pointedly avoiding any personal pronouns that would give the game away that Sleer might possible be – how’s this for a monumental plot twist? –  a *woman*. A woman in a position of authority and power? Imagine! Later, someone sneaks into a local politician’s office and kills him, but the scene is shot in such a way that we don’t get a good look at the assassin. Then we hear Sleer’s voice over a radio and it’s been artificially disguised. Even though we’re told by a Federation character that Servalan (22) was killed recently, it’s not a huge surprise when it’s revealed that she’s on the planet, bumped off the politician, and is now going by the name Sleer.

Best bit: Christopher Neame’s performance as a calculating Federation officer called Colonel Quute. He obsequiously goes along with what his superior says, but you can see the snarl and sneer behind his eyes.

Worst bit: Poor Soolin. She was a secondary character in the season opener, and then crowbarred into a perfunctory scene in episode two. Now, she’s seemingly been accepted by the regular team… but between episodes. So there’s no getting-to-know-you scenes, no focus on her as a character. Surely she could have taken Tarrant or Dayna’s role in this story, which would have given more screentime, more dialogue and a chance to interact with someone meaningfully.

Review: This is a typical Robert Holmes script, in that the dialogue is peppered with telling references to unseen locations, events and people that imply a larger world without us having to know the context. The incidental music, meanwhile, often makes you think of a stiring, stiff-upper-lip war movie. Enjoyable enough stuff.

Seven red-hot filaments through his nerve centres out of 10

Next episode: Stardrive

Blake’s 7: Power (1981)

Screenshot 2018-09-23 12.22.20

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Stranded on Xenon, the gang try to gain access to the spaceship Scorpio, but also encounter two warring factions of locals…

Series D, episode 2. Written by: Ben Steed. Directed by: Mary Ridge. Originally broadcast: 5 October 1981, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Vila (41) is under pressure from his colleagues to crack open the door that leads to the Scorpio, the team’s only escape off the planet Xenon. When working on the problem alone, though, he’s surprised to see a woman has somehow entered the base. Pella (Juliet Hammond-Hill from Secret Army) is a local who reveals that the base will blow up if Dorian – a character who inconveniently died in the previous episode – doesn’t reset the security codes.
* Tarrant (15) goes outside with Dayna to look for a missing Avon. Without success. He then tries to work out how Pella entered and left the locked base. Without success.
* Dayna (15) reckons the gang’s food supplies will only last three weeks, so they must have access to the Scorpio. Later, while outside, she and Tarrant are captured by a tribe of local men called Hommicks. (They’re yet another example of Blake’s 7’s obsession with medieval-like natives, though these ones at least know about technology.) Plucky Dayna challenges chieftain Gunn Sar (Dicken Ashworth, playing him working class and northern) to a fight and managed to beat him… with some help from a watching Pella, who has telekinetic powers.
* At the start of the episode, Avon (40) is scouting the local area when he’s attacked and captured by the Hommicks. Gunn Sar tells Avon that he’s killed 26 challengers in ritualistic combat, but an aide corrects him: it’s 25 confirmed kills and one gone missing after he fell off a cliff. After a tiff, Avon challenges him to a fight. Avon has the upper hand, but then one of Gunn Sar’s underlings bashes him on the head. (Referee!) Avon is put in a cell with Pella, who has also been captured and she explains some context for what’s going on: her female friends from the Seska tribe are captured by the male Hommicks, operated on, and then must provide children. (The boys are kept, the girls discarded.) It’s later revealed that Pella has been plotting to get access to the Scorpio for her own ends. When she uses her telekinesis skills to get inside the ship, Avon follows via a new teleport system Orac has been working on… and shoots Pella dead.
* Orac (24) declines to help Tarrant with the puzzle of how Pella got into and out of the base, then later tells him the base will explode in three hours and 24 minutes unless they get to the override switch – which is behind a locked door.
* Slave (2) has some lines when Avon teleports aboard the Scorpio.
* Soolin (2) appears on the scene at the very last minute and asks to join the crew. Where the chuff has she been all episode?!

Best bit: This dramatic composition.

Screenshot 2018-09-23 12.20.50

Worst bit: The two fights we see – Avon and Gunn Sar, Dayna and Gunn Sar – are slow, cumbersome and decidedly unthreatening.

Review: The conflict between Gunn Sar’s all-male Hommicks and Pella’s all-female Seska is a war of the sexes. Is this a searing satire of gender politics, or just an excuse for some more misogyny dressed up as entertainment? Well, perhaps the answer comes in a scene where Avon uses his alpha-male virility to push Pella onto the floor. ‘However you use [your strength], a man’s will always be greater,’ he says. ‘Unfair perhaps, but biologically unavoidable.’ He then kisses her. Times change, of course, and judging previous eras by today’s standards can be troubling. But it’s fair to say that Power has not dated very well. (Elsewhere, in another jarring moment, Dayna is referred to ‘the black woman’ when there’s only one woman the speaker could mean.) There’s also a muddled plot and plenty of hammy staging. It’s a slog to sit through generally.

Five ordinary, domestic heliofusion rods out of 10

Next episode: Traitor

Blake’s 7: Rescue (1981)

Screenshot 2018-09-16 12.51.33

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Stranded on Terminal after the loss of the Liberator, Avon, Vila, Tarrant and Dayna encounter a salvager who harbours a dark secret…

Series D, episode 1. Written by: Chris Boucher. Directed by: Mary Ridge. Originally broadcast: 28 September 1981, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Dayna (14) and her friends are still on Terminal, the artificial planet they found in the previous episode, but Servalan has boobytrapped their only means of transport. Dayna spots some aggressive ‘links’ (Terminal’s savage primates), is menaced by a large Venus-fly-trap-style plant, then falls down a ravine. (Bad day!) She’s rescued by an ever-smirking salvager called Dorian, who is then forced by the gang to give them a lift off the planet. He seems to grow tired quickly…
* Scouting the local countryside – it’s snowed since the events of the last episode – Avon (39) realises that Servalan will have set explosives in the underground base as well as the transport ship. And he can’t get back in time to warn the others… Cally is killed, but Avon manages to find and retrieve Orac. After meeting Dorian, Avon leads a hijacking of his ship – but Dorian has set an unchangeable course and our heroes end up at his base on the planet Xenon. Dorian shows off his comfortable living and his technological achievements. ‘What did you do in your spare time?’ quips Avon. Suspicious of Dorian’s evasive answers, Avon then pulls a gun on him – only to find Dorian has surreptitiously removed all the bullets. Dorian reveals that he built his base on top of a cave he found 200 years ago. It cleanses him of all his impurities and vices, and he hasn’t aged a day in two centuries. The cave now contains a creature that was once a man but is now a receptacle for all of Dorian’s negativity. He intends to replace the creature with Avon, Tarrant, Dayna and Soolin, who will be somehow merged into a gestalt entity.
* When the Terminal base explodes, Vila (40) helps an injured Tarrant out through the escape hatch. He then tries to get to Cally, but the smoke and heat hold him back. On Xenon, having resigned himself to the group’s situation, Vila uses his lockpicking skills to open Dorian’s generous stock of booze. But when he overhears Dorian revealing his evil plan, forgotten-about Vila manages to sneak a gun into Avon’s hand.
* Tarrant (14) is injured in the blast on Terminal, then passes out as the gang try to move. On Xenon, Tarrant and Dayna want to know more about Dorian’s setup, so do some furtive exploring. Dayna finds a hatch leading to a staircase down to a cave, where there’s a monster lurking in the dark…
* After the explosion in the base, Cally (37) sends a psychic message to Vila, asking for help. But her friend can’t get to her and she’s killed.
* Slave (1) is the lugubrious artificial intelligence aboard Dorian’s space ship, Scorpio.
* When our characters reach Xenon, they meet Soolin (1), Dorian’s sidekick who is a crack-shot quickdraw. We’re told she killed the men responsible for the deaths of her family. Being so formidable, however, doesn’t help when Dorian unloads her gun without her noticing. After Dorian’s secret is spilled, she feels betrayed… Glynis Barber, who also had a small role in the first season, doesn’t get much chance to shine in her first episode as Soolin. But she certainly knows how to wear a tight jumpsuit.
* Orac (23) is switched on by Dorian, who wants to know how the Liberator’s teleport system worked.

Best bit: There’s a new title sequence with a charmingly blocky 1980s logo…

Screenshot 2018-10-05 19.01.25

Worst bit: …that still has its apostrophe missing!

Review: Another new season, another refreshing of the format: we’ve lost the Liberator, Zen and Cally; we’ve gained a new ship, a new computer, a new character and a new base. Rescue is quite blatantly based on Oscar Wilde’s novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. It passes the time without ever fully gripping the attention.

Seven corruptions of time and appetite out of 10

Next episode: Power