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)

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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.

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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)

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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…

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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

Blake’s 7: Terminal (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Avon reroutes the Liberator to a mysterious location but refuses to reveal why. When the ship arrives, he finds a surprise waiting for him…

Series C, episode 13. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Mary Ridge. Originally broadcast: 31 March 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Avon (38) has set a new course and has been monitoring progress on the flight deck of the Liberator for more than 30 hours. But he won’t tell his colleagues where they’re going or why. In fact, when a frustrated Tarrant confronts him, Avon coolly pulls a gun and warns him off. Eventually, the ship arrives at Delta 714, a star on the edge of Sector 6, and orbits a 411-year-old artificial planet codenamed Terminal. After ordering the others not to follow him, Avon teleports down. He finds a bunker staffed by scientists so sneaks in and sees an image of Blake on a screen. ‘So Blake’s alive,’ says Avon. He’s then suddenly hit by a tranquiliser dart. When he wakes, he escapes and explores some more. In a room, Avon finds a bearded Blake hooked up to a life-support machine. ‘Well,’ says his former colleague, ‘you certainly took your time finding me.’ Avon says he’ll help him get out, but Blake replies that he wouldn’t survive being moved. Then Avon is clobbered by the scientists and taken to see their leader… Servalan, who reveals that *she* sent the clues that allowed Avon to find Terminal. He admits he suspected it was a trap, but given that the carrot was the long-lost Blake he had to investigate. She offers to swap Blake for the Liberator – and Avon has no real choice. Then, after Tarrant, Cally and Dayna have also been captured, Servalan admits that Blake has been dead for a year. What Avon saw was an elaborate, drug-induced illusion. She teleports up the Liberator, sending Vila the other way, then our heroes watch on a screen as the ship explodes. They’re now stranded on Terminal. Avon just smirks…
* Zen (33) imparts some information, but refuses to help the others under Avon’s orders. Later, after the Liberator is damaged, Zen suffers a mechanical breakdown… Before his systems totally fail, he apologises, even using a rare personal pronoun.
* Vila (39) is keeping out of Avon’s way as the episode begins – so are the others. But he later spots that the ship’s energy banks are being drained: the self-repair systems are working overtime to combat an aggressive space enzyme that is riddling the entire craft!
* Dayna (13) starts the episode by playing a board game with Cally – the same one seen earlier in the season in Dawn of the Gods. ‘Are you sure you can’t read my mind?’ she asks her opponent. After Avon, Tarrant and Cally have headed down to Terminal, Dayna stays on the ship and helps Vila work out why its systems are failing. (It’s because of a weird space cloud they travelled through earlier in order to reach Terminal as soon as possible.)
* After Avon has left for Terminal, Cally (36) and Tarrant ignore his instructions and follow. They see two local people brutally attacked and killed by primates, then search the bunker Avon found earlier.
* Tarrant (13) ain’t pleased when he learns Avon has diverted the ship without any discussion and badgers his colleague to reveal why. He’s the one member of the crew who’s heard of Terminal, which is an artificial planet that’s been sprayed with organic matter in the hope of creating an environment where life would thrive.
* Servalan (21) is flattered when Avon says he’s impressed with her trap. He thinks it has precise planning, meticulous detail and a general flair. When she has Avon in a bind, she forces him and the others to give up the Liberator – but, as she takes command of the craft, she hasn’t realised that it’s on the brink of collapse. When the ship starts to break up, she races for the teleport machine…
* Orac is seen but not switched on: Vila picks him up before leaving the Liberator for the final time.

Best bit: Gareth Thomas’s appearance as the illusionary Blake. He’s only been gone a dozen episodes, but it’s still a massive moment when the actor reappears. The twist that it wasn’t actually Blake then has real weight.

Worst bit: The surface of Terminal is a bleak, windswept location filming – you really feel the chill and the damp. There’s also a relentless throbbing noise on the soundtrack, which adds to the unsettling air. Sadly, it’s also home to a race of savage primates – in other words, poor actors trying to be menacing while wearing gorilla suits.

Review: The last episode of Blake’s 7 written by its creator, Terry Nation, was planned and made as the last episode ever. Perhaps that’s why is feels so portentously significant. Well directed, with another fantastic Paul Darrow performance, this is a deliberately slow but absolutely gripping episode. A mystery is set up immediately and then eked out for all its worth. Terrific.

Nine directional indicators out of 10

Next episode: Rescue

Blake’s 7: Death-Watch (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When the crew of the Liberator decide to view a duel being held to decide an intergalactic conflict, Tarrant is shocked to learn that one of the fighters is his brother…

Series C, episode 12. Written by: Chris Boucher. Directed by: Gerald Blake. Originally broadcast: 24 March 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Dayna (12) is far from impressed when she hears about the two-man fight being staged to resolve a dispute between the United Planets of Teal and the Vandor Confederacy. But her interest is piqued when she learns that the neutral arbiter is to be Servalan – Dayna reminds us that, a dozen episodes ago, Servalan murdered her father. Initially, she and Vila travel down to a planet where festivities are being held to mark the duel, but then they radio back to say all the shops are shut so return to the Liberator. (That saved building some sets!) Later, Dayna gets a chance to confront Servalan and hold her at gunpoint: at Avon’s request, she refrains from killing her.
* Tarrant (12) sets course for the combat zone of the Teal/Vandor conflict when he hears one of their famous duels is on. But he gets a shock when he settles down to watch the ‘pre-game show’ on the Liberator’s viewscreen: the Teal combatant is his brother, Deeta. Despite the sibling bond, Deeta refuses to see Del before the fight, so instead our Tarrant talks to Deeta’s colleague, Max, who tells him both fighters will be wearing physic implants that will allow anyone to experience the duel from the contestants’ points of view. When the violence gets underway, Deeta is quickly killed by his opponent (the death plays out in fetishist super slow-mo). Enraged, and suspecting a fix, Tarrant offers to refight the duel on his brother’s behalf. Thanks to Cally offering insider information via telepathy, he’s able to win.
* Avon (37) goes to visit Servalan when the Liberator arrives for the fight. Knowing she can’t touch him because of the official neutrality of the situation, he accuses her of manipulating the conflict in order to take control of both star systems. After Deeta is killed, Avon delights in ruining Servalan’s masterplan by having her removed as arbiter and the duel voided.
* Vila (38) is the first to suggest they go and watch the Teal/Vandor combat – he argues that they could all do with a holiday. He then seems to spend the entire episode with a vast array of differently coloured drinks in front of him.
* Orac (22) reveals the shocking statistic that fatigue is decreasing the crew’s efficiency by 1.02% every work period. He later deduces why Deeta lost the fight so easily: his opponent, Vinni, is an android.
* Zen (32) sets a course or two.
* Like Dayna, Cally (35) isn’t happy about travelling across the galaxy to watch two men fight to the death. (Women, eh?) She’s so against the idea that she says she’ll stay aboard the Liberator while the others head off to experience the festival atmosphere that surrounds the duel. Her objection doesn’t stop her later helping Tarrant cheat in his codified conflict with Vinni, but admittedly this is after she’s learnt that the latter is a robot.
* Servalan (20) has managed to bag the gig of head neutral adjudicator of the fight. But, of course, she has a plan. She knows the Vandor champion, Vinni, is an android – and when that’s revealed, it will lead to all-out war between the two regions and she’ll be able to swoop in and take over the two damaged empires. When Avon confronts her, she tells him that she doesn’t consider him an enemy – more a future friend. Avon responds by kissing her. As you do.

Best bit: Though the episode doesn’t pursue the idea, for a little while we’re treated to a section from a television show covering the fight. A reporter delivers solemn clichés to camera, and even touches his ear as if he’s wearing an earpiece. He talks to the camera and explains how the duel will go down. Then, after he throws to a VT, we stay with him and listen as he bickers with his out-of-shot director.

Worst bit: Steven Pacey plays two brothers and there’s no scene where they meet via the science of 1980s video split-screen?! Oh, come on!

Review: This is mostly a passive episode for our heroes, who spend a large chunk not even trying to achieve anything. Instead the story plays out while they’re in the general vicinity. But it’s enjoyable enough. For the third time in six episodes, the series resorts to that sci-fi standard of a guest character being played by one of the regular actors – whether he needs to be is another matter.

Seven final frontiers – yes, seriously, the TV reporter makes a Star Trek reference – out of 10

Next episode: Terminal

Blake’s 7: Moloch (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Liberator crew follow Servalan to a planet with a secret…

Series C, episode 11. Written by: Ben Steed. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 17 March 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Vila (37) is moaning as the story begins: they’ve been tailing Servalan’s ship for 27 days and he’s bored. He’s injured when the Liberator nearly crashes, then has a sleep. But he awakens when he hears his name being put forward (by Orac) as the best person to sneak onto the planet where Servalan’s landed. On the surface, he eventually bumps into a group of prisoners masquerading as Federation troops. (One of them is called Doran and is played by Davyd Harries like he’s in a Carry On film.) They’ve been brought in by the episode’s bad guy as muscle for a rebellion against Servalan. Later, due to circumstance, Vila has to team up with the president…
* Avon (36) is curious where Servalan’s ship is heading, especially as it skirts past a penal planet and carries on into uncharted space. When the ship suddenly vanishes, Avon demands they follow the same course – and it leads them to a planet hidden behind an energy shield. Avon and Dayna teleport down and locate a massive central computer capable of producing perfect copies of any material. But Avon’s soon captured and tortured…
* Dayna (11) advocates blasting Servalan out of the sky rather than just following her ship: they should kill her while they have the chance.
* In order to sneak past the planet’s energy barrier – which may cause havoc with the Liberator’s teleport – Tarrant (11) and Vila secretly beam across to a ship they see approaching it, then escape once on the surface. Later, Tarrant is able to save Avon and Dayna from Section Leader Grose, an officer who’s rebelled against Servalan. Then, however, Moloch is revealed…
* Cally (34) – after a few starring roles in recent episodes – is back to being a not-so-glorified secretary.
* Zen (31) reports early on that the Liberator’s course has no material destination. Cheers, bud. Great help, that.
* When Servalan (19) arrives on the planet, she finds an officer called Section Leader Grose (an underwhelming John Hartley) and his pals treating the local women appallingly. There have been several deaths in the fleet, and this gang of twats have put themselves in charge. Servalan threatens them with court martial, but then Grose shows his hand: he now has access to the planet’s prized computer system, which can replicate anything you ask it to. His plan it to copy Servalan’s ship and create an entirely new fleet – with him in charge. Servalan is tied up, but then Vila finds her and she manipulates him into letting her free.
* Orac (21) fills in some exposition: the planet is called Sardos and is actually a fixed meteoroid populated by isolationists.

Best bit: As tempting as it is to be crass and say the very pretty Sabina Franklyn, who plays a non-entity of a character called Chesil, the best aspect is actually the teaming up of Vila and Servalan. Their odd-couple comedy pairing is a delight.

Worst bit: Moloch itself is the computer system that runs the planet. Towards the end of the episode, there’s a reveal of what’s inside it. If any viewer doesn’t immediately burst into laughter then they’re a better man than me.

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Review: Nonsense propped up by technobabble and misogyny.

Four life-support systems to carry them through the trauma of molecular integration out of 10

Next episode: Death-Watch

Blake’s 7: Ultraworld (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The crew of the Liberator encounter an artificial planet with a macabre secret…

Series C, episode 10. Written by: Trevor Hoyle. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 10 March 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Avon (35) has spotted something close to the Liberator and is concerned, especially after Zen reports that that it’s giving off no quantifiable readings. Visually it looks like an enormous conker shell in space, and Avon soon assumes it’s an alien-built artificial planet. When Cally then goes missing and radios for help from the planet, Avon is unsure whether they should follow, saying it’s too dangerous. But Tarrant and Dayna convince him to mount a rescue: all three teleport over and learn that the planet – Ultraworld – is one huge, self-aware computer staffed by blue-skinned, bald, officious men called Ultras. Later, Avon is taken prisoner by the Ultras and they attempt to cut-and-paste his brainwaves into the central computer system. Eek!
* Cally (33) warns Avon that getting too close to the planet will bring trouble, then when alone she reacts oddly to some kind of psychic sensation she picks up from it. She suffers from an unexplained mental trauma and ends up on Ultraworld, where the Ultras put her in a sleep cell (for her own good, they claim). So that means that Cally is absent for a bulk of the episode for a second week running.
* Tarrant (10) wants to rescue Cally as soon as they realise she’s missing. When he, Dayna and Avon meet the Ultras, they initially seem trustworthy and sincere and say they’re collecting data for a vast, digital archive of information (imagine!). But cynical Tarrant is unconvinced. He does some snooping and discovers memories stored on cassette-like devices, while the people whose brains have been harvested are left as zombies. It then gets even worse: the Ultras are currently downloading Cally’s consciousness! Double eek!
* Zen (30).
* Vila (36) stays on the ship during the crisis and amuses himself by teaching Orac jokes and riddles. He then realises that his colleagues are in trouble with a capital Troub.
* Dayna (10) goes on the run with Tarrant when they realise Ultraworld is far from a benign place. They escape down the planet’s industrial innards, find de-brained victims of the Ultras (including Cally! And Avon!), then come across a large brain at the centre of the planet which is feeding on the husks. Eventually, Dayna and Tarrant manage to win the day, escape, and reload Cally and Avon’s consciousnesses back into their bodies. (There’s the requisite gag from Tarrant as he sheepishly hopes he got them the right way round.) Phew!
* Orac (20) takes Vila’s jokes literally at first (like the fussy little twat he is), but then he starts to appreciate the puns and wordplay.

Best bit: While being held prisoner by the Ultras, Dayna matter-of-factly brokers a deal with them. They have a gap in their knowledge: the human bonding ritual. So Dayna suggests she and Tarrant have sex in order for them to study the procedure. In exchange, the Ultras will let them go. ‘Kiss me,’ she orders Tarrant. Brazen and confident, it suits Dayna’s character well – as does the twist that comes a few moments later: it was just a ruse to engineer an escape.

Note: this beautifully lit shot filmed in tunnels under Camden almost stole the Best Bit category away.

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Worst bit: When Dayna and Tarrant find the victims who have had their brains wiped, Dayna asks what will now happen to the mindless bodies. ‘Perhaps they’re food,’ says Tarrant. ‘Food? Food for what?’ she asks. ‘For thought,’ suggests Tarrant, suggesting (accurately) that the organic matter is fed to the gigantic brain that runs Ultraworld. WHY WASN’T THIS EPISODE CALLED ‘FOOD FOR THOUGHT’?!

Review: It’s clichéd, for sure – especially the bland Ultras, who could have lumbered in from an episode of Star Trek: Voyager – but the episode has a certain zip to it that keeps the interest. Pulpy but fun.

Seven solecisms and grammatical discrepancies out of 10

Next episode: Moloch

Blake’s 7: Sarcophagus (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

A mysterious entity uses Cally’s telepathic abilities to board and take control of the Liberator…

Series C, episode 9. Written by: Tanith Lee. Directed by: Fiona Cumming. Originally broadcast: 3 March 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Cally (32) is suffering from ennui as the episode begins, and has been hiding in her bedroom. Well, I suppose her entire planet was wiped out two episodes ago: she’s bound to be a bit maudlin. When an alien ship drifts close to the Liberator, she clearly senses something telepathically but denies this when her colleagues call her on it. Cally then teleports over to the craft with Vila and Avon – they find it long-abandoned and containing a desiccated corpse. It’s not a ship; it’s a tomb. They then trigger a booby device and have to scarper pronto – but something goes wrong with the teleport and only Cally gets home. Thankfully she thinks quickly, returns to the ship and saves her friends. Yay! Panic over, Cally then falls asleep but hears a strange voice in her dreams…
* Avon (34) shows sympathy to grieving Cally (he was too busy on a revenge mission last week). After visiting the alien ship, he becomes interested in an artefact they recovered from it, which turns out to be a conduit that allows a spectre of some kind to cross over from the alien craft to the Liberator – the ghost takes Cally’s form and starts messing about with the crew’s sanity. (He couldn’t have just left the bloody thing alone, could he?) Avon is the one who’s most able to stand up to the invader and distracts her long enough to steal her ring, which she’s using to focus her physic energy. She then fades away into nothingness.
* Vila (35) is one of the first to be affected by the spectre’s bizarre influence. When the lights go out on the Liberator flight deck, he experiences hallucinations and starts performing sleight-of-hand magic tricks. (There’s appreciative applause added to the soundtrack.) He then sees the interloper: a woman who looks like Cally wearing face paint because she’s played by Jan Chappell in face paint.
* Dayna (9) operates the teleport, realises something’s wrong when she feels static electricity on the flight deck, and is knocked unconscious by some kind of energy beam.
* At the start of the episode, Tarrant (9) has identified an asteroid full of profitable minerals, but argues for postponing that mission when the alien craft hoves into view. He’s distrustful of Cally when she acts oddly and openly questions her motives, then has a row with Avon – it’s real alpha-male stuff. Later, he confronts the strange entity on the flight desk and learns she needs Cally’s life force to escape her tomb.
* Zen (29) and Orac (19) get some basic exposition to impart.

Best bit: Avon and Tarrant’s argument is a testosterone-fuelled thing of wonder. Tarrant is hot-headed, frustrated and full of angry-young-man-ism, while Avon is withering and dryly sarcastic.

Worst bit: Not a huge amount of the episode impresses, but especially tiresome is the scene near the end where Dayna explains the plot to Vila. If you need such a scene, surely there’s something wrong with your storytelling?

Review: Jan Chappell plays an additional character for the second time in three episodes. After the wet fish Zelda in Children of Auron, now she camps it up as that hoary old sci-fi cliche: an arrogant, capricious god with nebulous powers who enjoys toying with lesser life forms. Sadly, as with a lot of genre stories that can be summed up as ‘weird shit happening’, the episode can’t build any tension or jeopardy. The characters rarely know what’s going on and neither do we viewers, so the stakes are vague and the peril uninteresting. At least Fiona Cumming – who also directed the previous episode, Rumours of Death – makes sure we get some style and fun. There’s a peculiar, dialogue-less opening scene scored by whimsical music, a bizarre song sung over photographs of the Liberator model, and filmed cutaways of the regular cast acting out metaphors… It might not be much good, but you can’t claim Sarcophagus is boring.

Four intelligent menials out of 10

Next episode: Ultraworld

Blake’s 7: Rumours of Death (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Avon is on the hunt for the man who tortured and killed his beloved Anna…

Series C, episode 8. Written by: Chris Boucher. Directed by: Fiona Cumming. Originally broadcast: 25 February 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Avon (33) is in a prison cell, looking tired and dishevelled, as the episode begins. He’s clearly been through several days of shit. A new interrogator called Shrinker shows up, and Avon says he’s been holding out until he arrives. Tarrant and Dayna then teleport into the cell and it becomes clear that Avon allowed himself to be captured so he could get close to Shrinker. Now they’ve identified the prick, Avon, Tarrant and Dayna take him back to the Liberator as their prisoner. After Avon has freshened up, he then teleports with the nervous Shrinker to a cave, where he intimdates him. You see, years before, the love of Avon’s life – Anna Grant – was captured by Federation forces, then tortured and killed by interrogator Shrinker. (We viewers, however, by now know different: Avon’s scenes are intercut with sequences showing Anna alive and well and leading a rebellion back on Earth.) After Shrinker admits that he didn’t kill Anna and says it was actually an agent called Bartholomew, who was planted near Avon to spy on him, Avon leaves Shrinker to die in the enclosed cave. His only clue now is that Bartholomew is somehow connected to one of Servalan’s advisors, so the Liberator sets course for Earth… At Servalan’s presidential palace, our heroes find a revolt underway and Servalan chained to a wall in the cellar. She says she’ll tell Avon everything if he releases her, but then Anna walks in. And the penny drops… Anna *is* Bartholomew. She was spying on Avon. She faked her death. When she reaches for a gun, Avon instinctively shoots and kills her. (By the way, isn’t Anna a wonderfully palindromic name for a two-faced character? I hope that was deliberate.)
* As mentioned, Tarrant (8) and Dayna (8) come to Avon’s aid in the prison cell: the signal that he’s ready to be rescued is his homing device being switched off. When the trio return to the Liberator, Vila (34) thoughtfully gives Avon a drink – a nice, understated gesture. Cally (31), however, objects to how roughly the others are treating Shrinker. Later, his four colleagues insist on helping Avon sneak into Servalan’s mansion.
* Servalan (18) is hosting a bigwig conference at her presidential palace, which has been expensively recreated to appear like a pre-atomic country house. But then a small group of rebels outfox her lacklustre security forces and storm the grounds…
* Orac (18) does the research on where Servalan is when Avon needs to find her.

Best bit: The masterful performance from Paul Darrow as Avon. Since he first appeared in the show’s second episode, Avon has consistently been the most interesting, most entertaining, most watchable character – and a large reason for that is Darrow’s commitment to the role. He rattles off his film-noir dialogue with a Clint Eastwood intensity and scowl, yet you always feel there’s a complex, emotional man underneath the bravado. The revelation scene in this episode sees him almost broken; you can see the faith fade away from his eyes. Even Servalan looks on sympathetically.

Worst bit: Sadly, one element really doesn’t work. There are multiple scenes featuring two security guards at Servalan’s mansion. The characters are played by decent actors, David Haig and Donald Douglas, but the whole subplot is not only filler but often quite cheesy.

Review: This intense, nasty episode has some wonderful dialogue and an achingly effectively plot for Avon. It starts ‘in medias res’ (in the middle of the action) and never lets up, while there’s craft and class throughout the script and the staging. Whether it’s Paul Darrow’s leading-man performance; or one of Jacqueline Pearce’s best turns as Servalan; or the significant recurrence of cells, caves and cellars; or the fun production design that combines the architecture of an ancient house (doors, fireplaces, even skirting boards) with sci-fi trappings (monitors, computers, Servalan’s strange desk); or the POV flashbacks; or the interesting blocking; or the expressive studio lighting; or the sucker-punch ending… So much impresses, so much goes towards telling an amazing story. The best episode so far.

Ten tasteless megalomaniacs out of 10

Next episode: Sarcophagus

Blake’s 7: Children of Auron (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Cally’s home planet is brutally attacked by Servalan…

Series C, episode 7. Written by: Roger Parkes. Directed by: Andrew Morgan. Originally broadcast: 18 February 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Servalan (17) is on the hunt for a ship from the planet Auron. Her crew capture a small craft (in a model shot reminiscent of the opening scene from Star Wars), then trick the solo pilot into thinking they’re friendly. In reality, they poison him with a virus then send him on his way. He’s dead by the time he reaches his home planet, and the virus soon starts to wipe out the entire population of Auron. Why has Servalan done this? Her plan has two aims. Firstly, she wants access to Auron’s secretive bio-reproduction plant. A scientist there has developed the process of single-parent conception and Servalan wants to create her own children. Secondly, she hopes to draw out the Liberator because she knows one of its crew is from Auron… Later, Servalan is uncharacteristically outwitted by an underling who tricks her into thinking a rival has substituted his genetic material for hers at the lab. As the Liberator crew are also in the lab at the time, she orders it destroyed – but then feels an awful jolt of pain as she realises she’s killed her own offspring.
* Cally (30) asks her colleagues why they’re heading for Earth. “Why not?” replies Vila. It’s actually because Avon has a mission of revenge in mind. Soon, however, that plan is abandoned when Cally becomes psychically aware that her planet is under threat. When the gang arrive at Auron, Cally, Tarrant, Avon and Dayna teleport down and find chaos – the few survivors have been infected by an alien pathogen. Then soldiers burst in: Servalan is behind it all and takes the Liberator crew prisoner. After they escape and race to the bio lab, Cally meets up with her sister, a science assistant called Zelda. (The character is played by Jan Chappell, who affects a fey manner to distinguish the character from guerrilla rebel Cally.)
* Zen (28) confirms the Liberator’s course a few times.
* Vila (33) is glad when the ship is heading for Earth (“The Himalayas are quite tall at this time of year…”), then while his colleagues go down to Auron he’s left behind manning the teleport machine. After they’re captured, Servalan attempts to trick Vila into betraying them and giving up the Liberator: she offers him a governorship, even of Earth, but he stands firm.
* Tarrant (7) is happy to go along with Avon’s revenge quest, and is then happy to go along with Cally’s mission of mercy. He’s easy-going this week.
* Avon (32) wanted to go to Earth in order to find and kill a sadistic para-investigator called Shrinker, who years earlier killed the love of Avon’s life. But when the crisis on Auron becomes apparent, Liberator democracy gets in the way: his plan is delayed on a vote of 4-1.
* Dayna (7) spends most of the episode aboard the Liberator. She looks after an Auronar man who’s teleported up to be cured of his infection and she outfoxes Servalan’s second-in-command, Deral, when he comes aboard to negotiate with Vila. Later, Dayna beams down to the planet to help the others when they’re captured.
* Orac (17) is switched on at one point and is his usual tiresome self.

Best bit: After Vila last week, it’s Cally’s turn to be the focus of an episode. She’s often felt like a short-changed character, one there just to make up the numbers. So it’s nice for her to have a bit of story. As mentioned, Jan Chappell also gets to play a second character.

Worst bit: The episode has a dreadful final moment. With the crew safely back on the flight deck of the Liberator, Avon cracks a lame gag and the others give the kind of hearty yet hollow laugh that only actors who have been to drama school can give. It’s like the ending of an episode of He-Man.

Review: It’s slightly odd to have a subplot about Servalan wanting children – where did that come from? – but at least it casts her as a person rather than a cartoon villain. (The moment when the bio lab is destroyed and her whole body aches with maternal pain is affecting.) There’s also a bit of drama with Servalan’s two lackeys – Deral (Rio Fanning, who looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights) and Ginka (a kitschy turn from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’s Ric Young), who have a fun bit of spiteful rivalry running throughout the episode. Meanwhile, the world of Auron is sketched quite lightly, as is often the case in these kinds of episodes. We see a busy control room, where RP actors bandy about protocol and call each other by their ranks, and a scientific laboratory that’s on film so feels cold and lifeless. But we don’t really get any sense of the society at large, which is a shame. It must said, however, that the production team found two terrific locations for a short outdoor chase sequence – a huge dam at Thruscross Reservoir in North Yorkshire and the brutalist architecture of Leeds Polytechnic.

Seven placentas out of 10

Next episode: Rumours of Death