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 Down on the planet, Avon bumps into Travis then discovers that the crew are actually dead and have been replaced by alien agents in human form.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

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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

Blake’s 7: Countdown (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Avon encounters an old friend with a grudge when the Liberator crew stumble across a bomb that could destroy an entire planet…

Series B, episode 9. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 6 March 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Avon (21) is shocked when he, Blake and Vila teleport down to the planet Albion. Their mission had been to find and capture a Federation officer called Provine, who has vital information about the Federation’s main command centre. But they discover a local resistance group trying to defuse a bomb set by the authorities during a rebellion – and one of their number is a mercenary called Del Grant (a reliable Tom Chadbon). Years before, Grant’s sister Anna had been Avon’s lover. But she was captured and tortured by the Federation, leading to a feud between the two men. Once Avon deduces that the ‘bomb’ is just a remote trigger, he and Grant teleport over to the location of the explosives. By the story’s end, thanks to a heart-to-heart, the two men come to a mutual respect.
* Blake (22) soon realises that, after setting the bomb in motion, Space Major Provine is now loose in the compound. He’s actually masquerading as a rebel and – wouldn’t you know it? – is assigned to help Blake in the search. When Blake deduces who he is, they fight. Just before he dies, Provine mentions that the Federation command centre is called ‘Star One’ and that someone called Docholli knows everything…
* Jenna (22) operates the teleport. (No wonder actress Sally Knyvette was considering quitting the show around this point. The creative team have such little interest in her character. It’s actually getting embarrassing.)
* Vila (22) gets more lock-picking to do: a door and a safe. Later, he also realises that the missing Provine is right under Blake’s nose.
* Early on, Cally (19) relays a message to the others. It’s from the planet Albion, which is handy as that’s where they were heading anyway. Then, yet again, the male members of the Liberator crew go on a mission while the women stay behind and look after the ship. (I imagine there’s plenty of slash fiction out there detailing what Jenna and Cally get up to while the men are away.)
* Orac is mentioned but does not appear.

Best bit: Avon and Grant are about to head off together to defuse the bomb, so Blake calmly but forcibly tells Grant that if he harms Avon there’ll be serious consequences. Despite everything, despite every row and snipe and blatant betrayal, Blake still has a duty of care – and possibly even affection – for Avon.

Worst bit: Trial, Killer, Hostage, Countdown… The creatives weren’t putting a huge amount of effort into episode titles at this point, were they?

Review: You don’t need to check the opening credits to know that Terry Nation wrote this one. Before long, it’s possible to play a game of bingo with his storytelling obsessions: an oppressed local population, po-faced rebels, fascist overlords, extreme situations, radiation, and thin, simple drama. The meat of the story should be Avon and Grant’s relationship, and it is excellent once we get to it, but the episode uses up half its running time before the two men interact. Having said all that, this is still a fun 50 minutes of hokum.

Eight laser lancers out of 10

Next episode: Voice from the Past

Blake’s 7: Hostage (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Blake receives a message from Travis, who has taken Blake’s cousin hostage and wants to talk…

Series B, episode 8. Written by: Allan Prior. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 27 February 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* After being attacked and chased by Federation pursuit ships, Blake (21) learns that his old nemesis is on the planet Exbar. Travis is now on the run from the authorities. He wants to talk and maybe join forces with Blake – so takes Blake’s cousin Inga hostage as a bargaining chip. Blake heads to Exbar and teleports down alone, despite his colleagues (and the audience) all telling him it’s clearly a trap. He finds his uncle, Ushton, then climbs a hill to search for Travis – but yes, it is a trap and Blake is captured…
* When Blake says he has to try to save Inga, Avon (20) reminds him that while he’s off the ship the others may just leave him behind. (That’s nice.) However, after Blake has gone down to the surface, Avon gets jittery. He decides to follow his colleague, and soon discovers that Ushton has betrayed Blake to Travis.
* Vila (21) is actually open to negotiations with Travis, which is grimly ironic considering the fact that he’s later captured and intimidated by him.
* When the episode begins, Zen (19) warns the Liberator crew that Federation pursuit ships are nearby. He later fails to spot, however, that a single ship is just a few hundred metres behind them. Aboard it is Travis’s replacement as Servalan’s space-commander-of-choice.
* Jenna (21) pilots the Liberator to avoid the pursuit ships (one of the controls seems to be the arm of an adjustable table lamp). Later, she’s tricked into teleporting a ‘crimo’ – one of Travis’s new gang of criminal psychopaths – aboard the Liberator. But she then manages to re-teleport him into space, killing him.
* Cally (18) gets very little to do. She’s mostly taken over Gan’s function in the team: stand around, beef up the numbers, and occasionally say something that doesn’t really develop the plot. Her one moment in this episode is just before Blake leaves the ship. Telepath Cally gets a Deanna Troi-style vague sense of danger.
* Orac (8) picks up the coded message from Travis.
* Travis (9) has been on the run since his interrupted trial a couple of episodes ago. The real reason he’s taken Inga prisoner and coerced Ushton into helping him is because he wants the Liberator. The plan seems to be going well: he manages to capture Blake, Avon and Vila, but then Inga and Ushton turn on him. Blake and co escape, leaving Travis tied up with Servalan on the way…
* Servalan (8) ain’t happy that Blake is becoming a folk hero. To make matters worse, Travis’s replacement turns out to be rubbish at hunting down Blake. She then gets word where Travis is… Once she finds him, they do a deal. If he gets her Blake, she’ll officially list Travis as dead (thereby allowing him to disappear and avoid his execution sentence).

Best bit: Pretty much anything Avon says or does. It’s another terrific episode for the show’s most enigmatic character. He acts cool and disinterested in Blake, but then risks his life to save him (again). This is clearly a man with a complex psychology. He’s also part of the episode’s best plot twist – it’s he who sends an anonymous message to Servalan telling her where Travis is.

Worst bit: During an action scene on the surface of Exbar, there’s a *very* polystyrene-y avalanche of rocks.

Review: One of the pleasures of Blake’s 7 is the way it develops across the episodes. This is not a show with a reset button at the end of every adventure. Travis, for example, has a character arc – once a respected and feared officer in the Federation military, he’s now reduced to a mercenary on the edge of society. And that kind of thing makes the series more interesting. (He certainly fairs better than Jenna and Cally do: this is yet another episode where the male crew members get action and story, and the female crew members get standing-around-on-the-Liberator.) Too simple to be really enjoyable – we all know it’s a trap and it is – Hostage passes the time well enough.

Six kissing cousins out of 10

Next episode: Countdown

Blake’s 7: Killer (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

While Avon and Vila attempt to steal a cipher machine, Blake encounters a derelict spaceship with a dangerous cargo…

Series A, episode 7. Written by: Robert Holmes. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 20 February 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Avon (19) teleports down to the planet Fosforon with Vila, and together they break into a Federation command centre called Q-Base. There, Avon seeks out his old friend Tynus (Ronald Lacey) and asks for help in cracking the Federation’s new communications encryption. Tynus is reluctant, but Avon blackmails him into starting a small fire as a distraction while he and Vila nab the technology.
* When a derelict space craft drifts close to the Liberator, telepath Cally (17) senses that there’s life aboard. She says it’s something malignant…
* After Vila (20) has helped Avon break into Q-Base, he enjoys some of Tynus’s booze while they wait to acquire the crystals used to decipher Federation messages. Then, later, he stumbles across a note from Tynus to Servalan – Tynus has betrayed them and is stalling until back-up arrives!
* While Avon and Vila are away on their mission, Blake (20) becomes aware of a nearby derelict ship. He deduces that it’s centuries old and is about to be salvaged by Q-Base. But the people on Fosforon don’t know that the ship contains some kind of life, so Blake teleports down to the planet and warns lead scientist Bellfriar (Paul Daneman, who skilfully underplays everything). When the ship is opened, a body is found inside. While being autopsied, it awakens and kills a doctor…
* Jenna (20) wants to search the derelict, then is very nervous indeed that Blake plans on beaming down to Q-Base – what if he’s caught?! What if they take his teleport bracelet off him?! (The fact Avon and Vila are already down there doesn’t seem to bother her. Neither does the fact they’ve all been in similar situations many times before.)
* Zen (18).
* Orac (7) does the research on the derelict ship (he Googles it, basically) and tells Blake that it’s K47, a Wanderer Class-1 ship that went missing with three crewmembers 700 years ago.

Best bit: This is a terrific episode, with action, intrigue and horror. But it’s a tiny character moment that sells the terror the best. The station is eventually overrun by a deadly virus that strikes and kills quickly. After Blake and co have escaped, Bellfriar contacts them via the radio to tell them about the antidote – but as he’s explaining, he realises that he’s forgotten how to read. Looking at his hands, he sees bubbling scars. He’s been infected too.

Worst bit: It’s unavoidable perhaps, but the fact the long-dead corpse is clearly an actor in full-body make-up tips us off that it’s going to reanimate.

Review: Scholcky but entertaining. No, scratch that: it’s entertaining *because* it’s schlocky. This is space pulp that zips along very enjoyably. Robert Holmes had been the writer or script editor of some of the best Doctor Who of the previous decade, and in this script you can see several of his favourite themes. There’s a love of horror-movies ideas (the episode soon becomes a zombie story). There’s an understanding of historical precedent (Blake mentions Field Marshall Jeffrey Amherst, an 18th-century British Army officer who tried to deliberately infect Native Americans with smallpox – though Blake calls him Ashley for some reason). There’s the idea that space travel is dangerous, with exotic risks at every turn. There’s a complex guest character who’s not what he first appears. And there’s a distinct lack of interest in women (Jenna and Cally are noticeably peripheral to the action). Ronald Lacey, meanwhile, becomes the second future Indiana Jones villain to play a duplicitous official on a space station in Blake’s 7 (cf Julian Glover in Breakdown).

Eight A-line messages using a new pulse code out of 10

Next episode: Hostage

Blake’s 7: Trial (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

While Travis is court martialled by the Federation, Blake decides he needs some time away from his Liberator colleagues…

Series B, episode 6. Written by: Chris Boucher. Directed by: Derek Martinus. Originally broadcast: 13 February 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Servalan (7) is pleased that Travis is about to be court martialled for his role in a civilian massacre. She sees no reason why a guilty verdict won’t be found and even nobbles Travis’s fascist-chic defence lawyer. And the reason she wants her former favourite out of the way? Her failure to deal with Blake may lead to an enquiry and Travis’s evidence could embarrass her.
* Travis (8) is standing trial for the murder of 1,417 unarmed people on the planet Serkasta. He says he’s not guilty, but then spends the bulk of the legal proceedings staring into the middle distance. Eventually he’s convicted, stripped of his rank, dishonourably dismissed and sentenced to execution. But just as his fate is being sealed, Blake and his friends attack the space station. Everyone in the courtroom is killed… except Travis, who is able to escape.
* Earlier in the episode, Blake (19) teleports down to what he thinks is a safe and empty planet. He needs some alone time to think. Recent failures and setbacks, including Gan’s death, have hit him hard. However, he encounters an alien creature called Zil and then the planet – which turns out to be one gigantic living organism – begins to devour all the life on its surface. Eek! After being rescued by the gang on the Liberator, Blake comes to some conclusions. The team need to make a big impact to restore their reputation and power, so he now wants to strike at Servalan’s space station. Unbeknownst to Blake and the others, however, they attack *just* as Travis is being sentenced to death and they cause a distraction allowing him to escape.
* Zen (17) finds the planet for Blake’s sojourn after Blake requests somewhere quiet and out of the way. Good job, Zen!
* Avon (18) snipes at Blake in an early scene, pointing out that he (Avon) doesn’t get their friends killed. When Blake suddenly teleports down to a nearby planet with no explanation, Avon suggests to the others that they simply leave him there and get on with their lives.
* Jenna (19) – wearing a very fetching red leather outfit that makes her look like some kind of space-age Suzi Quatro – admits that she doesn’t know Blake’s motives any more.
* Cally (16) is tricked into letting Blake teleport off the Liberator in such a way that his colleagues won’t know where he is. (Well, they know he’s on the planet below, of course. But planets tend to be rather large.)
* Later, Orac (6) reveals a deduction: the planet is alive! Blake is in danger, so the others mount a rescue attempt.
* Vila (19) wishes Gan were still around; he was straightforward and trusted people, Vila says, and would have asked whether the missing Blake had left a message… Zen then reveals that Blake *has* left a message. In it he asks for 13 hours on his own then let’s meet up again, okay?

Best bit: Avon invents a revolutionary piece of technology that allows the Liberator to remain undetected by Federation scanners. “Avon’s gadget works!” cries Vila. Rather than pride, Avon just feels sadness at his friend’s lack of poetry.

Worst bit: Because there’s a perceived need for both futuristic and fascistic detailing to the world of Blake’s 7, Travis’s trial lacks the courtroom drama you assume you’re going to get. The scenes have no tension or jeopardy. All the characters – and all the viewers – know he’ll be found guilty.

Review: There’s a minor character in this episode played by the actor Kevin Lloyd, who later found fame in ITV police drama The Bill. His role here is Parr, a Federation solider whose rank is trooper. In other words, he’s called Trooper Parr. (Say it out loud. Do you now have a super ABBA song running through your head?) I once saw Kevin Lloyd on a train as we pulled into Derby station. He was pissed, poor bloke. Alcoholism killed him later that year. Anyway, the episode… There’s a split focus this week. Two plots run side by side and are unrelated until the final few minutes of the episode. Both, however, contain more examples of Blake’s 7’s cynical toughness. Perhaps the freshest thing about the Liberator crew is that they don’t fully trust each other. They’re not a Star Trek-style team of friends who happen to be colleagues and who love each other deeply. There’s a more interesting, more complex dynamic going on. The Federation characters, meanwhile, can’t stop plotting against each other. It’s a shame all this gritty drama is undercut by Trial’s hopelessly awful sci-fi subplot. Blake’s time on the living planet feels like it’s been transferred over from a 1950s B-movie, while the character of Zil combines a terrible alien costume with an irritating, drama-school performance.

Seven philosophical fleas out of 10

Next episode: Killer

Blake’s 7: Pressure Point (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When Blake decides to strike at Control, the Federation’s central computer system, it leads to a tragedy for the Liberator crew…

Series B, episode 5. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: George Spenton-Foster. Originally broadcast: 6 February 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Travis (7) and Servalan (6) have been waiting in a secret bunker for 18 days – inside it’s all white, cold and sterile; outside it looks like a ramshackle cottage. Travis has laid a trap and insists that Blake will arrive soon. They then capture a local rebel leader called Kasabi (who coincidentally knew a young Servalan when they were cadets together) and torture her into giving away where and when she’s due to meet Blake.
* Blake (18) has set course for Earth without telling his crewmates because he wants to attack Control, the Federation’s chief computer bunker. Destroying it would cause the authorities real damage, he says. But when his local contact, Kasabi, fails to get in touch he starts to worry. Then the signal finally arrives. Unbeknownst to Blake, it’s been sent by Travis…
* Cally (15) – not for the first time – is the one colleague of Blake’s who agrees with his dangerous plans. She thinks his idea is a sound one, which makes sense given that we first met her as a guerrilla revolutionary. Despite this support, Blake doesn’t actually give her anything to do in the mission: she spends the whole episode aboard the Liberator.
* Avon (17) had guessed that Blake’s stated intention to skirt the solar system was a lie. But he nevertheless goes along with the idea to attack Control. His logic: if Blake’s rebellion takes hold he’ll be busy managing it and Avon can take command of the Liberator.
* Jenna (18) – as the de facto second-in-command – is the spokesperson for the others when they agree to Blake’s plan. Later, when there’s no word from Blake, Gan, Avon and Vila, who have all teleported down to Earth, she realises something’s gone amiss. She beams down too and saves the day.
* Vila (18) takes part in phase two of the mission. He and Avon teleport to a spot close to Control and recce its defences. The area is known as the Forbidden Zone, which raises the idle thought that perhaps Blake’s 7 and Planet of the Apes are set in the same fictional universe.
* Zen (16).
* Gan (17) joins Blake on his trip down to Earth. They find Kasabi’s daughter, Veron, who says her mother and all their colleagues have been killed. Gan is fatherly and protective towards her – so much so, he fails to spot that she’s lying. After Vila and Avon arrive, she knocks them all out with gas, steals their teleport bracelets and locks them in a church. (Earlier in the episode, Gan mentioned that he doesn’t know what a church is. ‘A place of religious assembly,’ explained Blake. ‘The Federation had them all destroyed at the beginning of the new calendar.’ What a lovely piece of writing. It implies lots of backstory without labouring the point.) Later, while escaping after a confrontation with Travis and Servalan, Gan is killed when a grenade explodes nearby…

Best bit: Blake and his friends return to Earth for the first time since the show’s opening story. Blake has changed in the 18 episodes since and his arrogance has grown and grown. ‘I think I can do it,’ he says as he pitches his fait accompli plan to the others. His fixation on the personal pronoun then returns when the Liberator team finally break into Control’s central room. ‘We’ve done it! We’ve done it! We’ve done it!’ Blake starts to say before adding: ‘I’ve done it!’ But then he realises the awful truth: the room is empty. It was a ploy, a decoy. Even Avon shows sympathy for Blake’s devastation.

Worst bit: The costumes in this show really are dreadful. Various members of the Liberator team (Vila and Cally in particular) are now dressing like demented hipsters, while Servalan has decided that her mission is so important she needs to wear a cocktail dress, a baroque collar and a wide-brimmed hat.

Review: Gan’s dead – the first of the gang to die. In truth, it’s no great loss. He never felt like a vital character and the small insight into his past we once got never really went anywhere.

Seven pacemakers implanted in my heart out of 10

Next episode: Trial

Blake’s 7: Horizon (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The crew of the Liberator follow a Federation freighter to a hidden planet with a secret. Blake and Jenna, then Gan and Vila, then Cally are all captured, leaving Avon with a dilemma…

Series B, episode 4. Written by: Allan Prior. Directed by: Jonathan Wright Miller. Originally broadcast: 30 January 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* When Vila (17) suffers from a panic attack, he has to be sedated by Cally. After he comes round, all he wants is a drink – but then Gan guilt-trips him into searching for their friends who have gone missing…
* Jenna (17) continues to be the Liberator’s default pilot. In fact, during a jaunt off the ship, Blake specifically takes her along because he knows Avon will be less likely to do a runner with the Liberator if the best pilot is not aboard. Jenna and Blake teleport down to a planet codenamed Horizon and find some Federation-run mines. Again, the two characters feel like the closest friends in the group, which is more down to the actors’ chemistry than anything inherent in the writing. On Horizon, things don’t go well: the pair are knocked out by poisoned darts, tied up, tortured, questioned, then set to work breaking rocks.
* As the episode begins, Avon (16) doesn’t understand why they’re still running. The Liberator is in deep space, away from Federation eyes, so why don’t they stop and rest? Then when a Federation freighter shows up, he wonders what it’s doing this far out. After all, he says, they’re in zone eight. (It’s a nice thought, isn’t it, that space has a zonal system akin to the London Underground. The Liberator’s so far away from the action they’re in the cosmic equivalent of Cheshunt or Watford High Street.) After all his colleagues are captured on Horizon, Avon is left alone on the Liberator. He seriously considers abandoning them and fleeing, but then his conscience gets the better of him.
* Cally (14) acts like the crew’s doctor, tending to Blake’s headache, Avon’s bad back and Vila’s stomach cramps – all things brought on by fatigue. Later, after most of her colleagues don’t return from Horizon, she beams down to help but ends up being captured herself.
* Blake (17) recognises the crew’s need for a break, but where can they find sanctuary? They’re so well known, he argues, that nowhere would be safe. Then the idea of some R&R is forgotten about because the Liberator encounters a Federation freighter. Blake decides to follow it to find out why it’s so far into deep space – perhaps there’s a planet he could use as a base for the rebellion. They track the freighter to a planet where the natives are being forced to work as a slave-labour force. After being captured, Blake is forced to work too – sans shirt. (Vila is also stripped to the waist when he’s caught. Jenna and Cally get to keep their clothes.)
* Zen (15) tells the crew about the existence of Horizon, but other than its name he knows bugger all about it.
* When Blake and Jenna don’t return from Horizon, Gan (16) decides to teleport down to look for them – but he’s also caught and then strung up on a wall as a warning to other rebels.
* Orac (5) gives the crew some information on Horizon and also operates the teleport. He also features in the episode’s best scene…

Best bit: …which is a *terrific* showcase for the hazy, dangerous genius of Avon actor Paul Darrow. In a scene loaded with be-careful-what-you-wish-for subtext, Avon is left alone aboard the Liberator and ponders whether to leave his friends to a life of slavery. He reasons that he has enough food and power to survive quite adequately, and with Orac’s help he can pilot the Liberator well enough to hide from the authorities. He’s genuinely tempted – but also clearly torn. Orac acts as a kind of sounding board, but it’s essentially a soliloquy.

Worst bit: When captured and forced to work in some caves, Blake arrogantly bosses the other slaves about because they dare to eat some food put in front of them. That’s right: some *literally starving* prisoners get a lecture on social behaviour from a middle-class twat who’s been enslaved for about five minutes. They have the good grace not to tell him to fuck off.

Review: There are some nice surprises in this one. The main plotline – bad guys oppress population and make them break rocks in caves while wearing rags – doesn’t sound like it’s going to be anything special. And it isn’t. But in and around this cliché are plenty of things of interest. As well as all the great Avon business mentioned above, there’s also a short but fun sequence when the Liberator passes through Horizon’s ‘magnetic barrier’, a planetary-defence system that shakes the ship, unsettles the crew, and even manages to playfully corrupt the episode’s videotape image. There are also plenty of telling moments for the regular characters, their behaviour and attitudes revealing (or reinforcing) something about them, and an interesting guest character. Ro is a villain who doesn’t know he’s a villain. He’s the local who the Federation have appointed as a puppet leader on Horizon; he sits on a throne but has no real power. Despite being a prisoner, Blake is able to rekindle Ro’s rebellious spirit and he soon fights back.

Eight seams of Monopasium-239 out of 10

Next episode: Pressure Point