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

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

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nine stupid sons of a slime crawler out of 10

Next episode: Children of Auron

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

Screenshot 2018-06-22 20.06.44

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

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

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

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

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

Worst bit: The monster. Obviously.

Screenshot 2018-06-22 20.07.29

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

Seven weeks following the vernal equinox out of 10

Next episode: City at the Edge of the World

Blake’s 7: Dawn of the Gods (1980)

Screenshot 2018-06-16 16.52.31

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three neuronic whips out of 10

Next episode: The Harvest of Kairos