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

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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

Blake’s 7: Weapon (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Blake and the others become aware that a key Federation weapons-development scientist has gone missing and taken something called IMIPAK with him…

Series B, episode 3. Written by: Chris Boucher. Directed by: George Spenton-Foster. Originally broadcast: 23 January 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Travis (6) kills Blake in an early scene! No, not really: it’s soon revealed that ‘Blake’ was an identical clone bred by a mysterious race of beings called Clone Masters. (Their leader is played by Kathleen Byron, an actress whose career was long enough to include both A Matter of Life and Death (1946) and Saving Private Ryan (1998).) Travis is therefore angry with his boss Servalan, who had manipulated him as a test to see how good the clone was. He even puts his hand around the Supreme Commander’s throat – a menacing move that suits the character’s robust recasting. Original actor Stephen Greif was busy on a film, so Travis is now played by the more earthy, more working-class Brian Croucher.
* On the Liberator, Avon (15) is worried because Blake has been planning a risk-heavy attack on a key Federation installation without telling his colleagues. But Avon later concedes that if possible they should try to acquire IMIPAK, an enigmatic Federation weapon that’s gone missing.
* Jenna (16) is in a prickly mood this week. When Avon asks where Blake is, she haughtily replies: “I have no idea. Why ask me?”
* Cally (13) gave Blake the idea to attack the Federation’s weaponry research station – the idea being that they’ll need all the weapons they can muster if Blake is set on attacking central control. But neither she nor Blake told the others of the plan because they knew there’d be resistance.
* Having said that, Gan (15) is happy to go along with Blake’s idea – he tells Avon he’ll never leave Roj’s side. (FORESHADOWING KLAXON.)
* Vila (16) has a quiet week.
* Blake (16) is clearly getting more forthright and arrogant, plotting dangerous missions without any discussion. When he learns via Orac that a Federation scientist called Coser (John Bennett) has fled his research base with something called IMIPAK, Blake decides to track him down.
* Needing to find Coser too, Servalan (5) is playing a long con. She’s hired a man called Carnell (Scott Fredericks), a ‘pyscho-strategist’, to predict where Coser will be hiding. Then she uses a clone of Blake to trick Coser into handing IMIPAK over to her.
* Orac (4) intercepts a Federation communication that tells Blake where to find Coser.
* When the Liberator is hit by a mine, Zen (14) rather lamely explains that he didn’t see it.

Best bit: The character of Carnell. A lesser show would have made him psychic, but writer Chris Boucher is a smart man and instead creates someone so adept at understanding psychology and human behaviour that he can accurately predict how complex situations will play out. After an error of judgement – not considering that Coser would take someone with him – Carnell flees the Federation in disgrace. But he leaves a flirtatious message for Servalan, who despite her anger can’t help smiling at his charm. (The character of Carnell had a life outside Blake’s 7 too. Boucher later used him in a Doctor Who novel, 1999’s Corpse Marker, then Scott Fredericks reprised the part in an audio-drama spin-off called Kaldor City.)

Worst bit: There’s a laughable bit when Travis uses IMIPAK. The weapon turns out to be a gun that silently and imperceptibly ‘tags’ its victims, allowing the shooter to then kill them at a later date with the push of a button. Travis tags Blake, Avon and Gan while hiding behind a wall – and in a dreadfully hackneyed bit of blocking, our three heroes conveniently take turns to stand in his line of sight.

Review: The episode doesn’t really come together, which is a shame because bits of it are very entertaining. The scenes with Carnell are fun, there’s some odd choral voices used in the incidental music, and the script contains plenty of hard-boiled Chris Boucher dialogue (especially among the Liberator crew). But the story underwhelms.

Six screams of protest ringing in our ears out of 10

Next episode: Horizon

Blake’s 7: Shadow (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Liberator crew attempt to contact a powerful organised-crime syndicate…

Series B, episode 2. Written by: Chris Boucher. Directed by: Jonathan Wright Miller. Originally broadcast: 16 January 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Blake (15) and his colleagues approach a giant space station called Space City, which is a pleasure palace run by the Terra Nostra crime organisation. He wants to exploit their resources in his fight against the Federation. However, the initial meeting goes badly – Blake, Jenna, Avon and Gan are taken prisoner. After they escape, Blake decides to target the Terra Nostra’s biggest revenue source: a drug called Shadow, which is cultivated on the planet Zondar. He, Avon and Jenna teleport down to its surface, all wearing Luke Skywalker cosplay outfits, to set some explosives…

Screenshot 2018-02-17 18.59.02

* Vila (15) is gutted not to be going aboard Space City (Blake orders him to stay on the ship) because he’s wanted to visit it ever since he was old enough to the read toilet-block graffiti. So, unable to resist its hedonistic temptations, he disobeys his leader and teleports over. Much later, he has a stonking hangover and can’t remember the last few hours.
* Cally (12) is left alone aboard the Liberator after everyone else goes to Space City. When Blake gets in touch and asks for all their money to be brought over, she’s able to use her telepathy to confirm that it’s a trap. She then mounts an aggressive rescue attempt which involves threatening to destroy the entire space station unless her friends are released. In the second half of the episode, Cally has the focus of a subplot that goes for full-on weirdness: aliens from another dimension taken over Orac’s interdimensional circuits (or something) and this has a negative influence on the telepathic Cally, who descends into a surreal madness. (She soon gets better after a visit to Zondar, where the kinda-sentient Shadow plants help her. I think.)
* Jenna (15) has history with the Terra Nostra’s agent on Space City, Largo, who once tried to employ her to smuggle some Shadow. Being a criminal with a conscience, she turned the job down.
* Gan (14) objects to Blake cosying up the Terra Nostra. By using their resources, he argues, the Liberator crew will be no better than drug pushers.
* Avon (14) leads the negotiations when he, Blake and Jenna meet with Largo on Space City. They want access to the Terra Nostra high command, but the talks break down. When our characters make to leave, they’re taken prisoner. Later, Avon voices the opinion that they’ve tracked down the Shadow planet far too easily – if they can find it, why haven’t the Federation? The answer soon becomes clear: the Federation and the Terra Nostra are two heads of the same Hydra.
* Zen (13) clearly doesn’t like the crew’s new portable supercomputer, Orac. And with good reason, it seems…
* Orac (3) is switched on when a desperate Vila wants help in secretly teleporting aboard Space City. However, the machine then begins to act very strangely: he takes over Zen’s functions, threatens to crash the ship, and causes Cally a lot of trauma. He’s been possessed by an alien intelligence from another dimension, you see. Cally’s telepathic abilities eventually put a stop to the crisis.

Best bit: Cally contacts Vila while he’s on Space City. We only hear his side of the conversation and he’s clearly indulging in some kind of pleasurable activity…

Worst bit: Sadly, guest actor Karl Howman. He plays Bek, a man whose sister is a Shadow addict and who stole from Largo. It’s not a great performance.

Review: This episode, the show’s 15th, was the first not to be written by Blake’s 7 creator Terry Nation. Chris Boucher – who was the show’s script editor and had, by all accounts, done a fair amount of uncredited polishing to Nation’s work – provides plenty of sharp, crisp dialogue. And the story starts off entertainingly. Blake is getting increasingly puritanical and unwilling to listen to reason, an interesting thing to do with an adventure show’s lead character. He’s so determined to bring down one set of bad guys, in fact, that he’s willing to parley with another. The Terra Nostra are fairly obviously the Mafia (who in real life are sometimes called the Cosa Nostra – Italian for ‘our thing’). At one point, crime boss Largo even denies the organisation exists, a reference to the US government’s naive position on the Mafia in the 1950s. There’s a boo-hiss performance from Derek Smith as Largo and there are plenty of pleasing shots and visual interestingness. All this helps to keep the episode together when it starts to fly off into some very peculiar territory. Increasingly, the Mafia has to move over to make room for muddied mysticism, and Orac’s subplot is rather too obscure, needing a scene near the end where all the characters ask questions and explain it to each other.

Seven moon discs out of 10

Next episode: Weapon

Blake’s 7: Redemption (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Liberator is attacked and its crew taken prisoner…

Series B, episode 1. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 9 January 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Blake (14) is still worrying about the prediction made by super computer Orac at the end of the previous series. And well he should, given that it seemed to be a vision of the Liberator being destroyed. Then his day gets even worse when the ship is attacked by two pursuit ships and its systems are disabled. Eventually, the aliens who built the Liberator teleport aboard, seize the craft and take the crew hostage. On their space station, however, Blake is able to engineer an escape with the help of a slave he happens to bump into.
* Zen (12) replays Orac’s vision of the future for Blake (and us viewers) to reassess what Orac actually foretold. But once the Liberator is attacked, Zen is taken over by the hostile aliens.
* Cally (11) has had an unflattering haircut since the last episode. As this story begins, she and her colleagues are checking the Liberator’s systems for faults.
* Jenna (14) is the most badly injured crewmember when the ship is attacked. She has to be taken to her room, but is soon up and running again. The character’s position as ‘third in command’ is reinforced in this episode: not only does Blake specify that Orac should obey only him, Avon and Jenna, but the script keeps her in focus while Gan, Vila and Cally fade into the background.
* After the attack, Gan (13) does a recce of the ship’s innards to see what’s been damaged, then is overpowered when intruders teleport aboard.
* Vila (14) says he had a headache. (“Have you considered amputation?” quips Avon.) He gets to use his lockpicking skills on the aliens’ space station.
* Orac (2) refuses to contextualise his prediction of the Liberator being destroyed. Despite the computer’s enormous capabilities, it takes Blake half the episode to ask him for help. Orac then essentially says he’s too busy. (From this episode on, Orac is voiced by Peter Tuddenham, doubling up the role with that of Zen.)
* Avon (13) rather smugly points out something that everyone else has missed in Orac’s prediction: by looking at the stars behind the ship, they can identify where the incident will happen. All they need do is avoid that area of space. (You’ll never guess where this episode’s plot-of-the-week takes them…) After he’s captured by the bad guys, Avon is put in a cell with Jenna and tells her that, if they’re going to die, they may as well go down fighting.

Best bit: The final scene of the episode. The crew watch on as the Liberator’s only-just-introduced-into-the-story sister ship explodes – *that* was the craft Orac predicted would be destroyed. Blake then sets course for Earth sector, saying he has unfinished business with the Federation. Avon is concerned and tells Blake so. Blake coolly orders his colleague to get back to his flight-deck position. Avon momentarily considered arguing, then defers to Blake. It’s a moment charged with electric subtext.

Worst bit: The episode’s powering along nicely to begin with: the opening sequences are fun, urgent and intriguing. But after quarter of an hour or so we cut to the guest characters and they’re blank, bland aliens with no personality or texture. The story takes a nosedive in quality and it’s difficult to care about what’s happening.

Review: A poor start to the second season, sadly. It seems to be largely a 50-minute explanation (or justification) for the first season’s cliffhanger. There’s no meat to the story beyond that. Also, given that it’s a new season, the regular cast have had a makeover. All sport new costumes, which feel horribly ‘designed’. The functional, Robin Hood-inspired jerkins and hoodies have been ditched in favour of flamboyant sci-fi garb that wouldn’t look out of place in Flash Gordon. (Meanwhile, Avon’s new metal-studded leather top makes him look like a customer at that gay bar characters keep accidentally going to in the Police Academy films.)

Five medium-range neutron blasters out of 10

Next episode: Shadow

Blake’s 7: Orac (1978)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

With their crewmates suffering from radiation sickness, Blake and Cally head to the planet Aristo, hoping to find a cure – and the mysterious Orac. But the Federation are also hunting for Orac…

Series A, episode 13. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 27 March 1978, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Gan (12) is just one of the Liberator crew struck with lethargy and sweating fits. He has radiation sickness because of his time on the planet Cephlon (in the previous episode).
* Blake (13) has very helpfully edited together a video recapping the events of last week. He’s even recorded a stentorious voiceover. He shows it to Avon, who uncharacteristically has the grace not to point out that it’s just telling him things he already knows. Blake also figures out that Ensor’s ship was sabotaged, so sets course for his home planet where they find his dying father. And a remarkable machine called Orac.
* Avon (12) feels dizzy early on: he’s another victim of the radiation sickness. When Blake hopes Ensor’s father will have some anti-radiation drugs, Avon points out the irony that they are travelling to a planet to save a stranger’s life in the hope that stranger will then save theirs. Later, when Blake and Cally don’t return from the planet Aristo, a visibly ill Avon beams down – and that’s the term he uses – to search for them.
* Jenna (13) is also under the weather, but still finds the strength to pilot the Liberator.
* Vila (13) – another radiation victim – says he can’t die. Avon points out that he can: “It’s the one talent we all share. Even you.”
* Zen (11) goes wonky at one point, slurring his speech. Then it becomes clear that he has been taken over by an outside force: Orac.
* Cally (10) finds Jenna looking woozy in a corridor, so takes her to the medical bay (and accidentally gropes her as she does so). She then deduces why Jenna, Vila, Avon and Gan are ill – they need drugs that the Liberator stores (for once) don’t have. Later, she and Blake teleport down to the planet Aristo. They find Ensor’s father and give him the power cells he needs for his artificial heart; they also ask him if he has any drugs… Oh, and by the way, what’s this Orac thing that everyone’s talking about?
* Orac (1) initially seems to be a talking plant. But that’s just the way he’s filmed in order to disguise the truth: he’s actually a super computer designed by Ensor and housed in a portable Plexiglass box. He makes a buzzy noise when switched on and has a prissy, pedantic manner, kinda like a ruder version of C-3PO. But his capabilities are quite astonishing – he can access any other computer in the known universe and collate masses of information and analysis. After Ensor’s death, using the finders-keepers rule, Blake and the others take Orac back to the Liberator with them. (Orac is voiced by Derek Farr, the actor who plays Ensor Snr.)
* Travis (5) and Servalan (4) arrive on the planet Aristo and break into Ensor’s base via some underground tunnels. At one point, Servalan is menaced by a humanoid amphibian monster called a Phibian and is visibly shaken by the experience. She manages to pull herself together quickly, but she and Travis arrive just too late: Blake, Cally and Ensor have done a runner with Orac.

Best bit: Being the last episode of season one, it needs to finish on a cliffhanger. And we get a whopper. As a demonstration of his ability to predict the future based on available information and deductive reasoning, Orac shows Blake and co a vision of the Liberator being seemingly destroyed.

Worst bit: Between the location filming and the studio recording for this episode, actor Stephen Greif injured his ankle badly while playing squash. So Travis’s indoor scenes had to be recorded with a body double whose face is always inelegantly out of frame. Greif later dubbed his dialogue over the shots, but it really jars.

Review: The first season of Blake’s 7 ends with one its duller episodes. We’re following on from the previous episode, Deliverance, and finally get to find out what Orac is and why it’s so valuable. But everything’s a bit underwhelming. There’s a fair amount of ‘Zen explains things’ rather than actual storytelling, while Servalan and Travis’s subplot seems to go on forever.

Six decontaminate drugs out of 10

Next episode: Redemption

Blake’s 7: Deliverance (1978)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When the Liberator spots a spaceship crashing onto a planet, they look for survivors – but the search leads to some crewmembers being taken hostage and others making a shock discovery…

Series A, episode 12. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Michael E Briant. Originally broadcast: 20 March 1978, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* From her clinical, cold office aboard a spinning space station, Servalan (3) is keeping tabs on a spaceship. She seems pleased when it begins to break up above a planet – and we later learn why. One of its occupants, Ensor, had offered to sell her a technological marvel called Orac for 100 million credits; rather than pay up, Servalan has plotted to kill him. She then tasks Travis with recovering Orac in secret.
* When Blake (12) and his team spot a ship crashing, they find a badly injured survivor – Ensor. He has some energy cells with him, which must be rushed to his dying father. He also says the Federation are going to pay him a fortune for something called Orac. But when Blake refuses to travel to Ensor’s home because some of his colleagues are still down on the nearby planet, Ensor blackmails him into leaving. Ensor dies from his wounds before they get there.
* Avon (11) leads what another sci-fi show might call the away team who look for crash survivors. They locate Ensor and take him back to the Liberator. But Jenna has gone missing, so Avon, Gan and Vila return to the planet to search for her. When attacked by caveman-like natives, the trio take refuge behind a metal door in a hillside. Inside they find a beautiful but naïve women who thinks Avon is a long-prophecised god…
* Jenna (12) also goes on the search team. She and Gan find an escape capsule with a dead body in it, then she’s accidentally left behind on the planet and attacked by the savage locals. They tie her up in a tent, in the way that generic savage locals often do in adventure stories.
* Cally (9) gets to operate the teleport controls this week. In one of Blake’s 7’s more off-the-wall moments, she also puts on a pair of VR goggles and listens to some jaunty piano jazz! Later, Ensor points a gun at her head to make Blake set course for his home planet.
* Zen (10) is acting much more helpfully these days. He seems to have shrugged off the petulant streak he had in earlier episodes. It’s almost as if he can sense that his role in the drama is about to be usurped by another computer…
* Gan (11) ain’t gonna win any friend-of-the-year awards after losing track of where Jenna is. When he later takes part in the mission to rescue her, he has to remind Avon and Vila that his limiter means he can’t kill any of the natives.
* Vila (12) spots a large footprint when it’s clear Jenna has gone missing. You’d think that’d be an important plot point, wouldn’t you?
* Travis (4) has – since we last saw him – gone through an enquiry due to his failure to catch Blake. He desperately wants his command back and tells Servalan he’s willing to do anything to get it.

Best bit: The episode takes a pleasingly bizarre turn when Avon, Gan and Vila are being chased by the natives. They attempt to break into the metallic door Gan found earlier – then it’s opened from inside by a woman called Meegat. She’s beaming with joy because Avon has finally arrived; she believes him to be her Lord, whose arrival was foretold in a prophecy. Our heroes soon deduce that Meegat’s home is actually a long-abandoned control room; they find a rocket ready to take banks of genetic material to a far-off world. (No phallic symbolism there at all!) Not only are there plenty of comedy looks between the regular characters – Vila and Gan can’t believe that Avon is humouring the poor woman – but the subplot has a nice beginning, middle and end. It’s also another chance for Paul Darrow to *shine* as Avon. You wouldn’t call it a naturalistic performance but it’s so, so watchable. (The number of times that Meegat genuflects by ducking down in front of Avon’s crotch is probably an unintentional gag, though, right?)

Worst bit: Not for the first time, the Liberator crew fail to notice when one of their number doesn’t teleport back from a mission. There are only six of you, guys!

Review: An uneven watch, in part because it’s doing two things. Deliverance is the first half of a two-parter to end the season, so the main plot can’t shake off the feeling that it’s just set-up for next week. But the episode is also trying to tell its own story, so some scenes form a self-contained little scenario. The latter strand is more enjoyable. (Note: I’m writing this blog on 6 February 2018, the 100th anniversary of women being able to vote in the UK. I can’t help noticing that this episode’s main action features three female characters. Two are taken hostage and one is a childlike simpleton.)

Seven micro power cells out of 10

Next episode: Orac

Blake’s 7: Bounty (1978)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Blake visits an exiled former president and tries to convince him to return to public life. But then the Liberator crew are taken prisoner by smugglers…

Series A, episode 11. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Pennant Roberts. Originally broadcast: 13 March 1978, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Cally (8) is sneaking round some woods with Blake as the episode begins. As they break into a building to find its inhabitant she uses her telepathic skills to silently warn Blake that guards are near. (This episode feels like Terry Nation has suddenly remembered he has a character who can talk to her colleagues without being heard.)
* Blake (11) has come to Quex Park in Kent (or whatever planet it’s standing in for) to find ex-President Sarkoff, who has been living in exile since he was voted out of office seven years ago. Well, it’s not exile really: his defeat was rigged, and he’s actually a prisoner being watched by a whole garrison of Federation troops. But Blake wants him to return and rally his people against the fascist overlords. Later in the episode, the Liberator crew, Sarkoff and his daughter are taken hostage by some smugglers. Like his friends, Blake is made to wear a metal ring round his neck; if he misbehaves, his head will be blown off. (Similar devices feature in the 1987 film The Running Man. Being a movie with an 18 certificate, rather than a BBC1 drama on at 7.15pm, we actually see what happens when they activate.)
* Vila (11) isn’t happy when an unidentified ship approaches the Liberator while Blake and Cally are down on the planet. He’s told to shut up, but says he’s entitled to his opinion. “It is your assumption that we are entitled to it as well that is irritating,” quips Avon. Later, Vila’s lock-picking skills come in useful again when he’s given the tense job of deactivating Blake’s explosive-neck-thingy.
* Jenna (11) runs point when the Liberator encounters what claims to be a civilian cruiser in distress. However, its occupants – Arab-like smugglers led by an old acquaintance of Jenna’s – trick their way aboard and take everyone prisoner. Well, not everyone: Jenna seems to switch sides and even tells Blake that their friends have been killed in order to trap him. But – and this is quite plain for all to see – Jenna is just conning Tarvin the smuggler.
* Avon (10) is against helping the ‘cruiser’, assuming (accurately) that it’s a trap. When Gan teleports over to see what’s what but doesn’t return, Avon even advocates destroying the craft with his friend aboard. Meanwhile, his sibling-like bickering with Vila continues to be a highlight of the series.
* Gan (10) starts off the episode as the Liberator’s Uhura – he has headphones on and is futilely trying to contact a nearby UFO. He then volunteers to teleport across to it to investigate, even though he knows it’s dangerous.
* Zen (9) has a few bits of exposition to impart – the most important is when he tells Vila that a message from Gan is not actually Gan’s voice.

Best bit: The first time we see Sarkoff, he’s being driven along in an Edwardian car – he has a big hat and a blonde chauffeur (who we eventually learn is his daughter, Tryce). It’s the start of an interesting theme. Sarkoff is obsessed with antiques from old Earth, such as a gramophone and a revolver. For a show set in a nebulously far-off future it’s a nice link to the past. It also gives us a surreal moment when Blake is bemused by the sound of 1950s rock’n’roll hit Singing the Blues.

Worst bit: Sarkoff is a verbose, flamboyant man. He should be memorable and interesting, but while the script is clearly reaching for something with this character – a certain melancholy, a lamenting for a ‘more civilised age’ – it just doesn’t come off. He’s more irritating than anything and it’s hard to imagine how he was that influential in the first place. Poignant moments, such as his touching anguish when Blake threatens to destroy his antique collection, are nice in themselves but don’t add up to much.

Review: Disappointing. The overly long scenes and dull storyline would be bad enough, but then we have to excuse some awful racial stereotyping when the smugglers show up.

Five microwave transmitters out of 10

Next episode: Deliverance