Blake’s 7: Powerplay (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

While Avon and Dayna attempt to wrestle command of the Liberator away from an enigmatic Federation officer, Vila and Cally find themselves in danger…

Series C, episode 2. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: David Maloney. Originally broadcast: 14 January 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Del Tarrant (2) – who seized the Liberator in the previous episode – tells Avon and Dayna that he’s a Federation captain; he and his men found the ship abandoned. He also warns them that he may execute them for trespassing. Avon plays dumb, pretending that he and Dayna are a married couple and that he’s only vaguely heard of Blake. It’s clear Tarrant has a fractious relationship with his second-in-command, a snarling thug called Klegg (Michael Sheard). And when some Federation soldiers are killed off, observant viewers should be able to work out that Tarrant is not all he seems… It’s eventually revealed that he *isn’t* a Federation captain. He’s a rebel who found a Federation uniform so posed as an officer.
* When he first encounters Tarrant, Avon (27) thinks quickly and claims to be an innocent civilian caught up in the recent space battle. He and Dayna are locked up but soon escape. After learning who Tarrant really is, Avon seemingly betrays him to Klegg. But it’s actually just a ruse: Avon, Dayna and Tarrant are now working together…
* Dayna (2) boarded the Liberator for the first time at the conclusion of the previous episode. Now she proves to Tarrant and Klegg that she’s not one of its famous crew by demonstrating that Zen doesn’t recognise her voice. Later, after being knocked unconscious and locked up, she takes her revenge by killing the sadistic Klegg with her bare hands. Avon and Tarrant look on appreciatively. In the episode’s final scene, she and Tarrant are officially welcomed as new members of the Liberator crew, in effect replacing Jenna and Blake.
* After abandoning the Liberator in the previous episode, Vila (28) has ended up alone on a planet in some woods. He’s first found by some more of Terry Nation’s medieval-natives-played-by-middle-class-actors, who tell him they’re being hunted for sport. Vila is then separated from them and meets the hunters: two not-unattractive women in sci-fi helmets and cloaks, who explain that they’re not killers; they just tranquilise the locals and help them with their superior technology. It’s a big social-divide subtext, you see – the hi-techs versus the low. The women are seemingly very kind to Vila and take him to a nearby city, where he bumps into Cally…
* At the start of the episode, Cally (25) is aboard a hospital ship, having been picked up after the space battle. She suffered burns but they’re on the mend. Then the ship lands on a planet to collect another patient… Servalan! After also meeting up with Vila, Cally and he learn the awful truth: the doctors and nurses are actually organ harvesters and intend to operate on them. Thankfully, the Liberator then arrives and the pair are teleported to safety.
* Servalan (14) – still wearing the hand-me-down frock she was given in the previous episode – is determined to regain her authority. The fact the Federation has been crippled by the destruction of its Star One facility doesn’t deter her, and by the episode’s end she’s managed to coerce the hospital ship’s captain into getting her back to Earth.
* When Avon sneaks onto the flight deck and talks to Zen (24), the computer fills him in on his crewmates’ statuses. Blake is safe and en route to a planet. Jenna was injured, though not badly, and is now aboard a neutral cargo carrier. There’s been no contact from Cally, while Vila is in trouble so the Liberator is heading to pick him up.

Best bit: While alone in a strange forest, Vila hears the gurgles and rumbles of a monster nearby. So he mimics the voices of a well-armed military team to scare it off.

Worst bit: At the start of season three, the regular characters were scattered to the four winds by a massive space battle. But ever since, for plotting expediency, they keep bumping into each other – Avon and Servalan last week, now Cally and Servalan, then Cally and Vila.

Review: There are three strands to this episode: Avon and Dayna’s Die Hard dealings with Tarrant; Vila’s rather odd encounters in the woodlands; and Cally’s experiences on the hospital ship. The whole thing moves well and is never boring, but the standout element is clearly the character of Tarrant. He only appeared briefly last week, so this is our first chance to see him in action. He’s terrific. The storyline is a great way to introduce a new regular character, showing him off in several different situations, and while Steven Pacey was joltingly young – just 22 when the episode was recorded – the character feels older, with authority and steel.

Eight inspiring epitaths out of 10

Next episode: Volcano

Blake’s 7: Star One (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Blake and his colleagues find the Federation’s secret and all-powerful control centre, but there’s a shock in store…

Series B, episode 13. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: David Maloney (uncredited). Originally broadcast: 3 April 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Servalan (12) learns that various accidents and freak weather conditions are occurring across the Federation. The cause? The top-secret Star One facility, which essentially runs the entire galaxy, is going haywire. And fixing it is doubly difficult because no one knows where it is. Servalan, ever the plotter, sees an opportunity and openly revolts against the president. A coup has begun, with Servalan declaring herself the new leader…
* Blake (26) has the coordinates of Star One and says he’s going to destroy it – in part, to see whether he was right to fight the Federation in the first place. He leads his colleagues to a remote star all on its own in the vast openness between galaxies (er…what?), which is orbited by a single planet. He, Avon and Cally teleport down and are surprised to learn that they were expected. Blake plays along until he realises that Star One’s crew have assumed he’s Travis, who has done a deal with them and plans to trigger the ‘final act’: the destruction of humanity. Later, the real Travis arrives, rumbles Blake’s deception, and shoots him. Blake is badly injured…
* Avon (25) angrily tells the others that he wants an end to their crusade. He also wants to be free of Blake. ‘I never realised,’ says Blake. ‘You really do hate me, don’t you?’ Avon reminds him of their arrangement: if Blake’s rebellion works, Avon will take control of the Liberator. (What Jenna, Vila and Cally think about this isn’t important to him.) When the gang reach Star One, Avon points out a huge minefield positioned in space between the planet and the next nearest galaxy – but is it there to keep humanity in, or aliens out? Down on the planet, Avon bumps into Travis then discovers that the crew are actually dead and have been replaced by alien agents in human form. After Blake’s injury, Avon effortlessly assumes command of the Liberator. Passing the baton, Blake tells him: ‘For what it’s worth, I have always trusted you, from the very beginning.’
* Vila (26) makes lots of wry, cynical jokes.
* Cally (23) questions Blake’s plan to destroy Star One. After all, it may result in many innocent deaths. When the crew find Star One, however, she uses the Liberator’s scanners to find its entrance, then joins Blake and Avon in teleporting down. She later uses her telepathy to warn Avon that she and Blake have been captured by the base’s crew. Despite being prisoners, the pair still manage to sneakily set some explosives…
* While Blake, Avon and Cally are on Star One, Jenna (26) realises that a huge alien attack fleet is coming their way. She has no choice but to send a message to Servalan asking for help…
* Zen (22) confirms that the Liberator is crossing the barrier of the galaxy and entering the intergalactic void.
* Orac (11) investigates the minefield and deduces that it was set up over many years, as much as an alarm system as a defensive set-up.
* Travis (13) shows up at Star One (he found out its location in the previous episode too) and shoots Blake. In a nihilistic kind of mood, he’s done a deal with aliens from the galaxy next door: he’ll arrange for the Milky Way’s defensive minefield to be deactivated and they can sweep in and destroy humanity. (You’re presumably intended not to consider the fact that space is rather enormous and three-dimensional, so how effective could a manmade minefield be?) Later, Blake regains consciousness and shoots at Travis; Avon then kills him.

Best bit: The plot is structured around some fun ironies that put characters in odd positions. Blake and co end up having to *save* Star One from destruction (so it can be used to defend the galaxy). Servalan has to send help to the Liberator crew. Avon has to pick up Blake’s role and fight for defenceless people.

Worst bit: It doesn’t seem as if the idea was considered for too long, but Terry Nation famously mooted that the invading aliens could be the Daleks from Doctor Who. It’s a shame the notion was vetoed. Would have been a laugh.

Review: The story arcs that have been running throughout the second series – Travis’s fall from grace, the search for Star One – conclude in an engaging and appropriately epic season finale. The tension and pace ratchet up more and more as we progress, then things peak with a final scene of mighty energy. As we see our heroes in Sergio Leone-style close-ups, the alien fleet approaches their position. The galaxy is under attack with the Liberator on the front line. ‘Fire!’ orders Avon. Roll credits…

Eight psycho-manipulation teams out of 10

Next episode: Aftermath