Blake’s 7: The Keeper (1979)

Screenshot 2018-05-13 11.14.24

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Liberator crew head for the planet Goth, looking for information that will lead to the secretive Star One base. But Travis and Servalan have beaten them there…

Series B, episode 12. Written by: Allan Prior. Directed by: Derek Martinus. Originally broadcast: 27 March 1979, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Vila (25) accompanies Blake and Jenna on a mission to Goth, a planet with a thick, toxic atmosphere and medieval-level people living underground. He and Jenna are soon captured by the locals and taken to see the chief, who’s a bombastic, arrogant man called Gola. Vila uses close-hand magic tricks to appease Gola’s aggression, but this enrages the official court Fool. (Demarcation! Everyone out!)
* Blake (25) has come to Goth to find out what happened to former Federation surgeon Lurgen, a man who knew the location of the all-important Star One installation. His digital ‘brain print’ – or maybe his actual brain – is now in the possession of someone called the Keeper. But Blake doesn’t know who that is. On Goth, Blake’s friends are captured by the natives then he bumps into the chief’s brother, Ron. With Ron’s help, Blake gains access to the chief’s tent but eventually discovers that the Keeper is not the chief, nor Ron, nor their soothsayer sister… It’s their dad, a decrepit old man Blake had earlier seen in some cells. In the meantime, the brain-print has been stolen by Travis. But – and how’s this for a spot of luck? – the chief’s Fool also knows the location of Star One.
* Avon (24) points out that, instead of destroying Star One, the Liberator crew could take it over and run it themselves. Blake says something about power corrupting. Avon then stays on the ship while Blake, Jenna and Vila are on Goth. On two separate occasions he sees Federation ships nearby – he destroys the first, assuming Travis is on board, then assumes Servalan is on the second. Er, Avon… What’s that saying about never assuming things?
* Jenna (25) reminds Blake (and us) that Travis will be looking for the brain-print too. Down on Goth, she’s caught and tied up by the locals. But then Gola takes a shine to her (in that way that primitive, tribal chieftains always do in stories when they meet an attractive blonde woman), so installs her as his consort. He also wants to ‘pair bond’ with her to produce a son. Jenna plays along as a chance to search for the brain-print and soon realises that both Gola and his sister are wearing amulets that could contain the information.
* It’s not a great week for dogsbody Cally (22). She operates the teleport, pilots the Liberator, fetches Blake a glass of water, defers to Avon…
* Zen (21) reports that some Federation pursuit ships are nearby. That’s all he seems to do some episodes.
* Travis (12) wasn’t on the ship that Avon attacked – he had stayed down on the planet, having arrived before the Liberator. Like the others, he’s searching for Lurgen’s brain-print. But then he vanishes from the story after just a couple of scenes. We later learn he found the print and scarpered.
* Servalan (11) is *also* on Goth, though spends most of her time lazing around eating grapes. She and Travis have reached an uneasy truce, then Travis pitches a new idea: why don’t they seize control of Star One and command the galaxy together? He next borrows her ship so he can send a message to the Federation. At least, that’s what he tells Servalan…

Best bit: The first and last scenes of the episode are both nicely directed in single, uninterrupted takes. We start with an 88-second shot featuring all five members of the Liberator crew moving choreographically in and out of frame as they discuss the plot. Then the episode concludes with a simpler but still effective 16-second shot as the same characters return to the flight deck and set course for Star One…

Worst bit: The OTT, panto performance from Bruce Purchase as Gola.

Review: Notwithstanding the fun shots mentioned in ‘Best bit’ above, The Keeper is a badly staged episode of television. At several points, important pieces of storytelling are fumbled. For example, we’re seemingly shown Travis being destroyed… but then there he is in a later scene, with no comment or focus or attention. Similarly, Jenna’s realisation that Servalan is on Goth – a rather big piece of information – is simply skipped over. Less vitally, there are also scene transitions that break the ‘law of re-entry’, the theatrical convention that says a character can’t appear in consecutive scenes without some time ‘off stage’. The script is no masterpiece, admittedly, but it’s not being given a chance. In its favour, the episode is a rare chance for Jenna to drive some plot and it’s also another example of how well Blake’s 7’s serial format works.

Five torches (I don’t like the dark!) out of 10

Next episode: Star One

Blake’s 7: Trial (1979)

Screenshot 2018-03-27 19.11.24

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