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: 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: Aftermath (1980)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

The Liberator is attacked and its crew dispersed. Avon finds himself stranded on a planet where he encounters some fellow rebels, some aggressive locals, and Servalan…

Series C, episode 1. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 7 January 1980, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* As the third season gets underway, Zen (23) reports that the alien attack force seen at the end of season two have destroyed the Federation base Star One. He also urges the crew of the Liberator to abandon their damaged ship. Later, while off-ship, Avon contacts Zen and the computer tells him that Blake is uninjured but his location is unknown, while Jenna is aboard a hospital ship.
* Cally (24) and Vila (27) feature in the early scenes aboard the chaotic Liberator as the ship comes under attack from the aliens. Cally gets dialogue to explain why Blake and Jenna aren’t in this episode – saying they’ve decided to remain on the flight deck – while Vila is now the last remaining character who’s been in every episode of Blake’s 7.
* Avon (26) is knocked unconscious aboard the Liberator, so Cally and Vila bundle him into a Star Wars-style escape pod and activate it. He crash lands on a nearby planet called Sarran. He’s challenged by some natives – the kind of vaguely Anglo-Saxon/Viking-ish locals that Terry Nation seemed to like so much – but is saved by a young woman called Dayna. The pair then form a shaky alliance with Servalan, who has also been stranded on Sarran. Dayna takes them to her home (a space craft submerged under the sea) and introduces them to her father and sister. Servalan then offers Avon a deal: with the Liberator and Orac at their disposal, and the Federation in tatters after the loss of Star One, they could build a new empire. Avon wisely deduces that she’d be bound to double-cross him. So when the repaired Liberator arrives in Sarran’s orbit, Avon and Danya teleport aboard, leaving Servalan behind. But there’s a shock in store: the ship has been taken over by a Federation officer…
* Orac (12) is also loaded into Avon’s escape capsule. He’s later able to keep Avon apprised of the Liberator’s condition.
* Dayna Mellanby (1) was born on Earth. Her father is a weapons developer called Hal, who has long been on the run from the authorities. She’s a smart and capable young woman who enjoys using basic weapons like knives and bows and arrows – actually, there’s more than a hint that she’s sexually excited by the danger they provide – but also has a skill at building complex guns. When she rescues Avon and takes him to the safety of a cave, she kisses him – purely out of curiosity. Later, her father is killed by Servalan so she vows revenge, but Avon talks her out of killing the Supreme Commander because she’s hidden the vital Orac. After her sister is also murdered (talk about a bad day…), Dayna joins Avon when he returns to the Liberator… Dayna is played by Josette Simon, who was only about 20 but gives the character confidence and energy.
* Servalan (13) soon stumbles across Avon when she ends up on Sarran after the space battle above. (He isn’t surprised to see her: after all, the chances of them bumping into each other are so remote that it was bound to happen.) She doesn’t initially remember who Hal Mellanby is, but subtly grills his daughter for information. This happens during a scene where the two girls chat about fashion and Dayna gets changed behind a screen with her silhouette cast upon it. After she remembers who Mellanby is, Servalan kills him and steals Orac. She’s soon captured by the plot-device locals, but Avon and Dayna rescue her and force her to reveal where she’s hidden Orac. She’s then left behind on Sarran…
* When Avon and Daya arrive on the Liberator, they’re confronted by a Federation officer (1) who tells them the ship is now his… Actor Steven Pacey gets one line of dialogue in the episode’s final scene.

Best bit: For two seasons Servalan has been a one-note panto villain. Admittedly, that one note entertains a lot of people, but it’s hardly been dynamic storytelling. Aftermath, however, adds a bit of drama by giving her some concrete obstacles. Shorn of her power, her resources, her back-up and her underlings, she now has to be *an actual character*, rather than someone who just makes dry quips with a withering look in her eye. Actually, coupled with the debut of the entertaining Dayna, it feels like a feminist has had a word in Terry Nation’s shell-like between seasons.

Worst bit: Two Federation soldiers are introduced into the story *solely* to give us some badly written, badly played and badly directed exposition about the massive space battle. They’re then promptly killed off.

Review: Blake’s 7 without Blake. Or Jenna. In fact, given that Gan and Travis were killed off in season two, we’ve now lost half of the human regulars introduced in the first season. So this episode is doing some very specific things in order to refurbish the format. Most obviously, Paul Darrow is taking centre stage. Avon is now the de facto lead, the character who drives the story and who we identify with. (This is a season opener and, significantly, Vila and Cally barely feature.) As mentioned above, Aftermath also works to adapt Servalan into someone more interesting and introduces two new regular characters. It’s admirable that it also manages to be a fun, enjoyable story in its own right. Well, mostly. The guest cast are quite variable. (Cy Grant as Hal and an overacting Alan Lake as the native chieftain are especially poor.)

Eight usual punishments for boarding a Federation ship without authority out of 10

Next episode: Powerplay

Blake’s 7: Countdown (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eight laser lancers out of 10

Next episode: Voice from the Past

Blake’s 7: Hostage (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Six kissing cousins out of 10

Next episode: Countdown

Blake’s 7: Killer (1979)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next episode: Hostage

Blake’s 7: 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)

Screenshot 2018-02-08 15.38.42

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: Breakdown (1978)

Screenshot 2018-01-27 18.31.59

Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

When Gan suffers from debilitating headaches and attacks his colleagues, they must find a way of fixing his malfunctioning implant…

Series A, episode 10. Written by: Terry Nation. Directed by: Vere Lorrimer. Originally broadcast: 6 March 1978, BBC1.

Regulars (with running total of appearances):
* Gan (9) is stricken by crushing headaches, then flips out and becomes violent. The implant in his brain has gone on the wonk, you see, and Jenna is knocked unconscious before the others subdue him. Later, he awakens but writhes about like a werewolf then goes on another Incredible Hulk rampage. Eventually an operation is performed. The implant remains but he’s back to normal. Phew!
* Zen (8) acts very obstructively this week, refusing to answer standard questions and then switching off when the crew need his help.
* Jenna (10) is the first to find Gan is his dangerous state, and suffers as a consequence. Later, she has to flirt with a scientist to distract him (‘Hello, hello, hello,’ he says appreciatively as they meet).
* Blake (10) tries to talk Gan down from his initial fury – then has to fight with him. Once Gan is knocked out, and it becomes clear his ‘limiter’ implant has gone wrong, Blake moots operating on him themselves. Avon points out that’s slightly risky and suggests another idea: take Gan to XK-72, an independent space station that carries out research into weaponry and medicine. (Well, it’s obvious now he says it.) Blake agrees. When they reach the station, Blake teleports aboard and finds a doctor called Professor Kayn (Julian Glover, providing plenty of knows-what-he’s-doing-ness). Kayn, however, twigs who Blake is and secretly informs the Federation…
* En route to XK-72, Avon (9) tells Blake he wants to leave the crew – Blake’s zealous streak, he says, leads to too many risks being taken. So when they reach the space station, Avon offers its leader his services and knowledge – in exchange for a guarantee that his colleagues will be allowed to leave unmolested. However, when he realises that the Federation are on the way, guilt takes over and Avon warns his friends.
* When Blake, Avon and Jenna agree to take the Liberator through a dangerous area of space to reach XK-72, Vila (10) says, ‘Don’t I get asked?’ They just ignore him. Later, he tells Avon that he stays with Blake because he likes him… and has nowhere else to go. During the climax, Vila gets a nice moment where he rumbles the duplicitous Kayn.
* Cally (7) acts as a nurse, tending to the unconscious Gan, but doesn’t spot when he wakes up with an evil look on his face. She’s also later tricked into removing his restraints. #FlorenceNightingFAIL.

Best bit: A nifty, never-seen-before stellar map on a sheet of Plexiglas – shot from behind, of course, as is the cinematic cliché. (Quite how useful a *two-dimension* map of fucking space can be, however, is another matter.)

Screenshot 2018-01-27 18.30.54

Worst bit: The ‘dangerous bit of space’ subplot feels terribly artificial. Zen builds up a big mystery about the area for no reason, then the Liberator travels through it unscathed. It’s just padding, which is a real shame because if this enjoyable episode has a major flaw it’s the fact it’s so lopsided. The first 32 minutes are set aboard the Liberator and feature just the regulars, then we race through *a lot* of plotting in the last two-fifths of the episode.

Review: After being in the background for so long, at last Gan is the focus of a storyline! And he spends almost all of the episode unconscious. So instead of a character study on a character who doesn’t really have a character, we get plenty of good, inter-team drama with the other regulars and guest stars. Blake, Avon and Jenna have believable, plausible opinions about what to do with Gan and this creates some engaging conflict. They all want to help their friend, but not at any cost, and crucially none of the characters is a moron so you can see their points of view. The inhabitants of XK-72 are an interesting bunch too and the story develops and twists when we meet them.

Eight unstable magnetic fields out of 10

Next episode: Bounty