Saturday, 2 January 2021

Blake's 7: Series One

Ah, Blake's 7. Seminal British sci-fi – probably. As a young Doctor Who fan I have distinct memories of not wanting to watch it, because it looked like Doctor Who's somehow even sadder stepchild. Eventually I got most of the DVDs and made a few attempts to get into it, but usually bugged out for some reason or other.

So, pretty much just to make sure I watched every episode, I'm watching it through and writing reviews. And on the show's 43rd anniversary, here we go with Series One!

This year, Blake finds his calling, a crew and a spaceship, and all of it's written by Terry Nation. Enjoy.

*** 



1. The Way Back

by Terry Nation

Well this is brilliant.

It can’t be easy to launch a new sci-fi show. You must establish a world and its rules, introduce the overall premise of the series and the characters and oh yes: tell a decent story. The Way Back manages all of that and makes it look relatively easy.

Roj Blake is a ready-made protagonist. He’s literally done it all before, insurrection-wise, but the corrupt Federation wiped his memory. (Handy for a pilot episode as it allows other characters to fill him in!) Moments after some free-thinkers tell him what’s really going on, they’re gunned down in front of him. In order to discredit Blake he’s swiftly convicted of trumped-up charges (including pedophilia!) and sentenced to life in prison. He goes from placid citizen to radicalised outcast in 50 minutes. Nice one, guys. (Couldn’t you have wiped his memory again?)

The episode is shocking for two main reasons: the violence of the Federation, with masked men murdering peaceful protesters en masse, and the utterly business-like choice to ruin Blake afterwards. The sets look like Doctor Who but these are not ranting Davroses. Average-looking government types do the damage here, and it all just seems like a normal day at work.

Apart from the horrible stuff that happens to Blake (by the way, your family are dead), we get to know his friendly defence counsel and his wife. They seem like they’ll be prominent characters going forward, but are murdered off screen before they can tell anyone the truth. Blake never finds out, but by the time he blasts off to prison his mind is already made up. Asked by a guard if he got a good last look at Earth, he says he’s coming back.

I mentioned it looks like Doctor Who (shared BBC resources will do that), but this actually helps the story. The Way Back is a negative to Doctor Who’s positive: when there is no magic Time Lord to make the world better overnight, this is what’s left. The humdrum sets and grey locations work in its favour, shrouding the cover ups and horrors in the ordinary, with subtly anaemic corridor music suggesting the drug-induced platitude that keeps the citizens compliant. Music is spared during the more shocking moments, which only enhances them. All you can do is look right at what’s happening, leaving you as disbelieving and shocked as Blake.

We briefly meet some soon-to-be recurring characters on the prisoner transport, with Michael Keating’s sarcastic Vila making the strongest impression, but after everyone else Blake knows has died you’ve no real reason to expect them to stick around. The stakes are impossibly high and the consequences are brutal. All you’ve really got left is Blake’s final look of determination. You know the episode has succeeded when this feels like enough. 

Trivia!

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! The gun violence is just about sci-fi enough to pass (one flash and you’re dead), but there are lingering shots of corpses. Blake is beaten in flashbacks, and his mind is attacked in some kind of Clockwork Orange machine; we see these trippy shots a few times which would probably cause nightmares. There’s also a love scene between the defence counsel and his partner, which is admittedly more about talking than kissing, but you’d still never see it in Doctor Who.

WHO’S WHO: Loads of Who alumni. Robert Beatty (the doomed leader of the resistance) played ranty General Culter in William Hartnell’s final story The Tenth Planet. Robert James (the corrupt justice official who has Blake ruined) was Professor Lesterson in the very next one, Patrick Troughton’s first Who, Power Of The Daleks. The rather Hitler-Youth-y Jeremy Wilkin plays the duplicitous Del Tarrant here, after spying for the baddies in Revenge Of The Cybermen. And I mostly know Nigel Lambert as the funny narrator from Look Around You, but he plays a bored technician here (with funky VR headwear), and later did Doctor Who in The Leisure Hive. Michael Keating (Vila) was in The Sun Makers, a satirical Doctor Who not a million miles away from this.

BLAKE’S... Just him so far.



2. Space Fall

By Terry Nation

This is almost a two-parter. Following on immediately from The Way Back, Blake and co. try to take over the prison ship, which comes easily thanks to the distractions of Vila, the apparent gullibility of some of the guards (hmm) and the computer talents of Avon (Paul Darrow). Then murderous Sub-Commander Raiker starts killing inmates and forces Blake to surrender. Later, the crew encounters a strange ship that needs investigating; after it drives some men mad and kills them, Blake and two prisoners are sent over to take control. They do a little better than expected, stealing the ship and throwing Raiker out of an airlock to his doom. Blake doesn’t have his 7 yet but this will be their mode of transport. (Perhaps the first creak in Terry Nation’s setup is that they just conveniently find this amazing spaceship lying about, but it could be something they revisit later in the series?)

Space Fall is more of the same, but in a good way. Raiker is a suitably nasty antagonist, making clearly sexual advances towards the only female prisoner (Jenna) and continuing to kill prisoners even after Blake surrenders, but he’s the worst of an otherwise ordinary and even agreeable bunch. Adult themes are best explored when there are grey areas: it’s smarter not to make everyone who works for the Federation a monstrous bad guy. This also fits in with the dreary day-to-day bureaucracy of The Way Back. It’s just a job. Besides, how many guards are drugged into complacency, like the citizens?

Space Fall makes great strides in setup for the show, introducing their spacecraft and several main characters. We briefly met cowardly Vila and defiant Jenna in The Way Back; now add to that Gan (quiet strong-man) and Avon (mercenary computer whiz). All the best and funniest dialogue gravitates towards Vila and Avon, who compete to steal every scene. (Particularly Avon, loyal to no one and only too happy to complain about Blake’s leadership.) Jenna mostly props up Blake, and Gan is just his physique at this point. We’ll see how they get on later.

Once again you can’t take any of this for granted, with a lack of genuine camaraderie coming from anyone but Blake, and we even get another maybe-cast mate unceremoniously killed off: helpful Nova is sent to find out how Avon is getting on, only to be trapped inside a wall and surrounded by emergency sealant, presumably suffocating to death. Once again no one finds out or even remarks on his absence. Space is a bitch, huh?

It’s a busy episode, but productive, and it’s already clear who the front-runners of the 7 are going to be. The plot is a bit spottier this week, with a confusing space battle related via dots on a view screen and a deadly ship killing people with psychic visions (for unexplained reasons) until Blake shoots at it. But what with the episodes so far being serialised, there’s every chance we’ll get more information on all that later. Space Fall continues setting up the world and the characters, and for now Blake’s 7 feels more like a focused miniseries than a weekly adventure show that could go anywhere. With a promise to follow the prison ship to its intended destination (Cygnus Alpha) so they can rescue the other prisoners, the serial continues for now.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Bloody hell, Nova and that wall. The psychic visions are more suggestive than nasty; meanwhile everything Raiker does is nasty in the extreme.

WHO’S WHO: Leslie Schofield (Raiker) appeared in Leela’s first story, The Face Of Evil. He was also an Imperial Officer in Star Wars. Can’t trust that one. Also meet Paul Darrow, who starred in a couple of Doctor Whos including Timelash, universally revered as the best one.

BLAKE’S... 3. Blake, Jenna, Avon,



3. Cygnus Alpha

By Terry Nation

You didn’t think every episode was going to be about spaceships, did you? It turns out Cygnus Alpha is a prison planet that mainly consists of a castle and some hooded zealots. I wonder which came first: the plot about a medieval death cult or the available resources of the BBC?

Still, the nighttime shooting (presumably in a quarry) works very well, and if you want a threatening cult leader you can’t go far wrong with Brian Blessed. The voluminous actor gives a performance of real menace as well as his trademark sonic booms, effortlessly facing off against Blake. Gareth Thomas finally starts living up to the leader mantle when he shouts some sense into Blessed’s captives, Blake’s fellow prisoners from Space Fall. By the end he has Gan and Vila in his crew. (Spot popular character actor David Ryall lurking thanklessly among the rest.)

More interesting than the plot, which is a rudimentary escape-from-the-nutter’s-castle runaround, are the little moments. We briefly catch up with the prisoner ship from Space Fall where the crew are still licking their wounds. It’s rare to see baddies after the plot has finished with them, and this reinforces the idea that much of the Federation is just people doing their jobs. Blake, Jenna and Avon continue to figure out their new ship, now christened the Liberator, and while it’s still ludicrously convenient that they found it, and even more so that it’s stocked with handy laser guns, communicators and teleport bracelets, it’s refreshing to take the time to figure out how it all works. Avon even labels the buttons, which is adorable AND practical.

Best of all is Avon openly pointing a gun at Blake (which he wisely ignores; you sense that could have gone very differently if he took Avon seriously) and later trying to convince Jenna to leave their leader on the planet’s surface and run off with the ship’s treasury. (Because oh yes, it’s also full of money.) Jenna refuses and in all likelihood this will prove the worse for her. Avon is clearly one to watch.

Of the crew, Jenna fares the worst. Hugging Blake on his successful return and at one point excited to try on new outfits (which Avon rolls his eyes at), she’s not given much to do that challenges the role of a token woman. Is she only going to perk up when there’s a loathsome baddie like Raiker to rail against? Meanwhile Gan almost has an interesting thing going as Blessed’s fellow cultist (played by Pamela Salem) is maybe in love with him, but this comes out of the blue and goes nowhere. Vila is as cowardly and funny as ever, getting the best line in the episode: spying the castle he says “The architectural style is early maniac.”

For the second episode in a row the stuff that is unique to Blake’s 7 works very well, but the external plot feels random and secondary. Hopefully they’ll figure out how to balance their more adult, almost procedural space adventure series with their stories-of-the-week. Having memorable guest stars can help paper over this, but only so much.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! We see the remains of a human sacrifice, a bloody knife following a fight, and Brian Blessed exploding in space. But the latter somehow looks like the Death Star made using lunch money, so you’re unlikely to be too scarred.

WHO’S WHO: Dusky-voiced Pamela Salem appeared in two well regarded Who stories, The Robots Of Death and Remembrance Of The Daleks. Brian Blessed has been mentioned among actors who nearly played the Doctor (imagine that series) but he would go on to play the suitably loud King Yrcarnos.

BLAKE’S... 5. Blake, Jenna, Avon, Vila, Gan.



4. Time Squad

By Terry Nation

I previously complained that this show had trouble balancing its weekly threats with the ongoing story. Well, Time Squad still has that trouble.

The Liberator finds a mysterious craft in space. Taking it aboard, they find cryogenically frozen aliens and a database. Zen, the Liberator’s omnipotent but unhelpful computer, starts analysing it while the aliens thaw. Meanwhile Blake wants to attack a Federation outpost, so he, Vila and Avon teleport there to blow something up. Gan and Jenna are left with the aliens, who promptly escape and start trying to kill them.

The two plots rumble along independently with Blake et al totally unaware it’s all gone wrong on the Liberator. I kept waiting for some shared relevance but it never comes. Neither plot is exactly uninteresting but when it’s all just stuff happening in a vacuum, or rather two vacuums, you’re left with an episode that isn’t really about anything.

So, the stuff. Blake’s mission involves a bit of location filming, firstly in a quarry (this time during the day - woo!) and then in a huge factory, anonymous enough to double for the kind of complex the plot requires. Along the way they meet Cally, soon to join their ranks. Jan Chappell makes an instant impression as the rather aloof alien with no qualms about dying for her cause, although her gift of telepathy serves no immediately apparent use. (She can transmit her thoughts but can’t hear anyone else’s. Basically she’s a ventriloquist without a puppet.)

Meanwhile on the Liberator, there’s some intrigue in the fact that Zen initially does not do what he’s asked, momentarily stranding Blake and Jenna on a tiny ship with diminishing air. I’m tempted to say this will come back later, but Blake writes it off as Zen wanting to avoid creating more homicidal aliens, as it turns out that’s what the capsule is for. (This makes no sense - NOT telling them what they needed to know almost led to exactly this happening - but the episode seems happy with it. Hey ho.)

Otherwise Jenna is thoroughly useless, at one point locking the aliens in a room and then later opening the door to investigate. It also turns out Gan, who is mainly here as muscle, has an inhibitor to stop him killing anyone. (He seemingly gets a hernia if he tries.) This didn’t stop him roughing people up in previous episodes, so why not do that here? He doesn’t HAVE to kill anyone. It’s tough not to conclude that they just didn’t think of it until this week. Unless Gan has other tricks up his sleeve, it makes him rather surplus to requirements.

Meh: the Federation lose a useful outpost and the Liberator gets a new crewmember, who’s at least entertaining to watch. It’s all just stuff happening, some of it silly. The only other thing of note is Vila once again getting the best line: “I plan to live forever, or die trying.”

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Nothing here you wouldn’t see in Doctor Who, although the aliens’ outfits show a bit of skin. One of the aliens dies by being electrocuted, and the explosion at the end is a hilarious anticlimax, with guards trying really hard to fall over.

WHO’S WHO: No one I noticed.

BLAKE’S... 6 when you add Cally, but Blake makes a point of including Zen, so that’s our 7! (Personally I’d be less certain about a computer that left me to suffocate in space, but that’s just me.)



5. The Web

By Terry Nation 

Hooray, this week they pick a plot and stick to it! For better or worse.

Cally falls under some kind of mind control and sends the Liberator to an unknown planet where it’s trapped in some kind of web. A message from the surface explains that their help is needed - and the Liberator won’t be freed unless they get it. On the surface a scientific expedition with a skeleton crew is besieged by small, violent aliens; they need new power cells to repel them, which Liberator can provide. Blake goes to the surface to negotiate.

To be honest, you can guess where this is going. The aliens have a pretty good reason to attack the base. Ultimately Blake refuses to help the scientists as it will mean genocide. The scientists created the aliens as a workforce - and there’s really only one intelligent creature here, a shrivelled head in a jar that is distantly related to Cally. The “scientists” are just more of its creations, and have no minds of their own. Eventually the aliens break in, killing the scientists and their creator. Blake (and Avon, sent to hand over the power cells) escape to a now freed Liberator.

Doctor Who told “ugly people good, pretty people bad” stories years before this, so it’s hardly a shock when it turns out the squeaking, childlike Decimas are not really at fault. Terry Nation also wrote a certain story involving Daleks, where scientists in a city sought to annihilate the only other inhabitants of the planet. It’s all just a bit join-the-dots; there’s nothing else to do except wait for Blake to ask what’s going on, be outraged, then let the aliens have their revenge. It’s a pointless episode, apart from arguably giving Blake a bit of practice at toppling an oppressor. Not that he exactly helped.

There are positives. The scientific base looks pretty good and even rather practical from the outside, and the forest is successfully (and creepily) decked out in web. The head in a jar (and its weird stick body) will seem either eerily bizarre or inexplicably hilarious depending on your mood. The carnage at the end is certainly memorable, again one way or the other, especially the sight of the head screaming while the Decimas smash it to bits. I can’t help wondering though why Cally has nothing to do with the plot after diverting the ship, when it’s her ancestor/relative at the heart of all this. Jenna gets a moment in the spotlight when she’s possessed (in order to deliver the message), but that could have been anybody. Avon is typically interesting, offering a contrasting view to Blake viz whether they should let the Decimas be killed. He smiles at the thought that Blake won’t always be the one making the decisions. Uh oh.

TL;DR, this could be a random Who script they found down the back of the sofa. Do better.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! The Decimas are probably supposed to freak you out at first, but the human-ish eyes mostly make them look badly assembled. The attack at the end features a couple of skeletons (wait, did they just eat the skin off them?!) and the bit with the screaming head is maybe horrifying?

WHO’S WHO: One of the Decimas is Deep Roy, aka killer ventriloquist dummy Mr Sin. Miles Fothergill, one of the scientist/puppets, was also SV7 in The Robots Of Death. The head in a jar is Richard Beale who did several Whos according to IMDB - not that you’d recognise him here.



6. Seek-Locate-Destroy

By Terry Nation

We’re back on track. Seek-Locate-Destroy focuses on Blake vs the Federation, which is where the series is most sure of itself. (And also, like, what it’s about?) It also starts partway into the plot - always an aid to pacing - with Blake and Vila in the middle of an operation to steal a cipher machine from a Federation base. This goes almost perfectly, until Cally is left behind.

Unbeknownst to them, Supreme Commander Servalan has noticed their activities and wants them stopped. She calls in Travis, a ruthless figure from Blake’s old rebellion days, who will go on as many killing sprees as necessary to stop him. In the meantime he’ll use Cally as bait.

It’s refreshing to have the ball in the Federation’s court for once, and of course this episode introduces some iconic baddies: Jacqueline Pearce as the outwardly appealing Servalan, and Stephen Greif as Travis. Deep down these characters are the same sort of everyday villainy established in The Way Back and Space Fall - casually cruel bureaucrats and honest psychopaths - only more elaborately dressed, with Servalan resplendent and Travis sporting black leather and an eyepatch. At a glance it all threatens to tip over into camp, but Stephen Greif underplays it enough that for now, Travis feels genuinely malevolent. We don’t see much from Servalan this time but Pearce is magnetic, particularly with an infatuated underling. You can believe she’d persuade people to her cause.

The Liberator are on the back foot again which makes it all a bit more exciting. Gareth Thomas has some good material as he remembers and explains Travis to the others - though it’s a missed opportunity to handwave away his memory loss, as opposed to bringing those horrible memories back to the surface where he (and we) can see them. He doesn’t noticeably change for remembering this huge turbulent portion of his life, which is a bit odd.

In the end Cally is rescued and everyone is smiling, except Avon who perhaps better understands what an enemy they’ve made and that the stakes have now been raised. Once again he keeps it all from feeling too much like Robin Hood in space, resisting the urge to heroically put his hands on his hips as Blake seems to in every shot. Even when Paul Darrow isn’t in it much he is still all over Blake’s 7, implicitly adding grey areas.

It’s good to have the series sit up straight after a few middling episodes. Seek-Locate-Destroy is an escalation and, though no one is killed this time, it’s a convincing reminder that it could happen if Blake gets too sure of himself.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! There are stories about Travis’s awful exploits, but otherwise this isn’t upsetting to watch.

WHO’S WHO: Peter Miles appears, known for a few Whos but mostly as Nyder, Davros’s No. 1. Jacqueline Pearce would later appear in The Two Doctors, and more recently worked with John Hurt and Paul McGann at Big Finish - bringing her total to at least four Doctors.



7. Mission To Destiny

By Terry Nation

First off, a mini rant. (Sorry.) When all these ne’er-do-wells joined Blake’s crew they must have known they’d be fighting the Federation from now on, but how do they feel about random do-gooding on the side? The series can’t be wall-to-wall attacks on Servalan and co. or it might get monotonous. It makes sense for a space series to feature one-off adventures - they usually do - but it feels oddly taken for granted that this gang of thieves and murderers will also fill the role of space night watchmen, ala the Enterprise, as well as being freedom fighters. Isn’t it worthy of comment? Surely it shouldn’t just be Avon carping on about how it’s no skin off his nose whether some random planet dies. Are they all just misunderstood nice guys?

Surprise, surprise, it’s do-gooder week, and this one’s a murder mystery on a spaceship. Someone has sent the crew to sleep and killed one of them, leaving the ship flying in circles. It’s carrying a precious mineral that could save their planet’s eco-system, only they’ll never get there in time. Enter the much faster Liberator: Blake agrees to ferry the mineral to their planet for them, leaving Cally and Avon on their ship as “hostages”. They are left with questions, such as why the murderer keeps killing when the valuable mineral has now gone, and of course, whodunnit.

The murder mystery is... fine? It’s amusing to watch Avon play detective, now he has a stake in it viz not wanting to die, and Cally gets to stare down some suspects. (Occasionally I remembered she’s a telepath and thought “Ooh, how useful!”, then remembered it’s only one way. She might as well be the only person in the universe who can send you a text message.) A fair chunk of the plot rests on Blake not checking the box he’s carrying has anything in it, and a big revelation comes via a dead man’s clue left via a childishly simple cipher. (And about that - numbers as letters? Who would bother to work that out when they’re bleeding to death? Why not just write the name?) Complex it ain’t, but it kept me guessing.

Mission To Destiny (which sounds like a Terrance Dicks chapter heading - FYI, Destiny is their planet) is one of those episodes where there isn’t enough for everyone to do. What with it being a murder mystery we have to hang around with the suspects so Gan, Jenna and Vila presumably just take naps. This must be why some earlier episodes had two plots: it’s to mete out enough action for all the regulars. I’m starting to wonder why we even need 7 of them.

So it’s fine really, but it’s one of those episodes that could be any SF series - albeit one with Avon in it, idly working out the murder plot in such a way that he might be making notes for later. Get used to him carrying lesser episodes.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Some slightly bloodied corpses in this.

WHO’S WHO: It’s a minor Who-a-palooza. Barry Jackson did several Whos from Hartnell to Tom Baker, at one point playing a fellow rogue Time Lord; Nigel Humphreys would later be in Warriors Of The Deep with Peter Davison; Carl Forgione did a couple including one as a Neanderthal butler in Ghost Light (the last Classic Who shot); Stuart Fell played dozens of monsters over the years; and it’s only bloody John Leeson, who voiced K9!



8. Duel

By Terry Nation

This is a fun change of pace. While investigating a mysterious planet (oh look, another one) the Liberator is ambushed by Federation ships. A nearly hopeless standoff between Blake and Travis is interrupted when the inhabitants of said planet freeze their ships, kidnap Blake and Travis and force them to fight to the death on the surface, the winner to be sent safely on their way. I say “change of pace” because Travis has unwittingly brought the Federation into a random story-of-the-week episode, and normally we just get one or the other. In terms of originality, it would have considerably more impact if Terry Nation hadn’t ripped it off wholesale from Star Trek. (There are still some Nation-y touches, such as when the aliens speak of their nuclear war that left successive generations horribly mutated. God, Terry, let it go.)

It’s hard to really fault the episode beyond whether or not it’s a new idea. It’s quite exciting. The aliens (a young and old one) are played by Isla Blair and Patsy Smart, and although they’re trotting out very familiar “see how wicked humans can be” dialogue it’s believably underpinned with centuries of weariness. The forest location may not be as striking as Vasquez Rocks but the night filming looks great; it’s a pity about the noticeable green screen in a few of Travis’s scenes, presumably added later.

Another way this differs from Arena is that the combatants are not alone, with Jenna accompanying Blake and a Federation mutant with Travis. Jenna is pretty thankless as usual - I’m not trying to pick on Sally Knyvette here, there’s just very little character to work with. The “mutoid” is low-key a vampire of some kind, and it says some interesting things about the Federation that they employ them. She makes a few attempts to feed on Jenna but, fortunately or otherwise, fails. We’re probably meant to enjoy the difference between Blake’s regard for Jenna (rescuing her) and Travis’s disinterest in the mutoid (not bothered that she’s dead, nor glad when she’s revived), but this all seems pretty obvious from the outset. Hands up who was expecting Travis to be secretly nice?

It’s not quite the character piece it could have been, with Blake and Travis’s positions as entrenched by the end as they are at the start, but both are enjoyably game throughout. What all of this means to the aliens is up for debate; denied a bloody spectacle they just go on waiting to lecture other passers-by. The fight scene at the end looks rather good, and Avon typically gets in some witty thoughts about what to do in a crisis. Why shouldn’t he go for a nap when his friends are literally sat up a tree, as are their enemies? It doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. Whether or not he does, of course, is another matter for debate.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! It’s not so much a fight to the death as a fight to the falling over.

WHO’S WHO: Isla Blair would later turn up in The King’s Demons opposite Peter Davison; Patsy Smart previously played a memorable crone in The Talons Of Weng-Chiang.



9. Project Avalon

By Terry Nation

There’s a decent amount of plot in this one, but not a lot else. Blake and co. are meeting up with another rebel leader named Avalon. Unfortunately Travis already knows this and has her kidnapped. He knows Blake will try to break her out, so a duplicate Avalon is created to go back with him, kill the lot of them and leave the Liberator for the Federation. All of that happens up to a point.

I’m not sure what else I was expecting. I mean, it’s not bad: there’s some excitement in Blake’s rescue attempt, though it includes The Oldest Trick In The Book (pretending to be hostages), and there’s a satisfying stand off at the end when Blake comes back for the real Avalon, taking the newly reprogrammed duplicate to see how Travis and co. like it. There’s some atmospheric filming in Wookey Hole to stand in for an alien cave system - what else is it for? - and it’s really cool to find another resistance leader like Blake. We don’t get to know Avalon here, and almost all of her followers get betrayed and killed, but it’s good to expand this conflict beyond just Blake and Travis. The actual conflict is very much in a holding pattern; I find myself hoping for more Federation wins, so we can reduce the number of episodes that end with Travis feebly protesting that he’ll get you next time, Gadget.

As usual there are a few catty barbs (and depressingly little else) from Avon, at one point countering the question of intelligent life on the ice planet below with “Is there any on the Liberator?” Terry Nation phones in said planet, though, with a sought after resource imaginatively called “ice crystals” and unseen subterranean life forms called, wait for it, Subterons. But everything in Project Avalon is here to service a straightforward game of pass the parcel. This includes another appearance from Servalan, so it’s not a total loss.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Avalon’s followers get gunned down; an artificial virus is shown killing a man, although he seems fine with it; Avalon’s one surviving colleague is seen with a bloodied face before keeling over, dead.

WHO’S WHO: David Bailie went memorably mad in The Robots Of Death, plus playing the Celestial Toymaker for Big Finish; Wookey Hole deserves an honorary mention.



10. Breakdown

By Terry Nation

Poor old Gan. His limiter implant stops him killing people and, given how much of his space career consists of fighting, he therefore spends most episodes loitering on the Liberator. This week his limiter goes on the fritz leading to him trying to murder everyone. You might think this means we’ll get an episode all about Gan, but no: he spends most of it on an operating table and the rest inexplicably snarling as he goes after his crewmates.

It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Okay, he’s a lot more violent all of a sudden, but he seems to be smiling as he does it, well aware of his attempts to get out of his restraints and do harm. Where did that come from? When the limiter is inevitably fixed everything just goes back to normal, the episode ending on lame banter and everyone smiling as if Gan hadn’t randomly turned into Mr Hyde. Is he really a nice guy then, or just a raging psycho kept in check by that bit of Lego in his hair?

The main thrust of the episode is in fixing him, but the nearest help is on the other side of some unexplained space wiffwaff, leading Zen to nope out of proceedings in protest. The crew just about manage to pilot the ship there, but Avon has had enough and decides to stay on the space station afterwards. (It’s hard to disagree with him: Paul Darrow plays it like that one wildly overqualified IT guy who works there until a better offer comes along, then leaves and suddenly no one knows how anything works.)

The station is “independent”, but all the same Blake pretends they’re a Federation ship. (You wonder why he didn’t just say they were civilians, it’s a less obvious lie.) They snag a talented doctor to work on Gan, except he has twigged who Blake is and intends to warn the Federation and wait for backup. It’s interesting seeing the propaganda at work: the doctor believes Blake is a murdering psycho, his assistant thinks otherwise. Vila and Avon end up threatening them to get the operation finished in time, which seems to further both arguments. (His assistant at this point struggles to justify their own behaviour in endangering Gan’s life, let alone the Liberator’s supposed crimes.) For whatever reason Terry Nation can’t leave it at that and the doctor - on returning to the station - murders his impartial boss for trying to prevent him destroying the Liberator. The last shot before the Federation mistakenly blows them up is of the doctor staring madly at his hands. Okay, so he’s crazy, and the debate is now less interesting. Brilliant.

Of course Avon decides not to leave - the doctor wouldn’t have stood for it and in any case the station is gone now. Will he still leave at the next available opportunity? Is Gan remotely safe to be around? Does the Liberator have an unlimited supply of teleport bracelets, given they let the doctor and his assistant use some to get home? Breakdown is one of those episodes that starts interesting conversations with no idea how to finish them.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Gan strangles Cally after he easily convinced her to lower his restraints. If only she was telepathic! Ah well.

WHO’S WHO: The pompous doctor is Julian Glover, well known for playing Richard the Lionheart opposite Hartnell and Scaroth in City Of Death, the show’s then-highest rated story. Ian Thompson played a Menoptera in The Web Planet. Sorry, I shouldn’t have done him last.



11. Bounty
By Terry Nation

It’s back to work for Blake and co. as they attempt to bring a deposed ex-President back to his planet to turn things against the Federation. This is a bit like the one with Avalon (who we never saw again) only this time, Blake has a specific purpose for the rescued man. Not that President Sarkoff actually wants to be rescued: he lives in a castle with all his favourite things and pretty much can’t be bothered any more. A surprising amount of the episode is just Blake saying please, please, please before growing impatient and smashing some of his stuff. You would hope that Blake, the great resistance leader, could put forward a more persuasive argument.

The production takes a turn for the worse in this one, or at least fails to perk up, as this apparently alien planet includes a refurbished castle and a vintage roadster. Sarkoff dresses like an eccentric from, funnily enough, 1970s England. (They do at least give him a fixation with antiques to cover most of this.) Blake’s 7 is fundamentally about humans so it makes sense that we’re not seeing mega-weird Planet Zog every week, but choices like this push it further away from science fiction altogether. It just feels like a show with a generic toy box of BBC resources to play with.

While Blake and Cally are away (Cally making good use of her telepathy, aka sending Blake one-way communications, which I’m sure could ONLY be done telepathically), stupidity abounds on the Liberator. They receive a distress call and Gan suggests going over to investigate. Avon doesn’t object hard enough to this obviously fishy situation, but perhaps he’s still concerned Gan might snap and kill them all. Sure enough it’s a trap and the people behind it use a fake voice print to convince Avon (of all people!) to bring them aboard. Zen realises it’s a trap but only bothers to tell Vila, and moments too late. It’s not a great operation they’re running here. Somebody needs to give Zen a serious talking to.

It turns out they are bounty hunters looking to sell the Liberator to the Federation. Jenna seemingly switches sides, so when Blake and Cally return to a seemingly empty ship she hands them over too. It’s probably meant to be a real mystery as to whether she’s betrayed them, but it isn’t, and Jenna almost singlehandedly beats up the invaders while Avon and co. escape. The whole thing is slightly embarrassing and a bit offensive, with stereotyped Arabian thieves again showing blinkered imagination from the producers.

We end with a now proud Sarkoff returning to his people (he’s not in it again so good luck with that I guess), and the now traditional giving away of teleport bracelets. There’s also some feeble romantic banter with Sarkoff’s daughter being friendly towards Blake, which annoys Jenna. Honestly, I could not ship these two less. Blake only occasionally remembers to be interesting and Jenna almost never is; watching them anaemically moon at each other is like watching teachers flirt.

Tired and silly for the most part, this is technically another step towards an anti-Federation rebellion, but all the important stuff is happening off screen. What we do get isn’t anyone’s finest hour.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Nowt. It’s harmless.

WHO’S WHO: T.P. McKenna would later appear in The Greatest Show In The Galaxy. It’s better than this.



12. Deliverance

By Terry Nation

At this point I don’t know what the Federation are so worried about. Blake and his gang are useless.

Spotting a ship crashing into a planet, the Liberator rushes to its aid, hoping to pick up the two life pods it fired before burning up. On arrival it turns out only one occupant survived; he’s transported to their medical bay (even though they don’t have a doctor) and starts ranting about how he needs to reach his father on the planet Aristo. Blake seems happy enough to take him, but first off they’ve left Jenna on the planet and only just noticed (!) so Blake needs to wait for his crew to find her. This isn’t fast enough for their passenger, who holds Cally hostage and demands they go now. So off they go, where they were headed anyway, because they can’t stop a random passenger taking one of them hostage.

Meanwhile on the planet, which we fascinatingly learn was ruined by nuclear war and some of the survivors have been mutated (where does he get his ideas from?), Jenna has been easily kidnapped by cavemen. Avon, Gan and Vila find a bunker occupied by a devout lady (and seemingly no one else?) who believes Avon was sent by the gods to save her people and instantly worships him. Her “people” are genetic samples stored aboard a rocket that she (and anyone else she lives with - guys?) has forgotten how to work. In short order, they rescue Jenna, launch the rocket at some random planet and seemingly leave the woman to stay in her bunker surrounded by angry cavemen. You’re welcome.

The whole thing is just a random diversion from the actual plot, which is that passenger needing to get to his father on the planet Aristo, which in turn has something to do with Orac. In a few cutaways we see that Servalan really wants Orac - whatever that is - and sends Travis to retrieve it. But that’s all they do in this episode. Meanwhile Blake’s pointlessly angry passenger keels over and Blake, after retrieving his crew, still agrees to go and get Orac. So why bother taking hostages. Cally even says to the doomed idiot that the Liberator is faster than his ship, so they will still get there quicker their way. But no.

From the dazzling mind that brought you Yet Another Planet Of The Mutos, this is clearly just a load of padding before the final episode. It would be nice if we took opportunities like this to make Blake’s 7 look like a competent team or even clearly define what they’re for, but at this point no one seems to know.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! A bit of a rumble with cavemen. Meh.

WHO’S WHO: Disproportionately angry passenger Tony Caunter did a few Whos opposite Hartnell, Pertwee and Davison.



13. Orac

By Terry Nation

Okay, Terry: if you’re going to spend/waste an entire episode building up to this, fine. As long as it’s exciting. Let’s see:

They went and got Orac.

That’s it, that’s the final episode.

Rewind a bit. In Deliverance the Liberator rescued a man whose father, Ensor, was dying and in need of microchips. Ensor also invented Orac which is something Servalan is willing to pay a great deal for - but she’ll also send Travis just to steal the thing. Ensor’s son died but Blake and co. go to save his father anyway. En route they discover that most of them caught radiation sickness in the previous episode. (Which is a nice carry over since they told us the planet was irradiated, but in real terms it just gives Jenna, Avon, Gan and Vila an excuse to stay on the Liberator. Again.) Ensor is a genius so he should be able to cure them. Unbeknownst to them, Travis and Servalan are personally headed to Aristo to get Orac. It’s technically a race against time, but since neither party knows the other one is after Orac right now, it doesn’t feel like it. Odd choice.

The rest of it is just getting from A to B. Ensor is likeable enough, a fustery old scientist talking to his fish and his plants. The planet is yet another quarry/dump, although it does come with Doctor Who-ish amphibians called - oh Christ, Terry, really? - Phibians. Soon enough Ensor introduces Blake to Orac, aka a smug supercomputer. “Don’t they already have one of those?”, you ask. Yes. Yes they do. (When it comes to adding superfluous main characters, I wonder where this ranks among “telepath who can’t hear your thoughts” and “muscly guy who can’t kill anyone”.)

I’m not sure how I feel about Travis and Servalan dealing with this one personally. Of course they’re the face of the Federation by now, and both actors are proven MVPs, but the series has done so little to further the overall menace of the Federation that it feels like it’s just a couple of nasty people in natty clothes with optional henchmen. So, no different to any sci-fi villains. Worse, seeing them fail AGAIN makes a pretty poor case for the prolonged conflict.

And look, I know Blake is our hero, but how many times is he going to refuse to kill the bad guy before it bites him? He’s not Doctor Who. He’s not even Gan, who can’t do it and always seems annoyed about that - so why should Blake be so squeamish? The whole premise of the show is that he and his gang are not your average good guys. Right? Except it’s not, is it. It’s Robin Hood in space, and they’re all just misunderstood, bless them. Well all except Avon. At this point - gun toting, calculating, mutinous, the smartest guy in the room - he’s the only character who fits the morally grey ethos of the first two episodes. Hopefully he’ll get more to do.

Anyway, Ensor dies because Blake and Cally couldn’t get him to the Liberator fast enough (another win, well done lads!) but they get to keep Orac, who can predict the future as well as know everything. He gives them a gloomy prediction about the Liberator being destroyed. Experience suggests he’s wrong, but let’s face it, logic is on his side. It’s only a matter of time before one of them presses the Self Destruct button by mistake.

This last episode is... ehh. It’s here, the plot happens. (There’s so little of it, Blake does a video recap of last week’s events for Avon, who was also there. During those events where little of importance also happened.) Incredibly after 13 episodes we still seems to be setting up elements of the show, but at least that’s done now. Please.

Blake’s 7 is creaking like hell at this point, badly in need of other creative voices. Fortunately they are coming.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! The Phibians would get laughs even on Doctor Who. Pass.

WHO’S WHO: Derek Farr (Ensor / the voice of Orac) is the only proper guest star and incredibly, didn’t do any Doctor Who!

BLAKE’S... 8, I guess, with Orac?

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