Sunday 30 June 2024

Blake's 7: Series Four

Right. It's the end. Here we go...


1. Rescue
By Chris Boucher

So here we are again, another series having ended with a massive change to the status quo. After a death-or-glory war threatened to destroy the Federation, Series Three never quite figured out what to do next. Now Series Four finds the Liberator destroyed. Where do we go now? And can we hitch a lift?

Rescue picks up almost immediately with Avon and Dayna investigating the ship Servalan left behind. As you might have guessed, it’s booby trapped. Meanwhile the others are still escaping the underground laboratories of Terminal - hang on, if Avon and Dayna are out then what’s the hold up? - only a little too slowly. The place explodes and Cally is killed.

You’re probably imagining something exciting there. Lol, no. We hear a voice, there is a bang, and in a subsequent scene Avon confirms her death. That’s it. No send off for Jan Chappell, and no one even mourns. Look, Cally was at best a character with potential that was never fully realised - what’s the point of a psychic who can’t read minds? But she had some genuinely strong episodes last series and she was at least more interesting than Jenna, so it’s a shame to toss her away just as offhandedly. Presumably they couldn’t get the actor back so they were stuck - again. And obviously the fourth series came as a surprise to everyone, and they were a hair’s breadth from ending on Terminal, so why would all the actors be available? But knowing all that doesn’t suddenly make this satisfying.

Anyway, wouldn’t you know it, a ship arrives. And this one works. The cheery pilot (Dorian) is looking for salvage, but Avon and co are more interested in commandeering his vessel, which coincidentally has a teleport facility and lots of guns, so it would do nicely. (What a stroke of luck!) This whole sequence of events is a bit jarring. Dorian’s nice enough and he might even help them. He actually saves a few of their lives on the planet. So why all the shouting and gun-pointing? As the planet breaks up (sure, why not) the fancifully-named Scorpio departs. It’s preprogrammed to go to Dorian’s home world, which for some reason sets them all on edge. I guess they’re having a bad day?

When they arrive, Dorian and his partner Soolin are reasonable hosts, although they respond in kind to having guns pointed at them. But it seems like they might reach some kind of arrangement. To be honest, the episode starts treading water here. (Apart from some really good model work when Scorpio lands. Gerry Anderson would approve!) And then Chris Boucher remembers he’s Chris Boucher, and it all gets a bit weird.

Dorian has an evil plan, you see. He’s got this secret lair underground with a strange monster lurking in it, and when he goes down there he suddenly becomes really old. (Only not every time, for some reason.) And this Dorian guy, yeah, catchy name that, it turns out this Dorian looks younger than he is. Eh? Do-ri-an? Nudge nudge? And eventually he tries to turn Avon, Tarrant, Dayna and even Soolin into a gestalt (see, monster) that will age instead of him, and absorb his... sins, I guess.

Well, it’s very original, isn’t it? Where does he get his ideas from?

It’s not like there’s anything wrong with doing a spin on Dorian Gray, but it would help if it didn’t seem completely out of left field. There’s just bugger all in the first half of the episode to tell us Dorian is anything other than a cheeky salvage guy. Why has he gone to all this trouble to round up this specific group of people? Why do I have so much trouble buying that Soolin wouldn’t have noticed anything strange going on here? And why does the episode grind to a halt the second they (easily) dispatch Dorian, pausing only for a shit joke from Vila? The whole thing feels uncomfortably like Chris Boucher wrote the crew away from Terminal and then, job done, made up the rest as he went along, hurriedly rewriting the salvage guy so he meant to pick them up all along. A horror pastiche fills the minutes as well as anything else I suppose, but this is a particularly cheap and silly one. (The monster is literally a Doctor Who Sea Devil, painted black.)

A sloppy crew reshuffle, a new ship only marginally less convenient than the Liberator, and a random B-plot from the horror bargain bin. It’s not much of a mission statement, is it? Also, you can keep the more-professional-yet-somehow-more-boring starting credits, thank you very much. And the laughable lounge music remix of the end credits. What were they thinking?

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! “Mummy, daddy, why are you crying? And where’s Cally?”

WHO’S WHO: Does the Sea Devil count?

BLAKE’S... 5. Bye, Cally.

2. Power
By Ben Steed

Shit a brick, it’s Ben Steed again. What are the odds that he’ll make it a full 50 minutes without writing women as subservient to men? He might as well be trolling us at this point, because his latest includes a literal battle of the sexes. CAN YOU GUESS WHO WINS.

Still trapped on Dorian’s planet, our heroes are frustratingly stuck on the other side of a door to their new spaceship. The door is rigged to set off a nuclear explosive within 48 hours unless it’s unlocked properly - and the person with the combination died in the last episode. Meanwhile, Avon has taken a stroll on the planet to get some crystals (he’s always after crystals or rocks - dude missed his calling as a mineralogist), and he runs into a tribe of Saxon-type men, because god forbid anyone living on another planet ever look like they live on another planet. To be fair though, it’s later established that they were an advanced society who reset to barbarism after of a war. (This is such a well-worn Doctor Who trope that I barely noticed the story doesn’t actually do anything with it.)

Somehow a conflict has arisen between two tribes that are, wait for it, men vs women. And the women are dying out. The female “Seskas” at least have telekinesis on their side, mainly thanks to Dorian whose illustrious back story continues to be rewritten and embellished by the minute. The leader of the male “Hommiks” is suitably unpleasant, but he also gets some fun dialogue (when he fails to remember some traditional fighting talk) and is apparently in love with his wife - no, really, they get on and everything, he just pretends to knock her about. She refuses to be a Seska and is sad when a fight to the death ends his life. Meanwhile another Seska, Pella, wants the Scorpio for herself. She has a few run-ins with Avon, who at one point reminds her that men are always stronger than women (which he concedes isn’t exactly fair) and in the end, successfully kills her in a duel. Like Doctor Who at the end of an inevitable massacre, he muses that battles of the sexes never end well.

Charitable hat on: for all that this one goes on and on about sex (so to speak), and it does so even more than Ben Steed’s other episodes, it is probably the least offensive about it. Avon’s “Men Are Better” line can fuck off to infinity, of course, it doesn’t really suit that cold but ultimately quite objective character, but elsewhere the story doesn’t actively demoralise women. The leader of the Hommiks is more actually-a-nice-guy than rapist-you-can’t-help-but-like. The episode doesn’t approve of the fighting either.

But, but, but - why the fighting in the first place? Yes, the leader of the Hommiks and his wife Nina were apparently happy, but it’s a fair assumption that isn’t the same deal the rest of the Seskas were looking at. These are barbarians. Is Avon’s point, in the end, that we shouldn’t fight or that women shouldn’t fight?

It would be great, wouldn’t it, if after several episodes of snarling misogyny Ben Steed turned out to be trying, albeit cack-handedly, to demonise this stuff. But he’s the one that keeps going back to it, in a series that otherwise includes women in its main cast, including one as the ruler of the galaxy. Sorry, but I’ll need more evidence than this to think he’s finally in therapy. Besides, if you endlessly write the same misogynist conflict, the law of averages may eventually make it look like you meant well.

After all that stuff with the two tribes, whatever that meant, and a showdown with Pella, Avon finally has the Scorpio. (Or is it just “Scorpio”? That sounds worse, so probably yeah.) It has a fancy teleporter, which looks better than the last one, and the computer is less pompous than Zen. (Avon seems happy about this, but Orac is the insufferable one and he’s still around.) I’ve no idea what Avon or the rest of them want to achieve using the Scorpio, but then why change the habit of a lifetime? All I can hope for are some decent episodes.

Just before the ghastly end credits (I’ll try to stop mentioning it but jesus, it sounds like a game show now), Soolin pops up from wherever she was hiding to join the crew. I suppose it would have been too much to hope for Mr Definitely A Secret Feminist to actually do something to establish her character. Imagine my surprise that in the world of Ben Steed, this apparently formidable lady gunslinger spends the whole thing in a cupboard.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! The usual clumsy fight choreography means the fights-to-the-death wouldn’t upset a toddler. A man gets randomly show in the chest with a crossbow, I guess.

WHO’S WHO: Dicken Ashworth, high mucky-muck of the Hommicks, would meet Paul Darrow again in a worse place than a fight to the death: he was in Timelash. Also you can spot Pat Gorman here under a fake beard and wig.

BLAKE’S... 7 again, with Soolin and Slave.

3. Traitor
By Robert Holmes

Why, it’s Robert Hoooolmes! Who better to help Blake’s 7 settle (once again) into a new normal. The gang have a spaceship (it’s definitely just “Scorpio”, no “the”), so now what?

Avon notices that the Federation seems to be making great strides at the old conquering lark, and investigates the planet Helotrix. A rebel force is being slowly whittled away by a group of obsequious, evilly-dressed guys who calmly eat dinner and play chess (ooh, clever) whilst having them dispatched. They’re good at “altering” people, aka brainwashing. We spend a fair bit of time with this lot and the rebels. Some of it’s quite pleasant - the casual dinner banter of villains, the for once very impressive “alien” location - but sorry to say, it gets dull fast. The rebels talk about rebel stuff. The baddies plan baddie stuff. What’s new? Why should we specifically care about this conflict, or these people?

Add to this, the plot seems to rumble along quite happily without the Liberator. (Oops, force of habit. But on that subject, isn’t Scorpio cramped and boring to look at?) Avon and co. evade some spaceships we don’t see. Tarrant and Dayna go to the surface to give the rebels a hand. They meet, among others, a terminally ill guy who plans to blow up his mysterious boss at the first opportunity. More or less interesting I guess, but again it doesn’t need the regulars in order to happen, so um. Good luck with that mate?

Turns out his boss is Servalan, who isn’t dead and oh who even cares how she got out of that one? After learning about the Federation’s use of drugs to conquer planets (I missed how that works, possibly dozed off) and getting a sample of an antidote, our heroes bugger off to fight Servalan another day. Fin.

So. This new normal. It’s quite a lot like the old one, isn’t it? Only this time we forget to give the gang anything to do that isn’t already happening without them. There’s scarcely any trademark Robert Holmes wit, besides Avon firing a broadside at Blake’s belief in people. It’s just a boring bunch of stuff with some ideas just sitting there. All a bit shit so far, isn’t it?

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Nah, they’re fine.

WHO’S WHO: Slimy but civilised Christopher Neame was in that unfinished story we can’t stop finishing, Shada. George Lee had minor roles in two Pertwee stories. David Quilter was in New Who - The Unicorn & The Wasp, as a butler - if that counts?

4. Stardrive
By Jim Follett

Four episodes in, it’s dawning on Avon that his new ship isn’t quite as good as the old one. 

Scorpio needs fuel. In order to sneak past some Federation patrols to a fuel source Avon tries hitching a ride on an asteroid. I think it’s a a neat idea (The Empire Strikes Back used it) but everyone yells at him that it’s a terrible idea actually, and then they damage the ship in the attempt. Whoops.

Temporarily crippled, Scorpio is almost blown up by some Federation raiders, except a mysterious something shoots them first. After wasting their time asking Orac what it was (he insists they figure it out for themselves - chuck him in a bin already), they realise it was an incredibly fast ship with an engine they could make use of. The only trouble is, it’s being flown by Space Rats: thrill junkies with punk hairdos who inexplicably strike terror into everyone they meet. (Is it the hair?) Avon sets a course for the planet where these engines are tested, hoping to steal parts.

That’s pretty much it for plot. The Space Rats don’t make loads of sense as test pilots - yes they’re good at flying fast ships, but as everyone keeps saying, they are also “psychopaths”. (Not sure I agree with that, but they’re obviously dangerous.) The hair is pretty impressive. So much that it’s a bit surprising that their leader Atlan needs to be so over the top - he’s achieved that just by going to hair and makeup!

Dr Plaxton is the brains behind the engines and has an uneasy working relationship with them. When Avon and co storm the place, which involves a very poorly directed scene where Atlan uses Soolin to escape and for some reason no one shoots him, Plaxton agrees to go with them. More fool her: after plugging in the new drive Avon deliberately activates it while she’s still inside. Turns out she was aiming the word “psychopath” in the wrong direction.

It’s one of those episodes where all I can do is summarise the plot. Is any of it interesting? Not massively: there’s a bit where Dayna tries to pretend she and Vila know Dr Plaxton to avoid getting killed, and this confusingly works even though Plaxton’s adamant she doesn’t know them. There’s a sort of car chase in (need you ask) a quarry, which looks all right. Avon’s total disregard for killing Plaxton moments after she helped them of her own volition is probably interesting, what with it being indistinguishable from something Servalan would do. I hate it, though. I’m all for making these characters anti-heroes - it is Blake’s 7 after all - but this is just a random bit of darkness and not a good look.

Um. Overall it’s fine I guess. It’s an episode where they need a new engine and then they get it. Terribly exciting.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Avon’s cruelty at the end is a bit brisk, innit.

WHO’S WHO: Dr Plaxton was in Planet Of Fire. A couple of the Space Rats have had minor Who roles.

5. Animals
By Allan Prior


Look, I know they weren’t expecting to make a fourth series, so there’s bound to be a bit of filler until they can figure out where the story’s going. But can’t they at least make some decent episodes in the meantime? The best thing you can say about Animals is that it’s hardly the first Blake’s 7 episode where the goodies and the baddies all want something, and nobody gets it. In that way it’s... sort of?... classic Blake’s 7? But there’s no longer a “war is hell” feeling to underpin that. At this point in the series they can’t be bothered to show a society ruled by the Federation, ergo what’s being fought for, so Servalan and co. just look like random heavies whom Avon and co. randomly hate. (That’s why Avon’s recent callousness over Dr Plaxton’s death seemed so awful: if it’s not for anything, then your anti-heroes are just some other pricks.) Even in being similar to previous episodes, Animals epitomises the show’s current lack of definition.

Okay, plot time: Dayna goes to visit a scientist and ex-teacher in the hopes that his expertise will somehow be useful to the fight against the Federation. His work revolves around animals - they get the title into the script so often, there must be a bet on - which in practical terms means extras dressed like grunting, Nordic Gruffaloes. The aim is to make them immune to radiation, which will help rebuild stuff destroyed in the war. Problem being the scientist, Justin, has mutilated them for it to work. Despite killing several of them on sight, Dayna is understandably upset.

Well, at first. It’s immediately made clear that Justin - many years her senior - has a thing for Dayna, and she - despite having never mentioned him? - more or less reciprocates. The whole teacher-pupil thing is creepy and misjudged as hell, and Dayna’s affections go from “I am disgusted that he would do this to these animals” to “I love him” with unconvincing speed. I can more or less fathom Justin feeling like his ship’s come in, after all he lives on a planet with a bunch of cavemen and then Dayna shows up. But the relationship, even before you get into how inappropriate is the age gap, doesn’t convince.

And... it’s the cornerstone of the episode. Servalan (still sticking with the alias “Sleer” and wanting people dead if they recognise her, even though she has Servalan’s job and does Servalan things and looks like Servalan and everything) wants the radiation-proof animals, so she comes and kidnaps Dayna. Skipping right over the whole “you killed my father” business, which should by rights make any Dayna-Servalan scenes sparkle - oh well! - she brainwashes Dayna to “hate” Justin. This somehow translates into making her follow specific commands and betray him. Kidnapping them both then goes wrong when Avon and co. arrive and attack, and Justin is killed. The episode ends with Dayna - who 40 minutes ago was “disgusted” by his animal experimentation - cradling his corpse and woodenly mooing his name. As is typical, Avon orders a quick teleport because lol he don’t care and then that’s that. I felt nothing. I mean, well, a bit annoyed?

It’s just stupid. Adjacent to all this, Scorpio has been damaged (despite the super fast engine a woman died to activate last week - oh well!) so Avon, Vila and co. spend the episode repairing it. All of this is just irrelevant business: nothing to do with the plot. We also spend time with Servalan, trying to wheedle information on the animal experiments whilst preserving her anonymity which, I dunno, maybe you could try a different haircut or something? But it’s all filler since, once again, they’re all going home empty handed. Even Ogg, the hilariously unimaginatively named animal/caveman, dies anyway.

So. It’s shit, again. I’m getting a bit bored of this now.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! The whole business with Justin feels like an information film on inappropriate relations.

WHO’S WHO? Kevin Stoney in the house! Playing a different character to his last B7 episode - which is a bit odd as the plot goes to some lengths to avoid him seeing Servalan. William Lindsay was one of the vampires in State Of Decay. Max Harvey was in Arc Of Infinity.

6. Headhunter
By Roger Parkes

I’ve previously moaned that if this show isn’t going to have a point, it might as well put out some decent episodes. Headhunter is... sort of one of those? Self contained and of little use to the series as a whole, at least it’s fairly fun. Also a bit ridiculous.

Avon and co. are hoping to recruit Muller, a genius (yes, another one) in the field of robotics. All seems to go well, give or take knocking someone out at their lab, except there’s a mysterious box he really doesn’t want brought aboard. Tarrant insists on bringing it anyway. There is an altercation over this and Muller is apparently killed by Vila. They freeze his body on the off chance and take the box home, but going near it seems to cause problems onboard Scorpio, such as Slave getting uppity (er, perhaps I should rephrase that). Soon the ship is adrift and Avon (back at base) must intercede.

Well, it turns out that’s not Muller after all, it’s the robot Muller’s been working on. (And Vila hasn’t killed it.) Without the inhibitor built for it by Muller it will just go around controlling other machines and killing people. It really wants to combine with Orac, who is surprisingly keen to avoid killing all humans; he demands he be switched off and hidden. A run-away-from-the-killer-robot movie ensues.

This one’s all atmosphere, which helps as there’s nothing much for the characters to do. There’s Orac backing the good guys for a change, though not before a few infected moments where he pleads with them to hail their new robot masters. Soolin almost makes herself useful by carrying Orac around; at this point in the show Glynis Barber is a very likeable presence but I’ve yet to see the benefit of her character. Paul Darrow has some dramatic stares and flourishes; he almost selling a ridiculous spacesuit with sheer hammy presence. There’s some all right banter with Vila. And at the end, contrary to previous episode endings where Avon coldly dismisses someone not getting what they want or dying, he’s denied the killer robot he wanted because his gang blow it up. Serves him right.

The other thing going for Headhunter is the main idea. That box contains the robot’s inhibitor... and its head. As for the one on its neck when Tarrant picked it up, thinking it was Muller? Yeah, that was Muller’s. (The real guy is decapitated back at the base.) I’ve no idea how this works, but it’s such a grotesque image that it turns what might have been a simple rampaging robot into a bizarre identity crisis. It gives you something to think about, even if that thing is “yuck”.

It’s creepy. It’s silly. It passed an hour, I suppose.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! The headless robot looks a bit silly in some shots, and we don’t see Miller’s decapitated corpse, but the implication is there and it’s horrible.

WHO’S WHO? Lynda Bellingham plays Muller’s soon to be disappointed partner; she was the Inquisitor in Trial Of A Time Lord.

7. Assassin
By Rod Beacham

It’s another self-contained bit of business this week, with a plot that seems creakily obvious for one reason and then turns out to be thumpingly obvious for another. I... guess that’s sort of clever?

Servalan has put a hit out on our heroes: the mysterious assassin Cancer is coming for them. (That’s not a metaphor, it’s literally a person.) What to do? Avon suggests they go on the offensive and head to his last known location. Naturally this is a dismal quarry. (Do they even use different ones any more?) Avon ends up a slave, and befriends a kindly old man who says he saw the assassin’s ship take off recently. He then begs Avon to take him away.

I bet you think you’ve got the plot sussed now, don’t you? Well anyway, Nebrox and Avon make it out of there and they follow Cancer’s trail to his spaceship, which is patiently waiting for them. The assassin and a random slave woman named Piri are aboard. They quickly capture the man, and Tarrant befriends the kindly woman who begs him to take her away.

Credit where it’s due, the episode presents us with two unbelievably suspicious randomers who might be the killer. Neither of them really makes sense as anything else, which helps keep us in suspense, albeit by shortchanging both of them as characters. It then just becomes a waiting game until one of them shows their hand. Depressingly this doesn’t take long, when sommmmeone kills Nebrox.

At this point Avon, Tarrant and Soolin (still aboard Cancer’s ship for some reason) still think that bloke they captured is the killer, and now he’s loose on the ship. Tarrant is totally enamoured with the dippy, simpering Piri, because reasons, which means a lot of Steven Pacey doing his silly big-boy-voice. We also get some embarrassing commentary on female stereotypes when Soolin slaps the hysterical woman and Tarrant insists she’s “jealous”. (?) At this point you’re praying Piri’s the killer just so all that “I’m just a poor stupid girl” stuff can go in the bin where it belongs.

Avon makes the point that splitting up in a stranger’s ship would be just what they wanted, but for some reason they do it anyway. And before you know it we’re in the final act: Avon is tied to a slab and Piri has gone from unconvincingly half-witted girl to unconvincingly smug, but convincingly irritating killer. (It is not, all things considered, one for Caroline Holdaway’s demo reel.) She mocks him for being taken in by her which, well, yeah, it is rather out of character now that you mention it. When the hell was Avon ever swayed by a blubbering girl? Or a kindly old man, for that matter. He’s a total bastard! Three episodes ago he joked when a female scientist died after he turned the engines on too soon. The whole episode is a bit, really?!, as far as Avon is concerned.

Naturally Avon and co. get out of it, and Cancer’s apt choice of weapon - a poisonous artificial crab-that-is-really-more-of-a-spider, which is exactly as cumbersome and silly as it sounds - ends up killing her. We may at least be spared Servalan for an episode or two, seeing as she thinks they all died when her men blew up Cancer’s ship. The director spares us the terrible confusion of seeing how they got out of it without her noticing.

It’s cookie cutter stuff, and it could take place at any point in the series. (Apart from a bit where Dayna nearly kills Servalan because of their shared history. Naturally she ballses it up and then sulks about it.) Assassin does manage to wrong foot the viewer by playing an obvious trick twice. And on the plus side, someone has given the editors a tool for fades and wipes, which they overuse with heroic aplomb. Really though, this is dross.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! A fake crab explodes at the end.

WHO’S WHO? Suspiciously helpful old person Richard Hurndall doubled for William Hartnell in The Five Doctors. Also Adam Blackwood is in this - I didn’t spot him - later known for being one of a number of rather odd subterranean goose-fanatics in The Trial Of A Timelord.

8. Games
By Bill Lyons

In Games, Avon and co. set their sights on some feldon crystals - a hugely powerful resource used by the Federation. Their aim is probably to inconvenience the Federation in some way, which makes a nice change from aimlessly farting around from quarry to quarry. The man controlling the supply is Belkov, and he is well aware of how much power he wields. Over the course of the episode he plays Avon and - of course, sigh - Servalan for chumps as he tries to get away from the now barren planet with his life. (Yes, the planet is a quarry.)

Stratford Johns plays Belkov, and it’s a great performance. Most of his scenes are with his computer, Gambit, who as the title suggests is largely built to play games. By the end of the episode a believable and complicated relationship exists between him and his computer. They’re the best scenes, surprisingly warm and funny.

As for the rest of it? Well, three guesses whether Avon gets his hands on any crystals. Ditto Servalan. But Vila has lots of fun moments, as the plot leans towards theft. Soolin gets to do something useful (win a “game” where you have to outshoot a mirror image of yourself) as does Tarrant (pilot a fancy flight simulator), but that’s all for nothing as there aren’t any crystals. Or maybe there are. The episode ends in a welter of technobabble about negatives, positives and black holes as Belkov’s ship is destroyed. Probably.

It’s definitely an entertaining episode, and I can count those on one hand at the moment. A fantastic guest performance here, and some okay ideas. Yay. As for the rest of it, prepare yourself for yet another quarry and another nil-nil draw.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Some Federation guards get killed by rather odd triangle knives. You see a bit of blood and everything!

WHO’S WHO? David Neal played the President in The Caves Of Androzani. Stratford Johns was a big frog in Four To Doomsday.

9. Sand
By Tanith Lee

The last episode by Tanith Lee involved dream sequences, possession and formless psychic monsters, so you’d be forgiven for expecting Sand to be a weird one. And it is, but perhaps not for the same reasons.

Servalan (oh, I’m surprised to see her here!) is off to investigate a planet for some reason. It went quiet five years ago; we can assume it has something of value to the Federation. Avon gets wind that a Federation ship is on its way to a place (incredibly he does not assume Servalan is aboard) and, on the off chance there’ll be something good there, he suggests they go as well. We’re scraping the barrel a bit now, aren’t we, for any sort of mission with these guys. Is this their life: hack Federation radio chatter and try to get dibs on any loot? Are they freedom fighters, pirates, or just terminally bored?

Anyway, the planet - not a quarry, but such cheap sets you’ll wish it was - is home to a lot of green sand. Servalan and a few men go looking for survivors, but something quickly kills them, or drives them mad. Tarrant teleports down with Dayna, who gets wounded and sent back up. Soon it’s just him and Servalan in an empty base. All around them there is stormy weather and shifting sands. (It’s at this point I thought “How can there be a storm if there are no clouds,” because there’s just a cheap backdrop of stars, fnar fnar. But the episode actually acknowledges this later on: those aren’t actually storms.)

We get a bit of character development for Servalan here, as she reveals she came here to check on an old lover. Also she’s been killing anyone who knows she’s Servalan, which seems like a waste of effort to me. (She was the President of the Federation. I think there might have been pictures.) Tarrant doesn’t grow much here - it seems there’s nothing to learn - but he does display a sudden Doctor Who-ish knack for solving mysteries. He figures out the sand has been killing people (don’t get smug, people-who-read-episode-titles), it uses the bodies as a well-preserved food source, and it always leaves a man and a woman alive to make more food supplies. I.e., all right you and you, get shagging.

I think it would be fair to say this is a bit of a reach, no? But Avon, more consistently a smarty pants, figures this out as well, so I guess it must be true. Whether because Tarrant is moved by Servalan’s tears, or whether he is certain the sand will kill him if he doesn’t get his end away right now, they pretty clearly do the deed. And look, this whole thing just raises questions, doesn’t it? How much does sand know about human mating? Could you both just wriggle about for a few minutes, say “that was sure some top sex work there, compadre” and be left in peace?

By this point Avon has also figured out / guessed and miraculously been correct that rain will kill the sand, and piloting Scorpio in a certain way will generate some. So, too late to prevent some Tarrant-Servalan boot knocking, he puts a brief stop to the sand’s saucy machinations, scoops up Tarrant and they’re off to their next tenuously Federation-aimed botherance.

In some ways all this isn’t as weird as the “Cally psychic possession” episode, but then again, the life cycle of an alien sand that basically exists to enable the plot of a sci-fi porno is not weirdness to be sniffed at. For good measure though, Soolin (of all characters!) randomly brings up the earlier episode, ‘cos guess who wrote that.

Academically interesting (if unlikely) plot bits, a good performance from Jacqueline Pearce, and an unfortunate pairing with Tarrant and his hair/teeth/lack of interesting qualities. Memorably weird counts for something at this point.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Sexxxx. (Off screen.)

WHO’S WHO? Stephen Yardley was a Muto in Genesis Of The Daleks, and an avid TV watcher in Vengeance On Varos. Daniel Hill was in Shada, but no one would see it until it came out on video a decade later. Peter Craze was Michael Craze - Ben’s brother, and in several stories. Jonathan David was in Attack Of The Cybermen.

10. Gold
By Colin Davis

Good one, good one, sound the good episode klaxon!

In Gold, Avon sets his sights on a caper that might actually work. A space cruise ship is transporting molecularly altered gold along with its passengers. With the help of his old friend Keiller (Roy Kinnear out of Willy Wonka) they will stop it being altered at the start of its journey, then steal it on the cruise ship. (All of which probably blah-blah-something-hurt-the-Federation-somehow.) Apart from an odd bit in the middle where Avon and Soolin fake their deaths to allay suspicion, it goes swimmingly - although they have to alter the plan on the hoof when they can’t turn the gold into back its regular state after all, so now they’ll have to steal it, then sell it.

Soon we’re on the cruise ship with Tarrant and Dayna posing as guests, Avon and Keiller doing the actual stealing. The heist bit is surprisingly tense, even down to the low-key music. Like all good heists it nearly all goes wrong at the end, and there’s a genuinely exciting moment where Avon is about to get blasted into space unless Vila teleports him in time.

It’s weird - I can’t fault any of this. The heist plot is very neatly worked out; the cruise ship is draped in enough muzak that we buy a few small sets as the whole thing; Roy Kinnear enlivens every scene, though we can’t help assuming he’ll try to betray them, since everybody does. You reach a point with the episode where you think, what can go wrong now?

By a strange coincidence this is also the point where you think Why Hasn’t Servalan Shown Up Yet, and sure enough these two are linked. To everyone but Avon’s UTTER SHOCK (for some reason) she is indeed the buyer they are going to meet. But she pays up - flirting outrageously with Avon, probably feeling embarrassed about her trip to Tarrant Land - and the crew get away with the money. Only for it to turn out that thanks to bad timing, their money is worthless and Servalan has come out on top. Tarrant puts this to Avon and he just laughs, presumably at Servalan’s gall.

It’s definitely annoying to once again have the crew attempt something that turns out to be a waste of time, and it’s a waste of words to go on about how none of them would have done all this if they knew Servalan was involved - she’s in it every week, Sherlocks, getting in each other’s business is all any of you do. But for once these are just niggles: Gold is a clever episode and it goes off almost without a hitch. Happy day!

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Keiller shoots an unarmed doctor who was quite nice.

WHO’S WHO? Norman Hartley (in here somewhere) was a Viking in The Time Meddler and a UNIT soldier in The Invasion.

11. Orbit
By Robert Holmes

This week, an old acquaintance of Avon’s has a proposition for him, but it turns out he’s working for Servalan and our heroes leave empty handed. Golly, where have I heard that before? Could it be... the previous episode? 

And yet, Orbit isn’t anything like Gold. In place of a cash heist we have a death ray being offered up in exchange for Orac. Instead of Roy Kinnear’s cheery blimp we have Corrie’s John Savident as Egrorian, an obsequious scientist, and because it’s a Robert Holmes script he’s part of a bickering double act, with his unfortunate 28-year-old servant Pinder having aged 50 years by accident. The two are tragic and very funny to behold.

Avon is no fool - I mean it’s about time he started remembering the plots week to week - so he finds a clever way to fake handing over Orac. Then it’s just a matter of escaping, but the small moon shuttle they’re using has been tampered with, and Egrorian is just waiting for them to crash so he can scoop up Orac and the death ray. It becomes a race against time to shift enough weight to break orbit and, unfortunately for Vila, it does occur to Avon that one less human body would do it. The moment where he weighs it up and then decides is a wordless triumph for Paul Darrow.

That sequence is probably everyone’s favourite bit, horrible as it is. Avon’s eerie “please come and help me” entreaties to a hiding, already crying Vila; it’ll be difficult to forget. It’s surprising to be reminded that these characters have enough grey areas for this to be plausible. At the last moment Avon thinks of something else and they both survive, but Vila has every reason never to be in a room with him again.

Series D doesn’t have a lot going for it but guest casting is a real strength: John Savident is fabulous here, particularly with Robert Holmes writing it. We don’t get much character development any more, but one scene with Avon and Vila does wonders. Yes, it’s getting ridiculously tedious having Servalan turn up every week, even more so never letting Avon achieve anything (he has to jettison the death ray), but apart from that Orbit handles its ingredients about as brilliantly as it could do.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Poor Pinder realises his friend isn’t looking out for him and irradiates the place, ageing them both to death.

WHO’S WHO? John Savident was in a previous Blake’s 7 episode (Trial, different character) but would also pop in Doctor Who as a Tudor who is promptly shot with lasers. (The Visitation.)

12. Warlord

By Simon Masters

Damn it. For a minute there it looks like Warlord will be the shot in the arm this series needs, but it’s not to be.

Avon has gathered a bunch of (you guessed it) warlords to form an alliance against the Federation. The plan is to counteract the drug they use to control people. (Hey, remember when there were actual people in this?) And heck, what a great idea! Why didn’t he think of it sooner? The worst of the new recruits, Zukan, is running late but then he too pledges his support. (There is now a little voice at the back of your head expressing caution and oh, I don’t know what to tell you.)

Without Zukan’s knowledge his daughter Zeeona is helping to unload the anti-drugs. She has a history with Tarrant, however, and when Zukan finds out she’s there he orders her sent home. For whatever reason, Soolin discretely sends her back to the base so the audience can get some more of that Tarrant love stuff they’ve all been craving. (Right? Someone out there must have the hots for this willowy, plummy-voiced tit, or why do they keep going back to this?) Apart from this little Romeo and Juliet-themed snag, it’s all power to the alliance against the Federation, yes? Guys, are we doing this?

I mean you know what’s coming, don’t you? What happened the last two episodes in a row? What happened two episodes before that? Zukan (please no) is working with (do we have to) (last chance) (oh come on) goddamn mother effing Servalan, BECAUSE OF COURSE HE IS. It’s genuinely baffling how she gets anything done whilst killing off Avon and chums occupies so much of her time, but that’s not as baffling as Avon and co failing to expect the unexpected in high heels and a fancy dress in every episode. Scooby Doo has more chance of encountering a legit ghost than they do of avoiding her for a single week.

Anyway. (For fuck’s sake.) Zukan has laid a trap to kill off our heroes, with a separate one waiting on his homeworld for Avon and (he thinks) Zeeona (but actually it’s Soolin). The trap is sprung, Xenon Base is heavily damaged and running out of air, and Orac is seemingly destroyed, but I doubt that somehow. Zeeona tries to tell Zukan she’s still there, but it’s too late and he can’t bring himself to believe it. Servalan doesn’t care either way and has Zukan killed. (There’s a nifty bit where he and his lieutenant find her bomb; he asks the guy to disconnect it, then closes the airlock and fires man and bomb into space. What a bastard! But his ship gets ruined anyway.)

Back at base, things are looking up air supply wise but Zeeona must neutralise an airborne contaminant she knows Zukan is responsible for. She succeeds but dies in the attempt. Tarrant finds her and woe is the viewer, presumably. Except who the hell was Zeeona anyway, and who’s watching Blake’s 7 in the hopes of that foppish git getting his end away again?

Much like the mooted (but now presumably moot) Alliance, Servalan attacking their actual base seems like progress for what we can laughingly call the ongoing story. It’s not clear if they have to abandon it now - did Zukan tell her where it was? - but I’ve been wondering for a while why she didn’t try that. Nevertheless, they’re still pulling this Uneasy Ally Betrays Them To Servalan shit yet again, and any gains made by finally remembering that the point of the show was to crush the Federation are reduced by shrinking the stakes to just one evil cow and a gang of overly trusting jerks who so far have lucked out and not died. So we’re one step forward, two steps back, all for a Romeo and Juliet bit that wouldn’t impress a hard up Mills & Boon fan. But hey, maybe the finale will rescue it. Please?

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Zukan executing his lieutenant is pretty grim.

WHO’S WHO? Roy Boyd (Zukon) was in The Hand Of Fear. Rick James - somewhat infamously - was in The Mutants.

13. Blake
By Chris Boucher

Well then.

It’s a peculiar sensation, knowing roughly what’s going to happen but not knowing any specifics. It’s almost 40 years since this was transmitted, so I know Blake dies. I know it looks like he’s betrayed them. I know it’s probably the end for everybody. In a way, it’s like the episode knows I know that stuff, and dangles the possible death of every character in front of us throughout. But people must have known this was the final end, so this may have been true to an extent. We know all bets are off.

Abandoning Xenon base just in case the Federation got its location in the last episode, Avon plays his last card: get Blake to be a figurehead once more, and unite people against the Federation. Only trouble is, Blake was last seen on Gauda Prime, a deadly, lawless dump. And before they can land they’re attacked. Scorpio crashes. Everyone but Tarrant gets away; he’s wounded, Slave is broken beyond repair. The rest of them search for Blake. The man himself is a bounty hunter these days, looking the worse for wear. He seems to have abandoned his moral compass, although he also seems moved when he mentions that Jenna died evading capture.

Gauda Prime is a forest, not a quarry - truly, it must be a special occasion. The location footage is beautiful, and Scorpio’s crash is about as well done as you could hope from this budget in 1981. But the real kicker is What The Hell Is Going On With Blake. We know he’s been brainwashed before, maybe something like that happened again? He’s certainly no friend to his latest bounty, a woman named Arlen, who he shoots in the leg.

Tarrant survives the crash and soon runs into Blake, though neither of them shares their name at first. He’s brought back to the base where he realises he’s the bounty. (It’s tempting to wonder what else he thought was going on there.) Blake regales his boss with the high reward for Tarrant and his friends, and Tarrant flees. But then we find out it was all an act, and Blake was “testing” him, as he does all new recruits. He’s still the same guy after all, fighting the Federation. He’s just added mind games. Arlen, is seems, was won over in the end.

You know that TV trope where characters just don’t talk to each other in plain English, they make assumptions, and that’s how you get more plot? Get ready for a massive dose of that. Avon’s gang reunite - after he pointedly didn’t tell them whether Tarrant survived, himself believing he’d died - and Tarrant breaks what he thinks is the news about Blake. Avon asks if it’s true and I guess Blake isn’t clear enough, so he shoots him. A lot. And bloodily. Arlen reveals she was a Federation plant all along, but then she’s killed; Federation guards arrive and zap everyone but Avon. It ends in an infamous standoff, with weapons fire over the credits. Fin.

It’s hard to imagine a more memorable last scene for this show, and for a series that routinely ends its episodes on crap “now everyone laughs” bits, that’s a godsend. Admittedly it could have been executed better: everyone but Blake gets shot by invisible rounds, so they all just flail about in slow motion. (Apparently this was to make it easier to bring people back in a potential Series 5, but come on, that would feel like a cheat.)

What does all this say about the characters? Blake fought the good fight, but he badly miscalculated what might happen if his “tests” went wrong. Arrogant to the last. Avon should have just listened, but he seemed a little too trigger-happy when given the slightest excuse to off Blake at last. Perhaps their rivalry triumphed over his brain after all. As horrible as the whole thing is, it rings true.

The rebellion in all likelihood dies right here because of these flawed men and this failed bit of communication. And thrillingly, Servalan wasn’t even there, as if she finally decided she had better things to do. The whole thing is like a tragic shift in perspective, where we realise how prone to error and hopeless the fight ultimately was. It’s incredible television, but they should have called it Bleak.

TL;DR: Way to go, Tarrant.

IT’S NOT FOR KIDS! Blake’s death. Blood and guts galore!

WHO’S WHO? Blake’s boss is David Collings, also seen in The Robots Of Death.

BLAKE’S... 1. Orac is the last man standing, unless you think Avon makes it.

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