The easiest way of knowing we’ve reached series two of Blakes 7 is to look at the costumes of the Liberator crew. In series one you could best describe them as drab, but now June Hudson’s been recruited things have certainly changed (and this is only the beginning). Highlights are Avon’s natty black studded number (which he later donates to Tarrant) and Blake’s rather extraordinary green plastic jacket with enormous puffy sleeves.
But if the costumes are different then the story is much more familiar (not surprising since it was Terry Nation’s fourteenth script in a row). Like The Web or Breakdown it’s a story of two halves. The first takes place on the Liberator and the second kicks into gear once they’ve reached their destination.
Before things start happening there’s an interesting exchange between Blake and Avon. Blake is still concerned by Orac’s prediction that the Liberator apparently faces imminent destruction. He’s been poring over the data, only for Avon to provide him with the solution. They can pinpoint exactly where the event will happen by the starfield shown behind the ship – so all they need to do is to ensure they never travel to that part of the galaxy and the prediction will be null and void.
When Avon admits that he worked this out several hours ago, Blake asks him why he’s not said anything to the others. “Well, all they had to do was ask. Perhaps in future, they won’t rely on you to provide all the answers”. This battle of wills between the pair of them will bubble on for the remainder of the second series. As to who will gain the upper hand, Vila puts it best when he says that “if it ever comes to a showdown, my money’s on Blake. Well, half of it. I’ll put the other half on Avon.”
Another fascinating little moment occurs just after Avon’s scored this point over Blake. An explosion rocks the ship and as they fall to the ground Avon puts a protective arm around Blake. I wonder if this was scripted or something worked out in rehearsal? It’s only a throwaway thing, but it’s a lovely touch – proving that although he may profess to despise virtually everything Blake stands for, Avon still seems to have an automatic reflex to protect him.
Shortly afterwards, the ship comes under attack and they then lose all control of the Liberator, ending up as little more than helpless passengers (any repairs are rejected by the ship). Avon tells the others his theory.
AVON: Think of the ship as a living entity with massive networks of electronics acting as a nervous system.
JENNA: All linked into a central computer.
BLAKE: The brain.
AVON: Carry the analogy a stage further. When a living creature is hurt – a cut or a wound – antibodies gather around the injury to repair it and to fight infection.
VILA: You mean the computers are treating us like germs.
AVON: Crude, but accurate.
Blake has first-hand experience of this when he’s attacked by a cable in one of the service areas. Yes, the wires holding it up are rather obvious but it’s not as bad an effect as it could have been. Once again it’s Avon who saves the day and he’s not slow in telling Blake that one day, probably quite soon, he’ll require payback!
The Liberator is under the control of its creators and soon all the crew are prisoners. Blake has a chat with Alta 1 (Sheila Ruskin) and Alta 2 (Harriet Philpin). This is a part of the story that doesn’t quite hold together. Both Alta 1 and Alta 2 are linked to the System (a supercomputer which controls the three planets in this sector). We’re told that the System has ruled for several generations. As Blake discovers when he speaks later to a slave (played by Roy Evans) this means that whilst there’s no war or famine, there’s also no freedom.
Could the System have been responsible for designing the Liberator? Surely if they had it would have been much more functional. And if they did create it, what was its purpose? The Federation has clearly never come across a ship like the Liberator before (even though it’s established later that it’s not unique) so it doesn’t appear that the System is interested in expanding its empire or has very often ventured into Federation territory. Visiting the civilisation that designed the Liberator was an obvious thing to do, it’s just a pity that it falls rather flat.
The System also bears a passing resemblance to the Conscience of Marinus as seen in Terry Nation’s Doctor Who story The Keys of Marinus – proof that Nation was never averse to reusing a good idea.
Neither of the Altas are great conversationalists, but they’re dressed in tight blue lycra which is some consolation. Another plus-point is the filming at the Oldbury Nuclear Power Station which adds a little gloss to what otherwise is a fairly routine story.
But Redemption is still an effective season opener. It reignites the Blake/Avon power-struggle as well as giving the rest of the regulars a moment or two to shine. And although the plot, once we reach the System, feels a little undercooked there’s still enough going on to ensure that the story never seems to drag too badly.