Blakes 7 – Shadow

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Shadow was the first Blakes 7 story to be scripted by Chris Boucher (as well as the first not to be written by Terry Nation).  Because of this it’s pretty clear there’s a difference in tone – although it is believed that Boucher had already contributed fairly considerably to series one.

Legend has it that Nation’s season one scripts became thinner and thinner as time wore on – meaning that Boucher had to add more and more of his own material to flesh them out.  But even if that was so, Shadow was the first chance he had to craft something entirely of his own making and one of the most interesting parts of his debut script is how Blake himself is portrayed.

Blake and the others arrive at Space City.  It operates outside of Federation law and is reputed to be the base of the Terra Nostra.  The Terra Nostra are responsible for virtually all the organised crime on every Federated world – and Blake can only see the positives in allying with them.  “Think what they’ve got – men, material, information. Think what we could do with a fraction of the resources they control.”

For once Avon seems to be in agreement with him, so it’s left to Gan to be the main dissenting voice.  “No, YOU think, Blake. Think what it is they control. Everything dirty, degrading, and cruel on just about every colonized world.”  Moving Gan into a position where he can oppose Blake is welcome for several reasons, especially since it gives David Jackson a more meaty role than usual.  Gan’s time was already ticking though, so it’s sadly too little too late.

Blake’s use of semantics is instructive.  He tells Gan that they’re going to use the Terra Nostra, not do business with them.  But as he later offers them money in exchange for access to their infrastructure on Earth, the distinction is far from clear.  Is Blake simply deluding himself?  He’s obviously quite happy that the ends justify the means – the Terra Nostra can help him in his fight against the Federation so he has no moral qualms in using them.

Space City might be the “satellite of sin”, according to Vila, but it’s very underpopulated.  We only see Largo (Derek Smith) and one of his enforcers (Archie Tew) on the side of the Terra Nostra whilst Hanna (Adrienne Burgess) and Bek (Karl Howman) represent the Terra Nostra’s “customers”.  Hanna is an addict and her drug of choice is Shadow – the Terra Nostra’s most successful product.

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It’s a little surprising that director Jonathan Wright Miller didn’t employ a few extras to at least give some impression that Space City was a thriving and bustling place, so you simply have to use your imagination.  As for the actors he did cast, Derek Smith is rather good as Largo – he manages to exude a rather silky menace.  Smith could sometimes go soaring over the top but is fairly restrained here and is all the better for it.  Tew has little to do for most of the episode except wave a gun around and look menacing, but he does later manage to move up the pecking order at the expense of Largo (proving that there had to be more to him than met the eye).

Karl Howman is very much the weak link, delivering his lines rather unconvincingly.  Dialogue such as “killing a Terra Nostra pusher will be the best fun I’ve had all day. You stupid murdering scumball.” is delivered with all the intensity of a first year drama student.  What’s odd is that he was already quite an experienced television actor at this time.  Much better is Adrienne Burgess as Hannah.  She’d been teamed up with Michael Keating a few years earlier in the Doctor Who story The Sunmakers, and is able to give Hannah, a hopeless drug-addict, some sort of character.

If there’s one thing that Shadow tells us, again and again, it’s that Blake’s operating way out of his depth.  Vila sums it up quite succinctly.  ” Look, he was an Alpha grade on Earth. A highly privileged group, the Alphas. Wouldn’t last five minutes among the Delta service grades where I grew up. And it’s the service grades where the Terra Nostra really operate. Without anesthetic, usually.”

This is proved when Blake, Avon, Jenna and Gan are detained by Largo, who dismisses them as “amateurs” and they only manage to escape from Space City by the skin of their teeth, taking Bek and Hannah along for the ride.  Blake’s not finished though – if he can’t buy the Terra Nostra’s co-operation then he’ll force them to help.  His plan?  To locate the planet where they refine Shadow and take control of it.

Again it’s Gan who provides the main voice of dissent.  This, he says, would make them little more than pushers.  Tellingly Blake again brushes off his protests.  Shadow may cause misery and death for millions but if it helps him in his fight against the Federation then he’s content.

The planet Zondar is supposed to be incredibly warm (the rather overcast sky in the quarry gives the lie to this, but at least it wasn’t raining!).  Whilst Blake, Avon and Jenna explore (and to be honest achieve very little) Cally has also teleported down to the surface.

She’s been locked into her own subplot for most the episode, battling with Orac – or an unidentified entity that’s taken over Orac.  This seems to have been bolted on to the main story in order to pad the running time out and doesn’t quite work.  The shots of Cally being isolated (done quite simply with lights and a few simple video effects) is effective but it’s frustrating that the identity of the invader is never established.  It also seems something of a contrivance that Cally is able to force it back into its own dimension with the aid of the telepathic creatures on Zondar.  How fortunate that the Liberator’s next port of call was able to provide her with the allies she needed!

The ultimate revelation that the Terra Nostra is controlled by the Federation (“It’s quite logical. To have total control, you must control totally. Both sides of the law. The Terra Nostra, the Federation – two sides of the same power.”) provides a neat ending to the story and demonstrates that the Federation’s influence is more insidious and far-reaching than was previously thought.

Following on from the gung-ho space adventure of Redemption, Shadow offers a subtle re-tooling of the direction the series would take during series two.  There would be plenty more gung-ho adventures to come, but this is the first time that Blake’s decision-making has come under strong scrutiny.  And in a couple of episodes time, following the events of Pressure Point, it will again.

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