Blakes 7 – Death-Watch

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Anybody watching Death-Watch for the first time would probably wonder why Tarrant’s aboard the United Planets passenger liner Teal Star and why he’s wearing a very bad wig.  But this isn’t Del Tarrant, it’s his older brother Deeta (who could be Del’s twin).  Exactly how they can be so alike when Deeta’s several years older is anyone’s guess – but it’s the future, so things are obviously different there.

The opening moments contain quite a substantial info dump  – we’re told about Blood Feuds and an outbreak of war between the Vandor Confederacy and the United Planets of Teal – but this helps to quickly set the parameters of the episode, as does Deeta’s skill with a gun.  He’s First Champion of the United Planets of Teal, which makes him a valid target now that Vandor and Teal have declared war.  Deeta quickly deals with one assassin (whenever you see Stuart Fell you know there’s going to be some action) and then takes out another – Karla (Katherine Iddon).  Both these swift attacks help to emphasise how skilled a killer he is.

How does the Liberator crew get involved?  In a slightly contrived way, but it just about works.  Vila hears about the war between Teal and Vandor and he’s instantly excited (“break out the booze, girls. It’s fiesta time”).  It takes Tarrant to fill in some of the blanks.  Whenever Teal and Vandor declare war they both pick a champion to stand as a surrogate for their armies.  These two men meet in single combat to decide which side wins and which loses.  Cally’s not impressed, although Tarrant does his best to convince her.  “Look, two men fight for the honor of independent planetary systems of maybe twenty million people each. It’s hardly crude.”

According to Vila this means substantial festivities on the planet where the combat ground is situated.  But it shouldn’t come as any surprise to learn that B7‘s budget wouldn’t run to this – so no sooner do Vila and the others teleport down then they teleport back up, with Vila complaining that everything’s closed!  It’s possible that this wasn’t just budget-related though, as there are some sly satirical digs peppered throughout Chris Boucher’s script.  As the Liberator crew watch the viscast on the flight deck, there’s a suitably portentous voice-over (which even mentions “space, the final frontier”).  The V-O serves two purposes – it helps to explain exactly what will happen, but once it finishes we’re given a peep behind the scenes as a somewhat camp director flatters the V-O man that his speech “was your usual delicate mixture of enthusiasm and dignified cliche.”

Servalan’s about, and acting as a neutral arbiter.  She doesn’t really do much though and this is definitely one story where she could have been excised without too much trouble.  However she does share one classic scene with Avon – where you could cut the sexual tension with a cricket stump.  Avon’s not got the most flattering costume – it’s the bulky shoulder pads which are the most distracting part – but he still manages to snarl and grab another snog from Servalan with aplomb.

Once he’s done that, he too heads back to the Liberator and settles down with the others to watch the action.  Rather charmingly they’ve got a decent selection of drinks and snacks to enjoy whilst they tune in to see Tarrant’s brother fight to the death.

Although it’s fair to say that there’s nothing too original about any part of Boucher’s script, it’s interesting that some of the concepts (which would have been science fiction then) are closer to reality now.  Everybody has the option to feel exactly what one of the two champions feels, via the sensor net.  Deeta’s second, Max (Stewart Bevan) explains.  “Both men have had microsensors implanted in the brain. These are connected to a conductive mesh which is actually etched into the bone of the skull. When this mesh gets charged up it becomes a sort of transmitter.  You put it on your forehead. It’s activated through the optic nerves. Close your eyes and it feeds the signal directly into the brain, open them and it cuts out.  You can see what Deeta sees and feel a lot of what he feels, physically and emotionally.”  Our Virtual Reality isn’t quite there yet, but maybe one day ….

Once Deeta and Vinni (Mark Elliott) enter the killing ground, the camera often acts as their “eyes” allowing us to view the area as they would see it.  In this way it anticipated generations of first-person shooter computer games.  This choice of shot is used most effectively just after Vinni has fatally wounded Deeta – we see Vinni stand over the stricken Deeta and watch as he aims his gun directly at his opponent (i.e. the camera) to deliver the killing blow.

Whilst Deeta was hardly given any screentime to be developed as a rounded character, there were a few nice touches – such as the fact that he felt fear (so he wasn’t simply a mindless killer).  Stephen Pacey does do a good job to portray his pain at his brother’s death, although as is the way with B7 there’s no time to reflect – unfinished business has to be attended to.

Vinni’s an android and looks to be Servalan’s handiwork,  She has plenty of incentive for ensuring that Vandor and Teal go to war for real (the Federation would be handily placed to pick up the pieces and subdue the survivors).  Under the rules of Blood Feud Tarrant is able to challenge Vini and it’s probably not too hard to guess what happens next.

Most memorable part of the episode must be the silver combat suits that both Deeta and Vinni wear.  Remember this was 1980 not 1973, so quite why costume designer Nicholas Rocker decided to create something that Alvin Stardust could have worn is anyone’s guess.  Wembley Exhibition Halls and Southhall Gasworks make an excellent venue for the Deeta/Vinni battle (and should be familiar from numerous other television shows of the time).  I’d forgotten that Stewart Bevan was in this one, but then he wasn’t talking about mushrooms and didn’t have a Welsh accent, so that’s fair enough.

Death-Watch is a good opportunity for Stephen Pacey and it’s a decent sci-concept, well produced.

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