Avon is contacted by an old acquaintance called Keiller (Roy Kinnear), the purser of a pleasure liner called the Space Princess. The Space Princess has a secret cargo – gold, mined from the planet Zerok. Because it’s travelling incognito there’s very little security, so stealing it should be a doddle – except for one snag.
Before the gold is put aboard the ship it’s processed in such a way that it turns black and is therefore worthless unless you have the computer code which will change it back. Keiller suggests they tamper with the processing machine on Zerok so that unprocessed gold is loaded aboard the ship instead. It seems like a foolproof plan, what could possibly go wrong?
Roy Kinnear is great fun throughout as Keiller. One of those actors who just seemed to generate goodwill from the audience, he plays rather to type as the cowardly Keiller. Kinnear gives him such a shifty and untrustworthy air right from the start that it seems obvious he’s going to double-cross Avon and the others. Or is that too obvious? Since this is a heist tale there’s a number of twists and turns, so when it’s revealed that Keiller used to work for the Federation it’s possible to wonder if this is actually the truth or just more disinformation.
Keiller’s relationship with both Avon and Soolin has some nice comic moments. He continually refers to Avon as his old friend and Soolin as my pretty one. No surprises that Avon regards him as no friend or that Soolin is unimpressed with Keiller’s attempts at flattery.
We’re told that Vila doesn’t trust Keiller and wants no part of the scheme. Michael Keating only has a handful of lines throughout the story, which is slightly strange – although the next episode is more tailored to his talents. This leaves Avon and Soolin paired together whilst the familiar combination of Tarrant and Dayna also team up yet again. All four teleport down to Zerok, Avon and Soolin travel down to the bowels of the planet with Keiller, whilst Tarrant and Dayna remain up top, keeping an eye on the guards.
The Zerok processing plant (actually a refuse disposal centre in Poole) is one of those typically industrialised Blakes 7 locations that featured regularly during the first few years of the show. It gives Soolin a chance to demonstrate just how sharp a shooter she is as she merrily mows down multiple hapless guards. The combination of Avon and Soolin is a good one – a slight pity it wasn’t seen on more occasions – his brain and her brawn (as well as the fact they both have a sardonic sense of humour) appeals.
It’s later revealed that the Space Princess is a fake cruise liner – it travels straight from Zerok to Earth whilst the passengers (all drugged up) are shown pictures of various sights which, in their chemically altered state, they believe to be real. Whilst Avon busies himself with the gold, the others pose as passengers. Stephen Pacey seems to be enjoying himself as a doped-out passenger.
Although Roy Kinnear provides the story with a veneer of comedy, underneath it’s quite a dark little tale. The bodycount is quite high (at least a dozen or so guards are killed before the gold is stolen). It’s also fair to say that the ending doesn’t really come as a great surprise – Servalan turned out to be behind the plan right from the start and turns up to taunt Avon.
SERVALAN: Congratulations, Avon. I see you worked it out.
AVON: Keiller was once on the personal security staff of the president of the Federation. That just had to be you. It wasn’t hard to work out. But it wasn’t meant to be, was it?
SERVALAN: I don’t know what you mean.
AVON: You wouldn’t leave me a clue like that. Not unless you really wanted to. You knew I wouldn’t be able to resist it. You planned everything, every move, you even knew that Keiller would disobey you, and you hoped that I would trust him because of that.
SERVALAN: Very good.
AVON: I almost did trust Keiller. When I found out it was you, I knew I was safe from him, at least. After all, he has nothing to gain from obeying you. Only in the end, it occurred to me that he might possibly imagine that you would keep your side of the bargain and pay him his reward instead of just killing him. He doesn’t know you as well as I do.
It’s the only time that Avon and Servalan have a meaningful face to face conversation during series four. Avon’s final reaction to their dismal failure is characteristic – he laughs hysterically whilst the others look on stony-faced. Another sign that Avon’s losing it? It could have been worse I guess, they all could have had a giggle, which thankfully only happened on a few closing scenes (Breakdown is probably my least favourite example of this).
Not quite the best that series four has to offer, but Kinnear is entertaining and the story is solid enough.