Blakes 7 – Blake

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The opening of Blake, following on from the events of Warlord, finds Avon and the others at a low ebb.  They’ve been forced to destroy their base at Xenon, due to fears that either Zukan or one of the other members of their recent meeting might have betrayed its location to the Federation.

This rather begs the question as to why Avon decided to hold the meeting there, but by now it should be fairly clear that he’s not operating in the most rational manner.  He explains that the death of Zukan leaves them with a problem – they need to find another figurehead to lead their attack against the Federation.  This doesn’t quite tie back to the events seen in Warlord though as whilst Avon was keen to use Zukan, it wasn’t as a unifying leader.

No matter, it’s only a slight continuity error and it does neatly explain why Avon’s suddenly decided to track down Blake after all this time.  He explains to the others that Blake “is strongly identified with rebels, you see, and very popular with rabbles. They will follow him, and he will fight to the last drop of their blood.”

Blake’s apparently on Gauda Prime, a totally lawless planet which has recently made an application to restore its former legal status.  In order to do this they need to ensure that all criminals are caught as quickly as possible.  And this is Blake’s job.  As improbable as it sounds, Blake’s working as a bounty hunter.

Our first sight of Blake is an arresting one.  Viewed from the side he appears to be the same man that we’d seen at the end of series two, but it’s only when he turns to face the camera that the wicked scar running down the right hand side of his face is visible.  It’s never explained how he came by this, but it’s clear that the last few years haven’t been easy for him.  Gareth Thomas instantly commands the screen as an older, wearier, bitterer Blake, seemingly reduced to catching criminals for money.

Humour is in short supply in this story, but I like the squabble between Orac and Slave, which sees Orac exasperated that Slave would have the temerity to interrupt him.  After a few minutes, Slave sounds the alarm and after everyone’s rushed about for a few seconds he admits that there’s no danger, he simply wanted to get their attention!  This moment of amusement doesn’t last long as Scorpio then really does come under attack and the painful descent to Gauda Prime begins.

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They all throw themselves around the set with abandon whilst fairly feeble explosions go off.  It all looks a little half-hearted, but once everybody except Tarrant has teleported to the surface the fun can really begin.  That’s when the ship is comprehensively destroyed and Slave speaks his final words.  If the model shot of Scorpio crashing through the trees looks a little underwhelming, then the full size destruction of the ship is impressively done.

If Blake has a problem then it’s the fact that nothing much really happens for the first forty five minutes.  Everything’s geared up for the meeting between Blake and Avon, meaning that everything else is just preamble – apart for one important revelation.  Blake captures Tarrant and manages to convince him that he’s a fearsome bounty hunter, but it’s all a sham, revealed in this conversation between Blake and Deva (David Collings).

DEVA: These stupid games you insist on playing, Blake, will get someone killed eventually.
BLAKE: I have to test each one myself.
DEVA: No, you don’t have to! I set up systems for that. I broke the security codes on their central computer. I got us access to official channels, information, everything we could possibly need! You don’t need to be involved at all.
BLAKE: All right, I find it difficult to trust. It’s a failing, I admit!
DEVA: And any one of our people could select the people you’ve collected. You don’t need to do the bounty hunter routine, either!
BLAKE: Indulge me.
DEVA: Do I have a choice?
BLAKE: Oh, there’s always a choice, Deva.

If some of Avon’s recent behaviour has been bizarre, then so is this. Blake couldn’t foresee that Avon wouldn’t listen to reason when they met up, but Deva was quite right when he told Blake that he was playing a dangerous game. This part of the story doesn’t quite hold water anyway – we assume that Blake is recruiting an army from the criminals on Gauda Prime to fight the Federation. But is picking the scum of the earth (a group of lawless murderers) really the wisest choice? Why isn’t he going from planet to planet, inciting rebellion?  This begs another question (sadly unanswered), namely is Blake’s scar as fake as his bounty hunter story?

The fact that he doesn’t even have to be there at all – he’s simply playing games – is bizarre.  And pretending to Tarrant that he’s prepared to turn them all over to the Federation proves to be a fatal mistake. Tarrant rushes over to tell Avon (who has coincidentally just stepped through the door) which means that the reunion between Blake and Avon doesn’t quite end the way either of them hoped for.

Darrow’s delivery of the line “have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?” has come in for a little criticism over the years. True, he’s more than a little arch here, but in context it works if you accept this is now an Avon at total breaking point.  As Avon repeatedly shoots Blake you can see a range of expressions play across Darrow’s face which indicate that Avon realises, almost as soon as he’s pulled the trigger, that he’s made a horrendous mistake. It’s a little too late though ….

Then all the others die (possibly) in slow motion. With the destruction of Scorpio and the entire crew seemingly dead, that would appear to have been a fairly final ending. But it’s always intrigued me that Gareth Thomas agreed to return only if Blake was shown to be 100% dead at the end – that way, he argued, he’d no longer have to worry that he’d lose parts due to people assuming he was still the star of Blakes 7.  But if the series was coming to an end this makes no sense.

Was a fifth series on the cards?  There’s always a way out – demonstrated by the oodles of fan fiction which states that the others weren’t really dead, they were merely stunned (even though we’ve never seen Federation guns set to stun in the series).  True, we don’t see Avon die, but unless the guards were really poor shots it’s pretty much a certainty.  And even though Blake appears to be very dead that can easily be explained away – it wasn’t Blake, it was his clone from Weapon.  Of course ….

Whether you like to believe that they all lived to fight another day or that this really was the final end, Blake offers as uncompromising a conclusion to the series as you could possibly ever expect to see.  It’s certainly worth sitting through the first forty five minutes for the final five.

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Blakes 7 – Rescue

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Although series four has its critics, I’ve always been rather fond of it.  For me it’s similar to the previous three series, since it has about the same mixture of good, bad and indifferent stories.  It’s been a couple of years since I’ve given them a spin so will I now be less or more forgiving?  Let’s find out ….

I’m not terribly impressed with the new title sequence.  The planetscape is nicely shot but there’s a distinct lack of menace.  The previous series titles had an element of pursuit and danger, here we just see a ship out for a joyride.  And the new logo appears in a rather muted, half-hearted way (very different from the bold appearance of the previous one).  Oh well, let’s press on.

Avon and the others are still marooned on Terminal.  The weather’s taken a decided turn for the worse, which is good news in one way as the snow makes the location look a little more interesting.  Paul Darrow’s snugly protected against the cold, but Josette Simon isn’t so fortunate.  When they both fling themselves to the ground (after a booby-trapped spaceship left by Servalan explodes) I can’t help but feel that the poor girl’s going to catch her death of cold.  Clearly coats for ladies were short supply on Terminal.

Avon’s worried that Servalan might have also booby-trapped the living quarters where the others are.  You may wonder why she just didn’t kill them all before she left, rather than leave elaborate traps scattered around the planet, but that would have been far too straightforward.  True to her character, Danya’s keen to rush off and warn the others whilst Avon, equally true to type, is more cautious.  Dayna does nip off and is menaced by a thing which actually looks rather good.  Avon deals with it, forcing Dayna to admit that Avon was right once again.

Alas, they don’t all make it out alive as Cally is killed in the explosion (it’s an off-screen death as Jan Chapell declined to return for series four).  Her final word is “Blake!” rather than “Avon!” which is interesting.  Vila has the chance to be a hero by rescuing Tarrant although Tarrant doesn’t seem to be terribly grateful (he later hits the bottle and is found by Avon lying face down in the snow).  Quite why Tarrant has gone to pieces isn’t obvious.

With no ship or escape route, what they need is someone to turn up and rescue them.  And fancy that, just a few minutes later Dorian (Geoffrey Burridge) and his ship Scorpio turns up.  Dorian claims to be a humble salvage merchant, but it’s plain there’s more to him that meets the eye.  Avon likes the look of his ship and decides to commander it.  It has a computer voiced by Peter Tuddenham (although Slave is no Zen that’s for sure) and there’s a space that would be just right for a teleport area.  Of course the fact we haven’t seen any other ship apart from the Liberator with teleport facilities would make it highly unlikely that they’d be able to lash up something from scratch.  That would just be silly, wouldn’t it?

Danya’s impressed with Dorian’s gun collection.  “Each of these is a different mode. You clip them into the basic handgun and you’ve got a weapon for every occasion. Laser, plasma bullet, percussion shell, micro grenade, stun, drug. They’re all here. I worked for nearly a year on a gun like this. I never did get it right.”  They do look a little lightweight though, much more plastic than steel.

We then meet Dorian’s associate, the feisty gunslinger Soolin (Glynis Barber) and after we’ve finished admiring her we can then admire the rather nice modelwork as Scorpio docks at Xenon base.  The destruction of the Liberator meant they could no longer use the same old stock shots that had been seen multiple times over the past three years.  So instead there’s some new footage which will become just as familiar ….

Once on Xenon base, Avon takes command.  He makes it plain that he’ll kill Dorian if he doesn’t do exactly what he says.  Danya succinctly sums him up.  “Beneath that cold exterior, beats a heart of pure stone.”

Things then get slightly odd as Dorian meets something menacing in the depths of the planet.  Burridge has the chance to indulge in some ripe over-acting whilst the thing writhes about in the dark.  I’ve a feeling that if we see it with the lights up it’s not going to look terribly impressive.

Those with a working knowledge of late 19th century literature should be able to work out exactly what Dorian’s secret is.  It’s a nice touch which serves as a decent in-joke for those who are aware of the original source material but the story still makes sense if you don’t.  Once Avon discovers Dorian’s secret, it’s plainly not a coincidence that he begins to speak as if he’s just stepped out of the pages of a Victorian melodrama.

DORIAN: You think I’m insane, don’t you?
AVON: It had occurred to me.
DORIAN: The room exists, Avon. And since I found it I haven’t aged one day. It cleanses me of all the corruptions of time and appetite.
AVON: Appetite?
DORIAN: I can do anything, Avon.
AVON: Most madmen can.
DORIAN: I can indulge any taste, any sensation, any vice I wish and the room …
AVON: Cleanses you.

Thanks to Geoffrey Burridge’s unhinged performance, Rescue is good fun, although a little disposable.  Given the small number of speaking parts it’s a little odd that Soolin didn’t have more to do – since she’s going to be a new member of the gang (although that’s not evident by the end of the story) you’d have expected her to be a little more foregrounded in the narrative.

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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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Blakes 7 – Rumours of Death

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Rumours of Death features Blake 7‘s most effective cold opening.  Avon is a prisoner of the Federation and he’s in a pretty bad way.  Unshaven and in pain, he’s been a captive for five days and during that time he’s proven to be rather uncooperative.  He’s visited in his cell by the Federation’s top torturer, Shrinker (John Bryans) who is determined to get the truth out of him – one way or another.

Set-wise, this opening section is simply staged.  Avon’s cell is bare and we never venture any further into the Federation detention block.  But the illusion that Avon isn’t the only prisoner is effectively created by the off-camera screams of another poor unfortunate.  And as Shrinker brandishes a laser probe it seems likely that Avon will also be screaming soon.  Director Fiona Cumming chooses to keep the camera angle in this scene quite low – with Avon seated on the bed and Shrinker standing over him it helps to create the impression of the Federation man’s dominance.  A simple trick (like the off-camera screams) but nonetheless effective.

The attentive viewer wouldn’t have been fooled by Avon’s plight for too long.  It now becomes clear why he mentioned Shrinker in the previous episode (he’d told the rest of the crew that Shrinker was the key to understanding why Anna Grant, the woman he loved, died).  So when Shrinker appears here it’s clear that Avon’s plan is in full swing.  That he was prepared to withstand days of torture (it’s never explicitly stated what happened to him, but it clearly wasn’t pleasant) in order to lure Shrinker to his cell speaks volumes.  Whether for good or bad is debatable though.  Avon’s always been a driven, single-minded character, but the events of this episode seem to clearly indicate his future, tragic path – the loss of the Liberator, his inability to ever trust again and the cataclysmic events on Gauda Prime.

When Tarrant and Dayna teleport into the cell and take Avon and Shrinker back to the Liberator it’s remarkable how quickly Shrinker devolves into a whimpering, pathetic character.  The cliche that he was only a man who followed orders is aired, but there’s a faint sense of unreality about his total collapse.  Yes, it’s reasonable to assume that such a man would be powerless when stripped of his authority, but it might have played better had he kept a faint air of defiance.

The reactions of Tarrant, Dayna and Vila are noteworthy.  They surround the cowering Shrinker and goad him, causing a disgusted Cally to snap at them.  That Shrinker’s a mass-murderer is unquestionable and Tarrant tells her that he’s nothing more than an animal.  “Yes, and it’s contagious, isn’t it?” responds Cally.  With series three of Blakes 7 having largely abandoned the freedom fighter/terrorist attacks of the first two series, this brief exchange taps into some of the more interesting character moments from previous stories like Star One.  Shrinker is a monster, but if they behave like him can they claim to be any better?

Whilst this part of the plot is bubbling along nicely, we jump to Earth.  Sula (Lorna Helibron) and Chesku (Peter Clay) are two high-ranking officials in the Federation (and are also married).  Chesku is clearly a man with a great regard for his own oratorical skills and gives his wife a demonstration of part of a speech he plans to deliver later.  “The rabble which sought to challenge the established order lacked our inspiration, our unity, our leadership. They are crushed. Earth and the Inner Planets are once again united. Gentlemen, I give you a toast. Our inspiration, our unity, our leader: President Servalan.”

Sula responds that “I’m sure Servalan will be delighted. She is, after all, a tasteless megalomaniac.”  The faintly off-key nature of the episode continues after two Federation troopers turn up and, on Sula’s orders, shoot Chesku dead.  Peter Clay’s death (all flailing arms as he crashes into a bush) isn’t the most impressive, but never mind.  It helps to set up the events for the rest of the episode as it looks as if a palace revolution is taking place.  The power-struggles within the Federation following the war with the aliens is certainly something that could have been developed more during series three.  As it was, Servalan seemed to spend far too much time tussling with Avon and the others instead of attempting to secure her position.

Things get even stranger when Avon starts to question Shrinker.  Avon shows him a picture of Anna Grant, but he claims he doesn’t know her.  “I’ve killed hundreds and remembered them all, all of them, every last whining traitor. And there wasn’t one that died without telling me what I wanted to know. Not one.”  We then flashback to scenes of Anna in bed with Avon.  It’s maybe not immediately clear, but this is the same woman who now calls herself Sula.  In Space Fall we were told that Avon was nearly responsible for the greatest banking fraud in Federation history, but Shrinker now tells him that he was monitored right from the start (he was under the observation of an agent called Bartolomew from Central Security).  It’s another small moment which helps to emphasise that Avon’s not as infallible as he might appear.

Avon leaves Shrinker a prisoner in a cave with no escape and a gun for company.  Avon promised him a way out and this is it (“It’s a better deal than you gave any of your victims”).  With Shrinker’s information, he now decides to set course for Earth to confront Servalan and demand that she reveal the identity of Bartolomew.  This is the weakest part of the script – that Avon would decide to return to Earth seems foolhardy enough but that he chooses to do so on the same day that Anna/Sula decides to take out Servalan is one coincidence too many.

Greenlee (Donald Douglas) and Forres (David Haig) are two career officers who are on security duty at the lavish country house that serves as Servalan’s headquarters.  It seems that Chris Boucher took a leaf out of Robert Holmes’ book as Greenlee and Forres act as detached narrators for the first half of the episode – they help to fill in the blanks of what we’re seeing.  Although unlike most Holmesian double-acts they don’t make it to the end as they’re both mown down by Sula’s men.  The palace revolution is far from bloodless, but it’s comprehensive.

Jacqueline Pearce doesn’t have a great deal of screentime in this episode, but that’s not really a criticism.  Servalan’s been something of an overexposed character (especially during series three to date) so Rumours of Death works well by keeping her as more of a background character.  But her scene with Avon towards the end (she’s chained up in the cellar, helpless) is another key Avon/Servalan meeting that has no doubt launched a thousand fan-fics.

AVON: Is that it? Have you finally lost your nerve?  Have you murdered your way to the wall of an underground room?

SERVALAN: It’s an old wall, Avon, it waits. I hope you don’t die before you reach it.

That Avon is prepared to set Servalan free when Sula and others are close to destroying her power forever is intriguing (it looks as if everything that Blake fought for is within their grasp).  This is open to interpretation though.  Is Sula keen to replace her (as suggested earlier on) or does she really support the notion of a People’s Council?  If it’s the latter, then it’s ironic that Sula has been fighting for the same things that the Liberator crew did for so long.

It’ll come as no surprise that Anna = Sula = Bartolomew or that Avon kills her.  So Anna was a fiction who only existed for Avon.  But Sula’s dying words seem to suggest that she genuinely did love Avon.  But in the hall of mirrors that’s Rumours of Death can we believe her this time?

This is clearly a great vehicle for Paul Darrow, who makes the most of the material. There’s a few niggles (for example, Servalan is taken prisoner rather too easily and if Anna Grant never existed who was the man who claimed to be her brother in the series two episode Countdown?)  but overall this is a classy episode.

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Blakes 7 – City at the Edge of the World

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Most of the regulars take centre-stage in at least one series three episode.  Avon features heavily in Aftermath and Rumours of Death, Cally’s the main character in both Children of Auron and Sarcophagus whilst Tarrant (and his identical twin brother) stars in Death-Watch.  Danya is the only one who doesn’t really have an episode of her own, unless you count her introductory tale, Aftermath.

For everybody’s favourite thief, City at the Edge of the World is a chance to see a more proactive and heroic Vila.  Even when the script didn’t really feature him, Michael Keating could always be guaranteed to take whatever material he had and make it work to the best of his ability.  Unlike some actors he didn’t do this by upstaging others – it was simply down to his natural comic timing.  A great example can be found in Powerplay.  Vila, wounded and alone in a strange forest, attempts to frighten off any would-be attackers by pretending to be a whole troop of fighting men!  It’s an old gag – and only a throwaway moment – but Keating’s a delight to watch.

But there’s no doubt that it’s good to see Vila right in the thick of things for once.  Too often he tended to end up as either the butt of other people’s jokes or simply blissed out on adrenaline and soma.  In City at the Edge of the World he’s witty, resourceful and gets the girl.  What more could you ask for?

We open with Tarrant being irritating (yet again).  The Liberator needs crystals for its weaponry systems and he’s struck a deal with the mysterious inhabitants of a nearby planet.  It’s simple enough – the crystals in exchange for Vila’s help.  When Vila disappears and the box of crystals turns out to be a booby-trapped bomb, Tarrant is forced to eat humble pie (not before time!)

Vila’s been brought to the planet by Bayban the Butcher (Colin Baker).  A vision in black, Baker is clearly having a ball (Paul Darrow later repayed the favour by going even further over the top in the Doctor Who story Timelash).  It’s a cartoony performance but it works perfectly in this context.  Following a couple of stories that were played too straight, City bubbles along with an infectious sense of humour and many quotable lines.  This is one of my favourites, courtesy of Bayban who’s peeved to find out that he’s top of the Federation’s Most Wanted list – after Blake.  “What do you mean, ‘after Blake’? I was working my way up that list before he crept out of his creche. WORKING my way up. I didn’t take any political shortcuts.”

Bayban has a crack force of mercenaries, led by Kerril (Carol Hawkins) and Sherm (John J. Carney).  Carney, who’d previously given an excellent comic performance as Bloodaxe in the Doctor Who story The Time Warrior, is just as good here.  He’s got little to do except react to the others – but he does it so well.  Hawkins plays the unlikely love interest (or at least it’s unlikely to begin with).  Their first meeting is memorable – we see Vila cowering at her feet, whilst she mocks him (“little man”).  He then suggests she bathes more regularly (and uses mouthwash too).

The unexpected thaw in their relationship seems to happen after she changes out of her black leathers and into something more feminine.  Possibly Chris Boucher was attempting to make a point here.  She spends the early part of the story attempting to be one of the boys (and acting aggressively) but once she changes clothes she becomes a more passive and submissive character – effectively acting as Vila’s assistant.

To be honest the story isn’t the strongest – a mysterious race seek entry to a new world, but rather carelessly they’ve lost the key to the door.  Only their leader Norl (Valentine Dyall) ever speaks, so they remain rather undeveloped – but then they’re not really the focus here (it’s more of an excuse for Vila to demonstrate his skills and Colin Baker to chew the scenery).  Dyall is compelling though.  He had the sort of voice that instantly commanded attention, so whenever he speaks it’s hard not to listen.

Vila is given a chance to cross over to this new world with Kerril.  It’s a beautiful, unspoiled planet where they could live out their lives in peace.  He declines, and his reason gives an insight into what makes him tick.  “There’s nothing there worth stealing. You know why I neutralize security systems, open safes, and break into vaults? It’s because I can and most people can’t. It’s just that, it’s what makes me, me. Kerril, a thief isn’t what I am, it’s who I am.”

After a couple of average stories, City at the Edge of the World gets us back on track.

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Blakes 7 – Star One

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There are two key scenes in Star One – both of which take place on the Liberator during the opening minutes.  The first demonstrates Avon’s wish to end his association with Blake.

AVON: We can take Star One, let’s get on with it.
JENNA: Very stirring. When did you become a believer?
AVON: Are you just going to sit there? You have led them by the nose before.
BLAKE: Excuse me, are you going to answer her question?
AVON: Show me someone who believes in anything and I will show you a fool.
BLAKE: I meant what I said on Goth, Avon. We are not going to use Star One to rule the Federation, we are going to destroy it.
AVON: I never doubted that. I never doubted your fanaticism. As far as I am concerned you can destroy whatever you like. You can stir up a thousand revolutions, you can wade in blood up to your armpits. Oh, and you can lead the rabble to victory, whatever that might mean. Just so long as there is an end to it. When Star One is gone it is finished, Blake. And I want it finished. I want it over and done with. I want to be free.
CALLY: But you are free now, Avon.
AVON: I want to be free of him.
BLAKE: I never realised. You really do hate me, don’t you?

Blake agrees that Avon will take him back to Earth after the destruction of Star One and that the Liberator will then be Avon’s.  This is a pointer towards the general direction that series three will take.  With Blake absent it wouldn’t have been credible for Avon to simply inherit his crusading zeal, so we see a shift towards more SF stories and less battles with the Federation (the balance changes again in series four).  Paul Darrow is excellent in this scene and it easily demonstrates that he’s more than capable of carrying the series.

Even more fascinating is the following exchange between Blake and Cally.

CALLY: Are we fanatics?
BLAKE: Does it matter?
CALLY: Many, many people will die without Star One.
BLAKE: I know.
CALLY: Are you sure that what we’re going to do is justified?
BLAKE: It has to be. Don’t you see, Cally? If we stop now then all we have done is senseless killing and destruction. Without purpose, without reason. We have to win. It’s the only way I can be sure that I was right.

This is such a key moment, as it shines a very cold and clear light on Blake and his convictions.  Earlier in the episode Servalan is shown examples of what happens when Star One fails – droughts, storms, terrible devastation, etc.  If Blake destroys Star One then these disasters will just be the tip of the iceberg.  Can any cause possibly justify this loss of life?  It’s hard to agree with Blake that it does – his sole motive for continuing is because he’s gone too far down the road of freedom fighter/terrorist (delete as applicable) to stop now.  It seems a monumentally poor reason for such wholesale destruction.

As we’ll see, Blake doesn’t destroy Star One.  Aliens have infiltrated the complex and the Liberator finds itself allied with a fleet of Federation ships in a desperate attempt to stop a massive alien invasion.  It’s possible to argue that the unexpected appearance of aliens is something of a cop-out.  The Federation in series three is shown to be in disarray following the battle with the aliens and had Blake destroyed Star One there would have been a similar amount of disruption.

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Star One is manned by a small number of Federation personnel, most of whom have been replaced by the shape-shifting aliens.  This makes no sense – we’re told nobody ever visits, so why didn’t the aliens simply kill everybody and then take over?  It’s also not clear why Star One has been failing recently – were these problems caused by the aliens or was Star One starting to run down of its own accord?

It also seems that quite a few events have been happening off-screen – when did Travis decide to ally himself with the aliens and why should he now wish to destroy all humanity?  He’s always been more than a little unstable, but this sudden desire to kill everybody doesn’t really sit with what we’ve previously seen.

With Gareth Thomas’ departure it was decided that Travis’ main function in the series was over.  And it’s difficult not to raise a cheer as Avon finally kills him off and sends him spinning down a very deep hole (via some very unconvincing CSO).  The problems with Travis during series two weren’t all down to Brian Croucher, but there’s no doubt that Travis’ death is a mercy killing (both for himself and the audience).

We end with a cliffhanger as Avon leads the Liberator in an apparently hopeless battle against the oncoming alien fleet.  There’s one final moment between Blake and Avon (“Avon, for what it is worth, I have always trusted you, from the very beginning.”) and then the credits roll.

After some wobbles in the second half of the season (Hostage, Countdown, Voice from the Past, The Keeper) Star One manages to close the second run on a high.  It’s a very talky episode, with little in the way of impressive visuals or effects (the alien fleet looks to be cobbled together from whatever was lying around the Special Effects workshop for example).  But the dialogue heavy nature of the story isn’t a problem as it allows all the regulars a chance to shine.

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Blakes 7 – Trial

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Travis is facing a court-martial, charged with the murder of one thousand four hundred and seventeen unarmed civilians on the planet Serkasta.  Whilst he remained useful to Servalan she was prepared to ignore his previous misdemeanors but following the events of Pressure Point she has no hesitation in throwing him to the wolves.  She also plans to make sure that the verdict is the one she requires by suborning Travis’ defence counsel Major Thania (Victoria Fairbrother).

It does seem slightly strange that Servalan decided to go to all the trouble of arranging a court-martial when she could have either simply ordered one of her troopers to put a bullet in Travis’ head or (as mentioned in Weapon) sent him to the slave pits on Ursa Prime.  It’s a pity that Blakes 7‘s script editor couldn’t have liaised with the writers of Weapon and Trial.  Oh wait ……

But although the reason for the court-martial does feel a little spurious, Trial is compelling since it asks us to consider the morality of the Federation in general.  There’s no doubt that Travis committed the crime (although he pleads not guilty, for a reason we’ll come to later) but is his action typical of a Federation officer?

In Travis’ debut episode Seek Locate Destroy, Servalan was confronted by a junior officer who registered his disapproval that Travis had been reinstated into the corps.  For him, Travis was a killer and someone who disgraced the uniform of a Federation officer.  In Trial, the court-martial is conduced by Samor (John Savident) a highly respected officer (Thania calls him “a rule book officer of the old school.”)  Are they more typical of the average Federation officer than Travis is?

On hand to observe events are Bercol (John Bryans) and Rontane (Peter Miles).  Like a space-age Waldorf and Statler they exist to provide an ironic commentary on events.

RONTANE:One almost has to admire that woman.
BERCOL: What, Thania?
RONTANE:Servalan.
BERCOL: Oh.
RONTANE: We know that she’s sending Travis to his death in order to keep his mouth shut, but she is doing it with such an impeccably honest and painstaking tribunal that her real motives can’t even be hinted at.
BERCOL: Has a date been set for the Blake inquiry?
RONTANE: Does it matter? Without Travis’ evidence the mishandling of the Blake affair becomes a matter of conjecture. The inquiry becomes a formality.

The idea that the court-martial has been convened to silence Travis before he can implicate Servalan in the inevitable enquiry that will no doubt shortly be held into the continuing inability to capture Blake is a compelling one, but as I’ve said it would have been easier to just quietly dispose of him.

Bryans and Miles are once again a great double-act in this, their second and final appearance.

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Trooper Par (a slim-looking Kevin Lloyd) served with Travis for five years.  He tells Thania that he could always guarantee that Travis would not “get you killed unnecessarily. He never wasted troopers.” He’s certain of Travis’ guilt though – he heard him give the order – but it’s telling that he doesn’t feel any personal responsibility (“he gave the order. We just did the shooting.”)

Given that the Nazis often featured in Terry Nation’s scripts (most famously disguised as the Daleks) it’s not a particular stretch to assume that Chris Boucher was also drawing parallels between Federation troopers and, say, SS soldiers (who would also no doubt insist they were only obeying orders).

Brian Croucher has said that he wished Trial had been his debut episode as it would have allowed him to get a much better grip on the character of Travis.  He’s certainly very good throughout and is never better than the climatic scene where Travis offers his defence.

A field officer, like myself, is frequently required to make fast, unconsidered decisions. You were all field officers, you know that’s true. Time to think is a luxury battle seldom affords you. You react instinctively. Your actions, your decisions, all instinct, nothing more. But, an officer’s instincts are the product of his training. The more thorough the training, the more predictable the instinct, the better the officer. And I am a good officer. I have been in the service all my adult life. I’m totally dedicated to my duty and highly trained in how to perform it. On Serkasta I reacted as I was trained to react. I was an instrument of the service. So if I’m guilty of murder, of mass murder, then so are all of you!

It’s no surprise that Samor does not accept this.  “Space Commander, we have considered your sentence at some length. Your contention that what happened on Serkasta was a direct result of your training concerned us greatly. We accept that you are trained to kill. As are we all. What we cannot accept is that this training leads inevitably to the murder of innocents. Your behavior was not that of a Federation officer, but rather that of a savage, unthinking, animal.”

Since Samor is never presented as an officer that Servalan could influence, this must be his honest opinion.  If so (and if it’s also held by his brother officers) then it shows the Federation in a very different light from the unthinking murderers that Blake considers them to be.  It’s therefore deeply ironic that Blake decides to attack Servalan’s headquarters (where Travis is being tried) partly to regain some confidence after the death of Gan.

His attack kills the majority of the people present at the trial (including the reasonable Samor) and allows Travis to escape.  And as the credits roll, the question must be which was the greater crime?  Travis’ murder of the unarmed civilians on Serkasta or Blake’s murder of the unarmed Federation personnel on Servalan’s base?  Exactly how many are killed by Blake’s attack isn’t certain (although it’s presumably a lot less than Travis’ massacre) but it’s a uncomfortable possibilty that the scene was designed to show that Blake and Travis aren’t that far apart.

As for Blake himself, he also finds himself on trial in this episode – although in his case it’s a self-imposed one.  He spends most of the time having an odd adventure with a creature called Zil (Clare Lewis).  This would be a strange interlude in any story but it really jars here when it interrupts the drama of Travis’ trial.

Avon, of course, gets some good lines at Blake’s expense – such as this one, after Blake announces his plan to teleport down to the planet alone. “It occurs to me that if you should run into trouble, one of your followers – one of your three remaining followers – might have to risk his neck to rescue you.”

Following Gan’s death there had to be some pause for reflection, but it doesn’t last long and by the end of the episode everyone pretty much carries on as before.  This might seem a bit callous or it could just be that Gan was someone who was tolerated by the others as a work-colleague might be, rather than a close friend.

Minus points for the episode ending on a shot of Avon and Blake laughing after a rather weak joke.  Not only for the sub-Star Trek feeling but also because it feels a tad inappropriate after they’ve just killed so many people.  A similar thing happened at the end of Breakdown though, so maybe it’s a running theme that I’ve not picked up on before.

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