Star Maidens – Simply Media DVD Review

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The planet Medusa is a world run by women where men are very much second-class citizens, only fit for menial domestic tasks (as well as pleasuring their mistresses of course).  But after Medusa is blown out of its solar system (don’t ask) and drifts close to Earth, two worms, Adam (Pierre Brice) and Shem (Gareth Thomas), decide to turn.  They steal a space-yacht and head for our world – a paradise where men are free to be men.

Star Maidens is a bizarre British/German co-production from the mid seventies.  It’s been suggested that the series’ odd tone was a consequence of cultural differences – the Germans wanted to create a sex comedy whilst the British were more interested in crafting serious(ish) science fiction. These two different styles meet head on, with varying degrees of success …..

The fact that Star Maidens wasn’t networked indicates that ITV had little love for it.  The show limped out at different days and times from region to region (a Sunday afternoon slot on Granada, a 5:15 pm weekday slot on both HTV and Anglia, etc) whilst some areas don’t appear to have shown it at all.

It certainly didn’t lack for talent though, both in-front of and behind the camera.  It was created by Eric Paice, co-writer of the Pathfinders series with Malcolm Hulke (which had been a clear influence on the creation of Doctor Who).  Several Doctor Who writers – Ian Stuart Black and John Lucarotti – contributed scripts whilst Freddie Francis, a respected director and cinematographer, directed five episodes.  Another notable behind-the-scenes name lending his expertise to the series was Alan Hume, who worked as the director of photography on a score of major films (including multiple James Bonds and Return of the Jedi).

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Gareth Thomas

Three years before playing Roj Blake, Gareth Thomas had his first taste of the weird world of television science-fiction when he played Shem.  Shem’s a rather subservient character, as not only is he in thrall to his female mistresses but he also plays second fiddle to Adam, who’s clearly marked as the alpha-male right from the start.  In the first episode Shem is given several lines (“it’s a woman’s world”, “men’s liberation”) which hammers the point home that Medusa is a planet totally dominated by women.  Subtlety is not a hallmark of this series.

French-born Pierre Brice might have been an unknown quantity for British audiences, but since he was a big star in Germany at the time it explains why he was drafted in to take one of the leading male roles.  Adam’s decision to flee to Earth annoys his mistress Fulvia (Judy Geeson) whilst security chief Octavia (Christine Kruger) vows to get them back by any means necessary.

The Medusans kidnap two Earth scientists, Rudi (Christian Quadfleig) and Liz (Lisa Harrow), and as might be expected there’s a certain amount of irony and comedy to be mined out of their situation. Both are taken back to Medusa and suffer different fates – Rudi is assigned to a work-party whilst Liz is treated like a princess.

The guest casts feature familiar players such as Graham Crowden, Terence Alexander, Anna Carteret, Ronald Fraser and Alfie Bass.  Those who enjoy picking out background faces might spot David Ellison playing a policeman (a few years later, along with Anna Carteret, he’d be a regular in Juliet Bravo) whilst any fans of Delta and the Bannermen may want to look out for Belinda Mayne in episode seven, Test for Love.

The first episode – Escape to Paradise – sets up the premise of the series with a very hard info-dump during the opening few minutes.  This explains that Medusa (Space 1999 like) has somehow gained the ability to drift around the universe, eventually ending up not too far from Earth.  There’s some nice modelwork on show, although unfortunately the models do rather look like models. That’s something of a hallmark of the series.

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The next episode, Nemesis, sees Adam and Shem, newly arrived on Earth, forced to go on the run (it features the immortal line “there are two funny men stealing our apples”!).  Following that, we have another Earth-based instalment, The Nightmare Cannon, notable for the eponymous device which causes the faces of Octavia and Fulvia to be seen by Adam and Shem everywhere. The moment when two suits of armour come lumbering towards Shem and raise their visors to display the features of Octavia and Fulvia (a not terribly convincing optical effect) is just one of many classic moments scattered thoughtout the series. Gareth Thomas certainly gives his all during this scene.

Terence Alexander has a good guest role in the fifth episode, Kidnap – he plays a smoothie with designs on Fulvia.  Gregori (Alexander) plies Fulvia with champagne as a prelude to strapping her into a human thought transference machine. Alexander plays drunk amusingly, whilst decent actors like Philip Stone and Stanley Lebor lurk in a menacing manner.

One of the interesting things about the series is the fact that it features stories set both on Earth (featuring the misadventures of Adam, Shem and Fulvia) as well as Medusa (where Rudi and Liz find themselves to be fishes out of water). By centering the action around newcomers to both civilizations, there’s scope for drama and humour as they all come to terms with a new world which differs dramatically from their own. Although it’s something of a weakness that the first half of the series is dominated by Earth stories (a bit more variety at this point would have been welcome).

Test for Love finds us back on Medusa with Liz facing a terrible ordeal – she has to undergo a computer test in order to establish whether her claims that she doesn’t find Medusan men attractive is true (this mainly involves watching bare-chested men on a viewing screen).  Lisa Harrow, who during her career has tackled many major roles at the RSC, admirably manages to keep a straight face. Quite what the lunchtime and early evening audiences made of this back in the seventies is anyone’s guess ….

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Dawn Addams & Lisa Harrow

The Perfect Couple is a series highlight.  Adam and Fulvia, still stranded on Earth, decide to set up home together.  But things don’t go smoothly as Fulvia becomes annoyed that househusband Adam’s coffee mornings are spent entertaining attractive housewives! Meanwhile, Fulvia’s story of life on Medusa has inspired the local women to rise up and take control. Today suburbia, tomorrow the world.  Although it’s as unsubtle as the rest of the series, this one is genuinely funny (as well as featuring a nice guest-turn from Ronald Fraser).

Gareth Thomas gets a chance to shine in Hideout.  Shem, like Adam, is still on the Earth and remains a hunted fugitive.  He’s befriended by Rose (Conny Collins) but with the police closing in there’s danger all around.  Thomas and Collins both work well and even though they don’t spend a great deal of time together, their relationship still feels real.

The second half of the series concentrates more on Medusan stories, with both The End of Time and Creatures of the Mind being of particular interest. In The End of Time, Earth scientist Professor Evans (Derek Farr – a strong presence throughout the series) is brought to Medusa by Octavia, but they arrive to find a city in crisis with the President (Dawn Addams) apparently dead. There’s an eerie tone to this one, which contrasts well with some of the broad comedy seen elsewhere.

Creatures of the Mind finds Liz under attack from a group of whispering robots. Scripted by Ian Stuart Black, it puts Lisa Harrow centre-stage and gives her some good material to work with. It’s just a pity that the twenty five minute format results in everything feeling a little rushed (although since the thought of some of the slighter episodes bulked out to fifty minutes is a terrifying one, maybe the shorter running time was the best option overall).

The series finale, The Enemy, sees Adam eventually make his way back to Medusa, which means he’s on hand to save the day as the planet comes under attack from a mysterious alien craft. This feat even impresses the hard-bitten Octavia (although how long she stayed impressed we’ll never know, as it was decided not to renew the show for a second series).

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Pierre Brice, Gareth Thomas & Judy Geeson

Originally released by Delta in 2005 but OOP for several years, Star Maidens has now been brought back into print by Simply. Simply’s release looks to be pretty much the same as Delta’s, with identical menu screens and picture quality. The PQ is reasonable, athough had new prints been struck from the negatives then things could have looked a good deal better. But apart from the expense, that supposes the original negatives still exist – which due to the age of the series isn’t certain.

There’s a bonus feature on disc two – an interview with Gareth Thomas. Running for 35 minutes, it offers a highly entertaining trot through the series, as well as briefly touching on other parts of his career.  Thomas was always an affable and unpretentious interviewee, which becomes clear over the course of this feature.  It’s easy to imagine that many actors would be reluctant to revisit such an undistinguished and faintly embarrassing part of their career, but Thomas had no such qualms and was happy to speak at length about the production.

There isn’t another series like Star Maidens. It’s fusion of gender politics, mild titillation (the eye-catching female guards, decked out in hotpants and crop tops) and sci-fi themes all combine to produce a heady brew. And although it’s no classic, it possesses a certain wonky charm (even if there are times when it’s impossible not to react with slack-jawed incredulity at the events unfolding on the screen).

Hand on heart, some of the acting isn’t great, the music is of its time (that’s the kindest thing I can say about it) and the extensive redubbing tends to increase the unreal air of the stories. But I still find it a fascinating and entertaining time capsule of the period and whilst it won’t be to everybody’s tastes, I’m glad that it’s available once again.

Star Maidens is released by Simply Media on the 17th of April 2017.  The series is comprised of thirteen 25 minute episodes and has an RRP of £19.99.

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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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Gareth Thomas (1945-2016)

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2016 continues to be a bitter year, with the sad news that another favourite actor of mine, Gareth Thomas, has died.

Whilst there’s no doubt that he’ll always be best remembered as Roj Blake, he made a score of other television appearances – a few of which I’d which to highlight.  Parkin’s Patch (1969-1970) was his first regular television role – he played Ron Radley, one of the supporting characters to PC Moss Parkin (John Flanagan).  It’s a decent village-based police series and the DVD is worth picking up.

Another series with Gareth Thomas in a supporting role which is certainly worth a look is Sutherland’s Law, which saw Thomas play alongside Iain Cuthbertson (later the pair would appear in Children of the Stones, yet another series that any fan of 1970’s archive television should own).

Thomas was part of a fine ensemble cast who were brought together for the 1975 BBC adaptation of How Green Was My Valley.  Stanley Baker, Sian Phillips, Nerys Hughes, Ray Smith, Jeremy Clyde and Clifford Rose were amongst his co-stars, which gives a good indication of the strength in depth of the casting.

Not everything he appeared in was of the same quality, Star Maidens (1976) was entertainly awful but Thomas managed to emerge with his dignity intact.  Not an easy job!  He was a semi-regular in the likes of By The Sword Divided and London’s Burning in the 1980’s and 1990’s and continued to rack up numerous credits up until Holby City in 2011.

Although a fair amount of his work is available on DVD, a few key series aren’t.  Knights of God (1987) is, like the rest of the TVS archive, mired in rights issues so YouTube is the best bet for that one.  It would be nice to see someone pick up Morgan’s Boy (1984) for a DVD release though.

Returning to Blakes 7, whilst Blake might sometimes be overshadowed by Avon (it’s always easier to write for the dissenting voice on the sidelines, rather than the straight-ahead hero) there’s no doubt that Thomas was the glue that held the series together for the first two years – Blake’s absence was certainly felt during series three and four.  And Blake’s return in the 52nd and final episode still has considerable power and impact some thirty five years later.

RIP.

 

Blakes 7 – Terminal

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As is probably well known, Terminal was due to be B7‘s final episode, but the show was granted a last-minute reprieve by BBC bigwigs who had apparently enjoyed the series so much they asked for an announcement to be broadcast over Terminal‘s end credits stating that the series would return.  Which came as something of a surprise to the cast and crew.

Having said that, it’s easy to see that Terry Nation crafted the script in such a way as to make a fourth series eminently possible.  Terminal ends with Blake and Servalan apparently dead (although both make a miraculous comeback in S4) and the Liberator destroyed (which doesn’t) but everyone else is alive and kicking.  But even if it’s not the final end it’s still an ominous, unsettling installment.  Paul Darrow’s performance (as well as the very brief return of Gareth Thomas) are the undoubted highlights and help to paper over some of the more glaring plot holes.

The main talking point has to be Avon’s bizarre behaviour. Terminal seems to look ahead to the increasingly paranoid man who’d lead the others through a number of misadventures during series four, losing just as often as winning.  If Rumours of Death started to chip away at his air of invulnerability (by revealing that he was never as close to defrauding the Federation’s banking systems as he’d previously thought) then Terminal is another nail in his coffin.  His obsession to find Blake has several consequences, the most serious is that it loses them the Liberator.  Enroute to their destination Zen detects unidentified matter in their path – he recommends going around it (“the consensus of computer systems favour a course deviation to avoid contact. In this environment, it is prudent to treat any unexplained phenomenon as potentially dangerous”) but Avon is adamant – there will be no course deviation.

Why?  It wouldn’t have cost them a great deal of time and would have been the prudent course of action.  And Avon’s always been prudent – never willing to risk either his life or that of the Liberator unnecessarily.  It’s tempting to think that Servalan’s operating a similar mental suggestion on Avon that we saw Blake suffer from in Voice from the Past.  That would also explain his burning desire to find Blake, which also seems very out of character – he spent two years trying to get rid of him!

There is the possibility that Avon is motivated to find Blake purely because of the get-rich plan that Blake was offering, although that doesn’t really hold water either – surely Avon has the ability to create his own get-rich plans if that’s what he wants?  And the Liberator is supposed to carry untold wealth anyway.

But for all the slight niggles about his motivation, the brief meeting between Avon and Blake is still magical.  It may last only a minute or so but it’s a reminder that as good as Darrow’s been during S3, he’s not had an equal – like Thomas – to measure himself against.

BLAKE: Well, you certainly took your time finding me.
AVON: There didn’t seem to be any hurry. Anyway, I always said I could manage very well without you.
BLAKE: It must have been so dull having no one to argue with.
AVON: Well, now, there were times when your simple-minded certainties might have been refreshing.
BLAKE: Careful, Avon. Your sentiment is showing.

Before teleporting down to the planet (an artificial satellite called Terminal) Avon makes it quite clear to the others exactly how he feels about them. “I don’t need any of you. I needed the Liberator to bring me here so I had no choice but to bring you along, but this is as far as you go. I don’t want you with me. I don’t want you following me. Understand this: anyone who does follow me, I’ll kill them.”  Not very friendly.

The obvious irony is that he does need them and despite the way he’s treated them they won’t just abandon him.  It’s all done in a typically understated way – no loud declarations of friendship and loyalty – but it’s there all the same.  Later, Avon explains to Servalan that he decided to do everything on his own as he felt it could be a trap – although she wonders if it had more to do with his desire not to share Blake’s mysterious treasure with them.  He smiles, but doesn’t deny it (this is a nice moment, as it offers several  different motivations for Avon’s actions).

Of course it all turned out to be a dream – Blake was never on Terminal and his image was created in Avon’s mind by some clever people working for Servalan.  This is yet another of her hopelessly over complicated schemes to capture the Liberator (in one way it’s a good thing this’ll be the last time she’ll have to do this).

If Servalan’s once again rather surplus to requirements, there’s two moments when she earns her money.  The first is when she tells Avon that Blake’s dead.  She appears to be quite emotional – was this Pearce’s choice or as scripted, I wonder?  And was it meant to imply Servalan’s sorrow at the death of a worthy enemy or (even though this seems unlikely) was she emphasising with the fact that the news would have upset Avon?

No prizes for guessing that the second is “Maximum Power!” as she finally gets command of the Liberator.  But by now it’s a very sick ship as the cloud of unidentified matter has caused irreparable damage .  It’s more than a little odd that neither Servalan or her underlings twig that something’s wrong – the whole ship’s covered with big gloopy blotches for goodness sake!

Her apparent death is an interesting moment – I wonder if they ever intended to keep her dead when S4 was being mooted.  Probably not, as she was such a powerful character, but her overuse during S3 had been a problem and a fresh adversary could have been what the series needed.

Is it wrong that I find the death of Zen to be more upsetting than the death of Gan?  Zen’s final words (“I have failed you. I am sorry”) always raises a sniffle and the slow disintegration of the Liberator is also mildly upsetting.

No story is ever perfect and the links (small men in monkey suits) help to keep this proud record going.  But apart from them, and a bit of a mid-episode sag, there’s not much wrong with Terminal (if you can accept Avon’s odd behaviour).

As they watch the Liberator disintegrate, Avon and the others face an uncertain future ….

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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 – The Keeper

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The Keeper isn’t a story that has a great deal going for it.  The setting is the planet Goth and its inhabitants, led by Gola (Bruce Purchase), clearly favour a faux-medieval feel (plenty of flickering torches and over-ripe dialogue).

Purchase, who’d played the Captain in the Doctor Who story The Pirate Planet shortly before, approaches this role with a similar lack of subtlety.  But whilst there was slightly more to the Captain than initially was apparent, Gola is just a blustering fool who spends his time shouting – it’s almost as if he’d taken lessons from Brian Blessed.

Blake, Vila and Jenna teleport down to find the brainprint of cyber-surgeon Lurgen.  Once they have that they’ll be able to establish the location of Star One.  Avon asks Blake what they’ll do once they know where Star One is.

BLAKE: Finish what we started.
AVON: Destroy it?
BLAKE: Of course. And the entire Federation with it. Does that bother you suddenly?
AVON: Star One is the automatic computer control centre for the entire Federation.
BLAKE: Get to the point, Avon.
AVON: That is the point. Through Star One we could control everything. The Federation could belong to us.
VILA: I could be president.
AVON: Ah.

Blake and the others are only on the planet’s surface for a few minutes before they’re overpowered – it’s a remarkably inept display by Blake (strategic planning has never been one of his strengths).  Vila and Jenna are carried off whilst they leave Blake behind (why?).  Blake urgently requests teleport, but Avon and Cally have moved out of teleport range in order to destroy Travis’ ship.

How Avon manages to identify the ship as Travis’ is never explained – surely there must be others in the galaxy that are similar?  It probably won’t come as a surprise that Travis wasn’t on board – he and Servalan are both on Goth.  Their on/off working relationship is now back on and Travis is in a remarkably mellow mood as he attempts to forge a more permanent alliance with Servalan.

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TRAVIS: Look, Star One is the computer control centre. It controls the climate on more than two hundred worlds, communications, security, food production, it controls them all. It is the key to our very lives. Think of all that power.
SERVALAN: You can see why the Council themselves don’t know where Star One is. In the wrong hands …
TRAVIS: Yes, but in the right hands: yours and mine.
SERVALAN: Be very careful you don’t overreach yourself, Travis.

One part of the story that does work very well is Travis’ contribution to it.  It seems obvious that he’ll be around for the duration, tangling with Blake and the others, but about twenty minutes in he disappears and it slowly becomes clear that he’s not coming back.  He’s already found Star One’s location and not only has he betrayed Servalan but as the next episode makes clear he’s betrayed the whole human race …..

A quick mention for his personal communicator, which is the size of several house-bricks (almost like the most primitive mobile phone).  Considering that Kirk and the Enterprise had pocket sized communicators a decade earlier you’d have imagined B7 could have done something similar. It’s hard to imagine him putting that into his pocket!

Whilst Blake runs around achieving very little, Jenna and Vila are making the acquaintance of Gola.  Vila becomes the King’s fool, supplanting his existing one (played by Cengiz Saner) whilst Jenna immediately attracts Gola’s attention.  It’s a good thing that The Keeper gives Sally Knyvette something to do, it’s a bad thing that she has to spend her time as the object of Gola’s attentions.  But Knyvette does manage to mine some comic moments from this fairly unpromising material.

Elsewhere, Blake meets Rod (Shaun Curry) who is Gola’s brother and plans to challenge him for the throne.  It won’t come as surprise that Rod is a bluff and hearty fellow (he’s not quite in the Purchase/Blessed camp for loudness, but he comes close).

Blake also runs into an old man locked in the dungeon (played by Arthur Hewlett) who turns out to be Gola and Rod’s father – and so is the old, disposed king.  Hewlett’s performance is notable for his moaning (he may be playing for laughs or he may not, I can’t be sure).  Also eschewing any subtlety is Freda Jackson as Tara, Gola’s sister.  She can cackle with the best of them and when she’s not doing that she maintains a baleful watch over the unfolding events.

Eventually (thank goodness) Blake discovers the location of Star One, which means we can happily leave the planet of Goth far behind and journey onwards to the climax of series two.

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Blakes 7 – Gambit

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Gambit is an unusual story, certainly for the series to date.  Robert Holmes’ script is laced with his usual love of wordplay and the camp quotient is set to eleven.  Krantor (Aubrey Woods) and Toise (John Leeson) are an unforgettable double-act – both actors seem to delight in upstaging the other (not least with their costumes – Leeson’s headgear is especially memorable).

There’s a throwaway line that it’s Mardi Gras time at Freedom City, which explains why they’re dressed as they are – and presumably all the extras (dressed as clowns, nuns, etc) are entering into the spirit of the occasion as well.  Or their costumes could have just been pulled off the shelves – this is Blakes 7, so it’s always a fair bet that money was tight.

The lack of a decent budget is probably best reflected in the main room of Freedom City’s casino, which is pretty sparsely decorated.  So what funds were available seem to have been spent on a handful of new costumes (especially Servalan’s stunning red number).

Servalan, and her assistant Jarriere (Harry Jones), have travelled to Freedom City to find both Travis and cyber-surgeon Docholli (Denis Carey).  It’s believed that Docholli knows the location of Star One – so Servalan is anxious to locate him before Blake does.  She offers Krantor a substantial sum of money in exchange for his co-operation, but whilst they’re perfectly pleasant to each other on the surface it’s plain that neither trusts or likes the other an inch.

Servalan on Krantor.  “He is a despicable animal. When the Federation finally cleans out this cesspit, I shall have that vulpine degenerate eviscerated with a small and very blunt knife.”

Krantor on Servalan.  “One of these days, Toise, I am going to have Supreme Commander high-and-mighty Servalan ravaged until she does not know what month she’s in. I’ll have her screaming for death.”

This is typical Holmes, although it’s a little surprising that Krantor’s wish to ravage Servalan made it to the screen.  He always delighted in putting lurid dialogue into his scripts and sometimes (especially when Terrance Dicks was script-editing his work on Doctor Who) the more extreme examples were excised.  Here, it seems that Chris Boucher was happy to keep them in (unless of course he removed even worse!)

If Krantor and Toise are a great double-act, then so are Servalan and Jarriere.  Harry Jones couldn’t have looked less like a Federation trooper if he tried, but maybe this is why he was cast.  Jarriere is present mainly to listen admiringly to Servalan’s increasingly convoluted plans about how she intends to deal with both Docholli and Travis.  Delightfully, after she’s explained herself in great detail he then admits he doesn’t understand a word of it!

The third excellent double-act in the story are Avon and Vila.  Homes had already latched onto the comic possibilities of teaming them up in Killer and he wastes no time in doing so here as well.  Their subplot is a little bizarre, but it fits into the odd nature of the story.

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Both are aggrieved at having to remain behind on the Liberator with Vila complaining that “if it was a desert down there, so hot your eyeballs frizzled, poisonous snakes under every rock” then Blake would have sent the pair of them.  Avon agrees and then decides they should teleport down and break the bank at the casino.

Why they should want to do this (the Liberator possesses untold wealth) is never made clear, plus the concept of Avon sneaking down is also bizarre – it’s difficult to imagine he cares that Blake would disapprove.  Some of his dialogue (“you dummy”) seems out of character too.

Avon and Vila intend to win a fortune at the roulette table with the aid of Orac.  But since Orac’s rather bulky, after a brief discussion about molecular reduction the computer obligingly reduces himself to one eighth of his normal size.  You can either enjoy the comic moment or fret that the episode once again isn’t taking itself seriously.

Blake, Cally and Jenna’s search for Docholli doesn’t last very long (they find a trace of him in the first bar they come to) so they don’t really have a great deal to do.  Jenna and Cally’s brief staged cat-fight is easily the highlight of their scenes.  Travis skulks about, wearing a silly hat, guarding Docholli as he knows that Blake will turn up to find the surgeon (although how Travis knows about Docholli is never explained).

Thanks to Orac, Vila wins a fortune but then finds himself conned into playing speed chess with the Klute (Deep Roy).  If he wins or draws he’ll earn another fortune, but it he loses it’ll cost him his life.  Naturally with Orac on hand to whisper suggestions, Vila manages to earn a draw and he and Avon return to the Liberator a good deal richer.

Blake, Cally and Jenna have returned too, with information that will send them off to the planet Goth to locate a tribal chief who wears the brain-print of someone who knew the location of Star One around his neck. When Blake asks Avon and Vila if anything’s happened he’s immediately suspicious by the sight of their innocent expressions (Darrow deadpans terribly well).

If you like your Blakes 7 on the gritty side, then Gambit may not appeal but everyone else should find something to enjoy here.

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