Doctor Who – Destiny of the Daleks

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There may be a few production missteps (tatty looking Daleks, David Gooderson squeezed into Michael Wisher’s old mask) and scenes which should have gone to a second take (“spack off!”)  but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

Tom’s on fine form, switching from playful to serious in a heartbeat (for example, the moment when the Doctor learns he’s on Skaro).  The Doctor might have plenty of gags, courtesy of Douglas Adams, but there’s also a pleasing somberness about him, especially in episode one as he and Romana explore the mysterious planet (the lack of incidental music increases this sense of unease).

Ken Grieve’s low-angled shooting favours the Daleks but it’s also used to good effect elsewhere.  And these low angles make it clear that several sets, including the TARDIS, have ceilings – which is very unusual, especially during a period when the series was rather cash-strapped (you’d have assumed it was an extravagance the show could ill afford).

Lalla Ward is Romana.  Within a few minutes any thoughts of Mary Tamm have been banished and although Romana II might be somewhat hysterical at times (especially when confronted by the Daleks) possibly we can put this down to post-regenerative trauma.

But her fear and panic during the Dalek interrogation scene does help to sell the notion that the Daleks are powerful and dangerous opponents, something which is rather negated as the story progresses.  The nadir of this comes with the unforgettable sight of the sad suicide Daleks shuffling awkwardly across the Skaro plains.

Terry Nation ends as he began, with a trip to Skaro.  Familiar Nation tropes are given a final outing – such as an obsession with radiation and the sight of the TARDIS made inaccessible.  Although it’s a little bizarre that the radiation subplot goes nowhere (the Doctor warns Romana that they have to take radiation pills regularly, she’s then separated from the Doctor and the pills, but no matter since they’re never mentioned again). Also, it’s a little irritating that Nation seems to regard the Daleks as purely robotic, a far cry from David Whitaker’s devious schemers.

Holding back Davros until the end of episode two was a good move, since it gave the second half of the story fresh impetus.  Although it does mean we have to consider the Davros problem.

It seems that poor David Gooderson has never been regarded with a great deal of affection by the majority of Doctor Who fandom, although in his defence he was dealt a pretty rough hand.  His Davros doesn’t have any of the signature moments that Wisher enjoyed and this – together with the reused mask – ensured he was always going to come off second best.  But he’s by no means bad and is certainly closer to the original than Terry Molloy’s frustrated Ena Sharples from Resurrection was.

It may be comfortable and rather predictable, as only a Terry Nation story could be, but there’s plenty to love across these four episodes.  So long Terry and thanks for all the scripts.

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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 – Powerplay

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With the departure of Gareth Thomas, Blakes 7 needed a new central dynamic.  It’s easy to see how the Blake/Avon relationship was recreated with Avon/Tarrant, but there’s one major difference.  Tarrant, like Avon during series one and two, is presented as the questioning figure of the group – often wondering if the plan they’re embarking on is wise – but he clearly lacks Avon’s experience and so ends up as a much less forceful figure.

So whilst Blake/Avon was more of a meeting of equals, Avon/Tarrant has something of a father/son feel with poor Tarrant coming off second best more often than not.  No doubt this is also a consequence of the slow rise of Avon’s megalomania – as we’ll see (especially during series four) Avon becomes increasingly disinclined to listen to anyone – with disastrous results.

Stephen Pacey, like Josette Simon, does his best with the hand he’s dealt, although Tarrant does sometimes come over as intensely annoying (Harvest of Kairos, springs to mind).  But he does start off with an interesting character dynamic.  He’s presented as the enemy (so it comes as a surprise when he joins the crew at the end of the episode).  Tarrant is the leader of a Federation raiding party who’ve taken control of the Liberator (much to Avon’s barely concealed disgust) but in the end it turns out he wasn’t a Federation type after all, he was only pretending.  Hurrah!

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To be honest, there’s something of a lost opportunity here.  Tarrant claims that he’s a fugitive from the Federation but we’ve only got his word for it.  Could he really have been a Federation officer all along?  He’s certainly very convincing in the role.  The possibility that Tarrant may be untrustworthy and liable to sell them out at any minute would have provided a nice spark of tension, but this angle was never explored.

But if Tarrant is faux-Federation, then his second-in-command, Section leader Klegg (Michael Sheard), is Federation through and through.  With several day’s stubble and a perpetually irritated expression (like he’s just swallowed a space-fly) it’s a highly entertaining performance from Sheard – a cult film and television favourite of many, including me (he had umpteen Doctor Who‘s to his credit, along with films like Star Wars and Indiana Jones).

I wonder what Michael Keating and Jan Chappell felt when they received the first two scripts of series three?  They were barely in the first episode and spend episode two languishing in the sub-plot.  Both Vila and Cally seem to have landed on their feet after they’re taken to what appears to be a spotless hospital on the planet Chenga.  Vila thanks the two attractive young women – Zee (Primi Townsend) and Barr (Julia Fiddler) – most effusively for rescuing him. “You get paid for helping me? That’s what the primitives meant when they said that you get a bounty. You see, they’ve got it all wrong, they just don’t understand. You look after yourselves and thanks once again. I really, really mean that.”

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Vila and Cally are being set up to take a fall.  The Chengans plan to harvest them for their organs – and wouldn’t you know it, the happy news is broken to them by Servalan.  If credibility was stretched to breaking point in the previous episode when she turned up on the same planet as Avon, there’s no words to explain how ridiculous it is that she just happens to bump into Vila and Cally.  Small universe, isn’t it?  Luckily the Liberator picks them up just before they’re sliced and diced.

Like Aftermath, this is a story that works well on a character level.  Terry Nation doesn’t provide us with any major surprises, but whilst it’s not subtle stuff it does clip along at a decent rate.

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Blakes 7 – Aftermath

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Following Gareth Thomas’ departure, Paul Darrow moved centre-stage and it’s easy to see how Aftermath was crafted to facilitate this transition.  In one way this was something of a risk – Avon (and Darrow) had worked so well during the first two series by operating as an outsider – someone who sat on the sidelines, caustically criticising Blake’s plans.  Therefore the series format had to be somewhat re-tooled (Avon’s dislike of Blake’s freedom-fighter heroics was so strong that it would have been implausible for him to simply pick up where Roj left off).

Instead we see the Federation retreat into the distance, at least for now.  Following the galactic war they’re no longer the dominant force they were (we’re told that 80% of the Federation fleet has been destroyed).  The war between humanity and the aliens is played out during the first few minutes of Aftermath in the most cut-price way imaginable – numerous model shots are reused from previous episodes in order to give the impression of a vast galactic battle.  It’s not terribly convincing, it must be said.

The Liberator has suffered severe damage, which means the crew have to head for the life capsules.  Avon says that Blake and Jenna have gone off together – whilst this may have been a script necessity to cover for the absence of Gareth Thomas and Sally Knyvette it does also make sense (since Jenna harboured a long, if subtle, pash for Blake).

I’ve never quite understood why Avon and Orac end up on the planet Sarran whilst Vila and Cally’s planetfall is somewhere else entirely – they all left at pretty much the same time so you’d have assumed they’d have ended up together.  The reason in script terms is obvious though – Keating and Chappell are written out of this one so that Darrow can establish his credentials as the new leader (similar to how The Way Back focused on Blake).

It’s a Terry Nation script, so it should come as no surprise that Sarron has its share of murderous primitives.  They’re led by Chel (Alan Lake) who observes the battle raging above the planet’s atmosphere.  “This is the day that was prophesied. The day our law foretold. They will come from the sky to destroy us. They will burn the stars to light their way. We must be prepared.”  Lake was never the most subtle of actors, but Chel isn’t a role that demands method acting so that’s fair enough.

Two hapless Federation troopers (played by Richard Franklin and Michael Melia) fall victim to Chel and his men but Avon is luckier as he’s rescued by Dayna (Josette Simon).  Following Sally Knyvette’s departure there was a vacancy for a new crew-member aboard the Liberator and Dayna certainly fits the bill.  The casting of a young, black actress would have been quite noteworthy at the time (1980) and Simon, despite her lack of experience, hits the ground running.  Although the question is, can Dayna’s character be maintained over the remainder of the series?  Jenna had been introduced as a hard-bitten smuggler but eventually found herself as little more than the Liberator’s teleport operator.  Dayna does turn out to be a little luckier, but Blakes 7 remains very much a boys show and the female characters tend, too often, to play second fiddle.

Still, Dayna has a good chunk of screen-time in this episode.  Her initial meeting with Avon is a memorable one – she kisses him on the lips, telling him that she was curious.  Avon, as befits his new status as a dashing action hero has an immediate response. “I’m all in favor of healthy curiosity. I hope yours isn’t satisfied too easily. I think you’ve cured my headache.”  The arrival of Servalan shakes things up.  Pearce and Simon share a lovely two-handed scene, which sees Servalan dripping with fake sincerity and Dayna barely able to hide her loathing.

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Dayna is presented as something of a flawed character – the life she’s led to date (an isolated one with her father) has left her with little understanding of other people.  She regards the Sarrans as animals, who exist to be killed as and when she decides.  Her potential awkwardness with others was something that could have been developed, but never really was.

A major change in series three concerns the relationship between Avon and Servalan. Let’s be honest, during the first two series they never had a relationship at all (try counting the number of lines they exchanged during the first twenty six episodes). All that changes now as we see that love/hate is in the air.  Servalan tells Avon that Star One is destroyed, which means that the Federation has been crippled.

AVON: So Blake’s rabble finally get freedom of choice. He won after all.
SERVALAN: Forget Blake. You have control of the Liberator now. There’s no more powerful ship in the galaxy. You have Orac. Avon! Don’t you see what that means?
AVON: You tell me about it.
SERVALAN: You could rebuild it all. All those worlds could be yours, Avon, they’re there for the taking. You and I could build an empire greater and more powerful than the Federation ever was or ever could have been. Now, Avon. At this moment we can take history and shape it in our own image. Think of it: absolute power. There is nothing you can imagine that we couldn’t do.
AVON: I am thinking of it.
SERVALAN: We can do it, Avon.
AVON: I know we can.
SERVALAN: We’ll be answerable to no one. Ours will be the only voice. Imagination our only limit. [They kiss. Avon grabs her by the throat and pushes her to the ground]
AVON: Imagination my only limit? I’d be dead in a week.

There’s no doubt that Avon and Servalan’s kiss (and his manhandling of her) launched a thousand fan-fics.  Darrow and Pearce are electrifying in this scene and it’s worth the price of admission alone.

The death of Dayna’s father, Hal Mellanby (Cy Grant) and her adopted sister Lauren (Sally Harrison) means that she no longer has any ties to the planet and is free to join the Liberator.  And the fact that Servalan killed her father will provide the series with some nice scenes of dramatic tension whenever the two meet again.

Although the primitives sub-plot of Aftermath is fairly tedious it doesn’t really impact on the main thrust of the story, which revolves around the Avon/Dayna/Servalan triangle.  All of them, especially Darrow, benefit from generous amounts of character development.

Unusually, we end on a cliffhanger.  Avon and Dayna return to the Liberator but find themselves on the wrong end of a Federation gun.  The curly-haired officer asks them why they’ve boarded a Federation ship ……

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Blakes 7 – Countdown

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The major flaw with Countdown is the countdown itself.  The planet of Albian has a population of around six million but the Federation have been able to keep control with a very small force of troops due to their ultimate deterrent.  Somewhere on the planet is a bomb which will destroy all life at the first attempt at insurrection.  A group of rebels, lead by the mercenary Del Grant (Tom Chadbon) manage to take control but they’re just too late to stop the countdown from being activated.

One of the odd things about the countdown is that the time remaining seems to jump about somewhat.  It starts at 1,000 and as each digit doesn’t seem to last more than two seconds there should be about half an hour left to diffuse the bomb.  However, we’re told that the time in hand is double that – sixty minutes.

But the main problem is that there’s very little tension about this part of the story.   You know that the bomb’s not going to explode (the idea that six million people could be killed – even if most of them exist off-screen – wouldn’t be something that the series would ever contemplate).  So if the bomb part is a bit of a damp squib (as it were) where does the drama come from?

It’s the meeting between Avon and Del Grant which forms the heart of the episode.  It could be that Terry Nation created this sub-plot with no thought of a sequel and it was Chris Boucher who decided that the story of Avon and Del’s sister, Anna Grant, could be further developed (see the series three episode Rumours of Death).  That would make sense, as the later episode does throw up some continuity issues – not least concerning Del himself ……

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But here, the story of Avon and Anna seems to have been crafted purely to open up the character of Avon a little.  Although he’s always completely self-contained it’s clear he does possess feelings – he’s just incredibly guarded and has never let any of the Liberator crew close enough to find out exactly what he thinks or feels.

His chance meeting with Del, a man who’s vowed to kill him, therefore provides us with a opportunity to understand a little about what makes him tick.  Del believes that Avon ran out on Anna, leaving her to the mercy of the Federation and is therefore directly responsible for her death.  Avon obviously carries a burden of regret but insists that the true events were somewhat different.

GRANT: There’s one thing I never understood. Why did you leave her alone?
AVON: I had arranged to buy some exit visas, but I had to go right across the city to collect them. It was safer for Anna to stay out of sight.
GRANT: What happened then?
AVON: There were patrols out everywhere looking for us. I was late at the rendezvous. And then the man from whom I was buying the visas increased the price. He wanted ten times what we had agreed. He said he could get even more if he turned me in and collected the Federation reward.
GRANT: You should have killed him.
AVON: I did.
GRANT: So you got the visas. Why didn’t you go back for her?
AVON: Killing the dealer wasn’t quite so straightforward. He was expecting something and fired first. I started back but I was losing a lot of blood. Somewhere along the way I passed out. I was lucky. Some people found me and got me under cover.
GRANT: You could have got a message to her, told her to get out.
AVON: I was unconscious for more than thirty hours.
GRANT: You used the visa and got out of the city. You left her there.
AVON: That’s right. But that was a week later. Anna was already dead.
GRANT: You’re lying. You left the city the same day, before the Federation found Anna. You could have got her out.
AVON: No. She came looking for me, the patrols found her. It was only after we got word that she was dead that I left.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Avon and Del Grant are the only two people that can diffuse the bomb and have to forget their differences and work together.  And it also should come as no surprise that by the end Del Grant has accepted Avon’s story and they part on friendly terms.

The other main plot element is Blake’s search for Control.  A number of episodes from now to the end of the second series contain hints and information about Star One (the new name for Control).  These various plot-threads do feel a touch contrived though – we’ve been told that Star One is the most closely guarded secret in the Federation, so why have various clues been scattered about like breadcrumbs?

In Countdown, Blake arrives at Albian to find Major Provine (a boo-hiss turn from Paul Shelley).  Provine served at Control and Blake hopes that he’ll be able to tell him where it’s now located.  He doesn’t do this, but he does give him a lead. “Docholli. Cybersurgeon. Only Docholli knows.”  Quite why Provine should decide to assist Blake with his dying breath is a mystery – and it’s even harder to swallow that he would be allowed to walk about with such a vital piece of information.

It’s very noticeable that this is the third story in a row where Blake, Avon and Vila teleport down and enjoy all the action whilst Jenna and Cally remain marooned on the Liberator.  So it’s easy to believe that around this time Sally Knyvette decided not to return for series three.

Countdown is fairly formulaic stuff then, enlivened only by the insight into Avon’s character.  In many ways it’s a taster for the way the series would develop once he moved centre-stage following Blake’s departure.

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Blakes 7 – Pressure Point

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Whilst the initial reason for scripting Pressure Point was borne out of necessity (Gan had to be written out) in the end it proved to be something of a watershed for the show.  Since the start of series one we’ve seen that Blake is a far from infallible character –  he may have positive qualities which mark him out as a natural leader but his decision making can often be deeply flawed.

This is shown most brutally in this episode.  Blake has returned the Liberator to Earth – to howls of protest from everybody except Cally.  She, like Blake, is a fanatic.  They value their own personal safety far less than the cause they’re fighting for – you know that either would be only too willing to sacrifice their life and become a martyr.  But Avon, Jenna and Vila don’t share their burning intensity – they might be happy to ally themselves to Blake, but personal preservation is never far from their minds.

And what of Gan?  We can say for certain that he’s always been (with the odd exception, such as Shadow) one of Blake’s most staunchest allies.  But it’s possible to consider that his frequent shows of support for were designed mainly to allow Avon to score cheap points at their expense.  Blake would announce a risky scheme, Gan would give him his whole-hearted support, Avon would roll his eyes and mutter something disparaging along the lines that only someone as stupid as Gan could ever think it was a good idea.

Blake tells the others the reason for returning to Earth. “Two hundred years ago, when the Federation began expansion and conquest, the Administration established a computer complex to monitor information: political, civil, military – everything. That computer is the nerve center of ALL Federation activity. Smashing that would be the biggest single step toward the destruction of their power. I don’t think they would ever recover from it.”

This seems not dissimilar to the space control complex on Saurian Major as seen in Time Squad.  That was also seen by Blake as a vital part of the Federation’s empire – although after he destroyed it there seemed to be no change at all to the smooth running of the Federation.

Coming fresh to Pressure Point, and especially if you’re aware of Terry Nation’s history as a writer, it would be reasonable to assume that Control on Earth would be similar to the space control complex on Saurian Major – just a MacGuffin which exists for the sole purpose of giving the Liberator crew something to attack.  They teleport down, shoot some guards, lay some explosive charges and teleport back up – job done.

But this doesn’t happen.  Control is an empty shell designed to lure people like Blake into a trap and the moment of revelation is a stunning one.  Blake falls to his knees, speechless, whilst Travis explains.  “You see, it’s the great illusion, Blake. You give substance and credibility to an empty room, and the real thing becomes undetectable, virtually invisible.”

The only thing worse than Blake having risked all their lives for nothing is that Gan dies as they make their escape.  And it’s the complete pointlessness of his death which is striking .  Nation could have scripted a story where Gan dies a heroic death – saving Blake and the others – instead the last shot we see of his lifeless body is deliberately anti-heroic.

It’s a far cry from, say, Planet of the Daleks (a 1973 Nation-scripted Doctor Who adventure).  In that story we see various Thals die during the course of the six episodes and each time the Doctor is on hand to deliver a short moral homily.  The Doctor’s speeches were intended to demonstrate that the Thals didn’t die in vain – they were sacrificing themselves for the greater good.  No such comfort can be drawn from Pressure Point though.  Gan did die in vain – there’s no two ways about it.

Although George Spenton-Foster (something of a bogey-man for Brian Croucher) directed this one, Croucher does seem more settled as Travis.  There’s far less of the histrionics we saw in Shadow and a touch more of the calculating Travis of old.  Possibly this is because he’s convinced that the plan to capture Blake is such a good one.

The focus is slightly more on Servalan though, thanks to her interaction with Kasabi (Jane Sherwin).  Kasabi is the rebel leader who Blake intends to contact – without her help he won’t be able to breach the outer defences.  Servalan and Travis capture her, but she proves uncooperative.  Kasabi’s previous relationship with Servalan helps to shine something of a light on the Supreme Commander.  “Don’t try and browbeat me Servalan. Or have you forgotten that I knew you as a cadet? You were a credit to your background: spoilt, idle, vicious. My confidential assessment listed her as unfit for command.  But I forgot how well-connected she was.”

As Kasabi doesn’t survive the interrogation it’s lucky that Servalan and Travis have an alternative – Kasabi’s daughter Veron (Yolande Palfrey).  This was a fairly early credit for Palfrey (who died far too young in 2011) and she’s not always entirely convincing (although we could be charitable and say this is because she was feeling the pressure of being a traitor to the cause).

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It’s notable that when Blake and the others find her it’s Gan who’s the most solicitous.  This may be a decision from Nation to bulk up his part (too little, too late if so) or it could be a nod back to Project Avalon which saw Gan rather taken with the android Avalon.  Poor Gan, never a good judge of females (real or manufactured) it would seem.

I do have to mention Jacqueline Pearce’s dress (as seen in the first picture).  Not very practical, but it’s certainly memorable.

Another point of interest is an exchange between Blake and Avon before they launch the attack.  Avon rather surprises Blake by giving him his full support, but Avon being Avon there’s a reason behind it.  “If we succeed, if we destroy Control, the Federation will be at its weakest. It will be more vulnerable than it has been for centuries. The revolt in the Outer Worlds will grow. The resistance movements on Earth will launch an all-out attack to destroy the Federation. They will need unifying. They will need a leader. YOU will be the natural choice.”

With Blake unifying the resistance, Avon will take over the Liberator.  As we’ll see, this is something that will ultimately come to pass …..

But not for a little while as Blake’s defeat here will only intensify his desire to find the true location of Control.  This will form a loose running thread which will carry on until the the conclusion of series two – Star One.

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Blakes 7 – Redemption

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The easiest way of knowing we’ve reached series two of Blakes 7 is to look at the costumes of the Liberator crew.  In series one you could best describe them as drab, but now June Hudson’s been recruited things have certainly changed (and this is only the beginning).  Highlights are Avon’s natty black studded number (which he later donates to Tarrant) and Blake’s rather extraordinary green plastic jacket with enormous puffy sleeves.

But if the costumes are different then the story is much more familiar (not surprising since it was Terry Nation’s fourteenth script in a row).  Like The Web or Breakdown it’s a story of two halves.  The first takes place on the Liberator and the second kicks into gear once they’ve reached their destination.

Before things start happening there’s an interesting exchange between Blake and Avon.  Blake is still concerned by Orac’s prediction that the Liberator apparently faces imminent destruction.  He’s been poring over the data, only for Avon to provide him with the solution.  They can pinpoint exactly where the event will happen by the starfield shown behind the ship – so all they need to do is to ensure they never travel to that part of the galaxy and the prediction will be null and void.

When Avon admits that he worked this out several hours ago, Blake asks him why he’s not said anything to the others. “Well, all they had to do was ask. Perhaps in future, they won’t rely on you to provide all the answers”.  This battle of wills between the pair of them will bubble on for the remainder of the second series.  As to who will gain the upper hand, Vila puts it best when he says that “if it ever comes to a showdown, my money’s on Blake. Well, half of it. I’ll put the other half on Avon.”

Another fascinating little moment occurs just after Avon’s scored this point over Blake.  An explosion rocks the ship and as they fall to the ground Avon puts a protective arm around Blake.  I wonder if this was scripted or something worked out in rehearsal?  It’s only a throwaway thing, but it’s a lovely touch – proving that although he may profess to despise virtually everything Blake stands for, Avon still seems to have an automatic reflex to protect him.

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Shortly afterwards, the ship comes under attack and they then lose all control of the Liberator, ending up as little more than helpless passengers (any repairs are rejected by the ship).  Avon tells the others his theory.

AVON: Think of the ship as a living entity with massive networks of electronics acting as a nervous system.
JENNA: All linked into a central computer.
BLAKE: The brain.
AVON: Carry the analogy a stage further. When a living creature is hurt – a cut or a wound – antibodies gather around the injury to repair it and to fight infection.
VILA: You mean the computers are treating us like germs.
AVON: Crude, but accurate.

Blake has first-hand experience of this when he’s attacked by a cable in one of the service areas.  Yes, the wires holding it up are rather obvious but it’s not as bad an effect as it could have been.  Once again it’s Avon who saves the day and he’s not slow in telling Blake that one day, probably quite soon, he’ll require payback!

The Liberator is under the control of its creators and soon all the crew are prisoners.  Blake has a chat with Alta 1 (Sheila Ruskin) and Alta 2 (Harriet Philpin).  This is a part of the story that doesn’t quite hold together.  Both Alta 1 and Alta 2 are linked to the System (a supercomputer which controls the three planets in this sector).  We’re told that the System has ruled for several generations.  As Blake discovers when he speaks later to a slave (played by Roy Evans) this means that whilst there’s no war or famine, there’s also no freedom.

Could the System have been responsible for designing the Liberator?  Surely if they had it would have been much more functional.  And if they did create it, what was its purpose?  The Federation has clearly never come across a ship like the Liberator before (even though it’s established later that it’s not unique) so it doesn’t appear that the System is interested in expanding its empire or has very often ventured into Federation territory.  Visiting the civilisation that designed the Liberator was an obvious thing to do, it’s just a pity that it falls rather flat.

The System also bears a passing resemblance to the Conscience of Marinus as seen in Terry Nation’s Doctor Who story The Keys of Marinus – proof that Nation was never averse to reusing a good idea.

Neither of the Altas are great conversationalists, but they’re dressed in tight blue lycra which is some consolation.  Another plus-point is the filming at the Oldbury Nuclear Power Station which adds a little gloss to what otherwise is a fairly routine story.

But Redemption is still an effective season opener.  It reignites the Blake/Avon power-struggle as well as giving the rest of the regulars a moment or two to shine.  And although the plot, once we reach the System, feels a little undercooked there’s still enough going on to ensure that the story never seems to drag too badly.

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