It’s Blake’s 7 Sunday and time to return to our fun weekly blog as we follow Martin and Dominique in their Grown Up Blake’s 7 Watch-Through. Every episode. In order. From the start. So let”s get out the dustbuster for episode five – The Web.
It’s taken four whole episodes but the core elements of the series now appear to be in place. Four episodes, ago Blake thought he was a middle-class nobody living a humdrum existance in a big domed city on Earth. Now, with his memory restored, he remembers he was feedom fighter Roj Blake, an elite-class citizen who spoke out against the tyrannical regime and commanded an impressively loyal following. When his conditioning broke down (The Way Back) and his memory returned, Federation officials falsified charges of child molestation to discredit him and banish him to a penal colony on a far distant planet. But enroute Blake, along with a few of his fellow convicts, managed to snaffle themselves a spaceship (Spacefall). Faster, deadlier and more powerful than anything the Federation has got, they’ve already used it to blow up a communication hub (Time Squad) and save themselves from endless shouting matches with Brian Blessed (Cygnus Alpha). At the end of episode four telepathic Auron, Cally had just joined the crew after they’d almost been murdered by some cryogenically frozen warriors.
Jenna’s misgivings at the conclusion of last week’s installment seems to have been bourne out when Cally starts acting stangely. When she threatens the safety of the ship she has to be physically restrained. We just knew her powers would soon be play an important part, and we weren’t wrong. Right at the top of this episode Cally’s been contacted by a telepathic being. We assume it’s an alien being, sounds like a bit gurgly to us. “It was kind of obvious that was going to happen,” says Dom, and it is hard to disagree. I don’t think either of us expected Avon to be quite so receptive to the young Auron taking an interest in his research, though. If he’s dissapointed she was under the influence of a malign force all along, he doesn’t show it. What a man.
The gurgly voices seem to be coming from a prefab on the edge of a forest, on a weird planet full of special sound effects. But first there’s plenty of argy bargy on the Liberator as Blake fields critscisms, fretfulness and rebellion for allowing Cally on board. Soon, though she’s recovered but the animosity is left hanging in the air. Somethong about this crew becomes really apparent about now; we realise they don’t trust eschother very much. This group of people are only together out of necessity. There certainly doesn’t seem to be any genuine fondness for each other. We both reckon Jenna is kind of stuck on Blake, but he seems utterly oblivious. Perhaps not all of Blake’s memories have returned because he certainly doesn’t posses any his once famed people skills. But the crew soon have more pressing matters than Blake’s ego when the ship is engulfed in a strange gungus type web.
Blake’s 7 gets called a ‘poor man’s Star Trek‘ quite a lot but the ‘spaceship trapped in something’ story is a pretty universal standard sci-fi story. Nearly always the ship’s captain has to parlay for their release and swap some standard sci-fi MacGuffin to ensure their safety. This hoary old plot is given a nice twist here when Blake realises the cost of their freedom. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
The first three episoders were extended scene setters, introducing us to the Federation, the society and showing how Blake acquired the means to fight back. But now it feels like proper Blake’s 7 has finally started, with all the characters thoroughly introduced and their individual personalities coming out. It is unusual for a genre show of the period to provide such a lengthy introduction to what will become this series’ standards. Most confine the setting up of the format to the first (sometimes feature length) episode. And it’s not like this series has more introduce, set up and build than any other sci-fi show of the era. If this episode falls slightly flat, it is because the ‘set-up’ episodes are better than what we assume will be the format for the rest of the series.
Regular readers will know I first watched this series when I was fourteen years old when it was repeated on Sunday mornings, as part of a strand on the cable channel UK Gold called The Vortex (it was also the home of Doctor Who repeats, and other genre series). I used to record each episode on my video recorder for future enjoyment but I was always buying crap quality cassettes with my pocket money, always trying to get as many as I could for the amount I had. It was policy that did not pay off. Often I would end up with some right ropey tapes. No Scotch or Memorex for me. I ussd to go for Goodman’s, Alba and TV-8. On this ocassion, after I put the tape in the machine and pressed record I got twenty minutes into the episode, before I realised the crappy cassette I’d bought had stiff spools that woud not turn. I remember being really annoyed at myself for not realising. So, for twenty minutes I wasn’t actually recording anything. Years later, the episode was repeated again and I got another chance to record it but because of that mishap, the first twenty minutes of ‘The Web’ felt really new and exciting for years after.
The gurgly voice seems to be hitting on all of Liberator’s womenfolk because soon it’s communicating through Jenna. If this is a form of wooing, old bubbly box is going the wrong way about it. As if finding a kindred spirit in Blake, perhaps because he doesn’t know how to talk to girls either, the freedom fighter is invited down to the planet.
The planet is populated by a stiff walking, stiff talking, slightly androginous ‘man’ and ‘woman’ and the stunted alien population known as Decimas who trill and shuffle about likes excited dwarves in oversized parkas. Clearly, we’re not supposed to be scared of the Decimas, in fact we both instantly feel sorry when one of the weird looking duo electrocute one to death with a big pointy stick thing. Blake too is aghast, and is not convinced by the assertion these primitves have no feelings.
Whilst Liberator becomes further engolfed in the web, Blake is given a VIP tour of an advanced laboratory. His awe turns to anger, however when he realises the two stiffs he’s been speaking to are just avatars for a shrunken head in a jar. I’m over simplifying here, but that’s basically what this creepy thing is. A tiny little body that tapers off to nothing is connected by a comical umblical chord (which looks like something else) to the fluid that bubbles all around him. No wonder he sounds like he’s talking through a sponge. This strange creature might sound a bit wet but he’s got some pretty nasty plans for the Decimas, which he hopes to put into action as soon as he’s got enough batteries for the next stage of his experiments. And that’s where Blake comes in. If he wants to bully his crew across the universe until he wears them down enough to pick a fight with the Federation, he needs to buy their freedom from the web with special energy cells. Avon is asked to bring them to the planet.
Before Avon arrives one of the Decimas finds her mate laying fried in the grass like someone passed out at in the midday sun at a music festival. Like the passed out person who wakes up to find they’ve missed their favourite bands, there are tears. Blake witnesses the emotion of the apparently primitive Decimas and is almost killed in a frenzied attack when a group of them realise where the killers of their kin are hiding.
The plot goes to hell a little bit here. Most of the characters are trapped in the ship looking at a view on the scanner that resembles the back of my wardrobe – cobwebs everywhere. Avon being sent down to the planet raises the mood a bit, but the cold genuis is less happy. Blake hides the power cells at the bottom of a silly sci-fi tree, to Avon’s despair. It’s them or us, he says. He possesses none of Blake’s sensibilities, he’s happy to sacrifice the Decimas if it means they can get away. It is only Blake that finds himself on the horns of a dilmma. But this is where Blake’s 7 comes into it’s own. Blake, in stark contrast to Avon has strong, clear morals. He stands for the opressed and fights for freedom where it is not freely given. He doesn’t see much to differentiate the children of Federation dissidents forced to toil in filthy mines, to the plight of the diddy Decimas. They’re just as oppressed. But if he wants his freedom, he must hand over the batteries so the spindly dude in a jar can wipe them out.
Avon’s not backing Blake up but he more than humors him but then an attempt to negotiate fails the dilemma, like the plot, is suddenly ended by the Decimas who suddenly rise up enmasse to destroy the creepy avatars and smash the laboratory to bits. Good for them. “They’re fighting for their lives,” says Blake hammering home the symbolism, and soon we’re back on board Liberator flyring off to next week’s adventure.
The fun interactions between the crew in the first half aside, this was two standard Star Trek stories stitched together and given a neat moralistic spin thanks to the political stance of the lead character. Blake has really nailed his colours to the mast now; He stands for the downtrodden and oppressed anywhere, regardless of species. No wonder Jenna loves him so. But apart from that, this wasn’t up to last week’s episode. We both agree this has been the weakest yet, but is still more accessible than the odd and strangely off-kilter first episode.
Dom doesn’t like the music to Blake’s 7 because it’s a bit melodramatic (“it’s too da-da-da-dum”) were her exact words). I disagree, the theme is one of my favourite TV themes ever in the history of silly sci-fi. Sometimes, if we find the intro to a show a bit annoying (Modern Family we are looking at you) we agree to fast forward past them. But there will be no skipping the B7 theme if I have anything to say about it.
So that was ‘The Web’. A bit ho-hum but it was okay. Join us next time when we watch the excitingly titled sixth episode, ‘Seek-Locate-Destroy’.
This watch-through actually took place a little while ago and prepared for publishing shortly after but it has not been published until now. A new entry in this blog is posted every Sunday evening, so don’t forget to come back on the 24th January to see what we made of episode 6: ‘Seek-Locate-Destroy‘
All entries in the Blake’s 7 Watch-Through blog can be found HERE (will lnot redirect to an external page)
All written content copyright Martin Gregory. 2021.