One boy, one girl and lots of Blake’s 7 – In order – From the start.
It’s time to get out the box sets for
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EPISODE #1 The Way Back (Stepping Aboard Liberator)
EPISODE #2 Spacefall (The One Where B7 Gets Going)
EPISODE #3 Cygnus Alpha (Blake’s 7,000 Decibels – It’s the One With Brian Blessed)
EPISODE 6: SEEK-LOCATE-DESTROY (The One Where Servelan Arrives!)
As is often the case when we settle down to watch an episode of Blake’s 7, I’m instantly transported back to 1996 when I first watched the series as a teenager. Repeated on the cable channel UK Gold on Sunday mornings, I was confident I would enjoy this series, even though I’d never really seen any of it, or really heard much about it. But as it was scheduled to come on just before my beloved Doctor Who, it was perfect. I had video tapes ready, and waiting to be filled with my new love (sorry Who). What could go wrong? I’ll tell you. Family outings.
My dad usually got one day off a week to spend with mum, my brother and me – Sundays. Dad’s always been one for going places on his day off. Late afternoons and evenings might be for cricket (in the summer) and football highlights (any other time of year) but mornings and early afternoons were for outings. It might be a local beauty spot, the swimming baths, a car boot sale, a walk somewhere, or occasionally a full day out. Seek-Locate-Destroy was the first (but not the last) to be threatened by such outings.
Two weeks ago we arrived home from the swimming baths, ten minutes into episode three (Cygnus Alpha). My irritation was put down to teenage hormones and the possible mistake of giving me my own video recorder for Christmas. For Seek-Locate-Destroy I knew the day out to the Brecon Beacons would also threaten my equally obsessional recording of Doctor Who as well. It would be easy enough to just press the record button moments before we were due to leave, but I calculated that I would need a four hour tape to capture both (UK Gold were showing The Horns of Nimon that week). Blake came on at 10am and Who finished a 1pm. A four hour tape would be needed. But I didn’t have a four hour tape. I complained about it for days (no doubt angling for more pocket money so I could buy one). My dad, ever the mathematician I am not, thankfully pointed out I’d got my sums wrong. He counted the hours on his finger, Ten o clock to eleven.o clock. Eleven to twelve. Twelve to one. Three hours. Ah! Hooray! And a life lesson learnt; you’re never too old to count on using your fingers.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I was busy getting ready for our day out when Blake’s 7 came on. I came into the room nearly ten minutes into the episode and completely missed the first appearance of the now infamously bad security robot.
The episode starts with some great outside filming. Dom isn’t sure about the outdoor gear Blake, Vila, Cally, Avon and Gan seem to be wearing. Matching and colour coded, as if this pajama-like getup came straight out of Liberator’s wardrobe section labelled ‘outdoor assault gear’. Not only does this spaceship come kitted out with every appliance an outlawed space adventurer needs – laser guns, teleport bracelets, Zen – but it also seems to give them matching outdoor gear. It doesn’t look very warming though. Thankfully for the actors, there is lots of dashing about to evade the security robot and Fed guards.
We can’t help notice that as with Time Squad a few weeks ago, this futuristic communication hub looks suspiciously like a factory compound somewhere off the M4. Why a communication hub eschews wires, cables, satellite dishes or anything else you might associate with communication for lots of steaming pipes is something the viewer is instantly distracted away from when the security robot shows up. It’s a ropey special effect. It’s trundled along on castors thanks to the legwork of some poor bloke inside. It flashes and beeps irritatingly and looks about as menacing as Blake does in his fluffy hood and assault pajamas. But to anyone used to looking past the production shortcomings of Doctor Who it’s easy to ignore.
This week Blake and his band are on the planet Centero to steal a bit of technological kit that will allow them to eavesdrop on coded Federation transmissions . All they have to do is remove the cipher machine and destroy any evidence by reducing the facility to it’s constituent atoms. It’s a good plan, and it all goes well until Gan is forced to remove the cipher using his brute strength. The plan goes awry further when a nervous Vila is spotted by a Fed trooper, causing enough distraction for poor Cally who’s been charged with keeping the scientists and technicians out of the way. When she is overpowered, she loses her teleport bracelet and Liberator flies off without her. They’ve got the cipher but it is only later that Blake realises he’s left cute Cally on the planet to be blown to her constituent atoms.
Blake’s gutted he’s left Cally behind, but Jenna is less sympathetic. Dom and I are convinced the tough cookie is truly smitten with Blake. She sees past the terrible shades of green and brown he insists on wearing, past his grumpiness and through his bossy boots-ness to the conflicted, driven, utterly barmy bloke beneath. She’s glad to see the back of the telepathic Auron Cally. When Blake laments she was the only one of them that wasn’t a convicted criminal, she reminds Blake her crewmate had “convicted herself. You have to make peace with yourself…it’s the only way to survive.” Definitely a tough nut, that one.
I now know this would have been a rotten episode to miss on that family outing because, because this episode is the first appearance of the series’ new resident baddies. Yes, it is in this episode that we meet Supreme Commander Servelan (Jacqueline Pearce) and her grotesque henchman Space Commander Travis (Stephen Grief). Which particular bits of space he commands is never made clear, unless he commands all of it. But how do you command space? “You there – constellation 778 come on! Keep that system moving!” We learn Travis is a disgraced former officer, given a reprieve by Servelan, who has been politically damaged by what is becoming known among the high-ups as “the Blake affair” (which doesn’t half sound a bit Man From U.N.C.L.E. ). The Supreme Commander must be seen to be doing something about this freedom fighter who’s regained his memory, stolen a fancy spaceship and made off with a bunch of roguish villains to be become a thorn in the thong of the administration. She’s got a great line in white party frocks and heavy eye-liner whilst he’s got an eye patch and a prosthetic arm, thanks to a previously unseen run-in with Blake. The motivation of these new characters is clear from the very beginning but, sadly, it will be let down by a huge info dump a few minutes later.
The director has great fun with his camera angles, hiding Travis’ patched up face for a good few minutes. But of course we both recognise actor Stephen Grief the minute he stomps on to the screen as protection racketeer Harry Fenning from the Robert Lindsay sitcom Citizen Smith. “All right Trotsky,” we both say, mimicking his character from that series. We actually enjoy our Harry Fenning impressions a bit too much and end up having to rewind most of his first scene, as if proving that no amount of leather and prosthetics will protect an actor from typecasting.
The Liberator crew are enjoying their newly installed code breaking machine, it reminds me of the day we first had Sky TV installed at home. They’ve got more things to do than watch repeats of The Incredible Hulk however. Listening to a standard comms traffic on his new toy our leader hears a name he recognises, the name of the officer Servelan has dispatched to Centero. Turns out this is the very same Space Commander Travis he tried to kill back in his freedom fighter days. Before the Federation did their mind wipe, before the conditioning broke down and before he was convicted for being a pedophile. Their history is delivered in one beautifully acted but horribly scripted info dump.
Years ago, Travis apparently waited three whole days in an underground passage in order to trap Blake and his followers. Only Blake survived. This sounds identical to the massacre he witnessed in the first episode, which was what led to the breakdown in his conditioning. Whether this is a coincidence or not is hard to say but it was series creator Terry Nation who wrote this episode, in fact he wrote all of the episodes in the first season (quite a feat), but he seems to have forgotten a big rule of story telling; show, don’t tell. There’s no fun in Blake sitting down to explain to his friends what happened years ago, no matter how well Gareth Thomas performs these revelations. You wonder why none of this has been mentioned until now, none of this was even hinted at in the first episode which, as we discussed in the first entry of this blog, is a kind of stand alone pilot for series that followed, even though it was actually made after the first two installments had gone before the camera. It’s awkward and clunky and fudges the Blake / Travis rivalry from the beginning.
Of course Travis finds our curly haired friend Cally unconscious in the wreckage and one of the survivors recognises her as the girl who was keeping him and his fellow scientists prisoner. Travis stomps about the remains of the comms facility in his macho black leather, shouting instruction and shoving people out of his way but he’s no dummy. He knows Blake didn’t just want to blow the place up, if he did why get all the scientists out the way? Soon he’s armed with an inventory which he sets about checking with all the righteous zeal of a letting agent trying to find any reason to fleece a deposit from their departing tenant. Ah but he’s on to something. “Blake stole the cipher machine,” he growls. And with Cally his prisoner, he knows he can use the machine and Cally to lure Blake into a trap.
Ah but Blake’s too wily for Travis. He waits patiently for Blake, who, it turns out, has been there some time. “I got here first,” says the insurrectionist, delighted to not only rescue his friend but use his enemy’s strategy against him. He’s so delighted he doesn’t kill a disarmed Travis but he does brutally bash in patch boy’s prosthetic arm when his head nearly gets blown off by the in-built laser gun. As Travis’s arm is repaired by some helpless lackey, he vows (to nobody in particular) to follow Blake and kill him. Who can blame him. Blake is so unbearable smug and self satisfied sometimes but of course he’s pleased as punch to get Cally back. “Too many friends are already dead,” he says, cheering her up no end. Of course he probably hasn’t realised the cipher machine they risked everything for is now only useful as an ugly step stool.
Again this week we see the crew getting to grips with Liberator and all her baffling alien tech but we’re also are reminded these people are still getting to grips with each other. There’s all the explosions and running around in the first quarter, some fun get-to-know-you bits for the new baddies in the next half and a solid (if ever-so-slightly) rushed ending to ensure everyone survives for next week’s installment,
Dom had fun. “Yeah that was good,” she says as the (muted) credits roll, “I thought she was dead.” She’s got the measure of this series, it seems. It isn’t surprising, people do tend to get killed off in quite a perfunctory manner. This was a big improvement on last week’s episode, The Web and actually the best episode of the series so far. No big character moments for the Liberator, but there are plenty of feisty interactions. Vila continues to be Dom’s favourite, his slightly cowardly and bumbling ways have endeared him, and we are both agreed the writers are doing nothing with Gan. But perhaps we should forgive this for the splendid introduction of the new bad guys. Servelan is played with obvious relish by Jaqueline Pearce, milking every bit of dialogue until everything about her drips with cool menace. And Stephen Grief makes a fine impression as Travis. He’s an obsessive, just like Blake, blaming him for being a scarred wreck of the man he once was. He is more ‘stock baddie’ than Servelan, unfortunately. There isn’t a lot for the actor to get his teeth into but in fairness to him, he elevates what could have been just another scenery chewing nutter in the hands of a lesser performer.
This episode earns its essential status for introducing Servelan and Travis. At last the somewhat faceless Federation is represented by two excellent characters who get on with each other about as well as Blake gets on with his crew. Two sets of fractious relationships for us to look forward to in future then. So do come back next week for Mission to Destiny and a planet that’s apparently turning into a giant mushroom. Sounds like a must-watch to us. See you next time!
EPISODE #7 : MISSION TO DESTINY (Who Is Ze Murderer?)
Mission to Destiny probably isn’t anyone’s favourite episode of Blake’s 7. One of those episodes you often get with long running sagas – perfectly acceptable pieces of entertainment in their own right but fairly forgettable shortly after.
This week sees Cally, and to a lesser degree Avon, playing detectives aboard a small spaceship en route to the planet Destiny. When they arrive the whole ship seems deserted until they find some comatose crew members. It is possible this crew have all passed out from boredom because everything about them is just so drab. Everything in the ship is mostly grey, their clothes are drab, their furniture is drab. Luckily their strong, distinct personalities make up for it… Actually, I am slightly overstating the case. Their personalities are drab too. Soon this dull crew is awake and again regretting their interior design choices, all except one of their number who is spared the interminable monotony of endless games in the crew room with bearded colleagues by getting murdered. So, who killed him, and has it anything to do with their mission to deliver a rare isotope to save their biologically stricken world? They’ve got a fungus problem on Destiny, apparently the entire planet could soon become engulfed, unless they deliver a prototype isotope in time. Which is a problem because whomever rendered the crew unconscious and killed one of them, has also damaged the ship’s engines. In steps Blake to help.
Blake flies off in Liberator to deliver the isotope to Destiny, with Jenna, Gan and Vila along for the ride. That’s no exagerration. These characters are literally just passengers on Blake’s ego-fuelled power trip. We wonder why they put up with it.
With Blake and his overbearing personality several light years away Avon and Cally start work repairing the Ortega’s engines and trying to find the killer in their midst. But of course it isn’t long before there’s another death.
Even though the crew of the Ortega are a fairly bland bunch, it is amusing watching them get bumped off, and seeing all the men go a little gooey over Cally, and the slight jealousy she stimulates in the female members of the crew. She keeps making eyes at Avon, too. Or is that just us seeing something that isn’t there?
Dom is less than amused this week because her favourite character, Vila has been given virtually nothing to do. But at least he gets more lines than poor old Gan. Though David Jackson is gamely acting away in the background, trying to imbue the gentle giant’s character with a little, um, character. As Liberator enters a debris field Dom asks “Where’s Travis then? And Servelan?” Where indeed. Of course I know this series well, I have watched it before (though only once in order), I know they appear in most, but not all of the episodes. I’m used to this but Dominique, who is experiencing these episodes in order for the very first time, finds it odd. “Why introduce them only to have them disappear again the following week?” She has got a point, and to be fair this episode is fairly pedestrian, it could use a bit of extra excitement.
As the Liberator is buffeted from all sides and Blake frets over the safety of the isotope they’ve been entrusted with meanwhile, over on the drab ship bound for Destiny, Cally is busy trying to decipher something one of the murder victims has written in blood on some ultra tacky prop. It seems a bit of a cheek then that Avon, who says he doesn’t like an unsolved mystery, leaves most of the sleuthing to Cally but then gets all the glory when he reveals who the murderer is. I like to keep this page a relatively spoiler-free affair so I won’t reveal who it was what did the ‘orrible murders but we wonder if Jan Chappell, who played Cally tried to talk the director into letting her do the whole “the murderer is in this very room” bit. It only seems fair.
Speaking of Cally, an unexpected and easy to miss little moment crops in during the early part of the story when Blake, Cally and Avon are exploring the deserted ship. The crew were, as we said, rendered comatose by the villain of the piece by plugging some sleeping gas into the air-con. As Cally succumbs and gets all drowsy Blake hears her thoughts, “Alone,” she says, “so alone.” This is a lovely touch, inserted here so the audience doesn’t forget she is actually a telepathic alien. It reinforces the fact she is the last of the freedom fighters from Auron and why her survivor guilt prevents her from going home. Again this highlights the disparity we have discussed before in this blog between the first few episodes of Blake’s 7 and the ones we’re currently enjoying; There were no such attempts to provide any continuity in the character of Blake, up to and including last week’s episode (Seek, Locate, Destroy) when we found out he has a hitherto unmentioned arch enemy (the aforementioned Travis).
The best line of the episode goes Avon, “Personally I couldn’t care if their entire planet turns into a giant mushroom…I don’t like an unsolved mystery.” It’s a highly quotable line. Paul Darrow must have read it in the script and really got a handle on his character, because this episode is really where we get to see the emergence of distant, logical Avon in all his cold glory. It’s really great Avon and Cally are finally given a really fat slice of the action for a change, but we do wish that hadn’t been to the detriment to the rest of the regulars (except Blake) from turning into mere ciphers.
For fear of spoilering this episode any more, I won’t review the ending because there is a slight twist in the tale. So, the only other noteworthy (I use the word in a loose sense) thing about this episode is the appearance of John Leeson playing one of the crew members of the Ortega. Leeson is famous for being the voice of tin dog K-9 in Doctor Who and the Sarah Jane Adventures. Here he plays a genial every man-type character and is one of the men who goes a bit gooey over Cally. In fairness to him there’s little else to do on the Ortega except play games and listen as his drab crew-mates make snarky remarks about each other. This perhaps mirrors Avon and Cally who are similarly spared Blake and the Liberator’s less than glittering atmosphere.
here isn’t much else to say about Mission to Destiny. It entertained us for the forty-eight minutes we were watching it but it’s unlikely to top our list of all time greats. Let’s hope next week’s episode is more of an ensemble piece with all the regulars getting something to do.
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EPISODE #5: THE WEB (The One That’s Nearly Star Trek)
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 existence in a big domed city on Earth. Now, with his memory restored, he remembers he was freedom 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 en route 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 cryogenic-ally 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 criticisms, fretfulness and rebellion for allowing Cally on board. Soon, though she’s recovered but the animosity is left hanging in the air. Something about this crew becomes really apparent about now; we realise they don’t trust each-other 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 realizes the cost of their freedom. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
The first three episodes 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 ropy tapes. No Scotch or Memorex for me. I used to go for Goodman’s, Alba and TV-8. On this occasion, 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 would 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 androgynous ‘man’ and ‘woman’ and the stunted alien population known as Decimas who trill and shuffle about likes excited dwarfs 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 primitives have no feelings.
Whilst Liberator becomes further engulfed 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 umbilical 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 genius 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. Avon possesses none of Blake’s sensibilities, he’s ambivalent toward sacrificing the Decimas, if it means they can get out of the web. It is only Blake that finds himself on the horns of a dilemma. 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 oppressed 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 en-masse 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 flying 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’!
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EPISODE #4: TIME FLIGHT (Cally Completes The Line Up)
We left Blake and his newly installed crew at the end of episode 3 (Cygnus Alpha) vowing to return to Earth and bring down the government. Sometime between then and this fourth installment their intentions seemed to have dimmed a little. Perhaps the reality of piloting their salvaged super spaceship Liberator started to hit home as they clipped asteroids and dinged the ship’s livery on space debris going by at time-distort ten. And anyway, surely somebody has miscounted. Aside from the eponymous freedom fighter we’ve got cold genius Avon, feisty smuggler Jenna, gentle giant Gan, pick-pocket Vila and snazzy ship computer Zen. I don’t know if you need to get your fingers out and count but that makes six. Where’s the seventh member of Blake’s 7? By the end of the episode rebellious curly haired cutie Cally will have joined the crew. Ah, but we mustn’t get ahead of ourselves.
Dominique and I settle down to watch what must be the only episode of this series I know off by heart. I can recite entire passages of dialogue. Though I won’t do that. Because I like you. But how did I come to know this episode so excruciatingly well? I’m afraid it goes back to when I was fourteen years old and had just discovered this show thanks to a run of repeats on cable channel UK Gold. Blake’s 7 is the ideal show for a rebellious teenager to latch onto. Just as Seinfeld was once seen as the anti-Friends, so Blake’s 7 is the antithesis of that other great space opera Star Trek. In Blake’s 7 nobody gets on, nobody has a laugh and an awful lot of innocent people get killed. There’s seldom a happy ending and everyone walks around wearing a face like their pants are on a bit too tight (Cally and Avon’s definitely are). These were the days of the tape cassette walkman (I’ve aged myself now!) when I was frequently dragged along on family outings. Of course looking back they were good fun days out but when you’re 14 years old you’re dragged practically everywhere because the only place that you really want to be is in your bedroom enjoying a good, erm, book. So I got out the tape recorder hit play on the video player (because I taped every episode like every good obsessive should) and transferred one or two episodes to cassette for me to listen to on one of those aforementioned outings. Time Squad was one of the episodes I chose to commit to cassette, and consequentially ruined it for myself to this very day. Make no mistake dear reader, the episode we’re watching today is a chore. I could cheat terribly and write this up from memory but as Dominique is with me and experiencing these episodes in order for the very first time, I must dive in and put on a smile as plastic as a teleport bracelet.
I have a personal downer on Time Squad but don’t let that deter you, it’s one of the better episodes from the first season and, as mentioned above, introduces the all-important seventh member of the crew.
After learning the intricacies of non automatic flight, the crew encounter a small spaceship emitting a distress signal. Blake, being the good egg he is, teleports over to the tiny little craft thanks to some super fine sums from Avon, one wrong digit and Blake, bouffant and all, will disperse in the vacuum of space. Luckily, for all concerned he and Jenna survive long enough to realise there isn’t much air in the abandoned capsule. If that wasn’t bad enough the company on board is terrible. With just four comatose uglies for company, it’s down to Avon to fly the craft into Liberator through the open docking bay door. It’s sweaty palms all round as the less than genial genius attempts this tricky manouvre. Fortunately all goes swimmingly well, Blake lives to bully his crew another day. Don’t look now, but someone nearly smiled.
Zen doesn’t have much data on the capsule or it’s crew who are in suspended animation. As this strand of the episode slips into subplot territory, Gan and Jenna are left the mind the ‘B’ plot while Blake, Avon and Vila teleport down to a planet containing an important Federation communication facility. Quite why a Federation communication facility should look like a power station in the West Country can only be put down to a quirky design aesthetic. When you’ve conquered, plundered and enslaved half the galaxy you can obviously afford a little decadence. You can almost imagine two unctuous spandex-glad designers in their glass fronted dome as they pitch to the cruel, thin lipped developers; “we’ve designed a communication hub in a mock twentieth century Hinkley Point style. Here you can see enormous wafts of smoke coming out of these chimneys – just for that genuine period effect of course. And here we have genuine faux mesh link gates with matching perimeter fencing to keep out all those pesky freedom fighters.” Bad day for the spandex-clad designers, then because this place is about as secure as an open tea chest, as we find out when Blake meets Cally and duly blows the whole place sky high. It’s one up for the freedom fighters then but safety is not assured until the ‘B’ plot is resolved.
Whilst Blake and the boys dither about before bumping into red PVC clad Cally (did I mention this show appeals to teenagers?) Jenna and Gan have four freshly defrosted homicidal maniacs to deal with. Honestly you float around the galaxy for millennia and then try to murder the very people who thawed you out. That’s grattitude for you. Thankfully after a couple of fatal accidents, the threat is neutralist and everybody is teleported back to safety before the retro comms center goes kaboom.
We continue to get to know the characters in this episode. After trying to defend Jenna from one of their murderous guests we learn that Gan has got an implant in his skull to stop him from killing people. In one of the more effective moments from this episode we also learn how he came to be on his way to the prison planet Cygnus Alpha in the first place. Our not so gentle giant Gan once killed a security guard after witnessing the brutal murder of his wife, at the hands of that same guard. It’s an interesting character develop and Dominique is sufficiently intrigued. We hope to hear more about Gan’s limiter in future episodes, especially as we’re not sure if Blake is aware that his hired muscle lacks, well, muscle.
Cally’s got something interesting about her too. There’s a kind of mystical quality about her, which Dominique instantly latches onto. This is a relief because so far I’m not convinced she’s all that enamored with any of the characters. But Cally has got a bit of cache’ for the dyed in the wool sci-fi fan because, unlike the others, she’s not an Earthling. She hails from a neutral planet called Auron where everybody lives in peace and appeases the Federation by not getting involved in criticizing the administration for any atrocities that may occur on their doorstep (sort of like 1930’s Switzerland). Interestingly everybody on Auron is telepathic, which must be a real bugger if you like telling jokes (you can literally hear the punch line coming). Cally isn’t the joke telling type, unfortunately, because she is one of the few Aurons prepared to take a stand and the last of a group of freedom fighters sent to destroy the communication hub.In addition to her interesting origins, she can project also her thoughts into the minds of others. You just know that’s going to come in handy in later episodes.
So, the defrosted dudes die, the retro comms hub goes boom and everybody flies off in the Liberator. Except everybody is far from happy. Hasn’t Blake just learnt his lesson about the questionable wisdom in bringing aliens on board? Oblivious Blake just continues blithely on, ignoring the almost audible scowl being fired in his direction by a clearly jealous Jenna. There’s a new darling on the flight deck, but will the sparks fly? We’ll have to come back soon for episode five to find out.
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EPISODE THREE – CYGNUS ALPHA (Blake’s 7,000 Decibels – The One With Brian Blessed)
Possibly the most atmospheric, perhaps one of the most essential and certainly the loudest episode of Blake’s 7.
It’s a typical Saturday afternoon, and the rain is slanting down from a blueless grey sky. Typical for us in the UK, anyway. But what could be better than sitting down with some easy lunch and continue with our Blake’s 7 watch-through.
Regular readers will know, my partner Dominique and I are enjoying this watch-through together. These write-ups are uploaded incrementally in order to keep the content on this site as diverse as possible. So, with fresh batteries in the remote, we begin.
This episode opens with some nice shots of Blake’s ship looking like the grand old duke of space, even if the distant stars do look a bit disproportionately large. This time, the ship is on it’s way to planet Cygnus Alpha, where there are some even bigger stars, including Pamela Salem and Brian Blessed (see what I did there. Darn it, I could write links for the One Show!). As a bit of a fan of the big man, Dominique is especially looking forward to this episode. She once saw the former wrestler (and many other occupations) on an episode of Mr and Mrs. Since then, she’s found him not just entertaining, but genuinely unpredictable, bringing energy to otherwise dull productions. Stand up, Phantom Menace, we’re looking at you.
The setup of the show’s main ingredients continues as Blake learns to get to grip with his recently acquired space ship, and perhaps more crucially, learns to get to grips with his unwilling passengers. Although able to claim equal and valid ownership over the ship, cold, logical Avon and pilot-come-smuggler Jenna are very much passengers, victims of Blake’s overbearing personality. Avon wants to make a run for it but the idealist among them wants to rescue their fellow prisoners. Jenna can’t make her mind up. It’s a tense time but luckily for Blake one of the flashier four walls of the flight deck begins to light up in a strange sequence of flashing blocks, and we are introduced to a key ingredient of Blake’s eventual seven.
Every good sci-fi show has a main computer, sometimes it’s the omniscient Alexa-like Next Generation computer, the crazy Hal of 2001 or possibly the senile Holly type from Red Dwarf. Happily, Blake’s 7 eschews the modern sci-fi “virtue” of having characters fly the ship themselves (which often calls on the actors to earnestly deliver teidious melodramatic techno-babble like “aft thrusters failing!” while their chairs are shaken by off-camera stage hands). Thankfully, this ship has Zen. Conceptually artistic, Zen is visualised as a big, brown/gold glass globe that lights up in agreeable Minecraft-esque patches when communicating in its soft but booming voice. Liberator is full of homely aesthetics,with fully integrated sci-fi appliances including Zen, who is built into a wall of the flight deck. Yay!
Yes, Liberator. Blake’s ship is christened thanks to the computer reading Jenna’s mind. And there are more surprises in store. The ship boasts several neat bits of kit, not least some swish looking guns, but perhaps most excitingly, a teleport system! Blake’s immediately keen to test it out. As there’s an even chance the experimental hardwire might distribute the freedom fighter across the surface of Cygnus Alpha in several different pieces, Avon’s also keen for Blake to test it.
Talking of the teleport system, this is where Blake’s 7 often gets unfairly compared to Star Trek. It’s the two series’ main commonality. Of course, there are other similarities. For example, the super space empire is known as the Federation in both shows and follow the crew of a cool spaceship, but these are merely superficial. It is the teleport that is perceived as the most blatant bit of gimmick mimickery. It’s unfair though. Not only has matter transmission been an established scientific theory for decades, it’s also been used up and down the streets of science fiction, ever since the genre was founded. It’s also bloody handy for writers. While some sci-fi shows sometimes let the plot get bogged down during shuttle journeys from A to B, the teleport allows the story to continue briskly on. It’s far too handy an idea to be the sole preserve of one television programme. (Also, Blake’s 7 is about a bunch of criminals becoming heroes, so perhaps it’s fitting that those working behind the scenes were on the thieve too!)
Of course it’s the teleport and Liberator’s exceedingly fast speed that makes it miles better than anything in the Federation’s arsenal, and it’s why Blake is confident he can overthrow the tyrannical empire. All he needs is a crew.
Reeling from the loss of Commander Raker, Artix and Leyland, (from the previous episode) make a nice cameo at the beginning. It’s good to see them and gives us nice feeling of continuity, explicitly linking this episode to the last. This is an exact opposite to the first and second episode, where there was hardly any continuity whatsoever.
The prison ship doesn’t hang about. Vila, Gan and the rest of the convicts are left to fend for themselves on the dark, barren world of Cygnus Alpha. It’s a dark quarry of a world, decorated with the remains of heretics, strung up and left to die.
Vargas, played by Brian Blessed looks like the sort of bloke who might string up a few heretics. It’s a fine turn from Blessed who is the biggest guest star we’ve seen so far. Happily, playing the High Priest of Cygnus Alpha gives him plenty of opportunity to exercise his vocal chords – and television speakers everywhere. He’s good value, though. Vargas isn’t just the demented baddy of the week, he’s a despotic zealot, with a loyal following and a lineage that dates back to the very first batch of Federation prisoners deposited on Cygnus. His pride at the community built up through the religion, invented by his great grandfathers, calls to mind antipodean pride in their ancestors of overcoming huge, almost impossible challenges just to survive, and then to build from nothing in order to thrive. It’s a powerful conceit and Blessed milks it for all he’s worth. I’m glad I put fresh batteries in the remote, though!
Blake’s experiment with teleport went so well, he is now desperate to win over his fellow prisoners. Unfortunately, they’ve been told they’re suffering from a deadly sickness, the “curse of Cygnus”. Curiously, it’s disease that can only be controlled by drugs in the possession of the High Priest. In return, the convicts must pray, give thanks, and basically fall in line, if they want to survive. Now, there’s an interesting thing going on here, but unfortunately, the viewer is distracted by some top-notch gurning from Gareth Thomas. Blake confronts the sorry sight of his fellow convicts as they writhe on the floor of their cell, feeling sorry for themselves. Perhaps buoyed by the support of his loyal stalwarts, Vila and Gan, Blake shouts and stomps, hisses and spits at the cowardly custardly-ness he sees before him. But Blake, and by extension the viewer, is missing a really important point here. These prisoners have just come from a society in which they are fed suppressants and pacified daily. Then, they got on a spaceship for three months where again, they’re pacified with drugs in their food and water. It’s not only natural, but entirely expected that they’d be so easily dominated by the high priests. Perhaps it’s their lack of defiance and willing subservience that rattles him but it’s curiously underexplored. The Federation have no apparent influence over the society that’s sprung up on Cygnus Alpha but as a way of maintaining complete and systematic control, even over the lawless, it’s awfully neat.
There’s a rare instance of all elements pulling together under a one theme this week. Conversion, of one type or another runs through this episode. Vargas sees Liberator in the skies and decides it is the means to spread his religion to to other planets. He undergoes a transformation from a contented, if despotic ruler of a small colony to a power-mad obsessive intent on spreading his fakery throughout the galaxy. Through fear of dying from the so-called Curse of Cygnus, the convicts from the prison ship become converts to Vargas’ religion. They are controlled through fear but this also mirrors Jenna’s fear, as she too is converted to a cause – Blake’s. Gan and Vila are similar converts, it is only Avon who stands as the only one having failed to undergo any kind of transition. He doubts Blake and the effect his idealism will have. “Blake’s a crusader,” he tells Jenna. “He can’t win. You know he can’t win”. Prophetic words?
In the last two episodes we’ve been introduced to characters that look poised to become regulars. Last time we met Avon, Jenna, Gan, the crew of the prison ship who included the awkward bloke that got killed off early. In Cygnus Alpha, we meet a convict named Arco (named after the safety wear shop?) who stands out as characterful. We also meet a priestess who keeps smiling and in Gan’s direction every five minutes. We’re clearly meant to guess if they’re going to be regular characters in this show, but as with some of the characters in the previous episodes, like the lawyer and his wife in the first, we know they are not all destined to survive. Arco gets throttled to death and the priestess ends up with a spear in her belly. Thing is, I don’t think this bate and switch, introducing ill-fated possible regulars is really a conscious act from the writers. It’s just because this programme is called Blake’s 7 – we’re constantly trying to guess in these early episodes which characters will survive long enough to become part of the eponymous seven.
With only about ten of the prisoners willing to join him, Blake’s soon sprung them from their cell and left the others to their fate. All he has to do now is get the teleport bracelets back from Vargas. Already we can see these teleport bracelets becoming a right pain in the weeks to come. Sure enough, a showdown ensues, with Blake’s followers making a mad scramble for the bracelets. We both wonder who’s going to make it.
Only Avon and Jenna seem like a safe bet to be in for the long haul. Even a room on the Liberator, literally stuffed full of cash and jewels, isn’t enough to persuade the former smuggler to run off with him. Ouch! But her hard exterior belies a soft heart. As dishy as Avon is, and as tempting as life-long wealth may be, she just can’t bring herself to leave Blake on Cygnus, destined to endure an endless series of shouting matches with Brian Blessed. When she forces Avon to press the teleport switch, she’s relieved to have Blake back. We both give eachother a knowing look as they give eachother a big, chaste hug. She’s less than chuffed to be joined by Vila and Gan, though nobody is pleased to see Vargas, who managed to snatch up one of the teleport bracelets.
I can’t have been the only sadistic maniac in the audience who wondered what would happen if someone was teleported into space. Not only do we get told early on in the series what would happen, happily we also get to see it. Vargas backs on to the teleport pad, and one flick of a sci-fi switch later and he’s deposited into the vacuum of space, the only place where Brian Blessed can’t be heard.
Yes, it’s Vila and Gan that came through it all. They’ve survived revolution, mutiny, armed guards, despotic zealots, spears – you name it. Now, they’re front and centre, taking their places on the flight deck of the Liberator.
Has Blake’s crew of seven finally been assembled? Every viewer must do this; count each character on their fingers and realise that there’s five regular characters, including the computer, plus Blake. Well that’s five. Blake’s 5. Eh? So Blake is one of the seven. Okay. So it’s Blake’s 6. That doesn’t make sense. So does the ship count as a member of tue crew? It doesn’t matter anyway, we can tell Avon’s a baddy. We wonder how long he’s going to stick around. He’s not up for this crusading lark. As he rightly says, Blake’s an idealist and will see everything on board the Liberator, including the crew, as just another weapon to use against the Federation.
“State course and speed,” says Zen. “Earth,” says Blake. They’re on their way home. Or are they? Somehow we don’t think things are going to be that simple. Things are just getting interesting.
EPISODE TWO – SPACEFALL (Blake’s 7 Get’s Going)
These days we’d get a handy “Previously on Blake’s 7” recap for us to skip when we block-watch the boxset on Netflix but this is 1970’s television, so instead, we pick up exactly where we left off, with Blake confined to his chair for failing to respond to an order and stating his intention to get back to Earth. Spoiler alert: by the episode’s end, he’ll be well on his way. Sort of.
It’s becoming tradition to start with a little confession. Dominique and I watched episode two just a couple of days after the debut episode, The Way Back, but this write up has taken a little while longer to appear. I apologise for this but, rest assured, there will be no more large gaps.
It’s late Sunday afternoon, and as I’ve written elsewhere (Escaping the Sunday afternoon blues), a total sci-fi nerd-fest is one of the ways Dominique we like to while away the last hours of the weekend.
As with the Way Back, we’re introduced to a lot of characters who look like they might become one of the eponymous seven. Among the large group of prisoners on board the London there’s friendly giant, Gan, cold computer expert Avon and a nervous looking chap called Nova, who’s so awkward it’s obvious he’s going to bite the dust early on.
The prison ship has a far more interesting crew. Captain Leyland and his officers remind me of the inmates of Slade prison (from Porridge); There’s inexperienced youngster Artix, full of book-ish ambition and naive charm, he’s Godper to Leyland’s Fletcher, not only his youthful appearance, but his mis-placed devotion. Our grizzled captain displays similarities to a certain Norman Stanley, such as his pronounced crustiness world-weary resignation and his efforts to protect his young colleague from the nastier facts of life. First Officer Raker, played to perfection by Leslie Schofield, brings to mind a similarly fearsome prison officer, and just like H.M. Slade’s Mr McKay, he has no regard for the inmates in his care. Of course, unlike McKay, Raker is the product of the harsh Terran Administration system. There are moments of quiet mercy, such as when he releases Blake from his chair confinement but, but later we see his mercenary side, which becomes more pronounced the longer Jenna resists his temptations.
..Blake and his new chums forego the suppressant-laced culinary delights enjoyed by their comrades, instead choosing to mount a bid for freedom, via control of the ship. Soon the nervous one has succumb to a sci-fi tradition of being the least convincing actor to be killed off first. The loss of one green equity member aside, Blake’s audacious plan goes without a hitch, that is until Vila accidentally surrenders his gun to a guard. Oh Vila.
Just as he’s about to seize control of the ship, Blake’s moment of triumph is ruined by the appearance of Raker on a monitor, and he’s not raving about the theft of Mr. Baraclough’s bi-cycle. Instead, he’s a hapless got a bunch of drugged-up prisoners lined up in the rec room, and is about to do something Slade prison’s Mr. McKay could only dream of; shoot one prisoner every minute until Blake surrenders, or, until he runs out of prisoners.
Now, we see the first marked difference between Blake and Avon. The former cannot allow the atrocity continue. As his colleagues begin to fall, the cold genius urges Blake to ignore it, and continue with the take over. To Avon’s utter disgust, Blake quickly surrenders.
This really is the only link between episodes one and two of this show. When we see the prisoners lined up in front of Raker there is a direct line through to that earlier installment. We know the administration won’t mind if he guns the lot of ’em down, which heightens the drama quite considerably. A potent reminder of the kind of empire the Federation has built, and why Blake can’t stomach it.
We’re about halfway in and so far there’s been lots of action and lots of character but again, this is where my decision to omit the first episode from a previous watch-through seems justified, as there is no reference at all to the harsh establishment that was set up in that earlier story. The prisoners seen here seem to be treated quite well, on the whole. Although suppressed by drugs in their food, their facilities seem adequate and clean. The Federation is even going to the cost of a long haul deep space flight to a far distant penal colony, instead of just executing them outright or dumping them in space.
Other parts of the previous episode not expanded upon or mentioned, are the rebel massacre, Blake’s former life as a resistance leader and the false charges made against him. He never finds out his lawyer and his wife were murdered trying to prove his innocence. This would be less irritating if it felt like this was an intentional side-step but it actually fills like a bit of a cheat, like Terry Nation was more interested in introducing the staple elements of the show quickly, rather than continue the very gradual and intense build-up of the first episode.
Spacefall is notably lighter and less intense than the Way Back, and this feels like a deliberate and sensible approach. The grim tone of the previous episode would have been hard to maintain, and somewhat depressing for the audience (a trap Survivors I think fell into during it’s early days). The dark elements are still present here, not least in the person of the sadistic Raker, but there are moments of light, establishing Vila as the show’s main comedic ingredient. He really doesn’t seem to be overly upset about being exiled to a prison planet. Just an occupational hazard, as Norman Stanley might say.
The BBC Visual Effects team were criminally under-funded for Blake’s 7. A science fiction show assigned the same budget as an ordinary police drama, but despite the cost-savings, the model of the Liberator is a masterpiece in miniature. Reportedly difficult to light and made on the wrong scale (Liberator often looked almost as big as the planet it was orbiting), it is the absolute epitome of spacecraft deluxe. Blake’s acquisition of the alien craft, with the help of Avon and Jenna, is contrived but utterly enjoyable.
Thanks to their failed attempt at taking over the ship, the trio are now considered expendable – canon fodder for an exploratory mission onto the grand derelict, floating aimlessly along the prison ship’s flight path. It’s dangerous, and Leyland has already lost three crewman in an attempt to capture it.
The reveal of the Liberator’s flight deck is an iconic moment in the series. Dom and I are in agreement, it’s a gorgeous bit of design work, and the interior does justice to the elaborate excess of the ship’s exterior too.
Of course, now established as our main protagonists, Blake and his friends easily overcome the mental assault that killed Leyland’s crewmen. A first for the show occurs shortly after. Blake orders Liberator to move away from it’s docked position with the prison ship which closes the adjoining door, just as his nemesis is about to reach Liberator via the docking tube attached to both shops. The model shot of Raker falling into space is quite good but it’s slightly surprising to see our hero take a life and then shrug it off. It’s not the first time we’ll see this.
“So now we’re free,” says Avon wearily. Perhaps echoing the sentiment of a writer who’s worked hard to reunite his characters with their freedom, and now has to figure out what the hell he’s going to do with them. “Cygnus Alpha,” says Blake. A writer needs a direction, and as luck would have it, Blake’s ship needs a crew. Lay in a course.
EPISODE 1 – THE WAY BACK (The Blake’s 7 Watch-through begins!)
WE BEGIN, as all beginnings logically must, at the beginning, however, I start this watch-through with a logic-busting confession to make.
Earlier, I mentioned my first watch-through, as Blake’s 7 was broadcast for the second time on satellite TV but, in 2006 and I started another watch-through. For two years, my girlfriend and I gingerly picked our way through a third of the 52 broadcast episodes in approximate order. I omitted certain ones that I knew were weak, or that I didn’t care for, which perhaps surprisingly, included the very episode.
It was a conscious decision to skip over the opening episode. Although excellent in it’s own right, it’s more like a Play of the Week kind of adventure. Regulars Jenna and Vila are introduced during the last ten minutes, but other than that, the episode doesn’t even hint at the type of series to expect. To me, this beginning where the central character is falsely exiled for child molestation jars with what comes after, which is less 1984 and more Dirty Dozen. That the experience was implanted in the minds of three children, just to give the government the evidence it needs to sentence and shame a former symbol of opposition, is strong stuff for those expecting a more lighthearted Doctor Who-type approach. It stands alone. Adult and intense.
By starting my last watch-through with the second episode, Space Fall, I robbed my girlfriend of several important scenes, establishing the nature of the future society we find ourselves in. Dominique has seen this episode in the years since our joint watch through but, as she can’t remember it, she watches with me and from this moment on, she’s in on the ride. This is now a joint re-watch through! (Or a re-re-watch through in my case).
So, the series starts with curly haired Roj Blake as sleep walks his way through a busy domed city in an emerald green velvet tabbard. He soon meets up with a right couple of wrong ‘uns, with BBC accents who show take him outside the city, itself a capital crime. The night air seems clear his mind, which is lucky because he’s brought into contact with a resistance leader, who’s other main job is an exposition machine. He tells a slightly bamboozled Blake about a man he once worked with, a man who once had influence over insurrectionists across the galaxy and led the rebel alliance on Earth. Before the Federation caught him and wiped his mind, before he was turned into a drugged, state-sponsored puppet. His name was Blake.
Perhaps tired from this sudden info dump, Blake wanders off for a well-timed breath of fresh air, because he just about manages to avoid the massacre of the assembled rebels. A good advert for taking regular exercise, if ever there was one.
The Federation guards, black suits and helmets covering their faces surround the unarmed group. Their leader holds his hands up in surrender. Then, he’s unceremoniously shot dead and the rest fall in quick succession. An absolute blood bath, you might say. It’s mature opening for a camp space adventure series but, what this scene does is hammer home the vicious nature of the ruling establishment and the lengths it will routinely go to, in order to quell potential insurrection.
As the only witness to this mass-murder, the administration decide Blake, ever a persistent thorn in their side, must be silenced, before his conditioning breaks down. As several politician types discuss the pros and cons of infecting him with a terminal virus, the danger of turning him into a martyr is too strong. The next best thing? They decide to discredit him entirely. Enter Blake’s tall scruffy-haired lawyer, looking like Mike Gambit in a tabard.
Despite refuting the (false) claims of child molestion, Blake pleads not guilty but offers no defense. The next few scenes play out very quickly, with little or no indication of any amount of time having passed between the politicians deciding to trump up a charge, Blake meeting his lawyer and the trial scene. Blake’s motivation here, is to bring to light the massacre he witnessed, except there’s no mention of it anywhere, and his lawyer doesn’t believe him. It’s a swift and important series of events, under-acted in over-lit sets. It doesn’t convince.
Unlike my 13 year old self, and my modern day counterpart, Dominique enjoys the trial scene. Here, Blake’s lawyer and the prosecuting council (a horrid woman called Morag) present the entirety of their case in glass domes, which is then fed into a central computer. The computer examines the evidence from each side (indicated by each globe lighting up in turn), before making judgment. The sentence of penal exile is handed down to Blake by an arbiter. It’s a brief sequence, lasting all of three minutes. On my first watch, years ago, I found it cheap looking and ridiculous, and I didn’t really understand what was going on. Dominique however found it interestingly plausible that trials would be conducted like this in the future and applauded the imagination shown to do something different. I still hate it.
So half an hour into episode one, we’ve had state-induced child molestation, the brutal gunning down of 20 people, mental torture and corruption in high office. The appearance of Michael Keating as Vila is a welcome bit of warmth and humor, even if he is a thief. He’s got a twinkle in his eye, and he’s not overly upset about being sent to a prison planet.
As his lawyer finally stumbles upon the bodies of the rebels massacred earlier, he realises Blake’s been telling the truth. Thankfully, there’s still time before the ship takes off. Blake is among a large cargo of prisoners shuffling along before taking their seats on the ship. Next comes a moment, the first irksome moment for Dominique, and one with which my 13 year old self would concur because the next time we see Blake’s lawyer, a creepy bloke, who’s been observing everything from a distance all the way through, is now standing over him, a freshly fired gun in his hand. Dom thinks it’s a bit off that the lawyer and his wife were apparently set up to become main characters and then killed off. Modern me, however, quite likes it. It’s grim and it sets the tone for the whole series; it’s all about losing.
So, as the ship takes off and speeds away from Earth, Blake looks back at the world getting smaller and smaller and portentously declares he’ll be going back.
If Blake’s 7, The Way Back is basically the prologue. It doesn’t really hint at what’s to come, but it sets up the corrupt society and features a couple of cameos from future regulars. From the perspective of a prologue, it also hinges on an obscure plot-point in an obscure episode. It’s almost the quintessential post-modern prologue-come-prequel you’ll ever get.
Missing The Way Back doesn’t detracting much from what will follow. For me, it will forever sit alongside Doctor Who’s pilot episode, the first, (Kirk-less) episode of Star Trek and Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, all opening installments that are comfortably miss-able.
Thank you for reading
More watch-through shenanigans as we look back on the first 200 episodes of epic, gothic soap opera – Dark Shadows
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