The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

All Dead, All Dead


And, at long last, the final entry in my Blake’s 7 review guide type-thing. Originally written back in 2002 when I was about 22, so forgive the writing style (or lack thereof) and the outdated cultural references. As usual, any opinions contained herein are not necessarily those of the author now or, indeed, back then, and are included entirely for comic effect (or lack thereof).


ORBIT

Blake’s 7 has started getting good again. There was a bit of a dip, but gradually things are coming together. The stories are solid, the direction is hitting competent, and there is a sense of purpose. Still, two episodes to go and it’s all over.

Orbit opens with some more nice model shots. Domes and things. We then cut to Scorpio interior, where the Darrow is chewing air and gritting his delivery, full of gravel and relish like some sort of mad acting salad. He never quite goes the full Ainley. Except when he turns to camera and goes, ‘Working like we’ve never worked before!’

The gorgeous Soolin is also present. This week her hair is in a pigtail. It suits her. Not totally sure about the darkened eyebrows, though. I like the way she stands, one hand on hips, knowing smirk on lips. And her bottom wiggles even when she’s sitting down. ‘Forward section pressurizing’, she says. Certainly for most of the male viewers.

In a shocking and radical plot for Blake’s 7, the story involves a disillusioned scientist who used to work for the Federation but who has decided to continue with his experiments in isolation on a desolate planet. You know, it’s odd that they’ve never done that story before. I’m amazed it’s taken them almost four years to get round to it. Maybe the scientist has a grudge against the Federation, and has developed some device that would be useful to Avon’s happy troupe? Of course, it all seems obvious now you think about it. Still, it makes Orbit unique, and demonstrates Robert Holmes’ originality and, indeed, the innate flexibility of the Blake’s 7 format.

Now, I’m not qualified to discuss this, but watching John Savident [I will not do the obvious repetition joke, I said Ashley I will not do the obvious repetition joke] and his wart and his 'chum’ Pinder... now, speaking as one uninitiated in such things, but it all seems a bit, well... camp. Very camp. Camp up to eleven. As camp as a camper going camping at Camp David with Larry ‘Camp’ Grayson and John ‘Camp’ Inman. And the ‘chase me’ bloke whose name eludes me. Him.

I mean, on one level they’re a typical Holmesian double-act. Theatrical, over-the-top, and not very funny. Yes, this episode was written by Robert Holmes, butch old Bob, Bob ‘Bobby’ Bob, chain-smoking, hard-drinking, mates-with-Saward ex-copper Robert ‘Shagger’ Holmes. And yet... it is gay through and through. It doesn’t have a gay subtext. It’s got a gay text, there’s no ‘sub’ about it. It’s gay gay gay gay gay.

Which is the best thing about it.

Savident delivers his lines as though he’s wearing a smoking jacket in a velvet-lined boudoir. He pouts, he puckers, he queens, he flibbets and moons. He has an unconventional relationship with 18-year-old Pinder, and takes a rapid fancy to feckless young Vila; ‘one could be very fond of that young man’. Most of all he fancies Servalan! I mean, how gay can you get? He wants a ‘connubial partnership’ with Jacqueline Pearce. That’s not a *hugely* heterosexual point of view.

Vila suggests that one of the girls goes to see him as ‘A girl might interest him...?’ I think not, Vila! As the Darrow so rightly says, ‘[They can’t] tell their kings from their queens’. And Darrow is greeted as ma’am!

[I notice also that Vila doesn’t specify the gender of his virgins...]

Unfortunately Savident is not wearing a smoking jacket, he’s wearing blue pyjamas. Nevertheless the effect is there.

Anyway, the Darrow and Vila decide to pop down and see him in a shuttle. Hello, that’s the ‘Vogon Hold’ sound effect from Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. I like the front window and the special effects when they’re zooming in to land through the mountains. It works. It’s not remotely convincing, but it’s effective. Blake’s 7 at its best.

The Darrow is on good form this week. He’s started grinning at the end of every line, as though each piece of dialogue is an in-joke between him and his psychotherapist. ‘I’m the Darrow, see my teeth’.

I notice that they’re not even bothering making Servalan’s involvement a surprise twist any more.

Now they’ve reached the point where someone says, ‘he’s involved with the Federation at quite a high level’ and someone Dayna probably shouts ‘SERVALAN!’. Of course it’s Servalan. It’s always bloody Servalan. Later on, Darrow learns that Pinder has met a woman he clenches, he grits, he utters, ‘SERVALAN FOR INSTANCE!’. Yes, it would have to be her. It’s never anybody else. ‘I’ve just been to the post office and there was a woman in the queue in front of me drying her nail polish -’SERVALAN!’ ‘Who took my pint, I hadn’t quite finished it?’ ‘SERVALAN!’ ‘Britain’s voted in its first female Prime Minister.’ ‘SERVALAN!’ ‘Who was the singer in Soft Cell?’ ‘SERVALAN!’

In the world of Darrow, it’s always Servalan.

The point being, Servalan’s presence is no longer a cause for suspense. It’s compulsory.

Savident says ‘Avon’ differently, almost as though he would be rolling his r’s if there were any r’s in the word which there aren’t. He says it like Servalan. Ay-Vvvon. Like Ro-Land from Grange Hill.

Back in 1980, was there only one dog-eared copy of New Scientist in the BBC reception area? Because it’s very odd that both the 7 and the Who had plotlines full of gibberish about Tachyons and Neutron Stars at the same time. The only bits of science that ever appeared in those series, and they happen to be exactly the same bits of science used more or less at the same time in the same way...

As always happens in a Robert ‘old toot’ Holmes script, there’s some mindless sadism. So we get Egrorian pinching and twisting and inflicting pain on Pinder. Yes, very nice. Let’s have people hurting each other, that really adds to the characterisation. Later on it’s described as ‘judo’ in the script, but I think it’s obvious that the script specified something like [EGROGRIAN SLOWLY TWISTS PINDER’S ARM UNTIL IT REALLY HURTS. PINDER IN GREAT PAIN. IDEALLY TRY TO PLAY IT FOR LAUGHS. I LOVE BIRDS, ME]

Jacqueline Pearce is going a little mad. Her best scenes  are when she slips out of character and starts rolling her eyes at the camera as a comedy aside. Her nails still aren’t dry. She can barely contain her enthusiasm and her costume can barely contain her.

There’s a great moment where she has to back away from Savident and she bumps her bum on the desk. That look of surprise is genuine. Being Blake’s 7, they obviously thought, ‘Bloody hell, a bit of artistic conviction, we’d better keep that bit in’.

Servalan has no crew this week. No mutoids, no-one. Aah. Still, at least she has John Savident giving her a good puckering...

Hello, what’s that videotape on Egrorian’s desk? The legendary lost episode from season 3?

As usual, the day is saved in Blake’s 7 by someone possessing an hitherto unmentioned bit of techy. In this case, it’s another, fake, Orac which Avon made earlier. A mini-Orac, if you like, rather like Junior from Galloping Galaxies. Do you remember Junior? And SID? I loved that show. In many ways it was the follow-up to Blake’s 7, wasn’t it? I always get a little irritated when they do these Kenneth Williams biographies on telly and they never mention Galloping Galaxies or Willo The Wisp or his Jackanorys, even though they were amongst his best work and brought him to a whole new generation.

However, this does mean we get the brilliant line ‘It’s just a box of flashing lights!’ Tee-hee. Well done, Robert ‘So Macho’ Holmes.

I’m beginning to warm to Orac. Or, at least, I’m joining in with the sound effects, which is almost the same thing. Meeeeow.

What do I remember from watching this as a kid? I remember the ending. It’s terrifically exciting. The shuttle needs to get into orbit, but to do so it needs to lose 70 kilos. Orac, in characteristic shit-stirring-mode, points out that Vila weighs 73 kilos. So it looks as though Avon will have to kill Vila...

Bloody hell.

Avon is really going to kill Vila.

Vila is hiding in a cupboard crying, terrified.

Darrow and Keating are superb.

This is magnificent.

Vila knows Avon is going to kill him, because Avon is being *nice*. Avon is never nice.

And we’re left thinking... Avon is a complete bastard. He’s no longer one of the good guys. He’s no longer sympathetic. He has gone over the edge. In a moment of masterfully neat Darrow-work, we suddenly switch from supporting Avon to despising him.

This is great. Not as good as Gold, but close.

Can Blake’s 7 get any better?


WARLORD

Hello. It starts well. A lovely film sequence of a pacified population going up and down on escalators. Some Moby plays in the background. ‘You are loved’, You are cared for’. It’s all rather convincing, what the sort of people who describe season 7 of Doctor Who as ‘gritty realism’ would describe as being ‘grittily realistic’. Not actually gritty or realistic at all, of course, but rather like The Sun Makers. And then the Federation troopers just start killing them. It’s terrifying. It’s like we’ve suddenly rewound all the way back to The Way Back, it’s just so much better than the usual camp old fluff. And then a Federation guard turns to the camera, to us the viewer at home. . .

One thing Blake’s 7 doesn’t do very well, though, is ‘maintaining quality’, and it takes a little bit of a dive after that. And then a plummet. And then it sort of goes downhill. And it doesn’t really recover.

Avon is holding a dinner party in Scorpio base, and he’s invited along an assortment of alien ambassadors that can only be described as ‘motley’. They include a bloke in a costume from The Pirate Planet with mongol accessories, one who has the seal of Rassilon/Voga, Queeg from the Red Dwarf and... Cotton! Cot- ‘stinking rotten hole’-ton! His other acting job! He’s got an afro swept into a turret and he’s wearing a costume at which even Leee Enlightenment John would baulk.

It’s a call of some debate. Is he more rubbish in Warlord, or The Mutants? It’s a tough cookie. I would say he was worse in The Mutants, but that would mean he would be *better* in Warlord and I can’t quite countenance that, so maybe he’s equally bad in both. He’s so wooden, so inexpressive, so utterly clueless... it reminds me of the time I saw a video made of one my school plays where I suddenly discovered to my alarm that I was not the young Kenneth Branagh but was, in fact, the young REDACTED, only worse. I was Cotton-mongously dreadful. I could've been in The Tripods, I was that bad.

I note that Cotton is playing ‘Ham’. Which is ironic, really, as that’s Darrow’s area of expertise. His character should’ve been called ‘Wood’.

‘I mean, but words are no more than. . . words’. He’s just terrible. He’s Jonathan-Morris-In-A-Midsummer-Night’s-Dream terrible. It’s the awkward pause and the little hand-rolling gesture he does that really destroys it.

God, it must be so difficult to be an actor performing a scene where one member of the cast is totally and absolutely incompetent. I mean, how do you maintain the illusion when one person keeps on pricking it? How do actors cope when one of their co-stars is irredeemably appalling?

Soolin’s top is a little more low-cut than usual, and she has her hair up. I know I say this about every single Soolin hairstyle, but it suits her, very sexy. Nice earrings, too. Unfortunately later on she changes into a sort of baggy green and gold jumpsuit, which is a shame, and unfortunately this isn’t ‘Enterprise’ so we don’t get to see her changing into the baggy green and gold jumpsuit either. Ho well.

It turns out that one of the delegates, the pink-haired Zukan, has a daughter, called Ziona, played by Bobby Brown. Not the Bobby Brown who married Whitney Houston. At least, I don’t think so. She’s quite lucky to be co-starring alongside Cotton, because otherwise she’d be the most rubbishest person in it.

Tarrant is in love with Ziona, which entails the occasionally surprisingly meaty kiss and putting their arms around each other. Oh, and shagging in Tarrant’s shag-pad, complete with glitterball. There is a certain chemistry between them, but unfortunately that chemistry is a disappointing experiment where nothing fizzles and the two liquids turn a sort of murky brown.

We learn that Soolin’s dad was killed when she was 8 in some sort of Federation-related brouhaha. Well, I say ‘learn’ maybe it was mentioned before and I never noticed? Did she have ever have her back-story filled in? I could fill in her back-story any time etc. etc.. Was she ever given a raison d’etre? I could certainly give her raison a d’etre etc. etc.

Nope, my innuendoes have stopped making any sort of sense.

Scorpio base is looking a bit tatty. Almost as though it’s about to fall to pieces. Oh, it does. A bit of roof falls on Orac. Yay! Doesn’t squish the smug flashing boxy bugger, though.

There’s a great comedy moment, where Tarrant and Ziona are a-smooching and the Darrow grabs Tarrant and drags him off-screen with a curt ‘Excuse me!’ You see, there *are* good bits in it.

Anyway, the Darrow and Soolin are despatched to Betafile, to do something I don’t really care about but you know how it is they’re in a spaceship going to this planet and I suppose there must be some reason which seemed rather important at the time but in retrospect seems a little bit contrived well don’t they all? Ziona’s pink-haired father, Zoltan, is in pursuit, whilst Ziona is getting herself well-and-properly shacked up with Tarrant.

It’s all rather soap-opera, rather like Triangle. Maybe it was a Triangle script and they adapted it.

Zandor’s spaceship that’s a Viper, isn’t it, Elite fans? He talks about dreams and night a lot. He must be a character of great depth and motivation then.

Oh no, Zardoz has decided to release a virus into Scorpio base. A virus that kills people with a sort of electrocution special effect. Oh, it’s a radioactive airborne virus. What is one of those supposed to be when it’s at home, then? Bit of a communications breakdown between the script and the rest of the production, I think. As per normal, come to think of it.

The stuff in the Scorpio base is actually rather tense and well-done. The actors get across a real sense of desperation, though perhaps more at their predicament at being trapped in an episode of Blake’s 7 rather than their predicament at being trapped in an underground base. Vila’s back on the adrenaline and soma, and Dayna still has nothing whatsoever to do except wear shoulder pads.

Zarquon, meanwhile, goes to meet with Commissioner Sle... SERVALAN! Of course! She was behind it all! She’s only in a couple of scenes, but she manages to crowbar in a couple of arms-alofts, a couple of dry-my-nails, a couple of saucy winks to camera. She has terrible difficulty getting through doors though. I look forward to her appearance in the next episode.

Meanwhile, what are Avon and Soolin up to? They’ve landed in the quarry from Death To The Daleks, except bizarrely in long shot it looks like Captain arsing Zep. I don’t know why. There was no need to cut away from the film close-ups, it would’ve been acceptable. Dear oh dear. Later on we have long shots on film and close-ups on video... what the baboon’s blue arse was the director thinking?

Still, Betafile has a nice pink sky that must be why everyone’s hair turns pink and it also has lots of Federation troopers buried in the sand. Which means we get some rather funky action sequences, lots of shots of people falling off cliffs and jumping and running and getting Darrowed. It’s not action as a normal person would regard it, but it’s what passes for action in Blake’s 7. Unfortunately, the incidental music is one of Dudley’s most suspense-dampening pieces of work ever.

Turns out that Ziona’s pink-haired-father, Zagreus, knows how to blow air into the Scorpio base to save our heroes. But he doesn’t explain how. This sequence is quite hysterical. Zagreb gets guilt-inspired visions of his daughter, and Commissioner Sle... SERVALAN, whilst shouting and staggering about a bit. And then he explodes.

Oh, well, that's that finished. What do you mean there’s another five minutes to go?

For some other contrived reason, I was past caring by now but I think they probably did give some sort of a reason, Zeona has to go back into the Scorpio base and do some special thing to get rid of the airborne radioactive virus. She dons one of the comedy shoulders-and-ridged-helmet space-suits. We don’t see her fitting her outrageous poodle wig into it, but presumably she makes do in the same way that the Space Rats managed to fit their vast mo-hics into their helmets.

But, oh no, she doesn’t reply over her radio. So Tarrant goes to investigate...

Zeona has been aged to death! Just like Pinder and Egrorian and the bloke with his eyes too close together before her! Such injustice! And such inconsistency, since the radioactive airborne virus wasn’t aging people to death earlier on in the episode!

Apparently she took her glove off.

Ah.

Hang on.

What? Why?

Why did she take the glove off?

What is the explanation for this strange mystery?

Was she feeling suicidal and rejected?

No.

Was she incredibly stupid and forgetful when it came to handwear?

No.

Was she contracted to appear in only one episode?

Yes.

So there’s the reason. The only reason. She took her glove off because she’s not in Blake.


BLAKE

So here it is. The final episode in my Blake watch. This is it. The end. After this, there are only repeats of Wonder Woman, The Dukes Of Hazzard and Crazylegs Crane.

Of course, I remember this episode rather vividly. Not only did I see it on both TV showings, but I had the Blake’s 7 Summer Special with a Blake photo-story. And a pull-out poster of a bequarried Darrow which went on the right hand side of my wardrobe door. I think I had Sarah Sutton on the left hand side. She had nice eyes.

I strongly recall the huge emotional impact that the episode had. It was rather heartbreaking. Like having your favourite toy broken by the school bully. Someone has just decided to take away your fun, and no matter how many letters you write to Barry Took, it isn’t going to come back.

The point being, when Blake’s 7 ended, a hush fell over the playground. Out of respect, we stopped playing the Blake’s 7 game [see Blake’s Watches passim]. It was horrible. Heroes shouldn’t die, and not in such an arbitrary and wasteful fashion. Except well, that’s what happens to heroes in real life, isn’t it? Real heroes are mortal, and that’s what makes them heroic. So maybe we learnt an valuable lesson that day. Or maybe not.

What is Blake about? It’s a tragedy, based on the fact that neither Blake nor Avon can trust people any more. It is their paranoia that brings about their downfall. In many ways, the story is about Avon’s descent into madness, and should’ve been called ‘Avon’. Or maybe even ‘Darrow’.

But unfortunately it’s not quite as thought-through as that. It isn’t really about fatal flaws whilst, yes, the real tragedy of the episode is that Avon kills Blake, events begin a downward spiral simply as a result of coincidence and misfortune. For instance, the Scorpio is shot down by a couple of rather pathetic spaceships - this is the Scorpio that can outrun any ship in the galaxy and which has survived many similar battles, remember. Or for another example, there’s the final shoot out. These situations have happened before, over and over again, with our heroes surviving against the odds. In Blake it’s more a case of their luck finally running out. That’s what I get from it.

So Boucher has attempted to write a tragedy, and he smoothes over some of the coincidences by foreshadowing things left, right and centre. There’s also some clever resonances he picks up on the story is to an extent a remake of Terminal, which was in turn a remake of Star One. As Tarrant points out, ‘The last time you went after Blake it was a trap, we were lucky to get out’. ‘Cally didn’t get out,’ adds Vila. And they lost the Liberator and Zen too, but let’s not mention them.

The point being, this is another story where Avon expects the others to follow him unquestioningly, which means that things will fall apart because Avon’s unswerving faith in Blake and what Blake represents blinds him to what is really going on, and because the others don’t know what’s going on, they can’t warn him of his folly. So Avon [with Orac’s assistance, see later] leads them all into a trap, which means people get killed and spaceships fall apart. Again. It’s also interesting that it’s Avon’s idealism that makes him search for Blake and yet it’s also that idealism, compounded with paranoia, which leads him to think that Blake has betrayed him. But more on that later too.

However, Boucher also includes some reprehensibly feeble banter and his plot is a little too clever and devious for him to follow, so occasionally motivation is muddied and you have a couple of scenes with people lying to each other [or at least being misleading] for no apparent reason.

Anyway, the episode opens with that lovely model sequence being played in reverse before Matt Irvine blows it all up, hirsute over-lapelled buffoon in loon pants that he is.

However, that’s as special as the special effects get. We see a very shaky shot of the Scorpio leaving a planet which doesn’t look much like Xenon [I think it’s the planet Pyjamas from Orbit] and the space ships which ambush them... oh, there’s no money left, is there? Spaceships c/o BBC catering. Later on, we don’t even see the skimmers we’ll get someone looking up whilst a wind machine woofles their hair and maybe they’ll be a spotlight to indicate some headlights.

We have a side-on establishing shot of the Scorpio bridge, for the first time. Too little, too late - like rather a lot of the episode. We learn about what happened to Jenna allegedly and we also finally get Soolin’s back-story and a reason given for her to rebel against the Federation. There’s a sense that Chris is finally getting round to all of those awkward bits of exposition and character motivation which he’s been putting off for the last two seasons. The most obvious one being, of course, what happened to Blake?

Blake’s lost an eye, he’s put on weight, and he’s dressed like a pig farmer. Of course, he’s lost the same eye as Travis, but unlike Travis he’s decided not to cover it in gaffer tape.

Meanwhile, back on the Scorpio we’re getting our first platter of Boucher banter. It’s not awful, but it’s not remotely amusing. ‘A strategic withdrawal is running away... but with dignity’, stuff like that. Yeah, right, Chris.

Soolin has her hair long, with a gold braid thing, which is, of course, very sexy. She seems a bit miffed throughout this episode, though; always putting her hands on hips and going ‘tch! Vila!’ Even returning to her home planet of Gauda Prime [or GP as the locals call it, not being particularly imaginative when it comes to generating colloquialisms] seems to make her shirty. If she wasn’t so damn gorgeous, she’d be bloody irritating. Say goodbye to Soolin’s bottom, Jonny.

‘No-one is indispensable’ says the Darrow, referring to Zavaroni, the pink-haired and eponymous Warlord. Hold that thought, I’ll be coming back to it later.

Avon believes he has found Blake. The Darrow decides to run the dialogue through his Richard III-ifier. Breathy, agonised, clenched, gritted. Emphasis, emphasis, emph-as-is. Random suspenseful pause insertion.

‘He’s strongly identified [DARROW PAUSE, SMILE ON, SMILE OFF] with rebels [DARROW PAUSE, CROSSES SET, LEANS ON DESK, EYES NARROW] and very popular [DARROW PAUSE, CROSSES SET, SMILE ON, SMILE OFF, EYES WIDE IN SURPRISE] with rabbles [DARROW PAUSE, SMILE ON, SMILE OFF, EYES NARROW, LOOKS TO CAMERA].’

Such is Darrow’s ham, I can’t quite tell whether he’s corpsing during the line ‘Idealism is a wonderful thing’ or if he thinks that Avon should be laughing because he’s a bonkers loony. I suspect it to be a combination of the two.

Vila guesses that the Darrow is referring to Blake; of course, none of the others have actually met Blake, have they? This later becomes of such crucial noteworthiness that it’s even mentioned in the dialogue.

It feels quite momentous to have Blake back. Like events have suddenly taken on some significance. We rather forgot about the search for Blake and Jenna during season three, didn’t we? Then it was picked up again for Terminal and then, of course, we were supposed to believe Blake was dead. But Gareth still hasn’t been getting offers of work, so he’s come back to be killed off again, properly, on-screen this time.

After all, we only have Servalan’s word for it that Blake was dead, and she’s an inveterate fibber. ‘She had no reason to lie’, says Dayna. Well, she had lots of reasons, actually. And, as the Darrow points out, ‘It comes quite naturally to her.’

Blake, meanwhile, has met Arlen. Ooh, what have I seen her in? Wasn’t she in Emmerdale or something? Anyway, their introductory scene is very well written, as Boucher subverts each expectation he sets up. He’s stuck a lot of lines in which are there to gain resonance given later events; presumably he expected people to watch the episode more than once. Things like Arlen saying, ‘Do I look like one of [the Federation]?’ and Blake replying ‘I can’t really tell anymore.’ This more than makes up for her pointedly REDACTED-esque delivery of the word ‘scum’ later on.

Orac has located Blake via the magic trail of the chain of cause and effect. What bollocks. Couldn’t they have just, like, got a message, or a distress signal? A postcard even? Given that Blake is expecting them to turn up on Gauda Prime, it would’ve made more sense than this bit of technojimble.

Orac says, ‘It’s not easy to trace one line through infinity, but in this case aaaah have.’ He sounds like Eric Cartman. ‘Screw you Avon, ahhhhm going home. Aaaahm ah to assume there will be no side dishes? Respect maaaah authoritaaaah etc.’

Speaking of which, have you noticed that, just as in Terminal, the whole thing is actually down to Orac? He’s the one feeding Avon this information. He’s setting it all up. Given that Orac is the only one that survives, one might suspect that the sanctimonious twinkle-toes is actually working for the Federation. Remember the time he piloted the Liberator into a black hole? Remember that time he tried to get Vila killed in Orbit? We only have his word for it that he saved the day in Ultraworld, and that other one at the beginning of season two.

This time he tells Slave not to speak, even though he, Orac, knows there are enemy space ships approaching. He’s deliberately putting them in danger. Again.

Yes, IT’S ALL ORAC’S FAULT. The smug blinking fckwit.

Still, at least we get Orac bickering with Slave. Tuddenham-tastic.

‘Do you imagine I would take us in blind?’ says Avon. Ah, Chris, I see what you did there. You see, because that’s what he has just done, hasn’t he? Aaaaah.

Soolin tells us all about Gauda Prime. Apparently there were some farmers there, or miners, or something, then the Federation did something, and now it’s full of bounty hunters, or something, but now the Federation is coming back because oh who cares? I mean, does it actually matter? It’s only going to be bloody Black Park, a corridor and a control room, isn’t it?

‘It’s the day of the bounty hunter’, darrows the Darrow. ‘Thieves’ [CUT TO VILA] ‘killers’ [CUT TO DAYNA, PAN TO SOOLIN] ‘mercenaries’ [CUT TO TARRANT] ‘psychopaths’ [CUT TO AVON] ‘and twats’ [CUT TO ORAC]

That’s a very posed shot, isn’t it? All the Scorpio gang, gathered around Orac. That’ll end up on the cover of Blake’s 7 Monthly for sure.

Anyway. Thanks to sodding Orac, the Scorpio is attacked. There’s an explosion. Glynis Barber yelps, she’s got sparks in her hair. So cute.

The camera revolves. None of the cast do ‘we’re being revolved’ acting. The camera revolves back again. Again, the cast just sit there. Which is a shame, because they should’ve put their arms up and gone ‘whoooo, we’re all upside down!’ or something. Lame.

Dayna says there’s ‘two more ships on a reciprocal bearing’. Four years and still no-one has worked out quite what that means.

Have they been attacked by the Federation? No, it wasn’t a trap. We later learn there is some sort of blockade around Gauda Prime, presumably to stop smugglers. Or it’s a blockade of bounty hunters. The blockade shoots first and asks questions later. I’m not totally clear who’s in charge of the blockade, though it doesn’t quite fit with what we later learn about Blake’s big plan. Best not to think about it too hard, I suspect.

Unfortunately, the only point where the camera stops shaking is when we see people staggering across the deck, bouncing off the walls and chairs. A bit unfair on the actors, particularly given Darrow’s exuberant death-defying impersonation of a human pinball.

Avon tries to save Tarrant; an odd contrast to his attitude to Vila two episodes earlier. Tarrant later abandons his roving desk and slides down a ramp, just like that bloke did in Terminal. Indeed, it may very well be the same ramp.

I must say, this is very well-paced. The whole episode only feels like half an hour. There’s not many Blake’s you can say that about.

The Scorpio crashes, demolishing the carefully-crafted pine forest on Peter Purves’ train set. It’s reasonably effective, but you can’t help expecting the camera to pan up to reveal John Noakes and a defecating elephant/boy scout on fire/magnificent pair of knockers.

Meanwhile, Blake has delivered his captive to Deeva, the head bloke of Gauda Prime, played by the hoarse David Collings. He’s very throaty. And his hair is very floaty. Very floaty.

Being quite a celebrated guest star, famed for turning up for final episodes, we immediately expect him to be a traitor working for the Federation. But the twist is, in fact, that he’s on Blake’s side. Quite a clever subversion of the Blake’s 7 formula. Similarly, we hear about a representative/observer from the Federation who is on their way, and we immediately think ...





















SERVALAN!

But, in fact, it’s completely irrelevant. Sometimes I have the sneaking suspicion that Chris Bidmead might just have a clue what he’s doing.

Similarly, there is a clever bit of misdirection where we have Arlen telling Deeva that she knows who Blake is... the point being, Deeva is already perfectly aware of Blake's identity. Probably. I might need to watch the episode for a third time to fully understand this bit, it’s terribly complicated. For instance, I’m still not sure *why* this then convinces Deeva that he should immediately promote Arlen to Top Guard.

The problem is, you see, it very nearly almost hangs together and becomes incredibly clever. But it doesn’t quite mange it. You should be left thinking, ‘of course, that’s why x said y, because he was really working for z’ but instead, the more you think about it, the more you think ‘but hang on, *why* did x say y, because if he was working for z that wouldn’t make sense’.

Cut to the Darrow and Orac. They forget to put the Orac noise on at the beginning, then they turn it up gradually throughout the scene hoping no-one will notice. ‘Orac, when I want your impersonation of a pain, I’ll let you know’. It’s good to know that Avon feels the same way about him as I do.

You know, this episode feels rather like The Way Back. It’s back to the original idea of what the show was originally about, about rebels and faceless Federation guards in jackboots. None of that Servalan or Travis or Moloch The One-Eyed-Chicken-Gnome nonsense. You could probably take six or seven episodes from Blake’s 7 and make a half decent series out of them. A series where it was actually *about* something and didn’t get side-tracked into mindless, camp old space adventures. I wonder which six episodes I’d choose...

But, alas, the mindless, camp old space adventures tend to be the most entertaining ones.

Vila says he’s afraid of the dark, ‘but only when it’s unilluminated’. You see, it’s quality banter like that which got Chris Boucher snapped up by the makers of Home James.

Slave’s the first one to peg it. Can’t say I mind, though Tuddenham plays the death as though Slave is an old man, rather than a computer, which doesn’t work. Who will be next?

Looks like it could be Tarrant, doomed to die on an unrealistic grassy knoll... oh no, it’s okay, Blake can shoot skimmers out of the sky. Which means we cut to a badly matched explosion on location, probably an off-cut of another episode of something altogether. The Goodies, probably. But the rest of the scenes with Blake and Tarrant are a tremendous piece of work.

Avon meets up with Vila, Soolin and Dayna, and the Darrow is in Clint Eastwood mode. He should have the theme from Fistful Of Dollars to introduce him. ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you,’ he says, before shooting two bounty hunters in the back. He’s so cool. Darrow is excellent at this sort of acting. ‘The fire was stupid, putting Vila on guard was suicidal’. Chris writes very well for Avon when he’s in this mode too, and it works so, so well. It’s fab. I’m a fan.

And even Orac gets a good line. Regarding the fire which Vila, Soolin and Dayna have made which was attracting bounty hunters to their hideout, Orac says, ‘Their in-board computer almost rejected the data as too gross to be correct!’

It’s interesting that at this point Soolin and Dayna have also stopped trusting Avon. Vila, of course, stopped trusting him a couple of episodes ago. They believe he has set them up to be killed, and Avon doesn’t deny it. No, he doesn't. This sort-of mirrors the way Avon later believes himself to have been set up by Blake, though Boucher doesn’t really do very much with it. The point is, no-one trusts anyone anymore. Motives are getting skewed.

Blake tests Tarrant one more time. He knows that Tarrant is one of Avon’s crew, and he knows that his skimmer is being trailed by a skimmer containing Orac. So he makes up an OBVIOUSLY UNTRUE story about Jenna. If Tarrant was a Federation agent, he might give himself away by pretending to know who Jenna was, whereas Tarrant proves himself to be genuine by not knowing. This is my theory. It means, of course, that the lovely Jenna DID NOT DIE running guns through the blockade around Gauda Prime. She is alive and well and still wearing the top from Orac.

On the other hand, it could just be Chris Boucher thinking, ‘Oh, hang on, we never did get round to killing her off, did we? I’d better say something’.

Nice detail with Vila looking out of the window when their skimmer takes off. Not sure about ‘Sooner or later we’re going to drop into one of these holes and never come out’ seems a bit heavy-handed. There’s foreshadowing and there’s all the characters suddenly wearing psychic trousers.

It’s ironic that Blake has the same plan as Avon, and that they each need the other as a figurehead. Avon’s been searching for Blake, and Blake’s been waiting for Avon...

But, just as Avon has been driven insane and paranoid by betrayal [particularly Anne in that story about the old wall that waits], Blake is also completely doo-lally. ‘INDULGE ME!’ Which means, unfortunately, that Tarrant gets the wrong end of the stick and starts beating about the bush with it. What he thinks is Blake selling out is, in fact, Blake merely pretending to have sold out as part of a ‘silly game’ to test potential recruits. Doh!

Blake’s parting words to Deeva ‘Nobody’s indispensable’ cleverly picks up on Avon’s line from earlier. The difference is, Blake is saying it about himself, but Avon was saying it about someone else. This neatly defines the differences in their outlook; Blake is selfless, Avon is self-centred.

Tarrant rushes to tell Avon and co his news. ‘Avon, I think *he’s* here... he's sold us, all of us, even you...’ Yes, they’re all going to die. Meanwhile Orac sits smug and safe in his skimmer. Flashing and humming like the twat he is.

In walks Blake. Darrow steps forward, gun hoist.

‘ Is it true?’ Darrow delivers well. Gritted, breathy, meaningful. Clenched.

‘Have you betrayed us?’ But then Darrow falls flat. He forgets to include any emotion. He flounders. He drops the ball. He needs a second take but he doesn't get it. Too casual. Too off-hand.

‘Have you betrayed *me*?’ Darrow goes for it, but again misses. It’s a hoarse, indignant gasp, it’s desperate and heavy on emotion, but the emphasis is all wrong. It should have been ‘Have *you* betrayed me?’ The programme is tilting on a knife edge. It could go either way.

Fortunately, Gareth manages to say far more with his silence. He’s by far the better actor, and saves the scene, his reaction creates the meaning that Darrow has singularly failed to get across.

‘Tarrant doesn’t understand-’

‘Neither do I’ Darrow is clawing his way back, but it’s too late and he’s crossed over into the World of Ham. He’s acting like he’s just been slapped with a herring.

‘I set all this up, Avon. I was waiting for *you*.’ Gareth is superb. Boucher’s writing is a bit tricksy, though everything has to have two alternative meanings, which unfortunately means that Blake can’t say something less ambiguous like, ‘Please don’t shoot me, Avon, I’m raising an army to fight the federation, you see, and I can’t do that if I’m dead’.

Avon shoots. The reaction tells on Avon’s face. He knows he’s made a mistake. But he’s confused. He’s mad. He's Darrow. He fires again, and again.

Blake staggers forward, and in one word Gareth sums up the whole series and creates some sort of point, and poignancy, for the last four years of nonsense. ‘Avon’.

But his stomach has exploded. He’s very, very dead. Gareth Thomas is now officially available for other work. Which is ironic, really, because the series is ending now anyway.

Arlen was a Federation agent all along! She shoots the hoarse David Collings who launches himself through the air at a wall (he’s very take-flighty) and shoots Dayna as she goes for her gun. Josette is the only member of the cast who is aware that the normal reaction to being shot is to look surprised, rather than to gracefully and heroically fall to the ground with dignity.

Has Vila surrendered? No, it was just a ruse to overpower Arlen. He knocks her out and then apologises. ‘Sorry’. How very Vila. But now he’s been shot too...

My god, that sound effect when people die. I remember being absolutely terrified of that. It’s incredibly effective, isn’t it, the combination of the slow motion and that horrible heartbeat-echo thing? Very scary indeed.

The television grammar of the scene is all over the place, though the shot-lines are all out, with Soolin being shot in her front by someone standing behind her, and Tarrant managing to run across the room without being seen. I’m not sure whether it’s a deliberate device to add to the confusion, or not. 'Not' seems more likely somehow.

Yes, Soolin’s died too. How dreadful. Fortunately she has a soft landing. On her lovely round pert bottom.

And Tarrant... he’s shot, he falls, he puts out his hands so as not to hurt himself. Who told Pacey he was in medium-close-up?

But they are all dead. Definitely dead. Ignore what you may have read elsewhere. They are all dead. There’s absolutely no room for doubt whatsoever. They did not all ‘suddenly come down with a tummy bug’. They were not ‘playing dead lions’. They’ve all been shot by the fcking Federation. They are no more. They have ceased to be. They are an ex-seven.

The guards form a circle around Avon.

He raises his gun. This is Darrow’s moment. What will he do? Will he blow it, or will he do a Terminal and throw a blinder?

He twitches. He steps over Blake. He’s given up. It’s the end.

He smiles to the camera, and we freeze-frame.

Hmmm. It’s not quite there, is it? But at least it’s better than Darrow’s horrified-‘what-have-I-done’ expression which is just comical. But it’s positive, it’s Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid...

We hear Avon fire once. Then we hear all the guards kill him. And that’s it. No rescues, no Avon-ducking-and-all-the-guards-shooting-each-other.

The end.

Gripping.

Very, very good.

The best episode of season 4, possibly of the series as a whole.

And almost as enjoyable as Stardrive.


And then, five minutes later, SERVALAN strides into the control room wearing a flowing gown, arms aloft, drying her nails, and says, ‘Am I late, darlings?’


SUMMARY

So there you have it. Blake’s 7. Rather like Doctor Who, its one third sublime, one third ridiculous, and one third absolutely bloody unwatchable. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s brought back lots of memories, a few of them good. It means I can now vote in Blake polls with authority.

The best episode is Blake. Followed by Sarcophagus, Gold and The Way Back.

My favourite episode is Star Drive. Followed by Ultraworld, Blake and Countdown.

The least pukka episode is Power. Followed by... too many to mention.

And the most shaggable member of the cast is...



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