Saturday, 31 May 2014
"I have never understood why it should be necessary to become irrational in order to prove that you care - or indeed why it should be necessary to prove it at all."
The Liberator is low on power and has taken refuge in orbit around an apparently uninhabited planet in order to recharge. However, unknown to the crew, Travis is in the area laying in wait.
Blake, Jenna and Gan teleport to the surface of the planet to look around. They find evidence of a long-dead civilisation although Gan sees two women who mysteriously appear and then quickly vanish.
The trio quickly return to the ship when they see three Federation pursuit ships moving in on the Liberator. Despite being low on power, the ship manages to withstand a heavy attack from two of the ships but Blake knows that they can't defeat all three ships. He decides that they will have to make a run for it and plans to ram the lead ship, belonging to Travis, and run from the battle.
The Liberator moves towards Travis's ship. However, just as the two ships collide times seems to slow down and the two ships are frozen in space. Blake and Travis vanish from their ships and reappear on the planet's surface with the two women Gan had seen earlier.
The two women identify themselves as Giroc and Sinofar. They explain that they both once belonged to a race that wiped itself out in a massive war. To atone for the destruction of their people, the women have transported Blake and Travis to the planet to fight each other and prevent any unnecessary deaths amongst the crews of their ships.
Blake and Travis are then transported elsewhere on the planet and start to hunt each other down. They are each joined by a member of their crews - Jenna is with Blake while Travis's pilot is with him. Jenna is captured by Travis and used as bait to lure Blake to him. Blake duly arrives and he and Travis fight hand-to-hand. Blake beats Travis but refuses to kill him. The two women are satisfied with the results of the contest and allow Blake and his crew to leave unhindered by Travis. Travis then departs the planet, vowing to continue to hunt Blake down.
Blake: In 'Seek-Locate-Destroy', Blake tells the crew that Travis originally captured him by hiding out in Blake's meeting place and waiting for Blake to come to him. Here, Blake falls for the same basic trick and he seems angry at himself for falling for the same trick twice. He does redeem himself somewhat though by coming up with an effective way of withstanding an attack from three enemy ships without draining the ship's limited power supply.
On the planet's surface, Blake seems quite at home in the wilds, creating wooden spears as weapons, making a fire and finding shelter. He admits that he didn't kill Travis because he would have enjoyed it too much. He also knows that, whilst Travis is alive, he will be the one coming after Blake. And Blake now knows he can beat him.
Jenna: Is chosen by Sinofar and Giroc to join Blake on the planet's surface to hunt for Travis. The intention is that Blake should experience 'the death of a friend' and learn something from it. Jenna is to be that friend although, in the end she doesn't die. Why Jenna should be chosen for this role is not made clear but, throughout the series, she does seem to have been most loyal to Blake and his beliefs. Early episodes also seemed to hint at the possibility of a romantic relationship between the two.
Vila: He falls asleep at the teleport controls and fails to notice Travis's pursuit ships converging on the Liberator. He feels that, whatever the outcome of the duel between Blake and Travis, things won't be good for the crew. He doesn't think that the crew will be able to operate effectively without Blake should Travis win. However, if Blake wins then the Federation will still hunt them down until the day they die.
Gan: Is the first to see Giroc and Sinofar although, when they disappear he thinks he might be seeing things and is concerned that his Limiter might be malfunctioning.
Travis: Has successfully managed to trick Blake into travelling to an area of space where Travis was waiting for him. He uses two of the three ships under his command to run down the Liberator's power reserves, allowing himself to then move in capture Blake. It goes a little wrong when Blake chooses to ram him instead.
Travis is unimpressed by the two mysterious women and their powers, even though they have disabled his ship and rendered the gun built into his hand useless. He's eager to begin hunting Blake down. Travis, unlike Blake, seems less suited to survival in the wilderness. He delegates many of the basic tasks to his pilot who has joined, representing the 'death of a friend'. Perhaps he just doesn't like getting his hands dirty.
Travis will only work with Mutoids and values them more highly than another human being. As such they regularly appear in episodes alongside Travis. Here, Travis's Mutoid pilot joins him on the surface of the planet to help hunt for Blake. She is there to demonstrate the 'death of a friend'. There appears to be no actual between the two of them although Travis is aware of who she was before she became a Mutoid and says that she once was a beautiful and popular woman. The inference here is that she and Travis were once in a relationship but that she no longer has any memory of it.
This seems to be seen as one of the episodes that a lot of people rate highly and, although it does have a lot going for it, when you break it down there isn't much of a story to this. It is however significant as it's the first big confrontation between Blake and Travis.
Travis once again proves that he is a worthy foe and really it is only the chance intervention of the two women that saves the Liberator and her crew from being captured or destroyed. Blake's reason for not killing Travis ("I know I can beat him") might seem logical but the evidence doesn't really agree with Blake's reasoning. Blake may well have beaten Travis in a fist fight but, thus far in the series, Travis has seemingly had the upper hand far more than Blake.
The director of this episode is Douglas Camfield, well known in Doctor Who circles for creating some of the more dynamic and action packed episodes of that series. Certainly, he manages to wring a good deal of tension out of what is a fairly static space battle and his climactic duel between Blake and Travis looks suitably hard-hitting.
One side-effect of having Camfield as director is the absence of regular composer Dudley Simpson on the incidental music. This was the result of a long-standing dispute between the two men which meant that Camfield never used any Dudley Simpson music on anything he worked on. The stock music that replaces Simpson's work is quite different and gives everything a sort of ethereal quality which, given the mysterious, otherworldly nature of the two women, enhances the episode perfectly.
With the exception of Jenna (who even gets her own little fight scene) the rest of the crew take a bit of back seat this week although they all get a chance to shine a little. But really this is Blake and Travis's story and they rightfully take centre stage.
Saturday, 24 May 2014
"Personally, I don't care if their whole planet turns into a mushroom. I shall stay because I don't like an unsolved mystery.”
On board the spaceship Ortega, the pilot, Rafford, is murdered by persons unknown and the ship's controls are smashed.
Some time later the Liberator comes across the drifting Ortega and Blake decides to help. Boarding the ship, Blake, Avon and Cally discover the dead pilot. The rest of the crew have been knocked out with gas pumped through the ventilation system.
With the crew revived, their commander, Dr Kendall, explains that he and his crew,are returning to their home planet of Destiny, having acquired a rare neutrotope that will save the planet's food supply from a deadly fungus. However the element is extremely valuable and it seems that someone in the crew is trying to steal it. One member of the crew - Dortmunn - is missing and a life rocket has been launched. It appears that the chief suspect has escaped although the neutrotope has not been taken.
With the Ortega damaged, Blake offers to transport the element to Destiny. Meanwhile Avon and Cally stay behind to effect repairs and conduct an investigation as Avon is convinced there is more to the mystery. Over the course of the investigation, Avon and Cally find missing crewman Dortmunn who, it turns out has also been murdered. Cally also finds what turns out to be homing beacon in the quarters of one of the crew members.
Meanwhile, the Liberator travels through a meteorite storm en route to Destiny. The buffeting from the storm causes the box containing the neutrotope to fall to the floor. When Blake opens to the box to see if the neutrotope has been damaged, he discovers that the box is empty. Someone on the Ortega had switched boxes and the neutrotope is now in the hands of the murderer. The Liberator races back to the Ortega.
Avon and Cally have discovered the identity of the murderer who is now planning to rendezvous with another ship and escape with the neutrotope. Before the other ship arrives, the Liberator returns and evacuates everyone - except the murderer. Blake plants explosives on the Ortega which explode when the murderer's accomplices dock with the ship. The Liberator, with the surviving Ortega crew members, continues on to Destiny.
Blake: Decides to help the crew of the drifting Ortega without any hesitation or, for that matter, any consultation with his fellow crew members. Takes charge of the situation when all the crew members on board the Ortega have been revived and manages to convince Dr Kendell to allow him to transport the incredibly rare and valuable neutrotope to Destiny. Perhaps Kendall would have been less willing to hand it over if he'd known that Blake and his crew were convicted criminals, but Blake is careful not to mention this.
Like 'The Web', 'Mission to Destiny' is an episode that wasn't included in the late-80s compilation videos of Blake's 7 so I didn't see this episode until some point in the 90s. I can see why it was included on the compilations as the episode is little more than filler and does nothing to advance the story of Blake's ongoing conflict with the Federation. But this is actually quite a fun little story even if the mystery itself is fairly straightforward. Indeed the identity of the murderer (who I've deliberately not named in case people want to watch it and find out for themselves) is hidden in plain sight although every effort is made to keep the audience guessing.
Being a murder mystery, a gallery of suspects is required and we are therefore presented with the crew of the Ortega. Excluding the two crew members who are quickly killed off early on (Rafford and Dortmunn) we have seven guest characters. So it's perhaps not too surprising that several of those guest characters are somewhat underdeveloped. As everyone is a suspect, we get a number of scenes with various characters acting in a very suspicious manner - even the ones who are entirely innocent. Although this all serves to deepen the mystery it does mean, with hindsight, that some of the actions of the innocent crew members just look downright bizarre. One crew member in particular has a very odd way of trying to chat up women if his actions towards Cally are anything to go by.
The team of Avon and Cally work very well here. Avon's interest in the challenge of the mystery beyond any actual concern for the well being of the Ortega's crew seems perfectly in character. After weeks on board the Liberator with the likes of Vila he probably welcomes the mental challenge. Cally's motivations for investigating are more pure - she genuinely wants to help these people. She actually does most of the legwork in this investigation, leaving Avon to put all the pieces together.
With the emphasis on Cally and Avon's investigation and the guest characters, it does mean that most of the regular cast are left with little to do. Vila gets scared and complains, Jenna flies the ship and Gan seems to left to serve drinks. Poor Gan. Even Zen has more dialogue in this episode than he does. It's also interesting that Jenna originally seemed to be the lead female character on the show but she now seems to have been supplanted by Cally. Cally has had fairly major roles in the last three or four episodes whereas Jenna hasn't yet set foot on another planet. That will change in the next episode...
Saturday, 17 May 2014
TRAVIS: “These are your orders?”
SERVALAN: “Destroy Blake.”
TRAVIS: “Depend on it.”
The Liberator crew stage a raid on a Federation communications centre on the planet Centero in order to steal a cypher machine that will allow them to listen in on Federation communications. They succeed but, during the final stages of the raid, Cally is left behind and presumed killed.
However Cally is not dead: she has instead fallen into the hands of Space Commander Travis. Travis is an old enemy of Blake who has been ordered by Federation Supreme Commander Servalan to find and kill Blake. Travis plans to use Cally as bait to bring Blake to him.
Via the cypher machine, the Liberator crew discovers that Cally is being held by Travis on Centero. Blake devises a plan to take Travis by surprise and rescue Cally.
All of this explains why Blake is reluctant to abandon Cally once he discovers that Travis has captured her. Not only does he know what Travis will do her but too many of his friends have already died and he doesn't want to lose another.
Avon: Seems surprisingly happy to take part in the raid on the communications centre and uses his technical knowledge to identify the cypher machine that the group want to steal. That said, he seems to feel a bit awkward about taking praise for his work. When thanked by Blake for getting the machine to work, he rather stiffly responds: "At least I'll know what the Federation is planning.
Jenna: Operates the teleport during the raid. When the crew believe Cally to be dead, Jenna tries to get to stop feeling guilty about it and make peace with himself.
Cally: During the raid she is left guarding some prisoners. Getting into a scuffle with one of them she loses her teleport bracelet and doesn't make it back up to the ship before the communications centre is destroyed. The others initially don't realise that she's not back on board and then assume that she's dead.
Cally, however, has survived and is handed over to Travis. Travis tortures Cally for information on Blake. She refuses to give any information but is then put into a torture machine similar to the one we see being used on Blake in the first episode. It's not actually revealed what if anything she tells Travis.
Cally is then used by Travis as bait to try and trap Blake but Blake turns the tables and rescues her.
Zen: Doesn't really do anything of note in this episode.
Servalan's decision to appoint someone as morally dubious and mentally unstable as Travis shows both how ruthless and determined she is to achieve her ends and how little she cares for popular opinion. There are, apparently, a number of Federation officers who disapprove of Servelan's actions and refuse to work alongside Travis.
As has already been mentioned, Travis was responsible for Blake's earlier capture. Although Travis was shot by Blake in that encounter, he was not killed. According to Travis a field medic saved his life but it did result in Travis's face being disfigured on one side and in losing his left hand. Travis's disfigurement is covered by a half-mask while his has hand has been replaced with artificial one. A powerful weapon has been built into the hand. Travis states that he could have his face repaired but chooses not to as it's a reminder that the man who caused it (Blake) is still alive.
When Blake rescues Cally, Travis tells Blake to kill him because, as long as he lives, Travis will be after him. Blake chooses not to although he does damage Travis's robotic hand.
This was the first episode of Blake's 7 that I saw (well, other than some hazy memories of the final series when I was 2) and it works as a perfect introduction to the series. The opening raid on Centero sees every member of the team playing a role and highlights a number of their key character traits and skills. Blake's the leader, Vila's the cowardly lock pick, Avon has the technical knowledge and Gan's the muscle. The ladies don't come off quite as well: Cally is left on guard duty and then gets captured while Jenna is on teleport duty once again.
This episode also introduces the two main antagonists of the series - Servalan and Travis. For much of the rest of this season these two will hot on Blake's heels. Both are excellent characters and it's immediately obvious that they will be worthy foes for the Seven - although Travis couldn't look more evil if he tried. Dressed all in black, with an eye patch - subtle it is not.
If you were looking for an episode to show to someone who had never seen the series before then this is it. Packed with incident and some great dialogue there's little dislike here. Except the robot that appears briefly at the beginning. It looks rubbish which is unfortunate as it will appear again in a few weeks...
Saturday, 10 May 2014
"There will come a time where he won't be making the decisions."
- Avon on Blake
Cally mind is taken over by an outside force and she is used to sabotage the Liberator and bring it to a distant planet. Upon arrival the ship is trapped in a strange 'web' that, despite their best efforts, they cannot escape from.
After freeing Cally from her possession, the crew are contacted by their captors who request their help. Blake teleports down to the planet and meets Novara and his sister Geela. They live in small compound and appear to be under siege from small primitive creatures called Decimas. Novara and Geela require power cells from the Liberator in order to keep their compound operational. They will also need the power in order to remove the web currently holding the Liberator.
Blake initially agrees to help them but then discovers that both the siblings and the Decimas are genetic experiments. Novara and Geela have no life of their own and are controlled by the mental powers of the Lost - exiles from Cally's home planet of Auron. The minds of the Lost themselves reside within a shrunken wizened body called Saymon. Saymon wants to use the power cells to destroy the Decimas.
Avon brings the power cells down from the Liberator and Blake tries to force the Lost to change their plans for the Decimas. His attempt fails but, as the Lost prepare to destroy the Decimas, the creatures attack the compound, destroying Novara, Geela and Saymon; effectively killing the Lost. Blake and Avon use the power cells to destroy the web and the Liberator departs, back on course for Centaro.
Blake: Is suitably impressed by the power and technology displayed by the Lost who taken over his ship but not so impressed that he forgets his morals. He is horrified by the knowledge that the small Decima creatures have been bred for slavery and that, by helping the Lost, he will also be condemning the Decimas to death. He thinks he can bargain with the Lost in order to save the Decimas but underestimates them, putting everyone at risk.
Avon: Not for the first time, Avon suggests that he will usurp Blake as leader of the group before long. That said, he seems to be happy to bide his time as, minutes later, he saves Blake from being blown up ("I'm as surprised as you are"). He's also happy enough to along with Blake's plan to withhold the power cells from the Lost. He can't really comprehend why Blake wants to help a group of creatures as supposedly savage like Decimas.
Jenna: Is still somewhat suspicious of Cally - with good reason- and says that she should have been allowed to stay on board. Is briefly taken over by the Lost and used to communicate with Blake after the Liberator becomes trapped in the Web.
Vila: Becomes the unofficial weapons officer as he takes charge of the Liberator's neutron blasters. He's been looking forward to using them although they prove ineffective on the Web. He is wearing a new outfit that gets a somewhat negative response from the possessed Cally - she hits him round the head with a big spanner.
Gan: Helps to overpower the possessed Cally and is later assigned to watch over her in case the Lost try to take control of her again.
Cally: Is mentally controlled by an outside force for the first - but not the last - time in the series. On this occasion, she's taken over by the mental powers of Saymon and the Lost - members of her own race. They get her to sabotage the ship and fly it to the unnamed planet where they are based. She also knocks out Vila for good measure.
Concerned that she may be taken over again, Blake doesn't allow her to go down to the planet with him.
Zen/The Liberator: For the first time we see the ship's auto-repair systems (mentioned briefly in the past) in operation. Avon, causes some equipment to explode by mistake and the repair systems cut in seconds later and make everything good as new in moments. The auto-repair is unable to prevent damage to the ship as it can't prevent Cally's acts of sabotage, simply repair the damage caused.
The ship is also armed with neutron blasters that, although powerful, are unable to cut through the web surrounding it. Using the weapons also seems to be a tremendous drain on the ship's power supply and need to be used sparingly. A radiation flare shield needs to be activated before firing the weapons, something that Vila forgets to do at first.
Zen again mentions that he is forbidden to interfere in the crew's activities, once again implying that something is preventing him from becoming too involved.
This isn't a favourite episode of mine and I don't think that I'm alone in that opinion. When I watched the compilation videos of this series, released back in the 1980s, 'The Web' was the first episode not to appear on any of the videos. It's not hard to see why.
Although the episode focuses on Blake and highlights his mission to help the downtrodden and oppressed, it's a theme that recurs throughout the series and is generally done a lot better elsewhere. The downtrodden Decimas - who are a cross between the Ewoks and the Ood - are the oppressed mass here, fighting for their freedom but I find it hard to care about their plight.
Of rather more interest is the Lost, the exiles from Cally's home planet of Auron. Possessed with superior technology and powers to that of Blake and his crew they make for interesting and formidable opponents - right up to the last few minutes. Everything falls apart when the Decimas invade the Lost's compound , thanks to one of the characters forgetting to close the front door. The villains look particularly inept and Blake is let off from having to make a difficult moral decision: does he give the Lost the power to destroy the Decimas or does he refuse and potentially put himself and his entire crew in danger?
With the episode focused on Blake, the rest of the crew take a bit of a back seat. Vila gets knocked out, Jenna is left on teleport duty (again) and Gan almost needn't have been there at all. Even Cally, after her initial possession, is largely ignored for most of the episode. Avon does get some nice moments though.
Overall, a fairly forgettable episode but things are looking up as next week we finally reach the planet Centaro...
Saturday, 3 May 2014
Vila: I plan to live forever...or die trying.
The Story: The Liberator is travelling to the planet Saurian Major where Blake plans to contact the freedom fighters there and destroy a Federation communications base. En route they discover a small capsule apparently drifting in space. Blake and Jenna board the capsule and discover two men in suspended animation while a third is dead. The capsule is brought in board the Liberator and they begin to bring the aliens out of suspended animation.
Meanwhile the ship reaches Saurian Major and Blake, Avon and Vila teleport down to the planet. There they meet Cally, the only surviving member of the freedom fighters - the others having been wiped out by Federation chemical weapons. She teams up with Blake's group and together they break into the communications complex and set about destroying it.
On board the Liberator, Gan reveals to Jenna that he has brain implants that stop him from killing anyone. Meanwhile the aliens have revived and set out to kill Gan and Jenna. Gan is overpowered but Jenna manages to kill the aliens. Zen discovers that there is a fourth alien still on board the ship but Blake, returning from the planet manages to find and kill him.
Blake decides that "seven of us can run this ship properly", inviting Cally to stay with the crew. She accepts and the Liberator sets course for the planet Centaro.
Gan: Gan tells Jenna that he can't leave Blake because he needs to be with people he can trust and can't be alone. The reason for this is that Gan has had a limiter implanted into his brain that prevents him from being able to kill. He tells Jenna that he once killed a security guard who in turn had killed Gan's 'woman' and the limiter was put into his brain as punishment Whenever he does attempt to kill the aliens that have boarded the Liberator he's overcome with pain caused by the implants.
Cally (Jan Chappell): An alien telepath from the planet Auron. She was sent to Saurian Major by her people to aid the freedom fighters there but, when they were all wiped in a Federation attack, Cally chose to stay and continue the fight alone, "to destroy until I am destroyed." She feels she cannot return home because she has failed in her mission. She happily accepts Blake's invitation to stay on board the Liberator.
After four episodes Blake's seven is complete with the addition of Cally to the crew. She makes an interesting addition given her alien nature and Jan Chappell gives a suitably unearthly performance. Cally's presence also hints at some potential conflict with Jenna.
The scenes on Saurian Major are well done. Despite most of the scenes being filmed in a quarry (which, as with Doctor Who, will happen regularly) the use of a red filter over the camera lens and some alien looking plant props help to convince us that this is an alien world. Another nice touch is Cally's red camouflage outfit - ideal for a world where everything is in something of a red haze. The scenes inside the communications complex also look impressive. The scenes were filmed in a nuclear power station, which would double up as various other Federation and alien bases throughout the series.
The B plot with the rampaging aliens on board the Liberator is less interesting than the stuff on the planet. It does give Jenna and Gan the opportunity to spend some time together, something which hasn't really happened up to this point, and they make a good team. Gan's character also gets some much-needed development. Up until now he's been little more than the big strong guy so it's nice to find out something of his background.
Overall: not the best episode of the series but an important one as the crew is now complete and the stage is set for the rest of the series.