Sunday, 29 June 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series A Episode 12 - Deliverance

"Besides yourself that's two of you who think you're wonderful."
 - Vila to Avon

The Story

A small two man spacecraft is on course for a secret destination known only to the pilot of the ship, Ensor.  His colleague is a Federation surgeon called Maryatt.  Passing a primitive, radiation-soaked planet called Cephlon, there is an explosion on board the ship and the two men are forced to eject.

The explosion is witnessed both by Servelan and by the Liberator crew.  Blake takes the Liberator to Cephlon and Avon, Vila, Jenna and Gan teleport down to the planet to search for survivors.  Maryatt is dead but Ensor has survived and is taken back up to the ship.  Meanwhile, Jenna has been captured by the savage natives of the planet and is held captive.

Avon, Vila and Gan remain on the planet to look for Jenna while Blake and Cally tend the wounded Ensor Ensor was travelling to see his father who is seriously ill and needs both a surgeon and a set of power cells.  Without the power cells Ensor's father will die.  He insists that Blake fly the Liberator to his father's planet.  When Blake refuses to leave without the rest of his crew, Ensor takes Cally hostage and forces Blake to start the journey.

Servelan has summoned Travis to her headquarters.  She explains to Travis that Ensor is the son of a great scientist and inventor - also called Ensor - who left the Federation many years ago.  When Ensor Senior was ill, his son came to Servelan to negotiate the sale of something called 'Orac' in return for a large sum of money and medical assistance.  Servelan pretended to go along with Ensor's request in order to discover the location of his father and Orac.  It was she who arranged for Ensor's ship to be destroyed, leaving her free to move in and take Orac without needing to pay anything. She persuades a reluctant Travis, who is still obsessing about Blake to go with her to take Orac. 

Meanwhile, back on the planet Cephlon, Avon, Vila and Gan are attacked by the savages.  They take refuge in what appears to be a rocket lauch control station that is built inside a hill.  There they meet Meegat who says that she has been waiting for someone to lead her people to 'deliverance'.  She believes that Avon is that person. 

There is a rocket, containing the appropriate apparatus to create new life, ready to launch and fly to a new planet but the launch controls are inoperative and the knowledge required to launch the rocket has been lost by Meegat and her people.  However, before Avon can help Meegat, he and the others must rescue Jenna.

Back on the Liberator, Ensor's wounds prove too much for him and he collapses.  Before he dies he tells Blake to get the power cells to his father. He also asks Blake to tell his father that the Federation have agreed to buy Orac. Blake promises to do this and then turns the Liberator round to head back and pick up the rest of the crew. 

Back on Cephlon, Jenna is rescued by the others and Avon successfully launches the rocket.  He and the others return to the Liberator and they set off to locate Ensor's father and Orac.

The Seven

Blake: Doesn't feel threatened by Avon's presence on the Liberator or believe that Avon will do a better job of leading the mission on the planet than Blake would.  Avon suggests that maybe Blake should feel threatened.

At the end of the episode, Blake admits to Avon that he doesn't like the responsibility of being a god, or at least a legend, any more than Avon does.

Avon: Avon is mistaken for a god by Meegat, the young woman left to wait for him.  Initially he seems happy to play on her beliefs and admits that he is "probably" enjoying the experience.  However, by the end of the episode he seems less happy, feeling that his presence is "a poor reward, somehow" for all Meegat's devotion. 

The Federation

Servelan: She purposefully ignores Travis when he first enters her office to see how he will react.  When he does nothing she thinks that he's lost some of his fire since he was suspended from duty at the end of 'Project Avalon'.

Servelan is anxious to get her hands on 'Orac' (whatever that is) by any means necessary.  Although initially agreeing to buy it for one hundred million credits she knows that she will never be allowed to spend that sort of money.  So instead she comes up with a plan to discover the hidden location of Orac's creator so that she can go there and steal it.  The fact that her plan will result in the death of at least one innocent person (Maryatt) and the enslavement of his family means absolutely nothing to her.

Travis: Is completely fixated on destroying Blake to the exclusion of anything else.  He is willing to do anything to get his command back so that he can go after Blake.  This includes sitting out his suspension and going through a board of enquiry into his handling of 'the Blake affair' as Servelan calls it.

Despite his obsession with Blake, Travis agrees to go with Servelan to go and collect Orac. He compliments her, saying that she's "almost as ruthless as I am".  He seems unhappy that Maryatt, the surgeon who had previously saved his life, has been sacrificed in order to further Servelan's plans and that Marriott's family will suffer as a result.

Mark's Remarks 

I've never been hugely enamoured of this episode.  Not that it's bad but it simply feels like it's there to fill time until the season finale.  The main plot where Avon is mistaken for a god, is perfectly fine but it's just nowhere near as interesting as what's going on in the rest of the episode.

It also feels like Terry Nation was falling back on some of his old story ideas in order to create a serviceable story.  Meegat's rocket containing the remains of her people in cellular form sounds a lot like the projectile that the Liberator crew encounter in 'Time Squad' (and Gan even remarks on the similarity here) whilst the barren planet destroyed by nuclear war hearkens back to 'Duel' as well as the Daleks home planet of Skaro in Doctor Who.  Whilst adapting or borrowing ideas from your own work is standard for most writers , I think it shows that Nation was struggling here when he had to take inspiration from episodes he'd written earlier in this very series.

That said, Paul Darrow as Avon really does shine here, allowing us to see a slightly softer side of Avon's character in his interaction with Meegat and there's some genuine regret when he all but abandons her at the end. Michael Keating as Vila and David Jackson as Gan also gets quite a bit to do here but they're definitely playing second fiddle to Paul Darrow. 

The B plot is far more interesting and sets things up for the season finale.  Although they're only in a couple of scenes, Servelan and Travis pretty much steal the show.  Servelan is at her most wicked and corrupt and I actually felt sorry for Travis when he found out what Servelan had done to Marriott and his family. It certainly made him a more rounded character.

"What is Orac?" asks Blake at one point in this episode.  In the next episode we'll find out what it is and why the Federation are so desperate to get it.  We'll see another showdown between Blake and Travis and there's a cliffhanger ending!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series A Episode 11 - Bounty

Vila: “I'm entitled to my opinion.”
Avon: “It is your assumption that we are entitled to it as well that is irritating.”

The Story

Blake and Cally and on a nameless world being used as a hideaway by Sarkoff, ex-President of the planet Lindor, and his daughter Tyce.  Lindor is on the brink of civil war and Blake fears that the Federation will use the war as an excuse to take control of the planet.  Blake wants convince Sarkoff to return to his people and re-unite them.  However  Sarkoff is now a broken man having been thoroughly defeated in the Presidential election that resulted in his exile and has no desire to return home. 

Meanwhile, the Liberator intercepts a  distress call from a nearby space craft.  Although suspicious of it, Gan agrees to go over to the ship and investigate.  He is captured by the ship's crew and they use him to gain access to the Liberator and take over the ship.

Back on the planet, Sarkoff is still refusing to leave, even after Blake explains that the Presidential election was rigged by the Federation in order to remove Sarkoff from power.  Blake forces him to agree to return to his people by threatening to smash Sarkoff's prized collection of 20th Century antiques.  Blake, Cally, Sarkoff and Tyce teleport to the Liberator but are quickly captured by the invaders from the other ship.

The invaders are smugglers and bounty hunters called Amagons.  Their leader, Tarvin is going to hand over Blake's crew and the Liberator to the Federation for a large amount of money.  Jenna, who knows Tarvin from her smuggling days, appears to side with the Amagon invaders after they take the ship and helps to keep the rest of the crew locked up.  

However, Jenna is really tricking Tarvin and is secretly disposing on the Amagon pirates one by one.  She then releases Blake.  Sarkoff, meanwhile confronts Tarvin who has threatened Tyce and, following a timely intervention by Blake, Sarkoff kills Tarvin. 

With the takeover ended, the Liberator carries on to Lindor. Following his experiences with Blake, Sarkoff has decided that returning to his people and uniting them to fight the Federation is the right thing to do after all.  

The Seven

Blake: Has studied natural history but his history of Earth in the 20th Century is somewhat lacking. 

He seems to be attracted to Tyce and she to him but there is no opportunity for their relationship to develop. 

Avon: Like Vila, he doesn't trust the stranded ship.  He's one of the first to be captured when the Amagons board the ship.  

Avon seems to have some basic lock picking skills as, much to Vila's surprise, he is able to unlock the door of the room where the crew are all held prisoner.

Jenna: Jenna appears to turn on the crew once the Amagons invade and take over the Liberator.  She knew their leader, Tarvin, some years earlier and the implication is that they had a relationship at the time.  If Tarvin wants, he can keep Jenna when he turns the rest of the crew over to the Federation.

Of course, Jenna defection is just a ruse to allow the freedom of the ship and give her the opportunity to free the others.  Her performance is convincing though as the rest of the crew, other than Blake, are entirely convinced by it.

Vila: Doesn't like the look of the stranded space ship (a feeling which is ultimately proved right) and is quite pleased when Avon actually agrees with him.  He's the last person on the ship to be captured and is very unhappy when he is told by Zen to make a 'personal investigation' to find out what had happened to the rest of the crew.

Later, when locked up with the rest of the crew he struggles to unlock an explosive 'necklace' that has been placed on each of the crew.  He'd much rather be trying to unlock the door but, much to his surprise, Avon has already done that.

Gan: Offers to go over to the supposedly stranded space craft to see if they really need help.  If it's not then he's happy for the Liberator to destroy the other ship with him on board.  As it happens, he's overpowered when he does go to the other ship and his voice is faked in order for the Amagons to gain access to the Liberator. 

Being used in this away upsets Gan somewhat and he's quite keen to get his hands on the pirates.  Unfortunately they'll all either dead or unconscious by the time he's free.

Cally: Whilst on the planet's surface she uses her telepathy on several occasions in order to communicate with Blake as they sneak into Sarkoff's home.

She talks with Sarkoff about an ambassador from her home planet of Auron that was sent to Lindor to negotiate a treaty.  She says that the treaty never came about and that the ambassador never returned to Auron because he had failed.  This mirrors Cally's own decision not to return home after she failed to help the freedom fighters she was working with when Blake first met her. It's obviously a cultural thing amongst her people that failure means self-imposed exile.  

Zen: Is able recognise when a crew member's voice is being faked such as when 'Gan' radios from the other ship to ask to be teleported back to the Liberator. Unfortunately this ability didn't prevent the ship from being taken over anyway.

It seems that the Liberator does not have any kind of  security scanners or cameras anywhere on the ship as Zen is unable to tell first Vila, then Blake what has happened to the rest of the captured crew.  This seems rather strange for such an advanced ship but it may simply be that, as in some earlier episodes, Zen is deliberately choosing not to get involved in what's happening.

Mark's Remarks

This is a very enjoyable episode although it does feel like a episode of two halves. The first half where Blake tries to convince Sarkoff to come with him is much more interesting the second half which focuses on the space pirates and their take over of the ship. 

Where the first half really succeeds is in the lengthy dialogue scenes between Blake and Sarkoff.  Both Gareth Thomas and TP McKenna as Sarkoff really excel here.  McKenna in particular is excellent as the weary ex-President who just wants to be left in peace and one can't help but feel sorry for him.

Once on board the Liberator, Sarkoff is sidelined somewhat by Tarvin and the Amagon pirates and they really aren't as interesting It's also rather unfortunate that the first non-white characters in the series are a) the bad guys and b) given costumes that make them look they like extras on Lawrence of Arabia.

All of the regulars get a decent amount to do in this episode too with the ladies in particular getting much more to than usual.  By all accounts the script editor Chris Boucher, who would later become the main writer on the series, had a hand in the writing of this episode and it certainly feels different so this bodes well for the future.

Next week, Avon becomes God and things are set in motion for the season finale.  

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series A Episode 10 - Breakdown

"In the unlikely event we survive this...I'm finished.  Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable."

The Story
Gan's limiter malfunctions and he turns on his fellow crew members, attempting to kill them.  The other take him down and then restrain him in the medical bay whilst they try to find some way to help him.

Their only option is to travel to a neutral research station called XK-72 and find someone there who could repair Gan's limiter.  Getting there involves crossing the Forbidden Zone, an area of space considered incredibly dangerous.  Zen refuses to travel through the Zone and the crew are forced to fly manually, just managing to avoid gravitational vortex along the way.  At the same time, Gan breaks free and has to be subdued once more.

On arrival at the space station, Avon announces that he will leave the ship and goes over to the station to look around.  Meanwhile top neurosurgeon, Professor Kayn and his assistant Renor are teleported to the Liberator.  Kayn is not convinced by Blake's story that the Liberator is a prototype Federation ship and, when he realises that Gan has a limiter, he works out who Blake and his crew really are.  He alerts the nearest Federation ships who begin to head for the Liberator.

Avon is seriously considering staying on the space station but once he realises that Kayn has alerted the Federation, he goes back to the ship to warn them.  Vila also doesn't trust Kayn and finds that he has delayed operating on Gan in order to give the Federation ships time to get there.  Vila and Avon force Kayn to operate on Gan and then send him and Renor back to the space station.

The Liberator is then confronted by three Federation pursuit ships.  A stray shot from one of the ships hits the space station and destroys it completely.  The Liberator makes good its escape with Gan restored to full health.   

The Seven

Blake:  Admits that he doesn't know how he can help Gan.  When he suggests that they could perform neurosurgery on Gan themselves, Avon points out that there is no surer way of killing him. 

He seems disappointed but not angry at Avon's decision to leave the Liberator.  He tells Cally that it's a decision that Avon needs to make for himself

Avon: Tells Blake that he wants to leave the crew once they reach Space Station XK-72.  He's been aware of the station's existence for some time and had intended to go there should he ever decide to leave the ship.  However, despite being given assurances that he can remain on the station, free from the Federation, he opts to return to the Liberator and warn the others that Kayn has alerted the Federation to their presence.  With the destruction of the space station, Avon is left with little alternative but to stay with the Liberator: "Say goodbye to one bolt hole."

Jenna: Has apparently taught Gan to pilot the ship.  She's the first person he attacks when his limiter breaks down.  Later on, under orders from Blake, she flirts with Professor Kayn's assistant, Reanor, in order to try and find out more about Kayn.  Presumably it doesn't work as there's no indication that she learns anything.

Vila:  Throughout the series Vila seems to have been most friendly with Gan so, when Gan's health is at risk, it's Vila who shows most concern.  Despite his misgivings about going into the forbidden area of space, he quickly relents when he's reminded that it needs to be done to help Gan. 

Vila has a distrust of so-called 'geniuses' - which might explain his issues with Avon - and forces Kayn at gunpoint to operate on Gan. 

Gan:  According to Blake, Gan's limiter is supposed to cut in when stress drives him to the point where he might kill.  The limiter has been causing Gan problems for a while (he was concerned that it might be malfunctioning in 'Duel' and, in 'Project Avalon' was taking what looked to be pain pills) but he'd been trying to keep it hidden from the others.  It looks like the stress of trying to pilot the ship alone finally caused the limiter to fail completely.  In intense pain, he turns on his crew mates and tries to kill them.

Whilst the pain caused by the malfunctioning limiter would explain why he lashed out blindly at his friends, it doesn't seem to tell the whole story.  Later in the episode, Gan is restrained in the medical bay.  He doesn't appear to be any pain and he manages to persuade Cally that he's fine and gets her to release him from his restraints.  Then he calmly tries to throttle her and seems to enjoy doing so.  Which rather begs the question: what would Gan without the limiter?  The impression given here is that he's a cold, calculating killer who is only kept in check by the limiter which acts to keep him docile.

At the end of the episode, Gan is operated on by Kayn and the limiter is repaired.  Gan is disappointed that the they were unable to remove the limiter completely. 

Cally:  Plays nursemaid to Gan whilst he is in the medical bay.  She dislikes the idea of him being restrained whilst he is unwell and is therefore easily manipulated by Gan into releasing him.  She is then attacked by Gan and almost throttles her.  Unsurprisingly she seems less bothered when he's restrained again, following that incident.

Zen: Refuses to go into the Forbidden Zone of space as it would be tantamount to asking him to self destruct.  He shuts himself and all other main computer systems down, leaving the crew to fend for themselves.  Once they are out of the zone, he switches himself back on.

There is another reference to the fact that Zen has been programmed by person or persons unknown.  Avon says that one day he will find out who that person is.

Mark's Remarks

This episode is perhaps the very definition of be careful for what you wish for.  Apparently this episode came about because David Jackson, who played Gan, felt that his character was being under-used and had asked for more to do.  What he got was an episode centred around Gan.  The downside Gan is either unconscious or rampaging around the ship trying to throttle people.  It's hardly stretching for the actor and, in fact, Gan has less dialogue in this episode than in any other episode to date.

Although David Jackson probably wasn't enthralled when he got the script for this, I actually think this is one of the better episodes of the season. It does raise (perhaps unintentionally) one or two questions about Gan's true nature, something that I've addressed elsewhere in this post.  But this is also a very strong story for the rest of the crew.  Up until about the 30 minute mark we don't meet any other characters besides the crew thereby giving them all a decent amount of screen time as they try to help their friend.  It's quite refreshing to see Blake show some weakness as he admits that he doesn't know what he can do to save Gan. 

This is also an important episode for Avon.  Throughout the series it's been clear that he doesn't have the same loyalty or commitment to Blake's cause that the others do.  So it's not surprising to the viewers that he might be considering leaving the crew.   The fact that he doesn't run out on the others is probably not that surprising but it's another indication that he cares more for his fellow crew mates than he lets on. 

I should also mention the performance of Julian Glover as the somewhat unhinged 'genius' Professor Kayn.  Although his screen time is somewhat limited, Glover manages to transform the character from cool, calm professional to murderous nutter without making it look contrived.  It's almost a shame that he gets blown up at the end as I would have liked to have seen more of him.

Blake and Kayn

Other than the under use of Gan, my only really complaint with the episode is the 'feeble joke, everyone laughs' ending that you used to see a lot on US TV series at the time this episode was broadcast.  It really doesn't work, considering that the crew have just watched a space station of mostly innocent people get blown to pieces  and the 'joke' is pathetically feeble anyway.

Next week is an episode that always makes me think of chocolate: join me for 'Bounty'.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series A Episode 9 - Project Avalon

"The fact that he [Blake] is still free gives them hope. And that is dangerous, Travis. Hope is very dangerous."
 - Servalan

The Story

Blake has been in contact with another resistance leader, Avalon, and agreed to provide transport for her.  She is currently on an ice world where the Federation have established a base of operations.

Travis has already arrived on the ice world and captures Avalon, massacring her fellow freedom fighters. When Blake arrives, he and Jenna find just one survivor of Travis's attack: a man called Chevner who has worked with Avalon for years.  With the assistance of Chevner; Blake, Jenna and Vila rescue Avalon from the Federation base.

Jenna helping to rescue Avalon

Back on board the Liberator, Blake feels that the rescue was too easy.  He realises that the group were allowed to rescue Avalon and escape and that Travis's plan was to put someone on board the Liberator who could then kill the crew and take the ship back to Travis.

The crew begin to hunt for Chevner whom they believe to be working Travis.  But it transpires that Chevner has been killed by a robot duplicate of Avalon.  The robot has in its possession a small sphere that contains a deadly virus which kills almost instantly.  The crew manage to overpower the robot before it unleashes the virus.

 The Liberator then returns to the ice planet and Blake teleports down to the Federation base with the virus and the Avalon robot.  He forces Travis to release the real Avalon by threatening to unleash the virus in the base.  Travis is forced to comply and, after Blake and Avalon have left, Servalan tells Travis that his project has failed totally.

The Seven

Blake:    Not for the first time, Blake is almost fooled by one of Travis's plans but realises just in time that his rescue of Avalon was too easy.  When he goes back to rescue Avalon he manages to take hostage a room full of Federation guards and scientists.  Granted he has a robot and killer virus with him but it all seems rather too easy.

He has no problem with sacrificing himself if it means that he can take both Travis and Servalan with him.  This is a bluff of course but, based on past experience, he genuinely doesn't seem to value his own life that highly if sacrificing himself is for the greater good.

Avon: Prefers to stay in the warmth of the Liberator.  Takes great delight in insulting and tormenting Vila (Vila: "I've got a weak chest."; Avon: "The rest of you's not very impressive.").  He also teleports Vila down to the planet before Vila is fully dressed. 

Does Avon have a thing for Cally?  When he and Blake find her after she's been knocked unconscious by the robot, Avon is left to look after her.  We seem him very gently stroke the side of her face. It's the first time we've really seen him show any sign of tenderness towards another member of the crew.

Jenna: She's the only one of the crew who has met Avalon before and so goes down with Blake to meet her.  She's also been teaching Cally how to fly the ship, possibly as a response to some of the concerns raised in the last episode about who would fly the ship without Jenna or Blake.

Vila: Very reluctant to go down to the planet's surface as it's so cold but is eventually forced to go down as his skills are needed to help rescue Avalon.  Although he acts very cowardly most of the time in this series, the one thing that Vila is very confident about is his lock-picking skills. Here he claims that Blake would need either "a lot of explosives or a genius" to open.  When Blake asks Vila if he can do it Vila replies: "Of course."

Gan: Much to his surprise he is easily overpowered by the Avalon robot.  At one point in the episode Gan can be seen taking some sort of pills.  Although nothing is made of this in this episode, it does foreshadow things to come.

Cally:  Is now adept at flying the Liberator.  Jenna even thinks that Cally may be better than her.  During this episode, Cally is forced to put her new skills into operation as she manually pilots the ship whilst trying to shake off some pursuing Federation ships.

She is a great admirer of Avalon's work and talks with the Avalon robot for some time, not realising that it's not the real woman.  Shortly afterwards she's attacked by the robot and knocked unconscious.

The Federation

Servalan: Since we last saw her in 'Seek-Locate-Destroy' there have been several attempts on her life, something she attributes to Blake.    On top of this, she has received a lot of criticism regarding Travis and how he has failed to capture or kill Blake.  Although under pressure to replace him, Servelan still supports Travis fully in his plans - at least until the end of the episode.

This is also the first time in the series that Servelan and Blake meet face to face.

Travis: He states that's he twice come close to capturing Blake but was prevented from succeeding because the Federation insisted that the Liberator be captured undamaged.  Presumably he's referring to his two previous on-screen appearances but in neither of those episodes was he instructed to capture the Liberator - simply to kill or capture Blake.  Indeed, in last week's episode, Travis didn't seem concerned in the slightest about the state of the Liberator in their space battle.  Whether he was ordered to capture the ship undamaged or not, he's more than likely using it as an excuse for his failure.

His latest plan is rather a good one and comes very close to succeeding.  But yet another failure means that Servelan strips him of his command pending a full enquiry into his actions.

Mark's Remarks

The idea of robot duplicates isn't a new one in science fiction. Indeed, writer Terry Nation had used it twice himself in Doctor Who 1965's 'The Chase' and 1975's 'The Android Invasion'.  But whereas in 'The Chase' it was obvious from the outset that there was an evil robot Doctor wondering about, here the fact that the Avalon rescued by Blake is a robot duplicate is cleverly hidden until about ten minutes before the end of the episode.  Like Blake, the viewer is more or less in the dark about Travis's real plan.

Travis with the virus
Once again, all of the regulars - including the two main villains -  get something to do or at least some sort of character development.  It's quite nice to see them playing off Vila's remark last week that no one could pilot the ship without Jenna or Blake and having Cally learn how to fly the Liberator.  What seemed to be a off-hand remark in that episode has resulted in a bit of development for the character.  And there's also some foreshadowing of next week's episode with Gan popping some pain pills.

Overall, a very good episode.  Next week, the underused Gan gets to step into the spotlight - sort of.