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Monday, 28 July 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series B Episode 2 - Shadow






"Law makers, law breakers,  let us fight them all.  Why not?"
 - Avon



The Story
The Liberator has travelled to Space City, the so-called "satellite of sin" to enlist the aid of a criminal organisation known as the Terra Nostra in order to infiltrate the Federation on Earth.  Gan in particular is unhappy with getting involved with such criminals.

Space City is controlled by Largo who is an acquaintance of Jenna's and on his way up in the Terra Nostra hierarchy.  He's also a supplier of a highly dangerous drug called Shadow, which he uses to his advantage when he forces addicts of the drug to work for him.  Shortly before Blake arrives he attempts to cut a deal with two such addicts - Bek and his sister Hanna.  However the two of them turn the tables on Largo and run off with a supply of the drug although they are soon captured.

Blake, Jenna, Avon and Gan teleport to Space City in order to negotiate with Largo.  Vila, having always wanted to visit Space City is disappointed at being left on the ship.  He persuades Orac to operate the teleport for him in exchange for hiding Orac somewhere on the ship where he cannot be found. Vila goes to Space City and gets very drunk.

In the meantime, Blake and the others have been captured by Largo and are locked with Bek and Hanna.  Cally, who is still on board the Liberator, tricks the officials of Space City into releasing Blake and the others and everyone returns to the ship, including Bek and Hanna.

Hanna and Beck


Orac is still hidden on the ship and no one is able to find him - including Vila who has an alcohol-induced mental block.  Blake meanwhile has decided to force the Terra Nostra into helping him by attacking their supply of the Shadow drug.  Zen's analysis of the drug shows that it is derived from a plant called a Moon Disc that can only be found on one planet.  Deciding that this is where the Terra Nostra are farming the drug, the Liberator heads for the planet Zondar.

While searching for Orac, Cally comes under mental attack from the computer which leaves her in a catatonic state.  Vila finds her lying comatose with Orac beside her.

Blake, Jenna and Avon teleport down to the planet Zondar and set about destroying the Shadow processing facility there.  Meanwhile Orac mentally orders Cally to teleport down to the planet which she does, unknown to the rest of the crew.  Once there, Cally collapses amongst a group of Moon Discs which start moving towards her.

Back on board the ship, Orac announces that "the bridge is complete" and then takes control of the ship's systems, forcing it to begin descending rapidly towards the planet's surface. Cally makes mental contact with the Moon Discs who, it turns out, are sentient beings and uses their strength to overcome Orac's power and switch him off.  The ship is saved but Hanna is dead, electrocuted by Orac as she tried to switch him off.

Everyone returns to the ship.  Orac, it transpires, had made contact with a dark force in another universe which had then taken control of Orac in order to try to cross over to our universe.  Using Orac, the being had attacked Cally as it saw her as the biggest threat.  Blake, meanwhile has discovered that the leader of the Terra Nostra is the President of the Federation, meaning that the Federation controls both sides of the law.

The Seven

Blake: Sees no problem with using the Terra Nostra for what he sees as the greater good of being able to attack the Federation.  In the end all he's interested in is winning, using whatever means necessary to achieve that.  His plan comes unstuck when he discovers that the Terra Nostra and the Federation are controlled by the same person. 

When Cally is comatose, a frustrated Blake loses his temper, snapping at Vila, Gan and even Jenna until Avon tells him to calm down.


Avon: Takes the lead in the initial negotiations with Largo - effectively taking over Blake's role in what will turn out be a foreshadowing of things to come. He's content to stand by and watch while Blake had his temper tantrum before stepping in to calm things down.  It's possible he sees this as a means to begin undermining Blake's leadership. 

He considers Cally to be more human than he is.



Jenna: Knew Largo in her previous life as a smuggler. He asked her to transport some goods to Earth without telling her that it was drugs (specifically Shadow). Once she realised, Jenna turned him down, just as well as possession of Shadow carries a mandatory death sentence.  Once again she sides with Blake, taking his view that the Terra Nostra can be forced into helping them.






Vila: Looking forward to going to Space City due to its reputation as a den of vice and corruption. Is therefore rather upset when Blake leaves him behind on board ship and decides to go there anyway.  It's revealed that Vila loves a drink and his drunken binge is the catalyst for much of what happens in this episode. 






Gan: has moral objections to working with the Terra Nostra although, as Blake points out they are using them rather than working with them. 








Cally:  Refuses to teleport Vila to Space City which is why he enlists the help of Orac.  She is seen as a threat by the dark being that controls Orac because of her mental powers as is mentally 'locked down' as a result.  Speaking of which we see a rare example of Cally using her telepathy in order to help Blake after he's been captured by the Terra Nostra.  She also concocts a clever bluff to persuade the authorities in Space City to release Blake and the others.



Zen: Seems to have developed a bit of a rivalry with Orac as he states that Orac is not concerned with the safety of those on board the Liberator.  Which turns out to be right to a certain extent.  It's possible that the source of this rivalry is the fact that, for the second time, Orac takes control of Zen's systems.  It's also the third time in as many episodes that an outside force has taken control of Zen so he probably has good reason to be upset.



Orac: As has already been established, Orac is possessed by a being from another universe.  This is because the carrier waves that Orac uses to contact other computer travel through this other universe and allows beings from that universe access.  That goodness that sort of thing doesn't happen with my WiFi.

At the end of the episode, Avon plants a small explosive within Orac.  Should anyone attempt to tamper or take control of Orac in the future then Orac will be destroyed.

 

Mark's Remarks

This is the first episode of the series not to be written by Terry Nation and, not wishing to be harsh on Mr Nation, but this is probably the best episode of the series so far.

Written by series script editor, Chris Boucher, who would be responsible for shaping the direction of the show over the next couple of years, this is a very busy episode where everyone is given something to do, even the much misused Gan who gets to play the crew's moral compass.  It's a shame that no one listened to him as Blake's plan ultimately achieves very little.

That said, it's nice to see that Blake seems to finally have a mission.  The past three or four episodes have strayed slightly - focusing more on Orac and his prediction than on Blake's war with the Federation.  With Blake deciding to take the fight to Earth, that focus has firmly shifted back to the main premise of the series.

In terms of characterisation, it's interesting to watch the development of Blake and Avon.  Avon is taking an increasingly commanding role - he was the man with all the answers in 'Redemption' and here he's in charge of negotiations, with Blake very much taking the back seat.  Blake on the other hand seems to be losing control, unfairly snapping at everyone around him when things get too much for him.

Largo


This episode is also very good for acting performances.  Both Karl Howman (aka Jacko from 80s sitcom 'Brush Strokes') and Derek Smith as Largo are excellent but special mention must go to Peter Tuddenham who makes the possessed Orac sound genuinely chilling.

Next week: we find out what Servalan and Travis have been up to in 'Weapon'. 

Monday, 21 July 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series B Episode 1 - Redemption






"If it comes down to a showdown, my money's on Blake. Well half of it. I'll put the other half on Avon."
 - Vila

The Story

The Liberator crew are trying to discover when, where and how the destruction of the ship will occur. Avon works out that the ship will be destroyed in a distant sector of space and Blake decides that, if they can stay away from that part of space then Orac's prediction will never come to pass.

Suddenly the ship comes under attack from two unknown ships capable of matching the Liberator's speed and firepower. Blake and the crew out run the ships but the battle has left vital ship's systems damaged. The ship is flying blind at full speed and even Zen appears to be out of commission.

The crew attempt repairs but quickly discover that the ship appears to have turned on them. Blake is attacked by a live electrical cable and Avon discovers that the ship is rejecting the repairs that he is trying to make.

Avon deduces that the ship has been taken over by an outside force - namely the people who originally built the Liberator and who are now looking to reclaim what belongs to them. One by one the Liberator crew are captured as the ship is boarded until only Blake, Avon and Jenna remain.  They try to get Orac to take back control of the ship but he is too preoccupied with another matter to help.  Then it is too late as the ship is taken back by the people who originally built.



The Liberator is taken to an unusual and impressive looking space station where Avon and Jenna are imprisoned and Blake is taken to be interrogated by 'The System'.  The System is a giant computer system, based on the space station, that controls the populations several planets.  The System is served by the Altas, who are little more that human puppets who speak for the System, as well as slaves.  Blake's interrogation is interrupted when an outside source interferes with the System's operations.  Blake deduces that the 'outside influence' is Orac who is still on board the Liberator.

Blake is being taken to be executed when he is rescued by one of the slaves.  Meanwhile Vila has released Avon, Jenna, Cally and Gan and they reunite with Blake as they try to return to the Liberator.  With the slave's help they make it back to the ship and escape from the station.  However they are pursued by a ship identical to the Liberator. The crew prepares to fight but Avon has discovered that they are now in the part of space where Orac's prediction is to take place. The crew brace themselves for destruction...and the other ship explodes along with the rest of the station.

 Orac explains that it was he that caused the other ship to self-destruct, thus fulfilling his prophecy. With the Liberator back under his control, Blake sets course for Earth as he has unfinished business with the Federation.



The Seven

Blake: Has several show downs with Avon and it's clear that there will be a power struggle between them for control of the Liberator before too long.  However he still has a lot of respect for Avon and relies on him for help.  When he's threatened by a live cable it's Avon he turns to for assistance.

Blake will help anyone who is being oppressed as seen in this episode when he goes to the aid of a fallen slave.  This small act seems to inspire the slave to assist Blake later. 




Avon: Works out where Orac's prediction is supposed to occur but doesn't inform the rest of the crew for several hours.  This brings him into conflict with Blake who is angry with Avon for withholding the information.  They have several such arguments over the course of the episode and Avon looks to be tiring of Blake's style of leadership. However, despite their issues, Avon still saves Blake from being electrocuted by a live cable.



Vila: Is the second member of the crew to be captured. Once again proves his worth by using his lock picking skills to break everyone out of their cells. 







Gan: Doesn't have a lot of luck in this episode. He burns his hand when attempting repairs and is then the first of the crew to be captured after he wanders into the teleport section just as the invaders are boarding the ship. He does redeem himself later by holding off several guards whilst the crew are trying to escape back to the Liberator.






Zen: For the second time in as many episodes, Zen and the Liberators systems are taken over by an outside influence.  This time it is the Liberator's own creators that are in control, feeding a computer program into the ship's systems that make them turn on the crew. 

We're finally given some back story for both Zen and Liberator as it's revealed that they were the creation of the System.  We also discover that the Liberator was not unique - there was at least one other 'sister' ship which is destroyed in order to fulfil Orac's prophecy.




Orac (voiced by Peter Tuddenham): Refuses to give Blake any indication as to the time and location of the Liberator's destruction as Blake could then avoid it and thus invalidate his prediction. Later, he is unable to work on getting the Liberator back under the crew's control as he has a more important task to complete first.  On this occasion, though, it turns out that he's not being unhelpful, merely ensuring that his prediction comes to pass.




Mark's Remarks

This opening episode of season 2 seems like an opportunity by Terry Nation to tie up some loose ends from the first series and set things up for the episodes to come. The cliffhanger to the previous series is resolved, we finally meet the people who built the Liberator and the tensions between Blake and Avon finally come to a head. 

Much of the episode is set entirely on board the ship and the bulk of the action is carried by the regulars, allowing the viewers to reacquaint themselves with the characters.  That said, some characters get more screen time than others.  Blake, Avon and Vila get the most to do with Gan, Cally and Jenna being largely sidelined.  So some things never change.  Avon in particular come out of this episode very well.  It's he who works out what is going on and his witty put-downs give him the edge in his arguments with Blake.  It's clear that Avon is being set up for bigger things and one does feel that the Liberator won't be big enough for both his and Blake's egos to coexist.




As I mentioned in my introduction to Series B, there was a increase in the budget for this series and it really does show on the screen.  The model work used in the space battle and the Liberator's journey to the space station - while not exactly spectacular by today's standards -  is a step above what we saw in the last series.  The costumes too are much better if less practical, and it's interesting that, even when faced with the threat of imminent destruction, the crew still have time to raid their wardrobes and get their hair done.

Blake and his backing dancers about to hit the dance floor


The one really disappointing aspect of the episode is the System.  I was excited as the prospect of finding out who built the Liberator and was somewhat disappointed at how they were realised.  I had hoped for something a bit more exciting than a giant computer.  It also doesn't really fit with what we already know about the Liberator.  Why for instance, would a group of unfeeling, robot-like people like the Altas stock their ships with kind of diverse and interesting clothes that Blake and his crew wear?  As they're all wiped out at the end of the episodes, questions like that remain unanswered.

Next time, Orac gets his very own episode something that Gan had to wait ten episodes for.  Join me for 'Shadow'.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series B Introduction


The second series of Blake's Seven premiered on 9 January 1979, carrying on almost directly from where the previous series ended, with the crew faced with the prospect of their impending destruction.

During the series' time away it was obvious that someone had decided to throw a bit more money at the programme.  When it returned, the regulars all had a number of new and, often quite elaborate, costumes, the model and special effects works seemed to have been spruced up and the Liberator gained a few new rooms and corridors.

One other change, not related to the budget was that of Travis.  After Stephen Greif chose to leave the series, the decision was made to recast the character rather than create a new antagonist for Blake.  Brian Croucher took on the role, playing it very differently to his predecessor.  Alongside him as ever was Servalan, dishing out death and destruction in a variety of increasingly elaborate outfits.

Storytelling in this series became more ambitious.  With series creator Terry Nation writing only three episodes this series (as opposed to writing all thirteen the previous season) the use of fresh writers meant a bit variety in terms of the stories.  The second half of the season saw a story arc that ran over several episodes, culminating in the season finale.  And series B also saw some big changes for all of the regular characters which, for me, is what makes this season so much fun to watch.

Series B crew: Gan, Cally, Blake, Vila, Avon and Jenna
Series B Episodes:
Redemption

Shadow

Weapon

Horizon

Pressure Point

Trial

Killer

Hostage

Countdown
 
Voices from the Past

Gambit

The Keeper

Star One

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series A Episode 13 - Orac



"A hundred million for that?"
 - Blake on Orac 

The Story

 Following on from the previous episode, the Liberator is travelling to the planet Aristo to deliver urgent medical supplies to Ensor, father of Ensor Jr. whom the crew helped in 'Deliverance', and the creator of Orac.  However Gan, Jenna, Vila and Avon have come down with radiation sickness as a result of their efforts and there are no anti-radiation drugs aboard the ship.  Their only hope is that Ensor can help them.

Servalan and Travis have also arrived on Aristo, intending to steal Orac.  Ensor's hidden laboratory is protected by a force field so they are forced to take an underground tunnel to gain access.  On the way, Servalan is attacked by a native inhabitant of the planet but is saved by Travis.

The Liberator arrives in orbit and is detected by Ensor's security devices. Ensor's creation, Orac, puts defensive measures into operation.  This involves taking control of the Liberator's computer systems in order to establish the crew's credentials. Once Blake has established that he is there to help, Orac allows him and Cally to teleport to the planet.  Once there he allows them past the force field and into Ensor's lab.

Ensor is dying.  He has a mechanical heart that needs to be replaced immediately.  Blake offers to take Ensor to the Liberator and perform the operation on him there.  Ensor agrees however they need to get to the surface of the planet before they can teleport back to the ship.  Just as they are about to leave, Travis and Servalan arrive and Blake, Cally and Ensor along with Orac are forced to escape into the tunnels.

The trip through the tunnels proves too much for Ensor's heart and he dies enroute.  Blake and Cally make it to the surface with Orac where they are once again confronted by Servalan and Travis.  Just as Travis is about to kill Blake, Avon and Vila intervene and rescue their crewmates. Blake and the others teleport back to the Liberator, taking Orac with them.

Some time later, the crew try to discover what Orac is capable of.  Orac tells that that it is capable of predicting the future and shows them a future where the Liberator appears to be destroyed...


The final scene of the first series - video created by Allthebest863


The Seven

Blake At the end of the episode, Blake stops Avon from killing Travis and Servalan.  He decides that it would be much better to let the Federation know that Servalan allowed Blake to take Orac, getting Servalan into a lot of trouble.  It sounds like a weak argument but Blake is applying that same logic that he did back in 'Duel'.  He knows that he can beat Travis (and by association Servalan) so it's better to keep them alive in case someone more competent takes their place.


Avon Like Jenna, Vila and Gan is struck down with radiation poisoning   He does let his cool, calm exterior slip slightly when he loses his temper at one point but seems better able to handle the sickness than the others.

When Blake and Cally are late in returning it's he that decides to go down to help them.  He shoots Travis's robotic hand before Travis can shoot Blake.  He says that he was actually aiming for Travis's head though he's probably just trying to look cool. 


Jenna Spends most of the episode suffering from radiation sickness.  She is at least well enough to fly the ship for a short time.  She also has the 'honour' of saying the last line in this series. 






Vila Also suffering from radiation sickness although, unlike the others he refuses to accept that he's ill and might die. As such he appears to be well enough to go down to the planet with Avon in order to rescue Blake and Cally.  He doesn't get on well with Orac in the short scene they share together. 




Gan Suffering from radiation sickness although seems to be quite stoic about the fact that he might die.  He camps out in the teleport room, where Jenna and Avon are, as he says that he doesn't like to be alone.  This ties in with his comments back in episode 4 where he says he needs to be around people.




Cally Teleports down to the surface of Aristo with Blake as she's the only other member of the crew who isn't suffering from radiation sickness.  For someone who has previously been shown to be one of the most caring crew members (she seems to have become the ship's unofficial medic), Cally shows a surprising lack of compassion when dealing with Ensor.  She bluntly tells the old man that his only son is dead and then later on, asks his to help her carry Orac when he's clearly having chest pains. 


Zen Seems somewhat perturbed that his systems could be taken over by an outside source.  He states that it is impossible for this to occur but is forced to admit that it happened nevertheless.  He concludes that "investigations into this paradox are continuing."







Orac (voiced by Derek Farr) The creation of Ensor Sr, Orac is a computer more powerful than any other yet created.  It has the ability to tap into virtually any other computer and draw information from it without requiring a direct link to it.  It can also take over other computers and control them as it does to Zen in this episode.

Orac says that the limits on its abilities have not yet been defined and goes on to demonstrate that it is capable of predicting the future by showing the Liberator a future where the ship is destroyed.

In appearance, Orac is a clear plastic box full of wires, electrical components and flashing lights.  It looks a bit of a mess and nothing like a incredibly powerful super computer.  Possibly the ramshackle appearance is intended to disguise Orac's true worth - people looking to steal Orac would probably overlook something that looks like a bundle of wires in a fish tank.  Orac is switched on and off by the use of an activtor key that slots into the top.

In terms of personality, Orac admits to having taken on certain aspects of his creator's personality and speaks with the voice of Ensor.  He seems to be capable of independent thought and is able to debate and argue with the crew of the Liberator.


The Federation

Servalan This is the first time we've seen Servalan away from a Federation base and having to rely on her own wits rather than having numerous Federation men and equipment at her disposal.  She is attacked by one of the native creatures that live on the planet and, although she's saved by Travis, she is quite shaken by the experience. She quickly gets however over this and reasserts her authority. 



Travis Despite the fact that stealing Orac wasn't his idea, Travis ends up taking the blame for Servalan's failure here.  In fact he does very little wrong, saving Servalan from being eaten, finding the route into Ensor's home and resisting the urge to kill Blake until he given the order to do so by Servalan.  It seems like, as in the previous episode, he's prepared to put with any humiliation as long as it means he can keep hunting for Blake. 


Mark's Remarks

And so we reach the end of the first series with a finale, whilst not exactly epic, draws together plot threads from the last episode, gives us another confrontation between Travis and Blake and introduces another regular character in the form of Orac.

Orac itself (himself?) is an interesting character.  For a computer that is little more than a box with flashing lights in it, Orac already has more of a personality than Zen whose character development, such as it was, stalled after a couple of episodes.  The only real concern with Orac is that, with virtually infinite knowledge and the ability to take over almost any computer, how often will it be used as a get-out clause in future episodes?  Will it become a sonic screwdriver-type plot device.  Despite having seen all the episodes I genuinely can't remember how often they do resort to this so it'll be interesting to find out.


For the regular cast, it's Blake and Cally who get most to do here.  The other for the most part get to lie around and do their best to look sick. Servalan and Travis get some of the best scenes again with Jacqueline Pearce showing some real vulnerability as Servalan.  She and Stephen Greif as Travis make a good team so it's a shame that, in the studio scenes, he has to be replaced by a cunningly disguised body double as Greif had suffered an injury that meant he couldn't be present.  It's doubly unfortunate as this is also the last we see of him in Blake's 7 although not the last that we'll see of Travis.

The season ends with a big cliffhanger ending, something that was fairly unusual in British television back in 1978.  Back then viewers had to wait nine months to find out if Orac's prediction would come true.  Fortunately we only have to wait a week for the start of series 2 (or B) and 'Redemption'.