Monday, 17 February 2014

Blake's 7 Season Four


Rescue written by Chris Boucher and directed by Mary Ridge

What’s it about: Rescued from Terminal by a man who is too good to be true…

A Good Man: Whilst there is nothing wrong with the characterisation in Rescue, the season opener is far more interested in reformatting the series than it is in exploring the core cast of characters. Everybody gets peppy lines but this is much more of an ensemble piece than usual with nobody in particular standing out. That’s not a bad thing every now and again because it shows what a well oiled machine this cast has become.

Warrior Babe: Avon might like to think that he is their leader but when Dayna thinks that he friends lives are in danger she will shove him out of the way in a heartbeat. I don’t know if I buy into Dayna’s method of self defence, if your gun doesn’t work then throw it at your assailant.

Empath: Just as the Avon/Cally relationship was going somewhere really interesting in the latter half of season three it has to be cut dead due to Jan Chappell’s desire to move on to other things. It is an entirely understandable decision considering that this is an ensemble show and you have to take your turn to be in the limelight. Had she been treated to episodes like Children of Auron and Sarcophagus every week I am sure that the situation would have been quite different but the truth is that for much of the season the actors on this show are merely chipping in the odd line whilst the lead of the week gets their exposure. However with Cally gone it does mean that even more of that initial core group of characters is missing and it does have a peculiar feeling of lingering on past its prime because of that. The biggest issue I have is that the Avon/Cally relationship had the potential of being as strong as it was in the episodes mentioned above ever since season one and so much time was wasted keeping them apart in the first two years. As it is, Cally’s death is hideously unmemorable and by using her voice for a line or two it only highlights the fact that Chappell isn’t there for the recording. I would have had her killed between seasons and perhaps opened with the crew mourning her loss. It would have left an ambiguous gap between seasons and the audience could have made up their own versions of her death. It probably would have felt less slapdash than what we got. Her last word is ‘Blake!’

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I think his taste in wine and women is impeccable.’

The Good: Servalan is such a perfidious old snake, leaving the underground base on Terminal booby trapped so all of her problems go up in a puff of smoke once she is safely away on the Liberator. Am I the only person that rather likes Slave? A computer that is again voiced by the unmistakable talent of Peter Tuddenham and one with an inferiority complex and sounding awfully like he has come down with a cold, he’s basically Zen with a bit more personality and a little less arrogance. Yes Scorpio does look like a cut price Liberator but then it was supposed to – this is a much more functional and traditional spacecraft because the Liberator was meant to be one of a kind. I rather like the idea of the crew continuing their travels in a clapped out old junk heap, a dysfunctional ship for a dysfunctional bunch. Scorpio isn’t as aesthetically pleasing as the Liberator, but it feels much more authentic as a means of space travel. At least there aren’t any cream leather sofas for the crew to congregate on. I had a cat hair hoover attachment that looked rather like Scorpio once. It’s an unusually sleek design for sure and a ship that looks like it is much better suited for combat than the Liberator. I could imagine this ship effortlessly slipping and sliding through a battle avoiding fire. Huge kudos for the model work depicting Scorpio landing and being drawn into the heart of the planet and the secret base that lies there. It gives me a big Gerry Anderson hug that provokes all kinds of nostalgic feelings for shows like Thunderbirds and Terrahawks whilst turning out to be a fine piece of effects work in it’s own right. After all the embarrassing antics on Terminal it feels as though the series is pulling its socks up and kicking off in an exciting new direction. I’m not averse to the idea of the crew having a base of operations to return to at the end of each episode either. It is something that both Blake and Avon have considered when they have been responsible for the crew so the idea is long overdue for checking out its viability. Blake’s 7 has never been about exploring new worlds and new civilisations, it has been about surviving in a cold and hard universe and attempting to bring down the administration that makes it that way. A base squirreled way on an unknown planet is precisely the way they can achieve both objectives without drawing attention to themselves like they have been, roaming about in the most advanced spaceship in the galaxy. Rather than continue as before Boucher is playing about with the formula and seeing what sticks. Doctor Who would go on to borrow Blake’s 7 props (such as the guards helmets in Frontios) so it seems only fair that Blake’s 7 should be allowed the same courtesy. Mind you I probably would have gone for one of the Mutt costumes from The Mutants rather than a Sea Devil one. The face is too inanimate but it still looks effectively frightening in the half light (and cloaked in mist). I’m rather surprised that the Philip Hinchcliffe era of Doctor Who (famed for plundering some of the best horror stories of print and film) didn’t get around to doing a science fiction spin on The Picture of Dorian Gray as it was ripe for the picking and would have suited the style of horrific melodrama that was predominant in the era perfectly. I’m pleased that Chris Boucher took the inspiration to have a stab and whilst Rescue loses points for wasting its first fifteen minutes tying up the events of Terminal, it gains some for approaching the source material so atmospherically. Not only is Dorian’s gift of youth and intellect (some would say a curse given the trade off) an intriguing notion given the monstrosity that is lurking in the wings, it also gives a logical reason for him to rescue Avon and the others and bring them to his base. Imagine being able to indulge any vice and then being cleansed of any self-loathing – what an addictive procedure that would be. A gestalt creature, absorbing all the strengths of the gang? Now I know where Grant and Naylor got the idea for the Red Dwarf episode Legion from! Although I wouldn’t bother with Vila, he’d hold the entity back.

The Bad: Considering none of this material should ever have been written, Boucher does the best that he can to salvage a situation that was determinedly written by Nation so that the characters couldn’t escape Terminal and continue as before. The Liberator destroyed. Blake, Jenna, Gan and Zen gone. Between seasons Jan Chappell decided enough was enough and her absence had to be explained away in a hastily put together off-screen death. To say that season four kicks off in a disadvantageous position would be an understatement. The fact that Boucher managed to salvage the situation at all is a near miracle. However before we get there we are plonked back on Terminal at the point after the Liberator had been destroyed (I would have shown the effects shot again, this way it just looks cheap) and the embarrassing men-in-monkey-suits are roaming and hooting around the landscape. To somebody who is allergic to science fiction this would be an expression of their worst nightmare, nonsensical and humiliating. At least the explosion is massive. What is it about carnivorous fauna during this period of television? It never winds up looking especially good and it must require some pretty elaborate special effects time and budget (see also Doctor Who’s The Invasion of Time and Nightmare of Eden). A year or so before Sarah Jane falls down a shallow incline and pretends it is a hazardous ravine, Blake’s 7 got there first! At least it’s Vila who is the one left screaming and not Dayna. Dodgy Star Trek style ship buffering requires some throw yourself across the set acting. For a moment I thought Nation was back in the driving seat when Boucher turned Terminal into the most inhospitable planet known to mankind. Snow to freeze your bones, hairy McClary monsters roaming about, sharp inclines to fall down, carnivorous wildlife, explosions and finally a volcanic eruption! Talk about milking it. If you find the resolution of Avon grabbing a gun and shooting the creature dead a bit easy then ask yourself how Boucher could have done any better with the time he had left (a little under two minutes). Unfortunately all that time wasted on Terminal robbed us of a more sophisticated ending.

Fashion Statement: When facing a punch in the face by equipment thrown up from the explosion that is tearing through the underground base, Vila decides to fling his crotch in Tarrant’s face. I’ll leave you to decide why that might be his final desire before death. Dorian is hotness personified but in a way I am pleased that he never made it beyond this episode. I would be in a constant state of arousal if I had to watch an entire season of episodes featuring Stephen Pacey and Geoffrey Burridge.

Moment To Watch Out For: Mary Ridge’s direction really comes into its own during the Dorian Gray sequences in the misty cavern, the camera not quite showing us everything, the sound effects having a chilling effect and the lighting being particularly creepy. If only she had had the time to bring this kind of atmosphere to Terminus.

Result: Given the first fifteen minutes, Rescue should have been terrible but somehow it redeems itself completely around the halfway mark before setting thrusters to maximum for the conclusion. It is probably Chris Boucher’s least substantial (in terms of characterisation) offering but given the impossible situation he was handed the fact that he managed to turn out something this good is a miracle. The Terminal sequences fail to generate anything but mild annoyance as the crew are forced to walk through all manner of unconvincing perils before the place self ignites. Cally’s off screen death is particularly badly handled and should have been scrapped altogether. When Boucher jettisons Nation’s ideas and gets to create something original his material is excellent and Mary Ridge’s direction improves astronomically as soon as we reach Xenon. The spin on Dorian Gray allows for some spooky moments and I only wish we had had more time to explore the fascinating concept further but as a result of all the running around at the beginning of the episode we were robbed of the chance. Still Scorpio and the new base are fine innovations and the interaction between the regulars is as sparky as ever. Whilst the show hasn’t quite developed a new formula, these are impressive first steps to a less ship bound show. For the most part this is a stylish and pacy opening episode, for every moment that fails there are two more that succeed. I really enjoyed it: 8/10

Power written by Ben Steed and directed by Mary Ridge

What’s it about: Battle of the sexes…it must be a Ben Steed script.

Anti-Hero: Avon is on the surface of Xenon indulging in his favourite pastime of massacring natives. I find it quite disappointing to see Avon spouting Ben Steed’s usual sexist platitudes regarding women being the weaker species. I always thought he was above all that and merely focused on the strength of the mind. After all it was a woman who managed to best him when he was ultimately caught up with by the Federation. Prepare yourself for some of the most astonishing knocked out acting you will ever see in your life as Avon is bashed over the head with a floating piece of equipment and he stands there, eyes closed, deciding quite how to float gracefully to the ground. Slave may turn out to be his kind of computer after all.

Petty Thief: He keeps telling everyone that he is cleverer than he looks but nobody seems to believe him. I like it when Vila gets a chance to show off his art rather than being used lazily as drunk comic relief.

The Good: Now they have disposed of Dorian it would seem that Scorpio, the base and Soolin are all ripe for the pickings. Ten thousand years advancement destroyed in a day, that is a perfectly reasonable premise and ripe for dramatic pickings. It’s frustrating that gender war is all Steed could come up with.

The Bad: What precisely does the title sequence tell you about the series these days? Well, it seems to indicate that we spend a lot of time rolling around the surface of a planet and then popping off into space before doing a complete 360 and heading back for the planet we just came from. It doesn’t tell you much of anything. Ben Steed is doing his usual bit for female emancipation by ensuring that the fair sex are treated as little more than slaves and tossed lines like ‘don’t just stand there woman, bring ale!’ At least Avon points out Gunn Sar’s blatant sexism. Two factions on one planet, one apparently primitive opposing one apparently sophisticated…haven’t we been here several times before? What a charmer Dicken Ainsworth turns out to be, having his back fat massaged with in an inch of its life, flicking his perfectly shampooed ginger locks about and chomping away on raw and bloody meat. There was no indication that anything was happening elsewhere on Xenon in Rescue but that it was a hidey hole for Dorian and Soolin. Mind you we didn’t really have the chance to explore any further than a few sets by the time we finally reached the planet. To suddenly have this game of Cowboys vs Indians open up feels like they are making it up as they go along. Primitives forcing Avon to fight for his life, what a dreary bunch of old clichés. I know these scripts were prepared in a rush but surely it was a little too soon to fall back on such tired plot devices such as this. Gunn Sar is such an old theatrical ham, glammed up in silver eveningwear as he emerges to take on Avon in combat. I don’t want to suggest that Ben Steed is having trouble trying to give the regulars something to do but having them attempt to puzzle out escape through a door for over half an hour is an obscene waste of their characters. I’m not overtly politically correct but I have to admit that ‘The black woman must win!’ is hardly an appropriate line.

Moment To Watch Out For: Gunn Sar has finally met his match in Dayna. It is about time that somebody slapped this guy around a bit.

Result: Every Blake’s 7 cliché imaginable converges in a hastily written Ben Steed script. That’s bad news because his work is pretty shabby even when he has time to get it right. Lots of ugly location work in what looks like the bleakest quarry of all time, tribes people dressed in furs, poorly executed action sequences and some horrible moments of sexism all conspire to make this one of the least sophisticated episodes that the show put out. What we needed at this stage was an update on the state of the Federation and how it is coming back together post-War and with the loss of the President and instead we are arsing about on the surface of a miserable world whilst am dram performers try and turn SF cliché into Shakespeare. If people rejected the show at this point it is because it seems to have lost its focus. The guest cast are trying their hardest to give this material meaning but the characters are empty and it is struggle to watch them try. We’ll never see any of these people again and our time with them here is hardly thrill a minute. This battle of the sexes has a sting in its tail but that is only that Ben Steed isn’t quite as blatantly sexist as he might first appear and that there is a slim possibility that in a male oriented society the women have the superior intelligence and might win through. Big woo, we’ve seen that time and again with Servalan over the years. It is hardly a blinding revelation. This should have been the episode that introduced us properly to Soolin but in truth she barely appears, vanishing for the length of a bible and then forcing herself on the regulars at the climax. It feels like a waste of an hour. It took me two forceful attempts to get through this one: 2/10


Traitor written by Robert Holmes and directed by David Sullivan Proudfoot

What’s it about: War is breaking out on Helotrix and an old enemy is attempting to pacify the natives…

Anti-Hero: In a very telling statement, Avon says that he wont run anymore. He pretty much wants to stand and fight the Federation now. I really wanted Avon to howl with laughter when he was informed that Servalan was alive, instead he looks thoughtful off camera in a way that only Paul Darrow can.

Maximum Power!: ‘That means you’ll die about another 10%’ In hindsight it makes sense that Servalan would hide behind a cover name and identity to continue her work, working from the shadows given the benefit that everybody thinks she is dead. What is odd is how the Sleer character is built up in this episode only and she is revealed at the climax, it hardly seems worth the effort. Had the name been bandied around since Rescue then the twist might have had more impact. I know it had only been a couple of episodes but Blake’s 7 was already waning without Servalan and so as predictable as her reappearance was, I for one welcomed it with open arms. It’s her lack of involvement in the finale which shocks me the most but we’ll leave that until the end of the season. She is described as having a totally callous and savage ambition (Tarrant and Dayna should have realised who Sleer was at this stage). I’m glad we got the chance to see Servalan literally stab a man in the back and seems all the more appropriate with her that it is whilst she is indulging in a romantic clinch with her intended victim. She’ll use her body, she’ll promise you the world, she’ll go to any lengths to get your close and then when you least suspect it she will strike. I can’t wait for her next appearance.

Resistance Agent: There is a different feeling between Avon and Tarrant in season four, one that is bourne of respect rather than tension as was the case in the previous year. The sense is that they have figured out what their roles are and how much they need each other. To hear Avon say he is ‘one of the best’ is a nice moment. He suggests that Tarrant being brave, young and handsome are three very good reasons for anybody not to like him. Avon understands that he has something of a bleeding heart for the oppressed (he is very like Blake in that respect) and orders him not to get involved whatever the circumstances. The look between them seems to suggest that Avon understands his instructions would be ignored in an instant.

Blonde Bombshell: Glynis Barber seems to have slipped into the crew with relatively little fuss and despite her lacking a strong introductory story (she was hardly the focus of either Rescue or Power), I feel as if I have a good feeling of the sort of tough space mercenary that she is. She speaks coldly and only seems to be out for herself and it makes her one to watch in the opening episodes of the season. By it’s close she would have come to get to know the crew a little more softened but at this stage of the game she is the sort of character not to turn your back on. I like that.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘The art of leadership is delegation.’
‘If I’m wrong you can say I told you so, as long as you speak loudly and quickly.’

The Good: Why does pretty much all of the location work on Blake’s 7 feel as though it has been shot on the most miserable day of the year? All the better to highlight men spontaneously combusting in. I’m not complaining mind, the bubbling swamps make for an impressively forbidding setting for this war story. Watching Christopher Neame in this episode makes me pine for the missing material in Shada even more, it rather gives the impression that confrontations between Tom Baker’s Doctor and Skagra would have been something wonderful to behold. He has that overly theatrical touch about him that all good Doctor Who (or Blake’s 7) villains have, a way of playing up to the cameras without going completely over the top. ‘It took the Federation years to subdue them on the first expansion’ – Holmes always did have a way of conjuring up Empires with a few sentences and wisely he is the first writer post-Terminal to give us any kind of situation report on what is going on in the Federation since the shake up. Why are the old colonies that found independence being conquered so easily? That’s a good, dramatic starting point for the episode. Holmes highlights the casual indifference that the Federation has when it comes to the fate of it’s colony worlds and their population, Colonel Quute playing chess whilst he orders the murder of innocent civilians and eating his dinner whilst discussing their fate. I’m reminded of the British Empire at it’s height, the affluence of the imperialists as they discuss the poverty and how to civilise the lesser societies. The idea of using re-reprogrammed Hellets rather than their own people to walk into danger and survey the land is typical Federation policy. Why get your own hands dirty when you can exploit others to do it for you? One mans pacification programme (it sounds so satisfactory when you put it like that, doesn’t it?) is another mans adaptation programme (even making the wide scale restraint and control of entire population sound like it is for their advancement). This might be sacrilege to fans of the old order but I much prefer the teleport effect in season four, it is much more impressive visually then the godawful stencil effect. Blake’s 7 doesn’t have the best of reputations when it comes to action sequences but freshman director David Sullivan Proudfoot works wonders on location, offering up the sort of dynamic set pieces the likes of which we haven’t seen before. Gunplay is always much more impressive on location with a feeling of space and with this grim backdrop it adds a such of life or death realism that would have been entirely absent in the studio. Leitz’s double dealing is typical Servalan underhandness, putting on a face of co-operation whilst holding a knife behind your back. The introduction of Forbus brings the narrative into sharp focus, explaining how Servalan (sorry, Sleer) discovered the pacification drug. His sudden appearance in a darkened room strapped to a primitive explosive ready to take out his subjugator is pure Robert Holmes, typically memorable and quirky. Servalan controls Forbus through the most malicious of methods, having poisoned him with a deadly substance and controlling his admission to the remedy. As long as he behaves himself, death can be held at a distance.

The Bad: Who could this mysterious, be-feathered murderess be whose shadow is the exact size and shape of Servalan? Even the least intelligent of regular viewers could figure this one out, especially since Servalan was seen flouncing toward the teleport in Terminal. It was only a matter of time before she reappeared. Jacqueline Pearce’s voice is clearly heard halfway through the episode too. It would have been more surprising had it turned to not be Servalan behind the operation but somebody using her methods.

Fashion Statement: Tarrant looks more smoking hot than ever decked out all in leather. Shame about the sparkly sequins. Appropriately, for her ‘surprise’ appearance Servalan is given a more outrageous costume than ever to wear.

Moment To Watch Out For: Holmes doesn’t entirely lay the blame of the massacre on Helotrix at Servalan’s door and the inference seems to be that her dance of death with Avon and his crew leaves a blight on whatever setting they play it out on. Wherever they go to play out their rivalry leaves a trail of devastation in its wake. If they come calling, be scared…

Result: All the things that make Blake’s 7 such a unique show are back in force; the behind the scenes peak at the politics of the Federation, the sharp and witty dialogue, the terrific interaction between the regulars and guest characters alike, the intelligently drawn settings…you can tell a strong writer is back at the rudder. Traitor is season four at its finest, highlighting the political machinations that made the first two seasons so effective but with the increased production values, wit and pace of the latter two seasons. Proudfoot’s direction stands out as being particularly effective because he never tries to camp up events but instead presents a genuinely gripping war scenario with plenty of atmosphere and gravity. The location work, lighting, set design and stunts are all impressive and when these production values are assigned to a script as intelligent as Holmes’ you are reminded of how good this show can be when everything comes together as it should. We’re right back where I feel the show is at it’s best with the Federation given appropriate focus, the regulars constantly on their toes and visiting worlds that help to paint a more evocative picture of the political landscape that the show takes place in. The inclusion of the Sleer subplot is mostly superfluous given that it was inevitable that Servalan would show up at some point but I appreciate that she is given a memorable lead in to her eventual return. This show with the long term removal of Servalan is not one that I would want to be a part of. She’s part of it’s DNA at this point and the instigator of most of its memorable moments in the last two years. Avon’s need to kill Servalan himself seems to be promising big things for the future: 8/10

Stardrive written by James Follett and directed by David Sullivan Proudfoot

What’s it about: Avon learns about the development of a new faster than light drive that he wants to get his paws on…but he has to snatch it from the hands of the infamous Space Rats first.

Anti-Hero: Avon is a man of conviction and bravery, willing to take Scorpio within fifty yards of an asteroid in order to prevent detection from the Federation and enter an area of space under their radar. Some might say he’s suicidal. He stands tall amongst all the chaos, blazing eyed, as his colleagues suggest that next time he should listen to reason. Avon’s impeccable logic that Plaxton is dead either way and his willingness to press the button and murder her so they can escape once again marks him as one to watch. I wouldn’t turn my back on him for an instant. His cold ‘who?’ at the climax when Dayna asks after her shows how much the show has moved on from protecting people and transformed into a bid for survival at whatever cost.


Warrior Babe: Dayna proves to be quick off the mark, jumping into a cover story that she and Vila were previous students of Plaxton and helped her to develop the prototype of the Stardrive. It’s all a diversion of course, but she is convincing enough to fool Bomber. Otherwise, the characterisation of Dayna throughout this episode is a little off. Where she usually finds Vila amusing, she is quite bullish and forceful with him throughout this episode. I wouldn’t go as far as to call it mistreatment but she is certainly pretty unlikable in her dealings with him.

Resistance Agent: The look on Tarrant’s face when he is informed that the Federation ships have blown up is priceless. I had to rewind and watch again.

Petty Thief: Vila is back at the booze but when facing certain death that perhaps is the most sensible reaction. Unfortunately it has the adverse effect of turning him into a disgusting sleazebag, lusting after the girls. Of course this all turns out to be a ruse, a performance to get him out being asked to volunteer to do anything dangerous during the crisis. What a clever sod. Later he is characterised as a complete buffoon, teleporting down at the wrong angle and almost dropping his gun when he and Dayna are trying to hide away from the Space Rats.

Blonde Bombshell (Mark II): Beautiful and deadly, but we still don’t know a great deal about this character. Soolin reminds me a little bit of Clara from the latest series of Doctor Who, she’s likable enough but she seems to have slipped in as a regular without us getting to know who she really is.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘There are times when even the most cynical must trust in luck!’
‘All they live for is sex and violence, booze and speed…and the fellas are just as bad!’

The Good: Stardrive wastes no time with plodding set up, it is straight into a gripping set piece which feels as though it is setting the tone for the rest of the episode. Slave makes me chuckle so much, the way he apologises but the system that has just been knocked offline was the back up system. This is definitely one of those times when the physical effects are the best kind because the giant gash cut from the hull of Scorpio that we see Tarrant and Avon repairing is highly effective. I got all nostalgic for the first two seasons as Federation ships glided into view and Dudley’s horns of death kicked in. Hurrah for the little touch of Star Wars as the screen wipes from space to the base on Xenon, Blake’s 7 could do with a little more quirky visualisation like this. That shot of Scorpio descending really is gorgeous. The Federation have re-established their ship building ahead of Orac’s predictions, like their annexing of the colony worlds it would appear that they back at full strength and preparing another expansion. Aside from the obvious advantages of the base on Xenon, there hasn’t really been a great deal of difference between the Liberator and Scorpio aside from obvious aesthetic considerations. Stardrive is the first episode that could only have been told with Scorpio, with the crew attempting to obtain a the titular device in order to give them a significant advantage over their Federation pursuers.

The Bad: A mixture of video effects and model work, Scorpio’s collision with the asteroid lacks any conviction. I would have played this through the actors reactions and a few studio bound explosions alone. They are more than up to the task. Another fricking quarry…I’m starting to wonder if every world in this corner of the galaxy epitomises this dreary melancholy. I wouldn’t want to visit anywhere they have presented in Blake’s 7, with the exception of the forest we caught a glimpse of in Powerplay. Flimsiest door ever, the Space Rats grab it and it comes off in their hands. What a shame to waste Barbara Shelley on such a nonsensical episode.

Fashion Statement: The Space Rats have to be seen to be believed. Glam punk meets 80s soap, riding around on squealing bikes in pink crash helmets and huge shoulder pads. They have obviously false spike mohicans strapped to their heads and tribal art smeared on their faces that gives them the appearance of sinister clowns. They can be seen lounging about in what looks like the gayest nightclub in town, all sparkly cushions, pink lighting and cream leather sofas, biting the heads off of lizards and spitting at their hosts.

Moment To Watch Out For: As superfluous as it might be to requirements, the chase sequence featuring three quad bikes and a truck roaring through a quarry at high speed is pretty dynamically directed.

Result: Space Rats? I wanted to be harsher on the idea because it is an appallingly middle class view of punk culture flung into space but it’s such a fun notion that I surrendered my critical faculties and just went with it. Even their name is pure camp. Watching Bomber venerate before the fizzing, pulsing power of the Stardrive reaches a level of absurdity as yet not seen in Blake’s 7 (and trust me it has tried pretty hard at times) and on every level it is not good television. Like The Chase and Time and the Rani though, it’s sheer awfulness somehow manages to do a complete circuit and reach the status of camp grandeur and I am incapable of resisting. Stardrive is my Blake’s 7 guilty pleasure and I have no shame in admitting that. It’s a pity though, because Stardrive does have a fairly decent premise if you removed the more ridiculous elements. Instead of arsing about on quad bikes through quarries we could be using the time to learn more about Federation technology and slaving it (hoho) to Scorpio. Is this what Blake’s 7 is going to be now? The occasional classic surrounded by a load of camp tat? If I set my critical faculties low I can enjoy any series that dares to plaster this kind of buffoonery over the screen but it does feel like we have come a long way from the pilot and the gripping Orwellian nightmare that Nation was keen to explore. Let’s see how things develop this year. Realistically this deserves little more than a 3 or 4 but because it made me laugh like a hyena on gas: 7/10

Animals written by Allan Prior and directed by Mary Ridge

What’s it about: Dayna seeks out an old flame who can help their cause…

Maximum Power!: Servalan is still calling herself Sleer and making all of her lackeys go along with the deception despite the fact that it is obvious who she is. She clearly doesn’t want to attract any unwanted attention until she is ready to reveal herself fully. She is suspicious of anybody who mentions her real name, even in passing, and is determined enough to achieve her goals that she will threaten to rearrange the future of the families of those under her command if they don’t bend to her will. There is a feeling that she isn’t in as much control as before and is having to rebuild her reputation after her failiure to capture the Liberator. As soon as Ardis has given her the information she requires about Justin, she arranges his execution for daring to even suggest that Servalan is still alive. She’s so twisted and power hungry she perfectly prepared to turn a woman who loves a man to hate him using pain as an incentive. I’m starting to wonder if there is nothing, physically and mentally that Servalan wouldn’t do to get her own way.

Warrior Babe: I feel sorry for Josette Simon. She’s clearly one of the most (if not the most) accomplished performers on the show and yet she is more often than not slipped into the pack rather than highlighted individually. The two episodes where she is given more to do than the norm (aside from her introductory episode, which was very good) are Ultraworld (a giant brain tries to get his blue skinned functionaries to manipulate her and Tarrant into having copious amounts of sex) and Animals, two of the weakest Blake’s 7 episodes. She needed a strong episode akin to Sarcophagus (which dealt with the loss of Cally’s sister and the deaths of so many of her people in Children of Auron) that handled the death of her father and her revenge on Servalan. As season four progressed and improved exponentially Dayna once again gets shuffled into the deck and only given scant moments to prove herself as a performer. Frankly it is no wonder that Simon has divorced herself from the show. It’s not exactly as if it has served her fruitfully. To learn that this was originally going to be a Cally script and it was only dished up to Dayna after Jan Chappell pulled out of season four only goes to highlight how little thought was being put into the character, that you could write a script for another character and cross through one characters name and with a few alterations make it about another character. To be fair to Prior, despite her sudden moral perspective Dayna is characterised rather well in Animals and Simon gives a good performance but it is a horribly sluggish episode that takes an age to get moving. You have to wonder what your career has come to when you have to rub shoulders with horny primitives and spout lines like ‘I mean no harm, Og.’ Strapped to Servalan’s truth machine, we discover that Dayna is in love with Justin and cares a great deal about him.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Unless the Federation have become pacifists, it has to be war!’ ‘If they were pacifists the problems wouldn’t exist!’
‘Why do I get all the dirty jobs?’ ‘Typecasting?’
‘I don’t see why I should be punished for your guilty conscience.’

The Good: Embarrassments aside, there are some effective elements to Animals if you know where to look. I believed in the relationship between Dayna and Justin for example and Josette Simon and Peter Byrne share some believable moments as the two characters are reunited after so many years. I also appreciated the mention of the galactic war. There are times in season four when this feels like a show divorced from its past but the odd mention of previous events really helps to make the series feel like a cohesive whole. You can understand Boucher wanting to push the show forwards but little kisses to the past are most welcome. Not only is Avon trying to find allies to help in their cause against the Federation but also attempting to find specialists that can provide them with technology and weapons to support their crusade. There is a great reason to try and seek out Justin that ties neatly into Traitor earlier in the season, an attempt to overcome the pacification drug that the Federation is using to restrain the colony worlds. Radiation proof shock troops are what the Federation were after when they first contacted Justin, a terrifying proposal. Kevin Stoney turns up to add a touch of class to the episode, his second appearance in Blake’s 7 (his previous cameo was in another less than stellar episode too so perhaps they wheel him out whenever they feel a particular episode needs a boost).

The Bad: Any episode that starts with the line ‘I only hope your mad scientist is going to be worth the trouble’ is doomed to failiure. Dayna teleports down to the planet and is surrounded by great lumbering animals which are clearly men in hairy costumes with huge horned hats on. Coupled with Stardrive it’s almost embarrassing enough to make you ask yourself…what happened to Blake’s 7? I prefer a script to be naturally secretive rather than the ‘mad scientist’ characters actually stating that they have to keep some of their dirty secrets close to their chest. Talk about advertising that there is some dodgy twist to come. There is such a strong, dramatic idea at the heart of Animals (Federation scientist turns men into radiation proof shock troops via invasive, unethical operations) that it seems a shame that the realisation is as bad as it is. The animals themselves look ludicrous and with a more sympathetic designer this could have been something a lot more special. The writers seem to have forgotten how to dish out the appropriate amount of material to all of the regulars these days. Avon, Vila and Soolin don’t show up until at least 20 minutes into the episode and when they do it is hardly the most stirring of interplay. I’m not sure how it is possible to making Avon look dull but Allan Prior manages it somehow. Dayna has blown away two of the animals and thinks that she is the one who might get through to them…hmm. And I wouldn’t recommend standing on the edge of a precipice when staging negotiations for precisely the reason that you might be tossed over if things go badly. The brief amount of time (within the episode) between the scenes where Servalan tells Dayna she will hate Justin and it taking effect is farcical. What a messy, messy ending that sees Justin and the animals all wiped out and Servalan blasting off to safety. It’s almost as if Eric Saward were script editing the show.

Fashion Statement: Is it my imagination or is Tarrant looking more dashing and handsome than ever this week? I take my pleasures where I can.

Moment To Watch Out For: Dayna’s love to hate transformation in a matter of what feels like seconds is more akin to the sort of psychological wishy washnyness that you find on Supergirl and not Blake’s 7. If it is supposed to be a tragic doomed romance this falls way short of the mark.

Result: Better than its reputation but still one of the weaker episodes of the year, Animals is painfully slow and inactive for huge stretches and only really comes alive during its more painfully embarrassing moments. The best parts of this episode belong to Servalan but even those hardly show her at her devious best. I enjoyed the relationship between Dayna and Justin and could believe in it but for most of the hour they sit in the same room and go over the same material ad nauseum, never getting to grips with the ethics of the situation. It is Simon and Byrne that give the material some meaning but that relationship is nowhere near as powerful as it should be (despite the dodgy suggestion that they had a previous relationship when Dayna could only have been in a her mid teens). It seems that only one regular at a time can gain focus these days and everybody else is pushed to the distance to give them appropriate screen time and whilst Dayna is re-igniting the flame of love on the planet the remaining four are left on Scorpio and given nothing of significance to do. There was a time when this was an excellent ensemble show and it is going to have to learn how to give all five characters the correct amount of exposure in order to return to its zenith. Come Gold and Blake, it is a skill the series will have learnt again. Because it is played so seriously it isn’t as deliriously enjoyable as Stardrive and Animals simply lacks the intelligence and the nuanced characterisation that might have made this episode work. It’s one of the ploddiest of all the Blake’s 7 episodes and that is saying something. Only when Servalan appears does it really come alive: 4/10

Headhunter written by Roger Parkes and directed by Mary Ridge

What’s it about: A robot has escape captivity with the head of its creator…

Anti-Hero: Avon isn’t about to comfort a grieving woman because he knows that it isn’t a natural instinct and with a silent glance he asks Soolin to perform the role instead. I love the idea of Avon having to outthink Orac, two logical minds locked in combat and trying to outwit each other. When it seems that Orac is trying to murder Tarrant and Vila, Avon does the rarest of things, he loses his cool and shows a defiant flash of anger. It’s lovely to see Paul Darrow being pushed a little this season since for the majority of the previous six episodes he has been sidelined inexcusably. Watch as he throws a trolley across a room into the robots path, Darrow even manages to do that with theatrical flair.

Resistance Agent: Is it my imagination or has Tarrant lost some of his edge this year? Stephen Pacey seems to be speaking all of his lines with a professed innocence, as if butter wouldn’t melt. Has exposure to Avon and the others and a good cause changed him for the better? Or is he trying to fill the hole left behind by Cally? He can still talk with his fists when he wants to though. When Vila has to break the news about Muller to the Xenon base, Tarrant insists that he does it gently to spare the feelings of Vena.

Petty Thief: Bit of a sleazebag again, of at least Tarrant seems to suggest that he has been with Vena. When the going gets tough, Vila hides in a cupboard (and not for the last time this season). Keating plays the moment when he fears discovery for real and it makes me year for a more serious interpretation of his character because he is clearly more than capable of playing more than drunken foolishness.

Blonde Bombshell (Mark II): There is a lovely, lovely scene between Soolin and Orac where they discuss the philosophy of machine life dominating organic life that exposes something gentler and more appealing about her character. I hope we get to see more material like this as the season continues as it is clear that Glynis Barber has much more to give than acting as a cold, blonde assassin.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Supposing they fire a few interceptors in this direction?’ ‘Duck!’
‘Tarrant, what have you got up there aside from yourself, a half wit and a corpse?’
‘Slave appears to have thrown off his chains!’
‘Invite Muller for a stroll in the direction of the armoury’ ‘Be ready’ – there is a real sense of the crew gelling in the face of a common enemy. More of this please.
‘Join us Soolin. We can fulfil your every desire’ ‘You wouldn’t know where to start.’

The Good: I’ll happily watch anything starring Lynda Bellingham. She's gorgeous, isn’t she? And a mighty fine actress to boot. She’s not given the most demanding of roles to play here but she does what is required of her admirably. There is clearly something wrong with Slave at a very early stage in Headhunter and I rather enjoyed his character being played with a little bit of attitude. They should have kept that, it is very different from his usual reverence and Zen’s cold statements of fact. The idea of a computer whose very existence is to serve others against its will (it’s name is an unflattering description of its forced servitude) turning rogue is rather exciting, the fresh elements of season four once again providing some storytelling opportunities. Even if nothing else worked in Headhunter, it provides an excellent showcase for Peter Tuddenham who gets to stretch his acting muscles with extended appearances of both Slave and Orac. He added a lovely touch of colour to this show in all of the roles that he played. Like Rescue, Mary Ridge shows her worth by including some spooky sequences that helps to at some atmosphere to what is essentially quite a silly story. When Dayna describes the bridge of Scorpio as a tomb that is quite an apt description, a deathly blue light caressing the ship from Muller’s cryo pod as he gazes sightlessly across at the expiring crewmembers. The Muller/Ensor connection is rather nice, the show once again using it’s own continuity to add some substance to the situation, bringing together the masterpieces of two great men who previous worked together. Xenon is given a lot more consideration in Headhunter, with some terrific location work and new sets built for the exercise. I had a greater feeling of the scope of the planet and it’s possibilities than in anything since Power. At least they managed to get hold of the circuit influencer and they didn’t go through all this madness for nothing.

The Bad: John Westbrook is fine whilst he is brooding, but once he has beamed aboard Scorpio he leaps into full on melodrama mode, Muller attacking Tarrant in a manner more akin to waltzing around the dance floor. It is pretty farcical. Couldn’t they realise the destructive power of the box in a more convincing manner than a quick shake of the camera and a crash of thunder. How does somebody get squeezed around the middle to death in seconds without any visible signs of perforation or breathlessness? Vena’s murder at the hands of a violently emotional robot is actually very funny. This is an episode that is ripe for witty lines at the expense of the headless robot but Roger Parkes seems to shy away from the obvious opportunities. Because the actor playing the robot hasn’t been decapitated, once the robot has lost his head he suddenly grows several inches so the performer can be hidden away inside his clothes and he can still appear headless. Why not just bring in a midget to play the headless robot?

Moment To Watch Out For: The headless robot stumbling around the base screeching ‘where is Orac?’ does deserve a round of applause. Not many shows would dare to push comedy and horror to such extremes. With Stardrive, Animals and now Headhunter, Blake’s 7 seems to be a hive of camp, slightly humiliating imagery (the Space Rats, the Animals, the headless robot). I know the first half of season four was written in a hurry but that doesn’t mean that you should reach for this level of madness in desperation.

Result: ‘Except slavery or return to the caves…’ Pretty standard horror movie schlock in space, elevated by some nice direction and a better use of the ensemble than anything since Rescue. Headhunter is dependant on the notion that you believe that it is Muller who has left the base on Pharos in order to make it’s plot inconsistencies make sense but they reveal far too early that a headless corpse has been discovered which gives the game away. Having the entire crew working together to defeat the robot creates a nice feeling of unity and they gel better than they have at any other point of the season so far. Working against Headhunter is the ridiculous premise and some unintentionally very funny scenes featuring the headless robot. As a showcase for Peter Tuddenham, however, it is excellent and despite Orac’s shifting characterisation he gives a superb dual performance. It’s good to see Lynda Bellingham in Blake’s 7 too, although not perhaps in the most sophisticated of roles. Headhunter could have been an intelligent discourse on technology versus biology (just as Animals could have taken a more intelligent view of slavery and genetic experiments) but Roger Parkes isn’t the man to write such an episode, especially when he is more concerned with a headless robot stomping about the place. More b movie madness, I found that I did enjoy this on a superficial level and especially for the increased feeling of the new regime coming together effectively: 6/10

Assassin written by Rod Beechman and directed by David Sullivan Proudfoot

What’s it about: An assassin needs to be uncovered and Avon is going to the lengths of putting himself on offer in a slave auction to achieve it…

Anti-Hero: After practically sleepwalking his way through season four, Paul Darrow suddenly snaps awake with the possibility that Servalan might be alive with Avon’s reaction to this new being an absolute scream. He declares that Servalan has lived too long almost as though he thinks it is time to put her out of her misery. Avon’s little conceit as the last survivor of a crashed spaceship just goes to show how versatile an actor Paul Darrow is when he is given something different to do. He really seems to enjoy the chance to do something a little diverse. For some, bidding and winning Avon at an auction would be a dream come true. Apparently he’ll work all day and still have plenty of energy left for any little chores you might have for him in the evening! Whilst Tarrant is busy showing Piri that he is a real man that will protect her, Avon has no time for hysterics and roughly tries to shake the emotion out of her. Even when the evidence is staring him in the face (she’s had a complete makeover for a start) Avon can’t quite figure out that Piri is Cancer. I credited him with a little more intelligence than that.

Maximum Power!: It’s shocking that Avon and Servalan have not been able to cross paths until this point in the season because the show automatically lifts as soon as they are in the same vicinity. She’s delighted at her purchase and at the fact that she can call Avon her slave. I bet she has some serious plans for this lackey.

Resistance Agent: It might have taken them a little while to adjust to each other (given they are both used to being in charge of their lives) but Tarrant and Avon are quite a formidable team these days. Avon watches with almost erotic glee as Tarrant fights off who they both think is Cancer under the guise of covering him. It’s almost perverse voyeurism. Tarrant tells Piri that they are all free agents and nobody is working under Avon without choice but there has been little evidence of that this season. There is a definite feeling of Avon and his Merry Men who are happy to go along with any mad scheme he has coughed up. Is Tarrant foolish for falling so completely under Piri’s spell? It has probably been a while since he has had an opportunity to impress a bird (Dayna and Soolin are showing any signs of interest) and so it is not surprising that he enjoys the chance to play hero. It is just a shame that she turns out to be a psychopathic murderer because he could have done with some time to wind down.

Blonde Bombshell: Soolin objects to being told that she is jealous of Piri simply because she doesn’t like her. Mind you, it really is a half-hearted slap that she gives her. Especially if you compare it to the wonderful belt that Leela gives Adelaide in Horror of Fang Rock. Rule one when looking for an assassin that has already murdered one person – don’t sit down on the floor leaving all your exits unguarded and have a good, long think. You never know when fake looking spiders are crawling their way across the floor towards you.

The Good: It's nice to have a good mystery to centre an episode around the identity of Cancer proves illusive until it is finally revealed. If they pull this off well it could be as surprising as the identity of Bartholomew in Rumours of Death. The character certainly gets a decent amount of fanfare, even if everybody rather misleadingly assumes that Cancer is a bloke to maintain the surprise (‘alright he’s not infallible…it’s just that up until now he has never failed’). I’ve never seen Richard Hurndall in anything other than The Five Doctors so it is nice to be able to catch him in something else. As far as I understand it it was his role in Blake's 7 that secured him the role of the first Doctor in the 20th anniversary special although there is little of Hartnell to be found in his performance here. I was certain for a time that Nebrox was the assassin, the focus on his age and uselessness being a big clue. Mind you I think I suspected everybody until the real killer was finally revealed. The scenes between Servalan and Varlis are a delight, for once Jacqueline Pearce doesn’t have to play the devious vamp because there is no way that she is going to outdo Betty Marsden and so she simply relaxes into her company and has a whale of a time.

The Bad: Do they film Blake's 7 in the same quarry, week in, week out? It always seems to be an identical grey slag heap filmed on the most miserable day of the year. What is wrong with a pleasant aesthetic for a change? Or a bit of sunshine? Sometimes it can be quite a depressing show to watch in this respect. Unless you have been following this show religiously the mention of the name Sleer will mean nothing to you. Caroline Holdaway can hardly be accused of underplaying her role as Piri, the screaming, whimpering victim that the crew discover once they have dispatched of Cancer. She’s so simperingly melodramatic that I couldn’t quite believe that she was as useless as she appeared…which as it happened, she wasn’t. Perhaps had this part been toned down a notch or two then the surprise of Cancer’s true identity might have been maintained. It’s a shame because there are three equally valid suspects that could have turned out to be the assassin. Although I suppose you could say that there is something terribly clever about the way that Cancer bends everybody to her will simply by playing the screaming violet. You would have thought that after their embarrassing appearance in Doctor Who’s Full Circle that the Marsh Spiders would have been consigned to the incinerator. Surely they weren’t considered a success enough to jump series and make a second appearance on television in Blakes’ 7? Depending on your taste in high camp (which is probably quite high given the fact that you watch Blake's 7), Holdaway’s Cancer is either ridiculously mannered or fantastic fun.

Fashion Statement: There is something rather tragic about attempting to set up a cod-Egyptian Empire in the middle of a British slate quarry with half a dozen extras decked out in the best finery that the BBC can cobble together. It doesn’t come off nearly as well the director might have hoped. The faux-Egyptian synth music doesn’t help to sell the glamour of the situation either.

Moment To Watch Out For: I have been a Doctor Who fan for many, many years and have witnessed some truly over the top death sequences. Indeed, if you stick on Resurrection of the Daleks you’ll enjoy a roll call of apoplectic demises. However nothing could have quite prepared me for the death of Cancer, the most hideously overdone death sequence in the history of television. She screams and writhes and screams and spasms and screams…it seems to go on for a lifetime. One last ear piercing scream and she goes slack. So impressive I watched it four times. And changed my underwear.

Result: ‘A universe without Avon and Tarrant will take a certain amount of getting used to…’ Entertaining, but bursting with flaws that hold it back from being anything too special. It feels as though there is a little of everything in this story to please the audience; some bleak Blake's 7 quarry action, plenty of campery (the cod Egyptian style auction), Avon and Tarrant rivalry (well it gets me hot under the collar), some tense and well directed sequences (particularly as the crew search for Cancer) and lots of lovely lines for everybody. Paul Darrow gives his best performance of the year to date and whilst he is written in rather a naïve fashion Steven Pacey isn’t too far behind him. Had the whodunit not been quite as obvious as it was the second half would have topped off quite a nourishing instalment but Caroline Holdaway is a little too obvious and affected in both roles and gives the game away far too early. Cancer’s reveal might be a fun moment, but it leads to scenes that are so far over the top you would have to be very attuned to this kind of pantomime acting to take it even remotely seriously. This isn’t the best looking of Blake's 7 episodes either with inadequate location work, duff props (the spiders) and some questionable transitions (when did Cancer have the chance to completely change her aesthetic?). I did enjoy Assassin but its problems hold it back from being a real standout episode of the series. Series four is struggling in that regard: 7/10

Games written by Bill Lyons and directed by Vivienne Cozens

What’s it about: A race against time to rob the Federation of an unlimited energy source that has been stolen by Stratford Johns...

Anti-Hero: More than anyone, Avon feels as if he has pulled his act together. He might be mildly insane (can anybody be mildly insane? - I guess if anybody was willing to give it a go it would be Avon) but he seems determined to rake in as much money as possible in this adventure (its a ruthless and greedy streak that would continue into Gold) and sabotage the Federation at the same time. It feels like he has a purpose again. His motto seems to be if in doubt, blackmail. When Belkov is trying to make a bargain for his life, Avon asks him what makes him think that they wont kill him and nab all of his crystals anyway. At least he is honest. His convoluted and devious plan to have away with the crystals at least comes with a guarantee that he and Soolin can escape whatever the outcome, but the others are in a far more precarious situation.

Maximum Power!: Servalan is astonished that Belkov expects payment and co-operation for something that he has already stolen from the Federation. Her strong arm methods haven't gotten any subtler over the years, she's still sending in her troops and half of them are losing their lives in the process. You have to wonder what encourages such loyalty.

Warrior Babe: Dayna kicks ass, as usual, although she fails to notice that one of the troopers she has shot is already dead.

Resistance Agent: He's cute and hanging to the right in this episode. He's not given much personality but then how gives a damn when he is so pretty?

Blonde Bombshell: Soolin is a faceless background character in Games (pretty much her default setting for the season) until it comes to having to out shoot herself. It seems this character only really comes alive when she has a gun in her hand. I hope we get to learn more about her before the season is out. I have a feeling that Glynis Barber has a lot more to offer.

Petty Thief: Tarrant might have been sarcastic when he ordered Vila to act as his and Dayna's back up but he actually does a pretty good job of it. When they are trapped underground he comes to their rescue and I also enjoyed the moment when he tried to convince Gambit not to commit suicide. For once it seems as though he is doing the right thing rather than being motivated by anything more scurrilous.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'He is also greedy, avaricious and a crook!' 'Has he got any faults?'
'No hand is a winning hand until it is played.'
'Good shot though. If he hadn't already been dead you'd have saved our lives for certain.'

The Good: There is an interesting shift of emphasis in the series now we have reached the middle of the season and you can almost feel as though Boucher and his team of writers have gotten over the rushed nature and schizophrenic tone of the first half of the year and have decided upon a course to end the series upon. Suddenly Blakes' 7 series four less like an aimless wanderer from one random story to another and more like the crew have determined on a course of sabotage and profit for themselves and will go to any lengths to achieve it. It's definitely a shift in it's favour and a more confident approach, I would rather these characters were hanging around together because they are on the take rather than for no other conceivable reason. When Vila is the one asking 'do we really need money that badly?' you have to ask just how dangerous this situation is! Given their pitiful resources they manage to conjure up a reasonably convincing looking mining operation for Servalan to lord it over. Stratford Johns is effortlessly watchable as Belkov, a man so sure of game playing abilities that he will happily mouth off to Servalan and her guards as a matter of course ('Your survival is becoming more miraculous by the moment!'). His attitude is one of a man that doesn't care whether the Federation or the crew of Scorpio gets their hands on the crystals, he is willing to disclose their location to whichever is willing to get him off the planet with the best deal. The pyrotechnic lads have a field day letting off explosives in the latest lacklustre quarry. Johns is a strong enough performer that he can make a sequence where Belkov pours his heart out to Gambit a genuinely touching moment, a man saying goodbye to a computer and asking it to commit suicide. The fact that both sides have been completely fooled into thinking that there is a tasty reward at the end of this escapade when Belkov never had any intention of handing any of the crystals over says something about their naiveté when it comes to greed. The moral distance between the good guys and the bad guys seems smaller than ever before and as this season continues to progress it is that gap is only going to diminish even further.

The Bad: 'Just who are they sending?' At this stage of the game it comes as more of a surprise if Servalan isn't involved in a story. It's a shame to have to say that because despite the characters obvious a appeal there really isn't any point in getting excited about the potential creation of any other villainous characters because Blake's 7 is always going to go for the default setting of using Servalan wherever possible. Do Federation troops have such poor training that they cannot spot when they are standing on the hand of a wanted fugitive hanging over a precipice?

Moment To Watch Out For: The interaction between Paul Darrow and Peter Tuddenham when Avon and Orac get into a battle of words is always something to bask but both actors seem really riled up in Games and the resulting scenes are an acerbic delight.

Result: Jacqueline Pearce and Stratford Johns locking horns? That's bound to be laugh whatever is going on elsewhere in this episode. Having so many characters to juggle is a problem that Blake's 7 has often had to contend with and what usually occurs is that half the ensemble slip into the background one week to allow the other half to gain some prominence and enjoy some deeper material. Games manages to give everybody a decent moment or two, even if it is just for a scene and it really feels a though the writers are starting to get a handle on the series four line up. Avon concocts the plan, Vila gets to be surprisingly effective back up, Dayna's combat skills are put to good use, Soolin gets to defeat herself at a shoot'em up and Tarrant's piloting skills are what ultimately allows them to win through. Topping off this nourishing ensemble piece is Orac who gets some lovely snippy scenes with Avon and gets to work in cahoots with a female computer that has been left to self destruct. It could be love. Add in some reasonable production values (the special effects team have a field day letting off explosives) and a plot that constantly keeps you guessing (except for the identity of the female Federation official who has been sent to drag Belkov back by the ear...but then who else would it be?) and you have another episode that is pushing the show in the right direction and manages to entertain throughout. Belkov is a delightful character played to the hilt by Stratford Johns (he always seems to effect a casual nonchalance that comes across as confidence rather than boredom) and the games he plays with the two opposing sides are engaging to watch. It's not perfect by any means because nobody seems to come out of the story with any advantage except the audience discovering that they are all a lot more naive than we might have thought but this is still one of the stronger episodes of series four to date and one which kept me interested all the way through: 8/10

Sand written by Tanith Lee and directed by Vivienne Cozens

What’s it about: It's all in the title...

Anti-Hero: When there is dissention in the ranks all Avon has to do is remind his colleagues that if they don't succeed then it gives the Federation more resources in their pursuit of them. He is not above scaring them into co-operation. His reaction to Orac stating 'I love you!' is a scream. Nothing gives me greater pleasure than watching inspiration strike Avon - look at his stratospheric reaction when he realises the sand is the intelligence behind all this. The sand recognises Avon as the 'dominant male' of the crew but he couldn't possibly comment. He's a gambler, but he usually wins.

Maximum Power!: 'And Del Tarrant...I had the gun but I didn't kill you. Yet.' It is nice to have Servalan show up at the beginning of a story as though she is a regular character on this show. None of this Sleer nonsense or trying to set up her appearance as a surprise. We have got to the stage again now that when any character suggests that somebody is going to show up on behalf of the Federation that it is always going to be Servalan and I'm pleased to see that the script editor has given up trying to shock us with the same twist over and over again. This is the show that the character has needed since her fall from grace, a quiet, compelling character study that shows what makes her tick. All too often she has been used as a vampish villainess (and why not - she is massively entertaining as such) but she is so much more interesting when we get to see beneath that iniquitous mask to the person underneath (Children of Auron and Rumours of Death are other great examples of this). The interaction between Servalan and Reeve is phenomenal, he's cocksure and flirtatious and she considers him the dirt beneath her feet and throws some devastating insults his way. Trapped on an alien planet at night with no protection and in the care of Reeve you might think that she was in a vulnerable position but there is no sign of that on her behalf. She tells him that there are no women like her, she is unique and dangerous and you believe her. As soon as Reeve calls Servalan by her real name you know he is marked. If the sand doesn't get him, then Servalan will. When he is shot dead by Tarrant, she comes giggling out of the shadows to boast that he has just killed an enemy of hers. In a glorious moment of vanity she tests just how badly Tarrant might want to shoot her by taking his gun and planting it smack in the middle of her forehead. Servalan looks devastated at the death of Keller and physically attacks his corpse to confirm her worst suspicions. It suggests there's was a much deeper relationship than we had been led to believe long before she admits as much. Keller left her when she was eighteen and she grew up twisted and bitter and power became her love instead. I got the impression that had Keller not broken her heart then Servalan might have turned out as a very different person, still corrupt perhaps but not so much that she would have to look for that feel of seduction she had lost when her lover walked out on her.

Resistance Agent: Tarrant's finest hour and certainly the episode that gives Steven Pacey his most challenging material. A romance between Servalan and Tarrant might seem outrageously out of place but somehow the way the story is presented makes the pairing entirely plausible. Unlike the chemistry between Pearce and Darrow (which is outrageous and fun but hardly conducive to this kind of introspection), sexual hunger crackles between Pearce and Pacey in a very unexpected way. You get the sense that they are desperate to tear each others clothes off and make love on the floor, an act that they both know for so many reasons is perversely wrong (he is a member of a crew that constantly foils her plans and she sat by and watched whilst his brother was killed). That perverseness, the fact that they can't resist their attraction, is what makes this so watchable. Servalan describes him a resourceful and decorative. We cut away from a scene of Tarrant leaning in to kiss Servalan after her confession and return to find her in bed alone. What happened in between those two scenes is down to your imagination. All I'm saying is...the lucky bitch. Despite the fact that she pulls his own gun on him and threatens to kill him until she needs him again, Tarrant cannot quite find it in himself to dispose of her for good. Clearly that was quite some night. There is a feeling of loss when they say goodbye, that as soon as they return to their people they will no longer be lovers but enemies once again. This has been a night of confessions and passion.

Petty Thief: Vila has a nasty reaction to hearing Cally's name again. Perhaps he's on edge because of the dangerous situation they have found themselves in or perhaps he cared more for her than he ever let on.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I suggest you go back to the fire. The alternative could be frostbite.'
'I trust you too, Avon' 'I must be slipping.'
We are irritating the atmosphere and it's scratching.'
'Oh Tarrant, I'm just the girl next door' 'If you were the girl next door, I'd move' 'Where would you move to, Tarrant?' 'Next door.'
'Power is like a drug. It is beautiful. Shining. I could destroy a planet by pressing a button. I loved him.'

The Good: Immediately there is something very different about this episode, something ethereal and fantastical that is completely out of sync (in all the best ways) with the rest of the season. There last time we had such a jarring wrench out of the norm like this was season three's Sarcophagus and so the hands of Tanith Lee and Vivienne Cozens are immediately detected.  The opening across a wasteland of beautiful green sand is extremely well directed to set the scene with an unnerving stillness and is about as far as you can possibly get to the usual bleak grey quarry setting Blakes' 7 usually sports. We're back into territory where every character exists as an individual rather than just a faceless function to the plot. Tanith Lee bothers to give not just Servalan and Reeve great dialogue but the pilot (memorably played by Daniel Hill) and the co-pilot too. They are real people with fears and opinions. In other episodes written by lesser writers they would just be there to deliver the main characters. The sand slide coming down on the ship is stifling ad Cozens goes to some lengths to keep reminding us there is something unsettling about this planet, something eerie. How terrifying are the shifting sands that consume Keller? It was because he was already a nervous wreck and I didn't quite know what was going that made it even more uncomfortable. Given this shows track record when it comes to special effects, the moving sand works surprisingly well. Romantic shots of the base swathed in mist are excellent. Everybody is working so hard to make this as atmospheric as possible - check out the lightning streaked gunfight around the base between Reeve and Tarrant. We have never seen anything like this on the show before. Inside the base is oppressively designed, right down to the dunes of sand forming at the windows reminding us constantly that the intelligence is drawing in. There is nothing wrong with a little continuity and especially in season four which seems to be cut off from the rest of the series in that respect so Soolin (perhaps not the best person to do so since she wasn't there) bringing up the events of Sarcophagus to lend some depth to the current situation is rather nice. With the chance to sit down with Servalan and simply talk to her we get to fill in all the gaps of her actions between the end of season three and her appearance in season four - her escape from the Liberator and the theft of the Presidency in her absence. I was going to complain that it took Tarrant and Servalan far too long to figure that the Sand was the culprit behind all the murders given that they are surrounded by the stuff but the conceit that the planet makes noises like a gusts of wind to fool you into thinking that it is shifting in a breeze is a truly disturbing one that deals with that problem imaginatively. In a story packed full of disturbing notions, the fact that Tarrant and Servalan are being kept alive as a source of food for the Sand is the most chilling off all. Trapped in a larder that they walked into of their own accord.

Fashion Statement: Pacey has never looked more gorgeous than in this episode. I might be outrageously sexist in suggesting that Cozens as a female director gave him maximum exposure but that doesn't seem to be the case because Jacqueline Pearce has never looked so radiant either. Pacey seems to smile an awful lot in Sand and it makes me go weak at the knees.

Moment To Watch Out For: Possibly my favourite scene in the entire four year run of Blakes' 7 comes at the end of Sand when Tarrant returns to Scorpio and confesses that it was Servalan who was with him on the planet and she managed to engage his sympathies. The reactions of the crew are played out in silence but loaded with meaning. Dayna looks appalled because Servalan killed her father. Soolin jealously storms from the bridge. Vila looks as though he can't quite comprehend the act and Avon finds the idea that Tarrant might be the last man to share a night with Servalan very amusing. If I said that the crew of season four were starting to gel in the last couple of episodes, now the writing is ensuring that things don't get too cosy and delivering ample rewards by throwing in dramatic curveballs. This is a beautifully handled character scene.

Result: 'Not a virus, a vampire!' It has become something of a cliché to praise the two Tanith Lee scripts for their attempts to try and shake up the formula and do something fresh with the show. What is immediately apparent when watching Sand is how much better the dialogue and direction are from anything else seen in the fourth season to date. The script is brimming with top quality lines and smashing interaction between the characters, it is a return to Blakes' 7 at it's height in that respect. Vivienne Cozens is absolutely in tune with the resources of Blake's 7 and bringing something substantial and stylish to the screen with what she has to work with. If you needed a convincing argument that science fiction needed more women involved in it's writing and direction, you just need to produce Sarcophagus and Sand. I am always complaining about the same old slag heap being used  to suggest a futuristic planetary landscape but Cozensalmost makes up for that with her realisation of the sand planet. Nightmarish and romantic, eerie and claustrophobic, it is an unforgettably creepy world to visit. Along with Children of Auron and Rumours of Death, Sand makes up a trilogy of episodes that focus on Servalan beyond the vampish nasty and try and sketch in her back story, her needs and her motivations. Jacqueline Pearce seizes the opportunity and runs with it, giving what is one of her strongest performances in the entire four years. The scenes between Servalan and Tarrant on the planet are extraordinary an give him so much more to do than simply standing around looking butch and being argumentative. A romance between these two characters has never been on the cards before but it is astonishing how well this works and the fallout once he returns to Scorpio took my breath away. Anybody complaining that this is not Blakes' 7 because of it's romantic fantasy elements are right, it's not. It's better: 10/10


Gold written by Colin Davis and directed by Brian Lighthill

What’s it about: There's billions in gold waiting to be stolen...

Anti-Hero: Keeler knows Avon of old but he heard of the rest of the crew on grapevine because they are getting to be big news. Even the thought of Keeler being in Servalan's pocket is enough to get Avon in a foul mood. Servalan left a deliberate clue that she was involved knowing that he wouldn't be able to resist it. Keeler doesn't know her as well as Avon does but then who does? Avon leaving Keeler to the mercy of Servalan is wonderfully cold, despite what he has done. His maniacal laughter at the climax is both hilarious and disquieting, another example that this man is close to the edge these days. One day he will snap and somebody might be in the firing the line. 

Warrior Babe: When it appears that Avon and Soolin have been mutilated by the radiation, Dayna looks devastated. No matter how tough an exterior these characters have, their true feelings emerge when it appears that someone has been killed. Dayna is willing to go to the lengths of being infected with a virus to convincingly put out a mayday for a ship that could take her back to Xerok (or rather the gold). She comes close to dying for this shipment, that's how far she is willing to go.

Resistance Agent: Slave says he's sorry most of the time but Tarrant doesn't believe him. There's a brief moment between Tarrant and Avon where he defends Servalan and reminds of their night together in the previous episode.

Petty Thief: Vila can smell a rat when one is in the vicinity because he is one himself. He doesn't trust Keeler and wants no part in the plan to nab the Gold. Keeler declares him suspicious but Avon points out he is frequently right.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'My guards have orders to shoot you first. The price of my life would be yours'  'Well now the sacrifice might be worthwhile.'
'What use would money be to you...here?'
'We've just risked our lives for nothing' 'Not for nothing, Tarrant. We've risked our lives to make Servalan rich!'

The Good: I love the shift in emphasis that the show has taken in series four, not so much a bunch of ragtag criminals out to bring down the Federation but a bunch of desperate fugitives that are out to make a buck for themselves. Idealism is one thing but given the human obsession with greed this is much more believable. Gold shows the crew at their most avaricious, seeking a fortune through the most dangerous of schemes. There's no talk of how the money will be spent when they get their hands on it but I would imagine there is enough to split between them to allow them to go their own way. Morality has gone out of the window completely. In their pursuit of the gold Soolin murders two guards, Avon murders another and there is talk of a man who is lucky to have escaped with his life because he didn't notice the crime that was in operation. These are no longer nice people we are dealing with, just opportunists who will shoot you dead if you get in their way. I wonder what Blake or Cally would make of all this? Accompanied by some Dudley Simpson music of doom, there is a reasonably sophisticated piece of modelwork at the beginning of this episode depicting the rendezvous of Scorpio and the Empress and the docking of the two spacecraft. It all plays out without description and has a pleasing air of disaster about it. A huge round of applause to Roy Kinnear who gives a marvellous performance as the main guest star of the episode. It is wise to never trust anybody as toadying and sleazy as Keeler and the way that he has the whole scheme planned out in every detail proves that he is much more than the happy go lucky Purser that he pretends to be. Kinnear injects a huge amount of personality into Gold, offering a larger than life character to contrast against the bunch of grim faced assassins the regulars have learnt to become. Typical Blake's 7 deception, the sleight of hand movement of the gold away from Xerok occurs without any problems because they send a scheduled freighter advertising the gold shipment as a decoy which is attacked instead of the Space Princess, which is a pleasure cruiser acting as cover for the real shipment. Clever sods. It might be some industrial nightmare (albeit an impressive one) but it does make a nice change to get out of the usual dreary quarry on location. Although one does make an appearance before the episode is out. Drugged passengers, pre-recorded commentary as they pass fake sights on the trip from Xerok to Earth...it's an ingenious scheme and precisely the sort of deviousness we haven't seen in Blake's 7 for some time. As the episode progresses and Keeler's motives are uncovered it really is a case of either taking him on his face value (he decided to go his own way and have the crew of Scorpio help him steal the gold) or not (he really is in the pocket of somebody high up in the Federation who wanted to get at Avon and the others). I like that uncertainty and Kinnear walks a fine line between ally and enemy so you are never quite certain. One thing is for sure, the gold is a motive enough for Avon to keep go regardless of Keeler's divided loyalties. As long as they keep one eye on him at all times... Dudley Simpson's jingle for the Space Princess cruise is irritatingly catchy, I haven't forgotten it since the first time I watched this episode years ago. Speaking of music, this is one of Simpson's best for the entire series. How tense is the moment when Avon is trapped in the airlock with the security guard...as it is disengaging? That is a beautifully directed sequence. So is the stand off at the finale (even if we are back in the standard B7 quarry), mostly played out without dialogue until Servalan reveals herself. Drink in this sequence folks because it is the only chance that you will get to see Avon and Servalan together in the final season of the show. An odd choice given how much Servalan does show up still but lending more weight to moments such as this because of their scarcity.

The Bad: 'Someone else is using Keeler to get to us...' A clever idea, but is there really any doubt as to whom this villainous cur character might be? There is a bizarre moment when Soolin berates Keeler for killing the Princess' Doctor when she has already seen off a number of people. Their creed seems to be that if they are armed, they're fair game. Dayna recovers rather quickly after receiving the antidote.

Fashion Statement: Is it my imagination or is everybody looking particularly gorgeous this week? Glynis Barber looks smoking hot, a blonde assassin that will shoot first and ask questions later and the thought of a passive, suggestible Tarrant (even if it is an act) is enough of a distraction that I took my eye of the plot for a moment. Even Paul Darrow is looking rather dashing in this most romantic of plots, the heist story. Ocean's Eleven on a BBC budget?

Moment To Watch Out For: The twist ending that sees the rug pulled up from under the crew of Scorpio is delicious and completely unexpected. To have risked everything to make Servalan an absolute fortune is the ultimate irritation.

Result: A terrific heist story with a real sting in its tail, Gold continues the high standards set by Sand but offers up something completely diverse in genre. Season four should have gone down this route far more often than it did, a greedy bunch of criminals out for what they can steal from other people because it has much more of an edge to it than anything else we have seen so far this season. The first half is fascinating set up; laying out the plan in exact stages and throwing in a few problems before it even has a chance to kick into operation. Keeler is a fantastic creation, always suspicious and yet quite charming in his own way and played with real charisma by Roy Kinnear. He's exactly the sort of ingenious clown you would want to pull of this kind of caper with (a bit like Vila really) but I wouldn't take my eye of him for a second. All the meat is in the second half though, when the plan reaches fruition and just about everything that could go wrong, does. It is hugely entertaining, exciting and even quite tense in places. Once again all the cast is involved in the story (except Vila who you would think would be ripe for this genre) and everybody gets a moment to shine - especially Avon at the climax with his unexpectedly wonderful reaction losing the money. I was impressed with the direction too, Brian Lighthill managing to switch between the enforced cheeriness of the cruise liner to the seedy happenings below deck with real skill. Constantly surprising and never dull, Gold shows the direction that Blake's 7 could have pushed in had it secured a fifth season: 9/10

Orbit written by Robert Holmes and directed by Brian Lighthill

What’s it about: A battle of wits between a ruthless desperado and an insane genius...

Anti-Hero: 'What would you say if I were to offering mastery of the entire galaxy' 'Oh I would say thank you.' That wild and dangerous Avon that has been emerging throughout the season is in full control now, seeming to find this entire affair extremely amusing. It is rare to see Avon smile quite this much and it is unnerving. He really is starting to crack up. He's intrigued at what Egrorian has to offer but isn't about to exceed to his every demand and makes a few of his own. Much of the joy of Orbit is watching Darrow and Savident orbit each other, the two actors feeding off each other's performances and their characters playing wonderful mind games. They indulge in faux pleasantries throughout, the two characters giving masterful performances in civility when they are ready to stab each other in the back. Egrorian suggests that natural leaders are rarely encumbered with intelligence but that hardly applies to Avon. Egrorian says he has contacted Avon because he wants to see the Federation crushed and he will ensure that it happens ruthlessly. He might be lying through his teeth about his motive, but he's at least got the details right. Avon starts putting the clues together to come to the conclusion that Servalan is nearby, Egrorian's lie about Pinder not understanding the idea of gender not tallying up with his knowledge of chess. Servalan is never far from his thoughts.

Maximum Power!: 'I will kill you for this...' Servalan is so tempted to simply activate the tachyon funnel and destroy Scorpio but Egrorian's plan allows her to obtain possession of both the funnel and Orac and she always has been a greedy woman. Watching Servalan restraining her repulsion in the sight of Egrorian's veneration and lust is a tour de force of subtle comedy on Jacqueline Pearce's part and has me in stitches every time I watch this episode. Servalan has never shared power with anybody and she certainly isn't prepared to barter it with a squalid toad like Egrorian. She might offer him the thought of sex and power but she has no intention of putting them into practice. Her reaction when she realises that Egrorian has been duped by Avon is one of stark homicide, I don't think we have ever seen her quite this angry before.

Petty Thief: Vila tells Avon in the very first scene that he likes to stick with Avon where it is safe. He will make him eat those words before the end of this episode. Vila doesn't see anything wrong with knocking out a few planets for target practice and naming their own terms. He's also happy to rush Egrorian and Pinder, break their necks and make free with the tachyon funnel. These characters really have lost their moral balance, haven't they?


Sparkling Dialogue: 'Well of course it's occurred to me. Why do you think I'm sending Tarrant?'
'Surprisingly you don't look like the ruthless desperados of legend.'
'Soolin, the only thing you ever grasped was a gun. Do you want to get brain damage?'

The Good: There's a lovely pan across the surface of this world that rest on Egrorian's base, a fine piece of model work. As good as Roy Kinnear was in Gold, he isn't a patch on John Savident's star turn as Egrorian. It is possibly the finest guest performance in the shows entire a run, an insanely over the top and yet hilarious and somehow sinister genius who is offering the crew of Scorpio the ultimate weapon. He's a constantly surprising character, openly bisexual (he shows great interest in both Vila and Servalan), vicious (beating and mentally abusing his aide Pinder) and insanely theatrical at times. In anybody else's hands Egrorian might have been unwatchable but with Savident in command he is colourful, amusing and just a little bit creepy (his hysterical giggle sets my teeth on edge). I can't take my eyes off him (especially that hideous boil). The sad truth is that if it wasn't for his obsession with all things Servalan (she's turned many a gay mans head, I hear), Avon and Egrorian would probably make very good allies in opposing the Federation. Finally we see Servalan planning to make her move and become top dog once again in the echelons of the Federation, planning to use Egrorian's tachyon funnel to bribe her way back into power and Orac to ensure that she stays there. Can you imagine a series that focuses purely on Servalan running the Federation with Orac by her side? The bitch fights would astonishing. Pinder is such a tragic character, mistreated abominably by Egrorian after he was aged beyond his years in one of his foul experiments. You can imagine a time when Egrorian (hideous though he is) would have sated himself on Pinder's youth and beauty but now he has sucked the life out of him and uses him as a skiv and somebody to take out his violent frustrations on ('Naughty boys must be punished'). The quiet conversation between Egrorian and Servalan about abandoning him that he overhears is a poignant moment. How can you fail to feel for him? Watching Egrorian defend himself to Servalan in front of Avon as she watches on is a delight, all three characters providing a great reaction to his outburst. Both Avon and Egrorian pull a fast one on each other during the exchange, the former offering a fake Orac and the latter secreting a particle of a neutron star on board the shuttle. In both cases they can still get the upper hand - all Avon has to do is lighten the load (which alas means sacrificing Vila) and all Egrorian has to do is hope he doesn't figure that out so when the shuttle crashes they can extract both Orac and the tunnel. It's a remarkably exciting sequence although I never had any doubt whose intelligence would win through. Especially with somebody as ruthless as Avon. Pinder's revenge is very satisfying, even if it means he has to die with Egrorian.

Fashion Statement: In one of her final appearances in Blake's 7, Servalan looks more dressed to kill than ever. Servalan has always like doing business dressed as though she about to take cocktails with the highest person in the land after her messy work is concluded and she takes that to a new level in Orbit.

Musical Cues: Dudley Simpson's music is at it's best during the hunt on the shuttle. Subtle but powerful. Who knew he was capable?

Moment To Watch Out For: The scene where Avon realises that he needs to jettison 70 kilos in order to achieve escape velocity and Vila weighs 73 kilos. It is a master class in writing, directing, music, lighting and performance. The reason it works so well is that it is all rooted in character. We know Avon is ruthless and we know Vila is a bit useless but they have never been thrown into a situation like this before where their loyalty to each other is threatened. When it comes to life or death how far would you go? Scenes of Avon hunting Vila through the shuttle and Vila weeping in the darkness, genuinely terrified for his life, are unforgettable. And deeply uncomfortable to watch. Exceptional television.

Result: 'Well as you always say, Vila, you know you are safe with me...' Taking place mostly in one set, Orbit could easily be transposed to the stage and make a stunning five man play. Cheap it may be but it is also one of the very best Blake's 7 episodes, a powerhouse Robert Holmes script (his very best for the series) and a terrific performance piece that drags an unforgettable turn out of John Savident and offers Paul Darrow, Michael Keating and Jacqueline Pearce some of their finest material. If this had only been a battle of wits between Egrorian and Avon the Orbit would have been a very good episode of Blake's 7, witty and clever, but when you add in the sequence where Avon hunts Vila through the corridors of the shuttle to lighten the load...this becomes a bona fide classic. I have always thought that the regulars on this show are always on the verge of selling each other out but this proves just how far Avon is prepared to go in order to survive. Had it been Tarrant, Dayna or Soolin he had gone after it wouldn't have nearly the same impact but because it is useless, drunken, everybody-picks-on-me Vila that is his target the episode suddenly takes a very dark and very dangerous detour. Michael Keating drops all the comedy business and gives an intensely dramatic performance and Paul Darrow leaves you with no illusions that if Avon catches up with Vila, he is dead. It is one of my favourite scenes in television ever and capped of with the wonderful final line. Orbit is another knockout episode at the tail of end of season four, that's three corkers in a row now. It seems a shame that we are so close to the end just as Blake's 7 has found it's mojo again. One of the best: 10/10

Warlord written by Simon Masters and directed by Viktors Ritelis

What’s it about: Avon attempts to make an alliance between several worlds to build a force to fight the Federation...

Anti-Hero: I never would have put Avon forwards as a diplomat but he suits the role rather well, tough enough to be honest with his potential allies and charming enough to convince them of his goodwill. Perhaps Avon was naive to think that this alliance would go off without a hitch but I am pleased that somebody tried this approach before the series was out. To me it seems the sensible course of action, to make your position stronger by surrounding yourself with allies.

Maximum Power!: Servalan's last appearance in the show and the one that shows she is tired of the constant games of cat and mouse with Avon. When she learns that he is alive on the planet her instructions are plain: 'Send me his corpse.' As soon as Zukan has betrayed Avon and delivered everything that Servalan has asked, she straps a bomb to the wall to dispose of him and his men. Why do these supposedly brilliant men keep putting their faith in Servalan? She's perfidious and murderous and her history is littered with the corpses of men who have fallen for her promises. Is she that much of a catch that men would risk anything for her? Given her inexplicable non appearance in Blake, this marks Servalan's last appearance in Blake's 7. What a dull way to leave such a great character. In every way the climax to Terminal was the best way she could have gone out. A face on a screen spinning around in space is such a ignominious way to lose her. A shame since pretty much everybody else gets a great send off in the next episode. Should Servalan have shown up in the final scene and held a gun on Avon when he is surrounded by Federation guards?

Warrior Babe: Dayna has been reduced to something of a bit player in the second half of season four. If Josette Simon was unhappy with her role in the series I can understand why. Avon, Vila, Tarrant and Soolin are all well served in the run of episodes between Sand and Blake but Dayna is often to be found in the background of scenes not really contributing a great deal.

Resistance Agent: Tarrant is the real Romeo of season four, catching the eye of many of the ladies who have featured (including Servalan) and turning into a knight in shining armour when they are mistreated. As soon as the violins kicked in and Zeeona started giving him moon eyes I saw distressing times ahead for Tarrant. I can't blame them though, if I was a spare part in a military union of worlds and Tarrant was giving me some attention, I would be helplessly taken too. Avon knows that Tarrant's brains are in his trousers and when he tries to contact Zeeona he immediately instructs Tarrant to bring her to her father, knowing he was with her. Brilliantly, as soon as Zeeona s teleported back to the base, Tarrant grabs her hand and heads for the bedroom. Dirty get. You have to wonder if Tarrant does care about this alliance if he is willing to risk it erupting into warfare just to get his end away. The episode ends with Tarrant devastated at the loss of his latest love - is there going to be some fallout for this latest burn?

Petty Thief: Vila loses his cool when trapped underground and fighting to escape before the oxygen runs out. It seems like a pretty natural response to claustrophobia and anxiety to me and Keating sells the danger well.

Blonde Bombshell (Mark II): We learn a little more about Soolin and certainly more than has been forthcoming in the rest of the season to date. Her father was murdered when she was eight and she made those who were responsible pay. That could explain some of her cold attitude towards people and her willingness to shoot first and ask questions later. Impressively, Soolin takes out four Federation troops without breaking a sweat. Her plan to pretend to be Zeeona is quick thinking on her part and the only reason that Avon is still alive.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'Avon's idea of diplomacy is breaking somebody's leg and then saying lean on me.'

The Good: it just goes to show that if you bring in fresh blood it can sometimes yield terrific results and neither the writer or director of the penultimate episode of the series have worked on the show before. The opening sequence is fantastically trippy, Avon displaying evidence of the Federation pacification programme. Rows of drugged citizens go up and down escalators with doped looks on their faces, listening to hypnotic music and being shot down by trigger happy guards without a fuss. It's quite terrifying because there is no resistance. I have been waiting for a proper update of the Federation situation since the beginning of the season and it looks like the show is about to deliver just as it heads into TV oblivion. The idea of Avon bringing together all the leaders of the non-allied planets into a defence pact is wonderful and something that Blake should have attempted a long time ago. Playing rogue terrorists is all very well but when you have the resources and somebody to watch your back you can really make a difference. There is strength in numbers and Avon intends to exploit that. The Federation no longer merely wishes to simply defend itself but to subjugate all to its will, it would appear they are getting cocksure once again after the knock to the ego they head after the war with the aliens. From the off I was certain that there must be a Federation spy working from within their ranks and feeding information of their alliance back to his masters. I guess thee should have been a more stringent process of elimination of those who are let in on the pact. The doomed romance angle that Warlord flaunts has been tried before on this show to add an air of tragedy to the conflict, at times much better (Rumours of Death) and at times much worse (Animals). The relationship between Tarrant and Zeeona isn't entirely convincing because they have only just met but it is well sold by the actors. There is a terrific mix of physical effects (sets falling on the actors), explosions (the pyrotechnics guys go nuts on the models) and reactions shots that makes Zukan's betrayal of Avon a spectacularly dramatic moment. Shame he didn't know that his daughter was present. Lovely action scenes too, with Avon and Soolin being hunted through the sand dunes by Federation troops. It is starting to feel as if they are closing in on our heroes and that their continued existence is threatened. This is a close call, the closest in a while. Zukan is such a piece of slime, pondering the moral implications of letting so many of his people die one second and flushing his aide out into space the next when it appears his life is in danger

The Bad: Well well well...Rick James! The first time I have seen him in anything since The Mutants and with very good reason. Such a shame that one of the only black to be seen in science fiction at the time should be such an appalling actor with no screen presence. It was probably enough for the TV execs to resist putting more ethnic performers on screen.

Fashion Statement: Why oh why did the designers insist on putting the leaders of the non-allied worlds in such ridiculous costumes and wigs? I know the show has gone down a slighter more kitsch path of late but a simple meeting between the departments making the show would bring to light that this is a serious episode and not a piece of light entertainment. The wigs that Zukan and Zeeona wear are particularly disgraceful, eclipsing the performances which are actually rather good. Servalan's appearance was inevitable and once again she is dressed to kill.

Moment To Watch Out For: I love the mad, disorienting camerawork as Zukan reaches out to Avon as his shuttle careers out of control. It really sells his insane state of mind and the danger he is in when he learns that his daughter is still on the base and dying of oxygen starvation. Despite all of his deceitfulness, I felt a moment of pity for him.

Result: Some bizarre aesthetic decisions and a doomed romance that doesn't quite come off prevent this episode from being a classic but Warlord is still very good and continues the run of quality the season has found since Sand. The Federation is very much back in focus and we get a chilling update on their pacification process, Servalan is making more impress inroads in her quest for power and Avon's attempts to create an alliance against their enemy seem doomed to failure. I'm very happy to see some fresh names attached to the show, neither the writer or director working on the show before and both producing something fresh and interesting. Zukan is a crazy son of a bitch but even he admits that if he hadn't betrayed Avon they would have made a formidable team. If the events of Warlord had gone down differently the series finale might have been far more optimistic with the Federation dragged to its knees. But that isn't Blake's 7. Betrayal is the order of the day and the action (Soolin and Avon taking out an entire platoon of Federation guards) and claustrophobia (Tarrant, Dayna and Vila trapped underground, running out of oxygen at the risk of radiation poisoning) are very well done. Avon must be more paranoid than ever now and I'm sure Tarrant has had enough of losing the people he loves. Only one episode of Blake's 7 left. Will there be a happy ending? Warlord brings us up to date with Federation activity before the final showdown between them and the crew of Scorpio. I can't wait: 8/10

Blake written by Chris Boucher and directed by Mary Ridge

What’s it about: The end is nigh, the Federation is drawing close and the Avon and his crew are trapped on Gouda Prime without a hope...

A Good Man: Strongly identified with rebels and very popular with rabbles, Blake makes a very welcome return to the series just when you didn't expect him. It was never confirmed or denied that he genuinely was present on Terminal or whether he was alive or dead at the end of the episode. It is glorious that they managed to convinced Gareth Thomas to make a final appearance in the show in it's last episode, it gives the series a definitive feeling of coming to a close. Blake is hold up on Gouda Prime, trying to avoid turning up dead. He can't really tell if somebody is a Federation spy or not anymore. He's a tired, broken man, a far cry from the stalwart idealist of seasons one and two. To be honest I think he is far more interesting this way. I think he likes playing the part of the gruesome, whiskered bounty hunter. He always did have a touch of the romantic about him and playing the opposite to his character must help pass the time. The scenes between Blake and Tarrant are believably muscular and gripping, it is a shame that we didn't get more of a chance to explore this relationship as I think there would have been some entertaining fireworks between them. You can understand why Blake is playing underhanded tactics on Gouda Prime, to root out the Federation spies and to keep his skin wrapped comfortably all over. However not trusting Tarrant turns out to be a fatal mistake on his part, pretending to have captured him to lure Avon out into the open was a dangerous move and one that he pays for with his life. It isn't Tarrant he has misjudged, but Avon. Blake failed to recognise how paranoid his friend has become without his influence and the mere mention of the only man Avon ever trusted turning against him is enough for him to pull the trigger.

Anti-Hero: Maybe it is a jibe at Blake or maybe it is Avon questioning his own status but when he is informed that a figurehead is important his response is that 'any idiot can be one.' Brilliantly, Avon admits that he has known about Blake's whereabouts for some time and had his pact with Zukan worked out he would have left him on Gouda Prime to rot and said nothing. What a cold, devious man he is. He's precisely the sort that you want on your side during a conflict, somebody who is willing to do anything to get the job done and leave his personal feelings at the door. He is exactly the wrong person you want on your side during peace time though, he would stab you in the back sooner than look at you.

Maximum Power!: Servalan's absence in the finale is made even more apparent when Avon and Dayna discuss and even insult her.

Warrior Babe: Wasted for the most part. She's a part of the ensemble but she isn't really given anything distinctive to do. She's the first one to be gunned down but again it is probably the least impressive.

Resistance Agent: Tarrant is quick to point out that the last time they went after Blake they were lucky to get out with their lives. It takes talent to fly a dead ship and Tarrant is willing to stay behind and see Scorpio down so Avon can get away with the others. There's no time for grand speeches or farewells, just an acknowledgement of the facts between them. For a moment it is genuinely possible to believe that Tarrant is dead amongst the wreckage of Scorpio such is the state it is left in after the crash.

Petty Thief: Look at Vila when Avon is making his rousing speech about finding a idealistic leader to lead a rebel assault on the Federation. Vila knows precisely who Avon is describing.

Blonde Bombshell (Mark II): Soolin grew up on Gouda Prime but she refuses to call it her home. For a home you need a family and hers were murdered when the Federation declared GP an open planet. As the season has progressed with have had the opportunity to learn more and more about this mysterious character. Now we have reached the finale and she has blossomed into her role as one of the crew and has an intriguing back story to boot. Soolin has certainly been better served than Dayna in season four and I would have liked to have gotten the chance to get to know her even more had the series continued. Glynis Barber is much more than just a pretty face, she brings some real steel to her performance. Gouda Prime was an agricultural world and the settlers were sent there to grow crops for the Federation. Soolin's family were amongst the farmers  and eventually they were given title to the land. Eventually the Federation discovered there was more profit below the ground than above it only the farmers were in the way and the law was on their side. Get rid of the law ad you get rid of the problem. When the mining corporations moved in, the farmers were moved out and those who refused were killed. It's Blake's 7's version of Colony in Space...only not six episodes long with a happy ending. To be fair this would have made a pretty decent episode in it's own right. It might have been quite a nice way to introduce Soolin, losing her family and having nowhere else to go. Soolin is more confident than ever on her home soil, even standing up to Avon when she thinks that they might be the bait in a trap he has set.


Sparkling Dialogue: 'A strategic withdrawal is running away...but with dignity.'
'It is the Day of the Bounty Hunter.'
'The fire was stupid. Putting Vila on guard was suicidal. What's the matter? Staying alive too complicated for you?'

The Good: Opening on the same gorgeous modelwork that Mary Ridge produced in Rescue featuring Scorpio ascending from the base on Xenon and taking to the skies...with one dramatic difference. As soon as they have entered orbit explosive charges rip through the base and tear it to pieces. Avon and his gang are leaving for good and never coming back. Avon is worried that Zukan may have betrayed the location of their base and wants to prevent any sneak attacks by abandoning it. It genuinely feels as if our crew are on the run again, this time in a creaky old rust bucket of a ship. I wonder how long they will last. It has taken four seasons a tour of the bleakest, most desolate quarries in the south regions of England but finally we have reached a location that you might actually want to visit. The forests of Gouda Prime make an impressive backdrop for the finale, a sun kissed wood where Blake is ambling away his days catching vermin and roasting it for food. Arlen stumbles over Blake and the first thing he notices is that she is carrying a Federation gun. He should have trusted his instincts. The story of Gouda Prime is a gripping one, a planet that draws every crook and swindler in the quadrant to steal its riches. Precisely the sort of place where Blake would be holed up and where Avon and his crew should avoid if they want to live to tell the tale. Precisely the sort of doom-laden planet to set the last episode of Blake's 7 on. Now I can see where the bitch fights between K.9 and Mr Smith came from in The Sarah Jane Adventures, the conflict of circuits between Orac and Slave are a delight to witness. That should have been exploited far more throughout the season, especially when you realise that this Peter Tuddenham essentially having an argument with himself. 'We are approaching Gouda Prime...and Scorpio is under attack!' - a great shock moment. Mary Ridge goes hell for leather in Scorpio's final battle, spinning the camera 360 degrees to offer a disorienting view of the craft that is spinning out of control. Staging the crash of Scorpio into Gouda Prime should have been an absolute no-no given the usual success rate of effects on Blake's 7. And yet somehow Mary Ridge manages to pull off this set piece with her head held high. A combination of live action shots and modelwork, cutting from chaos on the bridge as the set is blown to smithereens with Tarrant desperately trying to hold her steady and exceptional modelwork as the ship crashes down into the canopy and tears through the trees. It is insanely dramatic and pulse racing. Tarrant trying to grip hold of the floor as it tears from the hull and spits him out might be an exact copy of a scene from Terminal but the effect is still as terrifying. Even more so because this is a character I care about. No base, no ship and no hope...it really feels as though time has run out for our motley heroes. It's a great feeling when you have absolutely no idea how a story is going to pan out. David Collings is always a sure sign of a quality cast. Everything seems to have been thrown at this episode; Dudley Simpson is on cataclysmic form, the set design is masterful and the location work doomy and stylish. Add to that some of the most impressive camerawork ever to be seen, roving around empty sets to create a sense of atmosphere. I don't care what anybody says, I find Slave's dying words just as poignant as Zen's in Terminal. He's apologises for his imminent demise and uses Tarrant's name as he powers down, rather than 'Master.' We learn what finally happened to Jenna. She ran the blockade once too often and eventually hit her self destruct and took half a squadron of gun ships with her. A poignant reveal and a rare off-screen death on this show, this is more affecting because of Gareth Thomas' angry delivery.

Musical Cues: Dudley Simpson has something of a conniption fit during the space battle sequences, his music reaching a dramatic crescendo we haven't heard in some time.

Moment To Watch Out For: The last couple of minutes of Blake are not only the most well remembered of the entire series but could qualify for the most vivid ending of a TV series ever. People still talk about it today and their stunned reaction when the episode was originally aired. For sheer impact, killing off your entire cast of characters and letting the bad guys win has to rank pretty high. It is a stunningly dark climax, matching the beginning of the series, and one where things go from bad to worse for the crew. What is brilliant about the Blake/Avon reunion is that we have been waiting for this throughout the entire episode. Stranding the crew on Gouda Prime has been all about bringing these two characters together eventually and as we race towards the climax they are both heading for the same location. Are we heading for a gloriously upbeat ending where they form a new alliance and plan to tear down the Federation for good? Of course not, this Blake's 7 we are talking about, the most cynical show to have ever hit our screens. Avon tragically misreads the situation and thinks that Blake has betrayed him to the Federation and the unthinkable happens. Instead of a happy reunion, he shoots the only friend he ever had in the stomach. The special effects team ensure that the audience is aware that there is no way back for Blake, half of his digestive system is shot clean away by Avon. Gob smacked doesn't begin to cover it. And it doesn't stop there. Arlen is revealed to be a Federation agent working deep cover and the base is surrounded. Cue the systematic massacre of the regulars, captured in glorious slow motion. With each one you're left going 'but...but...' as they unbelievably they are all slaughtered. Trust Tarrant to go down with such a heroic pose too. The final moments where Avon is surrounded by Federation guards and stands over the lifeless body of Blake and raises his gun to defend himself are simply sublime. As far as the show is concerned, the Federation has won and Avon is stuck in the tightest corner imaginable. There have been many theories over the years of how he might have escaped this situation but it seems pretty clear to me that this is the end of the road. Four years of fighting the Federation...for nothing. Wow, that's downbeat. And yet curiously appropriate for the most cynical of shows. Watching this sequence gives me goose bumps every time. It is event television in every meaning of the word.

Result: The finale to end all finales. If you thought Star One and Terminal were intense, they have nothing on Blake. Whilst I think that the series pulled off a massive renaissance in the latter half of season four (almost so good that I wish there was a fifth series if the standard could be maintained), if you remained unconvinced then Blake might be enough to justify the extra season on its own merits. It's that good. Mary Ridge surpasses her excellent direction elsewhere in the series and provides a conclusion with a palpable sense of dread and excitement throughout. Somehow she pulls off the crash and destruction of Scorpio in an unforgettable set piece that doesn't disappoint given the meagre resources of the show. It genuinely feels as though our heroes cards are up. Avon is teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown, Soolin is given some much needed back story, Tarrant shares some wonderfully guarded scenes with Blake and Vila and Dayna are clinging on for dear life. Did I mention Blake? Gareth Thomas makes a striking return to the series in what is probably his finest performance, Blake playing games with people who could be potential allies or enemies. What makes this episode standout so much is not so much the journey to the final five minutes because it transpires that much of this has been planned and that Gouda Prime is set to be the location of the launch of a new wave of resistance against the Federation but the outcome where one terrible, fatal misunderstanding leads to a massacre and a trap that Avon's crew cannot escape. To end the show on such a shockingly brutal, unforgiving note is pure Blake's 7 and to leave Avon's fate in the hands of the audience was a touch of genius. It is still one of the most talked about series finales because of that final scene. That's how much of an impact it has had. Blake takes big risks and wins and it proves to be the most memorable of all Blake's 7 episodes. Always leave them wanting more: 10/10


5 comments:

Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

I've been looking forward to reading your thoughts on B7 season 4. I'm glad you enjoyed 'Rescue', a massively underrated episode. Btw, you're not alone, I'm very fond of Slave too.

Anonymous said...

The thing i hated most about this episode was the early conversation with Avon and Dayna when he said that he was tired of everyone else being wrong. I just wish Dayna would have said "And just who was it who got us marooned in the first place." Avon's ego just kept swelling this season till it was really the Avon & the Rest show.

Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

You seem to have got a hard-on for Cumming... amongst other things. ;) So, it is with deep regret that I have to inform you that 'Sand' was directed by Ms. Vivienne Cozens.

Joe Ford said...

Oops. I was certain Sand was directed by Cumming...I better amend. It's still absolutely cracking stuff.

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