Thursday 25 July 2019

Blake's 7 - Duel

A psychopath and bloody Blake the Hero.

"I shall enjoy taking your life, Blake."

TRAVIS IS BACK. I had loved the introduction of the sadistic Travis in Seek-Locate-Destroy so was delighted to see him return so quickly. His confrontation with Blake enables us to glimpse further into both Travis and Blake's characters. Elsewhere, I pondered how The Liberator is powered and found myself defending Avon's supposed lack of emotion.

The Liberator has been getting chased by Federation pursuit ships and is low on power, so Team Blake is on the lookout for somewhere safe to wait while the power recharges. Spotting a likely planet, a handful of the crew teleport down for a look round. Soon they must return, after spotting three Federation ships closing in on The Liberator and a battle kicks off.

It hasn't been entirely clear how The Liberator gains its power or what form it is in, but it doesn't seem to be conventional fuel. The series has mentioned 'power cells' and 'power banks’. These can run out and need time to recharge. Low power affects The Liberator's ability to travel at speed, which means they can't outrun these Federation ships. It also means they can't fire weapons, I think. I have pondered whether they are solar-powered as this seems the most realistic option, I say about a science-fiction series set several hundred years in the future with a teleport system. If not, the power units could recharge themselves - comparably, I'm imaging video games where a character's health replenishes other time. The fact it isn't entirely explained doesn't matter as it simply serves as an easily repeatable plot device. The Liberator crew will have to stop off on planets from time to time and the presence of any Federation ships will therefore pose an even greater looming threat.

As The Liberator is fired on, the tension suddenly ramps up. Blake consults Zen who says their only viable option is surrender. Avon, who never misses an opportunity for the dramatic, screams, "Logic says we’re dead!" There is lots of top wobbly acting as The Liberator gets repeatedly hit by weapons from the ships. The Liberator has some sort of shield, but it won't last forever with their low power. I loved all this - we've always jumped straight into the action in Blake's 7 but I don't think we've ever had this much excitement so early on before. How are they going to get out of this? They're doomed!

Blake beckons Avon and Cally over to explain his plan. I don't know why he doesn't involve everyone in this, although with Blake and Avon having emerged as the most prominent members of the crew, they are effectively the senior leadership of Team Blake. With Jenna being the pilot, you would have thought she should have been involved in this chat instead of Cally.

Blake takes out a small notebook and begins drawing marks to represent all the ships. I'm very impressed that this appears on Zen's display screen as he draws it. While mirroring devices on large screens has become easy enough in recent years, this is a long way off for 1978 and I'm delighted the show has managed such an accurate prediction of the future.

With one ship having done most of the firing, Blake predicts it will be low on power, with the other not far behind it. One of the three ships hasn't fired at all yet so Blake reckons it is the ship Travis is on. Blake's plan is to ram it, leaving only one functioning Federation ship. This is a terrible plan. For a start, we can see that The Liberator has long thin pointy bits on the outside that will immediately snap off. However, they all acknowledge that as no one else has any better ideas this will have to do.

As the ships are about the make contact, everything slows down until it eventually freezes. The colours onscreen are inverted and there are various other effects. Travis’s ship appears to have red emergency lighting, while The Liberator’s is both red and green. I thought the effects of all this were rather good. I was puzzled, trying to figure out what was happening. Everyone looked in great pain, then Travis and Blake were transported to the planet below.

At the start of the episode we saw a couple of women - one old, one young. The latter is wearing a very figure-hugging outfit, which I must admit I found a little distracting because you could see everything, and the blue-tinted lighting seemed to emphasise it.

If I have any criticisms of Duel, it’s that there was too much talking with these women. I was initially intrigued in them at the start and their mysterious chat, but it went on a bit once they had brought Travis and Blake down. Cutting between the women explaining the planet’s history and the Liberator crew watching, I lost interest in their backstory yarn. For fairly obscure reasons that seemed to relate to power and balance, they have decided that Travis and Blake should fight it out on the planet. This will supposedly limit the deaths of others – presumably the crew of all the ships up above.

I did like that this is set up so that they must touch their opponent. Spaceships and guns have made their killing very remote. One of the women explains: “Here you must take a life. There will be no machines to make the act unreal. You must touch the life you take.” I think their idea is that they will watch to see if the men truly hate each other as much as they think, or perhaps discover whether they are really violent, capable of holding death in their hands.

Travis was set up well during Seek-Locate-Destroy. We were told and then shown how vile he can be, but Duel is the chance to see more of his sadistic and callous nature in actual ‘action’. He’s confident before they have begun, describing the idea as “pathetic”. He goes on: “I don’t give a damn about their lessons. I shall enjoy taking your life, Blake.” Based on his last appearance, I’m convinced this is true.

The duellers are transported to a forest, having only been given a large knife/cleaver/sword weapon. The forest makes a nice change after a couple of episodes of concrete and metal. Blake seems to have lost his weapon very quickly because he's barely got over the transportation when Travis has come for him, saying, "Come on, Blake. You don't want to die on your back." But Blake appears to have been put off and Travis uses his upper hand to grab Blake by the neck and prepare to slit his throat. It's only the intervention of the women that stop it - everything freezes again. The old woman seems to have been gleefully enjoying the spectacle. She says Travis is like her own people, whom I gathered had been wiped out, maybe - I'm afraid this was during the talking bit where I struggled to stay interested. She's clearly like them too. She insists to the younger woman that she "only wanted to see how vicious he really was."

I found this a startling moment, especially as it happens so quickly. Blake is the hero - of course we think he's going to win. To have the tables immediately turned is a surprise. I continue to be amazed by the show's subject matter for an early evening programme that would have had plenty of children watching. This was going out at the same time as Coronation Street. It seems astounding not just that the BBC was able to show such violent viciousness at this time, but that they decided it would be a good idea to attempt it in the first place. I believe it was probably justified by the fantasy setting of the series.

If we ever doubted what a brutal killer Travis was, this feels like the moment that shows him fully. “You talk a good fight” Blake had told him earlier, but it's evident that despite a life fighting with guns and spaceships, Travis no qualms about killing anyone - and certainly not Blake. I have the feeling he would do it for any cause he could find.

Within his earlier speech, we get a reminder of his loyalty to the Federation as he insists, “Nothing concerns me but my duty.” I found myself thinking back to the end of Seek-Locate-Destroy when he’s shouting at the guards to shoot at Blake, saying, "It doesn't matter about me!” It’s interesting that Travis seems willing to sacrifice himself for his ultimate cause of maintaining the superiority of the Federation, when similarly, Blake is willing to risk his life for his cause. His composure is marvellously cool in Duel as he states of the Federation, “I will destroy it.”

Both also have varying degrees of disregard for their companions. Travis’s is blatant. We’re introduced to mutoids in this episode, which seem to be some sort of adapted humans. They have no memories of their earlier lives and need ‘blood serum’ to survive. This comes in a green vial that they insert into their chests. Not everyone likes the idea of mutoids and Travis has complete disdain for them. He certainly doesn’t consider them proper living beings – more like robots. The old women bring in a 'friend' for each dueller, and in Travis's case they clearly had few options and a female mutoid is brought down (actually the only ones we see are female, so they may all be). Despite her insistence that her functioning will be impaired without blood serum, Travis ignores her and then blames her when things go wrong later.

Blake stands in front of the two women very calmly, slightly amused that Travis is unable to harm him after they have initially been transported down. He tries to take the moral high ground as the women explain what will happen, telling them, “I’m don’t think I want to kill for your entertainment.”

Blake ultimately beats Travis but doesn't kill him. He finds himself transported back to a clearing with the two women who want to know why. “I know who is chasing me and I know I can beat him” is the answer. The first part was essentially Blake's reason for not killing Travis in Seek-Locate-Destroy and I was frustrated with this as I found it a poor argument. The "I know I can beat him" addition is a good justifier. Blake is demonstrating that he has learned from Travis's techniques, commenting in Duel that he knows Travis will try to lure him into a trap. Yet with Jenna (his friend brought in) captured, he actually ends up doing this anyway.

The other reason for not killing Travis is much more interesting: “I would have enjoyed killing him.” It did elicit an 'Ooh!' from me. It was a nice chink in the armour of this moral man, who I'm beginning to have doubts over. Would Blake ever kill Travis? Even if not, would there be a situation where Blake would let him die? What if it advanced his campaign against the Federation significantly enough?

Apart from odd references, we know little about Blake's prior life - before his mind was altered by the Federation and he spent a while as a "reformed character". We only know what he's told us about what he got up to during his first time as an underground Federation rebel. Just because he was anti-Federation does not mean he was a good guy. Considering he’s very much Mr Moral now, I suspect he may have been the same in his younger days. Yet I think Blake picks and chooses when to apply these morals.

The rest of the Liberator crew can see and hear what is happening on Zen's screen. The younger woman tells Blake and Travis, "15 people could die because of your beliefs." When Blake replies, “My crew are with me by choice”, we cut to Avon's stony face and he merely says, “Really?”

I wonder if Blake genuinely believes that? I think he possibly does. I think that is maybe why he goes about things with such conviction - because he truly thinks his crew have chosen to join his crusade. In reality, despite their varying levels of loyalty to Blake, all the crew are stuck with him through a lack of any other viable options. In fact, Blake’s crusade has made it increasingly difficult for them to leave. While originally they were all known and wanted for the crimes that got them sent to Cygnus Alpha (aside from Cally), Blake has ensured they are now caught up in what seems to be becoming a significant rebellion against the Federation. It will be much more difficult for any of them to slip under the radar now. Maybe Blake is aware of this.

The last couple of episodes have made me ponder that if the titles appeared suddenly calling it Avon’s 6, I’d probably cheer while they stuffed Blake into an airlock. It isn’t that I dislike Blake. Rather, I find him quite an irritating hero to be leading us. The Federation is evil (and I do love the utter horridness of it) so I want to see Blake lose his temper and do something vengeful and nasty. He’s selfish, too bloody moral and he isn't even consistent.

Instead, I find myself supporting Team Avon. Despite the fact he's shown himself to be a bit of a bastard, I love him for it, probably partly because I've been on his side of reason and logic from the start, and partly due to my frustration with Blake. It would come as no surprise if Avon found a way to leave The Liberator with a number of valuable items, abandoning the rest of the crew to their fate of spending the rest of their days as the conscripted recruits of Blake’s Cause.

It's a good touch that in an episode where mutoids are introduced, there are comments questioning Avon's emotional capacity. I know I've just described him as a bit of a bastard, but I think it's important to remind ourselves that he isn't the inhuman psychopath that Travis is.

A reply from Zen makes Blake light-heartedly wonder if he "offended Zen's professional pride" to which Avon answers, "It's just a machine, Blake." Vila then comments to Gan, "He should know." Gan is a bit thick and doesn't get this at first. Avon walks over and clears it up for him: "He was calling me a machine. But since he undoubtedly defines himself as a human being, I will choose to accept that as more of a compliment than anything else." Even if Vila has touched something, it's a nice comeback from Avon and gets no further reply from Vila, who busies himself looking down at some interesting controls. There’s a great moment afterwards where Vila gets up and Avon doesn’t move, forcing him to brush past his chest. Avon stands there smiling, knowing he's made his position clear. I don’t see them getting in a barroom punch-up but still wouldn’t fancy Vila’s chances and he's certainly never going to win in a battle of wits with Avon.

As darkness sets in, the crew back on The Liberator are still watching the screens showing the planet below. Avon is prepared to give in for the night. Gan challenges, “You’re never involved, are you, Avon? Have you ever cared for anyone?” Vila adds, “Except yourself?” Avon replies, “I have never understood why it should be necessary to become irrational in order to prove that you care. Or indeed why it should be necessary to prove it at all.” I have previously described Avon as selfish, in a logical way - his most pressing concern does tend to be, and usually has to be, preventing Blake from killing them all. So initially it would seem that Gan and Vila's comments are fair.

But I found Avon's answer masterful as his entire outlook is based on acting rationally for survival. His rather removed personality is a demonstration of the other half of his statement and I do find it really intriguing that he doesn't understand why you might need to demonstrate that you care about other people. He is not concerned that showing such compassion might help build relationships and make others more inclined to care about him. I have previously referenced Avon's very first scene from Space Fall in which he reveals that he got caught by the Federation while trying to rob a bank because he "relied on other people" and so his comments in Duel make perfect sense. I don't think Avon is bothered whether or not other people know he cares about them because even if he does, he probably doesn't expect them to care about him.

While it is true that Avon is fairly reserved when it comes to expressing emotions outside of anger and cynicism, he is capable of doing so. The moment that has stayed with me is the end of Seek-Locate-Destroy when Blake and Cally return to The Liberator. Standing with Avon, Vila says to them, "We're glad you're safe, aren't we? Aren't we?" Avon is still starring over towards Blake and Cally, and softly says, "Yes, I'm glad you're alright." He says it like he means it and my interpretation was that even if Avon dislikes Blake, he does share concern for the other crew and is relieved Cally returned from Travis safely. I think Avon could be afraid of showing much emotion, fearing that it would make him vulnerable. Yet even if the others do see him as somewhat robotic, it is evidenced that he simply chooses when and if to show he cares.

Cally was introduced with telepathy skills but we haven't really seen any of this since. There were a few lines in Mission to Destiny that I noticed she gave without moving her lips. In Duel we get a small hint of it when, as the crew watch on The Liberator, Avon wonders aloud, "How are we seeing this?" It is of course the camera's viewpoint, but we are told it is through the old lady. Cally assures the others that what they’re seeing is the truth and just seems to know somehow.

One important event of this episode was Jenna leaving the ship to visit a planet, something that I previously noted hasn't happened since The Way Back. She gets herself captured by Travis's mutoid friend, and the sight of her tied up and gagged on the forest floor was the final nail in the coffin of my hope she would be this awesome kick-ass ex-smuggler, who had had to look after herself and could comfortably take on anyone.

An explanation for Jenna rarely venturing from the ship was provided when I considered a comment from Vila, who has the reasonable worry that they’re all screwed if Blake and Jenna don’t make it back. He informs us that they are the only people who know how to operate the ship. This is bad, gives a tad more tension to proceedings and could be why Jenna hasn't gone off before now - if Blake is off the ship, they need someone else on board to operate it. I'm concerned. With such a small crew, it would make more sense for everyone to be able to do everything. But they do seem to have fallen into roles with Vila being the main person to operate the teleporter (though others do too), Cally assists Jenna sometimes, and presumably Avon is the only person who could do anything technical. I'm not sure what, if anything, Gan does.

I've mixed feelings about Duel. There are moments of fantastic excitement that I loved, like the whole space battle and when Travis almost kills Blake – just for a moment I was thinking, “What if he does it?”. However, I couldn’t summon much interest in the planet’s backstory and the duel in the forest feels lacking. By the time we’ve had the introductory scenes, the space battle and Blake and Travis have been briefed by the two women, a good chunk of the episode is gone. While it always seems like Blake’s 7 immediately gets on with a story, I’ve realised that we spend 10-20 minutes on The Liberator. If this continues, it may impact the ability to build up plots. In Duel, I felt that had the actual duel occupied more of the episode, there could have been more time to create tension in the forest and, following his near-death, possibly been able to dwell on Blake’s vulnerability there.

On the other hand, I've enjoyed having some of Travis's development compounded and the opportunity to compare him and Blake side by side. I'm still unsure about Blake and Duel has given me even more to think about. Yet he remains predictable to those who know him. As he stood holding his weapon over Travis, we cut to Avon who slowly shook his head, knowing Blake wouldn't kill him. I'm curious if Avon will try to use this predictability against Blake.

Avon continues to fascinate me as so many of his lines seem to come back to his innate cynicism. Back with Space Fall I first began to consider what sort of world could have bred his attitude. Since then, Blake's 7 has been gradually revealing parts of this world to us and it's become clear to me that Avon's outlook is quite justified.

Friday 19 July 2019

Blake's 7 - Mission to Destiny

Mission to Destiny
Marple in Space

“I don’t like an unsolved mystery.”

Someone described Blake’s 7’s Mission to Destiny as ‘Marple in Space’. Avon is definitely playing the role of little old sweet detective. With a spaceship as isolated as any country house, the programme’s step into murder mystery made perfect sense.

The episode opens with the murder of a spaceship’s pilot. I enjoyed the way this scene was partly shot from the point of view of the killer, enabling us to see exactly what had gone on while keeping the culprit secret.

Team Blake discovers a mysterious ship going around in circles. It doesn’t respond to any signals, so they decide to take a look. This is the first actual ‘exploring’ type of plot the show has done so came as a little surprise. Other episodes have been driven by Blake’s desire to rescue people and blow Federation stuff up, while landing on the planet in The Web was something they were forced into.

Blake, Avon and Cally teleport over to look round the spaceship. Once again, I notice that Jenna never seems to leave The Liberator.

As they start to explore the first room, Blake remarks that there is a “sickly sweet smell” in the atmosphere. My first thought was that they were about to discover a bunch of stoned space travellers who have passed out after too many intergalactic reefers. Avon is unconcerned and reckons it is just a different type of air filtration system.

They come across some of the crew sleeping and after starting to feel lethargic themselves they eventually figure out that something is being pumped through the air filters to knock everyone out. Soon it is shut off, the crew are awake and the pilot, Rafford, has been found dead.

After investigation, they discover the controls are stuck. Avon delights in telling Blake, “We can fit things together and we can make repairs…” but “there is, however, a problem.” He flashes his grin and clearly enjoys savouring the moment. Avon's slightly 'off' sense of humour became one of the reasons I enjoyed Mission to Destiny.
It’s curious that the crew don’t go for the obvious idea from the start; they’ve woken to find three strangers on board and don’t ever accuse any of them of being the murderer. It’s nice to see the series avoid this as it seemed to happen several times in Doctor Who. Quite why this crew are so trusting of them, including the extreme liberty of letting Avon examine the ship’s engine and controls, is a bit odd though.

The ship can’t head back to the crew’s home planet except by manual control. This will take five months, but they need to get a ‘neutratrope’ thing there to stop the planet’s crop from failing.

We get some more subtle Federation background from Mission to Destiny as we learn that the crew’s planet, Destiny, is independent from the Federation. However, the Federation has been trying to convince them to join. Destiny’s crops were previously hit by problems and it is heavily implied that Federation sabotage was responsible. It’s interesting to gain the insight that the Federation’s methods aren’t always so blunt and violent.

Blake offers assistance, saying The Liberator can reach Destiny in four days to deliver the neutratope. To assure he won’t just run off with this incredibly valuable item, he proposes that Avon and Cally can remain with them and help make repairs to their ship. It isn’t entirely clear whether Blake ran this past the other two beforehand, but as neither looks particularly shocked nor mount any instant fierce objections, I presume they talked offscreen.

While Cally says they need to remain on board because “we must help these people”, Avon’s sole reason is curiosity, with him callously replying, “Personally I don’t care if their entire planet turns into a mushroom. I shall stay because I don’t like an unsolved mystery.” Avon has always shown himself to be selfish, but in a life-prolonging sort of way, so I suppose it is no real surprise to see an extension of that; he was dismissive of The Web's Decimas too. I'm not in agreement with him here though and am glad that they helped the stranded travellers.

By the end of Seek-Locate-Destroy, Blake had been growing on me. But he pissed me off again when he returned to The Liberator and was initially so evasive with Vila and the others about what had been happening. Vila asks what's in the box, indicating the neutratope container, and wants to know where Cally and Avon are. Blake ignores him and tries to dismiss the subject with, "It's a long story." Just bloody tell them! He's got four days to travel to Destiny and presumably another four to come back so he's going to have to explain why. It's a small, pointless thing that irritated me as it just feels like another example of Blake's stubbornness. He'll end up as bad as Zen.

As stated, the trip is supposed to take four days and we cut back and forth between the two ships during this. There is nothing in the dialogue to indicate when a day or two has passed and no handy on-screen captions to help either, so you can kind of forget that this is all meant to be happening over days rather than hours. It isn't the first time Blake's 7 has had time passing without me being able to follow it. In Space Fall and Cygnus Alpha the ships are supposed to take eight months to reach the penal colony but it isn't made entirely clear when a significant amount of time has passed.

As more bodies start dropping down (quite literally), everything begins turning to shit and there in the middle of it all is Avon, bloody loving it. The group meet to discuss things and someone comments that the pilot’s death “was a misfortune”, followed swiftly by Avon quipping, “well it was for him.” He takes it all in his stride and is rather nonchalant about corpses cropping up everywhere.

By the time we are reaching the episode’s conclusion, he’s in his element, confronting the female murderer in a physical struggle. She puts up a good fight before he manages to knock her out with a punch. Out of breath, he tells the others, “You better get her out of here. I really rather enjoyed that.” This elicited a sharp laugh from me, but I don’t know how much to read into it. Is Avon referring to the fight or the whole detective drama that has just concluded? Even if it is the former, I’m reluctant to criticise him for smacking a woman because despite her smaller stature she put up a decent fight and was after all a serial killer.

Mission to Destiny seemed an unusual episode and hopefully it would seem obvious that you can't just repeat 'murder on a spaceship' every few episodes. Yet, like Avon, I was initially drawn in by the mystery. I’ve usually slagged of Blake for leading the crew into danger. Avon’s love of a mystery has the potential to be a disaster in a ‘curiosity killed the cat’ way but, so far, he’s acted far too sensibly for that to seem a large risk.

I can't help but think of Blake in my head as 'Blake the bloody hero'. I feel I can only stand so much of him being so bloody good and moral so as it felt like Avon had more focus, I enjoyed the second half of the episode especially.

Friday 12 July 2019

Blake's 7 - Seek-Locate-Destroy

A sadistic sod.

"The man who killed 20 of my friends."

This was undoubtedly my favourite story so far, primarily because we meet a marvellous villain called Travis. I was also pleased to see some more worldbuilding as we start to learn about the Federation's structure when we are introduced to Servalan.

Once again Blake’s 7 continues its pattern of placing us straight into the action and I particularly enjoyed this opening. We join Blake and Vila as they are breaking into a communications facility. The Federation must have a fair few. After quarries and forests, this location looks much more Earth-like, yet I can only guess at its real purpose – some sort of industrial plant. It provides plenty of structures for Blake and Vila to hide behind, although it seems to lack CCTV.

I enjoyed this opening for showing us more of Vila. I’ve liked his character from early on but the more we see of him, the more he grows on me. Vila’s overcome his fear of everything to teleport down and meet Blake. He brings a cool box with him, but I doubt they’ve come for a picnic. Instead it contains his tools and we get to see more of Vila’s thievery skills as he tries to pick the locks to an electronic gate. Blake calls out as some guards approach and doesn’t see where Vila disappears to. When he finally emerges from a cupboard a surprised Blake asks, “How did you get in there?” Vila replies, “There isn’t a lock I can’t open. If I’m scared enough.”

Despite this claim, I was impressed that once they were in Vila was brave enough to walk straight up to a pair of Federation guards, then tell them exactly who he is and what he’s doing there. As usual, he can’t help but diffuse his own fear with humour, remarking to them that he’s “recently become interested in sabotage. In a small way, you understand.” But once they are both clobbered, Blake heads off and Vila’s bravery disappears as he cries out, “Blake! Don’t leave me!”

Liberator fashion
I sang praises for the raincoats Blake and Avon wore in The Web so was delighted to see Blake in his again as well as Vila in a red-maroon one that matches his trousers and boots. Unlike the other two, Vila doesn’t sport a utility belt with his, which implies to me that he doesn’t intend on staying on the planet long enough to need it.

I was a little confused as Blake’s coat looked brown during the location scenes, but once they were inside the complex it seemed to turn green. I’m not sure what’s gone on there as it seems to switch back and forth throughout the episode.

Gan’s coat is brown (and stays brown), completing the impression I’ve always had that he should be playing Robin Hood’s Friar Tuck.

Jenna is the only one who doesn’t come down to help Team Blake. In fact, I’m struggling to remember the last time she left The Liberator. She investigated another ship with Blake during Time Squad but I’m not sure we’ve seen her on an actual planet since they left Earth in The Way Back. My hopes for seeing this tough woman kick arse alongside the lads are diminishing.

The crew has come to steal the Blake’s 7 equivalent of the Enigma machine, which will enable them to intercept and decode Federation messages. When they are done, they attempt to cover their tracks by destroying everything. I do love a good explosion and we get several as part of the complex goes up in flames. Blake’s 7 continues to rebut my initial ideas of it being low-budget and therefore unimpressive.

Not helping the women’s cause in Team Blake, Cally ends up trapped in the complex after the explosions. Following a scuffle with some employees and a guard she loses her teleport bracelet. She scrambles around trying to find it, but the collapsing building knocks her out.

This is not the first time the programme has shown the problems of the teleport bracelets. In Cygnus Alpha the crew had to hurriedly get bracelets on while fighting off Brian Blessed, who then managed to sneak onboard after nabbing one. I see losing bracelets or having them confiscated as being a potentially reoccurring issue.

Avon's role in the episode isn't huge but he's at his snarky best throughout. As the others on The Liberator get impatient waiting to hear from Blake and Vila, he remarks, "That’s the trouble with heroics. They seldom run to schedule," and when Jenna says, "Avon’s right," he must have been delighted to get the pleasure of adding, "I usually am."

It takes an embarrassingly long time for the crew to notice that Cally is missing. Blake being Blake, he instantly wants to go back. He does try to rush into things sometimes. It is very likely that Cally is dead. For once, Avon isn’t the only one to object to Blake’s idea, though he is the most vehement, insisting, “If you turn this ship round you will kill all of us!” Thankfully, Blake isn’t that stupid and reluctantly agrees that it is too great a risk.

Their Enigma machine later picks up a message telling them that Cally has been taken prisoner by the Federation and is travelling to Centero for “treatment and interrogation". Avon is ever-cynical, remarking, "That doesn’t sound too promising.” Even without the knowledge that this is a trap, I find myself agreeing with him. They don't know what physical state she will be in nor whether they would be able to find her. Yet Blake immediately turns the ship around. “Blake, what are you planning? What exactly have you got in mind?” Avon demands, sounding both worried and angry. He increasingly sounds like he's beginning to have had enough of this and I can't blame him.

The Federation
Seek-Locate-Destroy is the first time since The Way Back that we have seen some the Federation’s governing structure. We pan across a space station that is definitely partially constructed from a couple of coat hanger hooks, but nonetheless is impressive model work. I’ve been very pleased with all the model work depicted in the series so far. I think it looks far better than anything could as CGI.

I knew of Servalan before I began watching Blake’s 7 for the first time and she was in the ep I’d previously watched for Back in Time for TV. In all honesty though, I’d half forgotten about her because there’s just been so much else going on while we got Team Blake together. Yet I was quite excited to see her as I had found her such a magnificent and intimidating presence before. I was a tiny bit disappointed to find that lacking here. There is something there, but I’m going to have to wait to see more.

Her scenes help to bulk out the episode more than usual, which meant it absolutely flew by for me. Blake is making an impact and a couple of guys come to chat to her, as head of Federation security, about what should be done. We discover Blake is “a rumour”, “a fairy tale” and is being described as “a legend”. This isn’t bad work for him and it has clearly been built on his previous reputation.

Space Commander Travis
The two men initially meeting with Servalan look uneasy when she says she has selected Travis to deal with Blake. Travis is built up a fair amount before we meet him. He's massacred civilians, has created "embarrassing" incidents for the Federation, and is currently under investigation. Servalan is keen to proceed with her appointment though, positively describing Travis as "ruthless" and "committed".

A guard of some sort comes to express his concerns about Travis. Servalan strokes his shoulder while they chat, in quite a feminine action. It's meant to be reassuring for the guard but perhaps it also makes him vulnerable. She's his superior and he can't change her mind about Travis. I can't wait to see more of her - what sort of villain can she be to be willing to employ someone like this? We haven’t even met Travis yet and he’s already been set up as a total scumbag.

Our first view of Space Commander Travis is his tightly-coated black leather arse. We linger on it a while as he speaks to Servalan. When we do see his face, it has an eyepatch of sorts that seems moulded on. When I saw Travis previously, I was intrigued to discover what was behind his patch, so was glad that in Seek-Locate-Destroy we learn the story of how his face was damaged.

Hearing Travis’s name on their Enigma machine, Blake recognises it - “I was sure I’d killed him.” We then get a very good few scenes where Travis begins telling Servalan how Blake shot his face and hand, before we cut to Blake telling the story of how Travis ambushed a dissenters' meeting, killing people after they had surrendered, and therefore finishing Travis's tale. I thought this broke up the exposition nicely.

The inclusion of this story shows us that Blake's memories of his earlier life are returning, something he himself comments on, saying that they have been gradually coming back since the events of The Way Back. Blake seems to think it has happened because of him witnessing a similar massacre of civilian dissenters by Federation guards. This may be true but when he's made odd references in earlier episodes, I had just assumed that his memories were no longer suppressed because he wasn't subject to the Federation's daily food and drink suppressants.

Travis and Blake only meet briefly during this episode but there is clearly a lot of loathing on both sides. Travis resents that Blake managed to damage both his face and hand, which is now part machine with a powerful gun incorporated. Capturing him again would be fantastic revenge as Travis holds the Federation in such high regard that he abhors anyone who dares stand against it.

Although Blake has been passionate about attacking the Federation, his anger has been directed at this enormous faceless entity. The introduction of Travis gives Blake a personal rival and the series now has a visible villain. It's grand having Avon here to feud with and slash cutting commentary at Blake, but, well, I like Avon more than Blake! And while Avon is sarcastic, selfish and a bit of an annoying sod for Blake, Travis is something else entirely - he's a vicious, inhuman bastard. Blake describes him as "the man who killed 20 of my friends."

Travis teases Cally, as she is trapped and immobile in an interrogation room. Yet while he could appear lustful and creepy, I think he instead comes across as just a genuinely sadistic sod. This is emphasised by another scene where we see him looking through photos of Blake’s torture.

It is interesting that before they meet, Travis already knows Blake’s mind well. He sets a trap to lure Blake to Cally, saying, “He wouldn’t abandon the girl - not Blake,” as he has, “one reliable flaw - loyalty.” In contrast, Cally, who has been travelling with Blake for a short while now, claims, “Blake will not risk his ship and that crew just for me.”

Blimey, Cally - what has given you that impression? I’ve spent six episodes watching Blake doing almost exactly that – risking everything without consulting anyone else to get what he wants. This is exactly the sort of thing that Blake would do and the fact he is so predictable to a virtual stranger, even after several years, is bound to be a major weakness.

When Blake does arrive to rescue Cally, he chooses not to shoot Travis, telling him, “Killing you will change nothing. You don’t matter enough to kill.” I was livid with Blake. You can’t be having morals over this swine! You thought you’d killed him years ago anyway. You’ve probably killed some innocent people at the communications base earlier today and you were acting so bloody high and mighty then! Just shoot him. You’ll feel such a prick when he kills one of the Liberator crew.

The future
There are a couple of aspects that date this episode. Setting anything in the future is always difficult as it is incredibly hard for most people to accurately predict anything more than a few years in advance. We haven't had an exact year or even century for Blake's 7 yet, though I would guess we're at least a few hundred years in the future. But by the 21st century it has already fallen foul of something that plagues 20th-century programmes - its prediction of an analogue future.

While explaining the unscrambling Enigma machine (I probably should have tried to remember the actual name), Avon explains that everything will be recorded on “microtape”. I wonder just how small Blake's 7 was expecting microtapes to be? Is it supposed to be something absurdly tiny, or simply the type of microcassette commonly available for dictation machines?

Similarly, in The Way Back, Blake mentioned receiving "vidtapes" from his family. This is an odd word to make up when I am sure 'video' was already in use. Red Dwarf always amused me in that despite all the fantastic ideas it had for future technology, it could still only get as far as predicting that videos might become triangular instead of rectangular.

In a different sort of dating, I christened Seek-Locate-Destroy as 'Bad CSO Week'. This is something of a misnomer of course because in my experience all CSO looks a bit crap. This week we see Travis’s head floating in an oval in the air, when he appears via some sort of video or telephone link to speak to some medics and Cally. The outline of his head is a fuzzy dark blue and is usually the telltale sign for spotting CSO. The use of this is reasonable enough for the plot though.

What is not reasonable is the depiction of a couple of blokes looking at a monitor, with CSO used to add in the background of the room behind them. What does that room show? Some ceiling lights, some electronic equipment on a table and bugger all else. This entire clip is used solely to provide a reference for a guard who is telling Travis about Centero's monitoring system. It lasts a grand total of eight seconds and is completely unnecessary, so I remain annoyed about it.

I'm still naffed off about Zen being counted as a member of the crew - clearly 'Blake's 6' didn't sound as good. Zen continues to be somewhat shady. He ignores some questions and only volunteers certain information. He names the ship The Liberator after picking the name from Jenna’s thoughts, which is creepy.

Yet in Seek-Locate-Destroy I found him slightly amusing. Blake asks for a readout of everything in the databanks on Centero - again. Presumably Zen has already provided this information once already. Sounding slightly fed up, Zen says his usual “confirmed” with a sigh. Blake picks up on this, snapping, “I want it now!” There’s a suggestion early on that the ship is organic and I wonder if we may see Zen develop more of a personality. I have no idea what else this could mean for Zen, but based on his unconstructive attitude, we definitely can’t discount him going rogue in some way.

I'm hugely looking forward to seeing more of Servalan and Travis. After an action-packed opening, the rest of the episode could have dragged as we sit in on a Federation meeting, learn the background to Blake and Travis's relationship, and essentially watch a lot of plotting going on. Yet I found the main characters to be compelling viewing. I think it's been good to get to know the Liberator crew before shaking things up with the introduction of a couple of regular adversaries.

Tuesday 9 July 2019

Blake's 7 - The Web

The Web
Team Blake

They’re fighting for their lives.
Who isn’t?

We are Blake’s 7 at last! Having seven lead characters in each episode won’t always work. As previous episodes have already been doing, it is easier to split them up and take it in turns to go down to the planet each week. I’ll say one thing for Blake, as a leader he isn’t shy about getting his hands dirty as in The Web he heads down to this week's planet alone.

One great aspect of the series so far is that there is no gradual meandering towards the plot – we’re straight into it within the opening 10 minutes of each episode. Following the introductory ones, this is only the second 'proper' episode so I will be interested to see if that continues. Also, I think Terry Nation is the only writer on this first series, so I'm wondering if other writers would take a different approach.

At the start of The Web Cally has been sabotaging The Liberator. Endangering their lives is not the best way to start life with some new friends. Avon is conducting experiments on part of the ship and as she asks technical questions, they exchange a glance that makes me think there could be some spark between them, which I’m willing to dismiss as soon as we discover she was possessed. It’s for the best; I don’t think I’m ready for Avon the Romantic. New Romantic, yes – he’d comfortably rock the outfits and eyeliner - but we’re a few years too early for that anyway.

Cally hasn’t exactly been subtle so the crew quickly figure out who is responsible and that there is a bomb on board. Blake nearly blows himself up but Avon dives and knocks him out the way of the explosion. The first thing Blake says is, “Why?” Avon looks as stunned as him and claims it was an automatic reaction. The rest of the crew would have been surprised as well because let’s face it – Avon hasn’t made any effort whatsoever to hide his antagonism towards Blake. Only a few scenes before he’d said, “Blake won’t always be making the decisions,” before flashing a wonderful wicked grin. I'm not sure whether Avon is actively scheming or is just planning to bide his time.

The Liberator ends up in a web of material in space, unable to get out. Something begins to speak through Jenna and tells them to land on a nearby planet to provide "assistance". I thought the lip syncing with Jenna was pretty well done and the voice was bloody creepy.

If it’s the sort of thing you like, it should be noted that we start this episode with Gareth Thomas flashing his torso. Blake covers up his bare torso with a knitted green shirt. Within a few scenes he appears to have added a waistcoat-type thing with short leather sleeves. Finally, when he heads down to the planet he’s put a coat on.

Blake lands on a planet in the middle of a forest. As he works his way through there are several large white balloons that immediately made me think of Rover from The Prisoner, although the Blake's 7 ones are slightly smaller. I feel like Blake the escapee and rebel would get on well with Number Six.

The planet is home to little creatures who speak in a high-pitched tone. Their skin is greenish, partly smooth, with parts looking like leaves. They sound like child actors when they are making noises and I wonder whether in the costumes they are, but they must be dubbed when they speak as they then sound different. As Blake heads for a building, one approaches him, saying, "Help us" but before he has chance a man in silver steps out of the building and shocks it. Blake looks stunned as he's ushered inside.

He's introduced to a woman in silver as well and we learn that the creatures are called Decimas, have been genetically engineered and become increasingly aggressive. The latest generation especially has gone a bit rogue. These two, Novara and Geela, show no emotion about the experiments they are doing and so it is little surprise to discover that they too were genetically engineered.

Novara and Geela are decked out in silver jumpsuits made of what looks like tin foil, wrapped in what I’m absolutely certain is cling film. I remain undecided whether their wellies were nicked from redundant Cybermen. Combined with coiffed silver hair and a shit-ton of eye makeup, the pair of them look like they’ve stepped fresh out of a 1980s’ music video. As this went out in 1978, I suppose that just about makes it futuristic.

They need some power in the form of cylinder-shaped battery things and Blake gets in touch with The Liberator to ask Avon to bring some. However, he's clearly hesitant when he discovers they are going to use the power to destroy the Decimas. While Novara and Geela claim the Decimas are unintelligent life, the episode makes it plain that this isn't true. Hearing noise from outside, Blake looks out a window to see a crowd gathered around the Decima that Novara put down earlier. One of the Decimas is crying.

The Web is an interesting portrayal of the risks of attempting to genetically-engineer life. The Decimas continue to be regarded as primitive creatures, despite the fact that Novara and Geela describe them as having had several generations. They have developed beyond what was intended for the experiments and are now able to organise themselves enough to attack Novara and Geela's base, where they keep some of the Decimas contained for experiments.

It is a nice twist that Novara and Geela themselves are also experiments. They have no emotional range and speak very factually and logically about what they are doing. It must have seemed the ideal way to breed a couple of scientists. But it proves to be their undoing. The scientists' belief that unintelligent or primitive life would have no emotions means they cannot understand the bleeding obvious - the Decimas are angry and upset because their species is being tortured and killed.

It is ironic that the Decimas' behaviour is dismissed as aggression as this is what Novara turns to when Blake and Avon attempt to avoid handing over the power packs.  He uses a stick to shock Avon’s hand, telling them, “Understand your lives are totally unimportant to us.” The scientists' lack of emotional capacity and therefore lack of any empathy or compassion for others means that they fail to see the advantages of having Blake and Avon's support against the Decimas. All their threats, to both the Decimas and The Liberator's crew, are physical and therefore I suppose the only emotion they do understand is the most primitive one of all - fear.

At the episode's climax, the Decimas manage to get into the base. The creatures go utterly mental during this attack and the screeching - oh my god the screeching - is horrendous. It goes on forever. They smash the place apart, including a bobbing head on a body in red liquid that was Novara and Geela's controller. The attack does turn rather grim. Novara and Geela become mere shrunken bodies and skulls. The Decimas wade in and start kicking one of the heads around like a football.

It's Avon's only encounter with the Decimas and he gestures to them as they wreak havoc, saying, "These are what you wanted it to protect?" Blake snaps back, "They’re fighting for their lives." "Who isn’t?" responds Avon. It's the first time I think I've been on Blake's side instead of Avon's. With Blake we've seen what the Decimas have been through and Avon's remarks seem callous.

While I've been fairly unimpressed with the fashion choices of the Blake's7 universe up to now, I love the Liberator raincoats worn by Blake and Avon in this episode. Blake’s consists of a couple of shades of green, while Avon’s is the same in blue and both have white ‘V’ shaped piping on the front and back (It’s nice to know Avon can wear something that isn’t a shade of grey). The coats seem practical and while it’s entirely subjective, I think they look fantastic and are possibly the best fashion choices in the show. I also like the idea that The Liberator has a store of uniform outfits.

An added bonus to the raincoats was that  they caused me to cry out, “BLAKE HAS A UTILITY BELT!” and later, “AVON HAS ONE TOO!” Blake’s probably contains revolutionary bombs and reviving salts while Avon’s pocket has a box of poison with ‘Blake’s medicine’ written on it.

I enjoyed the plot of The Web and thought it was an interesting idea to explore. I was worried Blake's 7 could end up a tad too science-fiction-y for me and I would get bored in jargon, but that's certainly not been the case so far. It is also good to see that the programme's episodes don't always need to centre around being chased by and/or trying to attack the Federation.

Although I've spent the last few episodes wanting to see more from other characters, I thought The Web was a great one to have Blake on his own. With several people there we would have had plenty of moral discussion about how wrong the scientists are, when it actually works much better mostly left unsaid. Prior to Blake heading down to the planet, we do spend a good chunk of the episode on The Liberator. I worry I may get impatient with wanting them to get on with the story and get out onto this week's location. Yet as stated above, so far the series has been fantastic at just getting on with the story.

Friday 5 July 2019

Blake's 7 - Time Squad

Time Squad
The Full Blake’s 7

“I'm just wondering how long we're going to live to enjoy our newfound skills.”

If we were in any doubt, in Time Squad Blake firmly asserts his leadership by dragging The Liberator’s crew to a planet so they can blow up a communications system. I gather this is Blake’s plan from now on – fly around the universe to find ways of pissing off the Federation as much as possible. Although we are still not a full Blake’s 7 at the start of the episode, this does feel like the first ‘proper’ episode of the programme following three episodes of setting everything up.

There are two plot elements to Time Squad. Along with the planned attack on the communications system, their ship, named as The Liberator, comes across another ship, seemingly empty. Jenna and Blake go aboard to explore and find a couple of cryogenically frozen men with cum on their faces. Sorry, but in fairness, it’s never explained. I think they are supposed to be veins but the production could have chosen any other colour.

This provides another chance for Zen, The Liberator’s computer, to show just how utterly useless it is. Zen refuses to do anything. If I thought Avon was a bit of a stubborn sod, he's starting to look like a ray of sunshine next to Zen, who randomly decides whether it's going to answer questions or do anything the crew requests. With oxygen running out on the other ship, Zen won’t allow Blake and Jenna to teleport back so Avon has to manually move The Liberator towards the ship.

There have been some costume changes over the last couple of episodes as the convicts remove the clothes they’ve worn while travelling from Earth. Jenna got a new outfit in Cygnus Alpha and I didn’t mention it because I couldn’t think of anything positive to say about it. In fact I couldn’t think of much besides just “yuck”. Her pink top has multicoloured bits stuck on below the shoulders and reminds me of a toddler’s ‘touch and feel’ toy. Meanwhile, in Time Squad Avon has ditched his grey for an outfit of orange, cream and brown - my favourite 1970s’ shades. Sometimes you can barely tell them apart. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to add about the other characters’ various costumes as the series goes on because so far I’ve found most of them impressively vile.

Brighter colours haven’t cheered up Avon. He isn’t happy about Blake making decisions for everyone. He’s slightly grumpy throughout most of the episode and in the opening scene he winds Blake up. He, quite reasonably I think, keeps bringing up Blake’s ignorance of everyone else’s wishes. Blake does seem to just say “we’re going to do x, y, x” and then expect everyone to go along with it. His response when questioned is that they can always leave The Liberator but it’s an unfair position because he knows that that’s not a realistic options for wanted criminals. He may claim to be providing a democratic system but he isn’t really.

Avon continues querying and wants to know why Gan, who’s expressed some interest, is so keen to go along with Blake. When we met Avon, we found out he got caught by the Federation because he “relied on other people” and it’s a satisfactory explanation of why he’s so cautious now. In fairness, none of the crew have known each other very long, making it even more unfair for Blake to force them to follow him.

Eventually, Blake has had enough today. He turns to Avon and viciously snaps, "Enough!" It’s the first time he and Avon have come close to an actual angry clash; they have disagreed but their previous discussions have all been reasonable with thought out arguments. To Blake’s sudden bark, Avon seems slightly shocked and gives a look that says, "I would happily leave a trail of your intestines from Earth to Cygnus Alpha."

It’s hard to decide if Vila or Avon look the most unhappy about being persuaded to visit the planet below. Vila because he’s used to being a coward or Avon because he’s convinced Blake is going to kill them all. His open cynicism was already displayed earlier when, as the others got to grips with the Liberator’s controls, he deadpanned, “I'm just wondering how long we're going to live to enjoy our newfound skills.”

Vila decides to touch one of the alien plants, which seems like the very first thing you shouldn't do on an alien planet. I'm pretty suspicious of dodgy looking plant life since reading Day of the Triffids and Blake confirms that some of the plants here are carnivorous.

They’re hunting for rebels to make contact with. There’s only one but Blake manages to find her by just standing around in a quarry for a while. It was dark when we saw the surface of Cygnus Alpha but that too looked quarry-like. It was probably the same quarry. I feel this could become a bit of a series cliché.

The lone rebel they meet is Cally, who quickly establishes herself as being hard as fuck, though clearly not an experienced fighter, falling for Blake's simple distraction trick. Nonetheless they convince her to help them destroy the planet’s communications.

While my attention was focussed on the new recruit (it’s immediately pretty clear she’s going to join Team Blake), this part of Time Squad does show us more of Vila. His cowardice is again brought up as Blake tells Cally that getting inside the Federation’s communications complex will be risky. I thought the dialogue was also a neat way of incorporating all three main characters in the scene.

Vila "I plan to live forever... or die trying."
Blake “If you can get us inside that complex, we'll provide all the destruction you want, and still get out safely.”
Avon “Or die trying.”

We also get to see Vila in action doing what he apparently does best – breaking into places. Faced with a locked door, Vila exudes confidence as he says to Avon, “Listen, Finger - computers are yours, door are mine, right?” I adore how proud he is at the chance to show off his skills, swiftly getting inside with the use of an electronic screwdriver tool-type thing. Vila has finally had the chance to contribute his skills to the team!

When Blake, Avon and Vila head down to the planet, Jenna and Gan are left with the two defrosting blokes. The whole cryogenic process seems to have gone awry though and sent them homicidal – it later turns out they were programmed to protect their own ship.

There’s a short conversation between the two crew on The Liberator that reveals Gan’s crime that got him sent to Cygnus Alpha. Apart from framed child molester Blake, the others are all thieves of sorts, so it makes quite a contrast to discover that Gan killed a man in revenge. It’s played very carefully to ensure we still think of Gan as one of the good guys, with Gan seeming a tad reluctant to admit it all while telling Jenna that "he killed my woman".

Now, the choice of dialogue does make this sound bloody awful, but in trying to understand what on Earth Terry Nation (the scriptwriter) was getting at, I had to reflect some more. I concluded that he was trying to avoid the word ‘wife’, probably thinking that marriage as the 20th century knew it would be outdated by whenever-we-are-set. The next obvious non-sexual word for me would be ‘partner’ but perhaps this sounded a bit too homosexual for Nation and the BBC in 1978, or maybe it still implied the missing word for ‘sexual partner’. I’m trying to be very generous.

We cut back and forth between Jenna and Gan and the others on the planet, but I found the action on The Liberator dull. Jenna and Gan feel like the least developed characters so far and though they do have a heart to heart, it’s mostly action so feels like a slightly wasted opportunity. We know bugger all about the thawed bodies, and any tension that may have been built into sudden shocks can’t be maintained because we keep cutting back to the more interesting events on the planet.

Although I’d have liked more of Gan, it was good to finally get some of his background. It really just leaves Jenna who still feels lacking in character for me. I liked Cally and like Jenna it’s good to see another female character who seems like she will be able to look after herself. I’m still not keen on Blake.

We conclude Time Squad with Blake declaring the crew to now number seven. He’s brought up on this and then, in what is undoubtedly the biggest cop out of the series so far, declares that the seventh crew number is sodding Zen. If Zen is part of the crew you should be considering him bleeding suicidal based on events so far.

Monday 1 July 2019

Blake's 7 - Cygnus Alpha

Cygnus Alpha
Blake's 5

"I'm free. And I intend to stay that way."

It's hard to pick one single aspect, but this was the episode that finally grabbed me enough to say, "This programme is brilliant and I am loving it." The bizarre Blessed-led religious community, the vileness of Cygnus Alpha, the emerging contrast of Blake and Avon - all and more contributed to my huge appreciation of Cygnus Alpha.

Blake spends this episode trying to rescue the other convicts from the penal colony they were all bound for - Cygnus Alpha. By the end of The Way Back I hadn't actually expected us to ever see Cygnus Alpha; I thought Blake would mount a rebellion on the prison transport ship and either escape with everyone or take off with that ship and, well, maybe dump the Federation guards in space or on the nearest planet.

I didn't have a particularly detailed idea of what I expected a penal colony to look like, but it certainly wasn't anything as desolate as Cygnus Alpha. I thought it would be a regular planet that they were banished to but it is an incredibly dreary looking place of grey rock and darkness.

Avon is reluctant to go near Cygnus Alpha in the first place, remarking, "I'm free. And I intend to stay that way." Once again, I am very much on his side. I feel bad for the others but Blake has no loyalty to them, so why put the lives of himself, Jenna and Avon in danger? They are sure to be captured, killed, and either way, end their lives on one of the most miserable planets in the universe.

One of the reasons I enjoyed this episode so much is that we get some greater insight into Avon, learning that he worked in research before turning to more profitable enterprises. Although he and Jenna don't feature in any of the action on the planet, the scenes with them on the ship are revealing.

They discover a pile of jewels and after not hearing from Blake for some time, they begin to suspect he may not be returning. Avon is keen to leave the area and suggests they head off, splitting the jewels, which will be worth a fortune to both of them. It is Jenna who insists on waiting a while longer, against Avon’s repeated protestations.

When first exploring the stolen ship, Blake's 3 (as I'm currently calling them) discover a stubborn computer and bracelets that enable them to teleport nearby. Jenna and Avon remain on the ship while Blake teleports down to the planet. It is not that the other two are to be excluded from fun and adventures, rather that they don't have much clue how to control anything on the ship. Blake takes the risk of teleporting.

I like the shuddery special effect as Blake disappears from the ship, but am less keen on the thick white outline that appears when he is on the planet. Actors cannot keep still when you need them to (Gareth Thomas can't at least) and Blake stumbles outside the outline, which rather ruins the effect.

The other convicts have stumbled upon a skeleton tied to a wooden cross with a sign stating, 'SO PERISH UNBELIEVERS' so are pretty keen to bow down when a couple of hooded figures start demanding it. They are still prisoners here, with Blake later finding them in a cell, supposedly to contain them because of a disease they have contracted.

Gan's assertion that "all new arrivals get it" and the information that they will need a drug for the rest of their lives immediately flagged my bollocks alarm. If all new arrivals get it, how did the first arrivals survive before the drug was invented? I expected Blake to see through this ploy as it is clearly designed to dissuade anyone from trying to leave the quasi-religion that has sprung up.

Blake himself ends up a prisoner after a bonk to the head and wakes up in the company of Brian Blessed. Ouch. But - BRIAN BLESSED. Had the Blessed achieved the respect he now holds by 1978? I would never have expected such an actor to appear in the show and I'm pleased to see him. He plays the religion's leader, Vargas, and easily forces information out of Blake by crushing teleport bracelets. Blake has no poker face and Vargas relishes the anguish it is causing his prisoner. Blake says he can't bring down the ship (he genuinely doesn't know how) and Vargas's response is that he will sacrifice one of the prisoners.

There are a couple of prisoners we have got to know in this episode - Arco (Peter Childs) and Selman (David Ryall). Another prisoner had had a speaking role in Space Fall, but hopes of him becoming part of Team Blake were dashed before I had even learned his name when he nastily drowned in a compartment filled with foam. I know both Peter Childs and David Ryall from appearances in several programmes, mainly Public Eye for Childs and Goodnight Sweetheart for Ryall. I liked both characters with Selman rather nervous and Arco's cockiness put in place by the sheer presence of Gan. I started to see how they could both become part of the crew. Unfortunately, and much to my frustration, they're doomed. At this rate it will take us most of the season to get to magical number seven.

Just before Gan's sacrifice/execution, Blake, Vila, Gan, Arco and Selman rise up and attack. Blake manages to wrestle his gun back from Vargas but Arco and Selman are killed in the struggle. It's a bit of a mess of bodies so it was hard to tell who was still alive. Having nabbed a teleport bracelet, Vargas accompanies Blake, Vila and Gan back to the ship. But while busy laughing manically, they teleport him into space and he dissolves into atoms. Now that is a Blessed level exit.

This was a fun and exciting episode, going in a completely unexpected direction with the medieval-like setting. Importantly, we are also getting to know the regular characters. I feel I need to see a tad more of Gan who is part muscle, part softly-spoken gentle giant. The same goes for Vila, whose cowardice continues to be built on for light comedy - he was scrabbling underneath a table during the big fight. We spend most of our time with Blake, who I am not the biggest fan of - his sheer bloodymindedness comes at huge risk. Jenna seems to trust him for some reason but I am still leaning towards Team Avon. He's a realist and this seems like a more life-prolonging characteristic to have in a reality overseen by the Federation.