Sunday, 24 November 2019

Blake's 7 - Pressure Point

Pressure Point
"It is a challenge!"

After a few episodes from other writers, I felt bad that the appearance of Terry Nation’s name in Pressure Point’s titles sent a pang of disappointment through me. I had been enjoying different types of episodes and didn’t want that unknown variety to end. Weapon and Horizon had both impressed me, so Terry was going to have to seriously up his game.

Back to Earth with bloody Blake
Although there have been times when Jenna seemed the closest crew member to Blake, Cally is emerging as a confidant. At the start of Pressure Point, she is the only one who appears to be aware of his full plans for returning to Earth. Avon had suspicions but everyone else expected them to merely take a nearby look at the Federation's defences.

This secretiveness of Blake's has always annoyed me and is why I will continue to curse him. The crew should be equals and I think he should be completely open with them. I have made my efforts with Blake and have felt less disgruntled with him in Series B, but these actions make me distrustful of him. Nonetheless, I do understand his reasoning for hiding his true intentions on this occasion. The others would never have agreed to return to Earth in the way he has planned, but now that they are actually so close and he has established plans with a resistance group, all of them come around to the idea.

Blake has never had to convince all the crew to take part in a mission before – there have always been a few of them, usually Jenna and Gan, who are happy to do whatever he suggests. That every one of them is against it demonstrates how ludicrously dangerous it is and also that there is only so far that the loyalty of even the most loyal can stretch.

I may dislike Blake at times, I may think he can be an arse, but he remains a superb character to watch and I adored Gareth Thomas in the opening scene. He wonderfully showcases Blake's passion and determination: "I want to hit at the heart and the heart of the Federation is Earth!" This works even better next to the lacklustre attitudes of the others. Avon may afford him a sarcastic little clap, but I loved watching Blake eulogise about the importance of attacking Control - "It's a challenge!" Cally is the only one who is interested and she clearly knows little about it compared to the others. The assertion that the Federation "advertised" its existence is a massive alarm bell, as it appears the Federation has complete confidence in its impregnability.

Despite all this, Blake convincingly conveys why they need to attack Control: "All the might and the power of the Federation is represented by Control. While it exists, the Federation is invulnerable!"

I want it all
At first, it appears that Avon might not join the others in agreeing to Blake's plan, though he soon says he will. The chat between Avon and Blake on the sofas was fascinating. They spent Series A scheming and plotting everything out in their heads, yet now feel able to be more open; it didn't take much prodding from Blake for Avon to reveal his thoughts. I felt a tension to their discussion but nothing either of them said seemed to take the other by surprise. Avon predicts that if Blake's plan is a success, the resistance movement on Earth will need a leader and Blake is the natural choice. This would leave the Liberator free for Avon.

I'm not entirely sure what Avon would do with himself if he had the Liberator and/or a crew for it. I know he ideally wants to be able to roam freely without constantly looking over his shoulder for Federation pursuit ships. If Blake's resistance movement was keeping them occupied, Avon would probably have that. Avon likes being challenged, he likes solving problems, he likes exercising his intelligence and technological skills. I am not sure how great a leader he would be. After what he's got up to as part of the Liberator crew, I imagine going back to robbing banks may seem below par. The only concrete desire he expressed was in Breakdown when he tried to join the research organisation. Will that still satisfy him now that he's been through a bit more freedom fighting or does he need something with more action? Perhaps while the Federation has any power the events of Breakdown and Horizon have made the idea of remaining in a single place less attractable.

The Liberator is an extremely powerful and advanced ship - maybe that is enough for Avon to play with. "Sooner or later I will have my chance," he tells Blake. It's a slight threat. "There's no hurry," Blake responds, and I struggled to work out what he meant. This is one of the most reasonable discussions they have had and their great clashes from Series A have truly mellowed - I do miss that a little. Perhaps Blake means that he will eventually be happy to hand over the Liberator. After all, his goal is to destroy the Federation so what use would he have of the ship once that is achieved?

Blake's long-term ideas do not seem concrete. When Avon tells him he is the most likely leader for a revolt, his answer is, "Perhaps..." This modesty is surprising. Blake so easily assumed the leadership of the Liberator and is the most ardent enthusiast for attacking the Federation that I assumed he would jump at the chance to lead a properly organised movement against it. What is making him hesitate? We have started to see how much his name has spread across the planets and how much people admire him. Why is he unsure of himself? Is he starting to feel the pressure of leadership?

One vision
Blake’s plan to attack the Federation’s central monitoring complex looks suicidal from the outset. As the episode progresses, the odds are increasingly bleak. The crew’s provision for helping him is that they will pull out if there is less than an even chance. Even as Blake was agreeing to this condition, I was sceptical that he would stick to it, however, I was imagining they would all be on the ground together and he could be forced into pulling out. After Blake and Gan discover the resistance group’s sole survivor, Veron, Blake chooses to carry on, lying to the others by not revealing what has happened. Vila and Avon are immediately suspicious so perhaps they are learning from Blake. He only tells them what he needs to in order to get his own way. I thought this was a scummy, selfish move on Blake’s part, as they have gone from having an army to support them, back to going it alone, something the crew would not have agreed to.

What the plot
I found Pressure Point good fun overall, though there were some plot elements that jarred. We had heard Servalan telling the mutoids to take Veron so when Blake and Gan found her, I knew it must be a trap of some sort. This is a fairly easy one for the audience to figure out, though impossible for the two crew. We have seen robots and clones, though it seemed too little time to produce one of these, so I assumed some type of brainwashing. It slipped my mind that they might just have blackmailed her. They should have become suspicious when she seemed baffled by the word 'teleporter' - even if it is only a reality for the Liberator, I am doubtful that it had fallen out of fictional use and no other Blake's 7 characters have been confused by it.

After being trapped in the cave, the crew’s escape then seemed a little too easy. They spent all of five minutes trying to get out! Surely Travis should have been standing by much closer.

As the audience had witnessed the earlier destruction of two resistance members, there were definitely some nerves when the crew came to cross the minefield. As one of the episode's opening scenes, I let out a number of surprised expletives as the two men were blown up. I continue to be impressed with the kind of violence that Blake's 7 manages. Yet despite the initial challenge, it didn’t take Avon long to overcome the defences by simply shooting at it. These obstacles consist of strips on the ground, vaguely resembling a motherboard but mostly they reminded me of rainbow belt sweets. I thought the self-repairing function of the strips was marvellous. Running the film backwards is a simple enough technique but I thought it was a clever idea that looked realistic and was therefore really effective.

I can brush past these minor aspects. The deceit with Veron was obvious to the audience but not the characters, and if the episode had spent too long in the cave or overcoming the minefield I would probably be moaning that it was dragged out and dull. However, the plot’s final conclusion was frustrating.

Let me out
Terry Nation has spent the episode getting Blake inside Control so he can fall into Travis’s trap. Having done so, Terry Nation now has a problem. There are only a few minutes left but we can’t end on a cliffhanger (we haven't so far, so let's presume not for now), therefore Terry needs to get everyone out. Cue Jenna with a gun to Servalan for a sudden rescue. We haven’t seen Jenna since she teleported from the Liberator – I don’t think we even saw her get down and safe. How did she even get inside Control? How did she find Servalan? How did she get past the guards or any other defences? I felt cheated.

The crew have had a last-minute win against Travis several times under Terry Nation and I've generally been happy with them. The endings to both Project Avalon and Orac humiliated Travis so were immensely satisfying. The sudden reprieve in Orac worked because we had cut back to the other crew so much during the episode, and we did actually see Vila and Avon come down. The rescue in Pressure Point is similar, with an extra crew member appearing to turn a gun on Travis and Servalan. It makes me wonder whether scenes of Jenna arriving on Earth had to be cut for timing - this is a pretty packed episode.

We are the champions
If Pressure Point had ended there in that empty room after Travis had appeared, it would have been perfect. I was so pleased with that. The twist of that empty cavernous room and its stunning silence was lovely. Blake had been so sure and spent a year building up towards this, convinced it was the way to knock a significant chunk out of the Federation's power. The sheer determination in Blake is evident in the moments before they enter as he furiously tells Vila that he has to get them in. They have overcome both the above and underground defences, the resistance movement risked their lives to help them and Blake had promised to get everyone out if it looked too bad. Now it looks disastrous and Travis and the mutoids have been racing what feels like mere inches behind them.

The mighty Travis has had a bad run of luck against Blake, to the extent that it was beginning to look too easy to defeat him. Travis managed to trick Blake and it worked. It never even occurs to Blake or the other Liberator crew that this could be a trap. Blake's escape is not his own doing - it is sheer luck and he knows it as he doesn't even waste time gloating. It was horrifying to see Travis finally have Blake in his clutches, his appearance in the scene marked perfectly by his out-of-shot pantomime villain laughter. Despite what Blake has repeatedly said about the advantages of knowing his enemy, it was wonderful for Pressure Point to show that this isn't a foolproof strategy. Blake's cries of, "We've done it!" upon entering the room change to, "I've done it!" showing that he's not the team player he likes to think he is and perhaps ignoring other opinions once too often is part of his downfall.

I had mixed feelings about the direction all episode, which is courtesy of George Spenton-Foster. There are several scenes where I thought I should be seeing something else or have a shot from a different angle. In this one, with Blake on his knees, there is a missed opportunity to point the camera up at Travis and have him gloating down at us. Instead, we get a profile shot of his eyepatch side and I feel we are missing something. When Servalan appears, all of Travis's dialogue is from offscreen as we don't cut away from her at all. I began to get the impression that the episode was on a tight schedule either throughout or at least by this scene.

I felt myself warming to Brian Croucher during Pressure Point, even if I am still mourning Stephen Grief. I think I need to see him being a bit more vicious and evil though - a repeat of a close encounter like that in Duel may help seal the deal. But this is definitely Travis as I loved how the episode emphasised his hatred of Blake. When Jenna and Servalan arrive, Servalan tells Travis to release Blake and the others. A stunned Travis hesitates, reluctant to have to let his prize go so soon after gaining it. He hesitates. "You hesitated! My life was in danger and you hesitated!" screams Servalan afterwards with a slap. That slap! Glorious, deserved and exactly how Weapon had made me hope their relationship would head. Last series I would have said that Travis's loyalty was absolute and I still think it is, yet clearly his desperate desire to capture Blake is starting to cloud his judgement, becoming all-encompassing.

Servalan: A history
The emotions that this personal vendetta elicits in Travis are his greatest weakness. He may even realise this to an extent, as he earlier warns Servalan about making things personal when they have captured her old teacher-turned-resistance-leader, Kasabi. This plot strand was very interesting as we have hitherto never learned much about Servalan's past. The discovery that she has always shown loyalty to the Federation was hardly a surprise, even though I believe she has now largely forsaken this in favour of personal gains.

Kasabi's assertion that Servalan quickly worked her way up due to family connections was more thought-provoking. I find myself regularly reassessing what sort of totalitarian dictatorship I think the Federation is and of course, it is a composite of all the worst elements of all of them. I suppose this element took me by surprise a little because I have never considered the bland, emotionless face of the Federation as somewhere in which loving families help each other up the greasy pole of power.

The interrogation of Kasabi seemed like the first time that Servalan has been more sadistic than Travis. She really enjoyed having that power over Kasabi, who was impressively tough at resisting. Though sadistic is possibly not the right word; while Travis likes hurting people, I think Servalan does just like having power over them. It was interesting that they didn't particularly rub Kasabi's death in with her daughter Veron. Both just stated it matter-of-factly, perhaps because they expected to gain nothing further.

One bites the dust
Poor Gan and poor David Jackson. Gan's death was completely unexpected. I didn't pick up on any sense of foreboding - the episode just got on with the plot as usual. I knew we couldn't have much of the episode left and thought we would just see everyone leg it to the exit before teleporting up. As a regular character, Gan has had the rawest deal and I've discussed previously how underdeveloped he has felt. Blake's 7 barely explored his background and I do think more could have been done with the Liberator's gentle giant. His death was a last-minute shock but I don't expect the show to dwell on it and sadly I don't think we will notice his absence too much. Gan dies saving everyone, which is a noble exit for a man who never hesitated to step up, had great loyalty to Blake especially, and was willing to put his brute strength in the firing line to aid the rest of the Liberator crew.

Delightful and distasteful design
Servalan's costume is one of her least revealing and with her jacket and wide-brimmed hat, I couldn't shake the impression that she looked dressed for her wedding. There must have been something contractual that required Jacqueline Pearce to show a certain amount of flesh because said jacket and hat are gone for her final scenes. Instead we get a superb dress with a stunning silver lizard-like creature appearing to hold it together in the centre. A shot of her standing in the doorway of Control's empty room ensures a full view, satisfying viewers for another week.

On the other end of the scale, Vila's costume has been altered for the worst this week. While the budget has undoubtedly increased this series, there comes a time when economies are needed so Vila's grey outfit has been brightened up this week with the addition of a white belt and yellow bits of plastic. He's gained some large cuffs and a half-cape-half-waistcoat thing. Unfortunately the episode's direction meant we were several scenes in before I was able to work out what the cape-waistcoat thing actually was. The first few scenes only featured Michael Keating from the waist up so we couldn't see this new addition properly. Once we can, it remains unimpressive and seems utterly pointless.

The episode's design winner for me was the doors inside Control. Bathed in blue light, the sliding double doors are etched with the Federation's symbol. I love this symbol as I find it such a nice piece of design. I enjoy spotting it used throughout Blake's 7 and usually the subtler the better, but on this occasion, you know what - go for it and stick a great big symbol on a set of doors. More please.

Under pressure
Pressure Point flew by for me and was action-packed. From the beginning, Blake's plan seemed destined to go wrong but it did not happen in the way I expected. The word 'challenge' recurs throughout the episode. Blake wants to take on Control partly because, "It is a challenge!" and Avon agrees to join him because, he says, "I like the challenge," - something we have seen in Avon before. When they finally reach Control's empty room, Travis tells Blake that the Federation, "used [Control] as a challenge to our enemies." Being unable to resist a challenge has become a weakness and even worse, a predictable one. After outsmarting Travis for some time, Blake has once again become predictable: "You believed it, Blake, like all the other fools before you."

I like the idea of the crew joining together with resistance groups as it ties in with Blake's idea of a base on Horizon - I think any resistance movements are going to have become more unified and organised to stand any chance against the Federation. These isolated pockets will only ever be able to do so much damage. I know he's an evil sod, but seeing Travis get so close to beating Blake was marvellous and leaves more uncertainty for the future. Our heroes are supposed to always win in the end, yet they have just lost one of their regular characters, proving no one is truly invulnerable in the Blake's 7 universe, except, it would seem, the Federation.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

The Saint - The Latin Touch

The Latin Touch
First broadcast 11th October 1962

On holiday in Rome, Simon is witness to the kidnap of a US diplomat's daughter. A mafia man, Tony Unciello, is responsible. His brother is about the be executed in the US and Governor Inverest has the power to stop it.

Guest stars
Alexander Knox plays the governor and is the only who is credited as a 'guest star' on screen. However, much more familiar to me was Warren Mitchell, playing a taxi driver, Marco. He appears in a few other Saint episodes and can frequently be found throughout 1960s' dramas as foreigners of various nationalities. I'm always pleased when he turns up and it often helps provide some comic relief.

The Famous Simon Templar
"That's the famous Simon Templar!" is delivered by a tourist from Missouri, Ada, who spots Simon while visiting the Colosseum. She tells her husband that she read it in the papers that Simon Templar was in Rome, which presumably means he has the kind of celebrity status that ensures his presence in gossip columns.

It's early days but we are already going to have to gloss over the utter absurdity that Simon Templar is simultaneously famous yet on other occasions manages to easily disguise himself or impersonate someone. Similarly, Roger Moore pointed out that his other famous character, 007, was a secret agent but could supposedly walk into any bar in the world and they would know who he was and how he liked his vodka martini. It's ITC-land - anything goes.

The Saint in...
The entire episode is set in Rome. The opening shots of the episode are taken from the real Rome with Roger Moore the only main member of the cast to feature in them. As he enters the Colosseum we move into the studio, where we stay for most of the episode.

While the change was obvious, I thought the Colosseum set was impressive enough considering its brief appearance. I wouldn't be surprised if it had been left over from another production.

Painted backdrops
I didn't spot any.

Period features
This section is for aspects that place us within the show's period, or would otherwise seem alien to someone from the present coming to the episode.

There are fewer details to pick up on this week so I've had to be picky. Tony first gets in touch with the governor to ask him to meet him at a remote location outside Rome. Simon's response on being told the name of the place is to ask for some maps - actual physical maps. Nowadays, many of us would just quickly type the name into Google Maps.

Tony adds soda or water to Simon's drink using a siphon. I love these and would like one of my own but as I take my whisky neat, I feel I'd get minimal use from one. There must be a cut-off point during the 1970s when they start to disappear.

Simon drives Governor Inverest in a Chevrolet Impala Sport Coupe - it's a great big American car so the US embassy probably brings them in to have as pool cars. Tony's car is much grander though. The Mercedes Benz 200 S looks posh and fancy, making it a good fit for the wealthy mafia man. Back down to earth and as it's Italy, Marco's taxi is a Fiat - a Fiat 600 Multipla.

Tony gets my favourite quip when Simon is phoning the governor, telling him, "Remember - just one wrong word and you'll be a real saint."

The Ungodly
No reference to the ungodly, though Simon does quote Jesus, telling Tony that, "The meek shall inherit the earth." I presumed this was Jesus because I've seen Life of Brian.

The Sinners
Tony Unciello has an inside man in Inspector Buono as well as some plain henchmen. Tony is an Italian-American and is supposed to induce fear across Italy, although it was something I struggled to see in him. We don't see him have so much as a fight until the end of the episode. He's an acceptable villain but not a particularly memorable one.

She Was a Lady
Simon briefly spends time with Sue before she is kidnapped so has no time to make any proper moves, having only just met her. He stepped in as a true gent to stop Marco fleecing her for the taxi fare. By the end of the episode, he's confident enough to offer her, "the best dinner in Rome and dancing until dawn."

The Volvo
Not seen - he gets around in Marco's taxi.

Simon is knocked out in the Colosseum while talking to Sue and for the rest of the episode, it's more about the threat of violence. He goes to speak to a club singer who knew Tony and she reveals a nasty scar on her neck that he gave her. When Tony's henchmen pick Simon up, they force him into a car at gunpoint and there is also a gun on him when he's phoning the governor. Finally, the climax gives us some action as the police burst into Tony's place all guns blazing and the henchman bear the brunt of it. Simon quickly springs into action, delivering a couple of punches to Tony.

Four, including one in the Colosseum. While it may be permissible, all I could think was that Simon would be littering an ancient monument with cigarette butts.

Simon is rather reserved. In the club, he and Marco have wine glasses and coffee cups on their table, but we don't see them take so much as a sip. It seems likely that they are the remains of the end of a meal. At a cafe, he has ordered a glass of white wine but due to the arrival of Tony's henchmen, he never gets chance to touch it. Finally, with Tony we see him having something with either soda or water from a siphon (probably whisky) and a glass of red wine with their spaghetti meal afterwards.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

The Saint - The Talented Husband

The prospect of watching all of The Saint is daunting - there are 118 episodes. In recent years I have discovered more ITC shows, but I have always had a fondness for The Saint and am looking forward to spending more time with him again.

Simon Templar travels the world, either being called upon or simply stumbling into trouble as he takes on bad guys. He is usually accompanied by beautiful young women, luxurious locations, a fast car and excellent suits. His charm gets him far and throwing a decent punch helps sometimes too. Beginning in 1962, The Saint became a huge success for its production company, ITC, and propelled its star, Roger Moore, to international fame.

The Talented Husband
First broadcast 4th October 1962

Following an accident, Madge Clarron is confined to bed at home, though her husband John is telling a mountain of lies to prevent people from seeing her. An old Irish housekeeper, Mrs Jafferty, arrives to help look after her. Simon travels to the village, where he meets Adrienne, their new neighbour. Having discovered that both of John's previous wives died suddenly, Simon is concerned for Madge. Adrienne turns out to be an insurance investigator and both she and Simon begin keeping an eye on the Clarron house together. Mrs Jafferty turns out to be John in disguise, who has planned an elaborate alibi so he can get away with murdering Madge for her money.

Guest stars
Derek Farr, Shirley Eaton and Patricia Roc. Shirley Eaton is the only one of these I know from elsewhere, primarily for her role as Bond girl Jill Masterson in Goldfinger, where she became famous for being painted head to toe in gold paint.

The Famous Simon Templar
"You're the famous Simon Templar!" is how many of The Saint's pre-title sequences end, but not this one. Instead, Madge introduces him to Clarron by simply saying, "This is Simon Templar."

The Saint in...
This week the Saint spends the pre-titles sequence in a theatre bar, while the rest of the episode takes place in Cookham, a typically picturesque English village.

Painted backdrops
Lacking the budget to travel to all of the Saint's favourite spots around the world, the series, like others from ITC, utilised painted backdrops in scenes to convey a sense of global scale. Some stock footage and a caption were the only other things needed to whisk us away. This staple of The Saint isn't so easy to spot in The Talent Husband and it actually has a fair amount of location footage compared to some episodes. The only time any sort of backdrop is used is for the trees seen through the windows of Adrienne's house.

Period features
This section is for aspects that place us within the show's period, or would otherwise seem alien to someone from the present coming to the episode. The Talented Husband includes a steam train, an everyday part of life that would become rare by the end of the decade.

The rat poison costs "three and six", meaning three shillings and sixpence, usually written as 3/6. It's a small sum and I can't find much advertised in this month's TV magazines for so little - it won't even buy you a packet of 20 cigarettes (3/10). Weetabix has an offer on for EPs at that price, with a choice of Western Songs or Cindarella/Jack and the Beanstalk. Westerns are all the rage on TV at this time, so I'd recommend the former.

Mrs Jafferty is also asked to sign "the poison book" - simply a record for who has bought poison. I have never had to buy poison but I don't think such things exist anymore.

On the train, John Clarron meets Madge's doctor, who is reading the Evening Standard. The date isn't readable but above the headline it says, 'As Kennedy's marines head into Siam/Premier explains where we stand' with the main headline reading 'MAC: READY TO SEND IN RAF'. This references US President John F. Kennedy, who first issued orders to deploy US Marines to Siam (Thailand) in March 1961, which certainly helps with the dates of the newspaper. At the time, the US was concerned with the growing influence of communism in the region. 'Mac' is British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.

Madge's looming murder is referenced in a couple of lines of dialogue. John tells Adrienne that Madge is "dying to meet you" and Madge lovingly tells John, "Sometimes I think if I weren't married to you, I'd die."

The opening episode gives us a wonderful summary of the Saint's outlook, perfectly setting up his character: "I don't like being a cog in the machine. Being one of the ants who devour the dragon is all very noble, but it's not half as much fun as being St. George, is it?"

The Ungodly
In these earlier episodes, Simon often refers to "the ungodly" as having set characteristics, lumping all criminals in together. It is a phrase from the Leslie Charteris novels and does seem to get phased out later on. It is used in The Talented Husband.

The Sinners
We see a lot of the Clarrons and following the pre-title sequence, it's a while before Simon even turns up. There are flaws in John Clarron's murder plan (he prepares a meal with rat poison to be heated up later, then heads to London for the day), mainly - why did he leave the empty tin of rat poison at home? He could have taken it with him and dumped it from the train, or else when he got to London. Also maintaining the Mrs Jafferty lie to cover his exact leaving times, he returns to Cookham with the disguise in his bag. Why? She is supposed to have committed the crime as part of a robbery, then fled, so he wasn't going to need it anymore. Like the poison, he could have dumped it before he returned. They are the two things that catch him out yet could have been disposed of easily.

Derek Farr was the most enjoyable performance for me. He switches from the caring husband to anger in an instant and these moments made his villainy much more believable. When Simon confronts finally him, the use of close-ups enables our Saint to look much more powerful, with Clarron quickly become a jibbering wreck. Simon is slightly menacing as he angrily glares down the camera and we wonder what he's going to do with Clarron.

She Was a Lady
The charming Simon Templar is definitely a ladies man and manages to find some company during most episodes. He and Adrienne hit it off in the pub when she invites him to have dinner with her. Later, Simon goes back to her house and the next day we see them about to have coffee and breakfast together, which prompts me to ponder whether he stayed the night. At first, it seems unlikely as plenty of people had already seen him arrive at the pub and living in such a small village community, Adrienne surely wouldn't want tongues wagging. Yet as she is only in the village while she investigates John Clarron, perhaps she wouldn't care what people had to say about her.

The Volvo
The Saint drives a white Volvo P1800. It's a gorgeous car and perfectly suits a playboy. I thought I'd clock just how often it turns up and how much action it gets. Here, Simon drives it into Cookham, almost knocking down Mrs Jafferty as he races through the village.

Little. John Clarron accidentally-on-purpose knocks a large concrete flower pot onto Madge from a balcony.

I've always thought Simon Templar smoked considerably, if not constantly, but it's a good 20 minutes into this episode before he lights up. In total, he smokes three cigarettes.

1960s' drama is always a good representation of how much the nation's drinking habits have changed. Simon is partial to a drink or two and in The Talented Husband he is drinking when we first meet him, sipping at something in the theatre bar. At a guess from the colour and the glass type, it could be a gin and tonic. In Cookham, he stays at a pub where he knows the landlord and upon arrival opts for "a pint from the barrel - warm, flat, nourishing - and very British." I suppose one must tire of champagne. Later, he drinks "custom-built" Manhattan (whiskey, vermouth, bitters) alone, then agrees to another with Adrienne.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Blake's 7 - Horizon

"I am not expendable, I am not stupid and I'm not going."

Horizon had piqued my interest the moment I saw it on the DVD title menu as I knew it was the name of the Blake’s 7 fan club. Following the episode, I thought that was a neat idea. The episode's titles themselves also posed further intrigue as Blake's 7 has another new writer in Allan Prior.

At the expense of your friends
Prior to heading down to Horizon, Blake tells Jenna he wants her to come with him because he thinks Avon is less likely to do a runner without a “first-class pilot”. On the edge of the screen, we can see a glint of silver as Avon comes into the teleport room. Has he overheard? I believe so but Blake and Jenna don’t seem to, and it isn’t referenced later.

Blake can’t have always thought this about Avon, certainly not as strongly, so it must be a belief that has gained substance. I've usually been convinced Avon would leg it in the right circumstances but it’s interesting for Blake to voice this as a more serious concern. Blake might have thought it before, but now he feels he knows it, and I believe Avon knows he knows but does Blake know Avon knows he knows? Compared to Series A, there hasn’t been so much tension between Blake and Avon so far this series, so I’m pleased to see that this relationship is still being explored.

I am not stupid
The visit to Horizon seemed like a car crash in slow motion as various members of the Liberator crew continued to get shot with darts and captured. I fully supported Avon as he stubbornly told Vila, “I am not expendable, I am not stupid, and I’m not going.” It’s practically his slogan (I’m delighted to have been informed that this quote is available on a t-shirt). It was bad enough when Gan and Vila followed Blake and Jenna, but it was at least reasonable. Yet Cally’s decision to head down after all four of them had disappeared seemed ludicrous. We were back in Cygnus Alpha territory – give it an hour then give them up for dead and get out of there. Nonetheless, I was surprised that Avon let Cally go alone. I’ve previously noted that it’s something of a general rule that crew members don’t visit planets alone and I expected Avon to be more protective, or at least show greater indecision about remaining on the Liberator.

After overhearing Blake express his doubts about Avon to Jenna, I wondered whether Avon might be pushed into proving Blake wrong. I think Avon does have some form of loyalty to the others now and I'm not sure he would betray them all like Blake suggests. However, I think he would consider it if the action was solely against Blake.

Watching Avon talk through the possible outcomes with Orac was nice, as he worked through the logic so he could justify leaving - he wants to be sure he will be safe. There is that loyalty to the rest of the crew, yet he does seem convinced that everyone is probably dead and that’s what enabled him to seriously consider leaving in the Liberator. It doesn’t matter that he ultimately didn’t, the fact remains that he was going to and so could be pushed to do so again. I began to feel that the script might develop something to make him go down after them and I’m glad it wasn’t something naff like Avon suddenly discovering love or moral obligations. I think it would have felt out of character for anything to trump reason and logic. Avon ultimately decides to try to rescue the others due to the approach of three Federation pursuit ships, which he knows the Liberator cannot outrun.

Blake the Bloody Hero
Blake gets some lovely speeches in the series that position him as a leader. Gareth Thomas delivers them earnestly and I enjoyed his talks with Ro in Horizon. Unfortunately for Blake, he doesn’t get to be the hero and it is Avon who comes to the rescue. Having Avon nearly blow Blake's head off is a nice touch, even more so followed up by Blake's teasing line of, "Missed." I was intrigued that the original line was supposed to be, "Can't you tell your friends from your enemies anymore?" I like both.

I’m trying to like Blake more but was annoyed when he criticised Avon’s “last-minute heroics” - and not for the first time. Avon has often operated the teleport with seconds to spare and Blake is always so bloody ungrateful! Why can’t he just say “thanks”?! One day, Avon will be wondering why he bothers.

Long sleeves and bare chests
Last series I pondered about the temperature on the Liberator because the crew are permanently in long sleeves. I noticed that this has continued even with their new outfits. Did something unseen on Cygnus Alpha hideously scar them? Had the Federation branded them as convicts? It now seems unlikely because Horizon is, I believe, the first time we see a crew member's bare arm. With Vila in horrific stomach pain, Cally pulls his sleeve back to administer some pain relief.

As if this wasn't enough, we progress to shirts being completely removed for Blake and Vila when they are working in the mine. I'm not too sure how common such sights were on television by 1979. Over in Back in Time For TV, I'd seen the progression from the 1960s when married couples were depicted in bed together wearing full pyjamas and dressing gowns, yet by the mid-1970s a man could sit at a breakfast table with only a towel around his waist. Context is part of this - there is a difference between seeing couples in bed and someone getting undressed in a doctor's office for instance. That period's television still always seems far more prudish than most of real life.

The initial sights of Gareth Thomas and Michael Keating's bare chests are in the dim light of the mine, but they do later emerge into the open where we can see they are filthy from their work. Later still, Blake gets a full shot in the light. I termed this 'the Putin shot', due to Gareth Thomas's resemblance to the Russian leader's shirtless photos. Perhaps after what they had been doing with Servalan, the production felt they needed to offer something similar for the rest of the Blake's 7 audience.

Vila's shortcomings
Vila's cowardice has been emphasised less than in the first series, though his yellow outfits are an ever-present reminder for me. I enjoyed Horizon's more subtle nod to this characteristic. We don't see Vila captured and interrogated, but the Kommissar says that Vila confessed who he was at once. This wasn't so bad, but he has also told them about the Liberator's force field. There was clearly no need to see Vila's interrogation because he must have been terrified from the moment he came round. It's amusing that Vila had clearly chatted about anything they asked offscreen yet now sits in silence as they prepare to send him for the first day of work in his life.

This could not dampen my affection for Vila because it is exactly what I would expect from him. As a confirmed coward, he was never going to risk any form of pain. He stepped in to go with Gan to Horizon instead of Cally, but if only to save themselves, I think the crew should start acting more protectively towards Vila. He is emerging as a man prone to such primal weaknesses. He did everything he could to reach the ephemeral pleasures of Space City and promptly overindulged. When Cally provides him with the pain relief in Horizon, she reveals it contains Soma. As well as knocking Vila out for a while, it appears to offer a considerable amount of pleasure and he is keen to be allowed to raid the Liberator's stocks. While Vila is a coward for the most part, this makes it all the more satisfying when he does summon up bravery. Yet I'll be curious to see whether this penchant for vices does lead to more serious and dangerous problems for him, and the others.

Up until now, I don't feel like we have had much chance to see the societies of the planets we have visited and when it has been space stations like Space City or the Destiny ship, it's far too small a snapshot. The Liberator crew are generally visiting places to blow up something belonging to the Federation, so we don't see much. Cygnus Alpha and Redemption are probably the only two episodes to show us something substantial.

I was so intrigued by Ro, who appears to have sold his entire planet into slavery for the Federation. We hear of him being educated by the Kommissar, who emphasises that Ro's people are primitives and reminds Ro that he once was too. It should be obvious to Ro that he has not improved the lives of his people and has made them far worse, yet he seems blinded by everything the Kommissar tells him and I'm left pondering just what that education consisted of.

The leadership team on Horizon includes Ro, the Kommissar and the Assistant Kommissar. The Kommissar drew an "ooh" from me as he is played by William Squire, who I know best as Hunter from Callan. I think he's got a lovely voice that hints at his Welsh background but mostly I like its deep richness. It's a voice that is well-suited to authoritative roles and I enjoyed the assertiveness with which the Kommissar is able to influence Ro.

The population work in rag-like clothes in the mines, providing a fabulous visual contrast with the crushed maroon velvet worn by Ro and the Kommissars. I thought these were lovely outfits and were perfect for emphasising them as an elite, far removed from the lives of the population. Even though Blake's words have influenced Ro and inserted doubts, he seems to only decide to take decisive action once he is reunited with his fiancé, Selma, who has been among the people and working in the mine.

A safe haven?
I had liked the realism brought into the initial setup of Horizon, with the crew mentally and physically exhausted from living their lives in a constant stressful battle with the Federation. Blake's subsequent idea about finding a base for their resistance movement hugely intrigued me. The events of the episode left me uncertain but I'm still curious to see whether they ever do return to Horizon to use it as a base or temporary hideout. Having a base on a safe planet does seem like a good idea and I was all for it at the beginning of the episode. However, I now believe it would be far too risky. How safe is any planet? If it is safe, then for how long? How long until someone finds it, or betrays them, or is threatened and blackmailed into revealing its weaknesses? Their best chance is to stay on the move and find temporary places to recuperate.

What the everything
Horizon was hugely enjoyable and I felt there was just the right balance of plot, action, character and humour. The tension built up by placing the crew in a seemingly inescapable situation was great, with it increasing as more and more of them were captured in the same way. Having them all react to it slightly differently was good too and again I was pleased that Cally's telepathy is more of a presence this series.

In Ro and the Kommissar, there were substantial roles for the guest actors. Sometimes 50 minutes has been nowhere near enough to give them chance to shine but Allan Prior did prioritise this more than other scripts have. I'll be interested to see more of his episodes.

The crew are often split into two groups for most of the episode and especially in Series A, I was able to designate them easily as Team Blake and Team Avon. But Horizon provided a slower divide and gradually separating the crew provided different types of scenes. Cally using her telepathy with Ro was unexpected and placing Avon alone with Orac was a wonderful way of offering us a stream of consciousness. Both he and Blake are the most complex characters so getting an alternative insight into Avon's thoughts and processes is a superb idea.