Friday 28 June 2019

Blake's 7 - Space Fall

Space Fall
Blake's 3

"Wake up, Blake! You may not be tranquilised any longer but you're still dreaming!"

With Blake having failed to escape the Federation’s swift and efficient justice, he’s on a spaceship with a group of fellow convicts, on their way to a penal colony on the planet Cygnus Alpha.

In Space Fall we meet some more of the convicts. This is much needed as we are currently a long way off Blake's full 7.

Gan is a huge man with a wonderful deep voice and gets to act as a proper strong man, at one point threatening to cut off a guard’s hand.

Kerr Avon, who also has a beautiful voice – rather smooth - is quite the opposite. He initially appears quiet and reserved. We discover he is a cyber thief, who got caught trying to nick 5 million credits from a bank. Whatever credits are, 5 million is a lot of anything. Avon can do anything with a computer so knows exactly how the ship’s security works. This, combined with the information that Jenna is a pilot, prompts Blake to formulate a way for them to try to take over the ship.

Avon is persuaded to squeeze down a service corridor and come out into the computer control room via an air vent - because no spaceship with locked rooms is complete without them. He ends up having quite a struggle with the man in there and I was impressed with Avon’s fighting skills – I’d expected him to be all brain and no brawn. While he does take some knocks, he also manages to dish out some punches himself and eventually overcomes his opponent.

Once Avon has knocked out the security camera the others are able to take out their guard and get out of their confined area. Gan and Vila seem to be doing fairly well until Gan shouts at some guards to drop their guns and instead Vila drops his. He’s fast becoming our light relief, a quality that’s enabling me to warm to him and is much needed for his character, what with him being such an unashamed thief.

Blake and Jenna make it to the computer room to meet Avon, but with the others captured it isn’t looking good and they end up disagreeing. To me, Avon is emerging as the most logical thinker and when he spits at Blake, “I thought you were probably insane!” Blake himself replies, “That’s possible!” Well, come on, Blake – if your plans seem nuts even to you, how the hell do you expect everyone else to follow them?

Blake gives a grand talk about wanting to topple the Federation and put “power with the honest man”. Avon, in all seriousness, asks, “Have you ever met an honest man?” If Avon looks cynical, the complete silence from Blake says so much about their world. Jenna can only answer with a very quiet, “Perhaps...” in an incredibly unsure tone. If you start thinking about it that’s horrible. What a miserable existence - to live with such a lack of faith in humanity, and to have had their world turn them that way.

I really enjoyed this whole scene. There is lots of noise and tension around them as the guards scramble to break in while Team Blake try to quickly weigh up their options. It also provides us with an insight into the different attitudes of Blake and Avon on how best to survive in their rotten, corrupt world.

Avon tells Blake, “Wealth is the only reality. And the only way to obtain wealth is to take it away from somebody else. Wake up, Blake! You may not be tranquillised any longer but you’re still dreaming!” Jenna’s optimistic response of, “Maybe some dreams are worth having,” is quickly dismissed when Avon says, “You don’t really believe that?” and Jenna honestly answers, “No, but I’d like to.” Although we have seen only a tiny amount of their reality, the show has already demonstrated the depressing impact of living in a universe ruled by the Federation.

One of the guards threatens to start shooting a prisoner every 30 seconds if Blake, Jenna and Avon don’t come out. He does start shooting - they can see it on a scanner, and I started to veer towards Team Avon. At this point, the convicts don’t even know if any of them will make it to Cygnus Alpha alive – it’s been suggested that prisoners are dumped in space once far enough from Earth. This has been their best chance to escape and if they give in they are doomed to end up dead or stuck on Cygnus Alpha. The others are doomed anyway. Letting them be shot wouldn't be that reprehensible, would it? Blake, Jenna and Avon could still get away. But Blake is our hero and has somehow already become defacto leader (the clue was in the title to be fair) so of course he gives in.

As the worldbuilding continues in this episode, there are some little nasty points. Vila's repeated rumour that they could all end up ejected into space is a grim thought. Possibly the worst is the attitude of the crew towards Jenna. When the captain notes to one of the guards that they have a female prisoner, he adds, "Be discreet." I was a little stunned - this episode went out at 7.15pm. I can't believe they have made such a blatant rape reference. He and Jenna have a word early on and whatever she whispers earns her a slap. When the three prisoners emerge from the computer control room, he's definitely not going to take no for an answer this time. It's only the captain's intervention that stops him taking Jenna. It's the same guard who has just shot several prisoners and I believe if he hadn't then the captain would probably have let him go ahead.

A second chance for Team Blake comes when the prison transport ship comes across another, much larger ship. After sending some guards over to investigate, they decide to risk some prisoners’ lives instead and Blake, Jenna and Avon go down a tunnel connection to reach it, before making their getaway in the new ship.

I’m not entirely sure how the bloke in charge of the prison ship didn’t see this coming, however, my attention had dropped a little by this point. I felt like the climax in the computer control room was a peak and the ending was a tad subdued in comparison. Nonetheless I was happy to see Blake’s 2 or 3 step onto the ship’s bridge as it was huge – clearly it’s a set we are going to see plenty of.

Apart from the ending as the new ship was investigated, I liked Space Fall. For an episode that takes place entirely on a spaceship, it never felt too claustrophobic. We had the set with the launch seats leading through to the rest of the prisoner's confinement area, the computer control room, numerous corridors, as well as the ship's bridge where we saw the captain and crew.

We got to know a few characters too. Jenna seems quite confident and willing to stand up for herself. I'm hoping she isn't going to be screaming while she waits to get rescued by the boys. Vila has shown himself a complete coward, managing to get out of going down the service corridor and panicking when faced with a couple of guards, even when he was holding a gun. Blake is very assertive and quite fearless. Avon is probably the other character we saw most from and I can't entirely trust him. There was a suggestion that he may use his technological knowledge to take control of the ship alone, then blackmail the crew into freeing him - but only him. Logically, he was content to let the other prisoners be shot. I don't doubt that he would make the same decision again.

Tuesday 25 June 2019

B is for Blake's 7 - The Way Back

Blake’s 7 is something I have been planning to look into for years but I didn't actually know much about it - a BBC science-fiction series with a bunch of people on a spaceship. Was it just going to be a duller, dryer, version of Red Dwarf? I'd first come across it in the pages of Doctor Who Magazine, where it frequently appeared under actors' 'other television appearances'.

I must admit that I had low expectations. I thought it might resemble everything subpar about 1980s' Doctor Who. Overall, I expected low production values, average writing, acting and nothing particularly impressive.

Back In Time For TV is a series of articles I have written for Transdiffusion in which I spend a week following the schedules of each year, starting in 1960. When I reached 1978, BBC1 was broadcasting series 1 of Blake’s 7 so it seemed the perfect opportunity to dip my toe in the sterile atmosphere. I enjoyed the episode; the plot was interesting, some scenes had me gripped, and in the context of the 1970s I was excited to see some special effects on screen. There were a lot of characters and a single episode wasn’t enough time to get to know them all, but I’d detected some tension between Blake and another man – I was curious to discover if there was more to it.

The Way Back
Blake: the unlikely rebel

I’d expected the first episode to whizz us along, getting Blake and his seven together and into space! Instead, we are led down something of a false trail as our leading man Blake heads off to meet with some dissenters who have news of his family that live on one of the outer worlds. It’s a bit of a con as they are actually holding a meeting to encourage rebellion against the Federation - the government of, it seems, the entire planet.

With Blake the only character from this episode set to become a regular, it makes sense that most of our time is spent with him. The episode also does a lot of worldbuilding and I was intrigued by this as I think it's a wonderfully despicable world that I'm going to love seeing more from.

The Federation is positioned in a bad light from the opening scenes of the episode when we learn that they drug the food and water with suppressants. Blake scoffs at this suggestion, which in fairness seems like a reasonable response to casually being told that your government is drugging the entire population. However, if a great big dome over the city isn’t enough to convince you that the government wants to keep you under control, the fact it’s illegal to talk to anyone from outside surely should be. I’m willing to give Blake some leeway though, as we are told he was part of the rebels but after being betrayed and captured, he was brainwashed and his memories altered to forget that life and eschew his beliefs.

Blake tries to get his head around the information that his family is dead and he’s being asked to become a figurehead for a newly-enthused anti-Federation movement. While he's mulling this over, some Federation guards show up and massacre everyone else. Blake can do nothing but hide and listen to everyone dying. After the people try to surrender, the looks on their faces as they are each cold-bloodedly shot is close to surprise. I’m shocked and impressed that the show has murdered at least 20 people only 15 minutes into the first episode!

After Blake is captured the Federation decide they can’t execute him as it would make him a martyr, so instead they fit him up on various charges, all related to children. It’s never explicitly said – there are words like ‘corruption’ and ‘assault’ – but it’s pretty clear from the reaction on Blake’s face alone that they are making him look like a child abuser. That is enough to put even the most committed government rebel off joining him.

The trial involves the prosecution and defence putting their evidence, which seems to consist of glass orbs, on a machine that weighs up both before handing down an objective judgement. I’m taken back by how swift this happens as I’d expected a proper show trial with witnesses. It’s all in the orbs though and the event is over in minutes. Blake doesn’t stand a chance and doesn’t even get the opportunity to say anything.

By the end of the first episode, Blake is a prisoner on a ship, heading off to Cygnus Alpha, a penal colony. We are teased that there might be a last minute reprieve as Blake’s solicitor does some digging and discovers the pile of bodies – apparently Federation clean-up squads aren’t as efficient as the justice system. But there is no happy ending for the good guy. The solicitor and his partner have been followed and we don’t even see their deaths – just their bloodied bodies. It’s a depressing outlook as the Federation appears this all-knowing, all-powerful, corrupt and impenetrable ruler.

The episode spends a lot of time with characters who are one-offs, and several end up dead. Blake has been loaded onto the ship with his fellow convicted criminals, a couple of whom he met in a holding cell. But surely our do-gooder hero isn’t going to team up with the likes of these reprobates? Jenna is a smuggler and he only ended up speaking to another one, Vila, because he was robbing Blake while he slept!

Blake comes across as such a quiet, reasoned fellow that I initially find it incredibly hard to believe that this same man had a rebellious youth. He seems like an ordinary fellow, content to go with the flow usually, who has got himself caught in something, which does at least make me feel sorry for him being convicted and receiving such a harsh sentence. Although I suppose it is only harsh because we know Blake is innocent – most people would consider lifelong banishment to a penal colony a reasonable, perhaps even lenient punishment for child abuse. I’m trying to keep in mind the mind altering he’s undergone but am struggling to believe his personality could have changed so much.

Blake's 7 has already gone up in my estimations. I am really taken by the background of this world and the ruthlessness of the Federation. I completely forgot about my keenness to get Blake's gang together as I enjoyed the world-building and there was plenty else to keep me gripped.