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.

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.