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.