Thursday 22 August 2019

Blake's 7 - Deliverance


“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” 

Several months ago, Deliverance became the first Blake’s 7 episode I ever watched as part of Transdiffusion’s Back in Time For TV, in which I spend a week with the television schedule of each year. I scored well with 1978. I remember enjoying Deliverance’s story and every single moment of Servalan being on screen. Despite thinking they shared few scenes, I had picked up on an atmosphere between Blake and Avon. I’m passionate about watching shows in context and after following television’s developments from 1960, I was blown away by Blake’s 7 as it seemed such a forward-looking drama.

With everything I’ve watched since, my memories of Deliverance had faded a tad. I was curious what I’d think of it having got to know the Blake’s 7 universe over this series - I would at least be able to remember all the characters names this time.

Sexy Servalan and Tricky Travis

We last saw Servalan and Travis at the end of Project Avalon. It had been hinted that there were people in the Federation who were unhappy with Travis’s handling of what has consistently been referred to as “the Blake Affair”. Following the magnificent humiliation Travis suffered at the end of that story (it truly was beautiful), it’s unsurprising but nonetheless satisfying to discover he has had a dressing down. He’s had a suspension and there has been a court of enquiry into the Blake Affair.

The result is that Travis seems different now. Servalan notices it, telling him, “You’ve lost some of your fire.” He seems less confident and more cautious – perhaps it could make him even more of a danger to Team Blake because it is soon apparent that his beliefs have not altered. “You really are obsessed with Blake, aren’t you?” comments Servalan. It’s hard to tell if she’s amused or impressed. Maybe she’s slightly concerned as she tells Travis, “There are more important things than Blake” and he doesn’t hesitate in replying, “Not for me.”

Deliverance is the first time we’ve seen Servalan and Travis not actively working against Blake. Prior to Blake, we know Travis was waltzing around the universe, getting away with being a sadistic bastard. Blake has simply become a more directed focus for his energies and a more challenging one than your regular anti-Federation rebel.

I’m sure Servalan was also up to plenty of nasty things before they had to chase Blake. In Deliverance, it’s interesting to see her calculated scheming and ponder what else it may have been applied to. She seems to have devised the plan entirely herself and we have yet to see her answer to anyone. Indeed, she leaves a conference waiting so that she can meet with Travis instead.

I found Jacqueline Pearce utterly captivating in these scenes. With Travis having taken a serious degrading, he’s much quieter. In comparison, Servalan exudes power and draws the attention far more. She sexily glides around in her silky whites, lauding it over Travis while drinking creme de menthe. I think she’s delighted to have had an opportunity to put him in his place and remind him who really holds sway in the Federation. And she’s so pleased with her plan for Orac. Like a Bond villain, she lounges around to enjoy explaining what a genius scheme she’s come up with. Travis is vile, but Servalan is a much more enjoyable character to hate. She’s so wonderfully evil here. What a marvellous part for a woman to have on TV at this time – so often it’s male actors who get to have all the villainous fun.

There is even a slight chink in Travis as he is initially shocked at her cold-blooded murder of Maryott in the spaceship. Maryott treated Travis after he was injured and for a moment it seems like there is something approaching a positive emotion located in Travis. He especially looks regretful as we are informed that because they will claim Maryott deserted the Federation, his family will be sent into slave labour. Travis quickly gets over this. Perhaps he really only valued Maryott’s surgery skills.

Travis has always looked like a total scumbag, but if Servalan’s softer demeanour had made anyone think she was the lesser villain, this episode wipes it out. I feel like Deliverance is her greatest chance to display her evilness all series and as it was a large part of what first attracted me to Blake’s 7, I’m happy that this was the first time I saw her. Next to Travis, I’d forgotten some of that and was worried he would overshadow her. “You’re almost as ruthless as I am,” Travis says, to which she answers, “You underestimate me, Travis.” Haven’t we all.

Ensor provides some more worldbuilding as his planet, Aristo, is independent of the Federation, something that its inhabitants have had to work hard to maintain. It isn’t the only planet free of Federation control as we discovered Destiny was and last week we found out Sarkoff’s planet was, although it was struggling. It’s building up the idea that there are a number of places that have managed to stay out of Federation control. These may offer sanctuary and/or support to the Liberator crew. Mostly though, I’m thinking we are going to see it go one way or the other; either Federation planets are going to look at these and try to assert their independence again, or the free planets are going to start falling to the Federation – perhaps because in the wake of the Blake Affair the Federation feel the need to assert their dominance and crush any hints of rebellion that Blake’s legend has inspired.

A double 'A' security pass is found on Maryott’s body and from Blake’s astonished reaction, we can assume this is a big deal because “he’s got a pass for any area in space command!”. It’s a small moment that is swiftly pushed aside when they have to look after Ensor, but it has stayed in my mind. Has this pass got a photo of Maryott? If not, it should come in extremely useful.

I previously thought the bloke playing Ensor (Tony Caunter) had milked his role and was somewhat over the top. Ensor’s death is essentially drawn out over around 20 minutes and he spends the entire episode moaning on either a bed or the floor. I also thought he was a complete prick last time for turning on Blake and Cally after they had looked after him.

However, if the script simply says “ENSOR GROANS SOME MORE”, there isn’t a great deal any actor can do with that. While this made him mildly irritating for me (I don’t think he spends a second silent in that medical bay), this time I’m more sympathetic to Ensor, probably also because I found it easier to follow what was going on. We know Servalan is screwing Ensor over to obtain his dying father’s Orac and I can see how desperate Ensor is to try to save his father’s life.

In comparison, Blake’s reaction to Ensor’s hijacking seems fierce and he takes it personally. I was so worried about Blake and Cally the first time I watched. Experience now tells me it’s the crew stuck on the planet who may face greater danger if The Liberator doesn’t get back into orbit – we've seen enough last-minute teleportations. My irritation with bloody Blake clouded my judgement a little while watching as I forgot that one reason he was angry was because Jenna had gone missing.

Damsels and nurses
It’s disappointing that Jenna’s gone from kicking arse last week to getting captured again. They can’t bring her back to The Liberator because her teleport bracelet has been removed. When Cally disappeared in Seek-Locate-Destroy, I could immediately see that these bleeding teleport bracelets would continue to be trouble.

All the crew are immediately worried, but I especially noticed how concerned Avon looked. “We’ll go back down,” he tells Blake, who replies, “I think you’d better.” I took umbrage with Blake’s accusing tone that implied Avon was responsible for Jenna. I thought this most unfair. It’s not exactly been an ‘every man for himself’ scenario for The Liberator crew, but they were all independent criminals and/or rebels before they got together. While they have all looked out for each other since, I think everyone has been treated as equally capable of looking after themselves. Cally and Jenna may not have had the best roles, but I definitely don’t recall any examples of ‘you girls better stick with us as it isn’t safe and you need us big strong men to look after you’ bollocks. If anything, in the last two episodes it has been Jenna and Cally trying to save Blake’s balls; Jenna took on Tarvin’s men in Breakdown and with the help of her telepathy Cally stopped Blake the bleeding elephant attracting the attention of guards in Bounty.

After last week, Cally doesn’t fare well in Deliverance either. In Breakdown she had spent most of her time nursing Gan and she immediately steps into this role again when Ensor is brought on board. Following this, she spends the rest of the episode lying face down on the floor.

Gan has been another poorly-served character but fares slightly better again as he has something to do this week, even if he has little to say. His strength finally comes in useful when they need to fight off the natives. He makes an interesting comment afterwards: “You know, Vila, for a minute out there, I was starting to enjoy myself.” To an extent, I’ve been assuming that the murder Gan was convicted for was a one-off, but the installation of his limiter would actually make more sense if Gan had had a history of violence. He seems too nice and innocent for it, but I’m uncertain.

Just a machine – can you hear me now?
I look forward to spotting more of The Liberator’s design flaws and obviously Zen has always been top of the list, but an aspect that has been irritating me since almost day one is the teleport system. In Deliverance, we see Blake using controls on the flight deck to communicate with Avon through his teleport bracelet while on the planet below. If the crew can speak to the teleport bracelets from the flight deck, why can’t they operate the teleport system from there as well? This is a terrible design! It would save a lot of time from running back to the teleport room, which has come close to costing them lives. If they had been able to operate the teleport system from the flight deck in Breakdown, Avon and Jenna would have heard Zen’s warning about Gan’s voice being faked. Instead, only Vila did and he couldn’t get in touch with them in time. So in conclusion m’lud, the design of The Liberator’s teleport system is fatally flawed and I need to find a scapegoat.

When did you start seeing things?

The special effects were impressive on my first viewing of Deliverance and even after many weeks of Zen’s screen and teleporting, I was still pleased. Despite the CSO when we see Ensor and Maryott’s spaceship, I liked the actual ship’s design. Yet it pales in comparison to the beauty of The Liberator and Servalan’s place. Shot on film, we seem to see a lot of these fantastic models in this episode as we cut between locations – and I’m certainly not complaining. They are stunningly beautiful.

There are plenty of traditional effects used in Deliverance, with smoke, explosions and fire all put to good use for the crash of Ensor and Maryott’s ship. It’s nothing on that scale, but I remember enjoying the explosion in Seek-Locate-Destroy too and I think these sorts of effects help bring a degree of reality into the series. It’s something familiarly threatening for the audience as opposed to, say, flashing white stars... All the same, I was fond of the teleport effect on The Liberator end when I first watched Deliverance, and still am.

A first glance it’s a simple thing, but here are an incredible number of screens in Deliverance. We are so used to seeing screens all day now. At work, school or in the home, we encounter laptops and tablets, the vast majority of us carry mobile phones everywhere, there are touchscreens in cars, displays in train stations and on buses, we can use self-service supermarket tills, the post office and Argos will flash your waiting number – it is quite astounding to think just how many more screens we encounter in our daily lives compared with 1978. In Deliverance, we get a small screen in Ensor and Maryott’s spaceship with a green tint that flashes a variety of patterns when they start to crash. Servalan has a similarly tiny screen to monitor them across a map, though hers is in red. If we count Zen’s huge display, this really shines in Deliverance, showing a greater combination of effects than usual. Down on the planet, the bunker (I’m going to call it that) gives the impression that it has tons of screens ready for the launch that all display a countdown imposed on the image of the rocket. This is a plethora of screens and the Blake’s 7 production team must have raided half the BBC for the bunker; there can’t have been many other drama series that needed this many displays. And that’s it – that is what impressed me about Blake’s 7 during my week in 1978; it seemed like nothing else I'd been watching during the 1970s.

The quarry men
Besides the models, the other parts of Deliverance on film are the outdoor scenes at the quarry. I’m not sure if it’s the film helping or what, but I enjoyed a lot of the shots used during these scenes.

I don’t think we have seen a quarry since Time Squad. I had been slightly surprised about that but I’m sure there will be plenty of other opportunities to admire, er, southern England’s many shades of... quarries. The production must have been filming in winter as there is snow on the ground at the quarry for some shots. I was looking out to see the characters’ breath, but spotted nothing. If it wasn’t that cold, it would explain why the snow is not in every shot, with it having already started melting before filming did, or else began to shortly afterwards. When it is in shot, we can see that the smattering of snow covers a decently-sized area, which is what convinced me it probably wasn’t fake. Avon does wear a snow jacket but none of the others do – they are just left to chance it in their regular raincoats. If the snow is fake and had been in the original script, the production has done a terribly lazy job. The only references to the temperature seem to be when they are on The Liberator so I think it is quite possible that the location filming took place first and when they saw the weather, they quickly grabbed the only snowcoat they could find for Avon (sorry everyone else), then slipped a couple of lines in for the studio scenes.

Lord Avon
The tense hostage situation back on The Liberator had been what had gripped me most on my first viewing of Deliverance and I’d found it the more enjoyable aspect. Yet this time, without a doubt, my favourite strand was ‘Lord Avon’.

We don’t really need this additional plot of the dormant cells awaiting lift-off in a rocket. I think that was it anyway; there was some technobabble and I started getting distracted by Vila’s quips and Meegat. It feels like another half-hearted side plot of Terry Nation’s that doesn’t get given enough time. We could have had something else - more fights with the natives, a more intricate mission to free of Jenna, or give the natives a voice and go through some negotiations with them. We could have spent more time on The Liberator with Ensor and increased the conflict there, although given the choice I would be unlikely to select that as I feel not staying on The Liberator is a better way to add to the tension. It isn’t a bad plot. I was just disappointed that it felt squeezed.

With a myth passed down of a saviour, as the first to step into some caves, Avon is christened ‘Lord’ by the planet’s only immigrant inhabitant. Meegat is a beautiful young woman, whose innocence makes her seem little more than a girl. Her instant adoration for Avon amused me enough to keep me just about interested as we need to swiftly wade through some exposition.

Upon first meeting Meegat, Avon is a bit suspicious and isn’t too distracted by her; he keeps looking round the cave, perhaps expecting an ambush. Vila and Gan are both convinced slightly sooner.

Gan “She seems to be on our side.”
Vila “Yes, but the poor woman’s insane.”
Avon “Not necessarily.”

Following on from the last two episodes, Terry Nation seems to have settled well into developing the Avon-Vila dynamic. I could say Paul Darrow and Michael Keating have too but I think they hit it off early on anyway.

After initially being bemused by this woman bowing at his feet, it becomes clear that Lord Avon bloody loves it. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Vila says to him. “Probably,” comes the response.

Vila remains incredulous that Meegat has such admiration for Avon, teasing, “Counting yourself, that makes two people who think you’re wonderful.” However, it soon becomes clear that Avon is happy to fulfil Meegat’s prophecy and Lord Avon is a role that he is very comfortable taking on.

Avon “It does seem that we have a reputation to live up to.”
Vila “You certainly do, Lord Avon. I wonder why she picked on you?”
Avon “Well now, you are hardly the stuff that gods are made of.”
Vila “And you are I suppose?”
Avon “Apparently.”

Avon is very patient with Meegat, indulging her to make sure he gets the information out of her. There are other moments when he looks at her and I wonder whether he also fancies her a little. That I even consider this shows how much Avon has developed this series because early on I regarded Avon as so cold that it would never have occurred to me.

To begin with, Avon acts surprised at his newly-acquired respect. But he’s always thought of himself (justifiably enough) as a genius, even if that didn’t extend to god-like status. I don’t think he’s at all interested in a god-like role for power, but he probably likes being revered for a change! As I said when looking at Breakdown, Avon’s technical knowledge makes him the most valuable member of the crew. We also get hints that this extends into other areas as when Ensor is brought back to the medical bay, Avon is the first one to look him over and provide recommendations. Yet Avon’s antagonism with Blake means he’s rarely, if ever, made to feel appreciated.

There is a great exchange when Team Avon get back to The Liberator.

Cally “Did she really think you were a god?”
Avon “Yes, for a while.”
Blake “How did it feel?”
Avon “Don’t you know?”
Blake “Yes, I don’t like the responsibility either.”

After sitting with a small, contented smile, Avon’s face at Blake’s final line is a picture. You had to spoil his day, Blake!

Blake the Bloody Hero?
But this moment turned out to be more thought-provoking. Servalan has already described Blake as “a legend” and “a fairy tale” and this series has gradually been adding layers on that with repeated comments here and there. Blake has become a Robin Hood-like outlaw figure for those suffering under the Federation’s repression to latch on to. Why just Blake? Well, he’s got his Friar Tuck (Gan), and, well, how many of the merry men can most people name? Whether the name was Blake, Vila, Avon etc. wouldn't matter now that the legend is out there. But obviously being the person that is expected to continue leading a rebellion against the Federation, and hopefully ultimately succeed in destroying it, carries a certain weight.

I still can’t ever trust Blake though. Maybe he doesn’t like the responsibility because gods are often expected to be faultless, with impeccable or at least consistently-applied morals, and I don’t think Blake has that. He’s only human on the one hand, but on the other, I just don’t think of him as a good man. Like Travis, he can be blinded by his single focus and I’ve previously commented how little regard he has shown for the rest of the crew. He’s harsh in this episode and increasingly acts nastily. I don’t know how Blake would have dealt with Meegat, but he doesn’t display the patience Avon showed there. I’m not sure what Blake’s long-term plan is but unlike Avon I do think he actually enjoys his power. He assumed it to begin with and I really picked up on this in Duel, but Blake’s control is emphasised again in Deliverance as he specifically refers to them as ”my” crew. He presumes he always knows what is best for his crew. I wonder how defensive he would become if he was properly challenged on this.

Blake assumed his god-like power, Servalan simply oozes it and one suspects she was either born into it or ruthlessly took it, but in Deliverance, uniquely, Avon was given his.

Deliverance is the second episode in a row in which I’ve been worried about those left behind on The Liberator, even if I would have been content to see Blake snuff it. Time Squad was also another story in which ‘foreigners’ of some sort posed a danger on board.

It’s been made clear that The Liberator is far from a haven. Even if there are no Federation ships to blow the crew up or space webs to get trapped in, they could easily get killed on board by others. It feels quite a contrast to Doctor Who where the TARDIS is often a safe nest for everyone to run back to. In that, I usually felt our heroes would be alright and we could relax once they had slammed the TARDIS doors - they were home and nothing could harm them. The Liberator crew have no such luck. The Liberator is not impenetrable, not by a long stretch. There’s also a running theme on these guests that the crew actually choose to let them all in: in Time Squad, the capsule with the violent thawing guys was brought over; in The Web, the initial danger comes from the newly-arrived Cally; in Bounty, the crew think they are simply letting Gan return.

There is no one person to blame for these and they are hardly circumstances the crew could have learned from, all being different (though I still acknowledge that they really should have spotted the fake Gan voice). The situation in Deliverance is another new one as the threat came from someone who wasn’t initially hostile. Nonetheless, it shows that any or all of the crew can be convinced of their safety within The Liberator and have it backfire.

There has to be a first time for everything, m’lud
I enjoyed Deliverance when I first watched it but I was far from sold on Blake’s 7 at the time. More than anything, it was my intrigue in the characters that made me want to see another episode of Blake’s 7. I was fully prepared that I might still start to find the series dull. The first episodes ended up being nothing like I’d expected and after a few episodes, I was falling in love. But it did take those few episodes – this was not love at first sight.

Deliverance is not a good episode to see first because – and I realised this the first time – the main characters are split up far too much. I know this is par for the course with Blake’s 7 by now, but the difference here is that there is so little interaction between them. Blake and Cally are having to play off Ensor, whose scenes are not exactly filled with conversation. Jenna gets nothing while captured, Gan gets little as usual, so the only aspect we really see is the relationship between Avon and Vila. Even so, with them spending half their time scrabbling over rocks and fighting natives, this doesn’t reveal too much about them. The main reason I enjoyed the Lord Avon strand so much this time is because I have got to know the characters and this made a huge difference.

On a rewatch, I don’t think Deliverance is a fantastic episode anyway as it fails to do enough with each of its segments. I wanted something more from Blake while Ensor held Cally hostage, rather than just grumpy stares. We have no idea what the natives are going to do with Jenna; there are no hints of rape, violence, human spit-roasting – nothing. Although I’m normally more concerned for the crew stuck on the planet, this week the threat to Cally was obvious and as the episode went on their seemed limited danger to Jenna. Baring the couple of attacks, the natives are really just there in the background – we don’t even see them when they initially take out Jenna – and, as I’ve said above, I think they could have been seen more instead of the rushed plot with Meegat. It’s the end of the series and poor Terry Nation is running out of steam, so I hope they bring in some other writers next year.

I thought I must have missed something when I watched Deliverance the first time, but in fact, we never find out what Orac is - all we know is that it’s worth a lot to Servalan. It’s the first time since the series’ opening episodes that we have had a cliff-hanger ending, which I did like. I’m expecting Travis and Servalan in the finale and some serious shit to go down on Aristo.

Thursday 15 August 2019

Blake's 7 - Bounty

Not a chocolate bar in sight

"At the expense of your friends?"

I had a reticent feeling about Bounty, though I’m not sure why. I have been concerned that the quality of Blake's 7's episodes may drop towards the end of the season, though still hope it will end on a relative high. There are a few issues with Bounty, especially its plotting, but I enjoyed almost all of it in its separate pieces.

We start off with Blake and Cally in a forest, accompanied as ever by The Liberator’s trusty red cool toolbox. Blake’s 7 has used forests several times now with greenery featured in both The Web and Duel. It’s becoming a reliable location and I suppose one reason is that it is devoid of architecture that is obviously from the 20th century. The only manmade objects are those that the production has put there. You need to vary it between quarries and surely there can only be so many industrial facilities that can pass for a Federation base. It’s an interesting conundrum for a show set in the future as I normally consider anachronisms as an issue for programmes set in the past.

I was astoundingly impressed with this forest because suddenly we come upon a great big enormous castle! What is that and where did it come from? It is so impressive and one of the last things I was expecting Team Blake to stumble across in the middle of a forest. What is it doing there? Once we are closer, it looks weathered and real. I was utterly blown as to how it ended up there in the Blake’s 7 universe and how it ended up there in reality.

I was pleased with Cally's part in the first section of this episode and I thought she looked so cool holding a gun in a leopard-print jacket. Cally’s telepathy is finally put to decent practical use in Bounty and I thought this worked well as she silently communicated with Blake in the forest, ensuring the Federation guards didn’t spot them. She also uses it later to speak to Blake without alerting Sarkoff. It’s simple stuff but it shows how underused Cally’s character has been that the scripts haven’t provided opportunities for this before.

When we first met Cally, she was the last of a group of rebels that seemed to have been living wild. It is good to finally have more built on this as Cally is presented as someone skilled in survival. Cally feels her skills are slightly rusty but this is nothing compared to Blake, who tramples through that forest like an elephant. It is an utter miracle they weren’t heard.

I think we have seen Federation guards without their masks before but in Bounty only a single guard seen ever removes his mask. As the only one with any lines, it’s clear that the production only wanted to pay one actor and the rest remain as supporting artists.

Part 1 - Forests, Castles and Exposition
The first 60% of the episode involves Blake and Cally breaking into the castle attempting to persuade ex-President Sarkoff to return to his planet, which is at risk of civil war, then escaping. Back in Seek-Locate-Destroy, the crew nicked an Enigma-like machine and were able to pick up some Federation signals. I'm not sure if this has been seen or referenced since (possibly in Project Avalon) but I'm not fussed because there isn't any reason why it should. Blake explains that The Liberator has gradually been decoding the signals and that is how they have been able to uncover the Federation's plan to sweep in and take control of the planet, then install Sarkoff as a puppet leader.

As soon as he's over the wall, Blake manages to get inside the castle remarkably easily, which he probably expected else they would have brought Vila. Lucky Vila, and lucky us - with Project Avalon still fresh in my mind, I wasn't prepared for another age of exploring corridors while Vila picked half a dozen locks. While I was struck by this ease at first, I inferred from Sarkoff that he had had the castle built himself, so was presumably after an amusing residence rather than a fortress. The Federation guards are his protection.

A more civilised age
Once inside, we only see one room. It's a mixture of silver steel and brick, with this weird mishmash making it appear that a 1960s-inspired future has sprayed itself onto the interior of a medieval building. Sarkoff is a 20th-century enthusiast and tells Blake that, “this building is a replica of a typical residence of that period.” He has gathered numerous artefacts, including a collection of butterflies. We learn they are extinct and it's one of a couple of aspects from Bounty that have started to make me think Blake's 7 could be set very far in the future - it's never been specified exactly. Sarkoff's vintage car makes an appearance and Cally and Blake initially don’t know what it is. The series must be flung far into the future for people to have stopped even learning about cars in their history classes.

Sarkoff also has a gramophone and several 78s, or gramophone records. Even those unfamiliar with records will probably have seen what they look like, especially following the so-called vinyl revival in recent years, but I will briefly summarise. Records are placed on a turntable, the turntable is adjusted for the correct speed, then a needle or 'stylus' is lowered onto the edge of the record. The record spins, the stylus works its way inwards and music is generated through a speaker. When it has finished, you flip it over to play the music on the other side. The smallest type is a 7-inch record that can usually hold only one single on each side. When played, it will carry out 45 revolutions per minute (rpm) and is therefore also known as a 'single' or '45'. A larger record measures 12 inches and can hold an entire album, which led to it being referred to as a long playing record, or 'LP'. This completes 33 1/3 rpm. Gramophone records precede both of these. They have a slightly shorter playing time than 45s, revolve faster at 78 rpm and are far more fragile.

Sarkoff clearly takes great delight in his collection, describing the 78s as “echoes of a more civilised age.” Having listened to gramophone records myself, it amazes me now to think that in the 21st century we can hear voices of people from 100 years ago. It struck me what awe Sarkoff must have at being able to listen to people from several hundred years ago. It would be the equivalent of us being able to hear Oliver Cromwell's contemporaries.

The comments about the castle and the records slightly amused me. In the case of the castle, future historians are clearly wildly off the mark at depicting a "typical building" and they must be a considerable way in the future to be so far removed from it. Yet it's also obvious that Sarkoff has an extremely idealised view of the past. It is disappointing that there is little else of his collection shown on screen as this could probably have helped emphasise this more. I don't think many people living there would have described the 20th century as "a civilised age".

I found myself pondering what might have prompted this characterisation from Terry Nation. The 1970s was a pretty bleak time for Britain as a country. In 1978 the Three Day Week of a few years earlier would have still been a strong memory, there seemed to be constant industrial action while the government struggled to bring inflation under control. It would not surprise me if there were plenty of people who wanted to hark back to 'better' times, perhaps forgetting that all periods of history have had different hardships for different people. There are always those who clamour for the past but their visions are often clouded by nostalgic memories or, like Sarkoff, idealised presentations of history.

I'm sure I've come across the 'future historian who gets it amusingly wrong' idea before but I thought Sarkoff's views more interesting, especially because it's evident that he has a similar view of the present. He's very reluctant to believe Blake and Cally, insisting he gets video messages updating him of events from the Federation. As a regular audience, we are more knowing now. Even those who didn't see The Way Back, when Blake discovered he had been receiving video messages from his deceased family, should be doubting the veracity of something coming through the Federation.

The scenes with Sarkoff involve a considerable amount of exposition being dumped on us. Yet apart from a scene of Avon and Blake reading out ticker tape from a decyphering machine in the computer room, I don't think there is a better way of managing it with this aspect of the plot. T.P. McKenna is just so entertaining that I don't mind very much. I've seen him in numerous programmes from the 1960s and 1970s, including Man in a Suitcase, Callan and The Sweeney. He's often a villain, so it made a change to find myself feeling so sympathetic towards his character. As someone who can place an emotional weight on 'stuff', it was poignant to see him enjoying the voice on the 78, as I'd realised Blake would convince or force Sarkoff to leave somehow.

I'm certain it wasn't unintentional, but when Blake goes out and tells him not to leave, Sarkoff replies, “Where else would I go? This is all I have left.” The wording reminded me of Callan (though not an episode McKenna appeared in), in which the eponymous protagonist has come back to work for the dirty government intelligence department he loathes. He points out to his boss that he had no choice in the matter because “where else could I go?” They are completely contrasting situations with Sarkoff clinging onto the things he loves and that bring him comfort, while Callan is forced to return to what he hates, yet is all he has.

Blake the Bloody Freedom Fighter
As in other recent episodes, Blake again shows he is able to get what he wants. I didn’t think Blake would actually smash the 78s! He could have simply threatened Sarkoff, who screams out, “No!” Blake is vicious and knows how to hurt as he holds up more of Sarkoff's precious collection; “All of it! Piece by piece!”

It's a wrestle back of power from when he first walked in. He looked quite scared of Sarkoff's guns and nervous when Tyce, Sarkoff's young ward, is pointing them at him. Blake's history education is briefly mentioned but I'm intrigued if he knew exactly what the old-fashioned guns could do. Quite possibly he was aware that a bullet wound is likely to be messier than a blaster one.

It makes a change to see Blake on the backfoot as he tries to convince Sarkoff that he hasn't come there to assassinate him. Pleading with Sarkoff, Blake insists, “I'm not a murderer!” Oh, how I scoffed! That's a bit bloody hypocritical! Blake has been shooting down and blowing up people for a while now. Blake is really starting to sound like a terrorist as he tries to justify all of his actions while threatening or hurting people and putting lives at risk.

Part 2 - General Distress
As previously established, the Blake’s 7 universe is big. It is full of unidentified ships and it’s either one of them or a bunch of Federation ones forcing The Liberator to try to do a runner. While Blake and Cally are down on the planet, the others have come across a ship nearby. I was immediately dead suspicious of the “general distress call” being issued and was initially relieved to see that everyone else is too. Well, everyone apart from Gan, who is keen to go straight over to help. Have you learned nothing from the last few weeks, Gan? When the risk is pointed out, Gan then rather randomly becomes keen on the idea of self-sacrifice, saying he’ll get in touch and Vila can always blow him up. Unsurprisingly, Avon looks extremely sceptical about this idea. I want to say it’s out of character for Gan, but as I spent Breakdown pointing out he hasn’t got one...

Gan isn't over there for long before the others get a message to let them know it's ok. The message itself sounds dodgy with him saying, "I've got all the details." Why can't he give them over the radio? Why can't he just say, "Their engine is buggered" or "One of the crew is sick"? My alarm bells were ringing and I thought at least Avon might have picked up on this, especially as he and Jenna in particular were very suspicious of the ship.

We see a bright light from the teleporter reflected in Avon and Jenna's faces and Vila is unable to contact them. It's left so mysteriously and we know as much as Vila. I really feel for him as he looks utterly terrified by the time he's leaving the flight deck. I was so curious trying to think what might be happening. Despite this, I didn't mind returning to Team Blake because I was enjoying T.P. McKenna.

With Blake unable to contact anyone on The Liberator, the tension was mounting and I was eventually keen for Sarkoff to just bloody get a move on so we could get back. The emptiness of The Liberator was stark - there is usually at least one person around. We are still, briefly, left uncertain after Blake gets gassed.

I enjoyed the tense atmosphere that remains afterwards as the crew are locked up with neck braces that could take their heads off if tampered with. Watching Vila attempt to pick the lock on Blake's is nerve-wracking at times. Yet unfortunately, the climax as Tyce and Sarkoff confront Tarvin is missing any of the regulars until the last moment.

Blake's 7 seems to have had a lot of violence for an early evening show, but it holds back slightly in Bounty. Tarvin slaps Tyes, yet we cut away before he makes contact. Perhaps after Avon had enjoyed punching a young multiple-murderess in Mission To Destiny, the production team felt they should be cautious about how often they showed men knocking women around. Tarvin is then possibly the first man for centuries to die of a gunshot wound but it's all smoke. There is not a drop of blood in sight and I suppose that's how Blake's 7 gets away with it - like many adventure shows before it, violence is more fantastical if your cast isn't lying in a pool of blood every week.

Just a machine
Zen actually does something genuinely useful for once. After they receive an 'everything is ok' message from Gan, Zen, unprompted, announces to Vila on the flight deck that "an analysis of the voiceprint" says it isn’t Gan. With Avon and Jenna in the teleport room, Vila tries to message them but is too late.

Zen then spoils this good deed by being his usual sod for the rest of the episode. Vila asks if Avon and Jenna are alright but is simply told, “it will be necessary for you to make a personal investigation.” When Blake returns later, Zen still seems unable to provide any help as, “their absence from the flight deck is all the data I have available.” Gareth Thomas imbibes Blake's "Thank you, Zen," with a tone that says, "Fuck you." However, I am becoming a little hesitant about criticising Zen. For a while now, I've gradually been getting the impression that Zen can do little beyond the flight deck. It seems more of a navigation aid rather than a computer to support the whole ship and comes across as an advanced satnav. I don't know whether Zen's programming is purposefully limited like that but as some of these refusals to help do seem to consistently relate to matters on the rest of the ship, it appears likely that Zen may not actually be a total sod out of choice.

I was horrified when Zen announced to Tarvin: “Information: Federation ships are now within scanner range.” What are you doing, Zen?! I can’t believe Zen helps the baddies! There is being unhelpful and then there is being a traitor. We have no way of trusting Zen and this demonstrates it has no loyalty to the crew. In fairness, why should it? We don't know who was on the ship before them. I always believed it was a ridiculous copout, but how the hell can Blake still count Zen as a member of the seven after this betrayal?

The expense of your friends
Jenna has also betrayed the Liberator crew, supposedly. I had my doubts but I certainly wasn't ever wholly persuaded of her bluff to the captors. The rest of the crew are slightly unsure but I was actually surprised that most were convinced she had. As we watch them standing up against evil, I think it's important to always remind ourselves that the majority of Blake's 7 are a bunch of rogues. We don't know enough about Gan, but it's fair to say that Avon, Jenna and Vila were all career criminals so any notions that they will always have decent morals should be thrown into a space vortex. Had we not known Jenna for as long, I would have probably been more inclined to believe her betrayal. But as she has so often aligned herself with Blake in his better moments, I would seriously struggle to ever believe she was a genuine traitor.

I liked that Jenna knew the bounty hunters and it was great seeing her with their leader, Tarvin. There's a smidge of sexual tension between them and it was fun to see what Jenna may have been like when she was a smuggler. She has a fantastic episode in Bounty and I was delighted to finally see her kick some arse when she starts taking down Amigan guards.

It's apparent why the rest of the crew are so unhappy with her having switched sides because the Amigans are painted as real nasty villains, as happy carrying out smuggling as they as "robbery, piracy, [and] murder." When Tyce challenges Tarvin with: " You’d sell your grandmother, wouldn’t you?" I loved that we got a variation on the reply to an old saying as Tarvin explains, "I did. She was going to sell me."

In an attempt to bribe Tarvin and stop him selling both The Liberator and Team Blake to the Federation, Jenna is prepared to offer him some things from The Liberator. We discover that the bounty on their heads is 13 million credits and Tarvin is more than pleased with the offer. Back in Cygnus Alpha, Avon was trying to convince Jenna to bugger off and abandon Blake because they had found a pile of valuable jewels onboard. These haven't been commented on since. Avon and Jenna might have told the others about them - they would have helped the crew source anything they needed - but I can't see Avon being willing to let Blake know about them. So I suppose the jewels have remained a type of insurance for Avon and Jenna, which she's now trying to cash in.

While the other crew are all gutted by Jenna's treachery, Avon seems especially stung. When Blake expresses doubts, he snaps, “What does she have to do to convince you, Blake? Personally blow your head off?” When Jenna comes to inspect the prisoners, accompanied by a guard, no one really challenges her, though Cally does calmly follow up a comment, asking, "What do you take pride in, Jenna?" She answers, "Survival." Avon retorts, “At the expense of your friends?” Referring to the crew as "friends" is an interesting word to bring in. If we have had it before, it was perhaps from Travis or Servalan. But in Bounty, Jenna refers to the prisoners as “Blake and his friends,” and then Avon uses it here. For even Avon to be calling the crew friends is amazing, especially considering he was happy and pretty bloody keen to leave them all five minutes ago in Breakdown. He believes Jenna has sold them out and it hurts. Enforced or otherwise, the Liberator crew's closeness is perhaps rubbing off and it appears they are all starting to care about each other a little more.

Vila the Nervous Thief
I'd had enormous fun with Vila in Breakdown and was thrilled that this continued for Bounty. Vila has not always had a decent role in each episode, so I certainly didn't think was guaranteed.

He gets numerous lines spoken just to himself in this episode. After remarking, "I don’t like the look of that" at the newly-appeared ship, he is put down by both Gan and Avon as they are tired of hearing the same line from him. Maybe Terry Nation also worried he might start using it too much and this would cover him! Yet Avon then immediately begins speaking to Jenna, saying, "As a matter of fact I don’t like the look of it either." Vila then has an aside to himself, muttering, "He agrees with me... Make it all seem worthwhile somehow." I loved how the others simply continued their conversation, completely ignoring his whining.

Another moment is when Avon and Jenna aren't answering from the teleport room and he begins to panic, saying, “I shall come out in a rash!” Frustrated by Zen's lack of information, he shouts, "Oh you’re a big help!" Vila seems quite scared by now, realising he has to go and investigate alone. Following the "personal investigation" suggestion, he grabs a gun and begins muttering threats to Zen, with which I fully sympathise: "The next time Avon wants to make a personal investigation on how you work, I shall make a personal point of handing him the instruments... personally!" These small pieces are a lovely way of allowing Michael Keating's comedy as Vila to shine away from the others.

But after seeing them in Breakdown, I again enjoyed seeing Avon and Vila together in Bounty. As Vila works on removing Blake's neck brace, Avon is trying to pick the door's lock. Neither are getting anywhere.

Avon "I thought you could open anything. That’s always been one of your more modest claims."
Vila "I could open that door in two minutes!"
Avon "This door is not quite the problem at the moment, is it?"
Vila "It seems to be a problem to you!"
Blake "Keep your head, Vila! That way I might have a chance of keeping mine."
Vila "Yes... Avon?"
Avon "What?"
Vila "Shut up! ...please."

I love Avon and Vila's bickering. The lines are delivered wonderfully. It feels so genuine after all the crew have been stuck together for some time and all the little things start to mount up, especially in the tenser moments like this. Vila rarely answered Avon back in earlier episodes but here he really snarks the "It seems to be a problem to you!" line, which Avon thoroughly deserved because he gives just as much nasty emphasis as he refers to Vila's "more modest claims". I did think Vila has seemed a tad afraid of Avon, perhaps intimidated by his intellect - a bigger, badder thief in the playground. But now, he’s willing to pick a fight because he knows has far he can push his luck.

I wouldn't have expected it but I think Avon and Vila are becoming a good double act. This feels like it has been developing over several episodes. I think about their chest to chest confrontation in Duel and the odd little moments they shared in Breakdown. There have been some lovely two shots of them together and both Paul Darrow and Michael Keating are excellent at giving us the most marvellous expressions. Vila is able to offer us a wide variety of “oh shit, please not me” looks, while we’ve had variations on Avon’s wry smiles and looks alongside his withering sarcasm. That he also manages to hate Blake in just looks sometimes is a commendable achievement.

Avon the Stylish Cynic
Avon gains a new outfit in Bounty. Instead of his usual black tabard with buttons on the front, he is wearing a black one that is also very shiny and silver. It matches Jenna's black and silver top nicely. I was distracted by it for a while as it seems far too bright for Avon's bleak outlook on life. Avon's tops are worn over long-sleeved collarless shirts, which led me to notice that all of the crew have been wearing long-sleeved outfits. Is The Liberator so cold? They should knock the heating up.

My favourite sarcastic cynic definitely hasn't cheered up and we get only the tiniest of smiles out of him this week. He also seems stung by the events of Breakdown when his warnings of danger were ignored. As they first prepare to make contact with the mysterious ship, he seeks reassurance from Jenna.

Avon "First sign of trouble we get out, right?"
Jenna "Goes without saying."
Avon "I only wish it did."

Disappointing special effect of the week
The neck braces get built up throughout the second part of the episode as being capable of blowing someone's head off, so I'm expecting something pretty spectacular if one of them goes off. Ideally, we would see it accidentally happen to someone inconsequential, like an Amigan, but I appreciate we are going to struggle to pass this off as 'fantasy' violence opposite Stan and Hilda Ogden on the other side. We only get to see a neck brace explode after Vila has successfully removed Blake's and he then chucks it at one of Tarvin's guards. Unfortunately, the white stars flashing on the screen look awful and I think I could have done as well on PowerPoint 15 years ago. I am pretty forgiving of special effects but would a tiny studio explosion have been too much? Just one little firecracker...

Plot problems
Despite the title being Bounty, we’re 30 minutes in before returning to The Liberator for the second, far more interesting section of the story. It’s a lot of time on the planet and yet does not feel like an adequate enough build-up for the risks of what happens when we return to The Liberator. My greatest problem with this plot is that it feels like we've got two separate stories that have been fused together.

Sarkoff's purpose is forgotten once they are on The Liberator. He isn’t locked up with the others and we get no emphasis on what the looming Federation ships will mean for him and Tyce exactly. There is nothing more mentioned about the risk to their people and the fate of their planet. Essentially, the first 30 minutes of the plot become irrelevant as soon as we step back on The Liberator.

As with Breakdown, the Federation are being used as an invisible force again and are only shown on screens. The knowledge of the Federation's approach alone is supposed to provide the tension. And to an extent it does, but I think both Breakdown and Bounty would have benefitted from a single scene depicting Travis or Servalan on one of the approaching ships. I’d be happy with even just a shot and no lines. Travis especially has been set up as such a nasty bastard that I’d be much more concerned for the crew if I knew he was in the immediate vicinity.

The Federation ships are supposed to be on top of them just before Tyce confronts Tarvin, yet the imminent arrival of the ships doesn't seem to be an issue once Tarvin is dead and we don’t see how everyone escapes. This makes it something of an anticlimax. It’s also frustrating that this is the second week in a row where the Federation seems to have been inches away but The Liberator has escaped fairly easily. It’s a contrast compared to Duel when they were worried about the ship being low on power. Now, it seems the crew can escape so easily that it isn’t even worth showing how they managed it. I’m a tad annoyed about this as it’s losing any realism. We always know our heroes are going to escape and win in the end, but we still need to feel that there is a tangible risk that they won’t.

Bounty's ending is abrupt and it definitely seems like Terry Nation has tried to cram too much into the plot - I'd have liked an entire episode devoted to both parts. It didn't all sit together well, but I did like it all. Gan, Cally and Jenna all have much more to say and do this week. Cally’s survival skills shine on the planet and we get an insight into Jenna’s past, while aside from coming across a bit naive and thick, Gan does actually have more to say and gets to contribute to scenes instead of just standing in the background. T.P. McKenna felt like an enormous coup and I enjoyed his scenes with Gareth Thomas. I liked seeing a scared Blake faced with the guns and unsure of himself for once. It makes a change from his usual cocky, confident self. Yet one of my greatest delights was the relationship between Vila and Avon. Set in the context of the friendship comments, I am fond of the close trust developing between much of the crew. But quite rightly, Avon will never trust Blake as far as he can throw him and, quite rightly, none of the others trust Avon, and, hopefully, no one at all trusts Zen.