Friday 25 October 2019

Blake's 7 - Weapon

"You can be like God!"

I'd had small reservations about Chris Boucher after Shadow but Weapon has alleviated those. His stories have a different style to Terry Nation's and I'm reluctant to try to define that yet, but I’m finding it interesting. Bonus points for starting an episode by blowing something up. I was thrilled to see Servalan and Travis again. Frankly, sod Team Liberator in Weapon - it was Servalan's scenes I enjoyed the most, by far. It was pointed out to me that Servalan's name is never actually said onscreen during Series A, so this episode becomes the first time it's used. The clone woman's pronunciation wasn't how I had heard it in my head.

"Is there anything of me left?"
I was so disappointed to see a new Travis, who is now played by Brian Croucher. I had had such fun hating Stephen Grief’s evil Space Commander and it’s immediately apparent that New Travis is not of the same ilk. There’s an absence of menace and Grief had built up a presence, to the point where I was on edge every time he appeared, unsure whether he wanted to interrogate or kill someone. The recasting has lost that, at least for now, and I’m wondering whether it will ever return.

New Travis is introduced as 'Blake' walks into a room with him. I thought this was a great idea as it does look exactly like Blake. When I've seen fake versions of people - either robots or clones - in fiction, the creators tend to give them tells. Our heroes are supposed to have something to spot and this can be made clear to the audience, whether it's in appearance, language or tone of voice. Like the robot in Project Avalon, this version of Blake is given no apparent tell immediately. My mind suddenly raced, trying to work out what was going on. But seconds in I knew there was no way Blake would ever trust Travis enough to meet him unarmed, walking in so normally. The situation alone made me doubt it. The moment when 'Blake' drops to his knees pleading with Travis felt entirely out of character.

Seeing Travis kill Blake, even a cloned Blake, does seem the perfect way to reintroduce the character - 'This is the same guy - look how much he hates Blake.' I did feel that these scenes with the clones lasted too long - there is so much chat with Travis, Servalan and the clone woman.

Supreme Commander vs. Bryan Ferry
In Series A, I couldn't wait to see more interaction between Travis and Blake, and I was happy to see Servalan full stop. Based on Weapon, I'm looking forward to watching how Travis and Servalan's relationship progresses. This open disdain and disloyalty to one another from them both was shocking.

I certainly never thought Travis was subservient to Servalan in the last series - it was what made his quieter, more reserved appearance in Deliverance so strikingly different - but while proud and assertive, he didn't seem arrogant and there was still unspoken respect for the Supreme Commander. Any trace of deference has now vanished and for a man who has been beaten by Blake on several occasions, humiliated by him and Avon in front of Servalan, he's far too cocky.

After he's shot the Blake clone, Servalan tells him, "Travis, you are pathetic," adding, "Of all the cripple-brained idiots." He puts his hand around her throat and she threatens to send him to a slave pit. The arguing between Servalan and Travis does make a marked difference to Series A when I got the feeling that Travis held back some strong feelings, or at least toned them down. Servalan must retain the upper hand in their relationship though as he needs her - so he can take revenge on Blake - far more than she needs him.

There are references to Travis having undergone some sort of conditioning and I'm curious what this was exactly. Travis tells Servalan, "My visits to the retraining therapist have left me... I don't know... Is there anything of me left?" So he still had enough value for the Federation to try to improve him, instead of chucking him on the scrapheap of failed Federation officers. I imagine replacing skilled and ruthless Space Commanders can't be an easy task - not everyone's got multiple mass murders in them. Surely such treatment should have made him easier for the Supreme Commander to control! It appears the results are somewhat unpredictable. It currently seems a huge change in personality for Travis, so I am glad that it is explained.

I do feel that Blake's 7 missed a trick as this conditioning experience could have been used to explain his change of face; after the events of Series A, it might have been helpful for Travis to become unrecognisable to the Liberator crew. Having seen enough of this universe, swift plastic surgery certainly seems within easy reach of the Federation. It's a loss I'm going to have to bear it seems and perhaps the production team just wanted to be able to crack on with the show, without having to dwell on such a major cast change.

The sexiest officer
Servalan has recruited the services of a psychoanalyst, Carnell, to predict Coser's actions. Initially, these seem to hold up, but it starts to unravel for him when things go wrong. I was amused by how much of a coward he is, quite reasonably scarpering rather than face Servalan's wrath. But he does leave her a video message to explain, which leaves her satisfied. I really enjoyed their scenes together. With Servalan walking around the seated Carnell, their height difference helps to emphasise her power and she seems so relaxed.

As in Series A, in Weapon Servalan continues to be dressed in pure white silky materials with furs. She always looks utterly stunning and her outfit in Weapon is probably as teasingly revealing as you can get away with at this time in the evening, with a small top hanging down that is cut off high and surely only just covering up her breasts - I'm pretty sure I could see a skin-coloured bra. We get to see a lot of different angles for this outfit in her scenes with Carnell. It was a tad distracting, in a nice way. If there weren’t already a generation of teenage boys (and a few girls) watching Blake’s 7 solely for the chance of a glimpse of Jacqueline Pearce every week, then they should be from now on. It certainly made an impression on Carnell, who finishes his video message by telling Servalan, "You are undoubtedly the sexiest officer I have ever known."

I love that while presenting a sexual image, I don't think Servalan ever appears the stereotypical vulnerable female. I mention further on in this post about the cast appearing comfortable in their costumes, and Servalan looks so at ease in every scene. After seeing things slip through her fingers in Orac last series and seeing her fearful for the first time, in Weapon she seems in control again. She's incredibly confident and despite Travis's cockiness, she's the one who continues to exude power. I think Servalan also uses her sexuality with men. Though we have really only seen her with Travis up to now, repeatedly with him and here with Carnell, she takes the small action of placing her hand on their chests.

Team Liberator
I've enjoyed Chris Boucher's scenes with the whole crew over the past two episodes. Blake and Avon do often tend to dominate conversations on the flight deck, punctuated with the occasional witticism from Vila. But there seems to have been an effort to give the others more lines. I have no doubt that some of the reasoning for this would have been behind-the-scenes discussions with the actors. It's much more natural for the conversations to have this type of back and forth.

I thought this worked well in their first scenes for Weapon, from which Blake is absent at the start. Instead of all being seated at the controls, they are sat or stood around the sofa area. This was good too as we must assume that even on the Liberator, there are quiet days for relaxing, perhaps odd evenings and weekends when they are not on standby for fleeing Federation pursuit ships or attacking strategic bases.

Blake the Bloody Hero
None of the crew is happy when Avon reveals, "another of Blake's little schemes he hasn't thought fit to tell us about," although it turns out Cally does know, and it was in fact her idea. The others are not pleased by this either. Blake has always gone ahead with his "little schemes" and I have always been on Avon's side about their imposition without consultation.

I don't think it bodes well that Cally and Blake have effectively been plotting together. As Avon puts it to Cally: "On Earth, it is considered ill-mannered to kill your friends while committing suicide." When Blake's ultimate plan to return and attack the Federation on Earth is referenced, Vila hopes it will be "later, much later" and Avon reckons Blake will be attempting it alone. Jenna and Gan's loyalty is shown when they refute that, but nonetheless, neither of them - who have both been keen fans of Blake - was happy that he and Cally had been making plans behind their backs. This feels like something that will continue to fester until someone (definitely Avon) has had enough.

What the plot
In Series A, I had noticed that Blake’s 7 often spent a long time on the Liberator in the first half of episodes. I was concerned that this might become a problem, but I’ve always been alright with it because Terry Nation still always brought in action, the plot does start moving, and I’ve never felt like the crew were spending 20 minutes wading through exposition or expressing simple drivel while sat on the flight deck. Nonetheless, in Shadow, Chris Boucher swiftly got us off the Liberator to Space City and it was interesting to have this different dynamic.

For Weapon, we return to Nation's usual format and are easily over halfway through before the crew head down to the planet, yet this isn’t because we are watching the Liberator. The script spends a while with Servalan, Travis and the clone masters, which is probably longer than necessary. In a way, it reminded me of Deliverance, when the Servalan and Travis scenes were used to demonstrate how Travis’s failed mission in Project Avalon had impacted him. He had been under investigation then and a broken man. I expected something similar here, but there wasn’t, and I couldn’t quite work this new man out. It just seems to be used as a slight character reboot, emphasising Travis’s loathing of Blake.

Time is also taken up with us following Coser and Rashel on the planet. These were the only scenes that felt weak as they don’t add much, with the two escapees squabbling and pondering whether they can hear something. If it was an attempt to build up tension before the reveal of a giant crab-like claw, this is lost by repeatedly cutting away to Servalan and Travis or the Liberator. We aren’t at all invested in Coser at this point and the way he treats Rashel means he comes across as a prick, so I couldn’t give a shit what happened to them.

"IMIPAC! It's called IMIPAC."
Coser's destruction of the crab does show us the potential of IMIPAC and was possibly an easier special effect to achieve than on a human being – the murder of the guard later on isn’t as horrifyingly disgusting as the melting crab made me think it would be. We cut away from Coser's own death altogether, which did make me feel cheated. One could argue that after seeing the remains of the crab claw, the audience's imagination could come up with something far more vile, yet this is taken away when we do cut back to see Coser's intact corpse.

IMIPAC isn't a fighting weapon for shoot-outs and duels, so I do think its gun-like design is misleading. I thought it was a marvellous strategic concept and Servalan seems the most perfect person to own it, as it gives a fantastic hold over people. I loved it when she shot Travis and thought this could be something that, with their altered relationship, dragged out over the series. Likewise, once Blake, Avon and Gan had been shot, I felt sure they were all doomed and might have to spend the series trying not to get too close to Servalan. When confronted with this fact, the three of them are uncertain initially - it could be a superb bluff, yet it really isn't a risk they can take. Gan had earlier posited, "Is there a defence against IMIPAC?" with the reply coming from Avon, "Yes, it's called slavery." This possibility hadn't occurred to me - I guess I just expected Servalan to want to kill people! It would have been ironic if the evil Supreme Commander had been the one to turn them into something resembling the Wicked Witch of the West.

I couldn't help but keep wondering whether Avon could have shot Servalan before she pressed the button. As at Orac's conclusion, he's immensely trigger-happy around her and Travis, quickly analysing the situation when they walk through the door: "They're too confident, Blake. This looks like a trap. Let's kill the bait and get out of here." Again, it's Blake who holds him back. In a way, I can start to see how the two of them benefit each other, with Avon pushing back against some of Blake's most risky propositions, while Blake prefers Servalan and Travis alive so that he knows who his enemies are.

There are a few bits of worldbuilding given to us by these scenes, with Coser repeatedly referenced as of "Beta grade", added to the Alpha and Delta ones mentioned in Shadow. Rashel is described as a "Labour grade slave". I don't think this is the first time Blake's 7 has mentioned slaves - it's no surprise at all that the Federation has them. Interestingly, Blake himself, or at least his clone, is recognised by Coser. I'm hoping this is due to Federation 'WANTED' posters else the crew have got no chance of ever impersonating their way into anywhere.

Blake's 7 meets glam
As a collection, Weapon's costumes have been my favourite so far. I'm finding all the costumes from Series B so entertaining. It's a superb step-up from Series A and I love that the regular cast is getting something different every week. So many fantasy-type series keep their costumes the same for every episode or make only minor adjustments, and perhaps it is seen as an unnecessary budget expenditure. The sheer variety of outfits is making Blake's 7 stands apart and they are impressive. I can't believe that in one week we've gone from World of Leather to glam rock. I'm also impressed by Costume Designer June Hudson's attention to character, as I increasingly find everyone's outfits are so suited; nothing jars and for me, that's how it should be - the cast look comfortable and natural, despite having outfits that were probably quite different to their usual 1970s' clothes.

The word for Weapon is GLAM. Travis should be fronting Roxy Music on Top of the Pops, being a dead ringer for Bryan Ferry (I can’t get over this), while Coser and Rashel could easily blend in as someone’s guitarists.

Stephen Grief’s Travis had an awesome Federation uniform, although I do think it’s good to have changed it for a different actor; there will be comparisons anyway and it helps the new actor put their mark on the part. New Travis’s outfit remains black but it’s much sleeker and, like everyone else’s in this episode, looks that touch more glamorous. Travis’s eyepatch has also been updated and I prefer this design. The previous version was bulky and the hole for Grief to see through was blatantly obvious. I'm certain it must have been difficult to keep on because it looked like it would fall off at any moment. This one seems more bespoke.

This week Avon has come dressed as an all-black gentleman thief - Paul Darrow has that slightly chiselled face - while Vila could be his bumbling sidekick, being also in black, but more of a silky shirt. I can't make my mind up about Avon's totally red outfit - at least you aren't going to lose him. Meanwhile, Cally and Jenna are done up beautifully and could be ready to walk onto Dallas. The ladies really add a touch of sophistication this week. Blake is still playing Robin Hood.

Heroes and villains?
I’m aware I have said relatively little about the Liberator crew in Weapon, though, in fairness, they get a limited amount of screentime. Maybe this was planned. It’s been a whole year since the 1979 audience has seen Servalan and Travis and while it has been barely a couple of months for me, I was keen to watch them again.

Having such compelling recurring villains is a huge part of Blake’s 7’s appeal. When your heroes are criminals with some questionable morals, they need truly despicable opponents. The further we see the Liberator crew go, the further we need to see their enemies go.

I love how outrageously heartless both Travis and Servalan are, yet both display it in different ways. Travis is an aggressive and blatantly sadistic man of action, while Servalan enjoys surveying results with a satisfied smirk. He is a mercenary while she is a strategist, taking enormous pleasure as she delicately moves pieces into position. I loved her line, "When you know an enemy’s strengths and can use them against them, they become weaknesses." It's interesting that this is close to Blake's strategy, having repeatedly said in Series A that he knows he can beat Travis. So often Servalan seems one step ahead of everyone – either Travis had too much trust in her, or it never even occurred to him that she might use IMIPAC on him. Both Orac and Weapon have shown Servalan willing to get more involved in missions on the ground, overseeing operations more closely. I do wonder whether this is putting her at risk. I’d like to see whether the Liberator crew begin to realise this and try to take advantage of it.

Tuesday 15 October 2019

Blake's 7 - Shadow

"To have total control you must control totally."

While I’ve enjoyed Terry Nation’s Blake’s 7 scripts, I had been intrigued to see what someone else would do with the programme. I wasn’t sure how long I might have to wait so it was nice to get one so soon with Shadow. I’ve been seeing Chris Boucher’s name on the credits since Series A so knew we had at least got someone who knew the show well.

At the end of Redemption, Blake had announced his intention to take everyone back to Earth and take the Federation on. Although Blake’s 7 lacks traditional three-eyed, two-headed little green aliens, it does feature humanoid aliens and yet it seems Earth is the centre of the universe. How depressing. I thought this decision was a bit rash and dangerous, and blimey, Blake – aren’t you doing enough to risk everyone’s lives? I can only imagine Vila and Avon’s offscreen reactions. It was therefore a relief to discover they were heading to Space City to get some support ready for when they reached Earth.

You should see some of the sights I'm (not) seeing
Space City is described as an almost mythical place. Vila is almost drooling over the prospect of visiting, saying it is "also known as the Satellite of Sin " "By who?" queries Avon. "Me," is Vila's simple answer. He says to visit is “one of my all-time great ambitions” and Blake tries to soften the blow: “You’d probably be disappointed.” Vila is having none of it though, declaring that he'll "take that chance.”

I was gutted for Vila when Blake ordered him to remain on the Liberator! We aren’t informed exactly what these 'sins' include, so naturally my mind jumped to complete filth. Vila leaves it rather open, saying, “Pick a pleasure. Any pleasure,” but Jenna's brusque suggestion of, “Why don’t you take a cold shower or something?” tells me I'm on the right path. He also adds, “I’ve wanted to visit Space City since I was old enough to read the graffiti in the juvenile detention wards,” which is a nice little insight into Vila’s past, and far from surprising.

Once he’s snuck off later, we hear Vila over the radio and he is having a magnificent time, desperate to stay longer. He has an almost dreamy, far-away voice and between this and his dialogue, it's plain that he's in heaven. He tells Cally he's removed his teleport bracelet because he's “not going to be snatched away in the middle of... in the middle of anything." He adds that he is, "Sightseeing. And you should see some of the sights I’m seeing. No... perhaps you shouldn’t.”

Yet upon his return, Vila just appears to have gotten drunk and Blake isn’t happy. As a fellow occasional sufferer of hangovers, I’m much more sympathetic to Vila than any of the crew seem to be, especially when he mutters, “Never again... I’m dying.” It’s disappointing that we don’t get to see more of Space City's debauchery, yet as we are pre-watershed, I suppose Blake’s 7 is a tad limited. But in my imagination, this was an orgy of indulgence and for a very brief moment, Vila’s life peaked. It's clever that they manage to convey so much despite showing so little.

We don’t see much of Space City at all and encounter only Largo, the druggies and a few guards there. It’s a city! Where is everyone? As with Redemption, it is a struggle to try to give these places a sense of scale and I needed to see more of this society. Where are the drug dealers? Where are the prostitutes, the bartenders, the tour guides? Blake’s 7 needs a few more supporting artists wandering around these places.

Alphas and Deltas
One of Vila's conversations with Cally offers a few lines of dialogue that left my brain whirling. It starts when Vila dismissively says that Blake “thinks of himself as a hard man” but Vila thinks "he’s led a very sheltered life.” Cally scoffs at this and initially I did too. I've kept changing my mind about just how far I think Blake would go but I certainly wouldn't describe him as "soft" and yes, especially following his interactions with Travis, I think I would accept a description of him as "hard".

The "sheltered" part also conflicted with a lot of what we have seen and heard, but in fairness, there are a lot of blank spaces in Blake's history. Vila reveals that Blake was an "Alpha grade" and Alphas are “highly privileged” while the "Delta service grades” where he grew up seem to be the opposite.

I was so intrigued by the idea that the Federation's worlds had these grades that people were born into. It's an extreme-sounding take on the class system. Vila's wording made it sound as though these different grades lived in entirely separate places and that people like him were destined for lowly things. If the areas were like the domes that we saw on Earth in The Way Back, then they would be entirely cut off from one another, so Vila's comment about a "sheltered life" would be accurate.

I was taken aback by the crew’s attitudes to Shadow at first. They have all seemed a liberal bunch and I didn’t think they would care about what a couple of daft young kids got up to in their spare time. The effects of Shadow are represented vaguely at first and to begin with, I just thought it was something that the Dreamheads' race needed to live. Yet from its representation as Shadow progresses, heroin is the drug I would most align it with, and the crew’s anti-drug attitudes seemed more justified.

Jenna tells us that when she was a smuggler, she refused to carry it as cargo. Avon elaborates for the audience, telling us that “possession carries a mandatory death sentence” to which Jenna tersely says, “That wasn’t the reason,” implying she had a moral objection to it. Gan also talks about Shadow disparagingly, though Avon and Blake's attitudes are more mixed, with neither committing either way entirely.

What kind of smuggler was Jenna exactly? I am increasingly disappointed that she isn’t the sort of ruthless pirate I originally imagined. Smugglers can’t pick and choose their smuggled cargo on a moral basis! Jenna is the nicest smuggler I have ever known and I found myself thinking back to her past form.

From her first scene, Jenna has been, well, decent - stopping Vila from robbing Blake’s watch. Back in Cygnus Alpha, the most sensible thing would have been to abandon Blake on that rock and have done a runner in the Liberator with Avon. But Jenna held off, waiting. She’s always shown loyalty to Blake and early on this probably wasn’t justified. For me, the cut-off point was Bounty. At the time, I was uncertain whether she really had betrayed everyone and this window into her past showed that she had been willing to deal with total scumbags. But she had nothing to gain except the crew’s lives and she still chose that. While I was satisfied with that outcome, showing Jenna in that situation destroyed any 'good bad guy' credentials she could have - she is just a good guy really and I have the feeling that she is too honest and fair deep down to have been a particularly successful smuggler. She doesn’t ever seem to prioritise selfish gains, even perfectly reasonable ones.

I was surprised by Gan in this episode, who was against visiting Space City at all because he thought it was wrong for them to do business with the Terra Nostra due to their nasty criminal reputation. This seems like the first time he’s developed any sort of personality. On the one hand it’s nice that he has, on the other it jars because we have never seen him stand up to Blake before. Later, Gan is unhappy with Blake's plan to blackmail the Terra Nostra.

Gan “The drug in return for their help? Blake, that would make us pushers!”
Blake “Well maybe we won’t keep our end of the bargain!"
Gan "That would make us cheats!"

I found this all so strange. First, I've no idea how common the term was in 1979 but Gan's use of "pushers" has momentarily transported us to an anti-drug play from a school Drama lesson. Next, "cheats" - who the bloody hell does Gan think he jumped on to this ship with? They're a bunch of cheats, liars and murderers! Even if we remain vague about the exact circumstances of Gan's crime, they have all been complicit in some pretty grim stuff together now. This is far too late to find some righteousness, especially to object against blackmailing people as scummy as the Terra Nostra. This is such a bizarre way to start building up Gan's character and makes no sense.

Avon has a fairly good episode, though his sarcasm felt almost overdone - it's clear Chris Boucher is having good fun writing for him! He never misses a chance to put Vila down in Shadow.

Not for the first time, Avon is shown to be both capable and enjoy himself in a fight. After taking out the two silver-suited guards on Zonda, he flashes a satisfied grin and says to himself, "Next please."

One moment I liked involved no lines at all. Having failed to negotiate a deal with Largo, Blake holds his hand out, forcing Avon to give back the jewels they had brought as payment. Avon's face, as he stuffs the bag into Blake's hand, is the perfect picture of pissed off.

For the most part, Avon sticks with his usual cynical, sometimes cruel outlook. When he and Gan are locked in a cell, Gan wonders what will happen to them. Avon very bluntly answers, “A pro keeps it simple. I imagine they’ll kill us. You can’t get much simpler than that.” I wouldn't fancy being stuck in a prison with him.

In the same scene, the two Dreamheads mock Gan and as one giggles, Avon walks over, bends slightly and glares down at her, asking, "Something amuses you?" I enjoyed the delivery of this line. Avon looked and sounded intimidating. It was so villain-esque and is one of numerous occasions when I have felt that should he be so inclined, Avon could switch sides incredibly easily.

The Dreamheads are siblings and when one is later killed, Avon is horribly dismissive, saying, “She was dying anyway.” Vila had earlier made a comment implying Avon wasn't very human and this line, delivered so heartlessly, is the perfect follow up. Maybe he really is very anti-drugs after all, but I found it unnecessarily callous for him. I'm not sure if him looking away from the brother as he says it makes it worse.

However, Avon's whole outlook has taken an even worse turn by the end of the episode.

Avon “Ironic, isn’t it? We were hoping to use the Terra Nostra to attack the Federation, only to discover that it is already being used to support it.”
Vila “Where are all the good guys?”
Blake “Could be looking at them.”
Avon “What a very depressing thought.”

It's marvellous that Avon doesn’t consider the Liberator crew to be the good guys. Perhaps that is the great difference between him and Blake - Blake does think they are the good guys, or at least wants them to be, while Avon has never particularly aspired to that. If Avon is some type of leader, I don't think he's the nurturing type - he would probably have let Vila go to the Satellite of Sin - and I still see him as being driven by the plain desire not to die.

Dancing in the red sun's light
Once again, Paul Darrow gets a cracking outfit for Avon but this one is much more stunning than last week's. A silver jumper over a black polo is paired with a silver-studded belt. He looks like he's ready to shamelessly rock some moves on a Space City dancefloor. It's a contrast to Blake, who is sticking with his green theme and looks like he's preparing to take on the Sheriff of Nottingham. I'll be curious to see whether this outfit of Avon's ever appears again though, as it did seem to flare against the studio lights at times. Meanwhile, if the trousers weren't enough in Redemption, Vila now has a full yellow outfit.

I liked the Liberator’s ‘desert’ outfits that Blake, Avon and Jenna all deploy for their visit to Zonda. This camouflage seemed a good idea. The lads have brown boots to go with theirs, though Jenna wins here as she sports some superb silver boots.

The guards on Zonda are dressed head to toe in a type of silver mesh. It has no camouflage advantage so maybe it reflects the sun's rays - we are told there are two of them. I don't think we ever saw more than two or three of these guards at once. I was slightly amused watching them because, well, it's apparent that none of Zonda's guards are the slimmest individuals, which is probably why they were so easily defeated.

What the plot?
My biggest problem with Shadow is the plot. On Twitter, Joseph Oldham suggested to me that Chris Boucher had been waiting so long to write an episode that he shoved in every plot idea he had. I'm inclined to take this seriously as it certainly looks like that's the case.

The story starts by being about the crew visiting Space City to negotiate with Largo for Terra Nostra support, where there are a couple of Shadow addicts trying to escape, then it becomes about threatening the supply of Shadow from Zonda, then also about Orac messing with the Liberator and controlling Cally, but it’s really something from another dimension, and actually we find out that it’s the Federation controlling Shadow and therefore the Terra Nostra, so at the same time as running a black market in Shadow, they are executing people for possessing it and there is no point in trying to negotiate any support on Earth from the Terra Nostra. Wow. This is several episodes’ worth of plotting and by the end Chris Boucher has tied us in knots, while there are several loose ends.

The last five minutes are bad. Nobody wants to conclude an exciting episode with exposition. If you need to explain this much about what has just happened, it’s too complicated, or at least too much – it’s clear we ran out of time to show things. Blake, Avon and Jenna have a fight with the silver-suited guards on Zonda, yet we only see the end of it as they are tossing men into a pool and it smacks of an overrunning script.

Back on the Liberator, Cally has to explain about the ‘thing’ from another dimension that has accessed her through Orac. The whole Shadow and Federation business is tied up, somehow, when Avon reveals he has a security pass from a Federation guard he killed. When did that happen? Earlier this episode? A previous adventure? It’s unclear. Suddenly some Federation pursuit ships turn up - because those bastards get everywhere - and oh, we have to end the episode. What?! You can't have the dullest ever few minutes at the end of the episode then deny us the chance for a space battle and burning planet!

Terra Nostra
Is Largo really part of the Terra Nostra? I think he is supposed to be. Largo is immediately a proper nasty villain and I'd have happily seen more of him. He taunts the Shadow addicts, gloating, “I own you, Dreamheads.” He forces them to beg, rubbing his power in: “We own you, boy.” It seems appropriate that he shares his name with a James Bond villain because he borders on that over-the-top-ness.

His underling is simply called an 'enforcer' and both he and Largo are dressed in red velvet suits with frilly shirts, reminding me of 1960s' Victorian hero Adam Adamant. The Enforcer doesn't seem all that nice either. For such an enjoyably vile baddie, it's a shame we don't get Largo throughout the whole episode. His off-screen death is a waste and the Enforcer's motivation appears to have only been thought up one scene before. He's far too small a character. Prior to that, they have had no real interaction and it would have been better if we could have had this rivalry, jealously, or untrustworthiness built up from the opening scenes. Largo is a horrible guy and establishing some sort of relationship between him and the Enforcer would have made the pay off when he kills him much better.

While this aspect of the Space City plot felt underwhelming, another is simply left open. They speak to the Chairman on a video screen. He's definitely a baddie because he's playing with a spider. After Largo has been killed, the Chairman tells the Enforcer that he can have Largo's place.  The Enforcer tells the Chairman that Largo has been adding something to his corrupted Shadow that makes it radioactive, so he can use special equipment to track the users. We see nothing else from Space City so this seems unresolved and I'm sure the Liberator still has some of the Dreamheads' Shadow on board.

Cally, are you still there?
One thing I am happy to commend this script on is remembering Cally’s telepathy. It isn’t the first time Cally has been possessed by something outside the ship, which may be why Chris Boucher only used it as a minor part of the plot. Yet it's a shame as it feels like such a sideshow, with us later cutting from Cally lying down to the action on Zonda, to the others on the bridge deck. The background of Cally's telepathy strength has to be explained by Gan. That both this and the conclusion need explaining isn't great - you could have done an entire episode around Cally becoming possessed.

It's Avon who has normally shown more concern for Cally but this time it's Blake. He is very snappy and rude with the others as they head for Zonda, which seems to be his go-to setting when he's worried. Avon, perhaps sympathising, offers a curt but clear observation: “There’s nothing you can do for Cally - even shouting at everybody else is not going to help her.”

We do get some cool effects to try to show what's going on. It reminded me of Doctor Who's Kinda. One effect has Cally surrounded by darkness but she is bathed in light. Another camera or editing trick of some sort enables us to see her rise out of her own body in a ghostly fashion.

Prior to being possessed by a being from another dimension, Cally gets the chance to be a bit brutal. She's livid with Vila for sneaking off to Space City, threatening to make a necklace from his teeth. More seriously, she is willing to blow up the controllers at Space City. In the end, she destroys an approaching gunship they have sent. She's entirely alone on the Liberator when undertaking this and, having been more of a student in Series A, it's wonderful that she has the confidence to pilot the ship and launch a defensive attack single-handedly.

Only a machine
Vila moans to Zen, “If you were a decent computer, you’d be able to operate the teleport system like Orac can.” Like Gan's line about the details of Cally's telepathy, it's a slightly clumsy way of shoving in some plot/worldbuilding. I wonder if this script or perhaps another originally planned to demonstrate Orac's teleport functioning ability but ran out of time or was rearranged.

Following Redemption, I had said that Orac would be better for the Liberator because unlike Zen he is separate from it and I felt the crew were more likely to retain control of the ship. Ah well, never mind! I like that we get the tiniest hint earlier on in the episode of what is about to happen as Vila threatens, “I'll switch you off and throw away the key,” Orac quietly replies, “Soon that will be no longer a problem.” Understandably, I’m no longer so sure about Orac. I thought he would be a positive and helpful thing for the crew, but it could turn out to be a more mixed fortune. I certainly didn't think it could get worse than Zen.

Total control
One more loose aspect is that, as Avon says, they found Shadow’s source far too easily. Why? Is the Federation happy for people to find it because they then know who will have it? Or is it because those pursuit ships can be deployed so quickly and can destroy anyone who finds Zonda? Or are they really supposed to be relying on the silver-suited guards? Is this something to play out over the rest of the series along with the Shadow that is presumably still on board the Liberator? I watched Shadow three times to attempt to follow everything because I kept feeling like I was missing things.

There are major issues with Shadow’s plotting with too much dragged in towards the end, but there were also plenty of positive elements. As explained above, I thought Largo was a good villain. Vila essentially has his own side plot with little bearing on any of Shadow’s plots, yet I thought he had a wonderful episode and he was my favourite character to watch this week. His scenes with Cally showed that his humour can work well, if differently, with someone other than Avon.

I managed to guess that the Federation would be involved with Shadow. Avon’s comments about them finding Zonda too easily instantly made me think that they were walking into a possible trap, even if it wasn’t one set down specifically for them. I was pleased and satisfied by the conclusion that the Federation operates a circle-like strategy with Shadow, both controlling its distribution and prosecuting its users. Blake’s line that, “It’s quite logical; to have total control you must control totally - both sides of the law,” was a perfect summary. This was so annoying, frustrating, and brilliant. It’s another part of the Blake's 7 universe that makes you feel the Federation are all-powerful. They increasingly seem like an invincible evil.