Thursday 20 February 2020

Blake's 7 - Star One

Star One
"You can lead the rabble to victory... whatever that might mean."

I've been sceptical about Blake's 7 having a series-long arc because I have grown impatient with it at times. Towards the end of the series, there have been misfires with Voice From the Past and The Keeper, so I was trying not to raise my hopes too much; there seemed every chance I would get a finale that didn't warrant the build-up or wrap up the narrative. Well, with Star One I have never cared less about the lack of a complete conclusion - the ride itself was satisfying enough.

The opening model work scene impressed me as some shots of the Liberator near planets in recent episodes have looked poor and stilted. Moving cameras or models provide much better realism. Conducting this opening purely with models of the ships, without cutting to shots of the men speaking over the radios, may well have been more practical and economical, but importantly, I think it is far more effective for creating the mounting tension the scene needs. I was already listening intently as the panic in the man's voice began to grow.

Space Command
We see less of Servalan in Star One than I was expecting, though this makes perfect sense because she doesn't know where Star One is. I had thought she might have managed to track Travis, but he either got away too quickly or immediately made adjustments to his ship to make it impossible. We appear to have lost her underling from Gambit and every time she returns to Space Command there is a different person for her to share scenes with. It would be nice to have another regular character here to gain more rapport with.

Travis had previously described Star One's potential for disrupting climates, so I immediately thought he must have already reached Star One and the Federation's problems were down to him. I was delighted and cheering him on - despite that feeling slightly strange - because I was keen to see him screw over the Federation. But I did then become conflicted when I remembered I had just watched 400 people die on that passenger ship, which would also have been down to him.

I was surprised that Servalan did not also jump to a similar conclusion. Perhaps she is as convinced as she was on Goth that Travis would not dare to betray her. However, what did she think had happened to Jenna and Vila there? She knew that Blake was nearby, so surely she would have expected him to stay near Goth until the brain print was found. I find myself coming to the conclusion that maybe she believed that Travis had taken the print, but did not intend to use it to find Star One - only to lure Blake.

Discovering that Servalan has very quietly mounted a coup was superb. I remain uncertain about Servalan's true motivations throughout everything. I have generally regarded her as a lone wolf, who delights in power, a belief that was first compounded by Deliverance when we saw her acting without the Federation's sanction. However, there are occasions when she speaks like a loyal servant of the Federation. I have been unconvinced about the sincerity of such statements, yet her attitude in Star One seems genuine. Gaining the Presidential title and its power seems like a happy accident here and Servalan is in no position to enjoy it yet. Unless this is all a massive bluff and she was actually working with Travis - tricking the aliens into coming through so she would have an excuse to grab power, but in fact being ready to wipe them out before any proper damage was done.

Star One
It is completely reasonable for Star One to be a considerable distance from anything else, so I'm not sure why the Liberator crew begin to feel unsure when they approach it. The concern that there would be no one and nothing nearby if they got into trouble is an incredibly odd point to raise. With hindsight, this feels like added emphasis for later in the episode when they have to face an invasion force alone. But they have always been alone. Have they not all felt this? I certainly have: it's them and the Liberator and that's it - as outlaws, they have never been able to risk asking anyone else to come to their rescue, which is partly what makes it such a big deal when Jenna decides to contact Servalan.

Convinced he was causing the Federation's disasters, I had expected to see Travis at Star One. Instead, a further mystery is presented when we have to decide if one scientist is mad or if only one scientist is sane. Until we saw those bodies, I wasn't sure if we could trust Lurena. It's a great, shocking shot when we seem them hanging up and it was the misted eyes that made me recoil - I thought they were still alive, being kept so that the aliens could use their form, and it did seem more of a mercy when we discovered they were dead.

Travis and the Andromedans
Once the Liberator crew mentioned Andromeda, I guessed the scientists must really be Andromedans and discovering that Travis was working with them presented a million questions that Star One never answers.

Why do the Andromedans want to wipe out humanity? What do they want from this galaxy? If the other Andromedans are held back by the minefields, how did this small contingent get through? How did Travis and the Andromedans get to know of one another? Had the Andromedans made it through before Travis contacted them or after - did Travis help them in somehow? If he sent them to Star One - how did he know the scientists were there and needed to be replaced? Why did Travis want to wipe out all of humanity anyway? What was he hoping to gain in a galaxy dominated by the Andromedans?

Travis could surely only gain power, a motivation for Servalan more than him as he has been driven by his desire for revenge on Blake. Yet potentially wiping out the entire of humanity just to achieve that is a bit extreme. I find it significant that Travis is back in his Federation uniform. He did once seem devoted to the Federation and it is Servalan who is now his enemy, not necessarily the Federation.

I wonder if he planned to let the Andromedan force through to let it overwhelm Servalan's Space Command. She would be killed or humiliated and Travis could help organise a successful retaliation, enabling him to be welcomed back into the fold of Space Command and take Servalan's place. There, he can return to being a loyal(ish) servant of the Federation and carry out whatever nasty actions he cares to enjoy, without the fear of reprisals.

Do we really need... Blake?
As I had thought as much after The Keeper, it was unsurprising that Avon has no intention of preventing Blake from heading into Star One to destroy it, despite the temptation of all that power. I was pleased that their conversation from Pressure Point had not been forgotten. Blake had no great objections then about Avon taking the Liberator and, if not happy exactly, is content to go with this now it's being voiced to everyone. Presumably, he must have some plan for attacking the Federation from Earth after Star One's destruction has caused chaos. Somewhat ironically, this must be one of the first times Blake has insisted everyone is consulted on a decision, although in the same scene he also says, "We have to win. It's the only way I can be sure I was right."

Having been advocating stuffing Blake out of an airlock since last series, part of me was thrilled by this idea becoming a closer reality, though I had quiet reservations: Blake is the most interesting member of the crew and there is still plenty to explore with him. Also, the moment this plan was agreed I gained a sense of foreboding and was sure it would not happen; either Star One would remain intact, or something else would force the crew to stick together with Blake.

Jenna and Vila briefly question this. But if Blake himself is willing to get off at Earth, what more discussion is there to have? Are they going to fight over who leads the Liberator? Force Blake to stay? Avon gets shit done and though I have concerns about having such a trigger-happy leader, he's the only other crew member that has seemed capable of stepping up into that role.

It's unfortunate that we haven't seen more of Jenna and that her character hasn't developed more into the kick-arse ex-smuggler she could have been, as I think she could have grown into an excellent antagonist for Avon, and another potential leader. More vocally than Cally, she has almost always supported Blake and I wouldn't expect her to stay on the Liberator without him.

'Trigger-happy' isn't quite the right description for Avon, but he is more forceful than Blake, perhaps less empathetic, and I think I inevitably come back to him being selfish - why should he unnecessarily risk his life, even slightly, for the sake of anyone else? His speech in this scene is marvellous and I adore Paul Darrow's delivery. It's passionate and angry, and as Avon's more scathing comments are often delivered at a normal volume, just slightly raising his voice has an impact without the need for him to become any more animated. I thought back to this scene towards the end of the episode.

"For what it's worth, I have always trusted you - from the very beginning." I was so taken back by Blake's words to Avon. Really? Have you? Just what does Blake think constitutes "the beginning" because he very nearly never got to leave Cygnus Alpha. It was a close call on Horizon too, though the more I've thought since, perhaps Blake knows Avon better than I've thought, and better than I have up to now. When Avon said, "I want to be free... of him," Blake responds, "I never realised - you really do hate me, don't you?" But I'm not sure Avon does. For a while now, I've increasingly come to believe that he actually cares about Blake enormously: he came to the rescue on Horizon, and he's directly saved Blake's life numerous times - including again on Star One. Despite all that logical self-preservation in him, whilst they are still bound together by the Liberator, Avon feels obligated to Blake. I think Avon cares for Blake far more than he wishes he did, and that's why he wants to be free.

Avon's confrontation with Travis outside is super: no pissing about - start blabbing or start blubbing. "Talk or scream, Travis!" is a magnificent line. Watching him watch Travis as they head inside, Avon is incredibly cautious and it's pure bad luck that Travis gets away from him. Confronted by one of the Andromedan scientists, when Avon shoots him there is plenty of blood and it splatters up the wall, which I thought was awesome - things are getting serious.

"I've had better days."
The episode's been gripping enough from the start anyway but from this point, the excitement and tension ramp up. Travis shooting Blake was one of the best moments ever. No confrontation - just time for Blake to half turn and suddenly - everything's momentarily slowed down. I'm holding my breath, then - "Nooooo!"

He looks very dead. When the scene cuts to Cally and Avon, it felt like an age. Cut back to Blake! Cut back to Blake! C'mon! I am mostly sure, but... when it cuts back to him lying on the floor, I'm certain, and it's a punch in the guts because I've hated this guy - I've spent months now being frustrated by him doing stupid, undemocratic things and then occasionally redeeming himself to me only for him to do them again. Yet I've bloody loved it and suddenly the idea of losing him doesn't seem fair - not for him, not for the others. Who else is going to have the determination to risk everything to bring down the Federation? Because really, as much as I think he's a selfish git, in equal measure I have come to admire Blake's sheer bloody commitment to his cause.

Gan's death has echoed throughout the rest of the series for me - and probably always will. It convinced me that Blake's 7 might just as easily maim or kill one or more of the other regulars. Was it planned this way? It's rather brilliant because without that I would never have believed Blake was dead.

Is Travis dead?
One of the very few positives about The Keeper was that it added a demonstration of Avon's loathing for Travis, which is why I was less bothered than I might have been when he gets the parting shot that sends Travis off. That Blake the Bloody Hero shoots Travis in the back is truly fantastic - he's finally been forced to come down to Travis's level. It's such a sudden, fast-moving scene with so much to process in only a few seconds: Travis is shot! Blake's alive?! Avon's here! Travis isn't dead! "He is now." Well, that remains to be seen. I instantly thought that he wasn't. He will have been chucked out somewhere, ready to crawl out and reappear when we least expect it.

It feels like the episode should be rounding things off by now but I was too gripped to notice. Get out, get to the Liberator, head off. But it's still going and the race to get the bombs out was nail-biting. As soon as Cally got outside, I'd had enough - "Just bloody chuck 'em!" And still, the excitement isn't over. Wasn't that enough? It was enough but I happily lapped up the rest.

That ending...
I spend a considerable portion of Star One leaning forward, eyes wide, either biting my lip or gaping at the screen, occasionally remembering to breathe out. I often swear at the screen when things start going wrong in Blake's 7 but there was much more variety to the phrases being shouted during Star One. I egged our heroes on, cried out in anguish, whooped in triumph, and laughed in relief and delight - including as it cut to the credits. It's a wonderful way to end a series and though I felt a pang of dismay, I cheered because, far more than that, I was so pleased with it all.

They end it there? THERE! I've spent 50 minutes going through an exhausting range of emotions and they end it there! I am presuming there was an entire year's wait for the next series, so this is both cruel and brilliant. It also presumably means that the production knew they were getting a third series and I am curious how early this was decided. Was there more than one ending for Star One, depending on whether they got another series? While Orac left room for more, this is a proper cliffhanger for what could be a two-part episode.

The end of the last series left me pondering on a mystery, but that spaceship explosion was always going to happen - it was just a matter of how and when. I was just as intrigued about where the characters' development was going to go in Series B. But currently, I have next to no interest in thinking about that for Series C - all I can think about is what is going to happen in the seconds and minutes immediately after Star One.

Tuesday 11 February 2020

Blake's 7 - The Keeper

The Keeper
"A fool knows everything and nothing."

I was not keen on The Keeper, though it starts well with setting up the story and some initial action. I am glad that the purpose of Control/Star One is reiterated in the opening scenes as it’s been a while and I feel it’s important that the stakes are emphasised again. We get more details when Travis is dwelling on it with Servalan. The descriptions of the power it offers, with the ability to control enormous and significant aspects of the Federation, reminded me of what I anticipated Orac might offer. I had been thinking more about control in terms of communications and weapons, although that potential has never really materialised. Orac has instead, mostly, become a slightly sassy Google, which is still a significant improvement on the unreliable Zen.

Blowing up Travis
It seems like a while since we had a Liberator side plot and anyone left behind has had little to do. Leaving Avon on board for the entire episode is a first, I think. It makes for a different setup that I felt worked as there is nothing for him to do on Goth.

Instead, we get to see Avon’s hatred of Travis as he takes the decision to blow up Travis’s ship. Cally’s objection to moving out of teleport range for the others seemed odd, as this has frequently happened in the past. However, in fairness, this has normally been to hide from Federation ships, rather than actively move towards any of them. Is this a sign of Avon’s growing confidence because the Liberator has avoided being caught so many times before? Or is it simply evidence of his increased loathing, and perhaps a reasonable fear of Travis?

At the start of Series B, I considered Travis to be Blake’s rival. The Federation and Servalan were after everyone but Blake and Travis had that personal relationship; few of the others had met Travis until Orac. Yet in this series there have been more direct encounters. As in Orac, during Weapon Avon showed a keenness to get rid of both Servalan and Travis. However, the circumstances seemed strategic. Avon again wanted to kill Travis at the end of Hostage. By Gambit, Jenna also thought they should. Like the casino scam in Gambit, The Keeper provides another opportunity to see what Avon will do when Blake isn’t there to stop him.

Blowing up the ship is partly strategic here, yet there does seem more loathing now, with Avon narrowing his eyes in determination as they close in, and telling Cally, “I have no objection to shooting him in the back.” Although Cally obeys Avon in blowing up the ship, she isn’t happy about it, but I was fully on his side as he says, “What did you want me to do – give him a sporting chance?” The Liberator crew need to be willing to play to the same rules as Travis.

Ultimate power
It's easy to say that when I don't know what else will happen. In the opening scenes, Avon reminds everyone that with Star One under their command, they could control the Federation. I couldn't decide just how provocative he was being when he considered that, "Blake is afraid that power would corrupt him."

This theme has come up earlier in Series B, though I'm struggling to place the exact instances. One moment I am now reconsidering is Avon and Blake's fantastic chat in Pressure Point, where Avon suggested Blake would be the natural leader for a resistance movement based from Earth. Blake's hesitant, "Perhaps..." threw me as I was unsure why he wouldn't want that. I pondered at the time whether he was feeling the pressure of leadership, but now I am wondering whether he really does think power would corrupt him - he does say, "That sort of power would corrupt anyone."

I enjoyed this brief moment in The Keeper and it will be interesting if this is expanded on, either in the next episode or in the future. Blake does easily take the place of a leader, no matter what situation they find themselves in, and if he doesn't think he should have enormous capabilities, that's a bit of a conflict with the side of him that wants to push his agenda by leading and deciding most things on the Liberator. If there is to be a successful rebellion against the Federation - whether that's through destroying Star One or any other means - it's starting to look as though Blake will have little choice in being at the head of it.

Travis and Servalan
I began wracking my brain to remember how things were left in Gambit because I couldn't work out how Travis and Servalan could have got to Goth ahead of the Liberator. I don't think they should have been able to outrun the most powerful ship around and they seem to have been settled in for a while.

And why is Servalan there at all? Only Travis heard about Goth, so he must have told her - why? I can only conclude that he knew he needed to move quickly and had to get hold of a ship. Yet after recent episodes, it seems very strange to see them teamed up like this without any proper onscreen explanation.

I'm unsure what Travis had imagined happening by going back to Servalan. It's surprising that he suggests them ruling the Federation together and Servalan's dismissiveness in, "What are you talking about, Travis?" is entirely appropriate. He says, "Don't you trust me?" and she responds, "No, of course not," and I'm thinking, 'Yes! Of course she doesn't! Why the hell are you trusting her again?!' It made me wonder if he still felt some element of loyalty to Servalan, but again - why? This plot seems to imply that it was only after Servalan rejected Travis's idea that he decided to betray her. Based on Travis's character previously, I am just not convinced of any of this as he would have had to have been incredibly foolish. Servalan may call him "pathetic" but I don't think he is.

It makes far more sense that Travis planned to await Blake's arrival and/or run off with the brain print at the first opportunity. Yet he didn't necessarily need to appear in the episode for that to work - the reveal of the missing brain print would have served as the explanation that he Travis had got there before them and already left.

Servalan has even less reason to be here. Travis could have hired or stolen a ship and the side plot of Avon blowing up a ship could have been removed, or it could just have been another Federation ship. The fact that Avon identifies a Federation pursuit ship as Travis's is slightly odd anyway because the Liberator crew know that Travis is now out of the Federation command. So if we didn't need Servalan's ships, the only reason for her presence is so that we see Travis betray her. It feels like the plot of The Keeper may have needed to achieve certain things before Series B's final episode, but there are too many flaws in the plotting for me.

They're a crude lot on Goth
There were large chunks of The Keeper that I did not find interesting or exciting. The studio sets for Goth were an enormous come-down after the flamboyance of Freedom City. CSO has been used sparingly throughout Blake's 7, so its use to show Jenna and Vila being brought into the caves really stood out and it really does look appalling.

The scenes in Gola's tent often seemed stilted with no engaging dialogue to grip me. Obviously Gola's fondness for Jenna is creepy and rapey, but I mainly found him tiresome and predictable. He has plenty to do but he's just a petulant, raging child and no one rises to it - his sister remains calm and the others bow to his whims.

This episode did provide something more substantial for Jenna. After initially seeming uncertain, her decision to endear herself to the Gola proves most useful. I loved her glance to Vila with an enormous eye roll. Her scene alone with the Gola's sister was also wonderful, and one of the few this episode that properly intrigued me.

I felt like if anyone was my saviour in some of the duller scenes, it was Vila. His reactions always entertain me and I enjoyed his horror when the Fool's mimicry gets him sent "below". There, I could almost feel his pain when Blake chose to leave him in the cell and we had a real Vila-esque line in, "I don't like the dark - I like to see what I'm scared of."

If I only had a brain (print)
Despite the description of a "brain print", the idea of a tiny thing on the back of a pendant was not what I had expected. I'd been imagining a small physical print that could fit in a purse hung around someone's neck. For once, this is a case of Blake's 7 predicting future technology to be much smaller.

After initially believing that the old man moaning in the cell must come into the episode somehow, I became as dismissive of him as Blake and Vila when nothing occurred. The Fool describing himself to the old man as "your fool" sent a flag up, but I didn't work it out.

The most impressive part of The Keeper's plot for me was the trigger phrase. The hunt for the print on the various royals had lacked tension, but I liked this twist and thought it a clever idea.

To Star One
This has easily been my least favourite episode of the series. There have been other episodes that I've had big issues with but they manage to redeem themselves overall. Yet here, the negatives outweigh the positives - and that's a first for me with Blake's 7. I will happily go back and reassess other episodes at some point, but The Keeper's greatest crime is that I found so much of it dull.

It also doesn't help that I was left frustrated trying to figure out Travis and Servalan's involvement. I've never wished they weren't in an episode before. Their presence feels forced and largely unnecessary. I felt like I was missing pieces of the puzzle though and I'm doubtful whether they will come together in the next episode. Nonetheless, I can't wait to see what Servalan does now that Travis has tricked her - she said she would kill him.

I am curious what Star One will be like. I've imagined something similar to Control on Earth, but I've also pictured it housed in a spaceship or satellite of some sort. We have spent so long looking for Star One that I have given little thought to what might happen there. I suppose I hadn't been expecting the crew to be chasing Travis - I thought it would be the other way around.

I think Blake will definitely destroy Star One. Despite Avon musing on the prospect of all that power, I don't think he's willing to go against Blake for it - certainly not when his only support is Vila. I was far more excited for the finale last series because there seemed so much mystery, yet we have always known what Star One is and it feels like we have been heading towards it for an incredibly long time - and longer than I had expected; I originally thought this plotline would only last a few episodes. I hope it's been worth the wait.