The one that resolves Orac’s “Space vehicle will be destroyed” Season One cliffhanger. Also the one that most informs the view of the series as a bunch of actors in cheap costumes playing zap guns in a power station. This is what you get when the series goes epic without the resources to sell the ideas (this is Space World!) But still, Redemption has a lot going for it. The first half provides an enjoyably dense rumination on the idea of science underpinning prediction. When the action kicks in, the episode is less rewarding, but there are still compensations. Such as gimp guards. And alien ladies in blue body stockings. We knew Orac’s prediction had to be a cheat, so at least Tezza goes all out with it.
Vila: If it ever comes to a showdown, my money’s on Blake. Well, half of it. I’ll put the other half on Avon.
A Liberator crew-lite episode (they’re hardly involved in events until the last third) as Boucher serves up lashing of new Federation mythology. Indeed, the episode is at its least interesting when the action starts. We’re introduced to the Clone Masters and the puppeteers/psycho-strategists. Carnell (Scott Fredericks, in a persuasively smooth performance) appears only the once, but it’s difficult to believe that, with such a resource at their disposal, Servalan wasn’t making use of the puppeteers every week in her attempts to get the better of Blake. This is a strong Servalan outing, and her response to Carnell’s departing message is a delight. Also on board is John Bennett as the designer of IMIPAK, the titular weapon. He’s got a Ming the Merciless costume thing going on. The IMIPAK idea allows for some neatly clever-clever dialogue (“I haven’t told it it’s dead yet”). With that, and a cloned Blake (far cooler than the real one, and given to profundities such as “All life is linked”), Boucher’s script is bursting with ideas. The pay-off isn’t quite there, although it’s nice to see a kind-of happy ending where the thread of what happens if the weapon is ever discovered is left dangling. This is also the first appearance of Travis Mk II, and Croucher is predictably wretched in the part.
Jenna: Maybe IMIPAK is another Orac. If we captured him maybe we could breed them.
Blake: What a disgusting idea!
If a Blake’s 7 episode could be labelled a likeable gobshite, it would be Headhunter. This really shouldn’t work. It’s ridiculous from the first, and features a crazy android dressed as a tablecloth that makes the cranium-obsessed one in Saturn 3 look placid. But it tumbles along, and snowballs the pace and tension enough that you’re distracted from laughing too hard. Orac has a great showing (it comes as a surprise to realise how under-used he was), with a foregrounding of his devious, dangerous, side in a manner not seen since, oh I don’t know, he had some destruct device implanted preventing him from being dangerous and devious in Shadow. I don’t for a minute buy the wee computer’s portents of doom, although he’s an effective presence when possessed. Quite why anyone thought Lynda Bellingham was suitable casting as a space tart, I don’t know. But none of the silliness in Headhunter prevents it from being a highly enjoyable ride.
Orac: Accept your domination, Soolin! Surrender to your God!
Children of Auron
If you can get past the gaping plot holes and retconning of Cally’s Auronianity (pseudo-mysticism reconfigured as ultra-sophisticated science) this is a tense episode with a (shock!) strong role for Servalan (she’s getting all broody). Blake’s 7 makes a good showing with its virus plot lines (Killer, Project Avalon and Warlord are other candidates) and the one unleashed here is suitably nasty. Jan Chappell, finally getting a chance to do something during Season 3, is first rate as both Cally and her sister Zelda; there’s a run of stories during the last half of season that suggest Boucher had to deal with stroppy cast members moaning about wafer-thin characters. In response, he really comes through. There’s also a good showing for Federation psychos, with destruction happy Ginka (Ric Young). Unfortunately, we’re also treated to a Ronald Leigh-Hunt special. And one of the series’ truly awful (but mercifully rare) laugh-about final scenes.
Avon: The trouble with the people of Auron is that they all suffer from a superiority complex.
Vila: You should get on well with them, then.
The penultimate episode opens with guards casually mowing down drugged-up citizens, the starkest depiction of the Federation since The Way Back. With Avon attempting to broker an alliance against the Federation, the series appears to have rediscovered its rebellious bearings at the last minute. However, things don’t look too good when the plot veers off into a romance between love-struck Tarrant and Zeeona (Bobbie Brown), the daughter of warlord and conference attendee Zukan (Roy Boyd, really giving it some). Servalan is unnecessarily back too, in her last appearance. But Simon Masters stages an admirable recovery, in a script replete with double-crosses, an airborne virus, and the sabotage of Xenon base. All that, and some crazy ’80s fright wigs.
Vila: Avon’s idea of diplomacy is like breaking someone’s leg then saying, “Lean on me.”
Mission to Destiny
The one where Avon plays Hercule Poirot. This is Blake’s 7 in early-days format-testing mode. Rebellion against the Federation takes a back seat for a week while the crew investigates murder most horrid aboard a space cruiser. The mystery plot is fairly bog standard, which means it’s mildly diverting but nothing to get too excited about. Where it comes into its own is as a showcase for Avon. He isn’t out to dispense justice; he’s just interested in the mental exercise of solving the case. Blake’s actual mission to Destiny makes up the less than invigorating B-plot.
Vila: Mock if you like, but I can always sense danger.
Gan: Yes, even when there isn’t any.
A starring role for Travis, Trial just about succeeds in spite of the major impediment of his being played Brian Croucher. Croucher provides the occasional smile (his disrespectful attitude towards trial decorum) but he’s such a surly oaf that you forget this is supposed to be the same character Stephen Grief essayed only months earlier. Chris Boucher also sheds more light on the processes of the Federation and employs one of his favoured devices: the incidental Federation plod (see also Rumours of Death). If the trial intrigue is quality fare, much less so is Blake’s sulky self-imposed exile on an unnamed planet in reaction to the death of Gan. He encounters body-stocking-clad parasitic Pob-alike Zil and reaches a profound realisation concerning his role in the universe. Good grief.
Vila: I wish Gan was here.
Avon: Oh yes, of course. He would be able to work out exactly what was going on.
A good, solid, race against time plot, as the title suggests. This is the sort of simple device Terry Nation loves; a bomb about to go off. Also, being a Nation script, we hear of units such as a “Space Assault Force”. Nation may well have decided that the more ruthless side of the Federation hadn’t been sufficiently emphasised in a while, so here has (Space) Major Provine (Paul Shelley) activate a device that will kill everyone on Albian. Avon-centric, Countdown opens the book on a past that is eventually resolved in Rumours of Death. Here he must work with Del Grant (Tom Chadbon) to defuse the device, a man who wants to kill Avon for (supposedly) leaving his sister Anna to the mercy of the Federation. The two-hander part works very well, the Provine plot less so. And unfortunately, Vila is yet again forced to behave like a prize chump.
Vila: Good, terrific. I’m really looking forward to this. Danger, excitement, sudden death. I can’t wait.
Double the Pacey surely can’t be a good thing? Poor Tarrant was never the best used of crewmembers. Season 3 introduced him strongly, and then turned him into a bullying prick in short order. Season 4 subsequently made him a bit ineffectual. Post-prick, pre-ineffectual, Chris Boucher was on hand to give him some direction and backstory. Boucher can generally be relied upon to keep his stories intriguing; indeed, only Rescue is a bit of a bodge, and that one’s sound in principle. Warring planets sending their champions to do the hard work for them is an effective premise, and the trope is familiar enough but also sufficiently distinct in its own right (the gladiatorial contest for glory has found its latest manifestation in The Hunger Games). Added to this is a neat virtual reality device that allows the audience to experience the contestant’s triumph or defeat (and death). Some of the rules have a whiff of Chris making this up as he goes along, but as a whole he has written an effective pre-finale. There is also a strong supporting turn from Stewart Bevan as Tarrant’s death-watch.
Avon: A ritual war is bound to generate a great deal of excitement.
As the title suggests, Season 3 kicks off with what happens to the crew of the Liberator following their battle with the Andromedans. Mostly, however, it concerns itself with what happens to Avon once Vila and Cally have bundled him and Orac into an escape pod. Down on Sarran, he encounters Servalan in a manner verging on the post-modern and meets future crewmember Dayna. You’d be forgiven for thinking Josette Simon wouldn’t be troubling the RSC for parts any time ever, but she was just starting out here. Avon gets to play the space lothario, snogging both Dayna and Servalan, while Cy Grant, as Dayna’s daddy, wears some funky space shades. If chez Mellanby is well designed and rendered, Vere Lorrimer is less sure or himself in the action sequences. And the planet of primitives B-plot is so half-arsed that all concerned should be thoroughly grateful a ham the size of Alan Lake is there to shout “GAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!”
Avon: Yes, it’s difficult to sustain a military dictatorship when you’ve lost most of the military.
Killer sand on a TV budget, and surprisingly effective with it. Tarrant and Servalan get jolly matey in a script originally conceived for Pearce and Darrow. As such, Tarrant actually comes off rather well for a change, and this is also one of the few solid Season 4 Commissioner Sleer appearances. Tanith Lee’s script can’t equal the unfettered strangeness of Sarcophagus, and the motives of the titular inhabitant of Virn don’t really hold up under analysis. Nevertheless, this more than confirms Lee’s forte; close-quarter character pieces that are both unsettling and imaginative. She also manages to indulge her poetic leanings without making the characters sound daft; an eroded computer even babbles some lines about love that are awesomely nonsensical. And then there’s Vila’s reaction to Orac’s announcement of “I love you”. Vivienne Cozens directs the entire thing in the studio, ironic given that a sandpit can be guaranteed as part of just about every other BBC alien planet exterior.
Avon: This is not just a rescue mission for poor gallant Tarrant!
The Season 1 finale may not possess the grand fireworks or multiple casualties of later seasons, but it more than succeeds as a lean, sure-footed quest narrative. As the title suggests, this is our first sighting of the pejorative Perspex box full of flashing lights. It’s also our final encounter with by far the better Travis (Stephen Grief). He and Servalan arrive on Aristo just after the Liberator crew, both parties racing to secure the super computer. Derek Farr is great as Ensor, and future producer Vere Lorrimer effectively marries the locations and sets as he keeps the momentum up on the pursuit narrative. The showdown, when it comes, is more than satisfying; you won’t feel sorry for Travis ever again, that’s for sure. Not with Croucher donning the eye patch. The Phibians, a typically can’t-be-bothered name for a Terry Nation creature (subtract one am-), are on the useless side. A bit wet, even.
Servalan: You’re in a lot of trouble, Travis.
Script-editor Chris Boucher’s first credited teleplay for the series finds Jacko from Brush Strokes(Karl Howman) as a pre-heroin chic glamour panda, addicted to drug Shadow. He wouldn’t look out of place in the We Fade to Grey video. Blake is willing to get into bed with the Terra Nostra if it means he can defeat the Federation, thus beginning a trail of Space Hubris that will plague him during Season 2. Most of the action takes place on Space City, but there’s a welcome psychedelic detour as Cally, under duress from a possessed Orac, teleports to the planet Zondar. Where she finds some moon discs (the source of Shadow). Man. Boucher provides an archly cynical commentary on the black economy of illegal drugs as it is revealed that the Federation controls the supply. There’s also fine offhand turn from Derek Smith as pusherman Largo.
“Orac”: Run, last of the humans before my darkness engulfs you.
This is the point where, after a very rocky start, Season 4 slipped gears into a stream of quality story telling that continued right up until the finale. It bears some similarities with Gold; a robbery plotline, a larger than life guest star (Stratford Johns) and various measures the crew must overcome to secure their prize (Feldon crystals, mined on Mecron II). Johns makes Belkov smoothly manipulative, his over-confidence only underdone by his failing to underestimate the devotion of his computer Gambit. In the acting stakes, Rosalind Bailey’s vocal performance as the aforementioned machine is every bit the equal of Johns. Bill Lyons’ script requires the viewer to pay attention, even (or especially) when the more action-friendly tests begin during the last third. If Avon gets the crew into this mess (and, I suppose, partly comes up with the answers) it’s Vila who is crucial to the solution; the charm and guile he works on Gambit are possibly the highlight of the episode.
Vila: Look, you’ll probably say it’s none of my business, but if anybody told me to kill myself for them, they’d get a short answer.
The Way Back
In some quarters, it’s probably blasphemy not to have The Way Back nestling among the top 5 episodes, so don’t get me wrong; it’s very good. Nation makes some bold choices in establishing the series, not least of which is having his lead character framed as a child molester. As a whole, the episode pushes the “adult SF” button with a forthrightness that will be subsequently checked and reined in somewhat. But elsewhere, the scenario seems rather familiar, and the tone reeks of ’70s nihilism. Director Michael E Briant pulls no punches in depicting a bleak totalitarian regime, but its black-clad, jackbooted, enforcers are nothing new. Nor are the trappings of brainwashing and medicated indifference. So it’s more in terms of the rest of the series, rather than as a distinctive piece of science fiction in its own right, that The Way Back stands out. Indeed, a significant chunk of the episode doesn’t even feature Blake, as his defence counsel (Michael Holsey) embarks on an attempt to find the truth; this could be a one-off drama. It is only once Blake has been captured, sentenced, and sent for deportation that the introduction of Jenna and Vila signals a slight alleviation of the morbid tone. But only slightly. The Federation’s plan doesn’t seem to effective in quelling support for Blake subsequently, so I guess no one really believes he’s an intergalactic Jimmy Savile.
Morag: His death could be used by the dissidents. They need a hero. Alive or dead. Blake could be it.
Havant: Difficult. I suppose my department could infect him, some rapidly terminal disease. Would his natural death help?
Glynd: I don’t think so.
Morag: What we need is to discredit him.
City at the Edge of the World
Season 3 starts off strongly before dipping quite alarmingly. It rallies once more, however, for this Vila-centric episode. Yes, Vila has a chance to play the (reluctant) hero and even gets the girl before the status quo is inevitably restored. There had been too great a tendency to turn Vila the coward into Vila the idiot prior to this story, so City is a much-needed redressing of the balance. This is one of the series’ lighter-hearted episodes, but if Chris Boucher lays his plot out quite broadly, he doesn’t coast or allow the reins to slacken. The idea of an ancient city full of mysteries is familiar, yet Boucher manages to have a lot of fun with it by having Vila as the “chosen one” who unlocks its secrets. In particular, Bayban the Beserker (or Butcher), a preening, pompous, scenery-guzzling Colin Baker parading about in pre-Mad Max 2 leathers, is perfectly over-the-top. Michael Keating is served a string of great one-liners at the expense of Bayban and his blithering Number Two Sherm (John J Carey), and his romance with Kerril (Carol Hawkins) is rather sweet. Typically, Tarrant is acting like a complete nob (still preferable to blanding him out in Season 4, however).
Cally: You’d have to be insane to use it.
Bayban: Maybe that’s it. Maybe I am insane.
There’s a line of thought that the first half of Blake’s 7 (with Blake) is good and the second half (without Blake) is not so good. I’m at variance with this take, as I much prefer the Blake-free series. It’s perhaps less consistent, and it makes a significant mistake in over-relying on Servalan, but the broader scope of stories and ideas, while perhaps not satisfying those demanding the series to be about rebellion and nothing but, benefits the show’s palate and the exploration of its characters. You wouldn’t see a Sarcophagus before Season 3, and there’s a sense from Season 2 that, while it very definitely has its strengths, the series definitely needs a shake up if it is to move forward. Season 2 has some very good episodes, notably in the first half, and then sinks back into a slough of predictability.
But it’s hard to deny that it rallies impressively for this grand finale, in which the series divests itself of both its black-clad villain (who has become a joke since his recasting) and its lead at the same time. Chris Boucher provided the script that, in common with the modern penchant for season arcs, finds the crew finally reaching Star One only to discover body snatching Andromedans are set for invasion (excellent, sinister direction from David Maloney in the build-up to this). What do you do when faced with an enemy even greater than your established enemy? That in itself is a cue for the Federation to disperse from the scene during the subsequent seasons, but the truth is that even at this point, the series had stopped doing anything interesting with the regime. The model-work climax is less than impressive, it must be said, but it’s more than made up for by the against-hopeless-odds pose struck by the Liberator crew. Gareth Thomas is well catered for in his last appearance as a regular. Blake finds himself in a morally murky place, his zeal likely to result in the deaths of untold millions of lives. It’s possibly fortunate then that events deny him the hard choices, although it’s clear that Boucher is aligning him with any ruthless leader who figures that the ends justify the means.
Servalan: I will not be president of a ruined empire.
There aren’t that many really whacky episodes in Blake’s 7, but a good proportion of them can be found in Season 3. There are fewer still whacky episodes of any merit, but Tanith Lee’s Liberator-bound hallucinatory role-play is top of the pack. The ship is invaded by an ancient force that proceeds to possess Cally and manipulate the crew. Each of whom gets their moment in the spotlight (including a surprisingly effective music interlude sung by Josette Simon; Vila plays the fool in costume, while Tarrant is even more of a prick than usual). Director Fiona Cumming does a great job in creating a surreal atmosphere, kicking the things off with five minutes of arcane performance art. Lee appears to feels no obligation to over-explain matters, so I assume Boucher scripted the rather clumsy final scene. Avon gets to snog Cally, so he has a full score card of then-regular femmes following Servalan and Dayna at the start of the season, and this is one of the few episodes to give Jan Chappell something worthwhile to do (typical that she should leave just as the writers are finally making her interesting).
Tarrant: I don’t take orders from you.
Avon: Well, now that’s a great pity, considering that your own ideas are so limited.
Blake’s 7 does its very own heist mini-movie, as the Scorpio crew get involved in a less-than-perfect plan to steal a consignment of gold from space liner the Space Princess. The mastermind is the dodgy but good-game talking Keiller (Roy Kinnear, on peerless scene-stealing form). Colin Davis’ sole script for the series is a crafty delight and features a new twist or spanner in the works every ten minutes; it also playfully follows the “crime can’t be seen to pay” approach of classic Ealing fare. He’s ably abetted by Brian Lighthill’s clever direction. Great model work and amusing muzak too. Best of all, leave it to Avon to see the positive side of defeat. This is all fairly far from the direct rebellion under Blake, whatever the crew may ultimately have planned to do with the loot. Servalan makes another unnecessary and tiresome appearance, albeit you might argue she functions as a reminder of that same rebellion,. This is a solid showing for Soolin, not such a good one for Dayna (not that there are many of those anyway). Unmissable for the opportunity to see Steven Pacey pretending he’s on Ecstasy.
Tarrant: Servalan’s not just some greedy gangster.
Avon: Surely that’s exactly what she is.
The first of two season-finale returns for Blake after his season-finale exit, Terminal was written with the thought that this would be it for the show; the fourth season was commissioned at quite a late stage (which is why an unavailable Jan Chapell results in Cally suffering an off-screen exit in Rescue). I have to admit, I’m not wholly convinced by Avon’s determination to find Blake at all costs, given how much time he previously spent lusting after the thought of having the Liberator all to himself. While it’s fitting that his own tunnel vision gets the all-powerful ship destroyed, the extent of his uncharacteristic lack of logic and caution comes as a shock. Blake is clearly his Achilles’ heel in ways he is unable to verbalise, but there’s a sense Nation and Boucher needed to do something to make his behaviour more coherent. That, however, is my only gripe in a stunning episode. The first sight of the oblate Terminal is arresting in itself, and then, on arrival, that ominous heartbeat effect informs every scene. The environment on the planet is claustrophobic enough, but the grief that befalls the Liberator only adds to the bleak tone. And poor Zen! Never a series to dispense with humour, Avon’s final smile in the face of cruel fate is perfect.
Zen: I have failed you. I am sorry. I have –
The Way Back receives all attention in Season 1, perhaps because it is so atypical. Space Fall, directed by the often-unremarkable Pennant Roberts, slots into place many of the pieces that will guide the series forward. Indeed, this is the series operating as a serial; it really helps to know what happened last week. Avon arrives on the scene with such confidence that you know Blake doesn’t stand a chance, and the magical Liberator is discovered. Mostly, though, it succeeds so well because it’s an eventful, thrilling fifty minutes from Terry Nation. The action is mainly set aboard the London prison ship, en route to Cygnus Alpha penal colony, and Nation’s transposing of your standard prisoners-and-warders (Leslie Schofeld is a right bastard as Sub-Commander Raiker), attempted-breakouts scenario to space is remarkably effective. He also comes up with some “real” space-travel ideas (they’re in flight for months on end, the effects of space debris piercing the ship’s hull, the docking tube to the Liberator). The appearance of the Liberator two-thirds of the way through is the sign of a writer who has ideas to burn and no interest in kicking his heels; it’s just a shame his contributions to his series don’t always have such verve or drive.
Avon: What a fiasco! Your troops bumble around looking for someone to surrender to and when they’ve succeeded you follow suit.
Returning to the abandoned Liberator, Avon discovers it already has some new occupants: Federation occupants. Captain Tarrant and the mistrustful Section Leader Klegg (Michael Sheard, on magnificent hard-man form) waste no time locking up Avon and Dayna. And Avon wastes no time enabling their release. But what’s this? Someone on the ship is killing Federation guards, so they don’t have to? Could it be a future crewmate, perhaps? The main substance of the episode is the cat-and-mouse game Avon plays, banking on his superior knowledge of the ship to best the greater numbers of Klegg and his men. Darrow embodies Avon’s righteous determination to take back his ship perfectly. David Maloney plays up the tension with his economic direction, in a storyline that establishes the new post-Blake line-up without labouring the changes. The only downside is that the Vila/Cally B-plot is merely so-so. But even that has its compensations, as it features an appearance by the great John Hollis (Sondergaard rocks!)
Avon: This is MY ship!
An episode that provokes sharp dissent. Gambit was popular amongst the cast members as it gave them a chance to engage in something a little more colourful and comic than usual. But it appears to have fallen into disfavour with some fans, who regard it is a garish, theatrical disaster. It’s certainly a source of the “Robert Homes wrote shit for the show” view. As is clear from my ranking, I love it. Even Servalan and Travis (with a bomb in his arm!) can’t put a dampener on the proceedings (Brian Croucher’s Travis is at his classiest, referring to Aubrey Woods’ Krantor as a “powder poof”). Much of the appeal is the focus on Avon, Vila and Orac. While Blake, Jenna and Cally tangle with the essential battling-the-Federation stuff, they take time out at Freedom City to beat the Big Wheel. With the aid of a miniaturised Orac, Avon plans to turn the fixed odds of the casino in their favour. Holmes clearly relished writing for Avon and Vila, and Darrow and Keating wring every ounce of comedic potential from their scenes. The script takes a classic path of wins turning to losses and beyond, culminating in an extremely high stakes speed chess tournament between Klute (Deep Roy) and Vila.
Krantor: An eyepatch? Oh, how quaint.
Blake isn’t a great episode purely because of Avon’s confrontation with his former leader, or for those final inscrutable moments. It’s a great episode because it is instilled with a pervading sense of desperation and doom that manage to sum up the entire trajectory of the show. These guys never stood a chance, really. The series has played with this in previous finales, but here it is the main focus. The crew no longer have a base. They no longer have a ship. Their one-time figurehead is, if not wholly transparent in motive, at best reduced to the states of a bum.
Mary Ridge knew how to inform an episode with atmosphere. She marbled an ominous heartbeat over the action in Terminal and here she provides a wailing siren to warn the crew of their demise. Ridge also handles the effects work tightly and effectively, and the location shoot sets off Gauda Prime atmospherically; there’s a sense of scale here that fits The Wild Bunch blaze-of-glory tumble. Returning to Blake in this manner, Chris Boucher ensures he is granted a mythic status that is also torn down. There is no fond reunion, only accusations of betrayal and bloody murder. I’ve been critical of Gareth Thomas in the series, but he embraces the chance to muddy Blake’s image. That said, this is Darrow’s show all the way, and he’s phenomenal.
Avon: Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?!
Rumours of Death
Blake’s 7 episodes often culminate in a display of just how cool Avon is, even when he isn’t central to the action. It’s one of the show’s more irresistible qualities. Chris Boucher’s script for Rumours of Death focuses very much on Avon, more so perhaps than any other story in the series, but it makes it self distinct by balancing his genius with his fallibility. Boucher delves into his past with a plot that is gripping from the off; Avon is incarcerated, and is being interrogated by Federation interrogator Shrinker (John Bryans). It isn’t long before the writer/script editor is piling on the twists and the intrigue, however.
Nothing is as it seems, as flashbacks to Avon’s past are intercut with a plot to overthrow the Federation. At the centre of events is Avon’s relationship with Anna Grant (Luna Helibron), his one great love, and what transpires makes a strong case for justifying Avon’s icy impenetrable exterior. Fiona Cumming, who directed back-to-back blinders with this and the very different Sarcophagus, keeps the story rattling along; there isn’t a moment wasted over a fifty-minute span that has enough potential for a story double that length.
This is also a good Servalan story – something of a rarity by this point in Season 3, where her potential had been mostly expended. Boucher effectively updates us on the world of the Federation post-Star One, bringing the show, literally, back down to Earth. Indeed, the drive here, and the willingness to make statements about the lie of the land, are more redolent of a season conclusion.
Avon: Of all the things I have known myself to be, I never recognised the fool.
Some say prolific Doctor Who writer Robert Holmes didn’t quite make the grade with his Blake’s 7 scripts, but most agree that Orbit was his best piece of writing for the series. The caustic relationship between Avon and Vila is one of the highlights of the show, but it is generally limited to barbs (Avon says something sarcastic to Vila, Vila says something approximating Eeyore in response). Here, just before the grand farewell, they get something meatier. And it isn’t pretty.
During the first half of the story, tightly directed by Brian Lighthill, Avon and Vila contact the grotesque Egrorian (a wonderfully hammy performance from John Savident) on the planet Malodar, in an attempt to secure their latest super-device (a tachyon funnel). The scenes between the crewmembers and Egrorian are awash with memorable dialogue, and it can’t go unnoticed that Egrorian and his assistant Pinder are a macabre reflection of Avon and Vila (Egrorian even wants Vila as his new pet). But this serves only as an appetiser for the main course. By this stage in Season 4, Servalan (or rather Commissioner Sleer) has become ubiquitous, so it should be little surprise that this is all just one of her traps; she still wants to get her mitts on Orac.
On the shuttle back to Scorpio, Avon and Vila (and Orac) discover that they are losing velocity, being dragged back down to the planet. They dispose of anything not fastened down, but still the shuttle is too heavy. Then Orac (the little bugger) announces that Vila happens to be just about the weight the shuttle needs to lose… Darrow and Keating are on sterling form throughout, relishing a script that is by turns very funny and incredibly tense. In some respects, Orbit merely underlines what we always knew about their main characteristics; the amoral mastermind out for Number One, and the slippery coward whose first impulse is to leg it. But we’ve never seen them rendered in such a stark, raw fashion before. Coming two episodes before the finale, this seems somehow appropriate; with the writing on the wall like this, how much future would they have together?
Orac: Vila weighs 73 kilos. Avon.
52 – 27 can be found here