It’s a Season 2 episode that has the dubious distinction of nestling at the bottom of this particular Blake’s 7 ladder. And – surprise, surprise – it’s written by Allan Prior. There’ll be more from him shortly. Hostage is a men-in-animal-skins tale of the sort so loved by Boucher (or more likely, the type of plot he repeatedly turned to in desperation). The hostage of the title is the daughter of Blake’s old pal Ushton (John Aberini). Blake spent time growing up on Exbar, you see, where he got to know Ushton and his hippy savage cousin (tut-tut) Inga (Judy Buxton). Travis, now a fugitive from the Federation, has the opportunity to strike out in a new and interesting direction. So inevitably he (and his cohort of Crimos) behaves in the most predictable and tiresome manner imaginable. The Liberator crew, meanwhile, all act like idiots and are easily captured. Prior’s script even has Avon acting all heroic (“Leave me!”), probably his most out-of-character moment bar none. Still, Blake is consistent; he lets Travis live. Again. Wretched.
Vila: Just think what we’re missing on Exbar. All that cold, and shortage of breath.
Oh dear. Dayna, a dirty old man, and some hairy mutants. Sweetums-alike Og has the horn, two of them even. There’s a decent idea in here; a secret Federation science project of Joseph Mengele proportions on Bucol Two. But the execution is by turns anaemic and melodramatic. Inevitably and unnecessarily during Season 4, Commissioner “Servalan” Sleer makes an appearance. Meanwhile, the once great Mutoids now look plain silly.
Dayna: Who, what are you?
Voice from the Past
One for the utterly ridiculous episodes camp. Roger Parkes piles on the silliness, with a plot where Blake comes under mind control and Travis poses as a rebel leader. This is Brian Croucher we’re talking about, so not only is he disguised under a silly fake eye and bandages, but he also assumes a cra-zee Italian accent. His Scooby Doo reveal occurs at a point when he isn’t even under suspicion; he just feels like it. More idiotically still, he finally has command of the Liberator, quite decisively, but voluntarily decides to leave it. Anthony Ainley based his version of the Master entirely on the depiction of Travis in Voice from the Past. Blake gets to plod about in a space suit against a bad CSO backdrop. This is quite a good showing for Orac, but a terrible one for Vila, cast (as he often is by lazy writers) as a puny-minded fool.
Avon: Locate and destroy it.
Orac: And restore Blake to his senses.
Avon: The two don’t necessarily follow.
Cheap filler with special guest star TP McKenna as Lindor’s ex-President Sarkoff, a guy into his historical regalia. Which means there’s no need to build sets; good old twentieth century locations – and vehicles – will do. There are a few reasonably engaging ideas concerning rigged elections and Federation power grabs, but nothing is really made of them. There’s also a B-plot in which the Liberator is invaded by smugglers, a forlorn attempt to give Jenna a bit of motivation and background, but it is even less interesting.
Blake: I said, I’m not a murderer.
Sarkoff: I’m grateful for your semantic precision. Political assassination I can… live with. To be murdered would be the final, sordid indignity.
Allan Prior again. Bruce Purchase employs Vila as his court jester (an inevitable occurrence at some point during the series) while the crew continue to hunt for the location of Star One. That plot line doesn’t stand up to much analysis, and has the strong semblance of being lazily overlaid on a script with no such element. The events on Goth are dull-witted at best (as noted, the series seems to have an endless appetite for planets populated by fur-clad warrior-primitives) and Servalan and Travis are surplus to requirements. The best bit has Vila locked in a dungeon with a smelly old man.
Vila: I don’t like the dark. I like to see what I’m scared of.
Allan Prior was a dead cert, never able to submit a better than average script to the series. Even the title of this one reeks of mediocrity. It’s a standard Federation/primitive world scenario, the least subtle of metaphors for colonial rule, completely with exotic location work (in Gloucestershire) and Blake, the great wise saviour, instructing the ignorant natives on how they should take turns to eat. Blake and Avon are never more at loggerheads. Consequently, the one thing that saves this is Avon breezily teleporting down to Horizon to carry out a devastatingly effective rescue mission (everyone else in the crew has systematically gone down there and been captured).
Avon: If we go now we can sail the universe for as long as we like in reasonable safety, provided we keep out of everybody’s way and we do not do anything rash.
Dawn of the Gods
Season 3 has a number of contenders for the loopiest Blake’s 7 episode, but this one is surely out in front. Unfortunately, it never ascends from crazy-crappiness to bat shit-brilliance. Orac acting oddly is usually a fall back of a writer desperate for inspiration, as is Cally’s Auron ancestry, but James Follett at least appears to have plenty of ideas; he’s just unable to turn them into something coherent. During the first half there are some memorable moments, including Vila being sent to explore and an encounter with the most frightening gold cart you ever did see. But it all turns a bit dull. As “what’s on the other side of a black hole” speculations go, this has to be one of the least inspired.
Vila: I’m in hell. And it’s full of Avons!
Another on the so-bad-it’s-good scale, Assassin features undoubtedly the worst performance in the entire series. Caroline Holdaway stinks the place out both when she’s simpering away as Piri and… when she isn’t. Anyone who likes to see Tarrant prancing like a tit will find much to enjoy here, as he attempts to act the Adonis towards Piri and succeeds only in being utterly punchable. In stark contrast, Soolin has the right idea and says exactly what the audience is thinking about her. Richard Hurndall auditions for the first Doctor Who without even realising it. The scenario of a hidden killer is solid enough, but to it requires the Scorpio crew to behave in an extravagantly inept fashion.
Dayna: Vila’s very worried. He wants to know what became of that sweet little girl.
Soolin: Vila, all sweet things have one thing in common: a tendency to make you sick.
A Tarrant and Dayna special. So it’s limply motivated from the start. Then there’s special guest star Michael Gough looking quite wrinkly but not really trying very hard. Gough is Numero Uno on Obsidian, a volcanic planet that has resisted Federation control and rejected violence. He has a robot butler. This is where the series might have attempted a clean break with the previous two seasons but, in spite of Avon’s eternal protestations against Blake, he’s off looking for him at the first opportunity he gets. Some say the series lost its way during the more Star Treky third season, but I welcome the decision to expand its horizons; it made sense, in the absence of the rigorous focus of the Liberator’s former uber-leader. But as the safety net of Blake’s memory announces here, it could have gone even further. Vila’s dislike of Tarrant (and enamour of Dayna) is immediately identified. Not actively terrible, but not especially memorable either.
Vila: There isn’t a volcano alive that would dare to swallow Avon.
Cygnus Alpha looks great, set off by stylish, moody, night shoots. It also has a distinguished cast including lovely Pamela Salem and BRIAN BLESSED. But the prison planet discussed in the previous two episodes turns out to be a let-down, occupied by a bog-standard religious cult. As usual with Nation scripts, there are carefully (or not so carefully) divided A and B plots. On this occasion it plays the exception to the rule in that the Liberator-bound one proves to be the more engaging. They have only just found the ship though, so that may be the reason. Lest we forget, this is the episode with the treasure room. All that booty, and these self-respecting criminals do nothing with it.
Vila: The architectural style is early maniac.
The first four episodes of Blake’s 7 were released in hacked up movie form by BBC Video back in the mid-80s. The results disguised the sad truth that the first two are very good and the next two not so much. The plot of Time Squad is so familiar that only the arrival of Cally marks it out. Even the title is utterly generic. So the crew land on Saurian Major to engage in some rebellious acts while also taking on board a mysterious vessel that you just know wasn’t a good idea (and misleading). Jenna gets to show distrust/jealousy of Cally from the first, and poor Sally Knyvette is desperate for some, any, kind of characterisation to mark herself out. This is a good episode for David Jackson, as he’s in it quite a bit. Which means it’s a not so good episode for everyone else.
Blake: Some of the plants even have an intelligence rating.
Vila: Well that’s a comfort. I should hate to be eaten by something stupid.
Harvest of Kairos
As mad as a bag of badgers, Harvest of Kairos comprises a succession of “I can’t believe they just did that” moments. So much so that it quickly reaches a level of so-bad-its-good daftness; you’re just waiting for the next crazy thing to happen. Being a Ben Steed script, there’s a subplot concerning a man who knows just what a woman wants. The man being Jarvik (Andrew Burt), and the woman being Servalan. However Steed envisaged the proceedings, Burt decides not to play the part altogether seriously. This helps us adjust to the overall tone and provides a warning of what to expect when we land on Kairos. A planet of naff insect suits and diddy lunar modules. Gerald Blake isn’t especially up to the challenge, as evidenced by an atrocious fight scene between Dayna and Jarvik. This also came at a time when Boucher was working out what to do with his new crew members (some would suggest he never did suss that one), so Tarrant’s presented as some kind of ice-hot superstar whose legendary status precedes him. Avon waxes philosophical about rocks. Harvest very nearly encroaches on demented genius, but it’s also a big pile of shit.
Jarvik: Woman, you are beautiful.
Apart from inspiring a track by The Orb and some nifty visuals (a great big brain), Ultraworld doesn’t have a whole lot going for it. A protracted capture and escape yarn, it features one standout sequence as Vila, aided by Orac, “wood chuck chucks” in order to retain control of his mind. The bog-standard alien intelligence(s) want to find out about humans, presumably having missed an appointment with the USS Enterprise. Not helping matters is Avon taking an enforced nap while less interesting crewmembers engage in all the action. Oh, and God help us, Tarrant and Dayna have to perform a run through of a “human bonding ceremony”.
Avon: Vila is teaching Orac? No, it doesn’t make sense.
Yes, it’s Ben Steed with some more entertaining, borderline offensive, nonsense. A rogue force of Federation (men) treat the local women like objects while a super computer machine reveals a typically (for the series) crappy little muppet creature within (creatures are only ever crappy in this Blake’s 7). Also featured is a lovable rapist who makes friends with Vila. Tarrant is behaving like an ultra-cock, which fits with the general testoster-tone. For once, it’s refreshing to see Servalan show up; she manages to add a touch of much-needed class to the proceedings.
Servalan: Well, Section Leader, the records were accurate. Women, food, and inflicting pain – in no particular order.
I can’t make much of a case for the scant merits of this one, except that it isn’t a complete bore. Maybe it’s the early Season 4 re-formatting makes me more forgiving of Power than it deserves. Ben Steed, one of the series’ most troublesome writers, on the basis of his peculiar sexual politics, delivers his final script for the series. In which gals come up against guys (surprise, that) when it’s revealed Xenon includes a tribe of hitherto unseen primitives (yes, them again) and telekinetic Seska (the girls). Avon gets to act the macho stud, while Dayna beats up a big beefy bloke.
Dayna: A woman? Yeeesss. Take a GOOOOD look.
There are a fair few Blake’s 7 stories that exist in a “so-so” territory, either indifferent or kind of crap but watchable. This is the former, and Bob Holmes’ weakest of four stories for the series. He’s saddled with Tarrant and Dayna as his leads, which would be the undoing of even the best of writers, but he doesn’t help matters with a standard-issue Federation rebellion (on Helotrix) storyline. To soften the dull thud, Christopher Neame does his best Federation officer-as-a-Nazi act, and there’s a tremendously eccentric turn from Edgar Wreford as Forbus (the inventor of super drug Pylene 50). Alas Servalan, now in the guise of Commissioner Sleer, has to go and make her first of numerous final season appearances.
Avon: Ah well. Tarrant is brave; young; handsome. There are three good reasons for anyone not to like him.
Space Rats, man. One of the most resolutely early-80s-looking episodes. In which some badly tattooed (with marker pen?), pseudo-Mad Max 2 punks on three-wheeled trikes lark about in a sand pit (doubling for the planet Caspar). Avon’s attempts to fit-out Scorpio see him procuring the services of Doctor Plaxton (Barbara Shelley), prisoner of the Rats (led by Damien Thomas’ Atlan) and inventor of the stardrive. Fairly run-of-the-mill until it reaches a first-rate, and cruelly downbeat, climax where Scorpio’s survival depends on Plaxton.
Vila: They’re maniacs, psychopaths! All they live for is sex and violence, booze and speed. And the fellows are just as bad.
Breakdown is tedium incarnate for a good half of its running time, as gurning Gan’s limiter goes on the fritz and he begins sporadically attacking the crew and the ship. This reaches its mirthful highpoint when, after letting him loose for more carnage, Cally defends herself with “I thought he was normal again”. Then, quite suddenly, the episode becomes very good indeed, as we’re introduced to scheming surgeon Professor Kane (an outstanding Julian Glover), Gan’s potential lifesaver. Elsewhere, Avon’s mulling of getting shot of both the ship and Blake reaches a head. We also see ruthless Blake threatening to destroy the surgeon’s hands. Be warned; this has one of those unbearable crap joke, all-laugh-about, endings.
Avon: In the unlikely event that we survive this, I’m finished. Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable.
The Web is weird and wonderful. And also a bit shit. Any episode with an alien design achieved by an actor sticking his head through a piece of chipboard has some issues. But it’s also quite imaginative, both conceptually and in the eerie wooded ambiance achieved by director Michael E Briant: a scientifically advanced elite living in a prefab shack besieged by tiny Decimas. Blake and Avon engage in an ethical debate, but the former’s apparent siding with the angels receives a bit of a shakeup when we see the Decimas’ bloodthirsty destruction derby. The newly joined Cally is well used during the first half of the story (she’s a bit of a seventh wheel in the first two seasons) and Jenna gets possessed, but mostly this is about Blake and Avon.
Gan: I don’t think Blake would agree to that.
Avon: There will come a time when he will not be making the decisions.
Another Season One episode where director Briant piles on the polish, as the crew arrives on an icy world and attempts to make contact with Avalon (Julia Vidler, the weak link in the cast). By this point, Travis’ weekly traps for Blake are becoming a somewhat de rigueur. Surprisingly, Federation pursuit ships give chase to the remaining Liberator crew. Just for a change. Still, there’s a nicely nasty sequence showing the effects of the plague Travis plans to unleash, the return of Season One’s superstar Shitbot, Glynis Barber as a Mutoid, and a couple of well-staged shootouts culminating in a fine catch by the eye-patched one.
Servalan: Oh, Travis, you know better than that. In my position one never approves anything until it is an undisputed success.
Avon becomes the saviour of a long-dead race while primitives lurk in the surrounding wilderness. All very familiar, but lent a certain panache by Briant and the money-can’t-buy added production value of snowy Cephlon locations. The Liberator-held-hostage-by-Ensor (Tony Caunter) B-plot isn’t up to much, but the series’ B-plots often aren’t. Much fun is to be had from the worshipful attitude of Meegat (Suzan Farmer) towards Avon and Vila’s disparaging responses.
Vila: You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?
Chris Boucher’s least remarkable piece of writing for the show is probably a sign of the haste with which Season 4 entered production. A cobbled-together attempt to resolve the threads of Terminal by way of a rip-off of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Rescue is pretty good in the first half but ultimately let down by a Sea Devil lurking in the basement. Geoffrey Burridge also lacks something as Dorian. The mystery of Xenon base disappoints more in retrospect than during the watching, however. Some superb model work, too. Also: plus points for the introduction of Soolin, even if poor Glynis Barber spent most of the season searching for a character to get her teeth into.
Tarrant: Vila rescued me?
Avon: You were injured trying to rescue Cally. He rescued you. Suddenly I am hip deep in heroes.
Robert Holmes first script for B7 nurses effectively grim virus-on-the-loose trappings. There’s even a zombie! And space contamination (Terry Nation would love that one)! As ever, Holmes provides a swathe of compelling invented history to underpin his plot, but in this case, he rather fails to convince when it comes to presenting Blake as the kind of insightful sage who can guide a doctor in “How do you solve a problem like an outbreak?” If you can’t remember why the crew ends up on any given planet (this time Fosforon), the chances are it involves a cypher machine. Fine performances from Paul Daneman as Doctor Bellfriar and Ronald “Major melty-face Toht” Lacey as Tynus, an old mucker of Avon’s and as dubious in motive as you’d consequently expect.
Bellfriar: I’ve forgotten how to read!
One five-star scene does not a five-star story make. If it did, Pressure Point would be in my Top 5. Blake’s over-confidence finally gets its comeuppance and spare wheel/tyre gumby Gan gets gotten. Another one where it’s all a Travis trap that Blake is drawn into; as such, the first half of the proceedings are so-so, and before long, a lot of time is being unnecessarily spent in a pesky minefield. Characters are required to be wilfully pig-headed or stupid in order for Nation to gather them together where he wants them, and this is frequently all too obvious in the writing. By this point, Servalan and Travis’ exchanges are beginning to resemble Dastardly and Muttley (“They’ll dig us out eventually”, “And then I’ll bury you”). But the reveal concerning Computer Control is such a good one, and Blake’s reaction so telling, that it a multitude of sins are forgiven.
Blake: We’ve done it! We’ve done it! I’ve done it!
Avon: Blake! There’s nothing here.
Nearly at the halfway mark in Season One, and Servalan and Travis put in their first appearances. If the series was very much in need of the personification of the Federation, it remains a shame that it all too frequently fell back on run-of-the-mill motivations and schemes involving the terrible twosome. How many times is securing the Liberator and/or Orac the opening strategy? Travis is an all-but leather-clad black hat, thus equal and opposite to Blake’s self-styled white number; everyone else is a shade in between (at least Blake is developed, though, leading to his hubristic downfall in Pressure Point). As one would expect when the MacGuffin is a “Federation cypher machine” (located on the planet Cetero) the plot isn’t all that bracing. This is an episode where Federation politics are much more engrossing than Liberator rebellion (Peter Miles is especially good), but as a scene setter, it has its place.
Travis: Run, Blake. Run. As far and as fast as you like. I’ll find you. You can’t hide from me. I am your death, Blake.
Blake and Jenna sitting in a tree. And fighting Travis and a Mutoid. No kissing here, but Nation is ably abetted by action-hound Douglas Camfield in this rip-off of Star Trek’s Arena. What it lacks in terms of story (it’s threadbare) Duel more than makes up for with atmospheric location work. Blake’s in slightly tiresome nobility mode at this point, but there’s a strong showing for both Travis (Trial would be up there, but unfortunately, it’s afflicted by Croucher) and the Mutoids (a great concept that is utterly wasted after the first season). Avon may be playing second banana in this episode, but he still gets the best lines.
Avon: With all what happening? Blake is sitting up a tree. Travis is sitting up another tree. Unless they’re planning to throw nuts at one another, I don’t see much of a fight developing before it gets light.
26 – 1 can be found here