Blake’s 17°

11 Jul

A lot has happened since I started making my temperature blanket back in January. We’ve had a couple of wee cold snaps, a couple of mini-heatwaves, and the small matter of a global pandemic and consequent lockdown.

An update on my blanket. It’s getting too big to photograph easily!

I’ve also, finally, finished watching all four series of Blake’s 7. Progress slowed with lockdown because everyone was in the house all the time, and I’m the only one who enjoys Blake’s 7, or sci-fi in general. However, with the easing of restrictions, I found a bit more time and finished the fourth series – although I did have to work up the emotional energy to watch Orbit and then Blake, the ante-penultimate (an underused word) and final episodes respectively. Having seen them before, I know they pack a bit of a punch.

On what I think is my third watching of Blake’s 7 (over nearly 20 years – it’s not that excessive) I find that the naff effects and cheap sets don’t really bother me, but the mannered 1970s acting and occasional 1970s attitudes to women do. I appreciate the characters of Cally (Jan Chappell) and Soolin (Glynis Barber) more than I used to (perhaps because I’m older myself now?), but Dayna (Josette Simon) I find quite annoying. Tarrant (Steven Pacey) was annoying to start with and Blake (Gareth Thomas) was shout-at-the-screen infuriating. But I always was #TeamAvon (Paul Darrow).

There are quite a few reviews of individual episodes on various blog sites and cult TV sites (such as Den of Geek), even on IMDB for particularly memorable episodes, and I found that reading them after each episode enhanced my enjoyment. It also made me far too late getting to bed.

Given that I enjoyed reading other people’s reviews, logic suggests that someone, somewhere, may enjoy reading mine. So here is my pick of my top five Blake’s 7 episodes, and one dud that you should really avoid.

(There are some spoilers in the reviews below, although at least I don’t tell you whodunnit in Mission to Destiny.)

Mission to Destiny

This is a classic country house mystery, but in space. “One of us on this spaceship is the killer”, that sort of thing.

The crew of the Liberator finds a spaceship drifting aimlessly. Their ship has been sabotaged and everyone knocked out with tranquilizer gas. Only one person was not affected by the gas, but he has been killed instead. Before he died, he scrawled a message that seems to say “54124”, whatever that means.

The ship was on a mercy mission to take a neurotrope thingy to their planet, Destiny, in order to save their crops from a virulent fungal infection. The damaged ship will never make it in time now, so Blake pops off on the Liberator to deliverer the expensive gadget, while Avon and Cally take charge on the spaceship, where mysterious killings continue. Someone on board must be behind them, but who?

This is one of the first episodes where Avon is in charge (as he would be all the time in seasons C and D), and he makes the most of it, playing Sherlock Holmes – or perhaps Poirot, as he ends up with everyone in one room while he reveals who did it and why. It’s a very enjoyable standalone episode, and while others claim to have worked out the significance of “54124” immediately, I certainly didn’t. It also has this rather nice exchange:

Cally: My people have a saying: A man who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken.
Avon: Life expectancy must be fairly short among your people.

Countdown

A high-stakes episode, both emotionally and physically.

Blake and co. teleport down to a planet where a radiation bomb has just been set to go off. They came to find Provine, a man who may know where the control centre Star One is located (see below), but they soon realise they have a more pressing matter on their hands. The countdown can’t be stopped, so Avon must defuse the bomb, with the help of rebel Del Grant. Unfortunately Grant blames Avon for the death of his sister and consequently wants to kill him.

It works very well, forcing Avon and Grant into the delicate situation of defusing a bomb together while they go over the equally hazardous territory of what role Avon played in the death of Anna Grant. Both the bomb and Del Grant could prove deadly with one wrong move. Avon eventually manages to convince Grant that he did everything he could to save Anna, and of course they manage to defuse the bomb in the nick of time, but it is seriously tense on both counts.

This the episode where Avon’s tortured past is first revealed, and you learn that the man with “brains but no heart” did once have a heart that was painfully broken. It’s emotional and nerve-wracking while also progressing the story arc towards Star One. A beautiful piece of work.

Avon: If there had ever been a time when I could have given my own life to save her, I would have done it. The only grain of consolation that I have is that Anna knew that.

Star One

This episode is an example of what was truly brilliant about Blake’s 7. Fizzing tension between the characters, moral complexity and a revelation that instantly changes everyone’s plans and allegiances.

After searching for it for ages, and losing a crew member in the process, Blake has finally found the Federation’s control centre. If he destroys it, the corrupt and oppressive Federation will probably collapse – but, as Star One maintains the weather systems and various other important things on several planets, millions of innocent people will die, too. It is a price Blake is willing (for them) to pay:

If we stop now then all we have done is senseless killing and destruction, without purpose, without reason. We have to win. It’s the only way I can be sure that I was right.

Avon has pulled Blake up on his “end justifies the means” philosophy before, but this is the episode where he puts it in the strongest terms:

As far as I am concerned, you can destroy whatever you like. You can stir up a thousand revolutions. You can wade in blood up to your armpits. Oh, and you can lead the rabble to victory, whatever that might mean. Just so long as there is an end to it. When Star One is gone, it is finished, Blake. And I want it finished.

So it looks as if this is an episode all about Blake’s deadly fanaticism against Avon’s selfish cynicism, which is fascinating in itself, but then it completely flips on its head. Because it turns out that Star One has already been taken over – by aliens from the neighbouring Andromeda galaxy – and they have a battle fleet just waiting to invade. All of a sudden, the Federation is not the biggest threat to humanity, and Star One is essential for its survival. The crew of the Liberator summon Federation forces so that they can fight together against the common enemy.

Rumours of Death

Now we’re back to the Anna Grant storyline. Remember her from Countdown? With Blake disappeared after the Galactic War (which lasted about 15 minutes) Avon is free to settle old scores – like finding Shrinker, the man who tortured Anna to death. Except Shrinker says he knows nothing about Anna Grant. But he does remember that Avon was being watched at the time by an undercover Federation operative called Bartholomew, so Bartholomew must have killed Anna…

This is a typical episode in that there are two plots running concurrently in different locations, but what is unusual is that Anna Grant (seen in flashback in Avon’s storyline) and Sula (who is staging a coup of Servalan’s Presidential Palace down on Earth) are clearly the same woman. Something doesn’t add up, and this being Blake’s 7, the solution to the equation is not going to be pretty.

There’s no sudden revelation, just Avon, faced with his supposedly dead lover, struggling to accept the only explanation that makes sense. Avon becomes somewhat unhinged by the end of Blake’s 7, and this is one of the blows that starts him crumbling. The woman he loved and trusted betrayed him. After that, the only person left whom he trusts is Blake. And when he thinks Blake has betrayed him too, in the final episode – again, it’s not pretty. But before that particular heart of darkness, there’s the inky-black Orbit (below).

Avon: Servalan was planning on sending you a corpse. But rumours of my death…
Tarrant: Have been greatly exaggerated!
Avon: Well – slightly exaggerated, anyway.

Orbit*

As I said, this one is a bit of a punch to the guts. For most of the episode it’s all jolly larks and overacting guest stars (what would Blake’s 7 be without overacting guest stars?). But in the last 10 minutes it gets very real indeed, when Avon and Vila are in a space shuttle that’s about to crash if it doesn’t shed some weight, and Avon’s instinct for self-preservation kicks in.

Avon: Not enough, not nearly enough! Dammit! What weighs 70 kilos?!
Orac (a computer): Vila weighs 73 kilos, Avon.
Avon: (pulling out a gun) Vila…

It’s a strange kind of shock, seeing Avon hunting Vila, because you’re being confronted by something you already knew: Avon will put his self-preservation above everyone else. In fact, he even told Vila in a previous episode that he was expendable. But you don’t expect it to ever come to this.

In the end, there is another solution, and Avon would much rather take it than kill Vila, but the fact is that he would have killed Vila, and they both know that. Vila will never trust Avon again as long as he lives Not that he’s going to live very long.

*No link because, for some reason, this video has been taken down from YouTube because it breaches copyright, but the others haven’t at the time of writing.

And the stinker: Animals

No link to this one because it’s just pants. The actress playing Dayna (Josette Simon) seems to have forgotten how to act, there’s a creepy ‘romance’ (my skin is crawling thinking about it), some rubbish mind control and some ridiculous hairy creatures. They’re not the worst-executed creatures I’ve seen on Blake’s 7 (check out the monster in Harvest of Kairos) but the combination of elements makes this my pick for the worse episode. I breathed a sigh of relief every time we cut to the baddie, Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) who has fortunately not forgotten how to act.

While looking at reviews, I read that this episode was written with Cally (Jan Chappell) as the professor’s old pupil, rather than Dayna, but she didn’t return for the fourth series. It makes a lot more sense once you know that. Cally is in her thirties, so the idea of her having had a relationship with the fifty-something professor many years ago is a lot more natural (and less illegal) than it is for approximately 20-year-old Dayna. And it’s possibly the personality transplant of thoughtful, deeply moral Cally to headstrong, vicious Dayna that makes the acting so hard to pull off. But even if it had been Cally instead of Dayna, it still wouldn’t have been a good episode.

Possibly by the time you read this the BBC will have taken all the videos down from YouTube, but you can probably still pick up the DVDs in online shops. Or petition the BBC to show the whole series again, from start to finish – and then I’ll watch them all over again, too 😁 I’ll just need another crochet project to get on with while I do.

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