Thursday, 25 December 2014

The Box of Delights

This Christmas, as for the past nine years, many of us will be watching the latest Doctor Who Christmas Speacial.  It is hard to beleive that this will be the tenth such special since the show returned in 2005.  For many people watching the latest Christmas Special has become one of the great Christmas television traditions.

But, much as I enjoy watching the latest special every year, for me nothing quite sums up Christmas like 'The Box of Delights'. The television adaptation of this story celebrates it's 30th anniversary this year and it's become something of a tradition for me to try and watch it every year.

Although it's more rooted in fantasy than science fiction, 'The Box of Delights' does share some similarities with Doctor Who, not least of which that both feature a central character who is hundreds of year old and who possesses a magic box seemingly bigger or inside. Also, rather appropriately, both the Doctor and the mysterious Cole Hawlings were played by Patrick Troughton. This was a fact that would have escaped me when I first saw it back in the 1980s but it feels appropriate that Troughton should play this unassuming tramp-like figure with a secret past.

The rest of the cast is equally impressive, particularly stage and screen veteran Robert Stephens who plays the main villain of the piece, Abner Brown whose sole aim in life is to possess the Box of Delights for himself. Watching him in this I can't help but think that, had circumstances been different, he would have made a good Master.

It's hard to explain why I go back to this story year after year. I think ultimately it comes down to the fact that, like A Christmas Carol, it's just a great Christmas story. Nowadays, the visuals might look a bit cheap and some of the acting, particularly from the children, a little awkward, but the story quickly makes you forgot any shortcomings the production might have. If you haven't seen it, it's worth looking out the DVD or reading the original novel.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series B Episode 10 - Voice from the Past

“Look we've been on the run for a long time. What have we achieved? Access to Federation ciphers that have been regularly recoded, a raid on Central, an empty pretence, talk of Star One, talk of an alliance. Talk, talk, talk. Until now...Our first real chance. And one free of violence and bloodshed.”

  - Blake

The Story

Blake keeps hearing strange signals that compels him to alter the Libreator's course to a supssedly deserted asteroid.  He also keeps having flashbacks to his past when he was brainwashed into denouncing the Freedom Party that he was once a member of.

The rest of the crew restrain Blake and attempt, unsuccessfully, to block the signals that Blake is receiving.  Blake perusades to release him from his restraints and help him teleport down to the asteroid. Once down, Blake meets up with a group of fellow rebels, including Shivan - a heavily bandaged rebel leader who was previously thought dead.  Also amongst the group is Ven Glynd, a former Federation official who was responsible for Blake being put on trial in the first episode. He has now abandoned the Federation and has enough evidence on its leaders to bring the Federation down.  It was these people who sent the mental signals to Blake to bring him to them. 

Shivan and Ven Glynd return to the Liberator with Blake and the the ship travels to the planet Atlay where there is a meeting of the Governors of various worlds. En route they pick up  one such Governor named LeGrand. She is sympathetic to the rebels' cause and will put forward Ven Glynd's evidence at the meeting on Atlay. 

Meanwhile. Avon is suspicous and still belives Blake to be under mental control, despite being told otherwise. 

Upon reaching Atlay, Blake, Jenna and Vila teleport down with the Governor and Ven Glynd leaving Shivan on board the ship.  Shivan then reveals himself to be Travis in disguise, having infiltrated the rebel group and relayed all information back to Servalan.  The meeting is a trap.  The group on the planet's surface find nothing but an empty meeting room.  There  they are confronted by an image of Servalan on a big screen and a squad of Federation guards.

The guards kill the Governor and Ven Glynd.  Blake who has been incapacitated by the machine that is mentally controlling him is helped to safety by Vila and Jenna. Meanwhile Travis is teleported down to the planet by Avon who then destroys the machine that Travis had been using to control Blake.  He then rescues  Blake and the others and they make their escape. 

The Seven

Blake: Blake spends almost the entire episode under the control of Travis' device but you'd actually be hard-pressed to notice it for the most part.  The quote at the top of this post is spoken by Blake when he's unknowingly under the influence of the machine but it sounds like the sort of speech he might have made at the start of this season. He has long been frustrated as his lack of progress and  is once again becoming obsessed with finding the Federation's Central Control (now known as Star One) and destroying both it and the Federation.

In fact, Blake doesn't really act out of character at all in this episode beyond locking the rest of the crew up so that he can go and meet with Shivan.  Even this is not too extreme though as this isn't the first time that Blake has followed his own agenda with scant regard for the feelings of the rest of the crew (see 'Pressure Point' and 'Trial' for more examples of this).  

Avon: Needless to say, Avon is suspicious of Blake's new allies (particularly Ven Glynd) and the means by which they contacted Blake.  He is, of course, proven right when Shivan is revealed to be Travis in disguise.

It's Avon who saves the day and restores Blake by destroying the machine that had control over Blake's mind, although he seems a little regretful that Blake is back to normal.

Jenna: When Blake initially falls under the control of Travis' device and begins experiencing flashbacks, Orac suggests linking Jenna's mind to Blake's in order to cancel out the effects of the device and stop the flashbacks.  Orac's plan fails but it's interesting that he picked Jenna rather than, say, Cally who one would imagine is far more suited to dealing with matters of the mind.  It's certainly been hinted that Jenna and Blake have quite a close relationship and, other than Vila, she's known Blake longer than anyone else on the ship. It's possible that Orac picked Jenna on the basis of this relationship, feeling that she would be best suited to help Blake. 

Vila:Once again Vila is made to look a fool. When the mentally controlled Blake is under restraint early on in the episode, he tricks Vila into releasing him.  He also perusades Vila that it is Avon and Cally who are up to no good and Vila ends up aiding Blake in going to meet with 'Shivan'.  I'm not sure if this is a comment on Blake's powers of persuasion or on how gulliable Vila is.  Sadly I think it's the latter.

Cally: When Blake starts acting oddly, Cally works with Avon and Orac to find out what has happened to him.  She discovers that the device was orignally developed by some of her own people who had then sold the machine to the Federation. 

Orac: Orac finally gets a decent amount to do in this episode.  Initially he takes on the role of therapist as he tries to help Blake through one of his flashback sessions - unsuccessfully as it turns out.  It's one of the rare occasions that Orac seems like a genuine character rather than just a super-intelligent computer. 

The Federation

Servalan: She has plotted with Travis to take out several traitors within the upper-echelons of the Federation as well as capturing and/or killing Blake.  The entire episode is her elaborate plan and it culminates in a similar way to 'Pressure Point' with the heroes being trapped in an empty room.

By now it's apparant that Servalan is someone with a great deal of style and that is apparant as she finally triggers her trap.  She appears on a big screen while Federation guards stand illuminated under spotlights looking like they're about to be voted of Strictly Come Dancing.  Servalan literally has a captive audience as she delivers her speech and she milks the moment for all that it's worth. 

Travis: As you can see, as part of the plan cooked up between himself and Servalan, Travis puts on a ridiculous disguise and effects an extremely dodgy French accent to go undercover as Shivan.  That said, ridiculous as his disguise is, it seems to prove effective.  He not only manages to infiltrate the rebel group but also comes the closest yet to capturing the Liberator. 

Mark's Remarks

From what I can gather this episode seems to have a fairly poor reception amongst fans and yet it doesn't seem as bad as its reputation would suggest. There are some good ideas there but the execution is a little clumsy.

The biggest issue is Travis who's disguise is so poor I'm surprised that it managed to convince anyone.  It's painfully obvious to the viewers that 'Shivan' is not all he seems and I don't think it would take a genius to work out that it was Travis underneath all the bandages.

The other real issue I have is that we have a returning character from the very episode of the series in Ven Glynd but, for some reason he is played by a different actor.  Given that the character isn't really that well-known in the first place, it would have doubtless helped audience recognition if they had either got the original actor back to reprise or found an alternative actor who at least looked similar to the original.  Unfortunately the production team failed in both respects as we have here an actor who looks so completely different to the original that virtually no one is going to know who he's supposed to be.  In the end it might have been better just to have a new character instead of Ven Glynd.

Ven Glynd Version 2
Ven Glynd Version 1

These quibbles aside though, this is a very entertaining episode.  All of the crew, even Orac, get a decentamount to do and no one is left twiddling their thumbs by the teleport controls as has been the case in recent episodes.  Also the scene where Servalan finally closes her trap is a highlight.  Yes, it looks a little over the top but it's well-executed nevertheless.

Next time we go from a fan-hated episode to a fan-favourite with 'Gambit'. 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series B Episode 9- Countdown

Avon: “I once knew somebody called Del Grant, but it was a long time ago. I doubt that this is the same man.”
Blake: “Then why did his name have such a strong effect upon you?”
Avon: “Because the Del Grant that I knew said that if we ever met again, he would kill me.” 

The Story
Blake has come to the planet Albion to find a Federation officer called Provine who is supposed to know the new location of the Federation's Central Control complex. When he arrives on Albion, however he discovers that the people of that world have revolted against their Federation rulers and taken over the headquarters on the planet.  Provine is missing but, before he went into hiding, he started the countdown on a bomb that will kill all life on the planet.

Blake, Avon and Vila teleport down to Albion and meet several of the rebels there including a mercenary named Del Grant who knows Avon and who, on their last meeting, had promised to kill Avon if they ever met again. Blake manages to get them to put their differences to one side and work on stopping the bomb from exploding.

Del Grant

Using Orac, they discover that the bomb is hidden at one of the planet's polar ice caps.  Despite their differences, both Avon and Grant offer to teleport to the bomb's location and defuse it.  While they do this Blake and Vila look for Provine.

At the ice cap, Avon and Grant work to defuse the bomb.  They discuss their past relationship and how Avon supposedly left Grant's sister Anna to die.  Avon claims that he was unable to do anything to save Anna but Grant is not convinced.  Only later, when Grant is trapped by a falling block of ice and Avon risks his own life to save him, does Grant find himself able to forgive Avon for what happened to Anna.  Between them, the two men manage to defuse the bomb.

Meanwhile, Blake is hunting for Provine, unaware that Provine has killed one of the rebels and stolen his identity.  Provine attempts to kill Blake but is shot himself in the struggle.  Before he dies, Provine tells Blake that Federation Central Control has been re-named Star One and that the only person who knows its location is a man named Docholli.

Blake interrogates Provine

Some time later, the Liberator departs Albion.  Blake offers Grant the chance to stay on the ship but Grant opts to stay on Albion and work with the rebels. 

The Seven

Blake: Blake is once again focused on finding and destroying the Federation Central Control, a storyline that will continue through to the end of this season.

Blake plays second fiddle to Avon in this episode. He allows Avon to go off and do all the heroic stuff saving Albion while Blake focuses on finding the man who might know where Central Control is.

Despite their differences, it's nice to see Blake supporting Avon. When Avon is about to go and defuse the bomb with Del Grant, Blake warns Grant that, should anything happen to Avon, then Blake will come looking for him.

Avon: This is very much Avon's episode and we're given more of his background.  He and Del Grant have a history that is gradually revealed over the course of the episode.  Grant's sister Anna was once Avon's lover.  The two of them planned to escape the Federation's control but while Avon was out collecting some fake visas from a dealer, Anna was arrested, dying in custody before Avon could rescue her.  Given this experience and also taking into account what we learn about Avon's friend Tynus in 'Killer', it's no wonder that he's so cold and aloof towards the other members of the Liberator crew.

Vila: There's another opportunity for Vila to show off his skills at opening locks however, beyond that, he's shown to be a bit of an idiot.  In particular he gets confused when he goes off looking for Blake and Provine and puts Blake's life in danger.

Mark's Remarks

Terry Nation returns to his series to set up the storyline for the remainder of the season.  As well as kicking off the hunt for Star One, he also gives Avon's past more depth and delivers a fast-paced story into the bargain.

Avon is undoubtedly the star of the show, even going so far as to take the role of 'heroic lead' from Blake himself.  It's Avon who volunteers to go and defuse the bomb, leaving Blake to do the more mundane job of finding Provine.  Granted, logically, Avon is the best person for the job but it's interesting that Blake is starting to become a secondary character in his own show.  It's a trend that will continue throughout the rest of this season.

Sadly, the other members of the Liberator crew don't fare as well as Avon or Blake.  Vila seems to be stupider than usual and both Jenna and Cally are once again reduced to staying on board the ship and working the teleport controls.  Zen and Orac are neither seen nor heard, giving actor Peter Tuddenham a rare week off.

On the whole, this is a very good return to form after the somewhat disappointing 'Hostage'.  Will the next episode, 'Voices from the Past', continue the trend?

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series B Episode 8 - Hostage

"Blake, this is not a trick. Like yourself, I am now a fugitive from the Federation. It is time we pooled our resources. Together we might survive. Alone the Federation will pick us off one at a time."
 - Travis

The Story
 After surviving a heavy assault by Federation pursuit ships, the Liberator is contacted by Travis who has a message for Blake.  Travis has travelled to the planet Exbar and captured Blake's cousin Inga.  He is holding her hostage until Blake travels to the planet to talk with Travis about pooling their resources against the Federation.  Despite suspecting a trap, Blake decides to travel to Exbar to see Travis and rescue his cousin.


Travelling to Exbar, Blake teleports down alone and meets his uncle, Ushton, who tells him where he can find Travis and Inga.  After Blake has gone to look for Travis, Ushton radios Travis and informs him that Blake is on his way. 

Meanwhile, Avon who seems to feel guilty about letting Blake go down the planet alone, teleports down to the planet with Vila.  Suspicious of Ushton, Avon leaves Vila to spy on him while Avon follows Blake to where Travis is based. 

Blake locates Travis, who is backed up by a group of hardened criminals, or 'Crimos'.  Travis has no intention of joining forces with Blake - he just wants the Liberator.  Soon after Avon and Vila are also captured.  Travis tortures Vila and forces him to reveal how to teleport up to the Liberator.  One of the Crimos is sent up to the ship but Jenna and Cally overpower him and teleport him into deep space. 

Meanwhile on the planet, Ushton helps to free Blake and the others.  They overpower Travis and kill the remaining Crimos.  Avon reveals that he had earlier sent a message to Servalan informing her that Travis was on Exbar.  She's now on her way there so Blake leaves Travis for Servalan to find and he, Avon and Vila return to the Liberator.  Some time later, Servalan does indeed find Travis.  She reminds him that, unofficially, he is still working for her and sends him after Blake once again. 

The Seven

Blake: Some of Blake's family life is revealed.  We meet his uncle Ushton (or "my father's brother" as Blake refers to him) and Ushton's daughter Inga.  Blake is clearly attracted to Inga and she obviously feels likewise.  It's unclear whether they had previously been in a relationship or whether their love was an unspoken one. 

Avon: Initially, Avon does his best to dissuade Blake from travelling to Exbar.  When he fails to prevent Blake from teleporting down to the planet he follows him in secret which seems somewhat out of character for Avon.  However all becomes clear when it's later revealed that Avon has informed the Federation of Travis' whereabouts and that Servalan is on her way to get him.  Avon feels guilty for letting Blake walk into a trap that he is partly responsible for.  Although Avon has made it clear in the past that he's no fan of Blake he obviously doesn't want to be the one responsible for Blake's death.

Jenna: Doesn't really do a lot although she does teleport the invading Crimo into deep space.  She also teleports down to the planet for all of 30 seconds, just long enough to become jealous of Blake and Inga's relationship.

Vila: Is quickly singled out by Ushton as being the weak link in the group and is forced by Travis to reveal the single word that would tell anyone on board the Liberator to telport a person up to the ship.  The word, not surprisingly, is 'teleport' something so obvious that I'm surprised Travis needed to torture Vila at all.

Cally: Like Jenna is given little to do.  Her mental powers come into play again as she detects Avon's guilt in letting Blake go down the planet. She also deduces why Avon is feeling guilty but unfortunately neglects to tell anyone what that reason is.


The Federation

Servalan: Finds herself unable to catch the Liberator even with a large contingent of Pursuit ships at her disposal.  She also has a run-in with one of the President's right-hand men - Councillor Joban.  Joban informs her that news of Blake's exploits is spreading, despite the fact that the Federation has been making no official statements about Blake.  Joban makes it very clear that the President is less than impressed with Servalan's handling of Blake. 

Travis: Since becoming a fugitive from the Federation (albeit one that is still secretly working for Servalan), Travis has found himself a group of criminals to ally himself with.  Unfortunately for him, Travis' Five are no match for Blake's Seven and all of Travis' men are killed while Travis himself is caught and tied up.  Not his finest hour.


Mark's Remarks

In my review for the last episode, I said that my memory of 'Hostage'was very dim.  Having re-watched the episode I can see why.  It's not a bad episode (in fact it's one of the more action packed ones) but it's overly memorable either.

One of the high points of the episode is Servalan's meeting with Councillor Joban - a character who appears in one scene and will never be seen or heard of again but who makes an immediate impact.  He is clearly Servalan's superior in every way and it's rare to see Servalan on the back-foot.


Another very good scene is Travis' interrogation of Vila. Michael Keating as Vila looks genuinely terrified by Travis which is quite impressive considering that Brian Croucher as Travis looks less than threatening as he tries to get Vila say the word 'teleport'.

That's about it for good stuff.  There are quite a few issues with this episode, in particular Blake's interesting relationship with his cousin - something that might be frowned upon today but clearly everyone is fine with it the enlightened far future of Blake's Seven.  There's also the fact that the planet Exbar is apparently low on oxygen so Blake is advised to move slowly.  This is advice that everyone ignores as they run about all over the place and have action-packed fight scenes with one another.  Oh, and the action scenes which top and tail this episode really feel like padding for what feels like a very slim story.

Next time we find that Avon has another friend in 'Countdown'. 

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series B Episode 7 - Killer

Vila: Yes, I always knew you had a friend. I used to say to people: ‘I bet Avon's got a friend, somewhere in the galaxy.’
 Avon: And you were right. That must be a novel experience for you.

The Story

Avon and Vila teleport down to the planet  Fosforon and discreetly break into a Federation base on the planet.  They are there to steal an important TP Crystal which will allow Blake to decipher Federation communications.  Avon enlists the aid of Tynus, an old friend of his who works on the base and owes Avon a favour. 

Back on board the Liberator, Blake, Jenna and Cally have found an old spaceship adrift in space and heading for the planet.  Blake is about to go aboard the ship but Cally stops him, detecting a nasty presence on board the abandoned ship.  Shortly afterwards, the derelict is boarded by a party from the base on Fosforon and it is taken back down to the planet.

While Avon and Vila plot with to Tynus to steal the crystal, Blake teleports down to the base to assist the scientists there with the derelict space craft.  He meets Dr Bellfriar, whose team have discovered a mummified body on the ship.  During autopsy, the 'mummy' seems to come to life and attacks the doctor performing the autopsy before collapsing again.

Shortly afterwards, members of the team that had salvaged the space craft become ill and start to die.  The base is put into quarantine as the disease spreads rapidly and Blake returns to the Liberator to see if he can find more information on the disease.  Meanwhile Avon and Vila use chaos caused by the disease to steal the crystal.  They also discover that Tynus has contacted the Federation and alerted Servalan to the presence of Avon and the others.  Tynus and Avon get into a fight and Tynus is killed in the struggle.  Avon and Vila return to the Liberator with the crystal.

Meanwhile, Blake, communicating with Bellfriar, has discovered that the disease is a virus that was specifically designed to attack people who had travelled in space with the intention of ensuring the human race stayed confined to Earth.  Some unknown alien race had found the derelict space craft and deliberately infected it before sending it back into human space.

Bellfriar is on the verge of discovering a cure but, before he can tell Blake, he too succumbs to the disease and dies.  Unable to to do anything further to help the people of Fosforon, Blake puts out a plague warning in order to prevent the disease from spreading.


The Seven

Blake: He's either being doing some soul-searching after events of the past couple of episodes or Blake is behaving somewhat out of character as he decides to aid the crew of the Federation base on Fosforon.  It would seem that he doesn't view all members of the Federation as being evil and/or corrupt which - whilst a sensible viewpoint - doesn't entirely chime with Blake's actions in the past.  He's attacked a number of Federation bases in the past (the communications base on Centaro in 'Seek-Locate-Destroy' for example) and has never once considered the welfare of any of the staff members there who are just doing their job. 

Blake also chooses to put out a plague warning on the planet despite the fact that, if he didn't,  there's a chance that Servalan could land there and contact the disease.  His reasoning is sound - if even one person with the disease escaped the planet then it would spread and kill billions.  Given recent events, it's understandable that Blake wouldn't want more deaths on his conscience.

Avon:  Was previously good friends with Tynus.  They pulled a bank job together some time in the past which went wrong.  Avon took the blame while Tynus got away unscathed.  It's not explicitly stated but it seems likely that the failed bank job was the same one that got Avon sentenced to life on Cygnus Alpha and involved with Blake in the first place - in 'Space Fall' Avon says that he was caught because "I relied on other people," which would tie in with what we learn here.  And Tynus is certainly someone not to be trusted as he betrays Avon again when he locates the Federation to his presence.

Vila: Teams up with Avon to steal the TP crystal from Fosforon.  He is happy to take advantage of Tynus's hospitality while on the base but doesn't seem to entirely trust.  With good reason as it's Vila that discovers that Tynus has informed the Federation of the Liberator's presence.  He's also, not surprisingly, alarmed at the fact that a space plague has broken out on the base.

Cally: Cally's telepathic abilities come to the fore again as she senses a presence on board the derelict space craft and stops Blake from going across there.

Mark's Remarks

 This is one of the best episodes of the season thus far, written by Doctor Who veteran Robert Holmes.  In his 'Who' work, Holmes was particularly well known for his strong characterisation and sharp dialogue, both of which are very much in evidence here.

He was also well known for creating 'double acts' - putting two characters together  who would work together and bounce off each other. Here we get too such parings - Avon and Vila and Blake and Doctor Bellfriar.  This isn't the first Avon and Vila have worked together of course but it is the first time that an episode has really focused on them as a team and they work together well.  The team of Blake and the genial Doctor Bellfriar also work well.  It's been well-established that Blake is an intelligent, well-schooled man and he seems to enjoy being in the company of another learned individual who isn't Avon.  I could imagine him and Bellfriar having many a long chat about science and history over a cigar and nice glass of port.  That is if Bellfirar didn't meet his end and the climax of the story.

It's also nice to encounter members of the Federation who are just normal people doing their jobs.  With the exception of Tynus, the inhabitants of the base of Fosforon have no political axe to grind, couldn't care less about who Blake is and aren't ambitious, corrupt or insane.  We haven't had a character like that since Commander Leylan in episode 2.

I really only have two criticisms of the episode.  One is the use (or mis-use) of the female characters.  Both Jenna and Cally are almost entirely absent from the episode (again) which is a great shame as both characters still have much to offer.   The other criticism is more cosmetic as the costumes for the inhabitants of Fosforon as some of the most ridiculous seen on the series - which is, frankly, saying something.

Avon models the latest fashion on Fosforon

Next time: Hostage, an episode I remember virtually nothing about.  I'm not sure if that's a good thing or not.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series B Episode 6 - Trial

Avon: “One of these days they are going to leave you. They were almost ready to do so this more death will do it.”
Blake: “Then you'd better be very careful. It would be ironic if it were yours.”

The Story

Travis is on trial for the massacre of hundreds of innocent people several years previously.  His defence counsel is working for Servalan who has arranged the trial in order to get rid of Travis who has become a liability to her.  Servalan is looking to usurp the President of the Federation and Travis has knowledge that, if made public, would harm her changes of taking over.

Meanwhile, wracked with guilt over the death of Gan, Blake has teleported down to a supposedly uninhabited planet in order to think about what has happened and what he will do next.  Avon is in favour of leaving Blake and even Vila seems tempted though Cally and Jenna in particular are less keen.

On the planet, Blake encounters an unusual creature named Zil who tries to protect Blake from being absorbed by 'The Host' and 'losing his Oneness'.  Blake is initially unsure what this means but he eventually discovers that the planet is a living creature and Zil and her kind and parasites on the creature's body.  When the creature fights the parasite's infestation, they are absorbed back into the planet, losing their lives and identity - their 'oneness' - in the process.

Blake teleports back to the Liberator before he himself is absorbed into the planet.  He decides to continue the fight against the Federation, not wanting to lose his individuality and be absorbed like Zil was.  In order to build up his crew's reputation once again Blake decides to attack Servalan's space station headquarters where it so happens that Travis' trial is taking place. 

Travis' trial has gone badly.  Despite an impassioned speech, claiming that he is product of the Federation and therefore his actions are all down to them, Travis is found guilty and sentenced to death.  Before sentence can be carried out, the Liberator attacks and Travis is able to escape from the courtroom.  He makes his way to Servalan's office where she offers him a deal.  Officially Travis will be branded an outlaw and will be hunted down by Servalan.  Unofficially Travis will continue to work for Servalan and will continue to hunt down Blake on her behalf. 

The Seven

Blake: Is, not surprisingly, feeling guilty over Gan's death and has to take some time out to think about the future.  He admits to the others that he had been starting to believe that they were invulnerable and that he'd got carried away as a result.

Ultimately, thanks to Zil, Blake chooses to carry on fighting and his crew choose to stick with him.  In order to rebuild their reputation, Blake suggests the attack on the Servalan's headquarters. 

Avon: He is particularly unpleasant to Blake in this episode, getting in some cheap jibes about Gan's death.  He refers to the rest of the crew as Blake's "three remaining followers" and then says of himself that he doesn't get them killed.  He's also more than happy to abandon Blake on the planet's surface although ultimately he does help to retrieve Blake from the surface and chooses to stay with the crew.

Jenna: Not surprisingly, Jenna sticks up for the Blake when the others are debating whether to leave him.  She's always been his most loyal crew mate  At one point she storms off the flight deck of the Liberator as Avon and Vila talk about leaving Blake.

Vila: He and Avon share a 'moment' in this episode.  It's actually quite interesting, and even a little unsettling, to see them being so friendly when they've spent most of the past series and a half sniping at each other.  Here they are united by a common interest (being rich) and begin to seriously consider leaving Blake and going off to live a life of luxury - although presumably not together.  

The Federation

Servalan: Has ambitions of becoming President of the Federation and sees Travis as an obstacle to that which is why she arranges for him to be tried for mass murder.  She is briefly concerned when she thinks that Travis may have swayed the court's decision.

When Travis escapes from the court room and confronts, she offers him a deal that will get him out of her way and enable her to also dispose of Blake.

Travis: He knows that the trial has been arranged by Servalan and knows that there is no way he can avoid being found guilty by the court.  He therefore determines to go out in a blaze of glory and makes a speech to the court, calling them hypocrites for condoning his actions which he was trained and conditioned to make. 

Trooper Parr
When he makes his escape he spares the life of one lone trooper, a man named Parr who Travis once commanded.  His reason for sparing Parr's life is that he felt that Parr wasn't a hypocrite.

At the end of the episode Travis, like Blake, is a wanted man hunted by the Federation.  Secretly though he still works for Servalan and his mission is unchanged: he will hunt down Blake.

Mark's Remarks 

Another strong episode which deals with the fallout from Gan's death and Blake's failed attack on Central Control, while also setting up things for the rest of the season.

This is writer/script editor Chris Boucher's third script this season and, like his previous episode, 'Weapon', it pays particular attention to the bad guys - in particular Travis who is given some much needed depth to his character. It's also presents us with something of a first for the series: two unconnected stories that only come together at the end of the episode.

 On the one hand we have Blake taking some time out to consider whether he wants to go on fighting while, on the other, we have Travis who is left with little choice but to fight the very organisation that he had dedicated his life too.  Travis is basically playing at being Blake for an episode - his corrupt trial even harks back to Blake's trial in the first episode - so it's not surprising that by the end of the episode Travis is 'officially' branded an outlaw just like Blake.  That's where the similarities end though. Travis is still working for Servalan.  It's an interesting development for Travis and makes him a more interesting character as he's now been 'let off the leash' as it were and is free to do whatever he wants in his hunt for Blake.

Blake's story is the less interesting of the two stories although that's mostly down to character of Zil who I've never really liked.  Plus it's sort of obvious that Blake isn't going to just run out on the rest of his crew.  I mean, when the programme is called Blake's Seven, there's no way the title character is just going to up and leave is there...?

All that aside, it is nice to see Blake's more vulnerable side and see him caring about his crew again after three or four episodes of him being an obnoxious git.  Hopefully it's something that will continue as I've found it hard to like Blake lately.

As far as the rest of the regular cast are concerned they play second fiddle to the Blake and Travis Show although Avon, and to a lesser extent Vila, get some good material.  In particular Avon is in fine form as he cruelly taunts Blake over Gan's death and then plots with Vila to abandon Blake and go off to get rich.  Of the women, only Servalan comes out of this episode looking strong.  Jenna and particularly Cally get little of interest to do.  I read one review which said that Cally had become the new Gan which is a little harsh but probably fair at this point in the series.

Next time: Legendary Doctor Who writer Robert Holmes presents us with his first Blake's Seven episode: 'Killer'.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series B Episode 5 - Pressure Point

"I'm not worth dying for!"
 - Gan

The Story
Blake finally takes the Liberator back to Earth.  His plan is to attack the Federation's Central Control, an underground complex that monitors everything happening across all Federation worlds. Knowing that his crew may be reluctant to be part of such a dangerous mission, Blake has  made contact with a woman called Kasabi, an ex-Federation officer who is now a resistance leader on Earth.

Servalan and Travis are aware of Blake's plan and ambush Kasabi's resistance group, taking her captive. Under torture, Kasabi reveals where and how she was to make contact with Blake.

The crew agree to help Blake with his attack on Central Control. Blake and Gan teleport to the rendezvous point but, rather than Kasabi, they find only Kasabi's daughter Veron who tells them of her mother's capture. Despite this setback, Blake is still determined to carry out his attack. Meanwhile, Avon and Vila investigate the 'Forbidden Zone' where Central Control is located and discover that the entrance is protected by an automated security system.

Avon and Vila rejoin Blake and Gan to plan their attack where they are knocked out by a gas grenade set off by Veron who has betrayed them in order to save her mother. Veron steals their communicator bracelets, leaving the four men cut off from the Liberator and unable to to teleport.

Kasabi and Veron

When they come to, Blake is still determined to carry out his mission.  They hurry to the Forbidden Zone where they manage to get past the security system's traps and gain access to the Central Control complex.  They being to make their way down to the main computer room.  Travis is in hot pursuit.  Meanwhile, back on board the Liberator, Jenna - concerned at not having heard from the others -  decides to teleport down to look for them.

Blake and the others have found the entrance to the main computer room of Central Control and are able to gain access.  Inside they find nothing but an empty room.  Travis arrives and informs Blake that Central Control was moved to a new, secret location thirty years previously and that the complex that Blake has just broken into is used by the Federation as bait to lure and capture rebels like Blake.   

Before Travis can execute Blake and the others, Servalan arrives and orders Travis to release them.  She is being held at gunpoint by Jenna who, along with Veron, captured Servalan and forced her to take them to Blake. Reluctantly, Travis releases his prisoners and they begin to make their way back to the surface in order to teleport back to the Liberator. 

Travis pursues them and throws a grenade which brings the ceiling down.  Gan is trapped beneath the rubble and, despite Blake's attempts to help, dies.  Remorsefully, Blake and the others return to the Liberator and depart the solar system.

The Seven

Blake: Tells no one (except possibly Cally) about his intentions to attack the Central Control on Earth.  Everyone is therefore rather upset when he does eventually tell them. 

He is so focused on attacking and destroying Control that he fails to see the warning signs that things are going wrong and carries on regardless.  In the end this single-mindedness costs him dearly.  Not only does he discover that he's been tricked but he also loses one of his crew.  Blake is a much humbler man at the end of the episode than he was at the beginning.

Avon: Given their rather tense relationship of late, it's a little surprising to see Avon actually agree to help Blake on his raid on Central Control.  However Avon makes it clear that he has an ulterior motive.  If Blake succeeds in his plan then the Federation will be at their weakest and Blake will be needed to co-ordinate the resistance on Earth.  With Blake on Earth then someone will need to look after the Liberator.  That someone will be Avon.  Ultimately, of course, it all comes to nothing.

Jenna: Surprisingly, given how loyal she's been in the past, Blake doesn't tell Jenna about his plans to attack Central Control.  Understandably she is rather upset at this but, like the others, does agree to help him.  

She teleports down when the Blake and the others fail to report in and ultimately saves the day by capturing Servalan and forcing her to release Blake and the others.

Gan: Like the others, he is initially unhappy with Blake's plan but agrees to go along with it.  His softer side comes to the fore again as we see him comforting the supposedly orphaned Veron.  There's also a few opportunities for him to show off his strength, most notably when he breaks down a door  -although he does admit afterwards to being "a bit out of condition."  He meets his end when,whilst helping the others to escape, he is trapped under a pile of falling rubble.

Cally: Is the only one of the crew who seems to be aware of Blake's plan.  This either means that Blake trusted Cally enough to only tell her of his intentions or she may be simply better able to understand Blake than the others are and guessed what his plans were. 

The Federation

Servalan: The usually cool, calm and collected Servalan let's her guard down here when she comes face to face with Kasabi, the rebel leader who was once a trainer in the Federation.  Servalan was one of her students and she turned Kasabi in to the authorities when Kasabi started trying to persuade her students to join the rebels.

Kasabi had said that Servalan was unfit for command, something which even years later Servalan takes rather personally. She seems to take great delight in torturing Kasabi and intentionally uses too much truth serum which ultimately kills her former teacher.  There are several times where it is Travis of all people who has to tell Servalan to keep her mind on the mission at hand.

Travis: Is informed by Servalan that this is his 'last chance' to capture Blake.  He actually does get the closest yet to succeeding and, ironically, only fails because of Servalan.   

Travis here appears more like his old self from the first series.  He uses his knowledge and understanding of Blake to predict exactly what Blake will do and sets his trap accordingly.  It's only after Servalan has allowed Blake to be set free that Travis loses his cool and starts throwing grenades in confined spaces.  The one consolation for him is that, while he failed to kill Blake, he did manage to kill Gan.

Mark's Remarks

Nowadays people would call this episode a 'game changer': one of those episodes where you know things aren't going to be quite the same again.  Is 'Pressure Point' really one of those episodes?  I would say that it probably is.

On the one hand we have the departure of Gan from the crew.  Whilst this does shake things up to an extent, and it will be most keenly seen in the next episode, the character's death has less of an impact on either the crew or indeed the audience than had it been Vila, for instance, who had bitten the bullet.  The sad fact is that, as much as I like the character, there were times when he was a bit of third wheel (or in this case seventh wheel) in a large regular cast where it was a struggle to find something for everyone to deal.  I doubt that most of the audience at the time would have greatly missed him.

So Gan's death itself is not really a 'game changer' to my mind.  What is important is what his death represents.  It shows that Blake and his crew are not invulnerable and they don't always win. They say that some pride comes before a fall and there's no doubt that Blake, who has been something of an egotistical, overconfident idiot so far this series, falls rather hard here.  Gareth Thomas, playing Blake, is at his best during the scenes where he discovers how he's been tricked and his world falls apart around him.

Overall, this is a really good episode.  There's lots of action, lots of snappy dialogue and everyone gets plenty to do - well, everyone except Cally at least.  It's nice to see David Jackson as Gan get a decent amount to do in his final episode.  Although the episode isn't really about Gan as such it is nice that he has a prominent role.

Next time: both Blake and Travis have to face the consequences of their actions in 'Trial'. 

27 August Edit: I found this excellent video tribute to Gan on You Tube and hsd to add it here.

Credit for the video goes to You Tube user Zukalis. The clips come from the BBC and the music is by Stan Bush.