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.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series B Episode 4 - Horizon

"I do not need Blake, I do not need any of the others...I do not need anybody at all."
 - Avon

The Story

The Liberator is on the fringes of Federation space having been on the run for some time.  The crew are exhausted and literally running on adrenaline.  Cally urges Blake to let them all take a break.

They discover a planet about which there is no information other than the fact that it's called Horizon and that it's protected by a force barrier that is impenetrable to almost all ships.  A Federation ship is seen passing through the barrier and Blake takes the Liberator through after it, wanting to know why the Federation is present on such a distant planet. 

Taking Jenna down with him, Blake discovers that Horizon is a Federation colony, where the native population have fallen under the control of the Federation.  Most of the natives are toiling and dying in mines.  Their ruler, Ro now wears a Federation uniform and has renounced his people's culture.  Ro is under the control of the Kommissar, the Federation representative on Horizon.

Ro and Blake talk

Talking with Ro, Blake tries to persuade him that the Federation are using him and his people to obtain a rare mineral.  Ro is persuaded by the Kommissar to send Blake and Jenna to the mines where they meet Selma, Ro's fiancee who has also been sent there.

Meanwhile, Vila, Gan and Cally have also come down to the planet to look for Blake and Jenna but they are all captured.  Before she is sent to the mine, Cally tells Ro that the Kommissar murdered his father.  

Alone on the Liberator, Avon contemplates running out on Blake and the others but, when a fleet of Federation ships are detected heading towards Horizon, he decides that it would be better for all if he rescued the others.  He goes down to the planet and rescues the crew.  They leave Horizon, avoiding the Federation ships that are destroyed by the protective barrier around the planet.  Meanwhile Ro, persuaded by Blake's arguments turns on the Federation and kills the Kommisar.  He vows to fight the Federation should they return to the planet.  

The Seven

Blake: Decides to investigate the planet Horizon because he's 'curious'.  He sees it as a potential base for the resistance movement from which he could mount a serious offensive against the Federation.

When he goes down to the planet he takes Jenna with him partly because he knows she supports him but mostly because she's the best pilot they have.  He's concerned will try to take the Liberator and abandon Blake but knows that Avon won't leave with Jenna as pilot.  As it is, Blake's wrong here as Avon almost leaves without any of the rest of the crew.

Avon:  Is once again frustrated that Blake is making decision without consulting the rest of the crew. When Blake and Jenna fail to report back to the ship he refuses to go down to rescue them.  His reasoning that the others (or at least Vila and Gan) are expendable while he isn't seems particularly cold.  Admittedly he never seems to have much time for Gan but he at least seemed to respect Vila's lock picking abilities so to refer to him as 'expendable' seems odd to say the least.

When he is the last remaining crew member left on board, Avon seriously contemplates leaving the others and running off in the Liberator.  The only thing that stops him is the fact that a Federation flotilla is heading towards Horizon with just the right number of ships that would be able to destroy the Liberator.  To his credit Avon does undertake a daring one-man rescue mission although he does almost shoot Blake in the process.

Cally:  Once again acts as the ship's resident doctor as she diagnoses the entire crew with stress.  She also prescribes Vila with a dose of adrenalin and soma, which seems to act as a relaxant. 

Using information provided by Orac she convinces Ro that she is a mystic when she tells him about how his father was killed by the Kommisar.  She also uses her telepathic powers to warn Ro that the Kommisar will kill him too.

Mark's Remarks

After last week's rather disappointing episode, I wasn't really looking forward to this one.  I remember being somewhat underwhelmed by it the first time I saw it some years ago.  Happily, it's much better than I remember it and vast improvement on last week's episode.

The episode explores the idea of the Federation as a colonial power, much like the British Empire of old - exploiting and destroying supposedly 'primitive'cultures.  It's a new angle to explore with the Federation although perhaps not an unexpected one.  Given how willing they are to subjugate their own people it's not surprising that they'd do the same to others.

This is also a very good story for both Blake and Avon whose game of one upmanship with each other continues.  Blake continues to act bullishly, snapping orders at people and making important decisions without consultation.  Avon, meanwhile, seems to be growing increasingly tired of living under Blake's command.  This isn't the first time that we've seen Avon contemplate running out on Blake and the others but it is the closest he gets to actually making good on that threat. This focus on Blake and Avon does mean that the other crew members suffer somewhat, although Cally gets to make use of her mental powers once again. 

Overall,this is a solid story, which looks great - after the drab greys of 'Weapon' it's nice to see such rich colours here - and has some great dialogue, particularly for Avon. 

Next time, things come to a head and a hero falls in 'Pressure Point'.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series B Episode 3 - Weapon

Avon: “We do not know what IMIPAK is.”
Blake: “Exactly. The least we've got to do is find out what it does.”
Vila: “Why have we? I can live without it.”
Blake: “It's just conceivable that you can't.”
Avon: “Unless of course you want your last words to be: ‘So that’s IMIPAK.’”

The Story

Both Blake and Servalan are hunting for a man named Cosar, a genius who created a new weapon called IMIPAK, before stealing the weapon and going on the run with it.  The weapon allows its user to 'mark'a person for death.  They can then kill the marked person at the touch of a button and at their own convenience - even from a distance of a million miles away.

Cosar and Rashel

Servalan is the first to track Cosar down, with the aid of a psycho-stragegist named Carnell.  She uses a clone of Blake to gain Cosar's trust, take the weapon from him and hand it over to Servalan and Travis.  Servalan uses the weapon to kill Cosar and Travis then 'marks' the real Blake (who has arrived with Avon and Gan) for death. 

Blake, Avon and Gan are forced to retreat back to the Liberator by Servalan in order to get as far away from the weapon as possible before she can use it on them.  Just as Servalan is about to kill Blake she is stopped by the clone and a slave girl called Rashel who had gone on the run with Cosar.  The two of them take the weapon and mark Servalan and Travis.  Now it is Servalan's turn to retreat with the warning not to come back unless she wants to be killed by the weapon.  The clone and Rashel are left to live their lives in peace. 

The Seven

Blake: Plans to raid the Federation's Weapon Development Base but neglects to tell the rest of the crew - other than Cally who suggested the idea to him in the first place.  Blake's ultimate intention is to raid the Federation Central Control on Earth and he will need powerful weapons to do this, hence the raid on the Weapons Base.  He's ultimately dissuaded from this course of action when he realises that someone has escaped the base with a powerful weapon and that it would be easier to go after them instead.

This is one of the few instances when Blake is actually beaten by the Federation as he's forced to abandon his attempts to get the IMIPAK weapon and leave empty-handed with the threat of death hanging over his head.

The Federation

Servalan: Attempts to gain IMIPAK without anyone else within the Federation knowing that she has it.  To this end she enlists the aid of a psycho-strategist called Carnell to ensure that her plan runs perfectly. 

She plans to have Carnell killed once he has outlived his usefulness but he turns the tables on her and escapes.  Despite this, and the fact that her plan fails she isn't too upset as Carnell calls her "the sexiest officer I have ever known."

Travis: Is sporting a new look - and I'm not just talking about the face.   He has a new uniform and his eyepatch now covers less of his face then it did previously.  His personality has also undergone a change, possibly as result of "recent visits to the retraining therapist", although this is never expanded on.  Travis is now far quicker to anger, even going so far to put his hand around Servalan's neck.

He is so obsessed with Blake that, when he sees the first Blake clone, his immediate reaction is to shoot him. His desire to kill Blake is the one thing that still matters him.

Mark's Remarks

I can't, in all honesty, say that this is a favourite episode of mine.  I'm not quite sure why.  Maybe it's because the focus of the episode is on Servalan and Travis rather than on Blake and the gang, who feel very secondary to the plot.  Or maybe it's because it feels like it takes a long time for the story to get going and then it seems to ends very quickly.  Maybe it's just because it's a bit dull.

Episodes focusing on the Federation are by no means a bad thing.  It's a sign of how strong the characters of Servalan and Travis are that the production felt confident enough have an episode in which the heroes are sidelined from the main action.  Unfortunately, I just struggled to really care about either Servalan or Travis here and I think a lot of that has to do with the 'new' Travis.

In the first series, Travis' and Servalan's relationship was one of almost equals.  Servalan was still very much in charge but the two of them seemed to have a mutual respect for one another.  Now they seem to have descended into acting like a bickering married couple from EastEnders. That Brian Croucher seems to be trying to play Travis as a cockney thug doesn't really help matters. That said, Travis' new personality - where he appears to be moments away from snapping and shooting everyone in sight - makes for a very unpredictable and therefore very interesting character in future episodes.

One big redeeming feature of this episode is the Federation psycho-strategist Carnell.  His arrogance (which is actually justified) and effortlessly cool demeanour make even the equally-cool Avon look like a stuttering teenage schoolboy by comparison.  Carnell even manages to get one-up on Servalan, something which not even Blake manages to do in this episode. It's a shame that he doesn't appear in any other episodes, although his creator, Chris Boucher, did include in a Doctor Who novel as well as an audio series that was a spin-off of Boucher's Doctor Who story 'The Robots of Death'. 

One other interesting aspect of this episode is that there is a clone of Blake (albeit not a perfect clone) alive and well and in posession of an extremely dangerous weapon.  Sadly, it's not something that is ever touched on again so we can only speculate as to what happened to Clone-Blake and Rashel, living alone on a virtually deserted planet. One suspects they had a better time of it than the real Blake though.

Next time: the Liberator crew decide to take a holiday in 'Horizon'.