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.