Sunday, 15 May 2011

Blake's 7: Space Fall

“They murdered my past, and gave me tranquillised dreams.”

The story follows directly on, but this episode is spent entirely on board ship, and our cast of characters shifts accordingly. We’re on the “Civil Administration Ship” London, staffed by a captain, the competent and ambitious Artix, and the rather unpleasant Raiker, played by Leslie Schofield, who seems to have been in everything in the late ‘70s. It’s amusing to hear some of the series technobabble we’ll presumably be hearing on a regular basis, with all this “hyperdrive speed” and “time distort seven”. Interestingly, even with faster-than-light travel, the journey is to take eight months.

Raiker delivers a nasty speech to the prisoners, in which he warns them of all sorts of arbitrary nastiness which will be coming their way. This, of course, informs the viewer that he’s a right baddie, and is almost certainly get his comeuppance. This becomes all the more certain after his initial attempts to sexually abuse Jenna. As the only woman on board, she’s in a very dangerous and vulnerable position, but shows herself to be extremely dignified and strong. She’s lucky that all of her male fellow prisoners are by some strange coincidence such solidly middle-class RADA-trained types, though.

Blake, of course, is already plotting escape. And there’s a rather interesting new character: a computer expert and fraudster called Kerr Avon. Already he’s by far the most interesting character, and Paul Darrow is just incredible.

Some kind of mysterious space battle nearby somehow causes “turbulence”. Meanwhile, Blake gets a film sequence as he crawls around the ship, looking for the main computer. Meanwhile, in the studio, Vila and some bloke called Gan are distracting a guard in a scene which reminds me of bits of The Great Escape.

Dialogue tells us that four months have suddenly elapsed, long enough for Blake to gather his information and make his plans. All that remains is to persuade Avon, a highly intelligent and fascinating character, do help them. It’s quite gripping to watch the two of them verbally sparring, something we’ll be seeing rather a lot of.

Avon agrees, and is rewarded with a film sequence of his very own as he crawls towards the computer room. A redshirt prisoner follows to see what he’s up to, and rather impudently demands a film sequence hardly befitting to such a minor character. Quite rightly, he soon gets killed. From this point, only Avon (and that bloke he fights) is deemed cool enough to be on film.

Not everything goes well, and we soon have a stalemate. Blake, Jenna, and Avon control the computer, but all the others, including Vila and Gan, are recaptured. At this point we get an intense debate over what to do next, and thus is crucial, establishing the relations between the three of them. Blake admits the true intensity of his desire to overthrow the Federation. Heroic, perhaps. Idealistic, certainly. But Gareth Thomas plays it in such a way that we’re already a little troubled. Has Blake crossed the border into fanaticism? Are his goals at all realistic? Is he, if you’ll excuse the cliché, a freedom fighter or a terrorist?

Avon is quite different, concerned only with his own material welfare. This is amoral and cynical, yes. Self-centred, certainly. But between Avon’s rational self-interest, and criminal activities which could be seen as victimless if one were feeling generous, and Blake’s possible fanaticism, which is likely to do more harm to the innocent bystander? These are very interesting questions.

Jenna’s reaction is interesting, too, and perhaps mirrors ours. She admires Blake, wants to believe him, but isn’t quite convinced.

The impasse is broken by a trick which Nation will re-use the following year for Doctor Who in Destiny of the Daleks. Raiker simply threatens to shoot one prisoner every thirty seconds until Blake gives in. It works, of course, and leads to a lot of whingeing from Avon, but makes the viewer even more convinced that Raiker isn’t going to survive the episode. This is a Terry Nation script, after all.

It looks as though our heroes have lost. But then the London comes across a whopping great ship, apparently something to do with this space battle they came across earlier. Everyone is keen to claim it as a prize (I’m getting echoes of the great Patrick O’Brian here), and so an hilariously flimsy-looking “transfer tube” is sent across. Two redshirts seem to go mad and die. What else to do than to send our three erstwhile mutineers after them? Blake, Jenna and Avon are duly introduced to this ship, and we, the viewers, can see from this shiny and expensive new set that it’s obviously going to be re-used a lot. It’s all a trap, of course, but Blake is able to resist it. I’m sure there’s some sort of Biblical or literary allusion there but I’m buggered if I know what it is.

Raiker gets his long-anticipated come-uppance and our three heroes (well, two heroes and Avon) have a rather splendid ship with which to liberate their mates on Cygnus Alpha…

That was really rather brilliant.

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