Sunday, 12 June 2011

Blake's 7: Bounty

“Civilisation has always depended on courtesy rather than truth.”

I shouldn’t really make too much of the alien planet looking just like the South-East of England on a gloomy and wet Autumn day- I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot more of this sort of thing- but this really takes the biscuit. And to see a fully functioning car from the early twentieth century on what’s supposed to be another planet, many centuries in the future- I’m sorry; that’s just not remotely plausible.

Still, this is a perfectly fine episode, although a little by-the-numbers. By now there’s definitely an element of marking time until the season finale. That’s what happens when you get one writer to do the whole series, I suppose.

Blake and Cally are skulking about, trying to break into the comfortable prison where former President Sarkoff is being held, alongside a young woman called Tyce. Tyce is played by a lady who I thought was Connie Booth until I saw the credits, and Sarkoff is played, very well, by T.P. McKenna. He’s been in exile for seven years, and appears to be a rather tragic, noble but embittered figure. The thing is, the character is superficially interesting, and has some very good lines, but is a bit of a cliché, only saved by McKenna’s performance. The sheer stubborn self-indulgence of the man, given what we’re told about his past and what ultimately happens, doesn’t seem realistic. He seems to be motivated more by the requirements of the plot than anything else.

I almost groaned at the prospect of the Liberator having to go out of teleport range after a ship approaches them, no doubt to return and teleport our heroes back on board only in the nick of time. This has happened too many times recently.

There’s more interestingness surrounding Gan here though; he offers to teleport aboard the ship which seems to be in distress. If it turns out the ship is hostile, he will communicate back to the Liberator and ask Vila to destroy it, with himself aboard. The script emphasises that he really does mean it. It’s strongly implies that he has a death wish, or at least very low self-esteem.

Sarkoff’s first conversation with Blake is fascinating, as he reacts to what he supposes to be his imminent assassination with studied courtesy, indulging his ego by intending to die as the perfect gentleman. It seems he was president of Lindor, a world outside the Federation, for five years. Resisting calls for annexation by the Federation, he stood for re-election, lost, and promptly flounced off to the custody of the Federation, of which he disapproves. Er, why?

Blake insists that Lindor is on the brink of civil war, with the Federation poised to intervene under the guise of “peace-keeping”, annexing the planet by stealth. The election lost by Sarkoff was rigged. Sarkoff struggles to accept all this, choosing to believe what the Federation tells him. He seems awfully naïve and self-indulgent here- hardly the impressive figure we’re being asked to accept.

Blake doesn’t come up smelling of roses either. His vandalising of Sarkoff’s no doubt priceless antiques makes him look like a thug and a bully as well as a fanatic, but then this isn’t the first time he’s shown that he can be all of these things.

This episode gave me one big surprise, I must admit: I never expected to see a car being started with a handle in Blake’s 7. Of course, this sequence, rather less unpredictably, sees all four of Blake, Cally, Sarkoff and Tyce teleported up to the Liberator. We then get a few minutes of excitement, as the ship has been captured by some old smuggler mates of Jenna’s, wanting to claim the reward money from the Federation for turning the fugitives in. For some reason, it seems, the Federation isn’t particularly likely to arrest them, although they’re obviously criminals.

Sarkoff gets a somewhat chance to be decisive, shooting dead the leader of the smugglers, Tarvin, before he gets a chance to shoot Tyce. For some reason it’s only now that we learn she’s his daughter. And for some reason this suddenly turns him into the Sarkoff of old, before he started wallowing in self-pity.

For an episode which resolves around the character and motivations of Sarkoff, this doesn’t really work. McKenna plays him well enough, but unfortunately the character seems to behave as he does purely for the convenience of the plot. Not one of the best episodes.

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