Sunday, 26 June 2011

Blake's 7: Horizon

“Oh Hell. I’m tired of running, Jenna.”

Blimey. For the first time, we get a writer who has neither written nor script edited an episode of Blake’s 7, nor do I know of him from Doctor Who. Allan Prior: who he? He’s rather good, whoever he is.

It seems Cally is now an expert in medical matters. Either that, or the fact that she’s a woman apparently means she’s good at nurturing and stuff. But the message is clear; the entire crew is knackered, dangerously knackered for a bunch of people who live in such constant danger. So what does Blake do? Yep; go chasing a nearby Federation freighter because he’s “curious”. This is one of many recent examples of a subtle but growing trend; instances of Blake showing that he is in fact a dangerous, reckless fanatic who is a danger to his crew, who would be better off with Avon who, in spite of his outward cynicism, is a sensible chap, has their best interests at heart and is not so apolitical as he pretends.

The freighter is going to Horizon, an isolated world on the very edge of this spiral arm. Blake follows, pushing his crew hard; Jenna makes it very clear that she’s tired. They make it through a magnetic barrier- another example of how Blake’s recklessness could have got them all killed- and eventually Blake and Jenna teleport down, but not before Avon overhears Blake admitting to her that he’s taking her, as the best pilot, as insurance to stop Avon running off without him.

Being knackered, they are both promptly spotted and hit by darts from a blowpipe, meaning that Gan and Vila have to go after them.

Blake and Jenna are interrogated by the Federation’s Commissar, a nasty little totalitarian who sees resistance as a “malfunction of the genes”, suffered by “one in 100,000” which is usually “detected in infancy”. Suddenly we’re back to the overtones of Brezhnev-style medicalisation of dissent as seen back in The Way Back, and we’re reminded just how awful the Federation is.

Alongside the Commissar is a young, hesitant man called Ro, nominally in charge of this planet. He’s played by Darien Angadi, who had a rather memorable part in I, Clavdivs. There’s a tension between him and the Federation, but as a young and weak ruler, he allows himself to resist, collaborating with what he tries to pretend are not his colonial overlords. As with the European colonies of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Federation are interested in Horizon for its mineral resources, in this case Monopasium 239, a rare element(?) which can send ships “into new galaxies” (Is this new? Is humanity just about on the verge of leaving the Milky Way for the first time?). This is done by slave labour, and generally by the most repressive practices possible. 1979 is surprisingly late for a colonial allegory like this one, but Ro reminds me of one of those Indian princes who went to public school and Oxbridge.

Blake has an interesting conversation with Ro, in which he sows all sorts of doubts into his mind; it seems he saw a friend of Ro’s die on the way to Cygnus Alpha. This isn’t allowed to go on for long, though; soon they’re both dispatched to the mines, where there’s an interesting scene where Blake organises the rationing of food fairly. There they meet Selma, Ro’s consort, who has been dispatched to the mind for vaguely “seditious” remarks. This is pretty appalling, in fact so much so that it’s a bit of a misstep on part of the script. For Ro to treat the woman he supposedly loves like this makes it hard for us to sympathise with him at all.

With four of the crew missing, Cally goes down to find them, and promptly disappears. Now there’s just Avon. Will he flee, safe aboard the Liberator, or will he rescue his friends? There’s a degree of tension, but regular viewers know by now that he’s far more loyal and reliable than he superficially seems.

Meanwhile, Cally reveals to Ro that the Federation had his father killed, and he discovers the Federation had been considering having him killed. Worst of all, he has to watch while Selma is tortured. The climax is fitting, as Avon’s highly efficient rescue mission coincides with Ro, in traditional dress, killing the Commissar with his blowpipe.

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