Sunday, 19 June 2011

Blake's 7: Orac

“I don’t intend to sit around and wait to die.”

What a very odd beginning. Terry Nation was clearly terrified that his radical decision to introduce a bit of continuity between consecutive episodes was a wild and dangerous risk, and the viewer needs to have the concept explained in words of one syllable. Hence the arse-clenchingly contrived recap, in which for some reason Blake goes to the trouble of editing together some clips and providing a voiceover, purely so that he can tell Avon something he already knows. It’s quite a contrast from watching recent episodes of Doctor Who written by Steven Moffat, I can tell you.

That’s not the only hangover from the previous episode, either. Avon, Jenna, Gan and Vila are all coming down with radiation sickness, meaning we finally get to see one of Terry Nation’s favourite things: anti-radiation drugs! As Avon puts it, “In a couple of weeks, we’ll all recover.” Er, quite.

Anyway, the Liberator’s off to Aristo to give the cells to Ensor, who has a dicky metal ticker, and hope that he’ll give them some anti-radiation drugs in return. Ensor, meanwhile, is feeding his fish and watering his plants in a room which could only possibly have existed in 1978 and no other year. He discovers a Federation ship has landed, containing two passengers and, of course, we immediately guess who they are. It seems that Servalan and Travis have to travel through the passageways under the city where monsters called “Phibians” lurk. This episode is the most Terry Nation thing ever.

Zen explains that Aristo hasn’t got much in the way of landmass, and that while it has old ruined cities on it, amphibians have only just evolved and started to colonise the landmasses. Er, how does that work then?

We essentially get two parallel quest narratives here: Blake and Cally on the surface; and Servalan and Travis underground amongst the nasty monsters. I’m sure I could come up with all sorts of ways this is symbolic of the contrasting natures of the two pairs, and all sorts of tropes surrounding quests, but I’m too busy laughing at the rubber monster. Sorry. Still, it’s interesting watching the shifting power dynamics between Servalan and Travis. Servalan does panic and need to be rescued by Travis (she is a female character in a story by Terry Nation, after all), but is quick to assert her authority over him as soon as the danger is over.

Blake and Cally find Ensor and tell him the sad news, sensibly omitting all the hijacking stuff. For reasons of plot convenience it now becomes necessary to take Ensor, along with Orac, up to the Liberator. Orac is this fantastic machine with the ability to connect to other computers without a direct connection. Which makes it, er, a slightly crapper version of the Internet. How very futuristic.

Travis and Servalan arrive at this dramatic moment, just in time to put a bit of excitement into the last few minutes before Avon saves the day at the very last possible moment. While all this is going on, Ensor quietly dies of not-having-any-more-to-contribute-to-the-plot syndrome.

So, Blake & co now have Orac, a second smartarse computer voiced by Peter Tuddenham to add to their collection. For some reason Orac can mathematically “predict” the future, and it seems the Liberator will explode very soon….

Well, I rather enjoyed that first series, in spite of the last few episodes showing some signs of repetitive writing. A solid set of characters and a premise that works. Roll on Series Two…

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