Thursday, 23 June 2011

Blake's 7: Shadow

"Where are all the good guys?"

"Could be looking at them."

"What a depressing thought..."

What’s this? Written by Chris Boucher? You mean there are writers in this world who aren’t Terry Nation? Blimey. Actually, this episode feels so extraordinary different from everything that’s gone before simply because of the change of writer. It helps that Chris Boucher is so damn good, too. This is one of the best episodes yet.

So, another space station, and a bloke called Largo. This is close enough to “Iago” to immediately tell us what sort of character he is; duplicitous and not very nice. He’s a sort of cross between said Shakespearean baddie, Mother Superior off of Trainspotting and Tony Soprano, being a middle-ranking flunky in the “Terra Nostra”. Of course, any similarity to any legitimate business organisations of Italian extraction is entirely coincidental.

Largo is having some fun humiliating two of his customers before he hands over some “Shadow”, a highly addictive gobstopper-like substance. I’m fairly sure you could get it in my village’s local sweet shop when I were a nipper. But one of these two siblings pulls a gun on him, the pair of them nick loads of stuff, and off they go.

Meanwhile, aboard the Liberator, everyone is speaking lines not written by Terry Nation, and it’s an odd yet refreshing experience. All the lines sound right (Boucher has been script editor all this time, after all), but the characters now have a bit more room to breathe. They’re orbiting “Space City, a “Satellite of Sin” controlled by the Terra Nostra, whose help Blake wants to enlist in his quest against the Federation- a sign, if there hadn’t been enough already, of how his monomaniacal obsession has skewed his moral compass. He dismisses the considerable ethical problems with a curt “Earth is all I’m interested in”; this time last season his political opposition to the Federation was far less narrowly defined than this.

Interesting that Gan should be the main one to object. Firstly because he’s always been the most loyal to Blake; he’s never before questioned his decisions and has strongly defended him to Avon. And yet here he’s on Avon’s side, an interesting development in the heightening power struggle between them. And secondly it seems to indicate a definite change in Gan’s character from the hints of extreme sexual dodginess we seemed to be getting last season. Has all this been dropped? Suddenly Gan seems to be going all moral.

Meanwhile, the desperate siblings have lost their other brother to an overdose, and found themselves captured by Largo’s underling. Our, ahem, “heroes”, meanwhile, are off to see Largo themselves, to cut a deal. Apart from Cally, that is, and Vila. Some interesting dialogue here: Blake is a privileged “Alpha Grade”, while Vila is a “Delta Service Grade” peasant.

Vila isn’t on the Liberator for long; he soon enlists the help of Orac to get himself inside the City. Meanwhile, Blake, Jenna Gan and Avon are being rather less successful with their own negotiations, which end with them all being marched into a cell at gunpoint.

Things look a bit grim, but we get a bit of light relief here; the conversation between Cally and Vila only drop vague hints as to what Vila is doing, but there’s almost certainly at least one lady present. Unfortunately, Blake and co aren’t having anywhere near as nice a time.

There’s a nice moment for Cally here as she quickly susses out from Blake’s subtle hints that his suggestion to bring loads of money over is under duress, and proceeds to go all badass and arse-whuppy. I rather like this badass Cally. It’s almost a shame that her moment of triumph is rather rudely pre-empted by Blake and co just escaping by themselves without so much as a by-your-leave. Some people just have no manners.

Blake still plans to go after the Terra Nostra, though; this time he plans to well and truly shove a stick into said hornet’s nest and again, Gan objects most strongly. It’s interesting watching Avon here; it’s strongly implied that he’s already worked out what’s going to be revealed at the end, but is deliberately allowing Blake to try and fail. He plans to go to Zondar, where Shadow is in some way grown, in spite of the plant being extinct.

Meanwhile, Cally finds Orac and ends up in a strange yet cheap-looking dream world, uncannily similar to that seen in the excellent Doctor Who story, Kinda. And it turns out that the Terra Nostra are able to trace the Liberator through the Shadow in the possession of one of their guests. This is no good to Largo, though; he’s just been assassinated and smoothly replaced by his subordinate. That sort of thing is so very Chris Boucher, and reminds me of the wonderfully backstabbing world of Magic Bullet’s splendid Kaldor City audio dramas, based on Boucher’s concepts from Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who.

Blake, Jenna and Avon teleport down to Zondar, where they find some “moon discs” from which Zondar is derived. And suddenly (and, as it turns out, conveniently), Cally wakes up, panics, runs, teleports to the surface and collapses next to a load of moon discs, nicely in position for the climax.

Anyway, Orac has gone bad, is trying to crash the Liberator, and kills Druggy Girl, although that last bit is ok; she’s no longer useful to the plot. It seems that Orac has been possessed by an extra-dimensional entity for some reason, but that Cally, with help from the sentient moon discs, is able to overpower it, which is nice.

The big reveal is rather clever, although Avon probably guessed some time ago; the Terra Nostra is run by the Federation, who thus control both sides of the law…

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