I don't think I had seen any of the second series of Blake's 7 before, apart from one episode which we'll get to in due course. I first thought this might have been because we were living abroad in 1979-80, but actually the episodes were all shown between January and April 1979, and we did not leave until the summer. Maybe I had music lessons on Tuesday nights or something. Anyway, watching most of these for the first time, I was able to rediscover my inner eleven-year-old's sense of wonder without very much difficulty. I'm afraid I'm going to do a lot of Doctor Who crossover spotting here, because it is so much fun.
2.1: Redemption, by Terry Nation, directed by Vere Lorrimer
I found Redemption a really strong start to the series. Though we'll just snark for a moment about the fact that our heroes have acquired some snazzy new threads in the split second between the end of the last episode and the beginning of this.
It's always good to have some back-story, and it turns out that the Liberator is part of an alien civilisation that wants to reclaim it. The crew's loss of control of Zen is spooky and well done, and the episode makes the most of the nuclear power station setting. And of course it is the sister ship that fulfills Zen's prophecy of destruction.
All three of the identified guest cast (there are numerous uncredited guards etc) have Doctor Who credentials. Most notably Harriet Philpin, Alpha Two, was Bethan the Thal soldier in Genesis of the Daleks:
Sheila Ruskin, Alpha One, two years later was Kassia in The Keeper of Traken:
And the unnamed slave, Roy Evans, was one of the alien delegates in the Daleks Master Plan, as well as being two different doomed miners in late Pertwee stories. He was also the Baker in the episode of Here Come the Double Deckers! where Doughnut turns invisible.
The Avon/Blake dynamic is getting stronger here, and the girls and Gan are losing out. As ever the best line is an exchange between Avon and Vila:
‘I’ve got a shocking pain behind the eyes’2.2: Shadow, by Chris Boucher, directed by Jonathan Wright Miller
‘Have you considered amputation?’
The first episode officially written by Chris Boucher, and it's by far the best characterisation so far: there's a real feeling of discomfort about having anything to do with drugs, and the extent to which this can be justified, Gan in particular showing more depth here than in all his other episodes combined. The moral dilemma is relieved by the disovery at the end that the Federation is Behind It All. I love also the groovy psychedelic moving rocks, and Cally, for once getting to be telepathic, is taken into a mental universe of her own which clearly was a source for the Who story Kinda. And Vila gets to have a good time.
Adrienne Burgess, a bit wet here as Hanna, was a more convincing revolutionary with Michael Keating in The Sun Makers a year or two back.
Vernon Dobtcheff, the big bad guy, was in The War Games of course:
Derek Smith, the ambiguous Largo, was not in Old Who but turned up in Human Nature as the doomed doorman at the village dance:
Vila: Where are all the good guys?
Blake: You could be looking at them.
Avon: What a very depressing thought.
2.3: Weapon, written by Chris Boucher, directed by George Spenton-Foster
Well, well, we have a new Travis. I was not a fan of the character under Stephen Greif, but any fair observer must admit that Brian Croucher's interpretation is rather worse, and we get no explanation for the change in appearance. As you'd expect from Chris Boucher, there's some brilliant stuff here. We have yet another mystic priestess (the Clone Queen):
And isn't the clone Blake getting away with the girl a bit of a precursor to the duplicate Tenth Doctor getting away with Rose?
Is it true, I wonder, that Servalan (in her sexiest costume yet) has Romana's furs from The Ribos Operation,saved by George Spenton-Foster who directed both?
Though switching to costume disasters, it's difficult to know whether this or The Talons of Weng Chiang was John Bennett's career nadir:
Both Scott Fredericks as Carnell, and Graham Simpson as his liaison officer, were in Image of the Fendahl (also directed by Spenton-Foster), Fredericks in the lead role of Stael, Simpson as the hiker who gets killed at the beginning of the story.
I thought everyone was on really good form here, including Candace Glendenning as Rashel (who gets the spare Blake); she was never on Who but did several 1970s horror films.
Jenna: Maybe IMIPAK is another Orac. If we captured it, perhaps we could breed from them.
Blake: What a disgusting idea.
2.4: Horizon, written by Allan Prior, directed by Jonathan Wright Miller
Wow. This was unexpected - the script is pretty basic (this is the first story this season that could just as easily have been in Season One) but this is rather bravely a full-on totally direct parable about colonialism. Unfortunately, as with the similar Third Doctor story The Mutants, the delivery is slightly muffed, but the intention is there. Interesting to see the Liberator crew admitting that they are suffering from stress. Less impressive as they all teleport down in sequence, to land in the same trap. And total costume fail with Gareth Thomas and Michael Keating's manly chests. Brilliant Avon scenes as he decides whether or not to cut and run.
Here's another pair of guest stars who get reunited in the Whoniverse: Brian Miller (Deputy Commissar here, also of course Elisabeth Sladen's husband) and Souad Faress (Selma) are both in the second story of the third series of the Sarah Jane Adventures, The Mad Woman In The Attic, the Harry the caretaker and the eponymous woman (an older version of Rani) respectively. Unfortunately they don't appear in the same scene in Sarah Jane, but I did find one shot with them nicely framed in the background in Horizon. Brian Miller has otherwise been in both Old Who and New Who.
Vila : Why don't you go?
Avon: You are expendable.
Vila: And you're not?
Avon: No, I am not. I am not expendable, I'm not stupid, and I'm not going.
2.5: Pressure Point, written by Terry Nation, directed by George Spenton-Foster
This is the one I do remember watching - because of course it is the one in which Gan is killed. Apparently the first idea was to kill off Vila, and what a good thing that they rethought that stupid idea. Gan, poor chap, never got much to do, and I remember being a bit surprised at myself, aged 11, at how little I was upset by his demise. But it does at least show that we are playing for high stakes here. Blake is getting more and more unrealiable, and here his hubris gets one of his friends killed.
It's one of those relatively few episodes with just one driving plot strand, and the concept of the entire Control Centre being a hoax is well delivered. There's also a good exchange about organised religion:
Gan: What is this place?Well, once again we have three Doctor Who cast crossovers, with revolutionary mother and daughter Kasabi and Veron, played by Jane Sherwin and Yolanda Palfrey, appearing as Lady Jennifer Buckingham in The War Games and Janet the stewardess in Terror of the Vervoids.
Blake: A church.
Gan: A church?
Blake: Place of religious assembly.
Gan: Must be ancient.
Blake: The Federation had them all destroyed at the beginning of the New Calendar.
Not on quite the same level, Sue Bishop, this week's Mutoid, was also one of the Sisterhood of Karn in The Brain of Morbius (but I am not sure which).
Blake: The others have decided to go with me.
Avon: [smiles] I thought they would. Not very bright, but loyal.
2.6: Trial, by Chris Boucher, directed by Derek Martinus
This is not one of the greater episodes. There are two plots: Travis is put on trial (which we all know is a show trial) for war crimes, and Blake seeks absolution for the death of Gan by visiting a planet that turns out to have a mind of its own.
The two sinister senators have both been on Doctor Who, Peter Miles three times, most notably as Nyder in Genesis of the Daleks, and John Bryans once, as Torvin in The Creature from the Pit.
I have to say I was more impressed with Victoria Fairbrother as Travis' defense lawyer Thania (one of only two women Federation officers other than Servalan seen in the entire 52 episodes), and with Claire Lewis as the alien Zil, the most alien non-human we've had yet on the show.
Thania: You served a full tour with Space Commander Travis, didn't you?Anyway, I must say I enjoyed all of these, one way or another; and we still have Robert Holmes to come!
Trooper Par: Five years. He was hard.
Major Thania: But fair?
Trooper Par: No. Not often, anyway.