Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Blake’s 7, second season (second half)

These were all new stories to me, as far as I can recall, and I watched them with forty years of pent-up excitement for each next episode.

2.7: Killer, written by Robert Holmes, directed by Vere Lorrimer

Apart from the regulars (Michael Keating, Paul Darrow, Jacqueline Pearce), none of the guest cast this time has acted on Doctor Who. But, wow. Here is Robert Holmes, writer of some of the best Doctor Who stories, script editor for the first glorious half of Tom Baker's time in the TARDIS, applying his talents to a new situation. And Morris Barry, in front of the camera here as Dr Wiler, was of course the director of three Doctor Who stories, including the classic Tomb of the Cybermen (and the less classic The Moonbase and The Dominators).

Blake's 7 is at its best when balancing two related but different plot lines evenly in the same episode, and this is one of those: on the one hand, Avon is hoping to get a valuable decryption crystal from an old friend out of loyalty (and, when that fails, blackmail); on the other, there is a ZOMBIE. This is a tautly written episode, with excellent guest stars (Paul Daneman as the lead doctor on the base, Ronald Lacey as Avon's frenemy) that also shows what is to come - the girls are in the background, Avon gets some more character development, and the banter between him and Vila is great:
Avon: I told you, he's a friend of mine.
Vila: Yes, I always knew you had a friend. I used to say to people, "I bet Avon's got a friend, somewhere in the galaxy."
Avon: And you were right. That must be a novel experience for you.

2.8: Hostage, written by Allan Prior, directed by Vere Lorrimer

Sorry to keep being shallow about Doctor Who crossover appearances, but there are two absolute classics here (and one less famosu). The great Kevin Stoney makes an appearance as yet another senior Federation official, having previously been the two best villains of the black and white Doctor Who era, Mavic Chen of The Daleks' Master Plan and Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion. (He was also in Revenge of the Cybermen, but we can't all be perfect.)

And playing Blake's turncoat uncle Ushton is none other than John Abineri, who was in four Old Who stories, most notably as green alien Ranquin in The Power of Kroll (also by Robert Holmes), hapless Railton in Death to the Daleks!, General Carrington in The Ambassadors of Death, and Dutch oilman Lutyens in Fury from the Deep.

The one I didn't spot was Andrew Robertson, the Federation commander at the beginning, who was also Mr Fibuli in The Pirate Planet - utterly different!

Fandom seems to be generally negative about this episode, but I rather enjoyed it. OK, the Liberator crew completely stupidly walk into an obvious trap to keep the plot going, and almost nothing that Ushton does makes sense (why would he need to fake a limp, for instance?) but we have some entertaining chasing around, Travis is now marginalised by the Federation and trying to get back in with Servalan, and Blake has a cute cousin, played by Judy Buxton, who he used to bonk and who stays behind to bring wellness to her adopted planet.
And the Avon/Vila dynamic continues to develop:
Vila: What did I do to deserve this?
Avon: How long a list would you like?

2.9: Countdown, written by Terry Nation, directed by Vere Lorrimer

OK, Doctor Who crossovers here: most notably, Tom Chadbon, as the mercenary brother of Avon's former lover and accomplice, was Duggan in City of Death.(And also Merdeen in The Mysterious Planet. And he plays Harry Sullivan's brother in the Big Finish Sarah Jane audios.)

Paul Shelley plays the evil Major Provine here, with a terrible haircut, and was also the Minister for Persuasion in the Peter Davison story Four to Doomsday, with a much better haircut.

And the disposable rebel Arrian is played by Nigel Gregory, also the repentant Satanist policeman who dies horribly in K9 and Company.

This one is really brilliant. We are closing in on the story arc which will end the season, but we run up against another Avon frenemy who thinks Avon betrayed his sister. Also Avon and his frenemy have only a short time to defuse a planet-busting bomb. Meanwhile one of the Federation bad guys is hiding in the ducts (more or less). It's Terry Nation, doing what he does best. (Meanwhile the girls still haven't done anything much for several stories in a row.)
Avon: Hello, Del. It's been a long time.
Grant: I heard you were dead.
Avon: I heard the same about you. Wishful thinking perhaps.
Grant: I'm glad the stories were wrong. I felt cheated. We have some things to settle.
Blake: You two can talk about the old days some other time. Right now we have a problem that's just a little more pressing.

2.10: Voice from the Past, writen by Roger Parkes, directed by George Spenton-Foster

Just one Doctor Who crossover here, and it's a pretty minor one: Nagu, who is the most disposable of the pseudo-rebels, is played by Martin/Martyn Read, who was to be a security guard in Silver Nemesis.

Fandom generally doesn't like this episode, and neither did I. I worked out Travis's disguise quite early on by looking at the cast list and realising which character wasn't credited. (The one whose face is disguised.) The behaviour of the Liberator crew is very silly - Blake has clearly lost his faculties, and they should have relieved him of command; Vila is particularly weak here. Frieda Knorr as the defecting governor is just awful. Why doesn't Travis take the opportunity to kill Blake when he has him at his mercy. There isn't even a really decent bit of dialogue to quote. At least we are getting closer to Star One.

2.11: Gambit, written by Robert Holmes, directed by George Spenton-Foster
OMG. This is just extraordinary. Is there a more camp episode of Blake's 7 to come? (Please don't tell me.) Before I get into the detail, let's look at the Who crossover guest stars - plenty this time. Let's start with rogue surgeon Docholli, played by Denis Carey, who was Professor Chronotis in Shada and the title character of The Keeper of Traken. (Also in Timelash, but never mind.)

Aubrey Woods plays a commanding figure both here and in the Pertwee story Day of the Daleks. Here he is Krantor, seven years ago he was the Controller.

Krantor's sidekick Toise, unrecognisable under make-up, is John Leeson, the voice of K-9 (he was also in Mission to Destiny last year).

Paul Grist plays the sidekick Cevedic here, and was the unconvincingly accented American Bill Filer back in The Claws of Axos.

Sylvia Coleridge, at 70 years old, is an impressively svelte croupier, having been botanical expert Amelia Ducat in The Seeds of Doom a few years before.

And let's not forget Deep Roy as The Klute, having been Mr Sin in The Talons of Weng-Chiang (also one of the Decimas in The Web last season).

Look, this is just glorious, and if you don't think so, I refer you to the Onion's classic review of Mamma Mia II.

The idea of Avon and Vila overcoming their friction to go and use Orac to beat the house at a notorious gambling den - while they are supposed to be minding the Liberator for Blake and the girls (who get something to do for once, though apparently some of their best bits were cut) to locate Star One - it's just bonkers. The whole thing is hilariously good fun. This is one of my favourite episodes. It's made watching Series 2 worthwhile almost on its own. And Servalan's costume may be the best yet.

Dialogue - the Avon/Vila relationship continues to flourish.
Vila: There are times when I almost get to like you.
Avon: Yes, well, that makes it all worthwhile.

2.12: The Keeper, written by Allan Prior, directed by Derek Martinus
Just one significant Who crossover this time - and it's back to The Pirate Planet again, as Bruce Purchase's Captain is reincarnated as tribal leader Gola.

(Also Ron Tarr plays a patrol leader here and an uncredited prisoner in Destiny of the Daleks, but I'm not chasing down pictures of either.)

Another episode with good stuff from Jenna (just before she is written out) as the potential bride of the barbarian king, and also fun for Vila as the court jester. For such a small planet, Goth has got some jolly intricate dynastic politics. There are some crashing plot holes, but I think it's redemmed by the fact that Jenna and Vila are having fun, along with most of the guest cast - a particular shout-out to Cengiz Saner as the jester.

Vila: I could be president.
Avon: Ah.
Vila: Or we can take it in turns.

2.13: Star One, written by Chris Boucher (directed, uncredited, by David Maloney)
Just two Doctor Who crossover appearances this week, neither of them massive. Chief evil alien Stot is played by David Webb, whose character Eric Leeson was killed off in the first episode of Colony in Space.

And deputy evil alien Parton is played by Gareth Armstrong, who had a bigger role as Giuliano in The Mask of Mandragora.

This is a really strong climax to the season. David Moloney directed some of the great Doctor Who stories (The War Games, Genesis of the Daleks, The Deadly Assassin, Talons of Weng-Chiang); Chris Boucher wrote most of Blake's 7 even when other people (including Terry Nation) got credited. There's a huge amount of plot in here, Servalan double-crossing the Federation, Travis double-crossing the human race, Avon not quite sure if he is double-crossing the rest, Blake critically injured (and after Gan, we know that regulars can be killed off); and ending on a huge cliff-hanger:
Avon: Stand by to fire.
Vila: Avon, this is stupid!
Avon: When did that ever stop us? Fire!
After watching this you really feel that you've seen twenty-six episodes of epic sf (and you forget the ones that were less epic); and having ended on the massive cliff-hanger of the Liberator alone defending humanity, you can't wait for the next episode. Original viewers had to wait nine months, from April 1979 to January 1980, an interval in which Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister, the Iran hostage crisis erupted and the IRA assassinated Lord Mountbatten. Revolution was in the air; but which way would it go?
Tags: tv: blakes 7

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