Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Blake's 7: the third series

So, the third series of Blake's 7 was originally broadcast from January to March 1980, when we were living abroad; but luckily eight of the episodes were repeated in June and July 1981, and I definitely remember watching three of them and probably saw several others. It was a welcome distraction, as I will explain later. (See also the first series, the first half of the second series, the second half of the second series.)

3.1 Aftermath, by Terry Nation, directed by Vere Lorrimer

This is one of the three episodes I definitely remember seeing in 1981. Which was a bit confusing, because I think I missed the last episode of the second series, so had no particular idea why the Liberator was in trouble and why everyone was leaving it. But once the story is firmly on the planet Sarran, we are cooking on gas, Cy Grant (himself an iconic figure in Black British culture) and Josette Simon (who was only 19!) utterly gripping as father-and-daughter team Hal and Dayna Mellanby. She has gone on to great things.

Avon snogs both Dayna and Servalan, which I think is two more snogs than we've had in the previous 26 episodes (though I admit I was not keeping count). The reboot is off to a good start with Avon firmly in leadership and a cliffhanger ending once they get back to the Liberator.

As before, I'm going to waste time identifying actors who have appeared in the Whoniverse (and this season has one particularly big one). Here there are three. Alan Lake, playing Chel, the leader of the barbarian horde, was Herrick in the Tom Baker story Underworld.

The two Federation troopers are played by Richard Franklin, who of course was Mike Yates for much of the Pertwee era, and Michael Melia who is more famous for other roles but played a Terileptil in the Peter Davison story The Visitation (so no photograph as he is not recognisable).
[Dayna kisses Avon]
Avon: What was that for?
Dayna Mellanby: Curiosity.
Avon: I'm all in favor of healthy curiosity. I hope yours isn't satisfied too easily.

3.2 Powerplay, by Terry Nation, directed by David Moloney

This is the one and only collaboration on Blake's 7 between the writer and director who brought us Genesis of the Daleks. I thought it was brilliant. Blake's 7 at its best balances out two concurrent plots, and here we have two excellent tangled threads: Avon and Dayna dealing with Tarrant and his squad on the Liebrator, and Cally and Vila in danger of having their organs harvested. (We'll skip over the difficult economies of scale with running an organ bank in the middle of nowhere; this has come up in Balkan politics more recently and I am just as sceptical). Steven Pacey as Tarrant is possibly my least favourite of the regular characters, but this is a good intriguing introduction.

Five Doctor Who actors here, and one other returning in a different role from an earlier episode of Blake's 7.

Michael Sheard, here the thuggish Federation NCO Klegg, was in no less than six Doctor Who stories: The Ark, The Mind of Evil, Pyramids of Mars, Castrovalva and Remembrance of the Daleks. I like his Pyramids of Mars role, Laurence Scarman, best.

John Hollis, here Lom the friendly but doomed native, was Professor Sondergaard in the weirdly preachy Pertwee story The Mutants.

Lom's strong silent buddy Mall is played by Michael Crane, Blor in the Pertwee-era The Monster of Peladon (killed horribly at the end of the first episode).

Beautiful but sinister Zee is played by Primi Townshend, who was Mula in the Tom Baker story The Pirate Planet.

And her colleague, equally beautiful but sinister Barr, is payed by Julia Vidler who we saw as the title character of the Series 1 episode Project Avalon.

They deliver Vila to a receptionist, played by Helen Blatch who went on to be Fabian in Colin Baker's first story, The Twin Dilemma.
Dialogue triumph:
Avon: That one's Cally. I'll introduce her more formally when she wakes up. This one is Vila. I should really introduce him now; he's at his best when he's unconscious.

3.3 Volcano, by Allan Prior, directed by Desmond McCarthy

This was not such a great episode, with the script demanding foolish behaviour from the Liberator crew, teleporting down to the planet one by one to get trapped, and increasingly incomprehensible means and motivation for Servalan (sadly this will be par for the course from now on). There's also a truly crap robot (Blake's 7 never did robots well, there was an even worse on in the first season).

A great but wasted guest star here, Michael Gough, playing the treacherous Hower, who was both The Celestial Toymaker in William Hartnell's day and Hedin, one of the Time Lords in the Peter Davison story Arc of Infinity.

Servalan's sidekick Mori is played by Ben Howard, who was the bad guy's sidekick in Pertwee story The Green Death.
Dialogue triumph:
Dayna: Don't look so warlike.
Tarrant: Coming from you that's almost funny.

3.4 Dawn of the Gods, by James Follett, directed by Desmond McCarthy

Er, wow. Follett was about to go and write the radio series Earthsearch, which I listened to at the time and went back to about eight years ago, and here has written a story with a plot that makes almost no sense, except that there is a black hole and the crew are taken prisoner and Cally is offered (but declines) the role of Queen of the Universe. It's all a bit surreal. It looks good at least.

Just one Who crossover casting this time. The prisoner-in-command Groff is played by Terry Scully, previously Fewsham in the Troughton-era The Seeds of Death.
Dialogue triumph:
Groff: There is a member of your crew we cannot find. Orac. Where is he?
The Caliph: [to Tarrant] The neuronic whip is on an automatic setting. It has only to sense one lie and it will boil your brains in your skull. Where is Orac?
Tarrant: If he's not on the ship, I don't know where he is.
The Caliph: How tall is he?
[Tarrant gestures]
The Caliph: A dwarf?
Tarrant: We never think of him as one.
The Caliph: What is the color of his hair?
Tarrant: He hasn't got any. A bald dwarf shouldn't be too hard to find.

3.5 The Harvest of Kairos, by Ben Steed, directed by Gerald Blake

This is the one where Servalan falls in lust with a bit of rough from the other ranks, and where Tarrant seems to be doing a role originally written for Blake. There is lots of well-done tension, particularly in the few minutes where it looks like Servalan is about to take permanent control of the Liberator. But it's left rather uneasily uncertain whether we are meant to think that Servalan's wish for domination by a Real Man is the natural order of things or a foolish aberration; Jarvik does lose in the end, which may redeem it.

Three Doctor Who crossovers this time. Andrew Burt, here the sultry bad boy Jarvik, would go on to be Valgard in Peter Davison story Terminus.

Frank Gatliff, playing Dastor here, was Chancellor Ortron in The Monster of Peladon (vide supra).

And Anthony Gardner, here playing Captain Shad, was Alvis many years back in the Troughton-era The Macra Terror.
Dialogue disaster:
Servalan: Well? Have you nothing to say to Servalan?
Jarvik: Woman, you are beautiful.
[Jarvik grabs Servalan and kisses her]

3.6 City at the Edge of the World, by Chris Boucher, directed by Vere Lorrimer

Oh. My. God. This is one of the three I remember from 1981. The whole set-up is a great sf plot. It must be one of Vila's best stories, where he and a cute mercenary get to go through a mysterious passage to another planet, and quite explicitly have sex, which I think may be the only time this happens in the whole of Blake's 7. Carole Hawkins is intriguing and lovely as repenting mercenary Kerril.

Carole Hawkins was never in Doctor Who, but all three male guest stars this week were. Bayban the Berserker is played by Colin Baker, who was Commander Maxil in the Davison-era story Arc of Infinity, but rather more importantly went on to play the Sixth Doctor himself. Meanwhile the dignified Norl is played by Valentine Dyall, als the Black Guardian in the Tom Baker and Peter Davison eras.

Meanwhile John J. Kearney, here playing Bayban's sidekick Sherm, was another sidekick, Bloodaxe, in the Pertwee story The Time Warrior.
Dialogue triumph:
Vila: I think I just made the biggest mistake of my life.
Orac: It is unlikely. I would predict there are far greater mistakes waiting to be made by someone with your obvious talent for it.

3.7 Children of Auron, by Roger Parkes, directed by Andrew Morgan

This was a promising episode with back-story for Cally - going back to her home planet, meeting her identical twin sister also played by Jan Chappell - and also for Servalan - who it turns out really wants to reproduce without becoming inconveniently pregnant - and a space plague to boot. But somehow I felt it never quite got going. Maybe I was just tired the day I watched it.

Three Who crossovers. Rio Fanning, here Servalan's sidekick Captain Deral, was the bosun Harker in the Tom Baker story Horror of Fang Rock.

Ronald Leigh-Hunt, here doomed commander C.A. One, was the doomed commander Radnor in the Troughton-era The Seeds of Death and also the doomed commander Stevenson in the Tom Baker story Revenge of the Cybermen.

And Michael Troughton, here briefly as Pilot Four-Zero, is of course the son of the Second Doctor, Patrick Troughton, and has written a biography of his father, as well as playing Albert Smythe in the Peter Capaldi story Last Christmas.
Dialogue disaster:
Dayna: What about Cally? Do you think she'll want to go with them?
Avon: Cally will stay with us. We are closer to her than they are. Besides, a nursery of five thousand, would you want to go with them?
[all laugh]

3.8 Rumours of Death, by Chris Boucher, directed by Fiona Cumming

Now, this is a lot more like it. We go back to the storyline of Avon's lost love Anna Grant, and the men who supposedly tortured her to death; and a gripping shifting pattern of loyalties is revealed, with one of the most iconic shots of the entire series rewarding the patient viewer.
Avon: Have you murdered your way to the wall of an underground room?
Servalan: It's an old wall, Avon. It waits. I hope you don't die before you reach it.
I'm also going to shout out for the location, Cornbury Park in Oxfordshire, here portraying Residence One; a brilliant setting brought to life by Fiona Cumming and her team. More on that here.
Chesku: I think it's rather fine.
Sula: You would, Chesku.
Chesku: Her presidential palace.
Sula: A grotesque anachronism, like its owner. We could have built two cities for what it cost to reconstruct that absurdity.
And a shout also for Lorna Heilbron as Sula/Anna, luminously carrying a lot of the burden of the plot.
Sula: You have to make up your minds. Do you want victory, or do you want revenge?

There are four Whovian casting crossovers. As noted previously when he turned up as Senator Bercol in the first two seasons, John Bryans, here the torturer Shrinker, was Torvin in the Tom Baker story The Creature from the Pit.

Donald Douglas, here Major Grenlee, was the much hairier Vural in the much earlier Tom Baker story The Sontaran Experiment.

His subordinate Forres is played by David Haig, who went straight from here to playing Pangol in the Tom Baker story The Leisure Hive.

Phillip Bloomfield also went straight from a bit-part in this story to a bit-part in The Keeper of Traken, but I couldn't be bothered chasing down photographs.

More dialogue triumphs:
Tarrant: Stay awake.
Vila: Of course.
Tarrant: And sober.
[Tarrant breaks communication link]
Vila: [alone at teleport controls] That was uncalled for.
Vila: [pours a drink] I only drink to be sociable.
Vila: [raises glass] Cheers, Orac.

3.9 Sarcophagus, written by Tanith Lee, directed by Fiona Cumming

Er, wow. Woman writer, woman director, extraordinary episode with poor Cally getting possessed yet again but with exceptional visuals which tell a lot of story with very little dialogue - the first lines spoken are fully seven minutes into the episode. And Dayna actually sings a song. There are several psychedelic episodes of Blake's 7 and this is by far the most successful.
No credited guest stars at all, though there are a lot of people doing mime without being annoying.

Dialogue triumph:
Avon: You also talk too much.
Tarrant: Be thankful I'm restricting myself to talk.
Avon: Well now, that's fascinating. You mean you can do something else?
Dayna: [stepping between them] Oh, stop this. What are you doing? Warming up to cutting each other's throats?
Tarrant: Avon. Do you want to forget I said all that?
Avon: It wasn't particularly memorable.
Dayna: We need sleep. All of us. Even you need sleep, Tarrant.
Tarrant: And tomorrow, everything will look different?
Avon: If it does, you can assume you're on the wrong ship.

3.10 Ultraworld, by Trevor Hoyle, directed by Vere Lorrimer

Yeah, this one's a bit silly I'm afraid. Several crew members get put at risk of brainwipe, Tarrant and Dayna snog for Science, and Vila kills the evil computer by telling Orac jokes.

Stephen Jenn, here Ultra 2, had just played Secker in Nightmare of Eden.

Ian Barrett, here Ultra 3, went on much later to play Professor Peach in the David Tennant story The Unicorn and the Wasp.
Dialogue triumphs:
Orac: Another one, please.
Vila: Right. What's the best cure for water on the brain?
Orac: I don't know. What is the best cure for water on the brain?
Vila: A tap on the head.
Orac: "A tap on the head." Yes, I see. In this instance the word "tap" has a double meaning, as in to strike something and as a device for controlling the release of fluid from a tank or pipe. The fluid referred to is water, therefore, "tap on the head" has two ambivalent meanings, one pertaining to the striking of the cranium...

3.11 Moloch, by Ben Steed, directed by Vere Lorrimer

First broadcast 39 years ago this week, on 27 November 1980.

Lots of elements of interest here, but they don't really come together, and it is rather obvious that they were running our of budget - the two brains in boxes look awfully cheap. As with most of Ben Steed's scripts, this one is very dodgy on gender - Servalan once again is deceived by a not obviously smarter man, and the two girls (Debbi Blythe and Sabrina Franklyn) working for the bad guy are passive and forced to submit.
We do get a glorious few minutes of Vila/Servalan.

Only one Doctor Who crossover this time: Vila's new mate Doran is played by Davyd Harries, who was Shapp, the Marshal's aide, in The Armageddon Factor.
Dialogue triumph:
Servalan: Vila; listen. Untie me, and then we can help each other.
Vila: I never imagined you as the sort that would grovel for her life.
Servalan: I am not groveling, you fool. I mean it.
Vila: You are groveling.
Servalan: I am not!

3.12 Death Watch, by Chris Boucher, directed by Gerald Blake

This is one of the episodes that has stood up best to the test of time: a reality televised death match which will decide the fate of two squabbling worlds, with Tarrant's identical twin brother the champion of one of them. Chris Boucher also wrote a Leela novel, Match of the Day, with a similar theme, but it's much less successful. These days it's a cliche, but in 1980 it was pretty fresh. I'm not Steven Pacey's biggest fan but he gets some good material here and uses it well. (The two brothers do not actually meet though.)
Two actors from the Whoniverse here. Max, Tarrant's brother's diplomatic advisor, is played by Stewart Bevan, who like Ben Howard a couple of episodes ago was in The Green Death but in the more prominent role of Clifford Jones, the scientist who falls in love with Jo Grant.

And the announcer is played by David Sibley, who the previous year had been Pralix, Mula's brother, in The Pirate Planet.

3.13 Terminal, by Terry Nation, directed by Mary Ridge

This is the third episode from this series that I remember seeing on repeat in 1981. Apparently it is the longest Blake's 7 episode, at 54 minutes. I couldn't make a lot of sense of it in 1981, and it didn't make an awful lot of sense this time, but there are two absolutely crucial narrative moments: the (faked) return of Blake, and the death of the Liberator and Zen (with gratifying come-uppance for Servalan). The moment when Zen admits failure is surprisingly heart-rending.
Apparently the cast only found out that there was going to be a fourth series via the continuity announcement after this was broadcast on 31 March 1980.

None of the guest actors has appeared in the Whoniverse, unless you count Gareth Thomas in Torchwood.
Dialogue triumphs:
Zen: I have failed you.
Vila: He never referred to himself before. He never once used the word "I".
Zen: I have failed you. I am sorry.
I set out on this project thinking that it would be an exercise in nostalgia, but in fact ten of these thirteen episodes were pretty new to me, and I liked most of them. It's been also instructive to think back to the year of 1981, when I turned 14 and perhaps became more aware of the Northern Ireland situation than I had been. (111 people died in the Troubles that year, including ten Republican hunger-strikers and our local MP, shot dead at his constituency surgery half a mile from our house.) Blake's 7 was a valuable valve of escapism. Let's see how that ended up...

Vere Lorrimer will be at the Gallifrey One convention in Los Angeles this coming February, and so will I; he's not the only draw but I'm looking forward to seeing him there. He wrote lyrics for the theme tune - give it a try:
There's a distant star
in a distant sky
past the edge of time
way past Gemini.
Peace is there,
only beauty meets the eye.
Oh my love,
that's where we must fly,
and let the world go by,
Just you and I.

Come, hit the Stardust Trail,
we'll throw our cap at Mars;
we'll catch a comet's tail,
and we'll sail
to the stars!

Though the years go by
like a silver stream,
if our love is true,
we will find our dream.
Travellin' on,
suddenly that's where we are;
That distant star,
that distant star,
that shining distant star!
Tags: tv: blakes 7

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