Monday, 25 March 2013

M4 Cygnus Beta

EPISODE: M4 Cygnus Beta

BROADCAST: 23/01/1978
WRITTEN BY: Gerry Davis DIRECTOR: Derek Martinus SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: David Maloney
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 1

Matt West, Andy Davidson, Chris Orton, Robert Hammond, Andrew Orton & Phil Ware are very naughty boys. Buy their book on Blake's 7, it's the only complete guide to all 64 episodes out there ;-)

Mind you the servers at their publisher's website might be a little busy today due to another book they've got coming out....

A3 Cygnus Alpha

EPISODE: A3 Cygnus Alpha

BROADCAST: 16/01/1978
WRITTEN BY: Terry Nation
DIRECTOR: Vere Lorimer
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: David Maloney
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 1

"Your species requires a visual reference point. THIS is your reference point!"

The London lands it's cargo of prisoners on Cygnus Alpha which is being run as a cult by former prisoners led by Vargas. Blake, Avon and Jenna gain access to the hand weapons on their new ship, experiment with the control systems and then make the acquaintance of the ship's computer Zen which sets a course for the Federation prison planet Cygnus Alpha. The three humans find a system they believe is a teleport, and a number of bracelets to enable use of the system and communication. Blake tests the system to get to Cygnus Alpha but is attacked by one of the residents and only just rescued in time by Avon. He returns with enough bracelets to rescue the other prisoners from the London. He finds the prisoners but they tell him they are suffering from an atmosphere bound disease and need treating with a drug that requires medication from the priests for the rest of their lives so cannot leave. Blake is captured and tries to negotiate with the Vargas for the drugs but he refuses demanding Blake turn his ship over. Having found vast wealth on the ship Avon wishes to leave but Jenna persuades him to wait one more hour. The prisoners, threatened with sacrifice, try to persuade Blake to cooperate with Vargas but he rouses them into fighting back. They attack during the sacrifice regaining the teleport bracelets taken from Blake but a number of prisoners are killed. Gan & Villa escape while Blake attempts to retrieve his gun. Vargas corners him and is teleported to the ship which then brings Blake, Gan and Villa up. Vargas demands to be taken back to Cygnus Alpha and claims the drug isn't necessary. Blake teleports him into the vacuum of space. Zen announces that the ship, now termed the Liberator has been scanned by Federation Pursuit ships allowing Blake and his crew to make their escape.

After two fantastic episodes this one is back of a fag packet stuff from Tel. Bunch of crazy priests on a planet controlling the drug supply necessary for the people on it to live? But there's a catch they don't need the drug? Poor, and I'm certain I've seen this idea somewhere before. (the idea of Prisoner running a wild prison planet I have: Cygnus Alpha is similar to Desperus in Doctor Who: The Dalek Masterplan...... author Terry Nation) Thankfully they've got Lord Brian of Blessed in to play the lead villain here and he gives it his truly barking all. He's made the metamorphosis from Brian Blessed the actor - See Randall & Hopkirk the Ghost who save the Bank at Monte Christo and Space 1999: Death's other dominion for the restrained Blessed - into Brian Blessed the Force of Nature but his performance here builds from initially quite restrained to giving it the full Prince Vultan - still two years in the future - by the end of the episode!

Avon's quite happy to leave Blake behind even going to the point of disassembling some of the teleport system while he's on the planet. It's only Jenna's insistence they stay that saves Blake.

The sixth member of our regular cast debuts here: playing Zen is Peter Tuddenham. By this point Tuddenham had done some voice work for Doctor Who (Ark in Space and Masque of Mandragora) and since there's little other voice work on his cv I'm guessing this gave him the Blake's 7 job. Also on debut for Blake's 7 is director Vere Lorrimer, the only Director in this first year not to work on Doctor Who previously. He'll helm a further 11 episodes over the next 3 years plus another uncredited before becoming producer in year 4. He replaces Lennie Mayne, an experienced Who Director who was killed in a boating accident before filming began.

We've already mentioned Brian Blessed, as Vargas, but his Doctor Who credit as King Yrcanos in Trial of a Timelord is someway in the future. Pamela Salem, Kara, has already been in Doctor Who as one of the many voices of Xoanon in The Face of Evil as well as Toos in The Robots of Death (both written by Script editor Chris Boucher. She's got another DW appearance Professor Rachel Jensen in Remembrance of the Daleks. Robert Russell, a guard in DW: The Power of the Daleks and The Caber in Terror of the Zygons plays Laran here. Glyn Owen (Leylan) & Norman Tipton (Artix) return from the previous episode but Peter Childs (Arco) David Ryall (Selman) are new to this episode..... none of the prisoners, bar the regular cast, are in more than one episode and it might have been nice to develop a few more of them in episodes 1 & 2 before killing them all off here! Childs has a Doctor Who in his future playing Jack Ward in Mark of the Rani but found fame playing DC/DS Rycott in Minder before dying of leukaemia in 1989 at the age of 50. David Ryall meanwhile has roles in The Singing Detective and both Play the King & Final Cut (as Sir Bruce Bullerby) to his name.

We're at Springwell Quarry for the Cygnus Alpha surface sequence, used by Doctor Who in the Three Doctors.

This episode of Blake's 7 was broadcast 2 days after Doctor Who episode 471 Underworld Part Two, which was broadcast on 14/01/1978, and 5 days before episode 472 Underworld Part Three, which was broadcast on 21/01/1978

The Way Back, Space Fall, Cygnus Alpha & Time Squad were adapted into book form by Trevor Hoyle. The Beginning, a compilation of the first four episodes of the series first released in 1985 for £25 and then again at a more affordable price of £10 on the 5th March 1990. Cygnus Alpha finds itself cut down to about 35 minutes for this release, but a full episodic release followed on Monday 7th Jan 1991 paired with the following episode Time Squad as Tape 2 and alongside the other episodes from the first 8 all paired off Tape 1 The Way Back/Space Fall, Tape 3 The Web/Seek-Locate-Destroy & Tape 4 Mission to Destiny/Duel with a DVD release for the whole of season 1 following on 01/03/2004.

Monday, 18 March 2013

A2 Space Fall

EPISODE: A2 Space Fall

BROADCAST: 09/01/1978
WRITTEN BY: Terry Nation
DIRECTOR: Pennant Roberts
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: David Maloney
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 1

"What a fiasco. You could take over the ship, you said, if I did my bit. Well, I did my bit, and what happened? Your troops bumble around looking for someone to surrender to, and when they've succeeded, you follow suit"

Blake is introduced to fellow prisoner computer expert Kerr Avon and starts to hatch a plan to take control of the prison ship London. 4 months into the 8 month journey a space battle is detected near to the ship's route. The ship is struck several times by objects and as Blake puts his plan into action a large object is detected nearby. Avon enters a service shaft and gains access to the ship's computer allowing the prisoners to escape. But their escape is detected. Avon, Blake & Jenna end up barricaded in the computer room and attempt to cripple the ship but are forced to surrender when their fellow prisoners are captured and sadistic prison officer Raiker starts killing them. The crew bring the ship back to operational status just in time to detect a huge spaceship right on top of them. The London tried to make contact but gets no response. They send a boarding party over to salvage it, but after a brief report all they hear are the dying screams of the crew members sent over. After another crew member is sent over and is lost Raiker persuades the ship's captain to use Avon, Blake & Jenna as the next boarding party. They enter the ship and find their way to it's bridge where the dead prison ship crewmen are before the ship's defence mechanism psychically assaults them. Blake resists, overcoming the assault and disabling it, allowing him and the others to take control of the ship. Raiker attempts to join them on the ship but Blake seals the outer hatch trapping Raiker in the boarding tube which tears as the alien ship pulls away from the London killing the Raiker. Blake has Jenna set a course for Cygnus Alpha to rescue the rest of the prisoners when the London arrives there.

Having provided the situation for Blake to rebel against in the first episode, the second gets him out of his confinement and gives him the means to fight his rebellion. The episode would seem to take place over quite a long period of time: at the start of the episode there's a reference to the journey taking 8 months - they've obviously been put on the slow boat to Cygnus Alpha - while there's a hint that the body of the action takes place 4 months in. Is 4 months in halfway through the journey or, as the next episode will seem to indicate, nearly at Cygnus Alpha and the halfway point for the return trip? There's more adult themes in this episode with the brutality of Raiker and his infatuation with Jenna and the rebel being killed by the sealant foam flooding the tunnel. Nasty stuff.

Yes Blake's scheme goes very wrong. But it's not his fault, however much Avon makes it out to be. Blame if anything lies with Vila for his incompetence, and possibly with Avon himself for not getting the job done fast enough. Chastising Blake for surrendering when the others are being killed is hard but hey that's Avon for you!

In terms of the development of the series there's two important developments here. The Alien spaceship that the London finds, yet to acquire it's name, provides the main setting and means of transport for the series. The episode implies that it was abandoned in the wake of a space battle but never tells us who it's original owners were fighting. There's a couple of guesses we can make and will a little later. The arrival of the ship - it's initial reveal on the monitor being a stunning moment: it won't look better than this - and Blake's stealing of it gives a real sense of the series getting a move on.... there's more set-up to come but it looks more like what the finished article does now.

But this episode also introduces Paul Darrow as Kerr Avon and right from the start he jumps out of the screen at you delivering his dialogue in a manner that sets him apart. Blake and Jenna speak very similarly but Avon's sharp waspish delivery sets him apart from the others. You can see at once why he became a favourite character and, in later seasons of the show, the main character. Almost all the quotes at the top of the episode from this point on will end up being lines delivered by Avon. By this point Darrow had made the first of his Doctor Who appearances as Captain Hawkins in the Silurians as well as having a main role as the Sheriff of Nottingham in The Legend of Robin Hood. I must see that! The Darrow as the Sheriff of Nottingham? SOLD!

we also get to meet Olag Gan played by David Jackson for the first time. At the time he was best known for playing Detective Constable Braithwaite in Z-Cars. You don't learn a lot about Gan here apart from seeing his physical strength. And, with one exception, that's the way it stays. Gan is the strong man, Villa's the thief, Jenna's the pilot, Avon's the computer expert and Blake's the leader. Stereotypical labels for the most part. Gan however breaks free from it less than the others do and you almost wonder if his eventual fate had been decided on this early on.

The director for this second episode is Pennant Roberts who'd worked on several episodes of Terry Nation's Survivors. He'd recently completed his first two Doctor Who stories, Face of Evil & The Sunmakers, and would later return for three more: Pirate Planet, Warriors of the Deep & Timelash. Several of the cast of the two earlier tales pop up in this episode including Leslie Schofield as Raiker who was Calib in Face of Evil as well as Leroy in The War Games and had recently appeared in Star Wars, Brett Forrest Krell, a guard in the Face of Evil 2, Tom Kelly as Nova, a Guard in Face of Evil as well as the Sunmakers 4 and a Vardan in Invasion of Time 1, 2 & 4. He's also got Sapphire & Steel to his name where he was Sam Pearce / Soldier in the second story The Railway Station. Finally from the Face of Evil we have our old friend Harry Aitch Fielder (The Assassin in Face of Evil 1) as the Guard that Gan overcomes and uses his palm print to escape the confinement area. Aitch does very out of Blake's 7 appearing in every series right the way through to the final episode!

Aside from Leslie Schofield the main guest artist is Glyn Owen as Leylan. He'll feature in Doctor Who as Rohm-Dutt in The Power of Kroll but is probably best know for his role in Howard's Way. Norman Tipton (Artix) was appearing in Doctor Who as this episode aired as Idas in the Underworld. Michael MacKenzie, Dainer, starred in Ace of Wands as Tarot....

You know I'm looking at this cast list and with the exception of the 3 main crew on the ship I can't work out who any of the other characters are! Are they prisoners, are they ship's guards? Haven't a clue..... to the Interweb! Dainer is the bearded prison guard - yeah that name will get a reuse! Krell's a prisoner in the background while Nova is the prisoner who gets trapped by the sealant foam.

I'll now prove I was actually paying attention while this was on: in the London's control room are several of the curved computer banks from UFO that I kept spotting in Doctor Who.

This episode of Blake's 7 was broadcast 2 days after Doctor Who episode 470 Underworld Part One, which was broadcast on 07/01/1978, and 5 days before episode 471 Underworld Part Two which was broadcast on 14/01/1978.

The Way Back, Space Fall, Cygnus Alpha & Time Squad were adapted into book form by Trevor Hoyle. The Beginning, a compilation of the first four episodes of the series first released in 1985 for £25 and then again at a more affordable price of £10 on the 5th March 1990. While The Way Back was cut to shreds for it's release as part of The Beginning, Space Fall was almost intact at 45 minutes long. Add in the missing title sequences and you're all but there. In fact the compilation contains a short sequence of Avon being strangled and having his head slammed against a wall which is missing from the episodic release which followed on Monday 7th Jan 1991 paired with the previous episode The Way Back as Tape 1 and alongside the following 6 episodes all paired off Tape 2 Cygnus Alpha/Time Squad, Tape 3 The Web/Seek-Locate-Destroy & Tape 4 Mission to Destiny/Duel. A DVD release for the whole of season 1 occurred on 01/03/2004. While the DVD restores the missing sequence the initial release had a problem during this episode on it's first release causing the player to skip scenes :-(

Monday, 11 March 2013

A1 The Way Back

EPISODE: A1 The Way Back
BROADCAST: 02/01/1978
WRITTEN BY: Terry Nation
DIRECTOR: Michael E. Briant
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: David Maloney
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 1

"I can't remember!"

Terran Federation citizen Roj Blake meets his friend Ravella having fasted from food & water for 24 hours on her instructions. She takes him outside the city and explains that the populace is controlled by drugs in the water and food. She takes him to meet rebel leader Bran Foster who in turn explains to Blake that he was a resistance leader until he was betrayed, caught and brainwashed and that his family & fellow rebels were taken off planet and executed. Foster addresses a meeting of rebels but it's stormed by troopers who massacre everyone present except Blake who is taken back to the city and charged with offences against minors. He is convicted and sentenced to life on Cygnus Alpha, but accuses the prosecution of inventing the charges before being thrown into a cell with thief Villa Restel and pilot Jenna Stannis. Blake's defence attorney, Tel Varron, investigates Blake's accusations and goes to review records of Blake's case and discovers the evidence from the child witnesses is suspect. Blake implicates Dev Tarrant, a man he saw at the meeting, in the massacre. Varron and his wife venture outside the city and find evidence of the massacre as Blake and his fellow prisoners are taken off Earth hours earlier than scheduled. Varron & his wife are found outside the city by Dev Tarrant & a number of guards and are shot & killed.

The world this episode represents is a totalitarian regime closely observing their population - the first shot in the entire series is a security camera a rarity except in department stores when this was made but commonplace now. The people they're watching are kept drugged and docile. It's more political thriller than anything else, but oddly enough less than two months previously Doctor Who has run The Sunmakers which also features a drugged population. It's stark, bleak and in places quite nasty as unarmed civilians get massacred and Blake is effectively had up in court on trumped up child abuse charges. There's nothing else quite like it in the entirety of the series and yet it's essential scene setting. This is what everyday life is like in the Terran Federation, a term mentioned just once, and you need to see that to understand what those involved are rebelling against.

In fact the only really recognisable things in it are Blake & the Federation Troopers. The two other main cast members we see are effectively just cameos and only one of the rest of the characters ever reappears in the show. Four of the main cast are missing from the episode, indeed it's the only one in the entire run that neither Paul Darrow or Peter Tuddenham are in. Neither of the show's main villains are in it (they won't show up till the 6th episode) and the show's famed spaceship is nowhere to be seen. With latter knowledge of the show this is something of a shock.....

.... and it was with later knowledge that I first approached this episode. I was too young to watch it when it was first on (7ish on Monday nights when I wasn't quite 5) and didn't watch the show until the fourth season by which time much had changed. My first exposure to this episode was through Blake's 7: the Beginning when it was released on VHS in 1990..... but then it was a brief exposure as this episode is shredded down to about 10 minutes on that video release. By the time I saw it in full, a year later on the first episodic release I'd seen all the compilation episodes from the first year of the series and the episode seemed to drag and take ages to get to the point. Now I see it as painting a much larger picture for the series to be based on.

An odd thought: The Federation troopers here look like a cross between the TV and Film versions of the Robomen from Doctor Who's Dalek Invasion of Earth?

Before we go any further I have to say that it's hard not to see Blake's 7 through a Doctor Who filter. Yes, I'm a Doctor Who fan who spent the best part of two years watching every episode of the original series. But both series are made by the BBC, virtually all the major players behind the scenes at Blake's 7 have had some experience with Doctor Who. A large number of the cast have featured in both shows so accept they'll be constant reference to Doctor Who as we go through....

I'm going to play this one a little differently to the Doctor Who Blog and the Star Fleet one I did in that I'm going to watch the episodes weekly. A 50 minute episode per day + write up is too hard to do which is partially why new series Doctor Who has yet to be blogged on!

Blake's 7 was the creation of Terry Nation, the famed creator of the Daleks for Doctor Who. After writing their stories in the 1960s he'd gone to work for ITC writing for many of their television series including The Saint, The Baron, The Champions, Department S, The Persuaders! & The Protectors. Lured back to the BBC he'd produced a Dalek story per year between 1973 and 1975 before indulging his love of viruses and the post apocalyptic in Survivors. When that came to an end in 1977 he was asked to pitch new ideas to the BBC and they took him up on "The Dirty Dozen in space". To produce the series was long term Doctor Who Director David Maloney who had previously worked on two of Nation's stories Planet of the Daleks and Genesis of the Daleks. To script edit the series the BBC hired Chris Boucher who'd just completed 3 Doctor Who stories in quick succession: Face of Evil, Robots of Death and Image of the Fendahl. It's been speculated that the Blake's 7 appointment may have put paid to Boucher succeeding Robert Holmes in the Doctor Who Script Editor's chair. Boucher will only be dealing with one writer for the first year he's in the job as Terry Nation writes all 13 scripts for this first series. Blake's 7: The Merchandise Guide interviews Boucher who says Maloney originally offered the script editor's job to Bob Holmes but he turned it down because he didn't want to work with Terry Nation again! Veteran Doctor Who incidental music composer Dudley Simpson provides the theme music here and the incidental music for all bar one of the series 52 episodes. Another Doctor Who veteran is brought in to direct Michael E. Briant who'd handled Colony in Space, The Sea Devils, The Green Death, Nation's Death to the Daleks, Revenge of the Cybermen & Boucher's The Robots of Death. He'll be back for The Web, Project Avalon & Deliverance all in this first year.

The lead character Blake is played by Gareth Thomas a welsh actor who'd made a few television appearances over the last decade including cult shows Star Maidens and Children of the Stones. Jenna Stannis is played by Sally Knyvette an actress with a few television credits to her name including The Sweeney while Vila Restel is played by Michael Keating. Vila's name breaks the series convention of having the men referred to by their surname and the women by their first name. Vila, the thief is frequently used as the comedy relief in the show as emphasised by his opening lines:

Easy! Take it easy! I hate personal violence, especially when I'm the person.
Keating had recently appeared in Doctor Who: The Sunmakers (as mentioned above) which was directed by Pennant Roberts who helms the second episode of this series so I suspect I see Roberts' hand in Keating's casting...... A little peak also reveals Keating in one of Roberts Doomwatch episodes.

Most of the guest cast are familiar to us from Doctor Who tales over the years: Canadian Robert Beatty (Bran Foster) was General Cutler in the Tenth Planet but also appeared in 2001 as Dr. Ralph Halvorsen. Look at the New Avengers episode on his CV - that's some guest cast!. Director Michael Bryant has used Jeremy Wilkin (Dev Tarrant) before as Kellman in the Revenge of the Cybermen but look at his CV: New Avengers again, James Bond The Spy Who Loved Me as Captain Forsyth, 8 episodes of UFO as Skydiver Navigator Lt. Gordon Maxwell, Joe 90, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (30 episodes !) as Captain ochre and other voices plus provided the voice of Virgil Tracy for the second series of Thunderbirds following the departure of the character's original voice actor, David Holliday! Pippa Steel (Maja Varon) is another with UFO on her CV as well as a couple of Hammer Horror Films. Robert James (Ven Glynd) played Lesterson in Doctor who's Power of the Daleks & the High Priest in Masque of Mandragora. Glynd is one of the few returning characters in Blake's 7: he'll be back in B10 Voice from the Past but played by a different actor. Margaret John (Arbiter) was Megan Jones in Fury from the Deep, another show director Michael Bryant worked on this time as an uncredited production assistant. Nigel Lambert (Computer operator) will later appear in DW as Hardin in The Leisure Hive before becoming the narrator of Look Around You. If you've never seen it then BUY IT NOW! Gillian Bailey (Ravella) was a former child actress who'd appeared in Here Come the Double Deckers and has gone on to be Head of Drama at Royal Holloway College. Watching this I was sure I recognised the actor playing Del Varron but couldn't work out who he was..... his name is Michael Halsey. Having appeared in a few UK TV productions from the mid 70s onwards - I can see the final episode of Space 1999: The Dorcans on his CV - he returns to Blake'7 as Zee in Gambit and then has an appearance in the Barry Letts Classic Serial version of a Tale of Two Cities. His CV then goes cold for two year before he reappears working in US Television which is where I've seen him in two episodes of Airwolf: Echoes from the Past (the one where they drop the helicopter out the back of a transport plane) as Peter MacGregor Moore and HX-1 as Dunkirk. (Oddly both episodes feature StJohn Hawke heavily). I can see many other series well known in the UK on his CV like The A Team, Hart to Hart & Magnum so it would appear as the move across the Atlantic was a good one for his career!

Blake's 7 started on 2nd January 1978 just a few days after the UK premier of Star Wars on the 27th December. In many ways it was a matter of the the BBC having a stroke of luck and debuting their new science fiction series at exactly the right moment the Star Wars made sci fi adventure the hot thing.

The Way Back was adapted into book form by Trevor Hoyle along with the flowing four episodes. I can remember seeing a library copy of this book at my friend Ben's house in the early 80s but never being able to get one myself. I eventually bought a copy chap from a sci fi fair in 2003! This episode was cut down to 15 minutes as part of The Beginning, a compilation of the first four episodes of the series first released in 1985 for £25 and then again at a more affordable price of £10 on the 5th March 1990. All 4 Blake's 7 compilation tapes, including the one never released before in the UK were released on the same day: I bought this and Orac in HMV in Richmond on the way home from college. The next day I bought Aftermath and returned Saturday for Duel! An episodic release followed on Monday 7th Jan 1991 paired with the following episode, Space Fall to form Tape 1 and alongside the following 6 episodes all paired off Tape 2 Cygnus Alpha/Time Squad, Tape 3 The Web/Seek-Locate-Destroy & Tape 4 Mission to Destiny/Duel with a DVD release for the whole of season 1 on 01/03/2004.