Monday, 1 April 2013

A4 Time Squad

EPISODE: A4 Time Squad

BROADCAST: 23/01/1978
WRITTEN BY: Terry Nation
DIRECTOR: Pennant Robert
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: David Maloney
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 1

"I plan to live forever.... or die trying"

The Liberator is travelling to the the planet Saurian Major, so that Blake can link up with a resistance group there and help them destroy a major Federation communications terminal, when a space capsule is detected. Blake & Jenna teleport over to the confined capsule and it's brought on board the ship where it's found to contain three aliens in suspended animation. They start the procedure to revive them as Blake, Avon & Villa teleport to Saurian Major. Gan, who has been feeling unwell, admits to Jenna that he was arrested for killing a guard who killed his woman and as he rest an electronic circuit is visible in his head. One of the aliens revives, escapes and attacks Jenna, breaking her arm, but she locks it in the hold with it's ship. Gan uses liberator medical equipment to heal Jenna's arm and goes to check on the aliens. Blake is attacked by a woman, who is telepathic and speaks into his mind. She says her name is Cally from the planet Auron and tells them the resistance fighters were killed by the Federation spraying the atmosphere with poison following a raid. Jenna, realising Gan has been gone a while, searches for him and finds him injured. He tried to stop the aliens but was prevented from killing them by a brain implant limiting his violent impulses. Jenna kills the three aliens aliens and goes to disconnect the cables linking their ship to the Liberator's systems draining it's power. Zen detects a 4th alien and Gan, still struggling with his injuries, tries to assist Jenna but collapses in the Teleport Room. Blake, Avon, Cally & Villa break into the communications complex and destroy it, Gan teleporting back to ship just in time to rescue them from the explosion and allowing Blake to save Jenna from fourth alien. Cally elects to stay with Blake, despite Jenna's reluctance to let aliens on board and they dispose of the capsule before setting a course for the planet Centero.

Wayhay, another sci fi cliche: the ship full of a crew in suspended animation who turn out to be very nasty. Star Trek's Space Seed is the obvious anticendant and there's a similar episode of Space 1999 (Earthbound) which bucks the trend by having the aliens turn out to be OK. But generally: things in suspended animation = bad as parodied in the Red Dwarf episode Polymorph. You know it's going to badly wrong and sure enough it does. The capsule the aliens arrive in will be back a fair few times before we're done, having gone to the expense of making it the BBC try to get their money's worth out of. There's some very dodgy camerawork in one of the sequences with the aliens entering teleport room behind Jenna, accidentally revealing that the alien is there by providing a glimpse of it slightly too early! And Liz wasn't happy with their weapons commenting at one stage that it looked like Jenna was being attacked with a salad server!

Out of this we get some expansion of Gan's character: our strong man can't be violent or use weapons due to an electronic limiter implanted in his brain. We also find out why he was on the ship to Cygnus Alpha, for killing his wife's murderer a Federation guard, and this act makes him the most likely rebel against the Federation from amongst Blake's group. But knowing Gan's got electronics in his head, hands up who thinks it's obvious it's going to go wrong? And indeed the headaches he's suffering in the early parts of this episode are probably an early sign of that.

Saurian Major, with it's slightly aggressive Flora (DW: Keys of Marinus, Dalek Masterplan, Planet of the Daleks for those looking for Terry Nation recycling his back catalogue) (I know, what a shock!) is a bit of a desolate wasteland. It's not helped that the film sequences used on the DVD I'm watching are in a poor state with scratches and blobs all over the place! Old favourite Doctor Who location Betchworth Quarry (Genesis of the Daleks, Deadly Assasin) serves as the planet's surface while returning director Pennant Roberts makes his first trip to Oldbury Power station for the communications complex exterior & interior: he's back later this year for Blake's 7 Redemption.

Then there's Cally. Love the way her telepathy is handled here with a voiceover, works well. Alone for some time on the planet she's naturally wary of Blake's party - one of her first lines to Blake is "May you die alone and silent" - but falls in with them quite quickly when Blake reveals he's got a plan to destroy the complex and get away alive. Oh look Blake's got a spare Teleport Bracelet in Villa's box of tricks! Cally is played by actress Jan Chappell and her arrival completes the Liberator's crew bringing the complement to the seven in the series title.

This episode of Blake's 7 was broadcast 2 days after Doctor Who episode 472 Underworld Part Three, which was broadcast on 21/01/1978, and 5 days before episode 473 Underworld Part Four, which was broadcast on 28/01/1978.

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. Time Squad looses half it's length cut to 35 minutes for this release, but a full episodic release followed on Monday 7th Jan 1991 paired with the previous 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 for the whole of season 1 being released on 01/03/2004.

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