Monday, 3 June 2013

A13 Orac

BROADCAST: 27/03/1978
WRITTEN BY: Terry Nation
DIRECTOR: Vere Lorrimer
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: David Maloney
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 1

"Unless, of course it's a magnificent swindle, but I suppose that's too much to hope for"

Blake reviews the evidence of the Starcruiser's crash and discovers Ensor's ship was sabotaged by an explosive which was planted aboard. Cally discovers everyone who was on planet has had heavy dose of radiation and are ill but the Liberator doesn't have the decontaminant drugs they need. They are dependant on Ensor having them on Aristo and must complete his son's mission. Ensor is alerted to the arrival of a Federation vessel on Aristo containing two passengers Travis & Servalan stand on the sea shore trying to find the entrance to Ensor's underground lab. As the Liberator approaches Aristo Zen is taken over by another computer system. When it finds out that Blake has the power cells it gives him permission to teleport down and sets the co-ordinates for them and an ailing Avon teleports Blake & Cally down. Once on the surface they encounter a force shield/. Servalan and Travis are attacked by creatures in the tunnels they are using to enter Ensor's base. A security drone gets Blake & Cally to abandon their weapons and then guides them into the entrance for Ensor's lab. They meet Ensor and tell him how they encountered his son. He gives them the radiation drugs they need. Blake & Cally offer to bring him back to the Liberator to perform the operation to install the new power cells in his artificial heart. He shows them Orac a computer system he has developed that can access any other computer and they bring Orac with them. They are attacked by Travis & Servalan and are forced to flee via an alternate route. Servalan and Orac attempt to cut them off on the surface. Avon summons Vila to the Teleport room in his surface clothes and they teleport to Aristo to find Blake & Cally. Ensor stops to rest in the tunnels and dies. Blake & Cally reach the surface and are held at gunpoint by Servalan & Travis but saved by the arrival of Avon who destroys Travis' gun hand. They teleport back to the Liberator where they activate Orac who demonstrates his powers by predicting the Liberator's destruction.

There's lots and lots to like here. The events of both plot threads from last episode have repercussions here: I think Blake would have gone to Aristo anyway but the crew's illness now compels him to, though I suppose they could have got the anti radiation drugs from elsewhere albeit at the cost of Ensor's life. We get a flashback and recap to the previous episode presented Captain's log style here - that was the main slice to this episode when it got edited down for the compilation. Cally in back in the green hooded top for her surface gear having decided against using the leopard print again but Avon's continuing to use the silver jacket debuted last episode. Servalan gets out of the office again and finally gets to go on location albeit only to Springwell Lock Quarry, last seen in The Way Back as Earth, this time providing the Aristo surface. She's obviously very keen to get her hands on Orac!

Ah Orac. You see him in the background of scenes and hear him, on this one occasion voiced by Derek Farr the actor who plays Ensor, before you know that is Orac. This element of the plot was spoiled for me having seen later episodes because I knew what Orac was. Watching the series in the early 80s as an 8 year old I'd loved Orac and was keen to see him again so when the compilation videos were released at a budget price point the Orac tape was a day of release purchase alongside The Beginning. Much of what I saw was unfamiliar. The settings, most of the cast. So to see another reminder of what I remembered from my childhood was great. The idea behind him is he has some sort of secret back door wireless internet into every computer that uses the Tariel Cell that Ensor designed as a young man enabling him to harness their power and knowledge, hence his name: Orac, an abbreviated form of Oracle.

Quite how Orac's function allows him to predict the Liberator's destruction I don't know..... But it gives the end of the first series a fabulous cliffhanger and indeed there's even an element of doubt as to whether the final images are Orac's vision like prophecy or it's fulfilment happening then and there. It sets the bar high for the series end of season cliffhangers and fortunately the series then takes it as incentive to up it's game each year leading eventually to one of the most fabulous moments in television ever.

Another thought: If Orac relies on the Tariel cell to work how is he able to take control of Zen's computer systems? Are whatever civilisation that built Zen and the Liberator using Ensor's work?

Wayhay more raiding of the Terry Nation back catalogue with radiation sickness & anti radiation drugs as seen in The Daleks, and then again a year and a bit after this story in Destiny of the Daleks. We also get the scientist hiding in an Underground Base which I suppose is similar to Dortmun in Dalek Invasion of Earth, Davros in Genesis of the Daleks and Stygron in The Android Invasion.

Sadly this is the last time we see Stephen Greif as Travis. I'm not sure why he didn't return, but Wikipedia mentions he'd injured himself playing squash during the filming of the first series. His CV is huge but doesn't really have the huge starring role you'd expect of him following his performance as Travis during the first season. This makes it hard for anyone to step into his shoes and I can't in all honesty say that I think the recasting of the roll was successful.

I'm pretty sure this is the last time we see animated space sequences in Blake's 7. Although very well done, better than some of the model work in the first season, they do push a very large button for me labelled Captain Zep – Space Detective! It's also goodbye to the hooded tops the crew have been wearing for their visits to planets, although Avon's silver coat does make a surprise return a year from now!

Most of the casting information I have for Blake's 7 was researched when I was doing Doctor Who actors who's been in Blake's 7 for my Doctor Who blog. But I'd only checked wikipedia entries for the Blake's 7 cast so this time round I'm also looking at IMDB which revealed that James Muir, one of the two Phibians, has an extensive list of credits to his name. This is the only episode of Blake's 7 he's *credited* for but he's also in (uncredited) Seek-Locate-Destroy as a Federation Trooper, Pressure Point as a Rebel, Dawn of the Gods as Monster, Rescue as a Link, Traitor as a Helot, Assassin as the Pirate Guard and Blake as the Federation Trooper. That's 8 episodes! (not as many as Aitch's ten!) Then look at his Doctor Who credits: up till this point he's been in The Time Monster: Episode One as a Soldier, Invasion of the Dinosaurs: Part One as a UNIT Soldier, Genesis of the Daleks: Part Two as a & Three as a Muto, Terror of the Zygons: Part 1 as a Soldier, The Masque of Mandragora: Part Three as a Brother, The Sun Makers: Part One as a Worker and The Sun Makers: Part Two as a Technician. He'll later appear in Doctor Who in The Pirate Planet: Part One & Two as a Technician, The Stones of Blood: Part One as a Druid, City of Death: Part One as a Louvre Detective, Nightmare of Eden: Part One as a Mandrel, The Leisure Hive: Part One as a Foamasi, Meglos: Part One as a Gaztak, Warriors' Gate: Part One as a Tharil and Black Orchid: Part Two as a Police Driver plus would have been in Shada as a Krarg alongside Aitch. He was in The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy episode 4 as the Vl'Hurg Leader, Moonbase 3: Castor and Pollux as a Technician. He's got Z Cars, Softly Softly: Task Force, Secret Army The Goodies and Rentaghost on his CV! That's some career as a background artist!

So Blake's 7 season 1: Impressive start and although later episodes don't quite live up to the promise it's generally solid stuff with a sequential story being told throughout and earlier episodes influencing later ones. Best episodes: Way Back and Spacefall obviously. After that? Project Avalon, Deliverance & Orac.

This episode appears in the second Blake's 7 book, Project Avalon, along with Seek Locate Destroy, Duel, Project Avalon & Deliverance. It gives it's name to the third and final compilation tape released in the UK in the mid 80s where it appears with the previous episode Deliverance and the following one Redemption, the first in Blake's 7 2nd series. This tape was re-released at a more affordable price of £10 on the 5th March 1990. It then appeared in the third batch of episodic Blake's 7 video released in the early 90s. Paired with Redemption on Tape 7 it was released on 7th May 1991 (18th Birthday present for me!) with tape 8 containing Shadow & Weapon. Orac was part of a DVD release of the whole of Blake's 7 season 1 on 1st March 2004. Orac was repeated on 27/12/78 as part of a compilation with the previous episode Deliverance in the lead up to the start of the second season which resolves Orac's explosive cliffhanger. The episodic version was repeated on 20/05/2000 as part of a repeat of all of series 1.

No comments:

Post a Comment