Monday, 5 August 2013

B9 Countdown

EPISODE: B9 Countdown
BROADCAST: 06/03/1979
WRITTEN BY: Terry Nation
DIRECTOR: Vere Lorrimer
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: David Maloney
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 2

"Typical Federation policy: things are more important than people. "

The Federation base on Albian is attacked by the natives. When defeat looks inevitable the base's crew activate a device to kill the population of 6 million. Blake is approaching Albian seeking a Federation officer called Provine he believes can tell him where Central Control was moved to. Provine is the sole command officer to have escaped and is being sought to help deactivate the device which is running on a countdown. Blake, Avon & Villa teleport to the surface. They find a rocket pod hidden on the base. Blake finds the rebel leader Cauder who enlists their help deactivating the device - a solium radiation device which will destroy tissue instantly - installed to keep the population under control. Avon reveals the bomb is elsewhere: the device in the command centre is just a transmitter. Provine is found trying to access his escape ship. He tries to convince the guard that finds him to help him escape in exchange for his survival. Provine overcomes him and kills him before taking his uniform before seeking a replacement mechanism for the damaged launch doors. Cauder reveals the revolution was led by a mercenary named Del Grant, who is known to Avon and has sworn to kill him over Avon's part in the death of his sister Anna.Vila breaks into a safe and gains access to information on the bomb which he takes to Orac for analysis. Grant blames Avon for the death of his sister at the hands of a Federation Torturer. Orac traces the device Albian's polar region. Grant & Avon teleport there to disarm the device while Blake & Cauder search for Provine. Avon & Grant discover a relay cable buried in ice and they start digging it out. Blake goes to check Provine's escape rocket and escorted by a guard. Avon & Grant's safety is threatened by the ice in the room they are in melting & cracking as they dig the device out and work on it. One of Cauder's team identifies Provine as the guard accompanying Blake. Avon explains to Grant while they worked how his sister Anna was captured: he had been to obtain exit visas, was attacked and rendered unconscious. The Federation came for him while he wads gone. She came looking for him and was caught. Provine traps Blake in the rocket silo but is shot by Blake. With his dying breath he tells Blake that control is now at Star One and only cyber surgeon Dochelli knows where it is. As the countdown nears conclusion the chamber Grant and Avon are in begins to crack and flood. Grant is crushed by a girder but Avon reaches the device and deactivates it saving Grant and the entire planet.

Aw that was cracking that was. From the very start it looks good with a superb extended battle sequence between Albian rebels and Federation Troops. That setup leads into the Federation officers and it's during this sequence that Provine really leaps off the screen at us proving a better villain than Travis II is! Then Terry Nation breaks out an old favourite, the Countdown of the title, which automatically injects some urgency into proceedings. He's done it before in various forms in The Daleks, Dalek Invasion of Earth, Genesis of the Daleks and Android Invasion plus would have been working it into his next Doctor Who story, Destiny of the Daleks, as this episode aired. But it is effective and it's injected into the episode early on, rather than to boost things at the end, so is absolutely central and probably Tel's best use of the trick. He's done things with ice before as well in Planet of the Daleks now I think about it.

It was only after glancing at Maximum Power that I was reminded that this is the second Terry Nation episode this season where someone is crushed by a girder. Come to think of it that happens in Destiny of the Daleks too!

Blake's got a reason for being there but I wonder how he discovered that Provine knew where Central Control is now? Orac research? The results he eventually gets starts off the thread that drives most of the remaining episodes this season.

Throw into this Del Grant, the mercenary brother of Avon's now deceased girlfriend Anna. This adds some tension to the episode as they're forced to work together to deactivate the bomb. Just as Blake's pursuit of Provine kicks off the rest of the season we're not done with Anna Grant yet: this starts Avon on the process of investigating Anna's death which resurfaces in the third series in Rumours of Death.

One major criticism though: for the third consecutive episode the female members of the crew, Jenna & Cally, are left on the ship while the three men go to the surface. The last time Jenna got out the ship was briefly in B5 Pressure Point with Cally last leaving the ship in the episode before Horizon. The last time Blake chose her to leave the ship was way back in A11 Bounty - in A13 Orac she was the only other crew member standing!

Yup, it's the Capsule from Time Squad (and Deliverance) back again as Provine's escape vehicle! There's a sphere in the capsule silo that there's a long lingering shot of early on which makes in look like it'll turn out to be important... but it isn't. I'm willing to put a fiver on the long tracking shot of polar region, before Grant and Avon teleport in, was taken from a BBC/Richard Attenborough nature documentary! All the sequences in the ice base are on film so you know it's going to be subject to a fight or an action sequence before it happens!

I liked this episode a lot. Much better than those I've watched recently and possibly the best one since the first two. There's nothing added on or wasted like in some other episodes (I'm particularly thinking the space battle at the start of the previous episode) and the B plot - Avon's feud with Grant - is nicely integrated with the main story. Top stuff.

Del Grant and Provine are both recognisable faces to Doctor Who fans: Grant is played by Tom Chadbon, shortly to be seen in City of Death as Duggan and then 7 years later in the Trial of a Timelord as Murdeen while Paul Shelley plays Provine and later appears in the first Fifth Doctor story filmed, Four to Doomsday, as Persuasion. Down the order Nigel Gregory, playing Arrian, later appears in K-9 and Company: A Girl's Best Friend as Sergeant Vince Wilson.

Countdown was released on video on 3rd September 1991 as part of Blake's 7 tape 11 with Hostage and alongside tape 12 which contained Voice from the Past & Gambit. The Blake's 7 season 2 DVD containing this episode was released on 17 January 2005.

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