Monday, 25 November 2013

C12 Death-Watch

EPISODE: C12 Death-Watch
BROADCAST: 24/03/1980
WRITTEN BY: Chris Boucher
DIRECTOR: Gerald Blake
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: David Maloney
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 3

"What about Avon?"
"Gone to visit a sick friend"
"A sick friend?"
"That's what he said. Let's face it any friend of Avon's got to be sick, right?"

Tarrant's brother Deeta is on the spaceship Teal Star bound for a combat ground between Teal & Vandor. Orac recommends the crew go somewhere to relax and they set course to observe the conflict between the champions of the two planets. They discover that the neutral arbiter of the conflict is Servalan and the Teal champion is Deeta Tarrant. Deeta meets his opponent Vinny and takes an instant dislike to him. Tarrant goes to speak to his brother who refuses to see him. Avon visits Servalan and tells her he has calculated she plans to violate the rules of the competition. Tarrant steals a number of sensor discs that let the Liberator crew experience the conflict. Deeta is killed by Vinny, but Orac determines that Vinny is a sophisticated Android and thus has broken the rules of the competition. Dayna is sent to prevent Servalan from having Vinny medically examined. Tarrant challenges Vinny using a new gun which Dayna has developed. Orac obtains information on where the conflict is to be located and Cally transmits it telepathically to Tarrant giving him an advantage which he uses to vaporise the Vinny android. Avon passes the information to the Teal representative with advice from Orac to get the contest restaged with new arbiters medically examined before the contest to prove they are human.

Oh my goodness, what an awful episode! For the vast majority of the episode the Liberator crew are just sat around watching, completely uninvolved. The active participant is Tarrant's brother and if you don't care for Tarrant (which you won't after the previous episode) you won't be that keen on his brother. It only really gets going at an astonishing 42 minutes into the episode, after Deeta has died, when Avon sets out to show how it was all rigged. Once Tarrant is doing the fighting you're a little more invested in what's going on.

In the long run up we've got Vila accidentally putting his foot in it to give the viewers a clumsy reminder that Servalan killed Dayna's father. The only reason that's there is to make it obvious why Dayna needs to be reminded not to kill her later in the episode when she's sent to delay things.

It's awful......

..... and yet in the middle (24 minutes in) is some of the greatest dialogue in the show, which I've quoted at the top of the episode:

Cally: "What about Avon?"
Vila: "Gone to visit a sick friend"
Cally: "A sick friend?"
Villa: "That's what he said. Let's face it any friend of Avon's got to be sick, right?"

and then a cut to Servalan as she and Avon share a scene, discussing Servalan's presence and plotting, which ends in their second kiss of the season. But then on Avon's returns to the Liberator:

Dayna: "How was your friend?"
Avon: "Sick as ever."


"we're wasting time Tarrant"

Yeah that about sums up how I felt watching most of the episode.

A rather annoying plot hole. Orac announces he has obtained the location of Tarrant's fight site but isn't seen to tell crew where it is yet Cally is still able to immediately transmit it to Tarrant!

I did like the white out from Deeta's point of view as he was but I was rather distracted during the rest of the fight Deeta/Vinny flight scene. It's the then derelict Wembley Exhibition centre which was used on the first title sequence for The Professionals. You may well have never seen it, as it's been replaced with the more common one for repeat showings *except* When The Heat Cools Off. It also survives on the unbroadcast episode, Klansman. If you want to see it then watch here on YouTube complete with the voice over from the first two episodes!

I'm not sure why Tarrant actor Steven Pacey plays his brother Deeta - he's his brother, not his twin, and besides the series had already pulled this trick this season by having Jan Chappell play both Cally and her clone sister Zelda in Children of Auron. Of the rest of the cast Stewart Bevan plays Max, Deeta's assistant, was in Doctor Who The Green Death as Professor Cliff Jones while David Sibley, the Commentator, was Pralix: The Pirate Planet.

Death-Watch was repeated on 13/07/81 and then released on video on 2nd June 1992 as part of Blake's 7 tape 19 along with the previous episode Moloch and alongside Tape 20 Terminal/Rescue. Blake's 7 season 3 was released on DVD on 20th June 2005.

Monday, 18 November 2013

C11 Moloch

EPISODE: C11 Moloch
BROADCAST: 17/03/1980
DIRECTOR: Vere Lorrimer
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: David Maloney
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 3

"Perhaps she wants to compare notes with some other genocidal maniacs. Or take a refresher course in basic brutality."

The Liberator has been tracking Servalan's starship for 27 days with no clear destination when it suddenly vanishes. The Liberator encounters interference and then suddenly finds itself approaching a planet's surface. They discover high technology present on the surface. Servalan is there visiting a Federation garrison on the planet. Orac identifies the planet as Sardos and identifies an approaching cargo cruiser that the Liberator's crew can teleport to to journey to the planet. Vila & Tarrant are sent over but Vila is discovered and taken to join the drinking party held on ship and joins the work crew on the surface. He's "rescued" by Tarrant who tries to bully him into cooperating. Avon deduces the transport ship has brought in prisoners from a nearby penal colony. Tarrant is detected by one of the Colony's female workers but she is caught by a Federation officer who sends troops to capture him. Cally discovers how to penetrate the shield surrounding the planet with the teleport and Tarrant & Dayna teleport down. Grose, the Federation Officer in charge of the planet, shows Servalan the matter restructuring technology that they stole from the natives when they subdued them. He has summoned Servalan to the planet to copy her ship intending to conquer the galaxy and turn Servalan over to his men, where she is found by Vila. She bargains with Vila to help her in return for finding Tarrant. Avon & Dayna discover the replicator but are detected and held prisoner. Servalan steals Vila's gun and teleport bracelet before absconding. Vila finds Tarrant who confirms Servalan has left. Avon is tortured by the guards but rescued by Vila & Tarrant who are guided by one of the planet's enslaved women. Avon, Vila, Tarrant & Dayna are sealed in the replicator room. The replicator opens to reveal Moloch a being which has been mutated into it's ultimate form by the Federation. He uses a teleport bracelet replica to beam himself to the Liberator but dies without the life support chamber. Servalan returns with a fleet of Federation ships and the Liberator flees.

On the surface this is quite a simple episode of Blake's 7: Federation troops have seized a planet with high technology and are using it. The Liberator stumbles across what's going on, investigate and and escape.

First we must ask ourselves IF the locals have a high level of technology how did they get conquered? That's the big one for me. I'm assuming the Federation troops stumbled on the planet, probably crashing there and I just can't get my head round them conquering it so easily.

And now they've got the technology the head of the colony has got delusions of grandeur and plans to take over the galaxy. But first he needs an advanced spaceship and a pilot and that's the reason Servalan's been lured there..... Servalan is essentially a little superfluous: why not have them attempt to lure the Liberator there?

Then.... why are the Federation troops busing in Prisoners? Use as slave labour I could understand but having them dressed as Federation guards???? There's something about copying brain patterns in the episode, Tarrant's brain pattern is duplicated and being passed about at one stage so I'm guessing that they're going to be ended up imprinted as Federation soldiers?

Then you've got the attitude of the Federation soldiers towards the female locals, who are being forced to work for them. At least I assume they're locals at no point are Chesil & Poola's origins identified. The sexist misogynistic attitude was also present in writer Ben Steed's previous script. Here it's even more obvious and much more disturbing with women basically being punished by being raped by the guards/Federation prisoners.

Mind you they're not that gentle with Avon either when they get hold of him.

And then, right at the end, we reveal a highly evolved being, created from the locals' prophecy and research by the former head of the Federation garrison on the planet. It wants to escape .... ok.... but as soon as it does it dies without it's life support???? WHAT????? It's just so stupid that a being supposedly that intelligent wouldn't know this. Yes there's hints at it's existence earlier in the episode but Moloch itself feels like a bolt on at the end and that's just wrong considering that the episode bears it's name!

Too many ideas, some not dealt with terribly well and a background theme that leaves a very bad taste in the mouth. Not good at all and I'm not 100% sure if it's suitable for the pre watershed audience it was shown to.

Horrible thought: does Federation now have matter replicator technology?

This episode features some of the best and worst of what the BBC's model department can do. Early on we have a painting representing the base on the planet which is very poor but then we get a great model of the landing bay. The comparison between the two highlights how bad the first was. Yes it's our old friend the footage of the London from Space fall/Cygnus Alpha back *AGAIN*,

There's a really off bit of background music as the liberator turns to avoid the planet that I could swear is Big Fish, Little Fish, Cardboard Box !

Davyd Harries, playing the convict Doran, is the only one of the cast with sci fi form having played Shapp in The Armageddon Factor. John Hartley, Grose. later appears as Greville Preston in the superb House of Cards. Sabina Franklyn,Chesil, has the final episode of Fawlty Towers, Basil the rat, on her CV which has more recently included Coronation Street. Her Father is William Franklyn, the second radio voice of the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. Playing Moloch is Deep Roy was was a Decima in The Web and The Klute in Gambit as well as Mr Sin in Doctor Who's Talons of Weng Chiang.

This is Director Vere Lorimer's last credited episode of Blake's 7. As we'll see he ends up producing Season 4 although on one occasion circumstances force him uncredited back into the Director's chair.

Wayhay! We're back at Blake's 7's favourite filming location Betchworth Quarry making it's fourth appearance after Time Squad, Deliverance and Hostage. Two more to come next season!

Moloch wasn't included in the June/July 1981 partial repeat run of Series 3. You can kind of understand why! Moloch was released on video on 2nd June 1992 as part of Blake's 7 tape 19 along with the following episode Death-Watch and alongside Tape 20 Terminal/Rescue. Blake's 7 season 3 was released on DVD on 20th June 2005.

Monday, 11 November 2013

C10 Ultraworld

EPISODE: C10 Ultraworld
BROADCAST: 10/03/1980
WRITTEN BY: Trevor Hoyle
DIRECTOR: Vere Lorrimer
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: David Maloney
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 3

"Touch of conscience?"
"More like insanity. You really believe in taking risks, don't you?"

The Liberator encounters an artificial planet. Shortly after Cally disappears and Liberator receives a distress call from her on the Avon, Dayna and Tarrant teleport to the planet to find her and meet it's inhabitants, the Ultra. Avon theorises Ultraworld is a giant computer, the Ultras tell him it is effectively alive. They have Cally who is recovering from a trauma she sustained. They are taken to see her but Tarrant wanders off. He discovers the Ultras are wiping the minds of those who come there and absorbing them into the core. He is discovered by the Ultras but rescued by Dayna. While talking to Vila Avon is captured. When all 5 crewmembers are captured the Ultras intend to take the Liberator. Tarrant & Dayna find a room containing the bodies of those recently absorbed into the core. Avon has been connected to the machine for absorption but struggles against it while Tarrant and Dayna discover that the used bodies are being physically fed into the core, a giant brain which is growing. They find Cally's body as Avon's resistance fails, but are attacked and their teleport bracelets smashed. The Ultras try to force Dayna & Tarrant to mate with each other so they may gather data for the core. Dayna sets off a small explosive charge to allow them to escape. The Liberator is forced to dock at Ultraworld. Tarrant & Dayna save Avon & Cally's bodies from being absorbed, damaging the mechanism by which Ultraworld controls it's human servants and destabilising the core. They restore Avon & Cally. The Ultras confront them but are killed by Tarrant. Avon, Cally, Dayna and Tarrant board the Liberator which escapes from Ultraworld just before it's destroyed. Orac explains how he used Vila to distract Ultraworld's core.

How old was I when this episode aired? 6, nearly 7? I'd have loved the model work especially the spaceship docking sequence and probably been scared by the concept of having your mind wiped and being fed to a brain. And yeah the modelwork *IS* superb, 1979/80 was a fabulous year for models in the BBC Visual Effects department. But the episode, especially the "you must mate for us" sequence just feels like sci fi cliche/sub Star Trek rubbish. Vila telling jokes to Orac throughout is intensely annoying and is only there (see Avon's rock in Harvest of Kairos) in order to provide a get out at the end of the episode..... which in this case isn't really needed as the malfunctioning core looked to me to be the result of the damage Tarrant & Dayna did till Orac's additional explanation popped up

Just why does Cally teleport to Ultraworld in the first place? Does it exert some sort of telepathic influence over her? It would seem so from what we see but doesn't do anything else with telepathy for the rest of the episode!

I'm seeing UFO control panels all over the place in this episode!

A lot of this episode is on film. Add the model and location work together and you're looking at over 50% so it's quite jarring when it cuts to video. It's almost a shame they didn't record it all on film. The location sequences are recorded in Camden Deep Level shelters, used previously by the BBC in Doctor Who: The Sunmakers. They provide a fabulous location throughout but some of the shots near the end with the tunnels lit red and smoke in them are superb.

Two of the Ultras have Doctor Who form : Stephen Jenn, Ultra 2, was Seker in The Nightmare of Eden Part One and featured in the cult horror classic The Keep. Ian Barritt, Ultra 3, was in The Unicorn & The Wasp as Professor Peach.

This episode was written by science fiction author Trevor Hoyle, who was responsible for the three Blake's 7 tie in novels: Blake's 7, Project Avalon and Scorpio Attack. It's his only episode of Blake's 7 and indeed his only television scripting credit.

Ultraworld was repeated on 06/07/81. It was released on episodic video on 7th April 1992 on tape 18 paired with the previous episode Sarcophagus and alongside tape 17 Children of Auron & Rumours of Death. Blake's 7 season 3 was released on DVD on 20th June 2005.

Monday, 4 November 2013

C9 Sarcophagus

EPISODE: C9 Sarcophagus
BROADCAST: 03/03/1980
WRITTEN BY: Tanith Lee
DIRECTOR: Fiona Cumming
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: David Maloney
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 3

"That doesn't make sense to me"

On a desolate alien planet a body is put into an ornate spaceship and launched into space. Later ..... On the Liberator Cally is brooding on Auron's fate when the Liberator encounters the ornate ship adrift in space. Avon wants to investigate a mineral asteroid but the others persuade him to investigate the ship. Avon, Villa & Cally teleport over but the Teleport lands Cally there fractionally before the others. The contents of the ship are decaying and Cally finds the remains of the body. Avon and Villa discover a sphere in the ship. Dayna discovers an energy surge from the ship as the interior goes dark. Cally is teleported to the Liberator with the sphere but Avon & Vila are trapped there. Cally returns and teleports back with them just as the ship explodes. Avon & Cally argue and she retreats to her cabin with the ring she removed from the body and has a vision. Vila, feeling unwell retreats to his quarters. Dayna gets electric shocks from panels and Avon & Tarrant argue. As Cally sleeps a voice speaks to her and she dreams. Tarrant, Vila & Dayna are disturbed in the night by a light malfunction and come to the flightdeck where the sphere begins glow. Tarrant has Orac analyses the sphere but as telekinetic activity occurs all over the flight deck Orac asks to be disconnected as the sphere crumbles to dust. Zen detects an intruder aboard before going offline. The voice speaks to Cally about her loneliness. Tarrant can't find Avon and Dayna starts searching for him. On the flight deck Vila starts performing tricks to an imaginary audience while Dayna's harp plays itself as Vila hallucinates being on spaceship. Dayna is unable to wake Cally and is overcome by a bright light. Vila is confronted by a strange woman on the flight deck before he too collapses. Tarrant find Dayna and they conject that she brought something back with her which is using the ship's power to build a new body. Avon reveals himself confirming their theory and telling them it's on the flight deck. Tarrant goes to confront it. She offers Tarrant a choice for them to serve her saying it was predicted they would serve her. He is overcome by her power as is Dayna when she arrives. The being works out Avon is missing: he enters unarmed and talks with the being as Cally struggles in her sleep. The being attacks Avon with explosions all over the flight deck. Cally resists the being's attempts to kill Avon and wakes. Avon kisses the being a steals the ring which boosts her psychic ability. The being pleads with Avon to be allowed to continue to exist as he destroys the ring and she ages & fades away and the power returns to the ship.

Not clear what's happening? Join the club!

The start is soooo slow with it's scene setting nonsense: I can remember the first time I saw it, as part of the Aftermath video compilation (more anon) and wondering what was going on. It's over SIX MINUTES before anyone recognisable appears on the screen. Over the course of the episode parallels are drawn between those at the ceremony and the Liberator's crew: Vila/the jester, Dayna/the musician, Tarrant the warrior/protector and Avon the priest/executioner. I say Executioner because I think there's some ambiguity about what's happened in the opening scenes. What brought it to mind was the ring which reminded me of the Doctor Who story The Hand of Fear. Is the body being sent into space ceremonially or to make sure that it doesn't come back? (aside: the prancing around in long red robes brought to mind the Sisterhood of Karn from The Brain of Morbius)

Tarrant, Dayna & Cally arguing while Avon and Vila are trapped on the alien ship wound me up no end: you're friends are in danger with seconds to live: take decisive action!

This is as close as Blake's 7 comes to doing Kinda and I'm not sure it works for the series. It's confusing and it drags horribly. Yes there's some nice stuff in it but I think the basic idea would have worked better with more obvious menace than the imagery presented here.

Basically the episode boils down to: Cally is possessed by an alien and Avon saves everyone. Cally being possessed/used is a well worn plot device for the series: The Web and Shadow spring immediately to mind. The thing that sets this episode apart is it's window dressing which is either new age hippy nonsense or Prisoner grade wacky $#!+ depending how you look at it.

This is director Fiona Cumming's 2nd episode of Blake's 7 and, like her first the previous episode Rumours of Death, there's some nice work in it including the overhead shots of the funeral. Unfortunately this film sequence suffers from a horrendous scratch straight down the middle of the screen.

Writer Tanith Lee had had books published since the late 60s/early 70s but this is her first television script. She'll be back for another Blake's 7 episode next season.

Sarcophagus was repeated on 29/06/81. Sarcophagus was released on video in the mid eighties as part of The Aftermath along with the opening episodes of the season Aftermath & Powerplay. *Personally* if I was going for a third episode from this series I'd have gone for either Rumours of Death or Terminal! The Aftermath was not released in the UK - I can remember seeing it listed as an import from Australia in an advert in Celestial Toyroom the Doctor Who fanzine. However when the three previous UK Blake's 7 compilation were budget re-released on video for £10 on the 5th March 1990 they were joined by the slightly retitled Aftermath. Sarcophagus was released on episodic video on 7th April 1992 on tape 18 paired with the following episode Ultraworld and alongside tape 17 Children of Auron & Rumours of Death.