Monday, 24 February 2014

D12 Warlord

EPISODE: D12 Warlord
BROADCAST: 14/12/1981
WRITTEN BY: Simon Masters
DIRECTOR: Viktors Ritelis
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: Vere Lorrimer
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 4

"Avon's idea of diplomacy is to break your legs then say "Lean on me"."

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Avon has formed an alliance between five world to produce between them the antidote to Pylene 50. The alliance is cemented with the arrival of Zukon of Betafal who is supplying raw material and equipment which is being installed in Zenon base. With the equipment is Zeeona, Zukon's daughter, who has travelled to Xenon without her Father's knowledge in the hope of seeing Tarrant again whom she met when he & Avon toured his facilities. During the night Zukon makes alterations to his equipment placing it near the air vents in the loading bay and instructing his assistant Finn to lay charges in the base. Finn tells Zukon the Zeeona has been seen on Zenon and an outraged Zukon demands Avon transport her back to Betafal when Scorpio leaves the next morning to collect the crop that will be synthesised into the Pylene 50 antidote. Soolin accompanies Avon, but distracts Avon and returns Zeeona to Xenon by teleport. Zukon and Finn leave Xenon but a short time later Orac detects an explosive charge in the teleport bay. The charge goes off bringing the roof down dealing Tarrant, Dayna, Vila *& Zeeona in the control room with a damaged airlock. The equipment Zukon has bought releases a radioactive airborne virus into the air systems forcing them to shut the life support down. Zukon meets with Servalan who plants a bomb on his ship. Avon & Soolin are ambushed on Betafal but escape when Soolin pretends to be Zeeona and frees Avon. Finn finds the bomb and Zukon opens the airlock on him just as the bomb explodes damaging the ship. He implores Avon to rescue him, enticing him with the knowledge of how to get clean air to the survivors but Avon comes up with the solution himself by reversing the air system. Tarrant, Dayna, Vila & Zeeona are rescued by teleport from Xenon. Zeeona returns in a protective suit to the loading bay to reverse the machinery producing the poison. When she fails to report in Tarrant & Dayna teleport down to find that she was successful in her work but lies dead have removed the glove on her suit.

Pylene 50 was introduced back in the third episode of the season Traitor. In the sixth, Animals, Avon tried to find a scientist to help him synthesise the antidote that Tarrant & Dayna obtained from it's creator Forbus in Traitor. All through the series there's references to Commissioner Sleer's pacification program. And now, at the end of the series, it comes together as Avon attempts to band together several rival independent groups to fight the Federation and produce the antidote. A grand scheme indeed.... so you know it's going to go wrong and go wrong it does big time. I'd like to attribute some of the blame to Tarrant for falling for the wrong girl. He has considerable form in this area this season Piri (Cancer) in Assassin and Servalan in Sand so keeping Tarrant away from any women who may be important or dangerous should be near the top of Avon's priority list by now. But if anything Tarrant's misjudgement in matters of the heart saves Avon by keeping him off the base when the bombs go off. No if anyone's to blame for this it's Avon himself. Xenon has one thing going for it and one thing only: NOBODY knows they are there. To suddenly invite a load of strangers who are at it each other's throats in was just asking for trouble and so it proves.

I can remember watching this as a kid and being really really worried for Orac who gets damaged crushed by a beam. Points for first time writer Simon Masters for the Terry Nation emulation here. We've also got got bombs, viruses and radiation so that's nearly a full house on your Terry Nation Bingo card!

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So..... Did Zeeona kill herself by accident or deliberately? The evidence would suggest the second: accidentally removing her glove when the work's done seems unlikely to me. On the subject of clothes why on earth are Avon & Soolin changing into identical outfits for the trip to Betafal? Never seen the reason for this and they do seem to be a uniform of some description. Thankfully it's goodbye to the awful Scorpio spacesuits previously seen in Headhunter and Orbit with this episode!

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It's also goodbye to Jacqueline Pearce as Servalan. Her appearance in this episode is brief but in typical fashion ends very very badly for her allies. Pearce would return to science fiction as Chessene in Doctor Who: The Two Doctors and appear as Miss Pendragon in the first of Russel T Davies two children's serials Century Falls.

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Some of the rest of the cast's form is interesting to say the least! Roy Boyd, Zukan, was Driscoll in Doctor Who: Hand of Fear, and later appears in Dempsey and Makepeace with Glynis Barber as the Depot Sergeant in Extreme Prejudice. Bobbie Brown, Zeeona, was a character called Hedonia in Flash Gordon. The interweb seems to indicate this was one of Ming's hand maidens clad in green. Dean Harris, Finn, has a Sweeney appearance to his name as Jimmy Wands in Thou shall not Kill. He's also the father of twins with former Doctor Who companion Katy Manning. Onto the delegates: I recognised Rick James, Chalsa, straight away proving that his performance as Cotton in Doctor Who: The Mutants wasn't a one off. Also instantly recognisable is Charles Auginsas Lod famous for playing Queeg on Red Dwarf a show he also worked as Choreographer on (along with many other things). Simon Merrick, Boorva, was in the original Tomorrow People as a Police Inspector in The Blue and the Green: The Swarming Season & Cuckoo in the Nest. And, even masked, I could tell that Federation soldier on the right in the clips at the beginning was 'Aitch.

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Warlord is our final visit to Betchworth Quarry near Reigate now serving as the Betafal surface. It's Blake's 7's most frequently used location appearing in Time Squad as the Saurian Major surface, Deliverance as the Cephlon surface, Hostage as the Exbar surface, Moloch as the Sardos surface and Power as Xenon's surface. The escalator massacre at the start was filmed at The Friary Shopping Centre in Guildford.

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Warlord was repeated on 20/08/1983. It was released on Video as part of Blake's 7 tape 26 on 5th January 1993 where it was paired with the final episode Blake alongside the previous two episodes Gold & Orbit on Tape 25. Blake's 7 season 4 was released on DVD on 24th April 2006.

Monday, 17 February 2014

D11 Orbit

EPISODE: D11 Orbit
BROADCAST: 07/12/1981
WRITTEN BY: Robert Holmes
DIRECTOR: Brian Lighthill
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: Vere Lorrimer
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 4

"Vila weighs 73 kilos"

Avon is summoned to the planet Malodar by renegade Federation scientist Egorian, who lives there with his aged assistant Pinder. Egorian proposes a trade: the weapon he has built, the tachyon funnel, for Orac. Avon agrees and return to Scorpio with Vila in a shuttle to fetch Orac. Tarrant does some research on Egorian, worried by rumours he recalled linking Egorian's disappearance 10 years ago with Servalan and discovers that Pinder is only 28. Egorian has another guest: Servalan, for whom he is obtaining Orac and giving the funnel in return for a share in power. Avon & Vila return by shuttle and demonstrate Orac to Egorian. He is pleased with the results and explains that Pinder was aged by Hoffel radiation as a result of the Neutron star material used in the construction of the funnel. After the shuttle launches Egorian discovers the Orac he has been left with is a dupe, remotely controlled by the real thing in the shuttle. However he has sabotaged the shuttle preventing it from obtaining escape velocity. Avon & Vila strip the shuttle of any spare material, including the funnel, and jettison it but Orac informs them they still need to loose another 70 kilos. As Vila leaves the control room to search for something to jettison Orac informs Avon that Vila weighs 73 kilos. Vila hides in the ship as his old friend stalks him, intent on jettisoning him to ensure his own survival. In the process Avon finds an incredibly heavy block of plastic which he deduces is embedded with the neutron star material. Once jettisoned the shuttle quickly achieves escape velocity before the fuel runs out. An enraged Servalan leaves Egorian and Pinder marooned on the planet. Pinder, distraught that Egorian was planning to abandon him to go with Servalan, exposes them both to Hoffel radiation killing them. Avon and Vila safely return to Scorpio with Vila now completely distrusting Avon.

Oh you've got to love that, it was fabulous. Bob Holmes nails it in his final Blake's 7 writing assignment. Top guest star hamming it up dreadfully wonderful interplay between the cast and a truly frightening last few minutes where you genuinely fear for Vila's safety.

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This is he third of Bob Holmes' four Blake's 7 scripts to pair Avon with Vila following Killer & Gambit. In a way they're also together in Traitor, but they've got Soolin and the computers for company there while Tarrant and Dayna do the hard work on the planet. Vila and Avon are the two great survivors, the only remaining members of Blake's original grouping and to see Avon turn on his friend like this .... disturbing. Yet also very in character: In Avon's world, Avon comes every time, and perhaps indicative of where Avon's been going mentally. He's discovered the one woman he ever really loved was a Federation agent all along, he's lost the Liberator and Cally, Servalan's somehow survived and although they established themselves again OK on Xenon and with Scorpio recently things haven't been going right at all. Headhunter, Games, Sand, Gold and now Orbit all feature attempts to get their hands on something/someone that go wrong. He's on very shaky ground and it's about to get worse as well.

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If you've watched any of Bob Holmes' Doctor who stories you'll know he wasn't adverse to "borrowing" from other sources to make a story work and very much wrote by Mac Hulke's maxim of "All you need to work in television is an original idea. It doesn't necessarily have to be your original idea...." In this case one of the central concepts of the story, a spaceship too heavy to make orbit, would appear to be lifted from The Cold Equations by Tom Godwin, which itself has several antecedents......

If you're a fan of Robert Holmes then Telos Publishing have recently released Robert Holmes: A Life In Words, a biography of the man based around his writings.

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Egorian is a thoroughly nasty piece of work...., the tales of bodies being found after his disappearance are disturbing and his description of Pinder as "a gauche adolescent" "my golden-haired stripling" and "Just a callow youth" leave you in no doubt which direction his interests lie making Vila's suggestion to take one of the girls to interest him seem somewhat amusing in retrospect. Did Avon already know that about Egorian? Possibly which may be why he takes Vila with him. After all he keeps Soolin close to Keiller in the previous episode seemingly to charm him.

Second time this year we've had an effect where people are killed by being aged to death, and we're not done with it yet!

So Avon just happens to have a spare fake Orac to hand? Not as unlikely as it seems. People have been after Orac before, only a few weeks ago Belkov wanted it. Orac's been damaged before so Avon's had some practice poking around in the workings so I can see him thinking yes I could duplicate Ensor's work. An abortive attempt fitted with a remote control enabling the real Orac to operate the fake and you're ready to con the next person who shows up wanting Orac in exchange for something to good to be true/their lives!

Main guest star John Savident, as Egrorian, was already well known when this episode aired. He'd already been in episode B6 Trial as Samor and would later (briefly) appear in Doctor Who as The Squire in The Visitation. Nowadays he's most famous for playing butcher Fred Elliot in Coronation Street.

Gone are the obvious CSO marks on the model shots this week so director Brian Lighthill has learnt something from his experiences last week. Gone too is the costume Paul Darrow as Avon wore in Assassin, Games, Sand and Gold replaced by the far superior version he wore in the first episodes of the season.

Orbit was repeated on 13/08/1983. It was released on Video as part of Blake's 7 tape 25 on 5th January 1993 where it was paired with the previous episode Gold while the final two episodes Warlord & Blake were presented on Tape 26 released the same day. Blake's 7 season 4 was released on DVD on 24th April 2006.

Monday, 10 February 2014

D10 Gold

EPISODE: D10 Gold
BROADCAST: 30/11/1981
WRITTEN BY: Colin Davis
DIRECTOR: Brian Lighthill
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: Vere Lorrimer
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 4

"Yes, they're clear all right. Aren't they, Avon. We've just risked our lives, for nothing."
"Not for nothing, Tarrant. We risked our lives to make Servalan rich!"

Avon is contacted by his "old friend" Keiller who has a plan to steal the gold that the Space Princess, the starship he works on is due to be carrying. There's just one snag the gold has been processed on the planet of it's origin, Zerok, to turn it into a worthless black metal. When they attempt to raid the processing complex, to obtain the code used to process the gold, Avon & Soolin are feared killed but have been force to hide and return to the ship with the required information. Avon discovers Keiller used to serve a Federation President and is intrigued which one. Keiller's plan is put into action with the security system diverted while Avon & Keiller steal the gold and Dayna, posing as a passenger, being infected with a virus so she requires returning to to Zerok. Scorpio answers the Space Princess' mayday and dock to take Dayna, lying on a gurney containing the stolen gold, aboard. However the break in is discovered and Avon is trapped in the disconnecting transfer tube between the two ships only to be saved by the Teleport. Avon makes the Rendezvous with Keiller's buyer for the gold, who is willing to pay them 10 billion for it and the processing code. The exchange is made but Avon forces the buyer to reveal herself, Servalan, and abandons Keiller to her whom she kills. Once back on the ship Orac tells them that Zerok has seceded to the Federation: Servalan has the means to process the gold and make a profit and what's more the Zerok currency they've been paid in is now worthless.

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Ah a top notch caper episode enlivened by some fab model work and a top turn by the late great Roy Kinnear as Keiller. Entertaining if not especially challenging or thought provoking.

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Loved the sequences of Scorpio docking with the superb Space Princess model, it's just a shame when I see it now I can see HUGE CSO masks on the screen whenever they appear. I've got memories of watching the repeat of this episode on a black & white TV set at my Grandmother's house in Cornwall one holiday! In fact, before m'learned colleagues at Roobarb's DVD Forum dug up the repeat dates for me this was the only episode I was reasonably sure I knew when it was broadcast because my brother had managed to fall of a slide in Helston and break his arm on his 8th birthday. The problem I had was I recall him getting a Return of the Jedi Gammorean Guard figure that day, which dated it to 1983 or after, and I couldn't think of why it took the BBC a year and a half to repeat S4. But they did!

When I blogged Doctor Who episode 564 Four to Doomsday Part One I mentioned how the big black spheres, with camera lenses sticking out of them, scared me as a child. There's one here in this episode!

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Fab exchange between Avon & Servalan at the end, the first and only time they actually get to meet this series! And yes, it's all a big con and Avon's just made Servalan very very rich.

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Soolin gets a lot to do for the second time inn three episodes. It's a bit Vila light this episode, as many recent ones have been, but his big moment comes next week.

Anthony Brown, playing the Doctor, is a Former ITN news reporter and father of BBC news reporter Ben Brown Norman Hartley, the Pilot has two Doctor Who's to his name: The Time Meddler as Ulf and The Invasion as Sergeant Peters. He also appeared in Dempsey and Makepeace (with Soolin's Glynis Barber) as Dan in Silver Dollar.

This is the first of two Blake's 7 episodes for Director Brian Lighthill but the only one for writer Colin Davis. I think he's done enough to be afforded a return if the series had have come back for a fifth series.

Poole Refuse Disposal Centre, now gone, was the ZVP gold processing plant while a nearby quarry provided the Beta 2 surface.

This episode of Blake's 7 was broadcast on BBC1 the same night as the Five Faces of Doctor Who repeat of Logopolis episode 1 was shown on BBC2. The whole of Logopolis was repeated on BBC2 during the week following.

Gold was repeated on 06/08/1983. It was released on Video as part of Blake's 7 tape 25 on 5th January 1993 where it was paired with the following episode Orbit while the final two episodes Warlord & Blake were presented on Tape 26 released the same day. Blake's 7 season 4 was released on DVD on 24th April 2006.

Monday, 3 February 2014

D9 Sand

EPISODE: D9 Sand
BROADCAST: 23/11/1981
WRITTEN BY: Tanith Lee
DIRECTOR: Vivienne Cozens
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: Vere Lorrimer
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 4

"Oh, Tarrant. I'm just the girl next door."
"If you were the girl next door, I'd move."
"Where would you move, Tarrant?"
"Next door?"

On the planet Vern the Federation outpost was suffering from a plague when they made their last transmission 5 years ago. Servalan, in her guise as Comissioner Sleer, has obtained the recordings and is going to the planet accompanied by investigator Reeve. As they approach the planet their ship's systems go wild and they crash. Avon has intercepted transmissions from the Federation and has decided if there is something of value on Vern then he wants it. Soon after landing Servalan's ship is partially buried in sand. Slave is affected by the planet on approach and starts to loose control of Scorpio. One of Servalan's crew is killed while they journey to the base. Tarrant & Dayna teleport to Vern. Reeve recognises "Sleer" as being Servalan. Spotting movement Reeve shoots and wounds Dayna who returns to Scorpio, bringing some sand with her on her boots. Tarrant is found by Reeve as he sneaks into the base but Tarrant kills him as Servalan finds him. Scorpio is increasingly affected by in flight disturbances which Avon thinks is being caused by the ship irritating the atmosphere. Servalan and Tarrant shelter in the base. They find the body of Kellor, the base's chief scientist as the building is covered by a sand drift. Over a meal Servalan explains how she used the teleport to escape from the Liberator and how the presidency was stolen from her. Tarrant comes up with a theory as to how Vern's ecology works believing the sand is alive and using the last surviving pair of humans as breeding stock. Servalan explains Kellor was her lover and she came to Vern to find out what happened to him. Dayna realises the Sand on the liberator has moved round villa. When Vila spills his drink on it it disolves. Tarrant comes to the same conclusion having seen Servalan's tears strike the floor but she pulls his gun on him. Avon brings Scorpio further into Vern's atmosphere creating a rainstorm that attacks the Sand. Tarrant blasts the windows in the base letting the water in to neutralise the sand in the base. Servalan sets out to return to her ship as Tarrant is teleported back to Scorpio. Tarrant admits to the others he shared an encounter with Servalan on the planet to the disgust of the rest of the crew. Avon notes that Vern is capable of regenerating the sand and that Servalan may not make it off Vern alive.

aka "The one where Tarrant and Servalan get it on"

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Far far better than Tanith Lee's previous attempt at a Blake's 7 story Sarcophagus. This time you can understand what's going on from the word go. Servalan's on a plant trying to obtain something but the sand is hostile to any visitors and the planet interferes with computers. If Servalan wants something, Avon wants it even if it's just to stop her having it so they visit the same planet. Dayna get's shot which gets the sand onto Scorpio increasing the planet's control over the ship while Tarrant & Servalan are trapped together during which the unspeakable deed is done. Avon works out what's going on and neutralises the sand. Pretty simple really. The idea that the planet is keeping the last surviving pair of humans alive as breeding stock is quite frightening. There's little details in there that are nice to, in particular that the message that Orac and the computers on the base are relaying sounds like it's Kellor's last diary entry to Servalan. We get references to Sarcophagus, Deatch Watch and Terminal too. It works for me. A little slow moving at times maybe but a decent episode.

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In fact the only things I really had a problem with were the longer shots of people on the planet's surface that were filmed instead of video recorded: these really stood out badly from the rest of the video footage.

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Oooh, full house on the guest cast this week, we've seen all 5 of them somewhere before! Stephen Yardley, Reeve, has two Doctor Whos to his name as Sevrin in Genesis of the Daleks and Arak in Vengeance on Varos before becoming known as Ken Masters in Howard's Way Daniel Hill, the pilot Chasgo, should have been Chris Parsons in the unproduced Doctor Who story Shada but later featured in BBC Sitcoms No Place Like Home and Waiting For God. Jonathan David, Keller, will later appear as Stratton in Doctor Who: Attack of the Cybermen. Peter Craze, Servalan's assistant, was in Blake's 7 episode A6 Seek-Locate-Destroy as Prell. He was in three Doctor Who stories: as Dako in the Space Museum, Du Pont in the War Games & Costa in Nightmare of Eden and is the brother of Michael Craze who played 60s companion Ben Jackson. Michael Gaunt, the Computer voice, has one credited Blake's 7 role as Dr Bax in Killer and teo uncredited ones in Breakdown as XK72 Personnel/Pursuit Ship Leader and the previous story Games as the Game Computer on Orbiter. Beyond Blake's 7 his CV includes some "interesting" work.

This episode of Blake's 7 was broadcast on BBC1 the same night as the Five Faces of Doctor Who repeat of Three Doctors episode 1 was shown on BBC2. The whole of Three Doctors was repeated on BBC2 during the week following.

Sand was repeated on 30/07/1983. Sand was released on video as the second episode on Blake's 7 tape 24 on 1st September 1992. It was paired with the previous episode Games and alongside Tape 23 Headhunter/Assasin. Blake's 7 season 4 was released on DVD on 24th April 2006.