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.


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 first 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.


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.


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.

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