After a summer consumed almost entirely by my return to Twin Peaks, and after my trip to the UK Fest last weekend, I decided to get back to something I’ve left alone for quite some time: Blake’s 7.
Over the past few months, however, I’ve gathered a few more followers. It seems only fitting that I give a little bit of an introduction to this little gem of a TV show before I go straight back into season 2.
Blake’s 7 was a British science fiction series which aired on the BBC between 1978 and 1981. It was the brainchild of Terry Nation. You might know him as the creator of the Daleks on Doctor Who.
Blake’s 7 tells the story of Roj Blake, played by the late, great Gareth Thomas. Blake is a former revolutionary who rebelled against the evil Terran Federation but was captured and brainwashed, then dumped into an ordinary life, Total Recall-style. His former memories are awakened but, just as he reconnects with his former comrades, he is captured again and framed for some pretty heinous crimes. He is tried and sentenced to life imprisonment on the Federation prison planet of Cygnus Alpha. During the journey there, the ship he is on makes contact with a strange alien vessel, immensely powerful but derelict after a battle. Blake and a few others manage to escape from their captors and commandeer the ship, known as Liberator.
Blake then sets about taking revenge on the Federation by attempting to bring it down one piece at a time. He is joined by:
Kerr Avon, a computer genius and crook played with sarcastic glee by Paul Darrow (for you Twin Peaks fans, think a forerunner of Albert Rosenfield,
Jenna Stannis, a former smuggler played by Sally Knyvette,
Oleg Gan, a ‘gentle’ giant with a behaviour correcting implant played by David Jackson,
Vila Restal, a cowardly safecracker and thief played by Michael Keating,
Cally, a psychic alien played by Jan Chappell,
and Liberator’s computer, Zen, voiced by Peter Tuddenham.
This band makes up the Blake’s 7 of the title.
They are pursued across the galaxy by the Federation’s most devious villains:
Space Commander Travis, played by Stephen Greif in Season 1 and Brian Croucher in Season 2,
and Supreme Commander Servalan – winner of my Who’s the best dressed woman in Space? award – played with delicious malice by Jacqueline Pearce.
That’s about the strength of it. The story was well ahead of its time with some great writing and a very complex set of characters. Blake himself is hugely ambiguous in his heroism, willing to sacrifice his principles in the search for vengeance. All the episodes are available on YouTube currently. The picture quality isn’t up to much but they’re there and watchable if you haven’t got access to the DVDs.
Season 2 – Episode 5 – Pressure Point
We open with a couple of dudes in fatigues entering what they call the ‘Forbidden Zone’. That can’t be good. This episode was filmed around Abingdon, just south of Oxford.
They want to find out what’s inside the zone and press on inside. We then cut to Travis and Servalan (looking fabulous as ever in an all white outfit and hat as if she’d just stopped here on her way to the races at Ascot)
Travis is convinced that Blake is going to show up here and he’s had Servalan hanging around for nearly three weeks waiting for him, which she’s NOT happy about.
One of the two intruders is getting nervous but his mate wants to go further and break into a building they find. Smoke starts lapping at their feet and they lose the ability to move. Oh dear. It’s some kind of landmine and it takes them both out with a disturbing bang. I’m sure I just saw a dummy (hopefully not the last) as they blew up. Guess they’re not going to be important to the plot, then. They said they were working for someone called Kasumi or Kasabi. I’m guessing the latter unless there’s a big Mass Effect crossover in the works.
Anyway, from this carnage we cut to Liberator and the crew who are arriving into orbit, of Earth! Everybody but Blake seems incredibly distressed by this. Not surprising as they’re all wanted terrorists, really, however it is surprising that none of them knew that’s where they were going. Oh wait: Avon knew. Of course he knew – he’s Avon. He has a little snipe at Blake and then we hear the plan. Blake is planning on smashing the nerve centre of the Federation’s communications network; a place called Control (which sounds like that place in America – the Utah Data Center. It’s been tried before but has never succeeded. He’s not asking anyone to go with him as he’s already made contact with the resistance leader on Earth. Avon gives him a slow hand clap (nice) and we cut back to Earth and the Forbidden zone.
Kasabi turns out to be a woman. That’s a nice touch as we’re in the 1970s. Terry Nation was never shy of putting women in positions of power and it’s good to see more of that. She’s being watched by Travis and Servalan via their surveillance monitors. Turns out Kasabi used to train Federation cadets until she was reported by one of her pupils… Servalan herself. A little master and apprentice vibe going on here.
Back on the Liberator, the rest of the crew – minus Avon – have decided to follow Blake on the condition that he doesn’t expect them to commit suicide by pursuing things if there is no chance of success. He agrees. Avon’s on board as he loves a challenge and knows he’s the only one who can crack the computers. It’s a lovely scene between the two of them, each aware of what the other’s real motivations are. Avon’s already planning ahead to when Blake takes over the rebellion on Earth and he can take the Liberator and go out on his own.
Back in the woods of Abingdon, Servalan confronts Kasabi, massacring her troops and capturing her.
The two of them have a little tete a tete and the former teacher gets to deliver some stinging assessments of her former student – “spoilt, idle and vicious.” Brave move but I think she might die for it. Travis isn’t interested though. He knows which side his bread’s buttered and he’s far more interested in finding out about her rendezvous plans with Blake. After a laughable escape attempt, they strap her to a chair and we cut back to Liberator before things get messy. They’ve been waiting over an hour for a signal.
They’ve drugged Kasabi but she’s not giving them anything. More drugs and she starts talking, though. Having got what she wants, Servalan then gives her a lethal overdose and watches her die. I love how dark this stuff gets sometimes.
Just as Blake is about to cut and run, they receive the signal pattern that Kasabi was good enough to spill to Travis a minute ago. Blake’s no fool though, so he has them teleport him down a mile away from the co-ordinates they are given so he can scout around a bit first. Once he gets down to the planet he reports back that it seems all clear. He’s a mile away though, so wouldn’t he expect it to be?
He’s joined by Gan and they walk through an old abandoned church. Blake has to explain to Gan what a church is, the first hint I can recall in the series as to the fate of religion in this vision of the future. The Federation had all churches destroyed, apparently.
They enter the church building and discover some more dead resistance fighters and one who might just make it. We cut back to Liberator and I must take a moment to address Vila’s costume. What is it?
I mean, Avon’s just Avon: red leather, fine! But what is the function of that orange thing that Vila has draped around him?
Avon’s not happy. He knows that Blake is holding something back.
Blake and Gan revive the fallen soldier and find out that she is the daughter of Kasabi. She looks really familiar in a Miranda Otto kind of way. It’s not her, though. They find out what’s happened to Kasabi and Gan rightly wants to pull out. Blake has summit fever though and he’s convinced that it’s just a setback and they can continue. As I said, obsessed!
That’s an odd look from the wounded soldier! She’s listening to what they’re saying and I can’t help but think this isn’t a good thing. Gan isn’t happy with the risks but Blake talks him around.
Avon meanwhile is ready to teleport down with Vila and tries to get out of Blake the situation with Kasabi, who they’re meant to be meeting with. He knows that Blake is fobbing him off as he keeps changing the subject. There’s a classic bit of banter between Vila and Avon just now. Vila changes his mind and says he feels unwell and doesn’t want to go. He pleads with Avon, saying he’ll be a big handicap.
Avon’s reply, completely deadpan – “I’m used to that.”
They teleport down and discover the minefield from before but Jenna teleports them away just as they’re about to get blown to smithereens. We then get some special explosive effects. Someone got hold of some blasting caps for this episode, obviously and they blow up a chunk of field to good effect.
Avon and Vila are now with Gan and Blake and the young soldier, who we find out is called Veron. She wants to go up for some air. I’m not liking this. Could she be a turncoat? One of Travis’ people there to trick them?
I knew it!!! Just as they’re discussing their plans, she tosses a gas grenade down into their midst and knocks them all out. She comes down and relieves them of their teleport bracelets (which Gan was kind and stupid enough to explain to her).
This is a great episode! I’m stopping and starting it quite a bit as I’m writing and I’m robbing myself of some of the tension build up that I’d be getting if I just played it through but even so. It’s high stakes stuff.
We now go back to Travis and Servalan, who still haven’t had Kasabi’s corpse removed from their room. Travis reveals what we just found out; that Veron is working for him.
Blake and the others wake up and clear out – no they can’t – the door has been blocked. They know they’ve been trapped!!
Travis and Servalan, meanwhile, are with Veron. She double crossed Blake and the others to try to save her mother. Travis gleefully tells her that her mother has been dead for a hour and then knocks her out while Servalan watches on. I don’ think she’s finished with the girl. She seems to have something else in mind to further punish her now dead teacher.
Gan breaks down the door and they manage to squeeze out. Cally and Jenna are getting nervous up in orbit. They figure out a way across the radiation minefield thing; Avon cuts a path through it with his gun and Blake has 8 seconds to sprint through the exploding bits to the other side. Vila and Gan go next, followed by Avon. They’re in!
The control complex has some additional security built into it. In particular, the floor will kill you if you step on it. Thankfully, the Federation have installed monkey bars above all the dodgy bits of corridor that you can use to circumvent it. Blake shows off his playground apparatus skills in order to get to the main door.
Servalan has the security field shut off so that Travis can follow Blake. Hope that doesn’t backfire.
I love the way they use the sets sometimes. They use exactly the same ladder or corridor but just use a different colour light to make you think you’re somewhere different. It’s so blatant!
Vila manages to get them through the main door and Blake is jubilant. He rushes into the room, hellbent on destroying the Federation,
only to find it completely empty. Needless to say, he’s broken by this discovery that he’s been duped.
Travis is there to gloat. It’s all been an elaborate ruse. A challenge for anyone who wanted to try. The central computers are all somewhere else! Travis is about to get what he wants.
Then, Servalan arrives, after a wardrobe change, and tells him to release them. This is the famous bug dress. I saw it at the Blake event earlier in the year.
Jenna’s got the drop on her, aided by Veron, the double, double crosser. Jenna’s also got a lovely outfit on in this episode, I must say. It’s a long, dark blue dress down to almost the ground.
Servalan orders Travis to let them go and he grudgingly does as she says. She then gives him a good slap because he had to think about it.
On their way out, I was wondering when this was coming. I thought it wasn’t until nearer the end of the season. Gan has his Hodor moment, holding the security door so the others can escape and getting killed in return. Blake tries to save him but it’s useless.
David Jackson (a veteran actor who was a regular on Z Cars) brought a humanity to Gan that acted as a foil for Blake’s obsession in more of a compassionate way than Avon’s cynicism could. He was Blake’s conscience. It’s sad that he had to exit the show and I can’t remember what impact it has on Blake’s decision making from this point on.
For the time being, Blake and the others return to Liberator and beat a hasty retreat.
I really liked this episode. It had great drama, twists and turns, lots of Servalan and a tragic end. All in all a good place to jump back into the story.
Thanks for reading,
If you enjoyed this, please check out the last one I did. There should be links there to others.