SEASON ONE- Episodes 1-6. Written by Terry Nation, Produced by David Maloney, Script Editor- Chris Boucher.
THE WAY BACK- **** Directed by Michael
The first episode and a very interesting one for all its budget, showing just how different a BBC Space Opera (their first continuing serial as opposed to one-off or Doctor Who story) would look compared to its time travelling progenitor. As a pointer to how the series would progress it fails. Still, a fabulous set up. The entire season's effects budget was apparently blown in this one episode and it shows (both here and later on).
The film work is particularly impressive with rather stylish direction and for the only episode not to feature Avon, it's interesting to see how the rather wimpy Blake at the beginning gets his bearings so quickly after the massacre, even though he spends most of the episode in custody, unable to influence events. Blake, Jenna and a rather confident Vila are reduced to supporting characters as we see the machinations of Glynd, Dr Havant and Morag (good Scottish name) versus the doomed efforts of Varon and the missus (fancy trying to gather crucial evidence with a Turkish bong!). Although the sets and costumes are a mite basic, it all serves to build up the totalitarian atmosphere (paisley and oppression do not mix). Assured direction, good performances from all and even if we saw the Federation door-knock for the Salvation Army in every subsequent episode, we'd always know they were baddies. A very good, if atypical episode, just a shame that many elements got lost along the way. The butchered version on the original compilation video is a travesty.
PS- The guard who confines Blake on board the London plays a Minbari in B5 in season 5.
SPACEFALL- *** Directed by Pennant Roberts
The cheapness starts. Mutiny on the Bounty meets that tall extra with the white hair and black eyebrows that seemed to be in every crowd scene in the 70's (Last seen as one of Davros' loyal Kaled scientists). He's a tall prisoner who sticks out like a sore thumb to me. By this time, we've met most of the Seven here, but this isn't Auf Wiedersen Pet and they aren't in Dusseldorf. Avon and Blake don't get on too well from the off, and Vila's idiocy and cowardice only rear their cliched heads twice in the episode (rather than twice an act). Nova is rather camp- demonstrated by the fact he decided to take a bubblebath in the middle of an emergency, maybe a good thing he didn't make it so we wouldn't have episodes where Nova forgot to teleport Blake up from a crisis because he was scrubbing his back.
Even though most of the action takes place on board the London, Terry Nation (and to an undetermined extent, Script Editor Chris Boucher) has packed this episode with a lot of action, or padding, depending on you point of view. But when you think about it, from the time the London lifts off from Earth in the dying stages of The Way Back to the time it reaches its destination in the next episode, eight months in real time, the prisoners are seen to be wearing the same clothes the whole time. Liberator makes its debut here, designed by set designer Roger Murray Leach, rather than the season's SFX designer, Ian Scoone. Scoones is still, to this day bitching about this turn of events. For years, because my first proper exposure to the series was the fourth season, I thought the green bit was the front.
The flight crew are pretty believable, unlike the guards who thankfully have little to say and nothing to offer. The trio of Avon, Jenna and Blake work well together, sparking with each other and could have done the series on their own. The rather bright prison ship interiors contrast with the alieness of the Liberator with the encounter with the ship's defence mechanism being particularly effective. Less effective is anything to do with the transfer tube (or choob as Captain Leyland, serial number BMC P-76, would have it). Also, I cannot work out how Raiker shoots at Blake twice with a bruise that's all to show for it. Raiker is the sort of Federation thug we would see many times over the coming episodes with few being as good. Very little was trimmed from this ep for the original video release. And just what did Jenna whisper to Raiker?
Sorry I asked.
CYGNUS ALPHA- *** 1/2 Directed by Vere Lorrimer
By the time the somewhat smelly prisoners arrive in this, another atypical episode, they've sprouted guest stars. The scenes on the Liberator are a joy for those who think the best bits of the James Bond movies are the scenes were Q briefs 007 on his new gadgets. Personally, I love these bits, padding though some of it is. This story looks very expensive, with the sets in Vargas' castle rocky enough to be The Thing's home (from the Not-So-Fantastic Four). Brian Blessed is over the top, Pamela Salem provides Gan's only love interest of his series tenure and Blake's rescue effort goes pear-shaped when he only manages to get two crew members off the planet alive. Though where were Arco and Selman in Spacefall?
Although the transition between video and filmed studio sequences jars more than Jean-Michel, the fight scene is expertly staged, much better than if a multi-camera video studio was used. One resource advantage Blake's 7 enjoyed over Doctor Who (possibly the only one) was that each episode had a compulsory film allocation (whether it was location work or at Ealing). Compare some of the filmed fight sequences in the first three episodes to see how much better fights and gun battles looked when filmed from one angle at a time at opposed to five (see The Web). One thing, when Brian Blessed's Ice Warrior is teleported into space and explodes, why does the edited version on the compilation work better than the original here? This might be sacriligious to some but if about an average of a minute was strategically trimmed off each episode to tighten things up, you'd notice how much better the series stands up today.
TIMESQUAD- ** Directed by Pennant Roberts
The first dull episode, written as a last minute replacement is remarkable for no other reason than it's the first 'mission' and that Cally is introduced. Lacklustre is not too strong a description, but to be fair, the dialogue is good and everyone gets something substantial to do in this episode (an achievement). It's just that it is a pretty anonymous outing, lacking in any major plot advancements other than Cally's back story and the introduction of Vila's lock-picking skill. The attack on the Federation complex is running throughout a location, rather like the last five minutes of a typical Starsky and Hutch or Policewoman. The Federation is fairly faceless as are the frozen carrots, without any speaking antagonists either on Saurian Major or on the Liberator. The ending (climax doesn't fit) is so utterly cheap in what reeks of a cheap episode ("But they built a whole ship," I hear you ask. Big deal, they used the same set/ model at least another three times). The reactor explodes in a huge explosion, first knocking over a few guards before blowing up the whole complex. Then we see footage of a flare masquerading as the destruction of the complex. Whoopee for the first major success of Blake and his rabble! Six humans can run the ship properly even though their are only five flight positions. Gan's time was up from the start it seems. This is also the last time the Federation guns fired without a decent sound effect.
THE WEB- ** 1/2 Directed by Michael E. Briant
The premise and characters have now been set up, the crew numbering seven, with the series proper beginning here. For the first, but alas, not the last time, Cally would be taken over telepathically. Despite the cliche, this is an interesting episode up until the eponymous Web weaves its way around the Liberator (fairy floss, anyone?) The story itself is all right, just that it's Star Trek (You...can't...do...that!). The Decimas are a strange way to get the viewer's sympathy, especially after those comedians in the Design department (VisFX passed the buck) came up with the waif look for Saymon. I've heard of tight budgets but pathetic is not an insult, just a statement of fact.( If Novara's voice sounds familiar it's because he was the Supervoc in Boucher's Robots of Death script for Doctor Who, also directed by Briant. Small world (large project). The exterior work is interesting, if rather brief while the model work, free of wobbles is let down by the rather plain realisation of the Web. The concept of surface gear makes its debut here which must have made things easy when episodes were being made in big batches rather than individually. An average episode with a dilemma for Blake handled undramatically. Bad Dialogue: "You're very practical."
SEEK-LOCATE-DESTROY ***1/2 Directed by Vere Lorrimer
An important episode, although not obviously so, with the introduction of Servalan and Travis as the series' main baddies (although Servalan was originally meant as a one- shot male character). The Federation now has a face for the viewers to hiss at, although it would take a another appearance before Jacqueline Pearce would begin to upstage a very good Stephen Grief (an excellent actor, especially as gangster Harry Fenn in Citizen Smith, the role which landed him Travis). Everyone but Jenna gets something to do, even if some of Gan's efforts seem pencilled in at the last minute. We seem him grappling with the actual cypher machine for several minutes when suddenly he rips off a previously unseen metal hatch and simply yanks out the cypher. Watch it again and it makes more sense as Gann in rips off another panel to get access to the cypher. The Federation knowing about the teleport suggests there have been a few encounters in between episodes, even though Blake first sets a course for Centero at the end of Timesquad, and again in The Web. This is Travis's shot and Stephen Grief almost walks away with it. A talky piece with a fair deal of action, shows what Doctor Who's 25 minute format robbed us of. A comparison between the full and compilation version is interesting with a lot of the interpersonal conflict removed in the expurgated version, whether it be between the crew of the Liberator or Federation personnel. A good episode.
One last thing. The drugs that Ensor provided for the crew's radiation sickness had been sitting there for forty years. Haven't these people heard of the dangers of expired medicine?
HOSTAGE ** Written by Allan Prior , Directed by Vere Lorrimer
Starts off well enough with probably the most energetic space battle/attack on the Liberator featured in the first three seasons, even if the throng of pursuit ships is for the most part represented by a few lights and a star filter. The new footage is sometimes good and sometimes poor with the pursuit ships wobbling like Marlon Brando on a treadmill if they have to move during a static camera shot. In Blake terms its reasonable, though there's at least some new footage of Federation pursuit ships. But then, what is the rest of the episode about? The boys get captured, the girls stay on the ship, the crimmos wear pieces of polystyrene although the Head Crimmo is played by a better actor than the one portraying Travis. Brian Croucher's almost cockney accent is appalling compared to his predecessors. You're almost waiting for Travis to slip into cockney rhyming slang ("These are my criminal psycopaths, also known as Derek Nimmos!"). Inga is the most derivative Leela rip-off without the sex-appeal or Louise Jameson (Did anyone say Hyawatha?) though at least her dad gets a better deal from actor John Abineri, who replaced Duncan Lamont who died between location and studio work forcing a remount of all exteriors featuring him (the poor bugger died and you're worried about a remount?). In fact \, Abineri was the second replacement when the original turned up drunk (No Kevin Lloyd had already made his only appearance in the show). The crimmos are an interesting idea completely wasted with only one of them given any character and the actor playing Molok would have made a better Travis-type character than Croucher.
Mutoids mark two make their debut here although I don't think much of their hairdresser. They come off looking like first-time transvestites (if you don't know what a first-time transvestite looks like, watch Hostage again). At the same time, a Mark one Mutoid sticks to Servalan like glue. Ugly glue.
The story is not much cop while the direction is (Keystone, unfortunately). Poorly written and direly directed by Vere Lorrimer, especially the climactic battle between Blake, Avon and Travis (which wasn't refilmed but should have been). The one noteworthy storyline concerns Avon's contacting Servalan over Travis' whereabouts and his subsequent guilt but that's a bit much to sustain 50 minutes of drama, isn't it? Lastly, what are these crappy silver surface kits? What happened to the more colourful, more flattering and less lens-flare friendly suits from last season?
COUNTDOWN ***1/2 Written by Terry Nation, Directed by Vere Lorrimer
The creator returns in not a bad outing. For one thing, Avon's character develops in a way unthinkable a few episodes previously although it fits his character seamlessly. Starting with another decent filmed battle sequence, the stuntmen earning their wages here, we have an old (script) banger in the bomb ticking away and of course, Jenna and Cally have their bottoms hard wired to the teleport. Del Grant (Derrick?) is Anna Grant's brother- Anna Grant being Avon's former lover and 'runner' though the twists of next season's Rumours of Death weren't even a glint in the script editor's eyes. Besides, it's all a bit above old Tel, sorry, Terry.
A very good story with above-average production values for the season, good performances from the cast and a corker of a script. Definitely one of the season's best efforts in a season of extremes. One appalling aspect of the production is whoever dubbed on the teleport sounds missed most of his/her cues with alarming regularity and worse, got most off the sound effects mixed up completely. That is the one production flaw in an episode with ambitions that did not exceed the resources. It's not a cheap episode just that solid writing and planning means everything comes together with ease. Kudos to Vere.
VOICE FROM THE PAST *1/2 Written by Roger Parkes, Directed by George Spenton-Foster
Oh, how the pendulum swings. Voice from the past doesn't have a totally bad plot, just totally crap direction from the master of badly-directed Blake's (no direction would be a more apt description). Vila, on his own personal pendulum between guile and gullibility, is weighted toward the latter here with Blake under the influence of a VHS cassette even though Blake would have welcomed the proposals without the continued use of the course interceptor. The rivalry between Servalan and Le Grande conjures up images of the two in a burning log cabin or fighting in a pond. Ven Glynd, looking very different from his first appearance in the pilot episode is enigmatic enough, perhaps pointlessly so. The continuity of having Ven Glynd return is wasted after Blake accepts his rather pitiful half-apology in a second. But Shivan is duff. A crappy costume with a crappy French accent from Brian Croucher leaves one with the feeling of 'why?' It seems as through the whole convoluted plot was left at the first draft stage without anyone bothering to polish up the crappy bits in a rewrite. A script full of holes accompanied with dire direction leaves this episode along with Horizon being in the bottom few episodes of the whole series. Roger Parkes would provide two more stories and they were both a lot better than this bag o' *****.
GAMBIT **1/2 Written by Robert Holmes, Directed by George Spenton-Foster
Overrated tosh with Holmes' work on Blake's 7 having a much lower strike rate than his Doctor Who CV would indicate but then, check the Director's credit. Glitter is everywhere, so much so Gary Glitter sued for custody (that was before his PC broke down). With, um, eccentric costuming, busy sets, laboured direction from a man who should be kept away from jodhpurs and a German accent contribute to a wasted episode- one that could have been good. The one that got away. Worst of all is President Clinton as Cleverdic (remember Claws of Axos?). Ooops, that's Paul Grist as Cevedic. The single worst guest spot this season is overacted so badly it would take Denis Carey playing a drunk Cybersurgeon to upstage him in the crap stakes. Ooops. Denis Carey is in this too, and he sure is crap. So is the cameo by Blake's Lawyer from the first episode. And Travis sucks, too. Surprisingly, Servalan doesn't fare too well either, looking like a three dollar hooker ( if you don't know what a three dollar hooker looks like...) Also poor is the music played over the speed chess sequences. Yuck!
On the other hand, it's a well written story (albeit handled badly by the director). Robert Holmes has always been a dab hand at interesting, if not snappy, dialogue but the delivery by some of the cast leaves something to be desired but I don't want to talk about it any more. With western allusions (20 litre hats) on a par with a really bad Battlestar Galactica episode and some poor choices, the only thing that shines is the fact Cally and Jenna finally get something to do- their faked cat-fight is a hoot. Also hootable is the camaraderie between Avon and Vila, for once bickering is banished in the name of greed. Orac shrinking himself over pride is ridiculous but then so is the concept of two square metres of perspex and three 'D' Cells being worth 100 million credits. Would have been great given almost any other director.
THE KEEPER *** Written by Allan Prior, Directed by Derek Martinus
How can so many stars be associated with Allan-many-Prior-convictions? The story makes sense, is interesting with a decent twist something for everyone to do in what is probably the nearest thing to a Jenna and Vila episode. The filmed battle scenes are a damn sight better than those in Hostage but then the duel between the rather-sickly looking brothers Rod and Gola could have used a bit of film to liven things up a bit. The one thing that gets me is not just about this episode but the last few episodes as a whole. In Hostage, Servalan offers Travis a truce, which she uses in Voice from the Past, but then the next episode she wants him dead, but then they're working together here. Travis seems to hate Blake more than the schizoid woman trying to kill him. That's loyalty. That's stupidity. That's Waylon Smithers. At least we see him betray her.
STAR ONE ****1/2 Written by Chris Boucher Directed by David Maloney
Near perfect season climax. Beautiful exposition, good direction, decent modelwork, Travis getting bumped off permanently and an Intergalactic War. I love this episode as everything good about Blake's 7 with only the odd niggle rather than any outright flaws. The sense of dread from start to finish as things escalate beyond the Liberator crew's expectations is wonderful and could show Babylon 5 a thing or two (it might just be me but they seem to win everything (I suppose the later seasons will probably prove me wrong). The arc storyline of the second season worked a lot better than the key to time even if at times it was easy to miss (Killer, Voice from the Past). It also highlights how directionless Season Three is overall with only one episode having anything to do with fighting the Feds as opposed to stumbling into various dangers. Niggles? If nobody knows where Star One is, how did the technicians get there (and they haven't been there thirty years and how to they get replaced after their death (unless Lurena is to end up as sandwich filling or the hat that gets passed around, so to speak)?
The way Blake's injury and subsequent incapacitation is handled doesn't fire the imagination, neither does Gareth Thomas' performance from the time he's shot. Watching the episode, you can almost tell the exact instant that Gareth Thomas decides/ discovers he won't be coming back as the regular lead. Durkin is too good a character to be used only once. He and Servalan would have made ideal sparring partners the following season with Durkin as the President's conscience. The alien invasion fleet of a bottle of shampoo, two hubcaps, a piece of toast and an egg-beater didn't fool anyone especially when the rest of the model work is so good. Tense as a man with three mortgages who's been made redundant on the same day he finds out he requires expensive medical treatment, his car's been stolen, his ex- wife has a life partner and his daughter joins the cast of Home and Away.
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