26/01/2012

Blakewatch - Time Squad

52 Weeks in a Year- 52 Episodes of Blake’s 7

Episode 4- Time Squad
(1978) Writer: Terry Nation / Director: Pennant Roberts
Blake’s plan to attack the Federation’s key communications centre on Saurian Major is diverted to pick up a small spaceship whose centuries old inhabitants are cryogenically frozen. As the others transport down to undertake the mission, Jenna and Gan are left on the Liberator to battle the now awakened aliens.

It’s interesting how perceptions about an old programme prove not to be the case. Having not seen most of these episodes since they were originally broadcast when we were all much younger and more easily impressed, I’d always thought that Jenna was a boring character there to do little more than decorate the set while Vila was a witty, cool addition to the crew. Watching `Time Squad`, this is certainly wrong at this stage of the series development.


Cally spots some paint drying

Somehow Sally Knyvette is able to make even the most banal dialogue sound convincing and while all around her struggle to escape the bounds of technobabble, observation or sarcasm, Jenna seems comparatively human. She certainly owns this episode, mixing it up with her macho colleagues without losing either her femininity or her tougher side. The others seem to be play acting over their pasts- let’s face it Avon is the only one who seems like he’s done anything more criminal than be fined for speeding- whereas Jenna acts in a way that shows guile and a sense of mystery. Knyvette is versatile enough to play both the damsel in distress and heroine at once.  Four episodes in, she is the show’s strongest asset.

This episode’s twin storylines give everyone something to do, perhaps exposing the unevenness of the main cast. Gareth Thomas already looks fed up half the time, while Michael Keating barely bothers to involve himself unless he gets one of Vila’s snippy lines, which already seem repetitive. Yes, he’s a bit of a coward, but does every line he gets have to remind us of that fact?

David Jackson struggles with Gan’s moments in the spotlight, a shame as potentially he is an interesting character. His acting in the scene where he explains the limiter’s origins is as painful to watch and listen to (“they killed my woman!”) as the device is to wear! Gan’s role in the narrative is confusing too- one minute he’s the strong silent simple type, next thing he’s reeling off as much technical dialogue as the others.

Paul Darrow seems to relish his role; was he talking Gareth T into leaving between scenes you wonder? Yet we know little about Avon at this stage and the character seems an unlikely team player. To his credit, Terry Nation does acknowledge this but the writing is not convincing enough as to why he stays. Surely if he set about it, Avon could easily despatch the others and run off with the Liberator? The fact that he doesn’t needs some addressing. We also meet the final member of the crew, the telepathic Cally played by Jan Chappell who makes a strong first impression. The interaction between Blake and Cally is well played by both actors - Gareth Thomas seems to work better with the female actors.

"Are you awake?"   "If that's anyone from Blake's 7 I'm staying in here"
The usually staid Pennant Roberts unexpectedly adds tension to the Liberator scenes making the most of the sequences where the aliens have woken up; at one point he even uses a bit of hand held camera, rare in those days.  Subdued lighting and some good incidental music help too. Visually, the alien craft is well made even if the logic of its cramped dimensions does not ultimately feed into the plot other than to add a bit of drama when the air starts running out.

It’s an odd episode that builds momentum as it goes and if you can stick with the sluggish first twenty minutes, it gets better.

Points

The Saurian Major scenes involve orange filters and some odd looking plants which just about make it look like an alien planet, at least until we arrive at the power station.

It is supposed to be a major communications hub for the Federation yet what we see looks rather like an energy producing factory of some kind, obviously because of where it was filmed. So if the comms equipment is in one room, what’s the rest of the place for?

The alien’s craft is designed for five people so why didn’t the aliens make it bigger? Just think of the awkwardness if they all wake up for a coffee at once! Still its handy they carry universal power draining cables that fit perfectly into the Liberator’s sockets.

It seems rather ambitious of Cally’s people to expect one person to carry out the mission, like sending a task force of one to a war zone. 

Gan’s limiter stops him fighting the aliens here yet showed no such inhibitions in the previous two episodes. Perhaps it only kicks in if he is carrying a weapon.


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