18/01/2012

Blakewatch

Season One Episodes 1-3

There are 52 episodes of Blake’s 7 and there are 52 weeks in a year. Our challenge is to watch one episode each week of 2012. Can it be done? Will it dispel some of the myths that have grown up around the series? Does Avon really say “let’s go” every episode?
One proviso. This is not, by any stretch, a proper episode guide and if you’re the kind of person that takes Blake’s 7 seriously you might not agree with the tone. What it is are observations, theories and comments on each episode based partly on pub conversations. What better way to celebrate the, erm, 34th anniversary of the start of the show.

Inevitably then, let’s go…



 

Episode 1 - The Way Back
(1978) Writer: Terry Nation / Director: Michael E.Briant
In the far future, Rog Blake discovers he has been brainwashed when he is contacted by rebels for whom he is a symbol of defiance against the totalitarian Federation but his involvement leads him to be framed and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The advantage Blake’s 7 always had- and used less and less as it went on- was it’s later evening time slot allowing darker resonances and that’s certainly what they do to start.  In fact the opening episode will surprise anyone watching for the first time as it effectively draws a scenario that could be pulled from today’s headlines. Allowing for the typical 1970s production styles, this is quite near the knuckle material.
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A former rebel who has already been brainwashed into compliance, we meet Blake as he is persuaded to go outside the huge dome in which everyone lives to attend a meeting of potential revolutionaries who still see him as a symbol of hope. But there is a traitor in the crowds and all but Blake are killed by militia while he is taken back to stand trial on a series of fabricated charges for which he is sentenced to life on a penal colony. When his lawyer begins to suspect Blake may have been framed the race is on to find evidence before embarkation.

It’s one of Terry Nation’s better scripts in which he is less procedural than usual allowing the darker themes to work through. If you feel there is not enough emotion, then that’s probably more to do with the way genre TV was then. What is particularly impressive is the way in which the officials act and the lengths they are prepared to go to for example the conversation between the officials in Van Glynd’s office as they casually discuss Blake’s fate with a pleased look on their faces.

"Yes, I went to that barber too..."
Visually there are an impressive number of extras used which adds some believability and the outdoor filming is good while a surprisingly large number of sets do manage to convey some scope to this future world. One shot of Blake and co running away from the dome is a superb use of old style CSO blue screen effects.

As Blake Gareth Thomas seems uncomfortable and not the sort of charismatic leader you’d imagine. Then again, maybe that’s the point. The glimpses of both Jenna and Vila we get show how well both started- Sally Knyvette is especially good showing a bitter side. The end is so downbeat you might imagine it as one off play but if you saw it as the start of a series there’s no way you’d want to miss the next one.

Points
Justice is depicted as having all the information put into two globes which then confer with a judicial globe to give the result. It all takes less than a minute.

The security guards never remove their restrictive helmets and visors even when sitting at a desk doing clerical work

Gillian Bailey who guests as Ravella, one of the couple that lures Blake outside is one of the Double Deckers but she does not sing “come outside, come outside, come outside to the double decker” or indeed anything at all.

Robert Beatty who guests as Bran Foster once played Ronald Reagan in a TV Movie and was in William Hartnell’s last Doctor Who story during a 50 year long career.


Episode 2 - Space Fall
(1978) Writer: Terry Nation / Director: Pennant Roberts
Blake and some fellow prisoners try but fail to take over the prison ship, the London.  Blake, Avon and Jenna are subsequently sent to investigate an alien spaceship which they decide to steal.

Set entirely on the spaceship carrying prisoners to Cygnus Alpha, `Space Fall` is almost a second first episode in that it properly introduces most of the regulars. The time spans four months and sees them planning to escape while the ship is being attacked by enemies unknown. Again you can see evidence of a generous budget even if the choreography of the episode means a lot of standing around.
There are some unconvincing moments though where Vila distracts guards with magic tricks to allow people to climb into the infrastructure. Yet a later scene hinges on a security camera looking down on them from above being disabled- how come this camera never picked up the excursion into the hull?
The confines do produce some tense moments though they drag it out a bit. We also see the Liberator for the first time. It’s a very unusual design with chairs that block vision across the set but it works as an alien ship.


"Do you think this ship's big enough for my acting?"

Points
It is said that the sealant which fills gaps in the ship’s hull hardens in a seconds but Jenna holds it in her hand for longer than that and does not spend the rest of the series with it encased in concrete!

The London flight deck is manned by a trio of familiar genre actors who also enjoyed (well whether they enjoyed it or not we can only guess) time in Marmite Doctor Who stories. Glyn Jones would soon find himself as Rohm Dutt in the `Power of Kroll` though was spared the fate of having to be painted green and sing “Kroll, kroll, kroll (repeat to fade). Leslie Schofield was 70s TV second grumpiest man after Prentis Hancock. He had recently spent time in a loincloth (though not painted green) in `Face of Evil`. Norman Tipton had also spent some time in the CGI caves of `Underworld` around this time. He later starred in a TV sitcom with Paul Nicholas that nobody has ever heard of called Two Up, Two Down.

This is the first TV credit Michael Mackenzie has after starring in Ace of Wands.

Even though the ship has communicators and he has just spoken to the rebels on one, the captain still sends Artix to run with a message to Raiker.

Episode 3- Cygnus Alpha
(1978) Writer: Terry Nation / Director: Vere Lorrimer
After finding the alien ship- the Liberator- is armed with weapons and a teleport system, Blake, Avon and Jenna attempt to rescue the other prisoners from Cygnus Alpha, where they are being held by the religious sect descended from the original prisoners though only manage to bring two- Vila and Gan- back

Anyone who has watched a lot of sci-fi/ fantasy telly will know what to expect from this episode which does a fair job of bringing together most of the Seven. Turns out that the Federation’s penal planet is also the home of melodramatic actors each trying to out proclaim each other. In quick succession we meet Pamela Salem (witchy predictions), Robert Russell (menacing demeanour) and – by heavens- Brian Blessed. Each of them does their thing with Blessed taking the prize for completely unnecessary yelling.

 


"Anyone fancy a ticket for the Health Lottery?"

Dumped on the planet without even the luxury of sandwiches, the prisoners- most of whom have aged by years and totally changed during the 8 month journey- fall under the spell of the quasi religious inhabitants. Blessed and co are supposed to be the descendents of the first prisoners left here though with no sign of children and Pamela the only woman, perhaps they won’t last much longer anyway.

While the scenes inside the Cygnus Alpha temples are stagy, outside is a different matter with a lot of effort taken to create an alien looking world thanks to night filming and sound effects. The action sequences outside are also good .There’s also another excellent special effect with a large alien Moon sitting in the distance which probably couldn’t be done better today.
The best bits involve Blake, Avon and Jenna on the Liberator clearly not trusting each other. Jenna, whose character started out as a promising counterpoint to Blake is already softening but there’s still an edge to her enjoyable scenes with Paul Darrow. We also meet Zen for the first time and he is snippy in the extreme.

Points
The events of `Space Fall` took place half way through the voyage meaning this episode is set four months later. Yet when we cut back to Blake, Avon and Jenna no time has passed at all. Perhaps they spent the months pressing buttons?

On the Liberator the trio work out that they can only have one gun each and when they attempt to touch a second, it burns their hands. Yet moments later Blake hands Jenna a second gun and nothing happens.

Mr Artix deserves his promotion; as well as being the navigator, he also has to send comms, fly the ship, and he’s despatched to drop the prisoners off on the planet even though there are lots of guards. And you just know he’ll have to listen to the captain moaning for 8 months on the journey back.

Once again new viewers in 1978 would be tricked into thinking a couple of the prisoners were going to be part of the regular cast but they don’t make it through to the end.


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