20/04/2012

Blakewatch week 16 - Weapon

The story so far: There are 52 episodes of Blake’s 7 and 52 weeks in the year so a group of us are watching an episode a week, talking about in the pub and this is the result.

This week: Season Two Episode 3- Weapon
(1979) Writer: Chris Boucher / Director: George Spenton- Foster
Servalan has had a clone of Blake created with which she sees an opportunity to re-gain a stolen weapon and wipe the real Blake out at the same time.

As with last week’s episode Chris Boucher packs a lot in but there is more character focus. To the modern ear, the dialogue is the sort of loquacious turn of phrase only someone like Stephen Fry would imagine passes for every day conversation. Every line contains a barb or witty put down and it can be wearing at times yet it also shows what a lot of modern TV misses. Boucher’s script delights in language which is something that can only be approved of whatever the inverted snobbery of some critics.


"I feel like an idiot"  "Luckily I can only see half the costume"
The opening is bizarre as you like- Scene one- a spaceship explodes, we then see Coser Rashel the former sporting a rather silly looking garment (he obviously shops at the same place as Blake does) struggling around a deserted planet. Then it cuts to Travis apparently shooting Blake in a sparse studio set. Before you know it, a woman dressed like a cross between Shirley Bassey and Lady Gaga descends the stairs in a pall of smoke as if she is about to burst into song. She is Clonemaster Fenn and it turns out she has created two clones of Blake only silly old Travis has gone and shot one of them. Actually he’s new Travis, now played by cockney Brian Croucher. Even though we’re told the space commander has been through some therapy he does not seem to be quite the same person, Boucher presumably calibrating him to become a less refined, more ill tempered aide to Servalan. Their dialogue of mistrust is a delight to listen to – Jacqueline Pearce has refined her performance to the ice cool, purring menace of legend.

The main trio of guest characters are all interesting. Psycho strategist Carnell played smoothly by Scott Fredericks sees everything as a chess match and manages to outsmart Servalan’s plans to despatch him. He’s really a character who deserves an episode to himself. Coser and former slave Rashel make an interesting couple with Boucher leaving some of the details of their unlikely liaison vague but John Bennett’s cranky portrayal contrasts with Candace Glendening’s pragmatic acceptance of their situation.  Rather like a married couple on a dreadful holiday the duo balance the more serious banter elsewhere and it’s a shame when Coser is killed suddenly.

Apart from the rather ill fitting interruption of a giant claw, which seems to have wandered in from another episode, `Weapon` is as much about strategy as anything, a theme also reflected in the urbane dialogue between the Liberator crew debating what to do. Avon’s put downs of Vila are priceless and his summation of the situation spot on such as his suggestion they chase after the weapon “unless you want your last words to be `so that’s what IMIPAK does`” Orac remains a capricious computer, his refusal to do exactly as instructed a highlight.

Blake, Gan and Avon spot Servalan's latest outfit
For the most part Chris Boucher brings the strands together well- Servalan’s plan is to use the clone Blake to seize the weapon Coser has stolen which is called the IMIPAK in which you shoot someone and then decide to `liven` the beam later and kill them at your leisure. If there’s a bit of confusion at the end over exactly what range the IMIPAK has and how the clone Blake suddenly gains freedom of expression, the episode ends as casually as it has progressed exemplified by Carnell’s parting words to Servlan.

What impresses about `Weapon` is its refusal to pander to the expected action beats of the series, as if Boucher is pushing forward what the show can do. It’s not quite as enjoyable as last week’s and some of the mannered dialogue is a matter of taste but if you pay attention you’ll be won over.

Notes
The clones of Blake are wearing the exact same clothes as the real Blake is that day! What are the chances of that happening, especially as our leader is as fearless in his wardrobe choices as he is with his Federation targets.

When Blake, Avon and Gan arrive on the planet, you can see white road markings and contemporary signs which take away any vague sense that we are another planet.

Do IMIPAK’s marks of death ever run out? With the clone Blake and Rashel left with the weapon, they could presumably kill Servalan and Travis any time?

In a rare example of characters crossing over from one series’ Universe to another, Carnell was used by Chris Boucher in a Doctor Who book `Corpse Marker` and in some subsequent audios played by Scott Fredericks again. 

Brian Croucher is still working today and his career included a two year stint as a regular in Eastenders from 1995-97.

John Bennett’s varied cv included two Doctor Who roles- as General Finch in 1974’s `Invasion of the Dinosaurs` and, controversially the Chinese magician  Li Hi’sen Chang in the classic 1976 story `Talons of Weng Chiang`.  


 

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