29/04/2012

Blakewatch week 17 - Horizon

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 4- Horizon
(1979) Writer: Allan Prior / Director: Jonathan Wright - Miller
On the edge of the known galaxies the Liberator follows a Federation cargo ship to the planet Horizon where a rare mineral is mined. As the crew are captured, Blake tries to convince the planet’s ruler of the federations’ true intent while Avon has to decide whether to rescue the others or make his own escape.

There’s something reassuring about an episode that begins with the crew complaining about how worn out they are, acknowledging something of the repetitive nature of their mission and how they are constantly on the run. It’s a tiny glimpse of the sort of thing that would be more apparent if the series were ever to be re-launched these days. You think it’s just going to be a throwaway, a different way of opening- and the series is particularly good at episode openings- but it is a sign that a new writer for the series is on board.


Weighed down by their futuristic clothes, Blake and Jenna needed a nap
Allan Prior’s economical script manages to portray a mini revolution inside fifty minutes with some eloquence adding a touch of class to what could otherwise be a run of the mill episode.  He manages to turn familiar situations into engaging ones with dialogue that just about convinces us as to the character’s motivations.

In Ro we have a conflicted ruler struggling to exercise real power but cuckolded by a colonial Kommisar. Quite early on Ro states how he dislikes the word `colony` but as the episode progresses it is clear his mentor and “brother” is no less than his master.  Via a rather nifty continuity link to the first season’s early episodes Blake starts to convince Ro of the truth but you can tell both from Prior’s dialogue and Darien Angadi’s excellent, nuanced performance this is not really news to him. As the Komissar William Squire is reassurance and menace rolled into one but Prior ensures he is not simply the latest gun touting Federation goon but a person of substance. This game goes on for longer than we expect and Ro is a coiled spring waiting to snap.

The episode’s other equally absorbing plot parallels these themes of where power lies and what to do with it. Since we first met him Avon has been at best a dubious ally, at worst a potential threat and the others’ occasional quips about him scuttling off suggest they all know it. Faced with a situation where he could feasibly do just that, surviving on his own with Orac indefinitely, he is at a crossroads. Over the years Paul Darrow’s portrayal has acquired something of a reputation for being too over the top but it is at times like this when you can see why he was cast. He is able to make a scene where he is talking to a box of lights fascinating. Given a script that demands more of them, all the regulars rise to the occasion, especially Gareth Thomas. It’s Darrow though who shines the brightest when to our surprise he eschews running away and embarks on the sort of gung ho guns blazing mission that is normally the province of Bruce Willis! Would he, you wonder, be too lonely on his own without the others to bait?

Avon’s astonishing solo attack gives the last ten minutes a tremendous energy and when Ro finally decides where his loyalties lies- and shows up wearing not the Federation clothes we’ve so far seen him in but the native dress of his people it’s a stand up and cheer moment.  Many series would be hard pressed to move characters so far so convincingly in such a short time.

Visually the episode is able to match its content with a well realised jungle planet and model shots. It is the quality of the script and the acting that ultimately makes the biggest impression though with a sense that the series is starting to reach its potential.


Notes
Blake tells Ro about meeting his friend on the prison ship to Cygnus Alpha, not an incident we saw in the first season episode but perfectly feasible given Blake spent months on the ship.

Allan Prior was a seasoned television writer of some repute whose scripts found their ways into series as such as Howard’s Way, The Charmer, Spy, The Onedin Line, The Sweeney, Warship, Barlow, Z Cars, Armchair Theatre and Coronation Street. He also wrote novels and radio scripts. His daughter Maddy was a singer who fronted the folk rock band Steeleye Span.

Horizon, the Blakes’ 7 Appreciation Society founded in 1980 is named after this episode.

The outdoor filming was done in Clearwell in Gloucestershire.

Darien Angadi who plays Ro appears on several albums in the 1960s as a boy soprano. He first appeared on television when he was a contestant in the quiz Top of the Form. Sadly he committed suicide in 1984 at the age of only 34.




 

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