05/10/2012

Blakewatch - 52 weeks of Blake's 7 - 40: Rescue

Season Four Episode 1- Rescue
(1981) Writer: Chris Boucher / Director: Mary Ridge
Avon, Vila, Dayna and Tarrant are able to escape from Terminal courtesy of a supposed scrap merchant Dorian and his stolen ship the Scorpio. However Dorian turns out to be much more than he claims.
This is a hit and miss episode with honours even by the end. On the plus side, Chris Boucher works in a story that riffs on A Picture of Dorian Gray replacing that tale’s painting with a monster that lurks deep below the surface feeding on unsuspecting victims brought to the planet and somehow keeping Dorian the same age. Yes, it sounds good in writing but you suspect Boucher would be slightly disappointed by the realisation. For the monster is no less than a Sea Devil from Doctor Who (nine years later) and is reached by the same BBC spiral staircase that the latter and several other programmes of the day used. As for Dorian’s behaviour when the rejuvenation is occurring; this consists of the actor writhing around in dry ice. Turn the sound down (and please do) and it could be Top of the Pops!

During the early 1980s, budgets were cut at the BBC and actors forced to eat lunch outside

There is an ambitious scope to the story which the production often struggles to meet. When it works, as in the impressive explosions on Terminal, the exterior of the Scorpio and its base, it impresses. Yet each moment like this is undercut by other aspects. The Scorpio’s interior is a disappointment after the imagination that went into the Liberator. It looks like a generic spaceship built of corrugated iron though one imagines it’s just wood painted silver. If the design is clunky, the set is even more so. New computer Slave wobbles when it’s two discs move and the whole place has the air of a set built for one episode rather than a whole season. It is also very brightly lit which only accentuates its cut price air. I suppose though that viewers in 1981 would not notice these things so much having waited a long time between seasons.
The plot itself is probably the one with the widest gap between its good and bad aspects the series has yet produced. As mentioned, Boucher’s good ideas around Dorian are undermined by the visuals. It also difficult to comprehend what Geoffrey Burridge is going for in his erratic portrayal of Dorian. There are occasions when he is intriguingly enigmatic, other times when he is chewing the scenery hilariously. Which, lets face it, wouldn’t be difficult with this scenery!
Boucher’s worst mis-step though is in the arbitrary way Cally is written out. Given that Jan Chappell was either unavailable or unwilling to return, an off screen fate is inevitable but the way it is done borders on the farcical. Furthermore, nobody really seems that bothered about it. Normally, if Avon declared “she’s’ dead” someone would speak up for her considering all the time they spent together. As it is, there is a collective shrug and they carry on. Perhaps she made as little an impression on them as she did on us. Perhaps it reflects how hardened they are by now.
Compared to new regular Soolin however, Cally seems like a riotous bundle of fun. Alternatively bland or surly, and with no discernable back story, Soolin seems superfluous to the story. She is introduced as Dorian’s partner but he soon tries to feed her to the Sea Devil and she does not seem either bothered or frightened or anything. Short of looking glamorous, Glynis Barber makes the least auspicious debut of any of the regulars; hopefully she will get better with time.
Despite these shortcomings, the episode still works thanks to the main four who remain watchable as ever. Avon is particularly snarky this week and it’s interesting to see an initially more cowed Tarrant willing to take orders. Vila adds comic relief while Dayna seems to have a good rapport with each of the other three. Where Soolin will fit in it’s difficult to see. New computer Slave is an interesting addition in concept with a voice courtesy of Peter Tuddenham sounding like a subservient butler. He at least should be some fun- if they can stop him wobbling.
 

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