Blakewatch: 52 weeks of Blake's 7. Week 44: Animals

Season Four Episode 5- Animals
(1981) Writer: Alan Prior / Director: Mary Ridge
Trapped while visiting a former teacher Dayna discovers the true nature of his genetics work and is unsure whether or not to help him.
Dayna has always seemed one of the more credible regular characters with the writers generally serving her well but it is Josette Simon that has really brought her to life. With most of the key scenes in her hands this week, she manages to make what would otherwise be a middling episode into something much more interesting. Its 18 minutes before we even see any of the others apart from Tarrant and it makes you wonder whether Dayna might have been a better choice as series lead. Enjoyable though Paul Darrow is, he does not seem very human much of the time whereas it is the element of vulnerability that Josette Simon gives Dayna that makes her a more three dimensional character.

"`Blake's 7` is on BBC1"  "Oh no, I hate that show."

`Animals` is a bit more thoughtful than this season has so far been. That’s not to say the arguments are particularly sophisticated but at least they are present unlike last week’s intellect free zone. The relationship between Dayna and her former mentor Justin is well written and played. Peter Byrne at first seems a little too bug eyed and stagey but once Justin’s story unfolds you realise he is going crazy on his own experimenting on the planet’s native animals. Allan Prior has not previously proved himself to be the show’s most adept scripter but in the scenes between them he captures a sort of reality, despite the circumstances. For example, both state their positions- she objects to the nature of his work where he has accelerated the evolution of the creatures, while he objects to her involvement in war. Yet both these positions are eroded or evolve due to the dialogue between them.
What on paper might look  slightly clumsy comes alive in the hands of both actors. Simon in particular conveys both the determination Dayna now has being overwhelmed by her feelings for Justin. He seems re-energised by her presence yet dismissive of her cause; he wants her to stay and help him and against her better judgement she ends up doing just that.
There are lots of nuances between them not least because you feel their original relationship bordered on the illicit. It’s not stated how old Dayna is supposed to be or how long since they saw each other but given Justin seems quite a bit older, you wonder what exactly went on in that bunker! Is Dayna really in love or re-living a teenage infatuation? The moral issues that divide them are complicated by this and for once the theme plays through to the end of the episode which is, for all the odd staging (wouldn’t the Scorpio crew be burned to a crisp standing directly under a ship’s engines?) quite moving. It is refreshing for a guest to make such an impact that we feel their loss at the end.
Servalan’s – or should I say Sleer’s – arrival adds another layer that plays into the ending. In her `new` role, Jacqueline Pearce  seems to be playing down the extreme camp that dominated her performance in season 3 and making Sleer sharper and direct. There is less (fake) charm and more bite and it works really well particularly during the interrogation scene with Dayna.
The episode opens as a two hander with Dayna and Tarrant showing the benefits of pairing up rather than constantly trying to accommodate everyone. Once we get to the others, there is some familiar humour to lighten the debates on the surface with Vila being forced to clamber twice into a dingy enclosure accompanied by some wry exchanges with Avon. You do feel though that as a character Vila is treading water, running through the same routine each week. Paul Darrow is in typical gung ho form personified by his arrival at Justin’s lab where he kicks open the door then kicks a chair for no reason at all! You like to think this is how he arrives at relative’s house to this day!
 The planet’s `animals` themselves take some getting used to. Potentially they could be the latest in an increasingly long line of poorly realised monsters, an aspect the series struggles with. I think it’s the large horns that do it- when we first catch a glimpse of one of them it is funny rather than menacing. For some reason I was expecting it to say “Oh hello, can I help you??”! Yet as the story develops and we learn of their place in it, they become more sympathetic. There is still always an issue when you have people walking around on two legs pretending to be animals but in the context of this story it works. When the camera looks into their eyes it adds a little of their story to an episode that may superficially appear poor but rewards attention with its fluid arguments and strong characters.

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