52 Weeks in The Year- 52 Episodes of Blake’s 7. Can we watch them all?
This week: Season One Episode 10- Breakdown
(1978) Writer: Terry Nation / Director: Vere Lorrimer
When Gan’s limiter malfunction causes him to become a serious threat to the others, the only way to save him is XK72 facility. Despite Zen’s warnings they set off through a perilous uncharted area of space yet even when they arrive, there are new dangers from the supposedly neutral neurosurgeon they trust.
You know what it’s like. You’ve been trundling around the Universe for months with only the same group of people for company spending your time pretending to pilot the ship while everyone else breaks into high security facilities. You’re bound to go a little stir crazy. Hence this episode opens with Gan hurling people around and generally off his nut! Actually it’s because his limiter, that pesky device designed to curtail his rage, is malfunctioning meaning he is rampaging about causing the sets to wobble. From this somewhat unpromising start `Breakdown` proves to be much better than you expect teasing out some of the crew’s inner thoughts and confirming what we already suspected regarding Avon.
|"Vila, can you check if we need Julian Glover's autograph." "Mmm, I want his watch"|
Proceedings may be largely confined to the Liberator but that doesn’t stop director Vere Lorrimer using some technique to keep matters fresh. Particularly interesting is the way he chooses to shoot Gan’s initial freak out using close range cameras giving it almost a home movie quality. You can imagine the crew looking back at this later and laughing.
Gan has so far been used somewhat erratically. One minute he’s the muscle there to pull off doors, the next he’s reeling off complicated technical stuff. This would be fine except for the fact that these aspects of his personality are never mixed up so you wouldn’t imagine the same writers are scripting him from week to week. He may well be the centre of proceedings here but spends much of his time sedated when he’s not growling at people so we learn no more about him. The person the scenario does however serve is Avon.
From the start he’s been a false smile and a wry comment away from abandoning his crew mates with the suggestion he won’t be staying any longer than he feels it is to his advantage. This week he appears to act on this, offering his services to the neutral science and medical facility XK72 in return for the Liberator. He also demands the crew are unharmed though this seems like an afterthought. Avon would make a good poker player and both the script and Paul Darrow’s silky smooth but sly performance leave us guessing. Is he really going to sell Blake out? Or is it all a bluff to discover these supposedly neutral inhabitants’ intent? It’s a good episode for Gareth Thomas and Sally Knyvette too, both taking command in different situations while sharing an easy rapport around each other that helps sell the situation.
|Gan ate all the rissoles.|
Slightly less successful, despite the actor’s strong performance, is Julian Glover’s neurosurgeon Kayn who is given too short a time for such a potentially interesting character. Like Avon, Kayn’s motivations are shady and he shares the hubris of a top professional mixed with some personality issues. Julian Glover does his best to bring all this over in a mere fifteen minutes but his final scene -where he is horrified his healing hands have been used to kill someone – seems to come from an earlier and possibly more erudite draft. Had we met him earlier and spent less time with Gan groaning or Avon testing equipment the episode could be a classic.
The script though is real nuts and bolts so you have scenes of wires being re-routed, things lighting up and just to add hazard to the situation, Zen switches himself off when his instructions are ignored. How much of this is Terry Nation and how much Chris Boucher is the question you could ask of every episode but it seems plausible that much of the crew interaction is Boucher’s whereas it would probably be Nation who sets up the obstacles for them to leap over.
Clearly being an episode designed to save some money `Breakdown` actually benefits from being confined, adding a tension only previously seen in `Duel. There are some cool red whirlpool effects and Lorrimar, while not quite matching the standard set by Douglas Camfield, does introduce a rickety jeopardy to the perilous voyage.
`Breakdown` is a strong episode with enough character material, tension and action to maintain a good run of stories.
Gan’s initial rampage includes a moment where he throws Jenna onto the floor on her back. At the very least such a fall would render her badly hurt for several days yet moments later she is walking about seemingly OK.
If Gan’s limiter malfunction turns him into an uncontrollable animal as is depicted early on how is he later able to pretend to be asleep to trick Cally?
Avon in particular - and the crew in general - seem to have varying medical knowledge. One minute Avon says he doesn’t know much about the limiter or the brain – “it’s not my field” he claims- the next he is offering fairly detailed analysis of both. Later on everyone chips in despite apparently knowing nothing about it. Perhaps they spent the intervening travelling time reading up on it?
Avon’s intentions might have been noticed by Vila if he was more alert as the former only takes the one teleport ring when travelling over to XK72 to fetch the surgeon’s assistant.
When Kayn produces his communication device it looks exactly like a Blackberry!
Julian Glover is of course a screen legend who these days can be found in Game of Thrones and has been in loads of important films and television in a career stretching back to 1960.
Christian Roberts who plays Dr Renor was apparently on the short list of people to play Blake. Nowadays he runs a restaurant in Barbados.