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(1979) Writer: Terry Nation / Director: Vere Lorrimer
The Liberator is attacked by unknown aggressors and begins to turn against the crew, forcing them across the Galaxy where they discover who built the ship in the first place.
Coming on like `Blake’7- the Movie`, this season two opener has a determination from the off. Matters are pacy with everyone seeming refreshed, a boldness that is reflected in the generally improved special effects which are shown off. The chase around the planet is good for its time and some of the model shots are moodily executed capturing something of the scale of the Liberator. Overall it’s a `great to be back` attitude that carries the episode, added to by the sense that everything with which these characters have become familiar is turning against them.
The guards had to resort to desperate measures to stop Blake's singing
It’s a pity then that the storytelling can’t match it. For all the running about and chases through space, the viewer is constantly one step ahead of even Avon all the way. To note a few examples- the `unknown` ships pursing the Liberator share so many design features that they are obviously built by the same people.Then there’s the guys carrying what looks like a lamp post who just happen to be helped by Blake when he is being escorted to interrogation. This alone is enough for one of them to assist the crew later but you’re just waiting for him to be shot in the back by guards. And, of course, he is.
Then there’s the star configuration in Orac’s prediction which we see sitting outside the window of Avon and Jenna’s cell long before they realise where they are. From here too it is an easy enough summation that the Liberator they thought they saw blow up was actually another identical ship. Sure enough, it is! As for the fact that Orac saves them at the end, well we know that will happen from the scene where Orac agrees to start working on the issue. Did they think we’d forget about that bit?
"Finally, my mashed potato dome is complete"
In a way it’s difficult to see where else this story could go but for all the energy expended and an impressively large power station to film in the narrative is so predictable that it sucks much of the drama away. Robot races are not especially interesting anyway so we are also left with `logical` antagonists who still make elementary mistakes. Considering what an impressive craft the Liberator is it is somewhat disappointing to learn of its origins, surely Terry Nation could have come up with something more imaginative than this?
The cast do their best despite the plot and their most ridiculous outfits to date which include enormous ruffled leather sleeves for Blake (he could just disguise himself as a sofa to evade the attack!) and a superfluous cloak for Gan. The System robots are not much more sensible having to contend with plastic bibs.
There are some good scenes, the standouts being increasing niggling between Blake and Avon and a well set up scene where Blake is trapped by a snapping live cable. The earlier part of the episode is far more effective, with the idea of the Liberator seeing the crew as an infection it has to eradicate. Perhaps a better resolve for the story would have been never to see the enemy and for the crew to come up with an ingenious resolution together.Instead, the potential is lost amid predictable clichés that a series should yet be resorting to after only 14 episodes.
Orac’s prediction is the crux of the episode but it isn’t properly explained how he is able to conjure up a visual of it. Also, we are shown how powerful The System is so it seems unlikely that it would be unaware of Orac’s intrusions.
We encounter a handful of slaves on the System’s station but what are they for? Surely with all those robots and computer systems the whole place would be automatic and wouldn’t need human slaves to carry things about? And what are they carrying anyway?
How exactly does the slave escape? Given how well guarded the place is, he must possess some hidden super power to be able to escape on his own.
Where do Blake and the others obtain their outrageous clothes? Are they made on the Liberator or do they go shopping in between adventures? More to the point, which BBC costume designer actually thought these look sensible even by 1970s standards?