Blakewatch: 52 Weeks of Blake's 7. Week 48 - Sand

Season Four Episode 9- Sand
(1981) Writer: Tanith Lee / Director: Vivienne Cozens
When the Scorpio crew and the Federation converge on the planet Vern, Servalan and Tarrant find themselves trapped together. But what is the planet’s mysterious secret?
Tanith Lee’s previous B7 script `Sarcophagus`possessed a mystical angle that she utilises here and which subtle music and sound effects underscore. You sense the writer is striving for more than she ultimately delivers and the fact that we guess what is going on long before the characters robs the story of its more enigmatic side. Nonetheless it is a fulfilling episode that revels in more mature conversation and a dash of mystery.

"Give me your wig or else..."

You have to look beyond the production trappings to find the heart of the story though. Some dodgy CSO effects do not do justice to the richness of Vern’s supposed topography and the in studio lighting barely conveys the qualities the planet’s sand should be conveying. However doing her best with the resources he/ does have- the laser effects standing in for the atmosphere work quite well-, director Vivienne Cozens makes the most of things. At least when the Scorpio is struck by turbulence it really looks like it for a change. He also makes good use of his acting company.

Jacqueline Pearce has long settled into character as the assured and efficient antagonist so benefits from Lee writing her as a more human character. At various times she is confident, confused, vulnerable and regretful. Tarrant meanwhile remains his implacable self, adding only the sort of devilish sarcasm that is usually the province of Avon. You feel Paul Darrow should be here in Steven Pacey’s place- having Tarrant face up to Servalan is like sending
a boy to do a man’s job though that alternative would perhaps have been just too much emphasis on every other word in one place! Besides the dynamic between the two does show some promise even if it is difficult to accept that Tarrant would be as forgiving of Servalan’s past misdemeanours as Avon might.

It would be easy to overlook the others back on the ship; tasked with padding out the episode by speculating on what is going on and reaching sudden conclusions- “of course!” etc- they cope well. Vila’s self depracation reaches now heights (or depths?) and you start to wonder how interesting it would be if he was stuck in the corrugated base with the supreme commander.

The ending is well delivered with just the right balance and a suitably nature based resolution to the problem of the sand. There are strands that could be picked up- and if this were a modern series would be – but on past form they won’t be touched again. Despite this and some visual wobbles, `Sand` is from the more mature strand of Blake’s 7 stories that have weathered well and it does contain some of the series’ smartest lines especially between Avon and Vila. If bringing down the Federation doesn’t work the duo could always go into comedy.


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