Blakewatch: 52 Weeks of Blake's 7. Week 50: Orbit

Season Four Episode 11- Orbit
(1981) Writer: Robert Holmes / Director: Brian Lighthill  
The Scorpio crew respond to a message from renegade scientist Egrorian, who disappeared a decade earlier but can they trust him when he asks for Orac in exchange for the super powerful Tachyon Funnel?
Robert Holmes usually manages to fuse characters and situations more successfully than many tv sc-fi writers who often favour one above the other. `Orbit` is another delicious slice of his dialogue led drama that will not be to everyone’s taste in 2012 but which, if you look at it as you would a play, works very well. Admittedly, the plot is another variation on several others this season but that should not detract from the enjoyable delivery, a memorable guest performance from John Savident plus a final ten minutes that take the show around a surprisingly sharp corner.

Avon realises if he throws Vila into space he'll never unlock the drinks cabinet

The place where Egrorian and Pinder have lived is filled with detritus and there are some fun visual moments early on involving stuff that has been left lying around The claustrophobic nature of each of the three sets in which the episode takes place helps the episode further though you might raise an eyebrow that a weapon as powerful as the Tachyon Funnel can be rolled about on a single frame of metal shelving. Holmes seems to draw parallels between the two duos here. Egrorian and Pinder have the look of mad scientists; the latter is only 28 but looks fifty years older thanks to an encounter with some radiation. He is treated like a slave by Egrorian who is not averse to giving out ph   punishment as well as shouting at him. It is interesting that when Avon and Vila turn up to negotiate the deal their behaviour is similar albeit in a more intellectual way.

You feel that Avon would never treat Vila quite as badly- that is until the final sequence. Trapped in a shuttle that needs to lose excess weight to make it back to the Scorpio, they ditch everything they can until the amount they need to abandon to escape is exactly Vila’s body weight. The following scene sees Avon seemingly hunting Vila with the intent of throwing him off the ship to survive.  Would he do it? The script is implicit that he would where
it not for the fact he finds something else which cleverly introduced by Holmes at the point where you cannot imagine a well written way out of this. Thank goodness they are not just suddenly beamed up.

Holmes writes Vila as more intelligent than some of the series’ writers and it is notable that the exchanges between the regulars have a more natural quality than usual.  During this season, we have seen Avon become more convinced of himself as he drags the crew into ever riskier ventures. Just as last week’s end of episode laughing suggested, `Orbit` implies Avon is going mad –or at least is recklessly disinterested - and would sacrifice anything for his goals even though those goals are sometimes woolly. For example he has had opportunities to despatch Servalan but not taken them. Perhaps if the series had lasted another season, he would have been challenged by the others as his success rate is not that good on these missions.

Avon’s assumption of his own superiority makes him a match for Egrorian- watching the two of them spar verbally is a pleasure. There is a neat touch too when Avon rigs the fake Orac to answer the only question he is certain the vain scientist is bound to ask. For once the inevitable arrival of Servalan adds rather than subtracts. It’s a shame we don’t get a scene with her, Egrorian and Avon in the one room but Jacqueline Pearce, John Savident and Paul Darrow all shine during the episode; Servalan’s exasperation with Egrorian is particularly amusing. It is the final sequence that lingers longest though. After all the verbal duelling we’ve seen, this is a tense cat and mouse game and the sight of a terrified Vila hiding in the shuttle infrastructure frames the season’s most daring moment.

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