Blakewatch - 52 Weeks of Blake's 7. Week 51: Warlord

Season Four Episode 12- Warlord
(1981) Writer: Simon Masters / Director: Viktors Ritelis  
Avon has negotiated a truce between the rulers of the unaligned worlds in order to fight the federation’s suppression drugs but will the fragile alliance hold when personal issues between Tarrant and the daughter of one of the rulers become involved?
Simon Masters writes `Warlord` like it’s a feature film full of bold speeches and big gestures and even if the budget appears wafer thin at times, this does give the episode something of an epic feel. Avon appears to have come up with a less reckless idea than usual (though you wonder why none of the others never think of anything) and the opening scenes of him addressing the assembled rulers are accompanied by a bizarre video. We see people in what looks like (and probably is) a 1970s shopping precinct with numbers on their foreheads wandering around in a daze. Every so often Federation guards shoot them. It is most odd.

There would be trouble ahead when their hair became tangled

The episode never quite reaches those surreal heights again but does contain one later excellent special effect when an air born virus in the Xenon base despatches its victims as if they have been hit by lightning. This really does convey the dangers and the subsequent collapse of half the base leads to some scenes that for once push the show’s default clever dialogue to one side in favour of a realistically conveyed scramble for survival. The arguments between Tarrant and Vila as they try to dig themselves out of trouble are particularly well played and written.

The broader sweep of the episode suggests the Federation are using increasingly desperate methods to maintain control though exactly how Servalan- still known as Sleer to most- commands continuously available resources that take her here, there and everywhere remains more of a mystery. It might have been more convincing if we saw her boss, but as it is she seems to be free to act without recourse to anyone.

The unaligned world’s rulers are your standard 1970s TV sci-fi bunch, all cut from similar cloth whatever the diversity of appearance or garishness of costume. They speak like the one note characters they are and appear to travel mostly unaccompanied. That Avon in his usual bullish manner can talk them round decades of antagonism with a single weird video that looks like something from You Tube- seems unlikely.  Nonetheless it does play into a strong episode that improves once the political bickering is replaced by the personal relationship between Tarrant and Zukan’s daughter Zeeona. You have to remember that this was still the era when the BBC’s other flagship fantasy show Doctor Who generally avoided any references to love so it is refreshing that it becomes a pivotal aspect of the plot though Bobbie Brown, struggling under a colourful haircut, is never as convincingly smitten as Steven Pacey’s Tarrant. More might have also have been made of the differences with her father, who is played by Roy Boyd with enthusiasm.

Of course it almost goes without saying that Servalan is behind matters once again. Cue Jacqueline Pearce’s appearance in a leotard though she looks tired, perhaps realising she is essentially repeating scenes she has already played many times. You do wonder exactly where she has that bomb hidden though!

This is the penultimate episode but in those days story arcs did not exist as such. Nonetheless there has been a gradual evolution as the Scorpio crew’s adventures have become more daring, unsuccessfully completed and their escapes increasingly narrow. `Warlord` leaves us in a suitable mood for the final episode….

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