I do worry that this blog sneers at Blake's 7 rather more than I'd like. It's so easy to laugh, so easy to hate something that tries to create its own style, albeit one modeled on the films of Flash Gordon and the strips of Dan Dare. Whatever the budget allocated to this show, it wouldn't look like it was made by Stanley Kubrick. I try not to write these reviews in wilful ignorance of that.
And this story, it should be noted, does its utmost to create something evocative and dynamic, the results being fairly unpredictable (until, I would say, the final conclusion). It deals in tragedy on a planetary scale, powers of a celestial nature. We get a lot of crazy video effects representing the slowing of time, telepathic communion, and a sort of sci-fi freakout induced by
DOCTOR WHO GUEST STAR:
to make Blake vulnerable, or perhaps more angry and liable to attack.
And blessings be upon my black PVC trousers, but Travis is back, and never was a King Rat more boo and hissable. Travis is commanding one of three pursuit ships, but he's more than happy for Blake to destroy the other two if it makes him vulnerable to Travis. Not only that, but he surrounds himself with space vampires with plastic hair (an intended call-back to Madeline Issigiri of The Space Pirates?).
The Mutoids are Terry Nation's more sultry version of the Cybermen. Human beings who have sacrificed their identities to be physically adapted to perfection, and now must prey on their fellow beings. There is an exchange between Travis and his Mutoid companion, when he taunts her with her previous identity ("You were Kia-Ora") and she doesn't raise to his bait, better than pretty much any Cyberman scene Blake's rival show has managed.
I wasn't too surprised to find that this story was directed by Doctor Who's A-Grade Director, military enthusiast, curly-haired sex symbol and pre-Hartnell incarnation, Douglas Camfield. From the opening scene, with two blue women bickering gnomically on a blasted heath made of jabolite, a minimal bit of sci-fi scene painting is made alive and intriguing. The story is strange and ultimately oblique (by which I mean, no real explanations by the end) but it's also got momentum. We may not understand exactly what has just happened, but we want to know what'll happen next – particularly when it might mean Blake being impaled by Travis or Jenna being eaten by a Vampire.
And credit where it's due, as well as Camfield, this is due to Nation's skill. This is a story written precisely for the 45-minute format, a story that works with and not against its meagre budget. There are good lines for Blake, Travis and (of course) Avon: "Blake is up a tree, Avon is up another tree – unless they plan on throwing nuts at one another, I don't think we'll see much of a battle before morning." This is also the moment where Avon even admits, in the terms of a computer programmer who is subtly altering code under the nose of his employer, or indeed a politician, that he cares for Blake and/or Jenna.
But even with all this said, I find this story sadly lacking, precisely because Avon's comments are so satisfying and yet so minimal compared to the slow-motion fighting and stick sharpening. Nation takes an interesting step in having the crew watching and commentating on the action below: he could have had them all frozen in time. There's a really promising moment when Jenna tells Blake the Federation will catch them in the end, and Vila and Gan have a little argument about it.
But that's it. We cut back to Jenna and Blake and they're laughing together like a couple in an advert for life insurance. I've said it before, but this show has far too many characters competing for a bit of the action. More than that, they are an interesting show in themselves but keep being diverted to take part in dumb 'stories of the week'.
Let's kill a few of them off, eh, Terry?