Blake's 7

Blake’s 7 – Orac: “Let Me Do It My Way”

Blake, Vila and Avon - Orca, Blakes' 7

Blake keeps a Captain’s Log. That’s an unusual revelation – if handy for reasons for exposition – as we begin Orac. We join our crew in the midst of radiation sickness and with a new mission: a hunt for the galaxy’s most irritable computer.

Ensor is the first, but not the last, of a group of enigmatic genii that first Blake, then Avon will attempt to recruit. It’s a loose arc that runs across all four series of Blake’s 7 in a narrative that suggests that Blake, his crew and ship are not up to the might of the Federation – even with the coming addition of Orac.

Blake and Jenna - Orca, Blakes' 7

Meanwhile a secondary imperative – the massive doses of radiation received by Avon, Jenna, Gan and Vila – means Cally falls into the rethought role of healer. Cally’s role as a guerrilla terrorist is rarely acknowledged beyond the first series – later in the episode she will scream when attacked by a cave creature. Her telepathic powers means she is recast as an empath and moral centre.

Vila’s radiation sickness is mined for humour in the thief’s cowardice. But Vila is playing to an audience. “All of me?” he asks Cally, who imparts the news. When Avon says their sickness will eventually kill them, Vila demurs and leaves the room, nauseous. Avon is amused; Vila has fulfilled his role. Gan is by now reduced to glances, moans and grunts. Surely by now Boucher and nation have decided Gan’s fate.

Cally and Jenna - Orca, Blakes' 7

Blake seems remarkably unmoved by the potential deaths of four of the crew and in committing the Liberator to its mercy-dash to Aristo, he is banking on Ensor having decontaminant drugs. Either Blake does not much care for the wellbeing of his crew, or he is certain that there will be drugs. But why? It’s another example of Blake’s blithe belief that everything will work out. They are righteous; they will prevail.

On the surface of Aristo, Servalan and Travis – seemingly locked into a relationship of co-dependency – are approaching Ensor’s residence surreptitiously. Servalan’s route to absolute power and Travis’ redemption, are locked up in the successful recovery of Orac. But their journey is not an easy one – Servalan is attacked by one of the creatures.

Servalan and Travis - Orca, Blakes' 7

So shaken by the attack, Servalan weeps in a rare show of vulnerability. Travis is unmoved and attempts to steel her to the task ahead: “The rewards and credit – remember?” he goads. Servalan quickly recovers her composure but it’s a minor victory for Travis. Each knows how to manipulate the other.

With Blake and Cally down and safe, the remaining Liberator crew’s sickness is bringing to the surface lingering tensions. Few of the crew like one another, but they like being alone even less – it is this emotional dynamic that binds them together.

Blae, Cally and Ensor - Orca, Blakes' 7

When Blake meets Ensor he indulges the old man’s eccentricities – but only to a point. Once he has the drugs he needs and Orac, Blake’s tone is much more direct. With the prospect of his enemies behind his retreating party, Blake stays behind to bring the roof down. He dismisses Cally’s suggestions with a curt “Let me do it my way”.

But without the initiative of Avon and Vila, he would not make it off the planet alive. Ensor is not so lucky – the delay in leaving Aristo means he dies in the tunnels with an escape hatch in sight. On the surface the pair are apprehended by Servalan and Travis. Again, Servalan prevents Travis from killing Blake – and Orac’s value is emphasised when she identifies the computer as the real prize, superior even to Blake.

Avon, Cally and Vila - Orca, Blakes' 7

Avon arrives in time to blow off Travis’ hand, though he claims to have been aiming for his head. Blake is not interested in killing the Federation pair; Avon would not hesitate. The others teleport back to the Liberator with decontaminants and Orac; Travis is left facing another defeat and seemingly no way back.

“You’re in a lot of trouble, Travis,” remarks Servalan, and in an echo of another moment in the series when it seems all is lost, Travis simply smiles to himself.

Blake and Jenna - Orca, Blakes' 7

The introduction of Orac could herald a change in tone for the series – as many ‘funny computers’ have. However Orac is very much a Blake’s 7 creation. Not merely irascible, Orac clearly disdains and even dislikes his new owners. And, as Blake realises, he is evasive. Orac predicts the future by extrapolating known fact. He knows The System is onto the Liberator – the means for his prediction – but he does not impart this knowledge.

Mischievous or malign? The question is never really answered. As ever in Blake’s 7, the true nature of our protagonists is forever coloured in shades of grey.

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Blake's 7

Blake’s 7 – Bounty: “This Game You’re Playing”

With the end in sight, Terry Nation runs into the buffers with Bounty – an episode about Blake rescuing and recruiting a political dissident to act as a spearhead for his revolution that clearly lacks sufficient plot to fill the scheduled slot. It’s just one of many patch-up jobs Chris Boucher performs on the series and it’s almost certainly down to the script editor that intriguing moments and character dynamics remain.

In Bounty we at least see the crew playing to their specialisations once more: Cally is a guerilla terrorist; Vila a lockpick; Avon a computer expert; Gan a strongman; Jenna a confident and capable pirate.

One wonders if this is the episode where David Jackson passed a fabled note to producer David Maloney bearing only a number in single figures – the number of lines for Gan in the script in question.

Gan, whose character arc has reduced him to a brainless oaf – albeit with occasional violent tendencies – is much more active here and more capable. He takes the initiative, albeit inadvisedly, in teleporting to the derelict and demonstrates two traits previously identified with the character.

The first is a simple directness. When Avon asks if the crew is to believe Gan would sacrifice himself should the need present itself, the big man replies levelly: “Yes, I expect you to believe that.” Due to the way Jackson plays it, his reply is both answer and challenge. Avon accepts without demur.

When the crew challenge Jenna, apparently allied with bounty hunter Tarvin, Gan plays his part in sarcastically greeting her. He demonstrates visible anger and announces his desire to beat up Tarvin. We’re back to the Gan of Space Fall: a loyal, capable and honourable man.

In Sarkoff’s gilded prison, Blake is charmed by the former president’s collection of 20th-Century objects, but that doesn’t stop him destroying them as a means of bending the reluctant exile to his will. Blake appeals to his better nature, his sense of pride, loyalty, allegiance.

But when that fails he simply threatens to destroy everything Sarkoff holds dear. It hasn’t taken Blake long to prey on every vanity and weakness he perceives in the man. Blake can be charming, but it’s a veneer to his underlying ruthlessness. This is less of a rescue than a kidnap.

Even so, Sarkoff could tell Blake a thing or two, were he prepared to listen. “Civilisation demands courtesy, rather than truth,” he tells Tyce, in a nice callback to how even Blake was disinclined to give up his comfortable life under the Federation.

Meanwhile, back on the Liberator, Vila demonstrates again that he can be relied upon when he conducts his personal investigation into whatever is happening on The Liberator. And he holds the key to freeing everyone when the crew is subsequently accosted and imprisoned.

Vila is prepared to defer to Blake when trying to remove his collar but lashes out at Avon in another demonstration of their spiky partnership.

“Shut up!”

Avon affords himself a smile before getting back to work on the door.

Meanwhile Jenna is stringing Tarvin along until she identifies an opportunity to free the others, disabling two guards in the process. “Tarvin underestimates me!”, she notes to herself, but is she actually thinking of someone else?

With the Liberator crew freed and Blake and Jenna heading to the flightdeck, Sarkoff comes around to Blake’s way of thinking – because he recognises in him the same single-minded dedication to his people, while he sees no such loyalty in Tarvin. It’s not a wholly convincing about turn, but it’s at least consistent with the three characters’ motivations.

Quite what Jenna’s motivation is remains unclear. We are reminded that the Liberator holds unimaginable wealth – and that life on the ship can be dangerous. But we also know she is loyal to – and attracted – to Blake.

In the past Blake has needled Jenna on this. Yet at the end of Bounty, Jenna gets to turn the tables in first teleporting Sarkoff and Tyce down the planet precipitously, then teasing Blake over Tyce’s obvious attraction to him.

Blake, usually unflappable, is irritated. Is he angry that Jenna has challenged his authority, defied him, asserted herself, even in this small way? What is this game they’re both playing?

When she and Blake distract Tarvin, Blake chuckles as the pirate leader – a potential competitor for his ship, crew and Jenna – lies dying on the ground.

“The Amagon is dead,” Jenna tells Blake of a man who might have once been her lover, her expression hard to read. Blake cradles her cheek.

“Take us out of here, Jenna,” he replies with a grin.

She obeys, returning his smile.

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