Probic Vent Ood For Thought

9Jan/180

Blake’s 7 – Space Fall: “There Won’t Be A Next Time”

blake's 7 space fall

A beaten-up crew in a knackered old tub with a ground-down captain and sadistic second-in-command with a predilection for female prisoners. If The Way Back gives us a glossy, if nightmarish vision of the future, Space Fall provides viewers with something a little more relatable: a three-day week vision of the future where work is reassuringly shit and people are still honest bastards.

While the dome is gleaming, the London demonstrates space travel for what it is: boring and lethal, in a variety of unpleasant colours. Drab clothes for drab people. Of the crew it's the First Officer who immediately draws the attention.

Raiker might not be the most sophisticated foe Blake comes face-to-face with, but he's no fool. He knows exactly how to needle Blake and pins him immediately for what he is. He knows without hesitation he can beat Blake, simply by needling his distorted sense of fair play. He's not cut out for the sort of down-and-dirty fight Raiker gives him.

No wonder Avon is indifferent to Blake. He recognises him immediately as a dreamer, a crusader - and its only with great reluctance he hitches his wagon to Blake's. The latter always sees a way out; the former deals in hard probability.

Only when Avon realises that Blake's plan has the best chance of success does he side with him. When Raiker start killing hostages he is furious that Blake concedes. Without the intervention of the Liberator's appearance, the whole crew would be destined for a life on Cygnus Alpha.

Raiker provides a foe against which Blake can fight, The Federation an all it stands for made solid. Yet Raiker has Blake's measure within seconds of meeting him. He is not remotely impressed by him, sneering at his child molestation charge.

Raiker is not so unlike Avon in that he sees Blake's madness immediately and is immune to it. Yet - at this stage at least - Avon is drawn to Blake by inexorable circumstance. Blake knows almost instinctively that Avon has already thought of helping the crew flush the prisoners into deep space and fixing the logs, and lets Avon know that he knows.

He then simply allows Avon to come to the inevitable conclusion that he needs Blake's help as much as Blake needs his. The two understand one another immediately - and perfectly. And with this first uneasy alliance secured Avon is forever trapped.

Elsewhere in Space Fall Vila's credentials as a hopeless coward - noted by Avon, Jenna and Gan - come to the fore. Meanwhile the latter is one of the most effective people on the London, capable of taking the initiative and boasting the mental and physical capabilities to back it up.

With Avon clearly keen on sitting out the mutiny while he comes up with a better plan, it's perfectly believable that Gan would have emerged as the leader of an attempt to take the ship in Blake's absence from what we see here.

But having been identified as one of the crew by Avon, Nova is subsequently killed off with grim indifference. No-one even acknowledges his death. The hapless prisoner is destined forever to be fossilised in the London’s bulkhead for the rest of its existence. Like Han Solo encased in carbonite, only dead.

For the rest of the lives of Blake’s entire crew, Nova’s corpse makes the painfully slow return trip from Earth to Cygnus Alpha, a testament to Blake’s monomania. And for all his fleeting fury at the death of another of the ingenues who blindly entrust him with their lives, it scarcely ever gives Blake pause for thought.

Blake's singular skill is an expedience in identifying talented, expendable people who can be swayed by his self-confidence. With a computer expert, pilot, thief and strongman at his behest Blake knows he can take the London. Just like his attitude to taking down the Federation - he doesn’t just believe, he knows.

And by the end of Space Fall, more by luck than judgment, he has not only escaped with something resembling a crew, he has the most advanced warship in the galaxy at his control. The fact several little people are crushed underfoot in the meantime is scarcely acknowledged.

the liberator blake's 7

Mere weeks since he regained his memory, Blake has assumed the mantle of resistance leader with alarming speed and little fuss. Shorn even of the appalled angst evident during his trial, he is now operating with a self-belief so total it should act ring alarms bells with anyone around him.

If Blake appears unsurprised by the appearance of the most magnificent ship in the galaxy, the perfect weapon with which he can wage war against the Federation, it's because he's not.

2Jan/180

Blake’s 7 – The Way Back: “Murderers, Liars, Cheats”

blake's 7 the way back

The nightmarish imagery of psychological reconditioning, a bloody massacre and the casual framing of its leading man as a paedophile. That's quite an opening statement for a show that would never really throw off comparisons and a timeslot similar to Doctor Who, but that's how Blake's 7 announced itself in The Way Back 40 years ago today.

Blake's 7 would amount to very little without the heft and drive of its opening episode - a complex set of actions and coincidences set in motion by the attempt to ruin one man and prevent a revolution - but The Way Back sells us an idea of Blake's 7 we never really see again.

blake's 7 the way back

In focussing on the framing of Blake - a lost freedom fighter with a murdered past and tranquillised dreams - creator Terry Nation almost gives The Way Back the feel of a self-contained short story, a Play For Today that can be viewed as allegory or straight-forward political thriller. Ray guns, spaceships and AI judiciary may be present but they're subordinate to a story that is timeless.

Evident in the work done by Michael E Briant - one of the more impressive in-house BBC directors of the time making good use of rear projection, extreme close-ups, crossfades and crash zooms here - is an effort at world-building that takes its cues from Nation's script but adds deft touches to further enrich the place its inhabitants call home.

It's a set-up from the contemporary hard sci-fi of Mark Adlard, where people are encircled by the physical and metaphysical boundaries of their habitation and imagination. The world is white, materials and design coherent, as if deliberately numbing. Blake and Tel Varon are both loathe to leave their world, even when they realise its corruption.

There are suppressants in the food and water, intended to keep people docile and prevent any further insurrection. Doped-up dome inhabitants slouch in single-file, constantly beset by lift muzak and watched over by winking security cameras.

blake's 7 the way back

Still there are grace notes here, little flickers that hint of something beneath the surface. Nigel Lambert as the computer operator encountered by Varon and his wife deadpans his way through some resentful jobsworthing and is interrupted in some futuristic grooving.

It's but a tiny moment of humour in a relentlessly bleak episode, where Blake is taken out of his home, threatened with betrayal by people he thinks are his friends and finds out his family were massacred after his own show trial for being a resistance leader.

blake's 7 the way back

On the verge of assimilating this information he then witnesses an unprovoked and bloody massacre that proves beyond any doubt that his entire world is a complete fabrication and demonstrates its subjugation under an iron fist of fascism.

What happens next pushes Blake's 7 into another realm completely. In a scene striking for how ordinary it is, three leaders of the dome casually discuss how best to ruin Blake and eventually alight on trumping up charges of child molestation against him.

blake's 7 the way back

When Blake is rattled, angered or exasperated Gareth Thomas does his best work, the scene where he disbelievingly reads the charges against him - "All involving children!" he remarks disgusted - is a case in point.

Thomas was a fine actor but there's always a suspicion he's sleepwalking through Blake's 7. When he's called on to deliver a rousing speech, react in fury or spar with Avon he's up for the challenge. But in places he seems to be once removed, as if he can't quite buy into it in the way a Paul Darrow can.

blake's 7 the way back

In places this is problematic - the leading man seemingly detached from proceedings - but it works on occasion too. Blake's apparent diffidence can be read as the messianic self-assurance the character genuinely possesses.

When Blake observes the departing Earth from a porthole in the London he demurs at the suggestion he won't be returning. Thomas delivers it deadpan in what seems like an ill-fitting underplaying of the line. But for Blake this is a simple statement of fact: he's coming back - and that's that.

blake's 7 the way back

All of which invites the reading that at virtually no point in the entire show is Roj Blake in any way sane. In The Way Back his ironclad self-belief easily brings Varon, his wife, Vila - here much more the engaging sociopath than whimsical coward he will become later - and Jenna falling into line behind him, even though they scarcely know him.

There will be plenty more along the way - and it will cost virtually every single one their lives, sacrificed on the wheel of Blake's blithe quest for vengeance. Blake's 7 is a story of unfolding madness for its protagonists; once they enter Blake's orbit there is no way back for any of them.

blake's 7 the way back

Hush child stop addlepating me!

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