Probic Vent Ood For Thought

16Jan/180

Blake’s 7 – Cygnus Alpha: “We Lose It All”

cygnus alpha

The first hint of something beyond the politics and space opera arrives in style: Pamela Salem backlit by a looming celestial body. In Cygnus Alpha we get the first meaningful view of a world beyond the Federation and Earth; in keeping with much of Terry Nation's fictional worlds - and the majority of Blake's 7 - it's not pretty.

It's barely a minute into the episode before Avon has pulled a gun on Blake and the power dynamic is instantly evident: Avon blinks first as Blake shrugs off the challenge by simply walking away. It's not clear whether Blake sees this is a bluff or a test of his mettle - or even an outright threat. Either way he treats it as if Avon is not serious, though Blake has little reason to doubt his sincerity.

cygnus alpha

The introduction of Zen immediately begs questions that are never really answered. Is the 28th Century Siri merely a computer, as Avon insists? While he lacks the obvious spite of Orac, Zen certainly bristles at Avon's disregard, appears to make a telepathic link with Jenna and 'has a mind of its own' but this is a path forever left unexplored.

In these early Liberator scenes, particularly in the moment where Blake, Jenna and Avon discuss teleportation mechanics, the difference between the approach of both Gareth Thomas and Paul Darrow to their lines in Blake's 7 is evident.

cygnus alpha

Whereas Darrow relishes his lines and wrings everything out of them, Thomas' delivery is more naturalistic, reflecting how some of the more fluent Shakespearean actors recite the archaic verbiage. It makes for a pleasing combination of styles and invites further readings fo their respective characters.

Having urged Jenna to randomly press buttons in the hope of gaining control over the ship Blake, true to form, immediately tests a supposition about the teleport based on Avon's 'educated guesses' and blunders straight into almost lethal danger, surviving because of more dumb luck when Jenna stabs the correct button on the teleport controls.

cygnus alpha

Down on Cygnus Alpha the rest of the London's passenger's find themselves about to embark on a battle of survival. Given what a noted recycler of plots, tropes and archetypes Nation was it's something of a surprise penal colony's inhabitants aren't broadcast to the Federation.

It's at this point one of Vila's lesser-spotted and less pleasant traits is on view, namely his pleasure in the discomfort of other people - as if unnerving others acts as a displacement activity for his own anxiety. On the receiving end as Arco and Selman are Peter Childs and David Ryall, two fine actors whose job here seems to be to act obnoxious and querulous respectively.

cygnus alpha

It's interesting to ponder what they might have brought to the dynamic, especially the unpleasant Arco, who clearly has no truck with Blake's quest. He is at least responsible for Blake's mask slipping, albeit briefly, when he suggests Blake turn himself over to Vargas and forego his ship.

Returning to the planet Blake finds an authority with whom he can butt heads in the shape of Brian Blessed's Vargas, who does deliver his usual quota of shouting but marries it to a disturbingly sing-songy delivery to create a villain every bit as one-eyed as Blake. Both are on Cygnus Alpha looking to recruit followers; neither are prepared to lose grip on the power they enjoy.

With Blake attempting to secure a crew, Avon and Jenna enjoy an intriguing back and forth on the Liberator. Once again Blake has trusted that Avon won't simply abandon him, yet another of the opportunities he provides for Avon to leave.

Perhaps more surprisingly Jenna's faith in Blake isn't infinite and at one point she actively prompts Avon to discover a room of treasure she knows will appeal to his less noble instincts.

cygnus alpha

"He can't win - you know he can't win," snarls Avon and it seems Jenna might just prefer to be rich than dead when she demurs to his logic. For a second. Jenna recognises the truth of Avon's words but she can't bring herself to decouple from Blake's crusade.

Nevertheless Blake comes perilously close to losing the Liberator at the hands of his two existing crew members, on their way to buy a planet.

blake's 7 cygnus alpha

Down on Cygnus Alpha the prisoners make desperate bids for a teleport bracelet, a literal audition for entry to Blake's crew. Add Avon and Jenna and the seven seem complete, but the brutal dispatch of Selman and Arco makes it clear Blake's 7 is a very different beast from other genre shows.

Despite the many close escapes, however, two of Blake's crew are forever denied a happy ending here. As Avon intimates to Jenna: "We lose it all".

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.

Hush child stop addlepating me!

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