Probic Vent Ood For Thought

27Feb/180

Blake’s 7 – Mission To Destiny: “When You Have Nothing To Lose”

[Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: Cally and Avon

Mission To Destiny again shifts the goalposts in Blake's 7. A Flying Dutchman / Agatha Christie pastiche that frames the crew as galactic do-gooders; a Star Trek mission in a Blake's 7 universe. It bears all the hallmarks of Terry Nation's most hackish instincts, recycling plots, set pieces and, of course, character names.

If the plot feels familiar then so too are the characters by this point. Blake and Jenna again adopt their parent role on The Liberator, with Avon the awkward one, Vila the coward and Gan there seemingly to keep the latter in check.

As the most able member of Blake's crew, taking Avon to the Destiny is understandable but it's less clear what he has to gain by taking Cally. Her contribution so far has been to disable the ship while possessed by a malign force and to get captured on her first mission.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: "I believe you"

Although originally framed as a warrior, not unlike Doctor Who's Leela, it's hard to identify what separates Cally from Jenna at this point, telepathy notwithstanding.

The sole instance of it here, when Cally succumbs to sono vapour, has her moaning "Alone" - presumably a reference to the trauma of being the sole survivor of the Saurian resistance, but this is never expanded upon.

And despite both female characters having moments of agency and self-determination - Jan Chappell's ambiguous "I believe you" to the untrustworthy Sonheim is a nice touch - neither woman is dissimilar from the standard female Doctor Who companion at this point in the series.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: Mandrian (Stephen Tate)

Onboard the Ortega we get set-piece after set-piece of TV detective drama, no surprise given Terry Nation's extensive background in TV series such as The Saint, The Champions and The Baron, among others. Dudley Simpson clearly notes the shift as his score for Mission To Destiny is less operatic; more suggestive and tense than in previous episodes.

One again, as with The Web, the running storyline of the fight against the Federation takes a backseat to what would now be termed a bottle episode. Although later adopted by series such as Babylon 5, The X-Files and Deep Space 9, this was relatively unusual.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: "Vila, are you awake?" Avon (Paul Darrow)

Here, Blake's 7 is much more obviously similar to those later shows, as Blake and his crew adopt the roles of galactic good guys, with nothing to gain from helping Destiny beyond the fact they have resisted Federation integration.

In tone too, the programme has shifted. Mission To Destiny has several outright jokes and the banter between the Liberator shipmates is fonder than it has been previously.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: "I can always sense danger"]

"I can always sense danger," claims Vila at one point.

"Yes, even when there isn't any," remarks Gan with a smile, to Jenna's amusement.

Even Avon's barbs are delivered without his trademark sneer. Later we have the first stirrings of Avon's occasional fondness for Vila, when he contacts The Liberator to ask if he is awake. He smiles a genuine smile when the thief replies in the negative.

When Cally remarks that among her people a man cannot be betrayed, only mistaken, Avon replies: "Life expectancy must be fairly short among your people." But even this seems playful, flirtatious even.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: "You just bet both our lives on it"

Although much of this demonstrates how significantly Blake's 7 has moved away from the template of The Way Back and Space Fall, it works surprisingly well. Avon makes a convincing protagonist; a man who is self-centred and cautious, but also one who 'can't resist a mystery'.

Paul Darrow's significant experience in theatre allows his to carry several stagey, expositional scenes with ease - and Avon's narcissism, not to mention his background as a criminal, make him a believable detective.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: "...already knows"

Even the neutrotrope that will ensure the survival of Destiny, apparently beyond even the value offered by The Liberator, doesn't seem to distract him. Despite his protestation that he wouldn't care if the planet were to turn into 'a mushroom' and cavilling at Cally offering them up as hostages, the game's afoot, and besting the thief appears to be reward enough for him.

That suspicion is confirmed when he knocks out the villain with a punch and 'rather enjoys it'. Few television heroes punched women, even villainous women, in the face during this era, but Avon's actions are consistent: Man or woman, Avon will happily strike or kill a foe.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: "I rigged a charge"

With the mystery wrapped up there's just enough time for Blake to blow the villain, the Ortega and the ship with which it docks out of the sky.

For Blake the implication that the crew would happily allow a planet to starve is all the reason he needs to kill every single one of them - news he imparts with an amused grin.

It's a useful, troubling reminder of Blake's blithe outlook on good and evil.

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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".

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