Probic Vent Ood For Thought

1Apr/180

Blake’s 7 – Breakdown: “A Matter Of Life And Death”

In Breakdown we have a great opportunity to make some sense of Olag Gan, a gentle giant who is prone to terrible violence. A man who, in Space Fall and Cygnus Alpha, is one of the more able members of the crew.

But by Breakdown he is barely expected to be able to cope with tasks that do not trouble the other members of the crew; in the episodes leading to Breakdown Avon's barbs seem genuine - he believes Gan to be an oaf and a liability.

In Breakdown we have the most often-cited examples of Gan's hatred of women and while there is no hard evidence for this on screen - as opposed to vague inferences of Terry Nation's true intentions - there's plenty to suggest there's something awful in Gan's true nature.

While Gan attacks Blake, Avon and Vila it's the specifics of his interactions with Jenna and Cally that are a cause for concern. After he incapacitates the former he is seen dragging her, by her leg, across the flightdeck. Where? For what purpose? Later, when Cally tends to him, Gan pretends to sleep, observes her covertly and then snarls at her turned back.

Perhaps most disturbingly, having manipulated Cally into freeing him and as he strangles her, he smiles and nods - as if to confirm her worst fears that he is going to kill her. It's a creepy moment from David Jackson, who has made Gan into perhaps the warmest member of the crew. No wonder Cally is so shocked, so horrified.

Does the Limiter send Gan mad here? Or does it stop working, allowing his natural instincts to come to the fore? A line from Blake - 'the limiter didn't even slow him down' - implies the latter. Regrettably Breakdown doesn't go any further with this potential storyline.

Gan's condition and potential death do evoke some interesting reactions from the rest of the crew, however. Perhaps surprisingly Avon is all for pulling out the stops to save Gan's life - but Avon has other reasons for wanting to make the journey to space station XK72.

Vila, perhaps just as surprisingly as an identifiable friend of Gan's, is reluctant to enter into the prohibited zone.

The thief does enjoy a rare chance to show some heroics however, first by working out Kayn's plan to delay the Liberator at XK72, then by confronting him and indicating that he is perfectly prepared to kill him. Blake, says Vila, has "a conscience. He might not be prepared to kill you." He looks serious.

So too Avon, but Kayn looks unimpressed by threats from both. Not so Blake's chilling warning that if the surgeon does not repair the limiter within 20 minutes he will 'destroy [his] hands'.

Kayn is prepared to call the bluff of Avon and Vila. But, like Servalan, he is not prepared to risk it against Blake, who has pinpointed Kayn's weakness.

Blake's superpower - and what makes him so convincing as a resistance fighter - is his ability to identify the weaknesses of opponents and in convincing enemies and allies alike of his complete sincerity.

The women are more protective of Gan - and Cally's role as the mystic / warrior / healer is further cemented in her concern at the big man being restrained. Meanwhile Jenna acidly rebuffs Renor's clumsy advances.

"Do you believe in love at first sight, Jenna?" asks Renor. "Not yet," she replies. Jenna may be less worldly than Blake or Avon - but she's less gauche than Cally.

We also see how news of Blake has spread throughout the Federation, with reactions both positive and negative from Renor and Kayn respectively. "The Blake?" asks the former. It's another rare flash of insight into what is going on beyond the flightdeck of Liberator.

While the crews fret over Gan, and frustrated at another blunder into mortal danger, Avon has scoped out XK72 as a potential bolthole that seems ideal. Vila admits he stays with Blake because he has nowhere else to go. That has been the case for Avon too, but here he chooses Blake over his own personal freedom.

For his part, Blake seems neither surprised nor concerned that Avon is ready to leave. Perhaps - as he has previously implied - he simply cannot believe Avon will not leave him. There is a bond between the two men, but it's not clear if Avon really knows it.

"You know what to do," instructs Blake. In complying, with a brief look of realisation, Avon demonstrates that he understands what acceptance means. Darrow plays it perfectly.

Paul Darrow Avon Blake's 7

The events of Breakdown have brought Blake and Avon even closer to one another. With XK72's destruction the window of opportunity for ever decoupling from Blake narrows further.

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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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