Probic Vent Ood For Thought


Blake’s 7 – Time Squad: “As Long As We’re Useful To Each Other”

Four episodes in and it's clear where most Chris Boucher's work is going. With a laughable budget, fag-packet script outlines but two charismatic leading men, the script editor puts a lot of work into the interpersonal dynamics on board the Liberator - and it shows in Time Squad.

Blake is forced to admit that in setting course to blow up a Federation communications centre he has taken the initiative without the promised 'thorough discussion', over the protests of Avon and even Jenna. "I don't follow you," queries Vila. "Oh, but you you do - and that's the problem!" snarls Avon in return.

blake's 7 time squad

But Avon knows he's been outmanoeuvred. Blake commands the ship - and loyalty of the others and. If they want to leave, they can. But they know the Federation will only ever be a step behind. It's Blake or death for the crew, all of whom him a debt of gratitude.

Still Avon manages to needle Blake out of his usual composure. Gan gets in his own dig at Avon, but the clever man has another ready quip when the former asks how the Federation will track them down deaf, dumb and blind. "I'll sure Blake will manage it somehow."

blake's 7 time squad

On finding an apparently abandoned space capsule Jenna warns Blake of the obvious risk of a trap. Vila doesn't like it either. But true to form Blake waves it away with a smile. "Why didn't Zen warn us?" demands Blake. But, as Jenna points out, he did.

In Time Squad we see the first example of Zen's mercurial nature, struggling to warn the crew against endangering themselves by teleporting to the capsule. It's as if Zen has his own limiter, suggests Gan, or is the Liberator's computer at the mercy of some other unseen: someone or something?

blake's 7 time squad

It may be handy plot device - like the Sonic Screwdriver being unable to unlock certain doors - but the viewer is left to puzzle over the in-universe reasons for Zen's intermittent awkwardness.

Sure enough, within minutes Blake and Jenna's lives can only be saved by the skills and quick thinking of his shipmates. Blake repeatedly puts his own life in danger and offers the crew a choice: save him or walk away and let him die. They must repeatedly demonstrate their loyalty to him and, by inference, their subservience. He is an arch manipulator of people.

blake's 7 time squad

In Time Squad we get the first insight in the background of Olag Gan - and more evidence of what a nuanced character the big man could have been.

Played intelligently by David Jackson there's something genuinely moving about the way he explains about his vulnerability, caused by an inhibitor in his head, and how he came to have it.

blake's 7 time squad

There are many readings of what this might amount to. Has Gan undergone a lobotomy of some sort? Or is even darker than that? There are definite hints in Time Squad that there's more to it than Gan might be letting on.

In Time Squad he explains that the limiter makes it impossible for him to kill, but we have already seen him engaged in mortal combat in Cygnus Alpha, where he is clearly seen driving a spear into one of Vargas' henchmen. He also leads an armed rebellion on the London in Space Fall, where he implies he might tear off a guard's hand.

blake's 7 time squad

Yet here, alone on the Liberator with Jenna and with little obvious direct threat, his limiter renders him helpless. This has inspired various fan theories about the true nature of Gan's crimes - and it's not unreasonable to infer an altogether different reason for neutering Gan's violent urges.

There will be more hints later in the series, but whether Nation ever intended there to be a true pay-off is never clear.

blake's 7 time squad

Down on the surface of Saurian Major Blake finds the resistance wiped out by the Federation and only an awkward, telepathic warrior woman, Cally. With Avon and Vila also at his side we get the first example of the classic Liberator smash-and-grab raid, utilising the crew's various skills and Liberator's superior speed to outwit the Federation.

There's also a last-second escape from the inferno, more by luck than judgment. Vila and Avon silently chide Blake with challenging stares when it appears they may not make it.

blake's 7 time squad

Back on board there's time for Cally to accept a role in the crew, while Jenna registers her sexual jealousy. As ever Blake smiles off his crew's various gripes and complaints. As he pointedly tells Avon, he trusts them as long as he knows they are all useful to one another.

While he holds the balance of power over Avon, none of them can escape him.

blake's 7 time squad


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

cygnus alpha

The first hint of something in Blake's 7 beyond 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 universe - 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, joke 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. Thus begins a two-season power struggle with The Liberator as the prize.

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. 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 character actors whose job here is to be obnoxious and querulous respectively.

cygnus alpha

It's interesting to ponder what the pair might have brought to the dynamic on The Liberator as originally planned by Nation, 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 figure with whom he can butt heads in the shape of Brian Blessed's Vargas, who delivers 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 is 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. 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 briefly seems Jenna might just prefer to be rich than dead when she demurs to his logic.

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, two of Blake's crew are forever denied a happy ending here by choosing the resistance leader over freedom. As Avon intimates to Jenna: "We lose it all".


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