Blake keeps a Captain’s Log. That’s an unusual revelation – if handy for reasons for exposition – as we begin Orac. We join our crew in the midst of radiation sickness and with a new mission: a hunt for the galaxy’s most irritable computer.
Ensor is the first, but not the last, of a group of enigmatic genii that first Blake, then Avon will attempt to recruit. It’s a loose arc that runs across all four series of Blake’s 7 in a narrative that suggests that Blake, his crew and ship are not up to the might of the Federation – even with the coming addition of Orac.
Meanwhile a secondary imperative – the massive doses of radiation received by Avon, Jenna, Gan and Vila – means Cally falls into the rethought role of healer. Cally’s role as a guerrilla terrorist is rarely acknowledged beyond the first series – later in the episode she will scream when attacked by a cave creature. Her telepathic powers means she is recast as an empath and moral centre.
Vila’s radiation sickness is mined for humour in the thief’s cowardice. But Vila is playing to an audience. “All of me?” he asks Cally, who imparts the news. When Avon says their sickness will eventually kill them, Vila demurs and leaves the room, nauseous. Avon is amused; Vila has fulfilled his role. Gan is by now reduced to glances, moans and grunts. Surely by now Boucher and nation have decided Gan’s fate.
Blake seems remarkably unmoved by the potential deaths of four of the crew and in committing the Liberator to its mercy-dash to Aristo, he is banking on Ensor having decontaminant drugs. Either Blake does not much care for the wellbeing of his crew, or he is certain that there will be drugs. But why? It’s another example of Blake’s blithe belief that everything will work out. They are righteous; they will prevail.
On the surface of Aristo, Servalan and Travis – seemingly locked into a relationship of co-dependency – are approaching Ensor’s residence surreptitiously. Servalan’s route to absolute power and Travis’ redemption, are locked up in the successful recovery of Orac. But their journey is not an easy one – Servalan is attacked by one of the creatures.
So shaken by the attack, Servalan weeps in a rare show of vulnerability. Travis is unmoved and attempts to steel her to the task ahead: “The rewards and credit – remember?” he goads. Servalan quickly recovers her composure but it’s a minor victory for Travis. Each knows how to manipulate the other.
With Blake and Cally down and safe, the remaining Liberator crew’s sickness is bringing to the surface lingering tensions. Few of the crew like one another, but they like being alone even less – it is this emotional dynamic that binds them together.
When Blake meets Ensor he indulges the old man’s eccentricities – but only to a point. Once he has the drugs he needs and Orac, Blake’s tone is much more direct. With the prospect of his enemies behind his retreating party, Blake stays behind to bring the roof down. He dismisses Cally’s suggestions with a curt “Let me do it my way”.
But without the initiative of Avon and Vila, he would not make it off the planet alive. Ensor is not so lucky – the delay in leaving Aristo means he dies in the tunnels with an escape hatch in sight. On the surface the pair are apprehended by Servalan and Travis. Again, Servalan prevents Travis from killing Blake – and Orac’s value is emphasised when she identifies the computer as the real prize, superior even to Blake.
Avon arrives in time to blow off Travis’ hand, though he claims to have been aiming for his head. Blake is not interested in killing the Federation pair; Avon would not hesitate. The others teleport back to the Liberator with decontaminants and Orac; Travis is left facing another defeat and seemingly no way back.
“You’re in a lot of trouble, Travis,” remarks Servalan, and in an echo of another moment in the series when it seems all is lost, Travis simply smiles to himself.
The introduction of Orac could herald a change in tone for the series – as many ‘funny computers’ have. However Orac is very much a Blake’s 7 creation. Not merely irascible, Orac clearly disdains and even dislikes his new owners. And, as Blake realises, he is evasive. Orac predicts the future by extrapolating known fact. He knows The System is onto the Liberator – the means for his prediction – but he does not impart this knowledge.
Mischievous or malign? The question is never really answered. As ever in Blake’s 7, the true nature of our protagonists is forever coloured in shades of grey.