Blake's 7

Blake’s 7 – Orac: “Let Me Do It My Way”

Blake, Vila and Avon - Orca, Blakes' 7

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.

Blake and Jenna - Orca, Blakes' 7

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.

Cally and Jenna - Orca, Blakes' 7

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.

Servalan and Travis - Orca, Blakes' 7

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.

Blae, Cally and Ensor - Orca, Blakes' 7

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, Cally and Vila - Orca, Blakes' 7

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.

Blake and Jenna - Orca, Blakes' 7

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Blake's 7

Blake’s 7 – Deliverance: “You Really Are Obsessed With Blake”

Deliverance serves up more by-the-numbers narratives, but two key relationships in Blake’s 7 change significantly in this otherwise dreary episode.

Where once Travis and Servalan had seemed to revel in one another’s company, the dynamic between them has changed significantly. Jacqueline Pearce delights in Travis’ discomfort; Stephen Greif makes the Space Commander a picture of buttoned-up discomfort, his face betraying a galaxy of tells as he first absorbs Servalan’s jibes and then learns of Marryatt’s fate.

This is, perhaps, the point at which Travis succumbs to his hatred of Blake. Where once Travis had openly challenged Servalan, his authority has been whittled away.

When Servalan gleefully tells him that she has knowingly sent one of the few people to whom Travis owes respect to his death, it’s a turning point. Acceptance signals Travis’ obedience and his deference to Servalan – and his willingness to subordinate anything in his pursuit of Blake.

“You really are obsessed with Blake, aren’t you?” ask Servalan. It’s no coincidence that she has condemned Maryatt to his death and his family to slavery in her pursuit of Orac. It’s a calculated wounding of Travis and a demonstration of her authority over him.

In her pointed sacrifice of Maryatt, Servalan has presented Travis with a checkmate move: If he wants Blake he has no option but to surrender. Travis muses that the Supreme Commander is almost as ruthless as he is but he has indeed underestimated her, as he repeatedly underestimates Blake. Both Servalan and Blake are skilled manipulators. In this regard Servalan is more of a mirror to Blake than Travis is.

On the Liberator Blake has pulled out the chair for Avon to lead a mission and again demonstrate his loyalty. Acceptance of the mission, where once he might have absented himself from responsibility, cements his role within the Liberator crew. But also gives Avon an opportunity to demonstrate his value to the others, whom he may wish to lead in Blake’s place.

While Avon frequently snipes at Blake the latter rarely responds in kind, preferring to ignore Avon’s insults and challenges as if they simply don’t matter to him. But when the safety of his crew is threatened, as in Seek-Locate-Destroy and Breakdown, he responds with real anger.

Blake and Avon

“We’ll go back down,” says Avon, when it is discovered Jenna is missing.

“I think you’d better,” Blake retorts, with a look that visibly startles Avon.

Once again the crew manage to abandon one of the women in hostile territory, with Jenna captured by Cephlon’s natives. Despite Jenna and Cally’s backgrounds as a space pirate and guerrilla fighter respectively, both are easily captured and incapacitated.

Despite an apparently unopenable door featuring – usually his forte – Vila has little to contribute in Deliverance. But Gan gets another opportunity to demonstrate what he brings to the crew, with a fight in which he incapacitates several Primitives. Just moments prior he, Vila and Avon muse on a plan to rescue Jenna.

“If it comes to killing, remember my Limiter implant,” advises Gan, meaning Avon and Vila have to get to and potentially tackle the encampment of violent Primitives alone. It’s a demonstration of how problematic the Limiter is in Gan’s development. He’s the big man, but useless when it comes to fighting – until he’s not. Here he gets to fend off baddies without any visible difficulty from the Limiter that supposedly prevents him being violent.

“You know Vila, for a minute out there, I was actually beginning to enjoy myself,” he confesses. It’s more grist to the mill for the theory that Gan is not only capable of violence, but actively enjoys it – it’s only when women are involved that his Limiter kicks in.

With Jenna’s rescue and Avon’s elevation to Godhood the crew return to the Liberator, where Ensor – attempting to hijack the ship – has died, leaving a pack of energy cells and a clue that will lead to a direct reckoning with Servalan and Travis.

When Cally asks if Meegat actually believed him to be a God, Avon confirms she did, “for a while”.

“How did it feel?” enquires Blake.

“Don’t you know?” returns Avon.

“Yes. I don’t like the responsibility either.”

Throughout Deliverance Avon has given the impression of distinct discomfort as a commander and Godhead, despite his jibe that the others might find him more of an agreeable leader than Blake.

His response to Blake’s suggestion that he doesn’t enjoy his role as the leader of the resistance is met with unspoken but clear contempt. But Blake has needled Avon with the implication that he is not up to it.

As the Liberator crew share their usual end-of-episode banter, Avon simply walks off the flightdeck.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.