Blake's 7

Blake’s 7 – Bounty: “This Game You’re Playing”

With the end in sight, Terry Nation runs into the buffers with Bounty – an episode about Blake rescuing and recruiting a political dissident to act as a spearhead for his revolution that clearly lacks sufficient plot to fill the scheduled slot. It’s just one of many patch-up jobs Chris Boucher performs on the series and it’s almost certainly down to the script editor that intriguing moments and character dynamics remain.

In Bounty we at least see the crew playing to their specialisations once more: Cally is a guerilla terrorist; Vila a lockpick; Avon a computer expert; Gan a strongman; Jenna a confident and capable pirate.

One wonders if this is the episode where David Jackson passed a fabled note to producer David Maloney bearing only a number in single figures – the number of lines for Gan in the script in question.

Gan, whose character arc has reduced him to a brainless oaf – albeit with occasional violent tendencies – is much more active here and more capable. He takes the initiative, albeit inadvisedly, in teleporting to the derelict and demonstrates two traits previously identified with the character.

The first is a simple directness. When Avon asks if the crew is to believe Gan would sacrifice himself should the need present itself, the big man replies levelly: “Yes, I expect you to believe that.” Due to the way Jackson plays it, his reply is both answer and challenge. Avon accepts without demur.

When the crew challenge Jenna, apparently allied with bounty hunter Tarvin, Gan plays his part in sarcastically greeting her. He demonstrates visible anger and announces his desire to beat up Tarvin. We’re back to the Gan of Space Fall: a loyal, capable and honourable man.

In Sarkoff’s gilded prison, Blake is charmed by the former president’s collection of 20th-Century objects, but that doesn’t stop him destroying them as a means of bending the reluctant exile to his will. Blake appeals to his better nature, his sense of pride, loyalty, allegiance.

But when that fails he simply threatens to destroy everything Sarkoff holds dear. It hasn’t taken Blake long to prey on every vanity and weakness he perceives in the man. Blake can be charming, but it’s a veneer to his underlying ruthlessness. This is less of a rescue than a kidnap.

Even so, Sarkoff could tell Blake a thing or two, were he prepared to listen. “Civilisation demands courtesy, rather than truth,” he tells Tyce, in a nice callback to how even Blake was disinclined to give up his comfortable life under the Federation.

Meanwhile, back on the Liberator, Vila demonstrates again that he can be relied upon when he conducts his personal investigation into whatever is happening on The Liberator. And he holds the key to freeing everyone when the crew is subsequently accosted and imprisoned.

Vila is prepared to defer to Blake when trying to remove his collar but lashes out at Avon in another demonstration of their spiky partnership.

“Shut up!”

Avon affords himself a smile before getting back to work on the door.

Meanwhile Jenna is stringing Tarvin along until she identifies an opportunity to free the others, disabling two guards in the process. “Tarvin underestimates me!”, she notes to herself, but is she actually thinking of someone else?

With the Liberator crew freed and Blake and Jenna heading to the flightdeck, Sarkoff comes around to Blake’s way of thinking – because he recognises in him the same single-minded dedication to his people, while he sees no such loyalty in Tarvin. It’s not a wholly convincing about turn, but it’s at least consistent with the three characters’ motivations.

Quite what Jenna’s motivation is remains unclear. We are reminded that the Liberator holds unimaginable wealth – and that life on the ship can be dangerous. But we also know she is loyal to – and attracted – to Blake.

In the past Blake has needled Jenna on this. Yet at the end of Bounty, Jenna gets to turn the tables in first teleporting Sarkoff and Tyce down the planet precipitously, then teasing Blake over Tyce’s obvious attraction to him.

Blake, usually unflappable, is irritated. Is he angry that Jenna has challenged his authority, defied him, asserted herself, even in this small way? What is this game they’re both playing?

When she and Blake distract Tarvin, Blake chuckles as the pirate leader – a potential competitor for his ship, crew and Jenna – lies dying on the ground.

“The Amagon is dead,” Jenna tells Blake of a man who might have once been her lover, her expression hard to read. Blake cradles her cheek.

“Take us out of here, Jenna,” he replies with a grin.

She obeys, returning his smile.

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Blake's 7

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 even the most simple tasks; 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, having suffered the titular breakdown due to a fault with his ‘Limiter’ – a device implanted in his brain that prevents him from acting violently.

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 calmly – 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.

There’s a vital, unanswered question in Breakdown. Does the malfunctioning Limiter send Gan mad? Or does it stop working, allowing his natural, brutish instincts to come to the fore? A comment from Blake – “the Limiter didn’t even slow him down” – implies the latter. Regrettably neither the episode, nor the series, go any further with this troubling 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, a clear friend of Gan’s, is equally reluctant.

The thief does enjoy some rare heroics however, first by working out Kayn’s plan to delay the Liberator at XK72, then by confronting 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.

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.

Frustrated at another blunder into mortal danger, and while the crew fret over Gan, Avon has scoped out XK72 as a potential bolthole. Vila admits he stays with Blake because he has nowhere else to go. That has previously 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 knows it.

“You know what to do,” says Blake, ordering Avon to take the controls of the Liberator. With a brief look of realisation, Avon demonstrates that he understands what compliance signifies. 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 – another example of the causal destruction interacting with Blake brings – Avon’s window of opportunity for ever decoupling from Blake narrows further.

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