Thursday, 22 February 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S2E01 Redemption

The season opener of B7's second series solves two mysteries, uncovering the origin of the Liberator and resolving the cliffhanger ending of the first series. And it does this in a somewhat breathless way that belays the age of the show and the simplicity expected of genre drama at the time. If the show was made now the whole thing of where the Liberator came from would be a carefully teased out mystery while Orac's prediction would be left to hang over the crew for considerably longer than fifty minutes. However, on all three occasions the questions posed by the show's season closers are answered within the first episode to a large degree. To be fair this all happened before VCRs were owned by all but the really rich in the UK, let alone detailed online summaries (Blake's 7 wouldn't even get a dedicated magazine until the fourth series) and the like; questions needed to be answered while viewers still remembered them.

But still, the question of the origin is an odd one. After the first handful of episodes had questions asked about the ship and Zen by mid-season it had largely faded, with the computer especially treated entirely at face value. It plays like one of those things that a TV show is just going to leave vague and as part of the format and I don't think it really played on the minds of viewers any more than it did on the characters. I mean, it's been established that it's alien and had been found drifting, does it really matter which aliens? It's as good a story as anything else I suppose but the response to what should be an event is "oh".

This is Terry Nation's 14th straight script for the show; he'll only write a handful more and he's at least had a few months off. The ship's origin is covered in his fingerprints, with the stuff about battle computers being all but reprised in "Destiny of the Daleks", the Doctor Who story he'd wank out in the autumn. Who exactly the Altas are, why they built the ship and why they never come into contact with anyone before or after this isn't really explained beyond a "highly advanced aliens" handwave, so there's the odd thing of the reveal not actually revealing anything no-one guessed. The crew naturally escape and foil an attempt to give chase but unless Orac actually fucks up all of the three planets it's a bit simple, especially if they can run off copies of the Deep Space Vehicle and are willing to travel such distances to get DSV 2 back.

The other really silly factor is the local rebellion, entirely represented by a ripped, grimy slave played by Roy Evans (the serial extra, not the footballer or the EastEnders character). He pops up to free Blake, dump a load of info on what the Hell is going on, help the others escape, inexplicably elect to stay behind to close a door and then die immediately. In a series full of plot device allies he's a stand out - he doesn't even have a name. 

Not that "Redemption" is bad. It's actually for the most part really recent. The early running battle with the Li'l Berators (I'm trying to coin that) is good fun as are most of the scenes of the crew trying to make sense of it all, while Avon gets to be nice and smug about his little realisation about Orac's predictions. Most of the regulars' dialogue is smart and snappy while the filming inside an actual nuclear power station does really work, with Vere Lorrimer getting some smashing angles from the freedom of movement it allows. Obviously the aliens are all covered in tinfoil but the flat robotic performances aren't bad while there's some excellent model work and design; the System's docking bay and the Li'l Berators clearly look like the work of the same civilisation as the Liberator. 

Similarly the arrival of the insane Mary Hudson on costuming leads to a brilliantly crazy set of new costumes for the regulars - Blake's bat-winged Barbour, Gan's long robes and Avon's studded leathers all debut here. The boys all get something to do as well - Avon gets his smart viewscreen moment, Vila gets to get free on his own and Gan gets to throw a bunch of guards around, though his attempt at a heroic last stand is spoiled when everyone stands there and watches. The girls sadly are relegated to exposition duties - get used to that this year, ladies.

Of course, it's B7 so naturally there are failures for every triumph. The decent mystery of what's happening to the ship involves a lengthy (or certainly overlong even at 15 seconds or whatever) scene where Blake and Avon are at the mercy of a lengthy of piping being waved at them by a techie with a coat-hanger while there's a sequence during the escape from the System where the Altas teleport over a pair of henchmen with grenades. Quick as a flash Jenna sends them straight back (maybe this is why she'll spend the rest of her time surgically attached to the teleport controls?), at which point the two stop, look around their surroundings and bung the grenades anyway, the second one taking his cue from the first with an air of "seriously? Well, whatever" - it's a really horrid bit of editing and so slow it sticks in the mind quite badly.

The cliffhanger resolution - it's the identical ship the System sends after the escaping Liberator that blows up - is alright in that you knew it was always going to be something like that, especially once it becomes clear that it's the ships' creators who are after them. The further twist that Orac basically rigs it all to validate his prediction is good, though - he probably did blow up all three planets to make his point. As with the prediction itself the computer won't be shown to be so ridiculously powerful again, though he will be as obtuse, so it's a fair 'debut' for the new member of the crew, though sadly the show isn't renamed Blake's 8. It is let down a little by execution as the regulars spent what feels like several hours pointing out that the duplicate ship has them back to rights and there's no point taking evasive action or fighting back - something which will crop up in a couple of later episodes and makes it look like the whole thing's live and the actors are stalling while the effects boys get the charges rigged. Shame, and another piece of bad editing. Probably pissed off a load of kids ready for a Liberator v Liberator battle as well but it would have looked crap so we probably got the best deal here.

Parts of "Redemption" are crude and pat structurally, if hardly surprising, and to call it a big budget relaunch of the show would be stretching things. But it is by the measure of the show stylish while remaining a good fast-moving "crew" episode which does make a major break from the empty-tank slog of the end of the previous season and set things up nicely for the year ahead.


  1. It's armchair quarterbacking, but in retrospect it seems obvious. On the one hand you hsve The Liberator, a mystery alien ship. On the other, you have a second season building up to an invasion by mystery alien ships. Bringing the two together and having that be a fleet of Liberators at the end of Star One feels like the most natural decision in the world. Split screen of stock shots of the different sized models would probably have looked better as well. The One Prong Liberators (as I call them) could have been there as well.

    For the origin episode they actually did... I like the idea I read once that Orac is behind more than he takes credit for. That it was he who overpowered the Liberator and flew it to the place of his prophecy rather than the System just to guarantee it coming true.

    On why he never does this again, the upper end of his powers are limited at the end of the next episode, maybe that buggers up how he predicts things? Closest he comes is working out where Blake is...

    1. Oh, and on the mystery of the Liberator in the early episodes...

      I've been listening to the audiobook of the first novelization (hearing Paul Darrow read season 1 Avon as season 4 Avon is weird), based on early scripts. Assuming it's faithful, it looks like all the "crazy ship" stuff was added later to pad them out or explain plotholes (in the book there's no reason for Blake and Jenna not to beam back before Avon does his dangerous docking with the ship in Time Squad).

    2. Oooh, I like the alien fleet idea. Only problem is that really they would have had the shit kicked out of them in forty seconds with the rest of the Federation maybe lasting a minute longer up against fully crewed fully trained Deep Space Vehicles. But yeah, even bigger was just that British TV simply wasn't set up for arcs of that sort of detail. The only reason they get away with doing so much about Star 1 is that it's basically just an excuse of a series of macguffin episodes.

      B7 just has such a strange relationship with aliens, in that the ship seems to run into them every other week but the fictional universe is strangely skeptical. A huge alien invasion is a big deal but the Liberator can barely fly for 15 minutes without running into some super-powerful being which they're always surprised by.