Skip to main content

Orac has access to the sum total of all the knowledge of all the known worlds.


Blake's 7
1.13: Orac


 Sweaty Gan seizes the opportunity to act opposite his prize beaker again at the start of this episode (that’s the third time this season he’s shown such range.) Elsewhere Avon, in a fairly unsubtle silver and black striped top, has Blake ask him to sit down and listen to a taped recap of the previous episode’s events. For any viewers who missed it. Avon should have dismissed this with a withering look.


 It’s somewhat absurd that a seemingly fairly intelligent group of people on a hi-tech spaceship should take so long to suss out the rather elementary reason for the deteriorating health of Jenna, Gan, Avon and Vila. They did, after all, just spend a significant period on a radiation-soaked planet.  


 Instead, Blake densely asks each in turn how they’re feeling when they come over all dizzy or faint. And how extraordinary that such a well-equipped ship should lack decontamination drugs (perhaps the System’s people are immune to radiation poisoning?) You’d have thought fearless leader Blake would have checked supplies before sending them down to the planet in the first place. Terry Nation loves his radiation poisoning plotlines, of course. Learning that their condition will deteriorate rapidly and they will die, Vila goes off to throw up. And it’s Jenna’s turn not to wear a bra this week.


 There are some nice dissolves used in this episode, such as from the sea of Aristo to the fishtank in Ensor’s lab. The metal prosthetic on his chest is quite well realised. I’m not sure why Orac sounds different throughout compared to the end of the episode (presumably Derek Farr is voicing him, not just when it is Ensor’s voice at the end?) except that perhaps he didn’t want to listen to himself all the time.


 Servalan looks quite slinky here. I’m not sure where the scenes in the tunnels were filmed (if they’re studio, then the choice to shoot on film was a good one).

Avon: It’s ironic, isn’t it? We are racing to deliver medical supplies that will save a man’s life in the hope that he will have medical supplies that will save ours.

Orac taking control of Zen is an effective indication of just how powerful he is. The discussions over why/how Ensor escaped the Federation’s influence, when he was so important a scientist that most computers feature elements in them designed by him, provide interesting backstory and raise worthwhile questions.


 The Phibian that attacks Servalan isn’t the most fearsome of beasts. We’re talking Shrivenzale levels of design acumen here. Calling creatures Phibians is typical Terry Nation (see also Aridians in The Chase). It’s an interesting choice to have Servalan (clearly used to issuing orders far from the battlefield) scream like a girl, before Travis shoots the creature. And nicely played by Pearce in her regaining her composure to show who’s boss.


Travis: The reward’s in credit, remember? I’ll go first, shall I?
Servalan: No, Travis. You will follow me.

Avon starts to become peeved at the intrusive presence of Jenna and Gan in the teleport bay. He asks if Vila is likely to join them too. The Liberator subplot works better than it usually does in this one.

Gan: No. He’s doing his best to convince himself that he feels fine. Says that we’ll just remind him that he doesn’t.
Avon: Sometimes he shows distinct signs of intelligence.



Blake and Cally, unarmed and unable to contact the Liberator (as they are within a force barrier), meet Ensor.



 Farr gives an amusingly cantankerous performance here, and it appears that solutions may present themselves; Ensor has drugs for the crew (“I can’t stand them myself. Filthy things, drugs.”) and Blake suggests they take him back to the Liberator to operate on him and replace the microcells in his mechanical heart (but they’ll have to walk to the surface as it will take five hours for the force barrier to dissipate – how convenient for the plot!)


 We also learn how Orac functions (he draws information from any other computer, but without requiring a direct link.) Some amusing comic business sees Ensor saying goodbye to his plants and fish, although Thomas does rather play up the wryly-amused reaction in these scenes.


 Of course, then Travis blows the bloody doors in and messes things up. This is a solid suspense sequence, with Blake and co escaping into the tunnels just as Travis and Servalan break into the lab. 


 For an audience knowing that these two plan to intercept them, Blake’s plan to cause a cave-in seems particularly moronic. Especially as Ensor expires in the caves while waiting for him.


 It’s just as well that Avon’s showing a bit of sense, recognising that Blake’s been out of contact for too long He summons Vila to the teleport, and an amusing bit of cross purpose dialogue ensues.

Vila: Where is he?
Jenna: We don’t know.
Vila: He woke me up.
Gan: Blake woke you up?
Vila: Avon!

It’s Cally’s turn to get attacked by a Phibian, and they only get less impressive the more we see of them. Still, Blake beats its head in with a rock. Which is nice of him.


 The confrontation on the surface between Travis and Blake is another well-staged action scene. Servalan gives the Space Commander permission to off Blake, but Avon shoots Travis’ gun hand to pieces just as he’s about to carry out the order.


 Blake: Good shot, Avon.
Avon: I was aiming for his head.


 Avon seems quite happy to carry out Travis’ suggestion of “What are you waiting for? Why don’t you kill us?” so he’s obviously developing a taste for murder. Blake stops him, but his suggestion of sending a message to the Federation saying that they let the crew take Orac is a bit feeble. Still, I love the last shot of the two of them.


 Servalan: You’re in a lot of trouble, Travis.

The look of slightly baffled, slightly amused, inevitability on Travis’ face makes you almost feel sorry for him.


 The dismissive logic exercised by Orac in the final scene comes amid a torrent of verbal back and forth with the crew, and gives the computer an instant presence.


 As for the prediction of the destruction of (a) Liberator, “Space vehicle will be destroyed”, now we know where Moffat got his death of nu-Doctor Who cheat for Season Six. At least the answer here came in the following episode (albeit nine months later.)



A highly enjoyable season climax. The opposing parties converging on a single goal makes for a suspenseful and well-paced episode.  Some of the plot devices and logic are a bit weak (the old radiation poisoning, the Phibians) but there is a confidence here that comes with knowing you have a solid central plot. And adios Stephen Greif, you were the most convincingly hard-arse Travis of all. 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Damn prairie dog burrow!

Tremors (1990) (SPOILERS) I suspect the reason the horror comedy – or the sci-fi comedy, come to that – doesn’t tend to be the slam-dunk goldmine many assume it must be, is because it takes a certain sensibility to do it right. Everyone isn’t a Joe Dante or Sam Raimi, or a John Landis, John Carpenter, Edgar Wright, Christopher Landon or even a Peter Jackson or Tim Burton, and the genre is littered with financial failures, some of them very good failures (and a good number of them from the names mentioned). Tremors was one, only proving a hit on video (hence six sequels at last count). It also failed to make Ron Underwood a directing legend.

Here’s Bloody Justice for you.

Laughter in Paradise (1951) (SPOILERS) The beginning of a comedic run for director-producer Mario Zampa that spanned much of the 1950s, invariably aided by writers Michael Pertwee and Jack Davies (the latter went on to pen a spate of Norman Wisdom pictures including The Early Bird , and also comedy rally classic Monte Carlo or Bust! ) As usual with these Pertwee jaunts, Laughter in Paradise boasts a sparky premise – renowned practical joker bequeaths a fortune to four relatives, on condition they complete selected tasks that tickle him – and more than enough resultant situational humour.

I'm offering you a half-share in the universe.

Doctor Who Season 8 – Worst to Best I’m not sure I’d watched Season Eight chronologically before. While I have no hesitation in placing it as the second-best Pertwee season, based on its stories, I’m not sure it pays the same dividends watched as a unit. Simply, there’s too much Master, even as Roger Delgado never gets boring to watch and the stories themselves offer sufficient variety. His presence, turning up like clockwork, is inevitably repetitive. There were no particular revelatory reassessments resulting from this visit, then, except that, taken together – and as The Directing Route extra on the Blu-ray set highlights – it’s often much more visually inventive than what would follow. And that Michael Ferguson should probably have been on permanent attachment throughout this era.

I hate natural causes!

Body Bags (1993) (SPOILERS) I’m not surprised Showtime didn’t pick this up for an anthology series. Perhaps, if John Carpenter had made Coming Home in a Body Bag (the popular Nam movie series referenced in the same year’s True Romance ), we’d have something to talk about. Tho’ probably not, if Carpenter had retained his by this point firmly glued to his side DP Gary Kibbe, ensuring the proceedings are as flat, lifeless and unatmospheric as possible. Carpenter directed two of the segments here, Tobe Hooper the other one. It may sound absurd, given the quality of Hooper’s career, but by this point, even he was calling the shots better than Carpenter.

As in the hokey kids’ show guy?

A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood (2019) (SPOILERS) I don’t think Mr Rogers could have been any creepier had Kevin Spacey played him. It isn’t just the baggage Tom Hanks brings, and whether or not he’s the adrenochrome lord to the stars and/or in Guantanamo and/or dead and/or going to make a perfectly dreadful Colonel Tom Parker and an equally awful Geppetto; it’s that his performance is so constipated and mannered an imitation of Mr Rogers’ genuineness that this “biopic” takes on a fundamentally sinister turn. His every scene with a youngster isn’t so much exuding benevolent empathy as suggestive of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang ’s Child Catcher let loose in a TV studio (and again, this bodes well for Geppetto). Extend that to A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood ’s conceit, that Mr Rogers’ life is one of a sociopathic shrink milking angst from his victims/patients in order to get some kind of satiating high – a bit like a rejuvenating drug, on that score – and you have a deeply unsettli

What's a movie star need a rocket for anyway?

The Rocketeer (1991) (SPOILERS) The Rocketeer has a fantastic poster. One of the best of the last thirty years (and while that may seem like faint praise, what with poster design being a dying art – I’m looking at you Marvel, or Amazon and the recent The Tomorrow War – it isn’t meant to be). The movie itself, however, tends towards stodge. Unremarkable pictures with a wide/cult fanbase, conditioned by childhood nostalgia, are ten-a-penny – Willow for example – and in this case, there was also a reasonably warm critical reception. But such an embrace can’t alter that Joe Johnston makes an inveterately bland, tepid movie director. His “feel” for period here got him The First Avenger: Captain America gig, a bland, tepid movie tending towards stodge. So at least he’s consistent.

Hey, my friend smells amazing!

Luca (2021) (SPOILERS) Pixar’s first gay movie ? Not according to director Enrico Cassarosa (“ This was really never in our plans. This was really about their friendship in that kind of pre-puberty world ”). Perhaps it should have been, as that might have been an excuse – any excuse is worth a shot at this point – for Luca being so insipid and bereft of spark. You know, the way Soul could at least claim it was about something deep and meaningful as a defence for being entirely lacking as a distinctive and creatively engaging story in its own right.

I’m just glad Will Smith isn’t alive to see this.

The Tomorrow War (2021) (SPOILERS). Not so much tomorrow as yesterday. There’s a strong sense of déjà vu watching The Tomorrow War , so doggedly derivative is it of every time-travel/alien war/apocalyptic sci-fi movie of the past forty years. Not helping it stand out from the pack are doughy lead Chris Pratt, damned to look forever on the beefy side no matter how ripped he is and lacking the chops or gravitas for straight roles, and debut live-action director Chris McKay, who manages to deliver the goods in a serviceably anonymous fashion.

You nicknamed my daughter after the Loch Ness Monster?

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 (2012) The final finale of the Twilight saga, in which pig-boy Jacob tells Bella that, “No, it's not like that at all!” after she accuses him of being a paedo. But then she comes around to his viewpoint, doubtless displaying the kind of denial many parents did who let their kids spend time with Jimmy Savile or Gary Glitter during the ‘70s. It's lucky little Renesmee will be an adult by the age of seven, right? Right... Jacob even jokes that he should start calling Edward, “Dad”. And all the while they smile and smile.

I want the secret of the cards. That’s all.

The Queen of Spades (1949) (SPOILERS) Marty Scorsese’s a big fan (“ a masterpiece ”), as is John Boorman, but it was Edgar Wright on the Empire podcast with Quentin “One more movie and I’m out, honest” Tarantino who drew my attention to this Thorold Dickinson picture. The Queen of Spades has, however, undergone a renaissance over the last decade or so, hailed as a hitherto unjustly neglected classic of British cinema, one that ploughed a stylistic furrow at odds with the era’s predominant neo-realism. Ian Christie notes its relationship to the ilk of German expressionist work The Cabinet of Dr of Caligari , and it’s very true that the picture exerts a degree of mesmeric immersion rarely found in homegrown fare.