Season Four, the season they didn’t expect to make. Which means there’s a certain amount of getting up to speed required in order for “status quo” stories to be told. If they choose to go that route. There’s no Liberator anymore as a starting point for stories; a situation the show hasn’t found itself in since Space Fall. So where do they go from here? Behind the scenes there’s no David Maloney either. Nor Terry Nation (I’d say that by this point that’s slightly less of an issue, but his three scripts for Season Three were among his best).
But, with script editor Chris Boucher remaining as the creative pulse of the series, and writing the opener, it would seem that we’re in good hands story-wise. And Mary Ridge directing (effectively back-to-back with Terminal) should inspire confidence. So it’s a shame that Rescueisn’t up to the standard of any of the previous season starters. Which isn’t to say it’s not enjoyable in and of itself.
And the first 30 minutes are as good as any of the previous kick-offs in getting the crew out of the scrape they found themselves in the previous year. It’s Boucher’s homage to (or plundering of) The Picture of Dorian Gray (very unsubtly in terms of one of the characters’ names) that ultimately denies it greatness. What we end up with is a rather so-so monster-of-the –week story with a cannibalised Sea Devil (a curious choice, and certainly a cheap one).
I’m definitely a fan of the final season’s title sequence, using the old rolling planet idea of Revenge of the Cybermen to better effect and a nifty ‘80s graphics targeting computer screen. Less keen on the slightly lounge bar closing theme, though.
The continuity with the previous story is quickly established with the heartbeat effect marbling the scenes of Avon and Dayna checking out the ship Servalan left for them.
So this takes place almost immediately after what we saw in Terminal. The snowy surroundings add free production value to the scenes (and work in terms of reinforcing Terminal’s amped-up evolutionary environment).
Boucher works methodically to tie up the loose ends of how Servalan left the crew; a booby-trapped ship triggering further explosions in the underground base makes sense as something she’d come up with. Which neatly solves the problem of the non-return of Jan Chapelle. I never used to like Chapelle, but she was much better catered for in Season Three, making it a bit of a shame she didn’t return. But I must balance this against the addition to the cast of Glynis Barber, so it’s an easy trade to make.
I saw this one at least twice in the ’80s, and again a few years back when I bought the DVDs, but I still had no recollection of the Triffid snake thing that has been added to the inhospitality of Terminal. As crap Blake’s 7 creatures go it’s none-too bad. We also get to see a solitary Link, used by Boucher as cannon-fodder.
Boucher also continues to use Vila more constructively. He saves Tarrant and shows willingness to go back for Cally (whose final lines are “Vila” and a rather OTT echoing “Blake!”). And it’s his suspicion, cowardice and vices (alcohol) that lead to the crew beating Dorian at the climax. Consistent too is Vila’s distaste for Tarrant.
Vila: If I've broken my back hauling a corpse about, I'll never forgive you Tarrant.
While I make no argument as to the originality of the design of the Liberator, I always preferred the sleekness of Scorpio (even if it’s supposed to be obsolete). If the flight deck is less effective than Liberator’s (differing levels create more variety within the space), making the crew sit down lends a suggestion that they are more akin to being in a cockpit of a fighter than on the command deck of an aircraft carrier. The sense of singular purpose of use of their craft is emphasised later when we learn that it is only the deck that is pressurised; they will have to take their R’n’R elsewhere.
If Dorian is something of a bodge as a character, then Geoffrey Burridge perhaps wasn’t the best choice of actor for the part either. He’s competent (except when he needs to scream or die, when he’s awful) but he doesn’t really command a scene in the way an effective guest baddie should. There’s not enough charm or danger there. And it doesn’t help that he looks like he’s just stepped out of the Top of the Pops studio. Or maybe it does, if you want to work in the Dorian Gray theme. And calling him Dorian is a bit too on-the-nose, I’d suggest.
I really like the design of Slave, even if his voice is, again, a little too obvious. He looks a bit like a Zeroid from Terrahawks.
Tarrant: Vila rescued me?
Avon: You were injured trying to rescue Cally. He rescued you. Suddenly I am hip deep in heroes.
Tarrant: Where is Cally?
Avon: Cally is dead.
There’s something rather refreshing about the perfunctory way Avon reveals this, particularly considering the intimations of a bond between the two at various points in Season Three. The suggestion is clearly that Avon saw her body, as he went back down to retrieve Orac.
The splitting up of the crew again is a bit of clumsy (Tarrant passes out, Avon goes to find him, Dayna goes on a scout, Vila follows), and I wonder given the way the camera pans down to Orac left alone if a scene wasn’t cut somewhere. We don’t register him again until we see Vila board Scorpio with him.
The return of the Triffid snake, with Dayna (who has several rather prattish scenes in this, for such a former fearless fighter-type) and Vila clinging to a ledge has more than a whiff of the Sarlacc Pit to it. Not that George Lucas would have watched Blake’sat any point when he was in Britain, of course. Or kept up with it when he wasn’t.
If Dorian is supposed to be suave, he actually comes across as a bit of a cock (“Re-lax. Your problems are over”) and at times reminds me a bit of Pex from Paradise Towers but without the knowing piss-take.
It’s veeeeeeery convenient that the crew of the Liberator should happen upon a ship with all sorts of proto-enhancements (souped-up computer, failed attempt at teleport, advanced hand weaponry), so it’s a much-needed balance to emphasise that the ship itself really ain’t all that (a Wanderer class planet hopper). I suppose Boucher goes some way to address the point in having Dorian purposefully set out to find the crew (although the whole gestalt business seems like a bit of an attempt to fit a reasoning over the requirements of the plot; he wanted the Liberator for its teleport, Orac for his knowledge thereof – there’s an attempt to tie everything in too neatly with Dorian’s needs and it doesn’t quite fit).
Nevertheless, the set up of Dorian’s rescue in the opening sequences of the story generally works effectively; we know he has some ulterior motive but it could be anything at this point.
We see Vila’s leching after Dayna make a humorous return (“Would you rather cosy up to those snakes?”) and there seems to be an attempt forming here and in the latter stages of last season to build up a comic friction between the two.
Boucher draws on some of the Liberator’s tropes to ensure that the set course for Xenon cannot be interfered with (a computer that only responds to its masters’ voices). One thing that is a definite move for the better this season is replacing the Harry Potter wands with solid looking metallic weaponry. I’m not sure I could take much more of Tarrant looking a complete divvy whenever he waved his about.
We’re given a bit of grounding in Xenon’s location; post-contraction of the Federation, it’s well-outside their territory. So this is a cosy set-up in-waiting, if not as cosy as the Liberator.
Vila’s “Oh yeah? Name six” in response to the suggestion that he has bright associates makes no sense other than as a shout out to the series’ title.
It’s Glynis Barber. I love Glynis Barber. More for Dempsey and Makepeace, obviously, but I’m quite happy with her in Blake’s 7. So Soolin doesn’t have much of a character. As compensation, Barber’s the most attractive of the female crew members and certainly the best actress.
I don’t know if we ever get any more information on how Soolin ended up with Dorian (she’s hardly in Power so perhaps not) but it seems like another bit of uncertain plotting from Boucher to fit her in. Presumably she’s not been with him that long, and she neither resists nor responds when he smooches her on arriving.
The suggestion that she can be part of the gestalt even though she has no bond with the rest of the crew rather mocks the concept, and it’s never clear how long Dorian would have allowed her to hang around if they hadn’t showed up. It might have made more sense to have her established as Dorian’s bint, giving his eternal youth an opportunity to engage in carnality with pert crumpet.
Dorian: Everything has its price, Avon. You have to decide whether you want to pay it or not. That's all.
Vila: Well, I don't believe in paying.
Dorian: You mean you're here by choice?
The reaction of everyone to this, as if Dorian has said something revelatory, was rather lost on me. That they’re a bunch of freeloaders and get what they deserve?
The extended landing of Scorpio is very groovy, like Gerry Anderson spent a day out at the BBC. It justifies its length, particularly the final bit of model work on the lit, rotating platform. Probably the best such work the series has seen.
Boucher sets up a few points for later as they step out into Xenon base; Vila mistrustfully takes Avon’s gun while Dorian looks meaningfully at Orac. But some things aren’t so clear, with hindsight. Why does Soolin know to set out seven glasses? How much has Dorian (not) told her, since she seems pretty much in the dark later? I like how she outdraws Avon and Tarrant with ease, though.
Tarrant: What do you think?
Avon: I think his taste in wine and women is impeccable.
While the scenes in Dorian’s basement are nicely lit, other aspects leave a lot to be desired. For one thing, Burridge makes a poor fist of performing his wearied/strained character.
Then there’s the reconstituted Sea Devil, still partially in the shadows at this point. Couldn’t they have re-used the Axon/Krynoid if they were going BBC monster-hunting on the cheap?
If Keaton wasn’t happy with the use of Vila in this season, it’s not evident why at this point. He’s still getting the best dialogue outside of Avon.
Vila: No. Why should I? I don't have to justify my existence by going through the motions of trying to open a door which I know is impossible. I'm the expert. If I say it's impossible, then it's impossible. To Hell with it. I wonder where they keep that wine.
We come to Avon being held at gunpoint fairly suddenly, although Dorian has manoeuvred the crew into a situation where he can dispense with the pleasantries (Orac aside who gives good put downs; it’s also a nice touch that Dorian knew Ensor). Avon’s “What did you do in your spare time?” in response to Dorian’s litany of achievements is very funny.
Again with Vila, there’s some amusing silent comedy as, eavesdropping, he realises that the gun he’s holding is useless against Dorian (and after they’ve left, considering his choice between glass and gun).
But Dorian’s revelation isn’t that compelling, perhaps because the series isn’t much for monsters lurking in basements. Perhaps also because, despite its literary inspiration, Boucher sets out his explanation in a somewhat mangled form. The room cleanses Dorian “of all the corruptions of time and appetite” and “all the madness and rotting corruption which would have been mine”. But it’s not clear why the room took his partner over Dorian in the first place. Or, if this is what it does, why the same didn’t happen to with the crew even after the death of Dorian and the Cellar Devil.
Dayna, having been trapped in the cellar, turns into a screaming girl who throws herself into Tarrant’s arms when they join her. Rather inconsistent characterisation there, from someone who should be rock hard.
The climax is a bit of a mess; Avon gets to shoot the Cellar Devil, while Burridge dies extremely badly. On the plus side the decay make-up is suitably gruey.
I also like how Soolin, unobserved, silently ascends the stairs. Unfortunately Vila delivers a crap line about pink asteroids. The only upside of this is that both Tarrant and Avon give him a “STFU!” look.
Not up to the standard we’ve come to expect from Boucher. Indeed, probably the weakest of his scripts for the series, but it’s not the stinker that it’s sometimes made out to be. The monster in the basement smacks a bit of desperation on his part, which is a shame as he effectively gets the crew off Terminal and sets the scene for what is to come.