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Blake's 7
Ranked: 26-1

26: Redemption

The one that resolves Orac’s “Space vehicle will be destroyed” Season One cliffhanger. Also the one that most informs the view of the series as a bunch of actors in cheap costumes playing zap guns in a power station. This is what you get when the series goes epic without the resources to sell the ideas (this is Space World!). But still, it has a lot going for it. The first half provides an enjoyably dense rumination on the idea of science underpinning prediction. When the action kicks in, Redemption is less rewarding but there are still compensations. Such as gimp guards. And alien ladies in blue body stockings. We knew Orac’s prediction had to be a cheat, so at least Tezza goes all out with it.

Memorable Lines

Vila: If it ever comes to a showdown, my money’s on Blake. Well, half of it. I’ll put the other half on Avon.

25: Weapon

A Liberator crew-lite episode (they’re hardly involved in events until the last third) as Boucher serves up lashing of new Federation mythology. Indeed, the episode is at its least interesting when the action starts. We’re introduced to the Clone Masters and the puppeteers/psycho-strategists. Carnell (Scott Fredericks, in a persuasively smooth performance) appears only the once, but it’s difficult to believe that, with such a resource at their disposal, Servalan wasn’t making use of the puppeteers every week in her attempts to get the better of Blake. This is a strong Servalan outing, and her response to Carnell’s departing message is a delight. Also on board is John Bennett as the designer of IMIPAK, the titular weapon. He’s got a Ming the Merciless costume thing going on. The IMIPAK idea allows for some neatly clever-clever dialogue (“I haven’t told it it’s dead yet”). With that, and a cloned Blake (far cooler than the real one, and given to profundities such as “All life is linked”), Boucher’s script is bursting with ideas. The pay-off isn’t quite there, although it’s nice to see a kind-of happy ending where the thread of what happens if the weapon is ever discovered is left dangling. This is also the first appearance of Travis Mk II, and Croucher is predictably wretched in the part.

Memorable Lines

Jenna: Maybe IMIPAK is another Orac. If we captured him maybe we could breed them.
Blake: What a disgusting idea!

24: Headhunter

If a Blake’s 7 episode could be labelled a likeable gobshite, it would be Headhunter. This really shouldn’t work. It’s ridiculous from the first, and features a crazy android dressed as a tablecloth that makes the cranium-obsessed one in Saturn 3 look placid. But it tumbles along, and snowballs the pace and tension enough that you’re distracted from laughing too hard. Orac has a great showing (it comes as a surprise to realise how under-used he was), with a foregrounding of his devious, dangerous, side in a manner not seen since, oh I don’t know he had some destruct device implanted preventing him from being dangerous and devious in Shadow. I don’t for a minute buy the wee computer’s portents of doom, although he’s an effective presence when possessed. Quite why anyone thought Lynda Bellingham was suitable casting as a space tart, I don’t know. But none of silliness in Headhunter prevents it from being an enjoyable ride.

Memorable Lines

Orac: Accept your domination, Soolin! Surrender to your God!

23: Children of Auron

If you can get past the gaping plot holes and retconning of Cally’s Auronianity (pseudo-mysticism reconfigured as ultra-sophisticated science) this is a tense episode with a (shock!) strong role for Servalan (she’s getting all broody). Blake’s 7 makes a good showing with its virus plot lines (Killer, Project Avalon and Warlord are other candidates) and the one unleashed here is suitably nasty.  Jan Chappell, finally getting a chance to do something during Season Three, is first rate as both Cally and her sister Zelda; there’s a run of stories during the last half of season which suggest Boucher had to deal with stroppy cast members moaning about wafer-thin characters. In response, he really comes through. There’s also a good showing for Federation psychos, with destruction happy Ginka (Ric Young). Unfortunately, we’re also treated to a Ronald Leigh-Hunt special. And one of the series’ truly awful (but mercifully rare) laugh-about final scenes.

Memorable Lines

Avon: The trouble with the people of Auron is that they all suffer from a superiority complex.
Vila: You should get on well with them, then.

22: Warlord

The penultimate episode opens with guards casually mowing down drugged-up citizens, the starkest depiction of the Federation since The Way Back. With Avon attempting to broker an alliance against the Federation, the series appears to have rediscovered its rebellious bearings at the last minute. However, things don’t look to good when the plot veers off into a romance between love-struck Tarrant and Zeeona (Bobbie Brown), the daughter of warlord and conference attendee Zukan (Roy Boyd, really giving it some). Servalan is unnecessarily back too, in her last appearance. But Simon Masters stages an admirable recovery, in a script replete with double-crosses, an airborne virus, and the sabotage of Xenon base. All that, and some crazy ‘80s wigs.

Memorable Lines

Vila: Avon's idea of diplomacy is like breaking someone's leg then saying, "Lean on me."

21: Mission to Destiny

The one where Avon plays Hercule Poirot. This is Blake’s 7 in early days format-testing mode. Rebellion against the Federation takes a back seat for a week while the crew investigates murder most horrid aboard a space cruiser. The mystery plot is fairly bog standard, which means its mildly diverting but nothing to get too excited about. Where it comes into its own is as a showcase for Avon. He isn’t out to dispense justice; he’s just interested in the mental exercise of solving the case. Blake’s actual mission to Destiny makes up the less than invigorating B-plot.

Memorable Lines

Vila: Mock if you like, but I can always sense danger.
Gan: Yes, even when there isn’t any.

20: Trial

A starring role for Travis, Trial just about succeeds in spite of the major impediment of his being played Brian Croucher. Croucher provides the occasional smile (his disrespectful attitude towards trial decorum) but he’s such a surly oaf that you forget this is supposed to be the same character Stephen Grief essayed only months earlier. Chris Boucher also sheds more light on the processes of the Federation, and employs one of his favoured devices; the incidental Federation plod (see also Rumours of Death). If the trial intrigue is quality fare, much less so is Blake’s sulky self-imposed exile on an unnamed planet in reaction to the death of Gan. He encounters body-stocking-clad parasitic Pob-alike Zil and reaches a profound realisation concerning his role in the universe. Good grief.

Memorable Lines

Vila: I wish Gan was here.
Avon: Oh yes, of course. He would be able to work out exactly what was going on.

19: Countdown

A good, solid, race against time plot, as the title suggests. This is the sort of simple device Terry Nation loves; a bomb about to go off. Also, being a Nation script, we hear of units such as a “Space Assault Force”. Nation may well have decided that the more ruthless side of the Federation hadn’t been sufficiently emphasised in a while, so here has (Space) Major Provine (Paul Shelley) activate a device that will kill everyone on Albian. Avon-centric, Countdown opens the book on a past that is eventually resolved in Rumours of Death. Here he must work with Del Grant (Tom Chadbon) to defuse the device, a man who wants to kill Avon for (supposedly) leaving his sister Anna to the mercy of the Federation. The two-hander part works very well, the Provine plot less so. And unfortunately Vila is forced to behave like a prize chump yet again.

Memorable Lines

Vila: Good, terrific. I’m really looking forward to this. Danger, excitement, sudden death. I can’t wait.

18: Death-watch

Double the Pacey surely can’t be a good thing? Poor Tarrant was never the best used of crewmembers. Season Three introduced him strongly, and then turned him into a bullying prick in short order. Season Four subsequently made him a bit ineffectual. Just in the nick of time, Chris Boucher was on hand to give him some direction and backstory. Boucher can generally be relied upon to keep his stories intriguing; indeed, only Rescue is a bit of a bodge and that one’s sound in principle. Warring planets sending their champions to do the hard work for them is an effective premise, and the trope is familiar enough but also sufficiently distinct in its own right (the gladiatorial contest for glory has found its latest manifestation in The Hunger Games). Added to this is a neat virtual reality device that allows the audience to experience the contestant’s triumph or defeat (and death). Some of the rules have a whiff of Chris making this up as he goes along, but as a whole he has written an effective pre-finale. There is also a strong supporting turn from Stewart Bevan as Tarrant’s death-watch.

Memorable Lines

Avon: A ritual war is bound to generate a great deal of excitement.

17: Aftermath

As the title suggests, Season Three kicks off with what happens to the crew of the Liberator following their battle with the Andromedans. Mostly, however, it concerns itself with what happens to Avon once Vila and Cally have bundled him and Orac into an escape pod. Down on Sarran he encounters Servalan in a manner verging on the post-modern and meets future crewmember Dayna. You’d be forgiven for thinking Josette Simon wouldn’t be troubling the RSC for parts any time ever, but she was just starting out here. Avon gets to play the space lothario, snogging both Dayna and Servalan, while Cy Grant, as Dayna’s daddy, wears some funky space shades. If chez Mellanby is well designed and rendered, Vere Lorrimer is less sure or himself in the action sequences. And the planet of primitives B-plot is so half-arsed that all concerned should be thoroughly grateful a ham the size of Alan Lake is there to shout “GAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!

Memorable Lines

Avon: Yes, it’s difficult to sustain a military dictatorship when you’ve lost most of the military.

16: Sand

Killer sand on a TV budget, and surprisingly effective with it. Tarrant and Servalan get jolly matey in a script originally conceived for Peirce and Darrow. As such, Tarrant actually comes off rather well for a change and this is one of the few solid Season Four appearances from Commissioner Sleer. Tanith Lee’s script can’t equal the unfettered strangeness of Sarcophagus, and the motives of the titular inhabitant of Virn don’t really hold up under analysis. But this more than confirms Lee’s forte; close-quarter character pieces that are both unsettling and imaginative. She also manages to indulge her poetic leanings without making the characters sound daft; an eroded computer even babbles some lines about love that are awesomely nonsensical. And then there’s Vila’s reaction to Orac’s announcement of “I love you”. Vivienne Cozens directs the entire thing in the studio, ironic given that a sandpit can be guaranteed in just about every other BBC alien planet exterior.

Memorable Lines

Avon: This is not just a rescue mission for poor gallant Tarrant!

15. Orac

The Season One finale may not possess the grand fireworks or multiple casualties of later seasons, but it more than succeeds as a lean, sure-footed quest narrative. As the title suggests, this is our first sighting of the pejorative Perspex box full of flashing lights. It’s also our final encounter with by far the better Travis (Stephen Grief). He and Servalan arrive on Aristo just after the Liberator crew, both parties racing to secure the super computer. Derek Fearr is great as Ensor, and future producer Vere Lorrimer effectively marries the locations and sets as he keeps the momentum up on pursuit narrative. The showdown, when it comes, is more than satisfying; you won’t feel sorry for Travis ever again, that’s for sure. Not with Croucher donning the eye patch. The Phibians, a typically can’t –be-bothered name for a Terry Nation creature (subtract one am-), are on the useless side. A bit wet, even.  

Memorable Lines

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

14. Shadow

Script-editor Chris Boucher’s first credited script for the series finds Jacko from Brush Strokes(Karl Howman) as a pre-heroin chic glamour panda, addicted to drug Shadow. He wouldn’t look out of place in the We Fade to Grey video. Blake is willing to get into bed with the Terra Nostra if it means he can defeat the Federation, thus beginning a trail of Space Hubris that will plague him during Season Two. Most of the action takes place on Space City, but there’s a welcome psychedelic detour as Cally, under duress from a possessed Orac, teleports to the planet Zondar. Where she finds some moon discs (the source of Shadow). Man. Boucher provides an archly cynical commentary on the black economy of illegal drugs as it is revealed that the Federation controls the supply.  There’s also fine offhand turn from Derek Smith as pusherman Largo.

Memorable Lines

“Orac”: Run, last of the humans before my darkness engulfs you.

13. Games

This is the point that, after a very rocky start, Season Four slipped gears into a stream of quality story telling that continued right up until the finale. It bears some similarities with Gold; a robbery plotline, a larger than life guest star (Stratford Johns) and various measures the crew must overcome to secure their prize (Feldon crystals, mined on Mecron II). Johns makes Belkov smoothly manipulative, his over-confidence only underdone by his failing to underestimate the devotion of his computer Gambit.  In the acting stakes, Rosalind Bailey’s vocal performance as Gambit is every bit the equal of Johns. Bill Lyons’ script requires the viewer to pay attention, even (or especially) when the more action-friendly tests begin during the last third. If Avon gets the crew into this mess (and, I suppose, partly comes up with the answers) it’s Vila who is crucial to the solution; the charm and guile he works on Gambit are possibly the highlight of the episode.

Memorable Lines

Vila: Look, you'll probably say it's none of my business, but if anybody told me to kill myself for them, they'd get a short answer.

12. The Way Back

In some quarters it’s probably blasphemy not to have The Way Back nestling among the top 5 episodes, so don’t get me wrong; it’s very good. Nation makes some bold choices in establishing the series, not least of which is having his lead character framed as a child molester. As a whole, the episode pushes the “adult SF” button with a forthrightness that will subsequently checked and reined in somewhat.  But elsewhere the scenario seems rather familiar, and the tone reeks of ‘70s nihilism. Director Michael E Briant pulls no punches in depicting a bleak totalitarian regime, but its black-clad, jackbooted, enforcers are nothing new. Nor are the trappings of brainwashing and medicated indifference. So it’s more in terms of the rest of the series, rather than as a distinctive piece of science fiction in its own right, that The Way Back stands out. Indeed, a significant chunk of the episode doesn’t even feature Blake, as his defence counsel (Michael Holsey) embarks on an attempt to find the truth; this could be a one-off drama. It is only once Blake has been captured, sentenced, and sent for deportation that introduction of Jenna and Vila signals a slight alleviation of the morbid tone. But only slightly. The Federation’s plan doesn’t seem to effective in quelling support for Blake subsequently, so I guess no one really believes he’s an intergalactic Jimmy Savile.

Memorable Lines

Morag: His death could be used by the dissidents. They need a hero. Alive or dead. Blake could be it.
Havant: Difficult. I suppose my department could infect him, some rapidly terminal disease. Would his natural death help?
Glynd: I don’t think so.
Morag: What we need is to discredit him.

11. City at the Edge of the World

Season Three starts of strongly before dipping quite alarmingly. It rallies strongly, however, for this Vila-centric episode. Yes, Vila has a chance to play the (reluctant) hero and even gets the girl before the status quo is inevitably reset. There had been too great a tendency to turn Vila the coward into Vila the idiot prior to this story, so City is a much-needed redressing of the balance. This is one of the series’ lighter-hearted episodes but, if Chris Boucher lays his plot out quite broadly, he doesn’t coast or allow the reins to slacken. The idea of an ancient city full of mysteries is a familiar one yet, by having Vila as the “chosen one” who unlocks its secrets, Boucher manages to have a lot of fun with it. In particular, Bayban the Beserker (or Butcher), a preening, pompous, scenery-guzzling Colin Baker parading about in pre-Mad Max 2 leathers, is perfectly over-the-top. Michael Keating is served a string of great one-liners at the expense of Bayban and his blithering Number Two Sherm (John J Carey), and his romance with Kerril (Carol Hawkins) is rather sweet. Typically, Tarrant is acting like a complete nob (preferable to blanding him out in Season Four, however).

Memorable Lines

Cally: You’d have to be insane to use it.
Bayban: Maybe that’s it. Maybe I am insane.

10. Star One

There’s a line of thought that the first half of Blake’s 7 (with Blake) is good and the second half (without Blake) is not so good. I’m at variance with this take, as I much prefer the Blake-free series. It’s perhaps less consistent, and it makes a harmful mistake in over-relying on Servalan, but the broader scope of stories and ideas, while perhaps not satisfying those demanding the series to be about rebellion and nothing but, benefits the show’s palate and the exploration of its characters. You wouldn’t see a Sarcophagusbefore Season Three, and there’s a sense from Season Two that, while it very definitely has its strengths, the series definitely needs a shake up if it is to move forward. Season Two has some very good episodes, notably in the first half, and then sinks back into a slough of predictability.

But it’s hard to deny that it rallies impressively for this grand finale, in which the series divests itself of both its black clad villain (who has become a joke since his recasting) and its lead at the same time. Chris Boucher provided the script that, in common with the modern penchant for season arcs, finds the crew finally reaching Star One only to discover body snatching Andromedans are set for invasion (excellent, sinister direction from David Maloney in the build up to this). What do you do when faced with an enemy even greater than your established enemy? That in itself is a cue for the Federation to disperse from the scene during the subsequent seasons, but the truth is that even at this point the series had stopped doing anything interesting with the regime. The model climax isn’t all that impressive, it must be said, but it’s more than made up for by the against-hopeless-odds pose struck by the Liberator crew. Gareth Thomas is well catered for in his last appearance as a regular. Blake finds himself in a morally murky place, his zeal likely to result in the deaths of untold millions of lives. It’s possibly fortunate then that events deny him the hard choices, although it’s clear that Boucher is aligning him with any ruthless leader who figures that the ends justify the means. 

Memorable Lines

Servalan: I will not be president of a ruined empire.

9. Sarcophagus

There aren’t that many really whacky episodes in Blake’s 7, but a good proportion of them can be found in Season Three. There are fewer still whacky episodes of any merit, but Tanith Lee’s Liberator-bound hallucinatory role-play is top of the pack. The ship is invaded by an ancient force that proceeds to possess Cally and manipulate the crew. Each of whom gets their moment in the spotlight (including a surprisingly effective music interlude sung by Josette Simon; Vila plays the fool in costume, while Tarrant is even more of a prick than usual). Director Fiona Cumming does an great job in creating a surreal atmosphere, kicking the things off with five minutes of arcane performance art. Lee appears to feels no obligation to over-explain matters, so I assume Boucher scripted the rather clumsy final scene. Avon gets to snog Cally, so he has a full score card of then-regular femmes following Servalan and Dayna at the start of the season, and this is one of the few episodes to give Jan Chappell something worthwhile to do (typical that she should leave just as the writers are finally making her interesting).

Memorable Lines

Tarrant: I don’t take orders from you.
Avon: Well, now that’s a great pity, considering that your own ideas are so limited.

8. Gold

Blake’s 7 does its very own heist mini-movie, as the Scorpio crew gets involved in a less-than-perfect plan to steal a consignment of gold from a space liner called the Space Princess. The mastermind is the dodgy but good-game talking Keiller (Roy Kinnear, on peerless scene-stealing form). Colin Davis’ sole script for the series is a crafty delight and features a new twist or spanner in the works every 10 minutes; it also playfully follows the “crime can’t be seen to pay” approach of classic Ealing fare. He’s ably abetted by Brian Lighthill’s clever direction. Great model work and amusing muzak too. Best of all, leave it to Avon to see the positive side of defeat. This is all fairly far from the direct rebellion under Blake, even though Servalan makes another unnecessary and tiresome appearance, whatever the crew may ultimately have planned to do with the loot. This is a solid showing for Soolin, not such a good for Dayna (not that there are many of those anyway). Unmissable for the opportunity to see Steven Pacey pretending he’s on Ecstasy.

Memorable Lines

Tarrant: Servalan’s not just some greedy gangster.
Avon: Surely that’s exactly what she is.

7. Terminal

The first of two season finale returns for Blake after his season finale exit, Terminal was written with the thought that this would be it for the show; the fourth season was commissioned at quite a late stage (which is why an unavailable Jan Chapell results in Cally suffering an off-screen exit in Rescue). I have to admit, I’m not wholly convinced by Avon’s determination to find Blake at all costs given how much time he previously spent lusting after the thought of having the Liberator all to himself. While it’s fitting that his own tunnel vision gets the all-powerful ship destroyed, the extent of his uncharacteristic lack of logic and caution comes as a shock. Blake is clearly his Achilles’ Heel in ways he is unable to verbalise, but there’s a sense that Nation and Boucher needed to do something to make his behaviour more coherent. That, however, is my only gripe in a stunning episode. The first sight of the oblate Terminal is arresting in itself, and then, on arrival, that ominous heartbeat effect informs every scene. The environment on the planet is claustrophobic enough, but the grief that befalls the Liberator only adds to the bleak tone. And poor Zen! Never a series to dispense with humour, Avon’s final smile in the face of cruel fate is perfect.

Memorable Lines

Zen: I have failed you. I am sorry. I have –

6. Space Fall

The Way Backreceives all attention in Season One, perhaps because it is so atypical. Space Fall, directed by the often-unremarkable Pennant Roberts, slots into place many of the pieces that will guide the series forward. Indeed, this is the series operating as a serial; it really helps to know what happened last week. Avon arrives on the scene, with such confidence that you know Blake doesn’t stand a chance, and the magical Liberator is discovered. Mostly, though, it succeeds so well because it’s an eventful, thrilling 50 minutes from Terry Nation. The action is mainly set aboard the London prison ship, en route to Cygnus Alpha penal colony, and Nation’s transposing of your standard prisoners and warders (Leslie Schofeld is a right bastard as Sub-Commander Raiker), attempted break-outs, scenario to space is remarkably effective. He also comes up with some real space travel ideas (they’re in flight for months on end, the effects of space debris piercing the ship’s hull, the docking tube to the Liberator). The appearance of the Liberator two thirds of the way through is the sign of a writer who has ideas to burn and no interest in kicking his heels; it’s just a shame his contributions to his series don’t always have such verve or drive.

Memorable Lines

Avon: What a fiasco! Your troops bumble around looking for someone to surrender to and when they’ve succeeded you follow suit.

5. Powerplay

Returning to the abandoned Liberator, Avon discovers it already has some new occupants; Federation occupants. Captain Tarrant and the mistrustful Section Leader Klegg (Michael Sheard, on magnificent hard-man form) waste no time locking up Avon and Dayna. And Avon wastes no time enabling their release. But what’s this? Someone on the ship is killing Federation guards, so they don’t have to? Could it be a future crewmate, perhaps? The main substance of the episode is the cat-and-mouse game Avon plays, banking on his superior knowledge of the ship to best the greater numbers of Klegg and his men. Darrow plays Avon’s righteous determination to take back his ship perfectly. David Maloney plays up the tension with his economical direction in an storyline that establishes the new post-Blake line-up without labouring the changes. The only downside is that the Vila/Cally B-plot is merely so-so. But even that has its compensations, as it features an appearance by the great John Hollis (Sondergaard rocks!)

Memorable Lines

Avon: This is my ship!

4. Gambit

An episode that provokes sharp dissent. Gambit was popular amongst the cast members as it gave them a chance to engage in something a little more colourful and comic than usual. But it appears to have fallen into disfavour with some fans, who regard it is a garish, theatrical disaster. It’s certainly a source of the “Robert Homes wrote shit for the show” view. As is clear from my ranking, I love it. Even Servalan and Travis (with a bomb in his arm!) can’t put a dampener on the proceedings (Brian Croucher’s Travis is at his classiest, referring to Aubrey Woods’ Krantor as a “powder poof”). Much of the appeal is the focus on Avon, Vila and Orac. While Blake, Jenna and Cally tangle with the essential battling-the-Federation stuff, they take time out at Freedom City to beat the Big Wheel. With the aid of a miniaturised Orac, Avon plans to turn the fixed odds of the casino in their favour. Holmes clearly relished writing for Avon and Vila, and Darrow and Keating wring every ounce of comedic potential from their scenes. The script takes a classic path of wins turning to losses and beyond, culminating in an extremely high stakes speed chess tournament between Klute (Deep Roy) and Vila.

Memorable Lines

Krantor: An eyepatch? Oh, how quaint.

3. Blake

Blake isn’t a great episode purely because of Avon’s confrontation with his former leader, or for those final inscrutable moments. It’s a great episode because it is instilled with a pervading sense of desperation and doom that manage to sum up the entire trajectory of the show. These guys never stood a chance, really. The series has played with this in previous finales, but here it is the main focus. The crew no longer have a base. They no longer have a ship. Their one-time figurehead is, if not wholly transparent in motive, at best reduced to the states of a bum.

Mary Ridge knew how to inform an episode with atmosphere. She marbled an ominous heartbeat over the action in Terminal and here she provides a wailing siren to warn the crew of their demise. Ridge handles the effects work economically and effectively, and the location work sets off Gauda Prime atmospherically; there’s a sense of scale here that fits The Wild Bunchblaze-of-glory tumble. Returning to Blake in this manner, Chris Boucher ensures he is granted a mythic status that is also torn down. There is no fond reunion, only accusations of betrayal and bloody murder. I’ve been critical of Gareth Thomas in the series, but he embraces the chance to muddy Blake’s image. That said, this is Darrow’s show all the way, and he’s phenomenal.

Memorable Lines

Avon: Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?!

2. Rumours of Death

Blake’s 7 episodes often culminate in a display of just how cool Avon is, even when he isn’t central to the action. It’s one of the show’s more irresistible qualities. Chris Boucher’s script for Rumours of Death focuses very much on Avon, more so perhaps than any other story in the series, but it makes it self distinct by balancing his genius with his fallibility. Boucher delves into his past with a plot that is gripping from the off; Avon is incarcerated, and is being interrogated by Federation interrogator Shrinker (John Bryans). It isn’t long before the writer/script editor is piling on the twists and the intrigue, however.

Nothing is as it seems, as flashbacks to Avon’s past are intercut with a plot to overthrow the Federation. At the centre of events is Avon’s relationship with Anna Grant (Luna Helibron), his one great love, and what transpires makes a strong case for justifying Avon’s icy impenetrable exterior. Fiona Cumming, who directed back-to-back blinders with this and the very different Sarcophagus, keeps the story rattling along; there isn’t a moment wasted over a 50 minute span that has enough potential for a story double that length.

This is also a good Servalan story – something of a rarity by this point in Season Three, where her potential had been mostly expended. Boucher effectively updates us on the world of the Federation post-Star One, bringing the show, literally, back down to Earth. Indeed, the drive here and the willingness to make statements about the lie of the land are more redolent of a season conclusion. 

Memorable Lines

Avon: Of all the things I have known myself to be, I never recognised the fool.

1. Orbit

Some say prolific Doctor Who writer Robert Holmes didn’t quite make the grade with his Blake’s 7 scripts, but most agree that Orbit was his best piece of writing for the series. The caustic relationship between Avon and Vila is one of the highlights of the show, but it is generally limited to barbs (Avon says something sarcastic to Vila, Vila says something approximating Eyeore in response). Here, just before the grand farewell, they get something meatier. And it isn’t pretty.

During the first half of the story, tightly directed by Brian Lighthill, Avon and Vila contact the grotesque Egrorian (a wonderfully hammy performance from John Savident) on the planet Malodar in an attempt to secure their latest super-device (a tachyon funnel). The scenes between the crewmembers and Egrorian are awash with memorable dialogue, and it can’t go unnoticed that Egrorian and his assistant Pinder are a macabre reflection of Avon and Vila (Egrorian even wants Vila as his new pet). But this serves only as an appetiser for the main course. By this point in Season Four, Servalan (or rather Commissioner Sleer) has become ubiquitous, so it should be little surprise that this is all just one of her traps; she still wants to get her mits on Orac.

On the shuttle back to Scorpio, Avon and Vila (and Orac) discover that they are losing velocity, being dragged back down to the planet. They dispose of anything not fastened down, but still the shuttle is too heavy. Then Orac (the little bugger) announces that Vila happens to be just about the weight the shuttle needs to lose… Darrow and Keating are on sterling form throughout, relishing a script that is by turns very funny and very tense. In some respects Orbit merely underlines what we always knew about their main characteristics; the amoral mastermind out for Number One, and the slippery coward whose first impulse is to leg it. But we’ve never seen them rendered in such a stark, raw fashion before. Coming two episodes before the finale, this seems somehow appropriate; with the writing on the wall like this, how much future would they have together?

 Memorable Lines

Orac: Vila weighs 73 kilos. Avon.

52 - 27 can be found here


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She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

You can’t climb a ladder, no. But you can skip like a goat into a bar.

Juno and the Paycock (1930)
(SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s second sound feature. Such was the lustre of this technological advance that a wordy play was picked. By Sean O’Casey, upon whom Hitchcock based the prophet of doom at the end of The Birds. Juno and the Paycock, set in 1922 during the Irish Civil War, begins as a broad comedy of domestic manners, but by the end has descended into full-blown Greek (or Catholic) tragedy. As such, it’s an uneven but still watchable affair, even if Hitch does nothing to disguise its stage origins.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

James Bond. You appear with the tedious inevitability of an unloved season.

Moonraker (1979)
Depending upon your disposition, and quite possibly age, Moonraker is either the Bond film that finally jumped the shark or the one that is most gloriously redolent of Roger Moore’s knowing take on the character. Many Bond aficionados will no doubt utter its name with thinly disguised contempt, just as they will extol with gravity how Timothy Dalton represented a masterful return to the core values of the series. If you regard For Your Eyes Only as a refreshing return to basics after the excesses of the previous two entries, and particularly the space opera grandstanding of this one, it’s probably fair to say you don’t much like Roger Moore’s take on Bond.

I mean, I am just a dumb bunny, but, we are good at multiplying.

Zootropolis (2016)
(SPOILERS) The key to Zootropolis’ creative success isn’t so much the conceit of its much-vaunted allegory regarding prejudice and equality, or – conversely – the fun to be had riffing on animal stereotypes (simultaneously clever and obvious), or even the appealing central duo voiced by Ginnifier Goodwin (as first rabbit cop Judy Hopps) and Jason Bateman (fox hustler Nick Wilde). Rather, it’s coming armed with that rarity for an animation; a well-sustained plot that doesn’t devolve into overblown set pieces or rest on the easy laurels of musical numbers and montages.

Anything can happen in Little Storping. Anything at all.

The Avengers 2.22: Murdersville
Brian Clemens' witty take on village life gone bad is one of the highlights of the fifth season. Inspired by Bad Day at Black Rock, one wonders how much Murdersville's premise of unsettling impulses lurking beneath an idyllic surface were set to influence both Straw Dogs and The Wicker Mana few years later (one could also suggest it premeditates the brand of backwoods horrors soon to be found in American cinema from the likes of Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper).

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989)
(SPOILERS) There’s Jaws, there’s Star Wars, and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy, to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “mainly boring”.

Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the system when Burton did it (even…

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991)
(SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Doctor, eh? You’re not in the best of shape yourself, though, are you?

Doctor Who  Season 26 – Worst to Best
I’m not a big Seventh Doctor fan. For me, Doctor Who pretty much ended with Season 23 (and not because it was awful: see here). Yes, there have been a few nu-Who reprieves (mostly notably Matt Smith’s first season), but the McCoy era flaunted an abundance of sins, from a lead who wasn’t up to snuff, to a script-editor messaging his social conscience wrapped in a breeze block (or bilge bag), to production values that made any given earlier era look absurdly lavish in comparison. And then there was the “masterplan” (which at least lends Season 24 a rather innocuous and relatively inoffensive quality by contrast).

Nevertheless, on the occasions I do return to the era, I’m always minded to give it a fair shake. And while that resolve inevitably crumbles within minutes, under the duress of cold harsh reality, it has, at times, led to a positive reappraisal (The Happiness Patrol, and, to an extent, perhaps unfathomably, Time and the Rani). So we’ll see ho…