It’s Gauda Prime Day – so here is my write-up of the fourth and final series of Blake’s 7

Today is the anniversary of the last episode of Blake's 7 being first shown on TV, and we hardcore fans refer to 21 December as Gauda Prime Day after the planet on which that last episode was set. It's the end of my revisiting the show – I realised actually that I had missed quite a lot of it first time round, so it's been a lovely journey of discovery as well as rediscovery. (If you want to see my previous write-ups they are here, here, here and here)

4.1 Rescue, written by Chris Boucher, directed by Mary Ridge

Well, we really are off with a bang, as the planet Terminal explodes, taking poor Cally with it. (She got reincarnated, I think, as a woman widowed during the Troubles in one of the Northern Ireland Office's peace advertisements about ten years later.) And our crew get rescued by Dorian, who is a direct lift from Oscar Wilde, with an alien alter ego in the basement; when he turns out to be evil and is disposed of, his girlfriend Soolin joins the team. Fans are generally a bit down on this series, but I enjoyed most of the stories, including this one; it gets a bit over the top at the end (the monster is only just passable), but in particular I thought Geoffrey Burridge was great as Dorian himself; I am surprised that he was not better known.

Glynis Barber as new regular Soolin isn't quite as intense as Cally, but doen't annoy me as much as Tarrant. She has actually been here before, as a mutoid in the first series.

Dialogue triumphs:

Dayna: Don't you ever get bored with being right?
Avon: Just with the rest of you being wrong.

Avon: 'A man who trusts can never be betrayed, only mistaken.' Cally once said that was a saying among her people.
Dorian: Who's Cally?
Avon: Cally was murdered. So were most of her people.

Dayna: Cheer up, Vila. You've got a lot of very bright associates too.
Vila: Oh yeah? Name six.

4.2 Power, written by Ben Steed, directed by Mary Ridge

Having said that I liked most of this series' episodes, this was pretty dire – another battle of the sexes story by Ben Steed. You know, if the women and men of the planet Xenon have been at war with each other for years, where do all the little Xenonians come from? (Actually we don't see any, so perhaps that's the answer.) The other pot strand is a well-done locked-door problem with Vila and Avon, but the clunky sexism rather spoils it. Avon does one of his power snogs with Pella (Juliet Hammond-Hill).

We have two crossover with the Sixth Doctor story Timelash, where Dicken Ashworth, playing the leader of the menfolk here, is Sezon, and Paul Darrow of course is Tekker. Unfortunately I don't think they are in any scenes together.

Dialogue triumphs:

Pella: You must be very clever.
Vila: That's what I keep telling everyone. They even believed me in CF One.
Pella: CF One?
Vila: A sort of academy, when I was a boy. They chose me as technical advisor for the escape.
Pella: Escape? From an academy?
Vila Restal: Perhaps academy was the wrong word.

4.3 Traitor, written by Robert Holmes, directed by David Sullivan Proudfoot

One of the great Robert Holmes' less great contributions to the series, this has the Scorpio crew observing politics on a planet where really the most interesting thing is that Servalan, for some unknown reason, has decided to rename herself Sleer. Once again the Federation has a vulnerable and underdefended communications terminal (you'd think they'd have learned by now).

Two Doctor Who crossovers. Christopher Neame, here Colonel Quute, was Skagra in the unshown Fourth Doctor story Shada.

And David Quilter, here playing a soldier known only as The Tracer, appears in New Who as the butler in the Tenth Doctor Agatha Christie story, The Unicorn and the Wasp.

Dialogue triumph:

Avon: These old freighters are fitted with short burn boosters to help get their payloads into orbit. Orac is figuring out a way to redesign them to give us extra inflight speed.
Soolin: I thought he was keeping unusually silent.
Avon: Probably sulking. One of the almost human things about Orac is that it does not like to work. [Silkily] Orac.
Orac: Yes, Avon.
Avon: Any progress with the booster problem?
Orac: There has been no reply yet.
Avon: What do you mean, no reply?
Orac: I passed the program to computers specializing in engineering design.
Avon: You mean you can't handle it yourself?
Orac: The art of leadership is delegation.

4.4 Stardrive, written by James Follett, directed by David Sullivan Proudfoot

I vividly remember the opening sequence of this episode from the first showing in 1981 – I've always had a bit of a fascination with asteroids, and feel a bit defensively that they are given a bum rap here; asteroids are perfectly safe if you approach them correctly, just like any large animal. We now know of course, as we didn't in 1981, that real asteroids tend to be less lumpy than this one. (It's also a bit bizarre to think that you could zoom undetected into a star system hiding behind an asteroid, though Stephen Baxter also wrote a novella with that plot.)

The rest of the spisode is pretty silly, with the punk Space Rats driving their fast vehicles around, both on and off planet. (Follett had a thing about depraved youth.) One Doctor Who crossover, Barbara Shelley, who is Dr Plaxton here and would go on to play Sorasta in the Fifth Doctor story Planet of Fire.

Dialogue triumph (not a great selection here):

Dayna: Sometimes, Vila, you can be quite disgusting.
Vila: Not so, my lovely. I can be disgusting all the time. It's easy.

4.5 Animals, written by Allan Prior, directed by Mary Ridge

This is Dayna's best episode this season, which is not saying much; she encounters a former lover and gets brainwashed and then unbrainwashed by Servalan (whose means and motivation remain as obscure as ever). Dayna's ex has been running experiments a la Dr Moreau, but exactly why is not clear. Josette Simon and Peter Byrne do display some impressive chemistry (which is actually a bit errrr given that the two actors are 32 years apart in age).

There is one brilliant scene with Kevin Stoney, previously a Senator, returning as a blind scientist who recognises Servalan but wisely decides not to say so. He of course was on Doctor Who many times.

Two other Doctor Who crossovers. Servalan's captain-of-the-week is played by William Lindsay, previously Zargo, the vampire leader in the Fourth Doctor story State of Decay.

And Servalan's intelligence-officer-on-a-screen is played by Max Henderson, who would soon after be Cardinal Zorac, wearing a fetching red helm, in the Fifth Doctor story Arc of Infinity.

Dialogue triumph:

Tarrant: Will he remember you?
Dayna (grinning): I should hope so.

4.6 Headhunter, written by Roger Parkes, directed by Mary Ridge

Cor, this is a different matter. I hate stories about cute anthopomorphic robots. But this is a story about a deceptive homicidal robnot that appears to want to make love to Orac. And it's a very well done murder mystery – it turns out that the scientist Muller has been killed and decapitated by his own creation, much to the dismay of his lover who the Scorpio crew have somehow got hold of. There's great stuff between the crew as well. One of the memorable episodes from this season (I think I must have missed it in 1981). Muller's lover Veena is played by Lynda Bellingham, who of course was the Prosecutor in the Sixth Doctor Trial of a Time Lord season.

(The android is played by Nick Joseph, who was an extra in several Doctor Who stories, but as we don't see his face I won't use a photo here.)

Dialogue triumphs:

Orac (possessed by the evil android): Join us, Soolin. We can fulfill your every desire.
Soolin (turning Orac off): You wouldn't know where to start.

4.7 Assassin, written by Rod Beacham, directed by David Sullivan Proudfoot

This is a game of two halves. The first half, with Avon being sold as a slave, is very silly indeed. But the second half, with Caroline Holdaway as terrified ex-prisoner Piri whose true homicidal nature only gradually becomes apparent, is very well done indeed, and actually I think she is rather good. (Apologies for the spoiler, but this was first broadcast in 1981!)

A big Doctor Who crossover here: Richard Hurndall's turn as Avon's fellow slave Nebrox, according to lore, was directly responsible for his casting as William Hartnell's replacement as the First Doctor in The Five Doctors.

Not quite as historic, Adam Blackwood here plays one of the auction bidders, Tok, with a lot of extra facial hair, and went on to be the clean-shaven Balazar, the reader of the Books of Knowledge in The Mysterious Planet, the first part of the Sixth Doctor's Trial of a Time Lord.

I'm going to note a crossover with Here Come the Double Deckers! too – Betty Marsden, who plays the auctioneer Verlis, was Millie the lady camper in the utterly glorious episode Summer Camp.

Dialogue triumph (ish):

Soolin slaps Piri's face.
Tarrant: You enjoyed that, didn't you?
Soolin: There are two classic ways of dealing with an hysterical woman; you didn't really expect me to kiss her, did you?

4.8 Games, written by Bill Lyons, directed by Vivienne Cozens

Another great sfnal plot – a mad scientist who is also a game designer and has a strange relationship with his computer. Vila gets some good stuff to do, and even Soolin is given a rare moment of sharpshooting, but of course it is Avon who spots the trap before it is too late.

Stratford Johns, a really well-known actor, is mad scientist Belkov here but was also Monarch, the leader of the alien Urbankans, in the Fifth Doctor story Four to Doomsday.

And David Neal, who is Gerren here, plays the ill-fated President in the last Fifth Doctor story, Caves of Androzani, but without a beard.

Dialogue triumph:

Guard: Four of our men have been killed with a knife like that.
Vila: You don't think – I mean, I'm not the violent type, really I'm not.
Guard: Then why do you carry that?
Vila: I found it.
Guard: Where?
Vila: It was stuck in one of your men.

4.9 Sand, written by Tanith Lee, directed by Vivienne Cozens

Tanith Lee, eh? One of the great British SF writers, who left us a couple of years ago, and wrote two of the most ssfnally intersting episodes of Blake's 7 – last season's Sarcophagus, and this one now, featuring intelligent, vampiric sand which is able to possess computers such as Orac. Tarrant, most people's least favourite member of the Seven, gets a decent episode and actually what looks like a romance with Servalan – whose emotional backstory is revealed here, not completely consistent with what we knew of her, but great drama none the less.

A whole festival of Who crossover here with four of the guest cast also having Whoniverse credits. Stephen Yardley, who is Reeve here, was in the classic Fourth Doctor story Genesis of the Daleks as Sevrin the Muto, and in the Sixth Doctor story Vengeance on Varos as Arak, the reality TV fan.

His sidekick Chasgo is played by Daniel Hill, also Chris Parsons in the unshown Fourth Doctor story Shada.

Peter Craze, who plays Servalan's unnamed assistant, has not only already been on Blake's 7 before as Prell in the first series episode Seek-Locate-Destroy, he was in three Doctor Who stories – far in the mists of time, he was the young revolutionary Dako in the First Doctor story The Space MuseumThe War GamesNightmare of Eden.

And finally, Jonathan David, who plays the dead scientist Keller, went on to be Stratton in the Sixth Doctor story Attack of the Cybermen:

Dialogue trimphs:

Servalan: Oh, Tarrant. I'm just the girl next door.
Tarrant: If you were the girl next door, I'd move.
Servalan: Where would you move, Tarrant?
Tarrant: Next door?

Orac: I love you.
Vila: Orac!
Orac: My emotions are deeper than the seas of space. One times one is only possible in the ultra-dimensional.
Avon: Turn Orac off.
Orac: I love you.
Avon: Off!
Orac: We will be lovers for a little while, or maybe for a long while, who knows?
Soolin: I do. (Turns Orac off)

4.10 Gold, written by Colin Davis, directed by Brian Lighthill

I have to say that I felt this was the last unsatisfactory episode of Blake's 7. (And I am consious that most fans seem to like it more than I did.) It's a story of a heist, which seems to run up against just enough obstacles to create plot points; and at the end of it, Avon inexplicably lets Servalan win. It is lifted very much by Roy Kinnear as Avon's untrustworthy ally, though I always see him as George's friend Jerry in George and Mildred.

The only Doctor Who crossover here, noted for the record, is Norman Hartley, unseen as the voice of the pilot, but visible in two black-and-white Doctor Who stories, the First Doctor's The Time Meddler as Viking warrior Ulf, and the Second Doctor's The Invasion as Sergeant Peters. But I don't think we see him here (unless I missed him in a crowd scene) and so I won't inflict photos on you.

Dialogue disaster:

Tarrant: We've just risked our lives, for nothing.
Soolin: Not for nothing, Tarrant. We risked our lives… to make Servalan rich!
Avon: (laughs manically)

4.11 Orbit, written by Robert Holmes, directed by Brian Lighthill

This is one of Robert Holmes later scripts, and one of his best ones. Homes' trademark is to have two guest actors establishing the situation by the conversation between the two characters; here he excels with the two scientists Egrorian and Pinder, whose relationship with each other is clearly unhealthy and whose relationship with Servalan is even more creepy.

But what this episode is rightly remembered for is the five-minute sequence where Avon decides to kill Vila to achieve orbit by jettisoning his weight, and then changes his mind when he realises that there is a fragment of plotdevicium on the shuttle that he can get rid of instead. It's one of the most intense pieces of British sf drama.

John Savident plays the sinister scientist Egrorian here; we've already had him as the presiding officer in the second series episode Trial. He is killed off in the first episode of the Fifth Doctor story The Visitation, where he was the (unnamed) Squire, with a lot more hair.

Dialogue triumph:

Avon: How much more weight must we lose before we can achieve escape velocity?
Orac: Seventy kilos, Avon.
Avon: Only seventy kilos… Vila, strip off the insulation material in the cargo hold. Vila! (hands him something)
Vila: But that's plastic. It weighs nothing.
Avon: Get rid of it anyway.
Vila: A kilo and a half if we're lucky.
Avon: Do it! We've got five minutes. (Vila leaves) Not enough! Not nearly enough! Dammit, what weighs seventy kilos?
Orac: Vila weighs seventy-three kilos, Avon.

4.12 Warlord, written by Simon Masters, directed by Viktors Ritelis

A weird one this – Avon forming a coalition of strange-looking warlords is strangely reminiscent of the Daleks' Master Plan…

And the coalition then turns out to have nothing to do with the rest of the plot, which has warlord Zukan in alliance with Servalan (in her last appearance) both double-crossing the Scorpio crew and being himself double-crossed by his own daughter. It's well done and keeps you watching to the grim end.

Well, I was wrong when I said that Vila and Kerril were the only characters to explicitly have sex in City at the Edge of the World last season, because Tarrant and Zeeona head away from the company at one point and come back looking smug.

Two Doctor Who crossovers here. Roy Boyd, playing main baddie Zukan, has a small part in the Fourth Doctor story The Hand of Fear as nuclear engineer Driscoll, with a lot more hair.

And Rick James, whose performace as Cotton in the Third Doctor story The Mutants is notoriously one of the weakest in the whole of Doctor Who, is a little better here as subsidiary warlond Chalsa with the impressive Jedward-style hair. He was quite a well-known figure in his native Antigua.

4.13 Blake, written by Chris Boucher, directed by Mary Ridge

Well, this is it. I remember 39 years ago today, stunned as the closing titles rolled, wondering what I had just watched. The BBC kills off Blake and the entire crew; it's one of the bleakest ends to a series that I can think of. And it's done in style; has Blake gone over to the dark side? We find out that he hasn't; Avon doesn't find out in time, and takes his vengeance for a destroyed idealism.

And then they all die.

Even knowing it was coming this time round, I was stunned by the drama of the climax. The biggest disappointment is that Servalan is not there at the end, as she had promised she would be; but who can trust her?

David Collings, here playing Blake's main accomplice Deva, was in Doctor Who three times, in the Fourth Doctor stories Return of the Cybermen, heavily made up as the Vogan leader Vorus, and The Robots of Death, less heavily made up, as the homicidal Poul; and also heavily made up again as the title character of the Fifth Doctor story Mawdryn Undead.

Not a Who crossover, but it's interesting to note that Deva's assistant Klyn is played by Janet Lees-Milne, who was married to Paul Darrow; Avon kills her.

And we'll leave Paul Darrow with the last word:

It's been great fun watching Blake's 7, some episodes again and some for the first time, almost forty years after they were first broadcast. Strongly recommended to any fan of 1970s/1980s TV science fiction. There is lots more to say, but maybe for another time; it's getting late.

One thought on “It’s Gauda Prime Day – so here is my write-up of the fourth and final series of Blake’s 7

  1. I liked the timebinding structure of Amy Wallace’s Wired article, but when it arrives at 1939, I must take exception at “Asimov, characteristically, sneaks in.”

    This is not consistent with any of the several accounts of the 1939 Worldcon I have read. The chronicler one might expect to be most hostile to the Futurians, Sam Moskowitz, says that he admitted Asimov and several other Futurian fans to the convention after asking them to promise they wouldn’t disrupt it. I’ve never before heard that Asimov was sneaking in.

    Anyway, what the hell does “Asimov, characteristically, sneaks in” mean? What other examples does history hold of Asimov sneaking into places?

    If one were to make a list of the sneakiest science fiction writers working in 1939, the 19-year-old Asimov would be nowhere near the top.

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