Blake’s 7 – Animals

animals by allan prior

After watching Animals, I discovered that I appear to be in a small minority of Blake’s 7 viewers who got some enjoyment from this episode. Lucky me! I tend to use the term ‘least favourite’ for episodes lower down my rankings of anything because there is usually more good than bad. Series D isn’t exactly easing up yet but I found plenty to keep me intrigued in Animals.

The power of love – Justin and Dayna

After I had viewed Animals, I was informed that Dayna’s role in the story was originally meant for Cally. This makes sense because there are parts of Dayna and Justin’s relationship that don’t quite work.

I’ve always viewed Dayna’s character as a young adult, and one younger than she looks – more like 18-21 than 25. Having told Tarrant that the man she is visiting on Bucol 2 was a friend of her father’s and a former tutor of hers, Justin’s immediately evident liking for “my little pupil, Dayna” seemed inappropriate. Frankly, he’s downright creepy and the revelation that he had been alone on the planet for a while isn’t too surprising. Justin had been a much older man when he developed feelings for the teenage Dayna. That alone made this slightly uncomfortable, but their previous teacher-student dynamic also meant that Justin had had a form of power over Dayna. When he first proposed that she could stay there with him, I wondered whether the tug of that relationship and some loyalty to her father’s friend would make Dayna want to stay.

justin takes dayna's arm in a laboratory

What’s strange is that there is no sense at first that Dayna has any reciprocal emotional attachment to Justin and this impacts those early scenes. She doesn’t talk about him like a former school-girl crush – he could have been one of several old teachers she got on with. It takes a while for her intense feelings to become apparent and when they do, they seem far too strong for a tutor she only knew for a short time. This aspect of Animals did stretch credibility but I can see how it would have been suitable for the more mature Cally. Knowing this script had to be reworked, it’s a shame that the production didn’t take this opportunity to start developing Soolin. We’ve still seen little of her and most of what this viewer knows is still based on Blake’s 7 Monthly‘s profile!

However, putting aside my uncertainties, one reason I had a good time with Animals was that I found it fascinating to watch Justin and Dayna together. Justin was initially untrustworthy, but I then enjoyed seeing the transformation following his desperation to convince Dayna that he had tried to do the right thing. I felt gutted for him when she returned under Servalan’s spell; she didn’t just dislike him – she found the very sight of him disgusting and that was far more powerfully persuasive for Servalan’s ends.

Who’d be a scientist?

As well as being interested in the change in Justin and Dayna’s relationship, I was intrigued by the ethical questions the story offered. It’s interesting that the animals of the story have a relatively small part and Animals ultimately dwells on very human choices and relationships. After being reunited with her old friend, Dayna is unsure of Justin and just as she has to try to satiate her morals when she learns what he has been doing to the animals, we the audience have time to ponder on this too. It’s made more challenging because the story never delves into Justin’s long-term aims for the experiments.

We expect most of our heroes to do the morally right thing and therefore might assume Dayna will think the same as us, whichever way that turns out to be. If we cannot quell any rumblings from our own moral commentary, we presume she will turn on him and run for the hills. Yet if we are convinced by his justifications, there is a chance Dayna would choose to stay. The series can’t have that – it seemed far too unlikely in this episode – so once Justin had persuaded Dayna that he was still a decent bloke after all, it was inevitable he was going to die.

dayna smiling at justin as he peers through a microscope

Blake’s 7 has been inflicting harsh karma in Series D: Animals is the third episode in a row in which a scientist who helped the villains has been killed. Interestingly, Servalan has been responsible for two, with the other resting on Avon’s shoulders. While Doctor Plaxton was the only scientist who was not helping the Federation, none of them was happy with their lot.

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Team Scorpio

The opening scene with Dayna and Tarrant on Scorpio made me wonder whether we would see any of the other crew this episode. With Dayna down on Bucol 2, it seemed possible that she would simply return to the waiting Tarrant and the others would never need to appear. I did find their absence odd, but of course I had forgotten about Xenon – having a base means they don’t all have to be on Scorpio like they were with the Liberator.

We’re nearly 20 minutes into the episode before we see Avon, followed by Vila and Soolin, all helping to repair Scorpio alongside Tarrant. Vila curses Orac, but Soolin and Tarrant are in a light-hearted mood and grin at the prospect of Vila’s grim trip into a filthy tank. In contrast, Avon spends his time scowling and it was clear that Tarrant’s perceived bungle of getting Scorpio damaged had not helped his mood. Maybe he’s also fed up with Vila for spending all his time drinking.

There is a divide in the crew when they need to rescue Dayna. Vila is reluctant to head to Bucol 2 due to the high risk that Federation ships will still be in the area. He’s a nervous chap, yet abandoning one of their own isn’t normally in Vila’s character, so his attitude appears slightly cruel. Tarrant and Soolin are concerned and keen to ensure Dayna’s safety. Ultimately, Avon doesn’t choose to save Dayna – he decides they must prevent her from being caught by the Federation and blabbing about their plans, including Xenon.

Vila “Would 24 hours kill us?”

Soolin “It might kill Dayna!”

Avon “Or it might put her into the hands of the Federation, at which point this base loses its value.”

After looking out for all his crew in Series C, after Stardrive, this was another notable departure from the more human side to Avon we had seen and I was left unsure how I felt about that.

The Scorpio crew don’t have a great deal to do in this episode but I had fun watching their shoot-out with Servalan/Sleer’s guards. It finally felt closer to the kind of action I’ve been used to in Blake’s 7 but has been a bit thin on the ground in Series D. I knew by then that Justin was going to end up dead, so was happy to have an exciting climax that was also different to the last one in Stardrive.

Location, location?

It appears the production may have run out of time while filming on location for Animals as there are scenes in the forest where it’s clear the close-ups have been filmed in a studio. The clash between location and studio had been frustrating in Traitor but at least they were separate locations within the story. Despite the efforts made here, the difference was jarring and did take me out of the story.

Servalan – not evil enough?

We saw Servalan/Sleer all too briefly in Traitor so, as ever, I was pleased to see her, hoping she would at least liven up Series D a tad. She still looks marvellous in her new all-black attire, which seems like it might be a permanent change from the previously predominant white. Is it supposed to be a hint that Servalan’s villainy has increased? Such blatancy surely isn’t needed – her black heart has always been pinned to her sleeve.

Servalan watching Dayna in the torture chair

I would have been curious to know what someone unfamiliar with Servalan made of Animals, particularly the torture scene with Dayna. Having seen what she’s capable of, I found her pleasant, reasonable demeanour unsettling. Yet I did feel there was an element missing and I again think the watershed might be limiting what can be done. There was not quite enough to make me seriously worry for Dayna. This could have been more intense and Servalan could have hinted something to at least make us ponder there and then how far she might be willing to go. As in Terminal, I was expecting Servalan to take delight in provoking characters and prodding at their misery. However, watershed or not, we usually only see our heroes captured, threatened and locked up, so some actual torture raised the stakes.

Where is Series D going?

There is an ongoing thread emerging to Series D. Unlike previous ones though, the viewers are discovering details passively in slithers at a time. In earlier series, the Liberator’s bridge was a nice large set in which to dump plenty of exposition or have discussions about decisions. But we have witnessed no conversation between the crew about the choice to have a base, no arguments about the pros and cons, and so I’m still unsure why they have settled on Xenon, apart from the fact that Scorpio remains an unreliable junk heap compared to the Liberator.

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Vila, Tarrant, Soolin and Avon standing around on Scorpio

Why not anywhere else though? Is Xenon strategically advantageous? Is it going to be a Grand Designs nightmare to relocate elsewhere? (“Unplugged for several days, Vila has drained Scorpio’s power to provide refrigeration for his new wine cellar.”) Avon was not enthusiastic about having a permanent base in Horizon, so what’s different about this one? Maybe he’s had enough of roaming and fancies putting his feet up a bit more – he certainly wasn’t happy about being dragged off to rescue Dayna in Animals.

It’s been apparent since Traitor that the crew have decided to go after the Federation, which is an interesting turn around when they were happy to ignore and avoid it during Series C. Last series simply looked like random meanderings because they knew Servalan didn’t have the resources to be constantly hunting them, and she may well have sent her ships elsewhere after Blake anyway. With Servalan apparently dead, it might have made even more sense for them to continue as they had in Series C. Also, Soolin had been content as a salvage hunter before she met this lot, so her motivation must have come from somewhere.

What’s changed?

Blake’s dead, if we believe Servalan. Maybe Avon was happier to ignore the Federation when he believed Blake was out there somewhere, organising a resistance with slightly more enthusiastic participants. Additionally, it’s obvious how much power the Federation has regained. Its force had become a joke but it appears smarter than ever. This is quite a comeback, so I’m both impressed and concerned.  Towards the end of Series C, I began to worry that the crew may have grown too complacent while the Federation was rebuilding itself. Already, they are a step behind.

I’m looking forward to seeing more of the resurrected Federation because I think it might be a more efficient one. We learn in Animals that Servalan is a “non-person” and I’ve pondered if after her ‘death’ some of her corrupt practices came to light. This would explain why she’s had to reinvent herself as Sleer, a new identity that has quickly gained her plenty of power again – perhaps there was another Sleer, one who disappeared so Servalan could take their place. She’s now fiercely guarding her true identity. As the series never reuses actors in small parts, it was a lovely touch to have a reveal by a character played by an actor who we had seen with Servalan before – the marvellous Kevin Stoney had appeared in Series B.

Kevin Stoney chatting to Servalan

Servalan’s survival should now be a secondary motivator for the Scorpio crew. Terminal certainly proved she will go to great lengths to get what she wants, although throughout Series C she seemed less concerned about the crew’s certain demise and simply wanted the power of the Liberator. With the ship gone, she has less need to bother with our heroes… but perhaps that isn’t a risk worth taking.

Follow the leader

One of the titbits we learn in Animals is that the crew are recruiting experts to their cause. It was intriguing to hear they had a real plan, yet far more striking was her remark that “we are led by a man called Avon”. While I’ve referred to him as their leader in Series C, this seemed acceptable because he had a firm stake in the Liberator and therefore a degree of command over where they went. Even then though, I observed he was generally more democratic about this than Blake had been and, until Terminal, Avon had never really insisted upon these credentials.

Tarrant is the obvious person to kick up a fuss at having anyone as leader other than himself. As little as we know Soolin, she doesn’t seem the sort to just accept the leadership of a total stranger. I remain curious how they arrived at this… what bonded them together enough? Maybe it’s simply that Avon has an idea of what they should do. What’s the big plan then? How exactly do they plan to bring down the Federation? I was utterly fed up of Blake and his bloody cause before, yet I’m excited to watch what Team Avon will get up to.

moody Avon

The Keeper is still my least favourite Blake’s 7 story by Allan Prior.

Comments

  1. Reggie

    Just thought I should correct on a small detail – Soolin wasn’t a salvage collector(that was merely the purported job of Dorian, and never proven), but rather a gunfighter for hire. At the end of “Power” she specifically offered to sell her skill to Avon, so I would imagine that he or the crew collectively pays her to stick around.

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      H E Cooper

      Cheers for that – I must have forgotten or missed that at the end of Power. I did just assume she was in league with Dorian, without knowing his real activities.

  2. Joe

    “this was another notable departure from the more human side to Avon we had seen and I was left unsure how I felt about that.”

    Perhaps Avon was using that piece of impersonal logic to hide his more caring motivations. Never mind though, you will see a touch of the human side in the next episode (a good one!) – “You’ll have to do better than that….”

    One explanation for Servalan’s change to black is that she’s in mourning for her lost babies (Children of Auron). She could also be moving away from pointers to her identity as Servalan (who favoured white), though she did wear black in later episodes of S3.

    The bits with the glycolene ballast channels provide some humour, which is welcome. There’s also Avon’s unplanned slip when he bursts into Justin’s base.

    I’m still taken with the theory that Justin is a bit crazy and turned all the other crew on his base into the Animals…

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  3. Rich Firth

    I think Servalan wearing black was a choice that started when the clone babies died in Children of Auron.

  4. AndrewP

    One which I wasn’t keen on during the original run… but every time I’ve returned to it since I’ve felt increasingly that it’s a rather good script with some excellent ideas and potential which doesn’t end up getting quite the look or the direction that it deserves. Certainly the concepts behind it have shot up in my estimation over the years.

    Such an enjoyable blog. Many thanks! 🙂

    All the best

    Andrew

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