Not a chocolate bar in sight“At the expense of your friends?”
I had a reticent feeling about Bounty, though I’m not sure why. I have been concerned that the quality of Blake’s 7‘s episodes may drop towards the end of the season, though still hope it will end on a relative high. There are a few issues with Bounty, especially its plotting, but I enjoyed almost all of it in its separate pieces.
We start off with Blake and Cally in a forest, accompanied as ever by The Liberator’s trusty red cool toolbox. Blake’s 7 has used forests several times now with greenery featured in both The Web and Duel. It’s becoming a reliable location and I suppose one reason is that it is devoid of architecture that is obviously from the 20th century. The only manmade objects are those that the production has put there. You need to vary it between quarries and surely there can only be so many industrial facilities that can pass for a Federation base. It’s an interesting conundrum for a show set in the future as I normally consider anachronisms as an issue for programmes set in the past.
I was astoundingly impressed with this forest because suddenly we come upon a great big enormous castle! What is that and where did it come from? It is so impressive and one of the last things I was expecting Team Blake to stumble across in the middle of a forest. What is it doing there? Once we are closer, it looks weathered and real. I was utterly blown as to how it ended up there in the Blake’s 7 universe and how it ended up there in reality.
I was pleased with Cally’s part in the first section of this episode and I thought she looked so cool holding a gun in a leopard-print jacket. Cally’s telepathy is finally put to decent practical use in Bounty and I thought this worked well as she silently communicated with Blake in the forest, ensuring the Federation guards didn’t spot them. She also uses it later to speak to Blake without alerting Sarkoff. It’s simple stuff but it shows how underused Cally’s character has been that the scripts haven’t provided opportunities for this before.
When we first met Cally, she was the last of a group of rebels that seemed to have been living wild. It is good to finally have more built on this as Cally is presented as someone skilled in survival. Cally feels her skills are slightly rusty but this is nothing compared to Blake, who tramples through that forest like an elephant. It is an utter miracle they weren’t heard.
I think we have seen Federation guards without their masks before but in Bounty only a single guard seen ever removes his mask. As the only one with any lines, it’s clear that the production only wanted to pay one actor and the rest remain as supporting artists.
Part 1 – Forests, Castles and Exposition
The first 60% of the episode involves Blake and Cally breaking into the castle attempting to persuade ex-President Sarkoff to return to his planet, which is at risk of civil war, then escaping. Back in Seek-Locate-Destroy, the crew nicked an Enigma-like machine and were able to pick up some Federation signals. I’m not sure if this has been seen or referenced since (possibly in Project Avalon) but I’m not fussed because there isn’t any reason why it should. Blake explains that The Liberator has gradually been decoding the signals and that is how they have been able to uncover the Federation’s plan to sweep in and take control of the planet, then install Sarkoff as a puppet leader.
As soon as he’s over the wall, Blake manages to get inside the castle remarkably easily, which he probably expected else they would have brought Vila. Lucky Vila, and lucky us – with Project Avalon still fresh in my mind, I wasn’t prepared for another age of exploring corridors while Vila picked half a dozen locks. While I was struck by this ease at first, I inferred from Sarkoff that he had had the castle built himself, so was presumably after an amusing residence rather than a fortress. The Federation guards are his protection.
A more civilised age
Once inside, we only see one room. It’s a mixture of silver steel and brick, with this weird mishmash making it appear that a 1960s-inspired future has sprayed itself onto the interior of a medieval building. Sarkoff is a 20th-century enthusiast and tells Blake that, “this building is a replica of a typical residence of that period.” He has gathered numerous artefacts, including a collection of butterflies. We learn they are extinct and it’s one of a couple of aspects from Bounty that have started to make me think Blake’s 7 could be set very far in the future – it’s never been specified exactly. Sarkoff’s vintage car makes an appearance and Cally and Blake initially don’t know what it is. The series must be flung far into the future for people to have stopped even learning about cars in their history classes.
Sarkoff also has a gramophone and several 78s, or gramophone records. Even those unfamiliar with records will probably have seen what they look like, especially following the so-called vinyl revival in recent years, but I will briefly summarise. Records are placed on a turntable, the turntable is adjusted for the correct speed, then a needle or ‘stylus’ is lowered onto the edge of the record. The record spins, the stylus works its way inwards and music is generated through a speaker. When it has finished, you flip it over to play the music on the other side. The smallest type is a 7-inch record that can usually hold only one single on each side. When played, it will carry out 45 revolutions per minute (rpm) and is therefore also known as a ‘single’ or ’45’. A larger record measures 12 inches and can hold an entire album, which led to it being referred to as a long playing record, or ‘LP’. This completes 33 1/3 rpm. Gramophone records precede both of these. They have a slightly shorter playing time than 45s, revolve faster at 78 rpm and are far more fragile.
Sarkoff clearly takes great delight in his collection, describing the 78s as “echoes of a more civilised age.” Having listened to gramophone records myself, it amazes me now to think that in the 21st century we can hear voices of people from 100 years ago. It struck me what awe Sarkoff must have at being able to listen to people from several hundred years ago. It would be the equivalent of us being able to hear Oliver Cromwell’s contemporaries.
The comments about the castle and the records slightly amused me. In the case of the castle, future historians are clearly wildly off the mark at depicting a “typical building” and they must be a considerable way in the future to be so far removed from it. Yet it’s also obvious that Sarkoff has an extremely idealised view of the past. It is disappointing that there is little else of his collection shown on screen as this could probably have helped emphasise this more. I don’t think many people living there would have described the 20th century as “a civilised age”.
I found myself pondering what might have prompted this characterisation from Terry Nation. The 1970s was a pretty bleak time for Britain as a country. In 1978 the Three Day Week of a few years earlier would have still been a strong memory, there seemed to be constant industrial action while the government struggled to bring inflation under control. It would not surprise me if there were plenty of people who wanted to hark back to ‘better’ times, perhaps forgetting that all periods of history have had different hardships for different people. There are always those who clamour for the past but their visions are often clouded by nostalgic memories or, like Sarkoff, idealised presentations of history.
I’m sure I’ve come across the ‘future historian who gets it amusingly wrong’ idea before but I thought Sarkoff’s views more interesting, especially because it’s evident that he has a similar view of the present. He’s very reluctant to believe Blake and Cally, insisting he gets video messages updating him of events from the Federation. As a regular audience, we are more knowing now. Even those who didn’t see The Way Back, when Blake discovered he had been receiving video messages from his deceased family, should be doubting the veracity of something coming through the Federation.
The scenes with Sarkoff involve a considerable amount of exposition being dumped on us. Yet apart from a scene of Avon and Blake reading out ticker tape from a decyphering machine in the computer room, I don’t think there is a better way of managing it with this aspect of the plot. T.P. McKenna is just so entertaining that I don’t mind very much. I’ve seen him in numerous programmes from the 1960s and 1970s, including Man in a Suitcase, Callan and The Sweeney. He’s often a villain, so it made a change to find myself feeling so sympathetic towards his character. As someone who can place an emotional weight on ‘stuff’, it was poignant to see him enjoying the voice on the 78, as I’d realised Blake would convince or force Sarkoff to leave somehow.
I’m certain it wasn’t unintentional, but when Blake goes out and tells him not to leave, Sarkoff replies, “Where else would I go? This is all I have left.” The wording reminded me of Callan (though not an episode McKenna appeared in), in which the eponymous protagonist has come back to work for the dirty government intelligence department he loathes. He points out to his boss that he had no choice in the matter because “where else could I go?” They are completely contrasting situations with Sarkoff clinging onto the things he loves and that bring him comfort, while Callan is forced to return to what he hates, yet is all he has.
Blake the Bloody Freedom Fighter
As in other recent episodes, Blake again shows he is able to get what he wants. I didn’t think Blake would actually smash the 78s! He could have simply threatened Sarkoff, who screams out, “No!” Blake is vicious and knows how to hurt as he holds up more of Sarkoff’s precious collection; “All of it! Piece by piece!”
It’s a wrestle back of power from when he first walked in. He looked quite scared of Sarkoff’s guns and nervous when Tyce, Sarkoff’s young ward, is pointing them at him. Blake’s history education is briefly mentioned but I’m intrigued if he knew exactly what the old-fashioned guns could do. Quite possibly he was aware that a bullet wound is likely to be messier than a blaster one.
It makes a change to see Blake on the backfoot as he tries to convince Sarkoff that he hasn’t come there to assassinate him. Pleading with Sarkoff, Blake insists, “I’m not a murderer!” Oh, how I scoffed! That’s a bit bloody hypocritical! Blake has been shooting down and blowing up people for a while now. Blake is really starting to sound like a terrorist as he tries to justify all of his actions while threatening or hurting people and putting lives at risk.
Part 2 – General Distress
As previously established, the Blake’s 7 universe is big. It is full of unidentified ships and it’s either one of them or a bunch of Federation ones forcing The Liberator to try to do a runner. While Blake and Cally are down on the planet, the others have come across a ship nearby. I was immediately dead suspicious of the “general distress call” being issued and was initially relieved to see that everyone else is too. Well, everyone apart from Gan, who is keen to go straight over to help. Have you learned nothing from the last few weeks, Gan? When the risk is pointed out, Gan then rather randomly becomes keen on the idea of self-sacrifice, saying he’ll get in touch and Vila can always blow him up. Unsurprisingly, Avon looks extremely sceptical about this idea. I want to say it’s out of character for Gan, but as I spent Breakdown pointing out he hasn’t got one…
Gan isn’t over there for long before the others get a message to let them know it’s ok. The message itself sounds dodgy with him saying, “I’ve got all the details.” Why can’t he give them over the radio? Why can’t he just say, “Their engine is buggered” or “One of the crew is sick”? My alarm bells were ringing and I thought at least Avon might have picked up on this, especially as he and Jenna in particular were very suspicious of the ship.
We see a bright light from the teleporter reflected in Avon and Jenna’s faces and Vila is unable to contact them. It’s left so mysteriously and we know as much as Vila. I really feel for him as he looks utterly terrified by the time he’s leaving the flight deck. I was so curious trying to think what might be happening. Despite this, I didn’t mind returning to Team Blake because I was enjoying T.P. McKenna.
With Blake unable to contact anyone on The Liberator, the tension was mounting and I was eventually keen for Sarkoff to just bloody get a move on so we could get back. The emptiness of The Liberator was stark – there is usually at least one person around. We are still, briefly, left uncertain after Blake gets gassed.
I enjoyed the tense atmosphere that remains afterwards as the crew are locked up with neck braces that could take their heads off if tampered with. Watching Vila attempt to pick the lock on Blake’s is nerve-wracking at times. Yet unfortunately, the climax as Tyce and Sarkoff confront Tarvin is missing any of the regulars until the last moment.
Blake’s 7 seems to have had a lot of violence for an early evening show, but it holds back slightly in Bounty. Tarvin slaps Tyes, yet we cut away before he makes contact. Perhaps after Avon had enjoyed punching a young multiple-murderess in Mission To Destiny, the production team felt they should be cautious about how often they showed men knocking women around. Tarvin is then possibly the first man for centuries to die of a gunshot wound but it’s all smoke. There is not a drop of blood in sight and I suppose that’s how Blake’s 7 gets away with it – like many adventure shows before it, violence is more fantastical if your cast isn’t lying in a pool of blood every week.
Just a machine
Zen actually does something genuinely useful for once. After they receive an ‘everything is ok’ message from Gan, Zen, unprompted, announces to Vila on the flight deck that “an analysis of the voiceprint” says it isn’t Gan. With Avon and Jenna in the teleport room, Vila tries to message them but is too late.
Zen then spoils this good deed by being his usual sod for the rest of the episode. Vila asks if Avon and Jenna are alright but is simply told, “it will be necessary for you to make a personal investigation.” When Blake returns later, Zen still seems unable to provide any help as, “their absence from the flight deck is all the data I have available.” Gareth Thomas imbibes Blake’s “Thank you, Zen,” with a tone that says, “Fuck you.” However, I am becoming a little hesitant about criticising Zen. For a while now, I’ve gradually been getting the impression that Zen can do little beyond the flight deck. It seems more of a navigation aid rather than a computer to support the whole ship and comes across as an advanced satnav. I don’t know whether Zen’s programming is purposefully limited like that but as some of these refusals to help do seem to consistently relate to matters on the rest of the ship, it appears likely that Zen may not actually be a total sod out of choice.
I was horrified when Zen announced to Tarvin: “Information: Federation ships are now within scanner range.” What are you doing, Zen?! I can’t believe Zen helps the baddies! There is being unhelpful and then there is being a traitor. We have no way of trusting Zen and this demonstrates it has no loyalty to the crew. In fairness, why should it? We don’t know who was on the ship before them. I always believed it was a ridiculous copout, but how the hell can Blake still count Zen as a member of the seven after this betrayal?
The expense of your friends
Jenna has also betrayed the Liberator crew, supposedly. I had my doubts but I certainly wasn’t ever wholly persuaded of her bluff to the captors. The rest of the crew are slightly unsure but I was actually surprised that most were convinced she had. As we watch them standing up against evil, I think it’s important to always remind ourselves that the majority of Blake’s 7 are a bunch of rogues. We don’t know enough about Gan, but it’s fair to say that Avon, Jenna and Vila were all career criminals so any notions that they will always have decent morals should be thrown into a space vortex. Had we not known Jenna for as long, I would have probably been more inclined to believe her betrayal. But as she has so often aligned herself with Blake in his better moments, I would seriously struggle to ever believe she was a genuine traitor.
I liked that Jenna knew the bounty hunters and it was great seeing her with their leader, Tarvin. There’s a smidge of sexual tension between them and it was fun to see what Jenna may have been like when she was a smuggler. She has a fantastic episode in Bounty and I was delighted to finally see her kick some arse when she starts taking down Amigan guards.
It’s apparent why the rest of the crew are so unhappy with her having switched sides because the Amigans are painted as real nasty villains, as happy carrying out smuggling as they as “robbery, piracy, [and] murder.” When Tyce challenges Tarvin with: ” You’d sell your grandmother, wouldn’t you?” I loved that we got a variation on the reply to an old saying as Tarvin explains, “I did. She was going to sell me.”
In an attempt to bribe Tarvin and stop him selling both The Liberator and Team Blake to the Federation, Jenna is prepared to offer him some things from The Liberator. We discover that the bounty on their heads is 13 million credits and Tarvin is more than pleased with the offer. Back in Cygnus Alpha, Avon was trying to convince Jenna to bugger off and abandon Blake because they had found a pile of valuable jewels onboard. These haven’t been commented on since. Avon and Jenna might have told the others about them – they would have helped the crew source anything they needed – but I can’t see Avon being willing to let Blake know about them. So I suppose the jewels have remained a type of insurance for Avon and Jenna, which she’s now trying to cash in.
While the other crew are all gutted by Jenna’s treachery, Avon seems especially stung. When Blake expresses doubts, he snaps, “What does she have to do to convince you, Blake? Personally blow your head off?” When Jenna comes to inspect the prisoners, accompanied by a guard, no one really challenges her, though Cally does calmly follow up a comment, asking, “What do you take pride in, Jenna?” She answers, “Survival.” Avon retorts, “At the expense of your friends?” Referring to the crew as “friends” is an interesting word to bring in. If we have had it before, it was perhaps from Travis or Servalan. But in Bounty, Jenna refers to the prisoners as “Blake and his friends,” and then Avon uses it here. For even Avon to be calling the crew friends is amazing, especially considering he was happy and pretty bloody keen to leave them all five minutes ago in Breakdown. He believes Jenna has sold them out and it hurts. Enforced or otherwise, the Liberator crew’s closeness is perhaps rubbing off and it appears they are all starting to care about each other a little more.
Vila the Nervous Thief
I’d had enormous fun with Vila in Breakdown and was thrilled that this continued for Bounty. Vila has not always had a decent role in each episode, so I certainly didn’t think was guaranteed.
He gets numerous lines spoken just to himself in this episode. After remarking, “I don’t like the look of that” at the newly-appeared ship, he is put down by both Gan and Avon as they are tired of hearing the same line from him. Maybe Terry Nation also worried he might start using it too much and this would cover him! Yet Avon then immediately begins speaking to Jenna, saying, “As a matter of fact I don’t like the look of it either.” Vila then has an aside to himself, muttering, “He agrees with me… Make it all seem worthwhile somehow.” I loved how the others simply continued their conversation, completely ignoring his whining.
Another moment is when Avon and Jenna aren’t answering from the teleport room and he begins to panic, saying, “I shall come out in a rash!” Frustrated by Zen’s lack of information, he shouts, “Oh you’re a big help!” Vila seems quite scared by now, realising he has to go and investigate alone. Following the “personal investigation” suggestion, he grabs a gun and begins muttering threats to Zen, with which I fully sympathise: “The next time Avon wants to make a personal investigation on how you work, I shall make a personal point of handing him the instruments… personally!” These small pieces are a lovely way of allowing Michael Keating’s comedy as Vila to shine away from the others.
But after seeing them in Breakdown, I again enjoyed seeing Avon and Vila together in Bounty. As Vila works on removing Blake’s neck brace, Avon is trying to pick the door’s lock. Neither are getting anywhere.
Avon “I thought you could open anything. That’s always been one of your more modest claims.”
Vila “I could open that door in two minutes!”
Avon “This door is not quite the problem at the moment, is it?”
Vila “It seems to be a problem to you!”
Blake “Keep your head, Vila! That way I might have a chance of keeping mine.”
Vila “Yes… Avon?”
Vila “Shut up! …please.”
I love Avon and Vila’s bickering. The lines are delivered wonderfully. It feels so genuine after all the crew have been stuck together for some time and all the little things start to mount up, especially in the tenser moments like this. Vila rarely answered Avon back in earlier episodes but here he really snarks the “It seems to be a problem to you!” line, which Avon thoroughly deserved because he gives just as much nasty emphasis as he refers to Vila’s “more modest claims”. I did think Vila has seemed a tad afraid of Avon, perhaps intimidated by his intellect – a bigger, badder thief in the playground. But now, he’s willing to pick a fight because he knows has far he can push his luck.
I wouldn’t have expected it but I think Avon and Vila are becoming a good double act. This feels like it has been developing over several episodes. I think about their chest to chest confrontation in Duel and the odd little moments they shared in Breakdown. There have been some lovely two shots of them together and both Paul Darrow and Michael Keating are excellent at giving us the most marvellous expressions. Vila is able to offer us a wide variety of “oh shit, please not me” looks, while we’ve had variations on Avon’s wry smiles and looks alongside his withering sarcasm. That he also manages to hate Blake in just looks sometimes is a commendable achievement.
Avon the Stylish Cynic
Avon gains a new outfit in Bounty. Instead of his usual black tabard with buttons on the front, he is wearing a black one that is also very shiny and silver. It matches Jenna’s black and silver top nicely. I was distracted by it for a while as it seems far too bright for Avon’s bleak outlook on life. Avon’s tops are worn over long-sleeved collarless shirts, which led me to notice that all of the crew have been wearing long-sleeved outfits. Is The Liberator so cold? They should knock the heating up.
My favourite sarcastic cynic definitely hasn’t cheered up and we get only the tiniest of smiles out of him this week. He also seems stung by the events of Breakdown when his warnings of danger were ignored. As they first prepare to make contact with the mysterious ship, he seeks reassurance from Jenna.
Avon “First sign of trouble we get out, right?”
Jenna “Goes without saying.”
Avon “I only wish it did.”
Disappointing special effect of the week
The neck braces get built up throughout the second part of the episode as being capable of blowing someone’s head off, so I’m expecting something pretty spectacular if one of them goes off. Ideally, we would see it accidentally happen to someone inconsequential, like an Amigan, but I appreciate we are going to struggle to pass this off as ‘fantasy’ violence opposite Stan and Hilda Ogden on the other side. We only get to see a neck brace explode after Vila has successfully removed Blake’s and he then chucks it at one of Tarvin’s guards. Unfortunately, the white stars flashing on the screen look awful and I think I could have done as well on PowerPoint 15 years ago. I am pretty forgiving of special effects but would a tiny studio explosion have been too much? Just one little firecracker…
Despite the title being Bounty, we’re 30 minutes in before returning to The Liberator for the second, far more interesting section of the story. It’s a lot of time on the planet and yet does not feel like an adequate enough build-up for the risks of what happens when we return to The Liberator. My greatest problem with this plot is that it feels like we’ve got two separate stories that have been fused together.
Sarkoff’s purpose is forgotten once they are on The Liberator. He isn’t locked up with the others and we get no emphasis on what the looming Federation ships will mean for him and Tyce exactly. There is nothing more mentioned about the risk to their people and the fate of their planet. Essentially, the first 30 minutes of the plot become irrelevant as soon as we step back on The Liberator.
As with Breakdown, the Federation are being used as an invisible force again and are only shown on screens. The knowledge of the Federation’s approach alone is supposed to provide the tension. And to an extent it does, but I think both Breakdown and Bounty would have benefitted from a single scene depicting Travis or Servalan on one of the approaching ships. I’d be happy with even just a shot and no lines. Travis especially has been set up as such a nasty bastard that I’d be much more concerned for the crew if I knew he was in the immediate vicinity.
The Federation ships are supposed to be on top of them just before Tyce confronts Tarvin, yet the imminent arrival of the ships doesn’t seem to be an issue once Tarvin is dead and we don’t see how everyone escapes. This makes it something of an anticlimax. It’s also frustrating that this is the second week in a row where the Federation seems to have been inches away but The Liberator has escaped fairly easily. It’s a contrast compared to Duel when they were worried about the ship being low on power. Now, it seems the crew can escape so easily that it isn’t even worth showing how they managed it. I’m a tad annoyed about this as it’s losing any realism. We always know our heroes are going to escape and win in the end, but we still need to feel that there is a tangible risk that they won’t.
Bounty‘s ending is abrupt and it definitely seems like Terry Nation has tried to cram too much into the plot – I’d have liked an entire episode devoted to both parts. It didn’t all sit together well, but I did like it all. Gan, Cally and Jenna all have much more to say and do this week. Cally’s survival skills shine on the planet and we get an insight into Jenna’s past, while aside from coming across a bit naive and thick, Gan does actually have more to say and gets to contribute to scenes instead of just standing in the background. T.P. McKenna felt like an enormous coup and I enjoyed his scenes with Gareth Thomas. I liked seeing a scared Blake faced with the guns and unsure of himself for once. It makes a change from his usual cocky, confident self. Yet one of my greatest delights was the relationship between Vila and Avon. Set in the context of the friendship comments, I am fond of the close trust developing between much of the crew. But quite rightly, Avon will never trust Blake as far as he can throw him and, quite rightly, none of the others trust Avon, and, hopefully, no one at all trusts Zen.