Blake’s 7 – Children of Auron

I find it fascinating when programmes reflect contemporary events or appear prescient of future ones, either by intent or sheer coincidence, but I haven’t had that with Blake’s 7 – at least I haven’t noticed it. One attractive element of the series is that its setting makes it somewhat timeless. 40 years on, film-making techniques and technology in the series may stand out, but the plots still seem valid.

Children of Auron was the first time I felt a connection with the present. If I’d watched this six months ago, the similarities to the current COVID-19 pandemic would have meant nothing, and perhaps in five years’ time they will mean something different. I was watching a world suddenly overcome by a swiftly-spreading virus, with a scramble to find a solution. It was acknowledged that there were certain people, like the Liberator crew, who could have it and spread it, without immediately showing symptoms. It was strange experiencing something that felt weirdly close to home.

The fall of Auron

I can’t remember if we had any details about Cally being exiled from Auron when we first met her in Time Squad, but I didn’t think so. There has clearly been some thought and planning before this episode as Cally’s exchange with Tarrant and Dayna in Dawn of the Gods hinted that there was more to why she left Auron. We were cryptically left with the line, “Perhaps I’ll tell you about it one day.” Before then, it wasn’t something I had given much thought because I was under the impression that Cally had left voluntarily.

Despite how she ended up with the Liberator, it’s a tad odd to think of Cally as a rebel, but I’m enjoying seeing her personality become more fully formed – it’s well overdue and I like learning about this defiant, determined side of Cally.

I feel sorry for the Aurons as their policy of isolationism seemed wise considering everything else going on in the universe; it’s dreadful luck that Servalan became interested in them. I was caught out by Michael Troughton as the pilot who brings the plague – this is the earliest part of his I’ve seen and I’m used to seeing him in larger roles, so certainly wasn’t expecting him to get killed off so soon!

The older male Auron can be blamed for much of what goes appallingly wrong. His stubbornness prevents Cally’s help being considered as a real option and his rushed decision making immediately allows the other ship to dock. Once Servalan is in, that’s it. He’s – justifiably – panicked, but as a senior leader he should be experienced enough to keep a cool head in stressful situations and make calm, considered choices.

It’s a desolate ending – related: see footnote. We’ve watched numerous people hit by the virus, the senior leaders taken out to be shot, and, with the reproduction unit blown, apart Auron’s future looks grim – raising those 5,000 kids surely won’t be fun. The death of Cally’s twin is simply the icing on top because while there are attempts to show an emotional connection between them, it’s minimal. Cally has never mentioned Zelda when Auron has come up, there is no gushing delight at the prospect of seeing one another, and with Zelda herself hidden behind a mask most of the time, we see little of any expressions that would give a hint in the other direction. Their hands meeting through the glass is the only moment that tells us anything. I would have liked a little bit more shown there.

Location, location, location

Like several other stories, this is one where imagination is required as we never see the vast swathes of Aurons dropping down with the virus. We see little of Auron itself either and it’s difficult to guess what sort of landscape the planet has.

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However, I was again impressed with the location filming for this series, despite its briefness in Children of Auron. The scenes as the crew make their way to the cloning unit look fantastic. Having been informed these were filmed at a dam in North Yorkshire, I’ve discovered it was Thruscross Reservoir Dam. The value of location filming for giving Blake’s 7 real scale is demonstrated as, watching Avon, Tarrant, Cally and Franton all clamber across the dam, they look tiny against this mass of concrete.

Andrew Morgan’s directing deserves credit here: after searching for images of the dam, I discovered that the bridge they cross is in reality further from the dam compared to how it looks on screen, where the choice of shot and angle is effective in making it appear much closer. With the awesome size of the dam in the background, watching everyone run along that bridge with an explosion right behind them was superb.

Thruscross Dam’s footbridge can be seen on the far right

Team Blake

Blake hasn’t been mentioned for a while. I had initially thought Series C would be about the search for Blake but this was the first episode in which he seemed to have been forgotten. Before the episode’s events took over, Avon announced plans to head to Earth to take revenge on Shrinker, the man who murdered Anna Grant, who we heard about in Countdown. So what’s happened about finding Blake? Have they given up on searching for him? It’s odd that this plotline has apparently been quietly dropped. I did little but slag off Blake when he was around but I would like to see him again.

Team Avon

Avon must have been mulling on avenging Anna for some time. Perhaps he had suppressed his grief but meeting her brother last series stirred something. It’s been hinted to me that there is another episode connected to Anna so I remain intrigued. Since Countdown, I have been wondering whether she is still alive…

While events derail the trip to Earth, it isn’t Avon’s choice as the others take a vote, with the change of course for Auron winning the majority. I was astounded and delighted – actual democracy on the Liberator! Blake irritated me immensely for being blinded by his determination but Avon accepted this vote and did not attempt to deceptively alter the course back to Earth, as Blake may have done.

Although the Liberator is Avon’s ship now, it seldom feels like he’s a leader in the same way Blake was – the decision-making on board is collective. Previously, I considered the Liberator to belong to all of them; after all, they had found it together. But they were always following Blake’s mission – his cause, his movement, his tactics – so he quickly became their natural leader and it was only Avon who was a reluctant follower, keener that they should lead a different life. It seems right that the Liberator should firmly belong to one or more of the original crew now that we have Dayna and Tarrant, who joined through invitation.

A personal touch

Another difference is emerging. Blake’s mission was never particularly personal. Despite his history with Travis, the targets he aimed for were much bigger than just one man. Along with Blake’s admirable ‘know your enemy’ strategy, attempting to get rid of Travis and Servalan would have required considerable effort and risk, which could have more impact elsewhere – their hunters would only have been replaced by another set anyway. They represented the Federation but Servalan was distant and the majority of the Federation remained anonymous. Even as we saw more of Travis, it did not seem to change Blake’s relationship with him, and he only finally took a shot at him when his life was seriously threatened. Blake was facing down a whole system – not individuals.

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Yet there is no strategy to bring down the Federation anymore – they run away from the Federation and not towards it. The crew no longer appear to be fighting one great mass and this seems reflected so far in Series C as we are getting much more familiar with the enemies. Travis’s absence has resulted in a variety of Federation officers having larger roles. With Deral and Ginka, Children of Auron has impressed me most because they were developed characters: there’s a relationship and a history between the two of them, they have distinct personalities and are not the simple obedient guards or clones that have previously shared scenes with Servalan. I enjoyed trying to work out Ginka, suspecting he may have lied to Servalan about the clones, and knowing he would be a goner if she found out.

Significantly, we are seeing different sides of Servalan, and they are much more intimate parts. I may have disliked how her relationship with Jarvik was portrayed, but it was nonetheless intriguing to see how she behaved. At first in this episode, I thought she just liked the idea of cloning herself – a host of tiny evil Servalans being brought up to rule the universe. But as we discovered she has maternal instincts, it felt like we had seen below another layer of her. Seeing her anguish when her babies were destroyed was amazing.

It’s fascinating unravelling more of Servalan and I remain particularly interested to see where her relationship with Avon goes. Blake was a nuisance and a moral crusader, yet I think Servalan would happily have Avon at her side and would keep him for as long as he proved useful – just like any other Federation officer. When they have met in this series, there is a familiarity written in now that, combined with the subtleties of both actors’ performances, adds considerably to those scenes. Basically: more please.

Avon’s planned personal vendetta should deliver this personable element elsewhere. It’s left me immensely curious about what other types of stories the series might pursue. It’s interesting that I came to see Blake as this incredibly passionate man, yet it is now Avon, the man mocked for being machine-like, who now shows far more care for an individual than Blake ever did. With Avon, I often find myself thinking back to Duel: “I have never understood why it should be necessary to become irrational in order to prove that you care. Or indeed why it should be necessary to prove it at all.” In Children of Auron, he has a faraway look and speaks unusually quietly when he explains that Shrinker killed Anna, simply stating, “She was important to me.” Avon’s is just a different sort of passion.

Footnote

Children of Auron loses major points for ending with the crew laughing. The repeat of this bizarre, cringe-inducing way of finishing episodes started as simply being baffling but is also now like nails on a chalkboard with me desolately screaming, “WHY?”. It should have a place in any Blake’s 7 drinking game – please down your glasses of crème de menthe or adrenalin and soma.

Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Another great review, HE. I really want to tell you when the better episodes are coming up, but I'm biting my tongue. Very much enjoying these still.

    I know I'm as thick as they come, but it had to be pointed out to me that most of the inhabitants of Auron that we see are played by twins. I simply hadn't noticed.

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