Blake’s 5“I’m free. And I intend to stay that way.“
It’s hard to pick one single aspect, but this was the episode that finally grabbed me enough to say, “This programme is brilliant and I am loving it.” The bizarre Blessed-led religious community, the vileness of Cygnus Alpha, the emerging contrast of Blake and Avon – all and more contributed to my huge appreciation of Cygnus Alpha.
Blake spends this episode trying to rescue the other convicts from the penal colony they were all bound for – Cygnus Alpha. By the end of The Way Back I hadn’t actually expected us to ever see Cygnus Alpha; I thought Blake would mount a rebellion on the prison transport ship and either escape with everyone or take off with that ship and, well, maybe dump the Federation guards in space or on the nearest planet.
I didn’t have a particularly detailed idea of what I expected a penal colony to look like, but it certainly wasn’t anything as desolate as Cygnus Alpha. I thought it would be a regular planet that they were banished to but it is an incredibly dreary looking place of grey rock and darkness.
Avon is reluctant to go near Cygnus Alpha in the first place, remarking, “I’m free. And I intend to stay that way.” Once again, I am very much on his side. I feel bad for the others but Blake has no loyalty to them, so why put the lives of himself, Jenna and Avon in danger? They are sure to be captured, killed, and either way, end their lives on one of the most miserable planets in the universe.
One of the reasons I enjoyed this episode so much is that we get some greater insight into Avon, learning that he worked in research before turning to more profitable enterprises. Although he and Jenna don’t feature in any of the action on the planet, the scenes with them on the ship are revealing.
They discover a pile of jewels and after not hearing from Blake for some time, they begin to suspect he may not be returning. Avon is keen to leave the area and suggests they head off, splitting the jewels, which will be worth a fortune to both of them. It is Jenna who insists on waiting a while longer, against Avon’s repeated protestations.
When first exploring the stolen ship, Blake’s 3 (as I’m currently calling them) discover a stubborn computer and bracelets that enable them to teleport nearby. Jenna and Avon remain on the ship while Blake teleports down to the planet. It is not that the other two are to be excluded from fun and adventures, rather that they don’t have much clue how to control anything on the ship. Blake takes the risk of teleporting.
I like the shuddery special effect as Blake disappears from the ship, but am less keen on the thick white outline that appears when he is on the planet. Actors cannot keep still when you need them to (Gareth Thomas can’t at least) and Blake stumbles outside the outline, which rather ruins the effect.
The other convicts have stumbled upon a skeleton tied to a wooden cross with a sign stating, ‘SO PERISH UNBELIEVERS’ so are pretty keen to bow down when a couple of hooded figures start demanding it. They are still prisoners here, with Blake later finding them in a cell, supposedly to contain them because of a disease they have contracted.
Gan’s assertion that “all new arrivals get it” and the information that they will need a drug for the rest of their lives immediately flagged my bollocks alarm. If all new arrivals get it, how did the first arrivals survive before the drug was invented? I expected Blake to see through this ploy as it is clearly designed to dissuade anyone from trying to leave the quasi-religion that has sprung up.
Blake himself ends up a prisoner after a bonk to the head and wakes up in the company of Brian Blessed. Ouch. But – BRIAN BLESSED. Had the Blessed achieved the respect he now holds by 1978? I would never have expected such an actor to appear in the show and I’m pleased to see him. He plays the religion’s leader, Vargas, and easily forces information out of Blake by crushing teleport bracelets. Blake has no poker face and Vargas relishes the anguish it is causing his prisoner. Blake says he can’t bring down the ship (he genuinely doesn’t know how) and Vargas’s response is that he will sacrifice one of the prisoners.
There are a couple of prisoners we have got to know in this episode – Arco (Peter Childs) and Selman (David Ryall). Another prisoner had had a speaking role in Space Fall, but hopes of him becoming part of Team Blake were dashed before I had even learned his name when he nastily drowned in a compartment filled with foam. I know both Peter Childs and David Ryall from appearances in several programmes, mainly Public Eye for Childs and Goodnight Sweetheart for Ryall. I liked both characters with Selman rather nervous and Arco’s cockiness put in place by the sheer presence of Gan. I started to see how they could both become part of the crew. Unfortunately, and much to my frustration, they’re doomed. At this rate it will take us most of the season to get to magical number seven.
Just before Gan’s sacrifice/execution, Blake, Vila, Gan, Arco and Selman rise up and attack. Blake manages to wrestle his gun back from Vargas but Arco and Selman are killed in the struggle. It’s a bit of a mess of bodies so it was hard to tell who was still alive. Having nabbed a teleport bracelet, Vargas accompanies Blake, Vila and Gan back to the ship. But while busy laughing manically, they teleport him into space and he dissolves into atoms. Now that is a Blessed level exit.
This was a fun and exciting episode, going in a completely unexpected direction with the medieval-like setting. Importantly, we are also getting to know the regular characters. I feel I need to see a tad more of Gan who is part muscle, part softly-spoken gentle giant. The same goes for Vila, whose cowardice continues to be built on for light comedy – he was scrabbling underneath a table during the big fight. We spend most of our time with Blake, who I am not the biggest fan of – his sheer bloodymindedness comes at huge risk. Jenna seems to trust him for some reason but I am still leaning towards Team Avon. He’s a realist and this seems like a more life-prolonging characteristic to have in a reality overseen by the Federation.