Blake’s 7 – Dawn of the Gods

It’s so fantastic to watch Blake’s 7 with no preconceptions about fan consensus on episodes. Dawn of the Gods seems like a potentially divisive one because it is vastly different from the usual action adventures. While there is plenty early on, it’s much slower and stranger once they enter the other universe.

In some ways, Dawn of the Gods is the most science-fiction-y episode I’ve experienced so far. Everything was fairly normal, even if I was noticing the scientific space babble more than usual, with some fictional, some not: having Orac explain how black holes work, only for Avon to respond, “Yes, we know all that,” was some blatant swiftly-explained physics. Then they travelled through the black hole, I didn’t have a clue what was going on anymore, and it went utterly bizarre.

I found Series B exciting, especially early on, because having different writers produced such a variety of story types. I wasn’t expecting much variation again for Series C, thinking the production might just go with what worked well previously, but I am pleased with this result from James Follett. It feels some considerable time since Blake’s 7 has had a story that doesn’t impact on the series arc; the second half of Series B was almost completely geared towards the search for Star One. Opening up the idea of accessible alternate universes provides a wealth of options for Blake’s 7, including more plots that don’t need to relate to Servalan or the Federation.

The episode started to seem like it might be entirely set on the Liberator – and I get excited during those episodes because I enjoyed Breakdown in Series A so much. Yet every time it’s looked like happening again the crew do eventually leave and I am a tad disappointed. Admittedly, there must be a limited number of plots that could be thrilling and/or interesting, but I am curious to see them try again.

One small aspect worthy of praise in the earlier part of the episode is the moment when Vila begins protesting that he is absolutely not going to don a spacesuit and explore outside the ship. For regular viewers it’s a predictable response, as is the result, so I liked the fade – of both sound and image – to Vila’s preparations in the decompression chamber, narrated by his resigned monotone, with us having skipped the insistent/persuasive discussions in between.

Just a machine

Orac stunned me by intentionally dragging the crew into such danger and some choice words were spluttered. Orac may be the only computer to ever give you cheek back yet this has been amusing and never really to the crew’s detriment.

He’s like a petulant child at the start of the episode while they are playing a board game and in retrospect, it is apparent that he hoped to keep the crew distracted from his influence on the navigation. It’s a good contrast now to have Zen loyal to the crew, while Orac is entirely indifferent with no programming to prevent him harming them and both characteristics make perfect sense; Zen is part of the ship so keeping the Liberator and its occupants in one piece is essential, yet Orac was designed to be autonomous.

Orac’s actions are understandable but it remains hard not to anthropomorphise him (always a ‘him’ not an ‘it’) when he’s been given an increasing amount of personality. I was bloody annoyed with him, and yet he’s too useful and too valuable to ever get rid of.

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Tarrant – not a new Avon

I finally felt like I got to know Tarrant a tad more too and concluded that he’s a bit of a dick. Although I’ve seen Tarrant as a replacement for Avon’s old role, it’s becoming clear that they are markedly different.

One difference is that Tarrant is more aggressive. We saw it during his ‘negotiations’ with the Obsidians in Volcano, with Dayna having to remind him, “These people are our friends.” In Dawn of the Gods, Tarrant’s attitude has unfortunate consequences when it earns him an experience of the neuronic-whip. In contrast, Avon silently listens and observes, with a desire to hold all the information before making a decision. He has a patience that Tarrant lacks.

As the ship looks set to be ripped apart going through the black hole, Avon dives for a conveniently-close spacesuit. Tarrant then tries to stop him, insisting that if they’re going to die, they can all go together. It was this that helped me decide that Tarrant is a bit of a dick. Just… why? This may be a team that looks after one another but self-sacrifice has never been on the agenda – well, unless Blake was forcing a reluctant effort. If Tarrant had had the chance to get to that suit first, I’m sure he would have.

I’m still baffled why Tarrant sought out the Liberator. If he wanted to join up with a resistance movement, he was going to have to work with other people. He clearly isn’t comfortable with Avon in charge, so how would it have been different with Blake?

I originally thought Avon was a sod, but even at their antagonistic heights, I don’t think he ever told Blake to his face that he might kill him. I enjoyed Avon’s swift brush off, “It has been tried,” and the accompanying grin shows that his and Tarrant’s clashes are not so large as that early chasm between him and Blake. Avon seemed to look for any opportunity to argue with Blake and always planned to get rid of him. With Tarrant, Avon is the experienced man being challenged by the new one and feels no immediate need to rise to it because he’s confident in his own abilities.

The one and only Avon

I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing to have people around to question Avon because he has been shown to be over-arrogant before. As Tarrant asks Zen to scan for traction beams, Avon states, “There is no known power in the universe that can operate a traction beam over that distance,” to which Tarrant replies, “Just because you don’t know how to build a high energy traction beam doesn’t mean no one else knows how to build one.” I like these occasional reminders that even Avon’s logic can be fallible because sometimes he is like a computer – all the information we have says it cannot be possible, therefore it cannot be possible. While in this instance the change of course is down to Orac, Avon’s wording actually misses out the one thing he could have been thinking about: what if the power came from another universe? From now on, he should certainly be considering it.

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Cally and the Thaarn

Both Tarrant and Dayna round on Cally when they believe Auron’s people may be causing the issues with the Liberator. While I instantly felt defensive for Cally, it’s a reminder that the two new crew members don’t know the others so well yet and mistrust can go both ways.

I was intrigued by the idea that Auron’s fairy tale of its people’s beginnings had its place in facts that had been passed down and muddled over the centuries. It was nice to learn more about the Aurons, who have been defined only by their telepathic powers up until now. I was also pleased that there has clearly been a concerted effort to develop Cally’s character this series and she has plenty to do in this episode, including holding scenes alone when she is speaking to the Thaarn.

My main gripe is that I don’t think we should have seen the Thaarn. When Cally is lying down, with music and lights twinkling, I was reminded of hypnosis scenes in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Like Blofeld, the Thaarn is a disembodied voice speaking to the young woman, but while Telly Savalas delivers some menace once we pass the mystique, the Thaarn is distinctly underwhelming. He’s a small fellow with a big brain – so what? Is the sight of him supposed to be horrifying, disgusting? I felt neither and was unsure why Cally later lied about seeing him.

Delightful and dreadful design

It’s been a while since I’ve commented on the costumes in Blake’s 7. I am disappointed that Avon still has his red lobster outfit as I’ve always thought it looks dreadful. Vila and Tarrant are wearing fairly similar shirt styles but Tarrant’s has been combined with green velvet trousers and a belt with a large buckle, something so absurdly bold and vaguely period that it reminded me of a pantomime. This old-fashioned style continued with the Caliph in his top hat and breeches. Cally and Dayna are both in dresses, an immediate signal that they shouldn’t be doing much running around or fighting because my first thought is: that’s not very practical.

The sets were fairly simple, with little time to admire them. My favourite was the simplest of all: the huge empty space where the Liberator lands. This great expanse of darkness was wonderful for conveying the complete unknown and placing Vila in it first helped instil some fear.

I enjoyed Dawn of the Gods for providing something unlike any episode before. We had action, intrigue, then – what?! James Follett seems an interesting writer for the series and I liked numerous small elements, like the way the crew used the anthropomorphising of Orac to hide him from the Caliph, and “only the technology of the Lord Thaarn prevails on Krandor” was an original way of losing the advantages of the teleport bracelets. I’ll be curious to see if other universes are ever explored again and what other types of stories Series C will offer next.

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