Blake’s 7 – Death-Watch

Death-Watch by Chris Boucher

Early on, I thought I could happily observe the combatants, with the Liberator crew sipping cocktails while commenting on proceedings, for the entire of Death-Watch – a kind-of Blake’s 7 version of Gogglebox. But when the crew did teleport from the ship, more fun was to be had and I wanted it to last longer.

Double Tarrant

It’s a Terry Nation creation jackpot to have two characters called Tarrant in a single episode – perhaps Chris Boucher considered it a tribute. The opening scene did throw me because I was trying to work out if this was a flashback for Del Tarrant. Having Jan Chappell play two characters in Children of Auron and Sarcophagus made sense but with Deeta not even a twin, it did seem an odd decision to have Steven Pacey play him. Was it just cost-cutting or will everyone else get a turn at doubling up from now on?

I would have liked to know more about the Tarrant brothers’ relationship because there are plenty of blanks to fill in. It’s never explained why Deeta left Earth nor why Del didn’t go with him. Maybe Deeta just couldn’t stand a younger brother with aspirations to become a Federation officer; it’s abundantly clear that he got the better family qualities.

Dieter Tarrant in his full silver suited glory

Unfortunately for Deeta, being a decent chap is not a good feature to possess in a fight to the death, which he should have considered when I was urging him to ‘just get on with it and shoot him in the back!’ It was all over far faster than I expected, though I knew he was doomed when he headed off, saying, “Have the drinks set up, Max. We’ll celebrate, eh? Three of us.” Still, if you’ve got to go, that magnificent silver suit is a memorable last look.

The death-watch

The enthusiasm that this extravaganza evoked in some of the crew was amusing, with Vila going all out. It was as though they had gathered for a world cup match, and it looks like men have got over masculinity issues as beer was eschewed in favour of alcohol in a brighter variety of colours. I found myself wondering what sport the Blake’s 7 universe usually had or if the Liberator crew were simply delighted because the ship’s football or gravity-free rugby reception is rubbish and this is the greatest excitement they have safely stumbled across in ages.

Tarrant, Cally, Vila, Avon and Dayna sitting around a table full of cocktails

It must have been too late to change Vinni and Deeta’s colours to blue and green to match the discs and I realised they were stuck with those colours to enable the CSO to work. The concept of being able to see and feel what the competitors did sound brilliant and it reminded me of Red Dwarf‘s ‘total immersion videogames’ in Better Than Life. It became horrible as Deeta was dying though. I realised the viewers weren’t ripping their discs off, perhaps in macabre fascination, as they were all about to feel what it was like to die.

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Location, location, location

I honestly never expected I would start getting excited by Blake’s 7 location filming but the most Blake’s 7 of Blake’s 7 episodes could well be one that features both a quarry and a grim 1970s’ industrial facility. Despite us being in 1980, the latter persists and this one is a corker.

I’m being harsh really because Series C has had far more variety in its locations with a sunny beach, picturesque hills, underground tunnels, and a great big awesome dam. It’s impressed me and I’ve adored poring over them. Yet I suppose Death-Watch stands out because on this occasion the computer might have picked literally any location in existence – the universe was wide open: a theme park, a natural history museum, a miraculously-preserved supermarket circa 1980… but nah, we get an abandoned concrete building.

Vinni running across a concrete warehouse missing its roof

It’s a wonderful site though. When Vinni first lands, I like that we don’t see it all and for a moment I didn’t think there would be much there. But when he begins exploring, the wider angled shots show us everything. I love its decay with nature starting to reclaim the edges. I also love its stillness and silence, which, combined with plenty of nooks and crannies to hide behind, make it a perfectly eerie place for the occasion. The point-of-view shots help convey this well too.

Double trouble?

The scenes with Avon and Servalan alone together have been among my favourites throughout this series, right from Aftermath, and it felt like we were back there as they faced off with the sexual tension soon rising. ‘Ah just go on – have a snog,’ I thought, moments before they roughly did.

I don’t know whether Servalan does still genuinely fancy ruling the universe with Avon or if she was goading him a little. In earlier series, I would have thought it possible of Avon and I was uncertain still in Aftermath. Yet Series C has proven that Avon is a half-decent person – I don’t think he wants to be a ruthless leader and if he wanted to be a sympathetic one he could have stuck with Blake. He isn’t after a quiet life, but he has never been interested in wielding power over people – he just wants to ensure he has it over his own life.

Servalan and Avon standing very close together

Servalan, God of War

In some episodes, it has seemed like the production is having to fulfil Jacqueline Pearce’s contract and it is now clear that due to Travis’s absence Servalan’s role has been increased. Therefore, the previous excitement her appearances brought has been dampened sometimes. She had felt untouchable but now she has to be more involved in events.

This irritates me a little because I enjoyed Servalan sinisterly playing god from afar (and because I still miss Travis) but it can work well. I can’t be sure if she’s going to shoot or snog Avon and we get confrontations between her and the rest of the crew as well, something that rarely happened with Travis. I think Tarrant may now be the only character who hasn’t met her without the rest of the crew.

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All of this serves the show’s ongoing plot well: Star One and Aftermath set up the fall in the Federation’s power and though that’s barely been referenced, it’s evidenced by Servalan’s reduced security and by her having to take on more tasks herself. Additionally, the Liberator crew seem able to roam the universe more freely. While exploring planets previously, whoever remained on the Liberator needed to be prepared to get everyone out if a Federation pursuit ship appeared. Compared to the earlier series, they are almost conspicuous by their absence.

Overall, there is less to fear and the Liberator crew should all have more confidence. Bringing each of them face to face with Servalan is significant: look – the Federation has lost enough power that any one of you can stand alone and point a gun at its Supreme President now.

Warrior Dayna

I would have liked a longer scene between Servalan and Dayna as I loved seeing Dayna’s sheer hatred, as well as the fear on Servalan’s face as the gun was fiercely jabbed into her neck. As Servalan murdered Dayna’s father, I wondered why we hadn’t seen these feelings more intensely before. Avon’s warning to Dayna not to kill Servalan felt needed and I did like how that was set up. It would be interesting to see this developed.

Dayna pointing a Liberator gun at Servalan

However, Servalan can’t die because – crikey, we’ve already lost one villain, yet she’s not a warrior in Travis’s mould so bumping her off would be fairly easy.  Now that Servalan is less protected, there needs to be a reason why they can’t try to kill her all the time. Avoiding a major galactic incident is a good one.

The future

Last episode, Servalan had travelled to the middle of nothing just to bulk out her fleet, but now she’s ready to start an enormous conflict. Is she really in a position to start shoving her weight around again?

The crew haven’t existed peacefully with Servalan this series, but it has been less like all-out war. As the Liberator is no longer actively pursuing the Federation’s downfall, there shouldn’t be any pressing reason for Servalan to aggressively pursue our crew. Yet I worry that this may have bred complacency. Once the Federation is done dealing with bigger issues and is back on its feet, perhaps more powerful than before, Servalan may turn her attention back to the Liberator.

This seems more like a problem for next series though, which means that this is the first time I’m heading into a Blake’s 7 series finale with absolutely no idea what to expect.

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