Power“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”“Probably.”
Several months ago, Deliverance became the first Blake’s 7 episode I ever watched as part of Transdiffusion’s Back in Time For TV, in which I spend a week with the television schedule of each year. I scored well with 1978. I remember enjoying Deliverance’s story and every single moment of Servalan being on screen. Despite thinking they shared few scenes, I had picked up on an atmosphere between Blake and Avon. I’m passionate about watching shows in context and after following television’s developments from 1960, I was blown away by Blake’s 7 as it seemed such a forward-looking drama.
With everything I’ve watched since, my memories of Deliverance had faded a tad. I was curious what I’d think of it having got to know the Blake’s 7 universe over this series – I would at least be able to remember all the characters names this time.
Sexy Servalan and Tricky Travis
We last saw Servalan and Travis at the end of Project Avalon. It had been hinted that there were people in the Federation who were unhappy with Travis’s handling of what has consistently been referred to as “the Blake Affair”. Following the magnificent humiliation Travis suffered at the end of that story (it truly was beautiful), it’s unsurprising but nonetheless satisfying to discover he has had a dressing down. He’s had a suspension and there has been a court of enquiry into the Blake Affair.
The result is that Travis seems different now. Servalan notices it, telling him, “You’ve lost some of your fire.” He seems less confident and more cautious – perhaps it could make him even more of a danger to Team Blake because it is soon apparent that his beliefs have not altered. “You really are obsessed with Blake, aren’t you?” comments Servalan. It’s hard to tell if she’s amused or impressed. Maybe she’s slightly concerned as she tells Travis, “There are more important things than Blake” and he doesn’t hesitate in replying, “Not for me.”
Deliverance is the first time we’ve seen Servalan and Travis not actively working against Blake. Prior to Blake, we know Travis was waltzing around the universe, getting away with being a sadistic bastard. Blake has simply become a more directed focus for his energies and a more challenging one than your regular anti-Federation rebel.
I’m sure Servalan was also up to plenty of nasty things before they had to chase Blake. In Deliverance, it’s interesting to see her calculated scheming and ponder what else it may have been applied to. She seems to have devised the plan entirely herself and we have yet to see her answer to anyone. Indeed, she leaves a conference waiting so that she can meet with Travis instead.
I found Jacqueline Pearce utterly captivating in these scenes. With Travis having taken a serious degrading, he’s much quieter. In comparison, Servalan exudes power and draws the attention far more. She sexily glides around in her silky whites, lauding it over Travis while drinking creme de menthe. I think she’s delighted to have had an opportunity to put him in his place and remind him who really holds sway in the Federation. And she’s so pleased with her plan for Orac. Like a Bond villain, she lounges around to enjoy explaining what a genius scheme she’s come up with. Travis is vile, but Servalan is a much more enjoyable character to hate. She’s so wonderfully evil here. What a marvellous part for a woman to have on TV at this time – so often it’s male actors who get to have all the villainous fun.
There is even a slight chink in Travis as he is initially shocked at her cold-blooded murder of Maryott in the spaceship. Maryott treated Travis after he was injured and for a moment it seems like there is something approaching a positive emotion located in Travis. He especially looks regretful as we are informed that because they will claim Maryott deserted the Federation, his family will be sent into slave labour. Travis quickly gets over this. Perhaps he really only valued Maryott’s surgery skills.
Travis has always looked like a total scumbag, but if Servalan’s softer demeanour had made anyone think she was the lesser villain, this episode wipes it out. I feel like Deliverance is her greatest chance to display her evilness all series and as it was a large part of what first attracted me to Blake’s 7, I’m happy that this was the first time I saw her. Next to Travis, I’d forgotten some of that and was worried he would overshadow her. “You’re almost as ruthless as I am,” Travis says, to which she answers, “You underestimate me, Travis.” Haven’t we all.
Ensor provides some more worldbuilding as his planet, Aristo, is independent of the Federation, something that its inhabitants have had to work hard to maintain. It isn’t the only planet free of Federation control as we discovered Destiny was and last week we found out Sarkoff’s planet was, although it was struggling. It’s building up the idea that there are a number of places that have managed to stay out of Federation control. These may offer sanctuary and/or support to the Liberator crew. Mostly though, I’m thinking we are going to see it go one way or the other; either Federation planets are going to look at these and try to assert their independence again, or the free planets are going to start falling to the Federation – perhaps because in the wake of the Blake Affair the Federation feel the need to assert their dominance and crush any hints of rebellion that Blake’s legend has inspired.
A double ‘A’ security pass is found on Maryott’s body and from Blake’s astonished reaction, we can assume this is a big deal because “he’s got a pass for any area in space command!”. It’s a small moment that is swiftly pushed aside when they have to look after Ensor, but it has stayed in my mind. Has this pass got a photo of Maryott? If not, it should come in extremely useful.
I previously thought the bloke playing Ensor (Tony Caunter) had milked his role and was somewhat over the top. Ensor’s death is essentially drawn out over around 20 minutes and he spends the entire episode moaning on either a bed or the floor. I also thought he was a complete prick last time for turning on Blake and Cally after they had looked after him.
However, if the script simply says “ENSOR GROANS SOME MORE”, there isn’t a great deal any actor can do with that. While this made him mildly irritating for me (I don’t think he spends a second silent in that medical bay), this time I’m more sympathetic to Ensor, probably also because I found it easier to follow what was going on. We know Servalan is screwing Ensor over to obtain his dying father’s Orac and I can see how desperate Ensor is to try to save his father’s life.
In comparison, Blake’s reaction to Ensor’s hijacking seems fierce and he takes it personally. I was so worried about Blake and Cally the first time I watched. Experience now tells me it’s the crew stuck on the planet who may face greater danger if The Liberator doesn’t get back into orbit – we’ve seen enough last-minute teleportations. My irritation with bloody Blake clouded my judgement a little while watching as I forgot that one reason he was angry was because Jenna had gone missing.
Damsels and nurses
It’s disappointing that Jenna’s gone from kicking arse last week to getting captured again. They can’t bring her back to The Liberator because her teleport bracelet has been removed. When Cally disappeared in Seek-Locate-Destroy, I could immediately see that these bleeding teleport bracelets would continue to be trouble.
All the crew are immediately worried, but I especially noticed how concerned Avon looked. “We’ll go back down,” he tells Blake, who replies, “I think you’d better.” I took umbrage with Blake’s accusing tone that implied Avon was responsible for Jenna. I thought this most unfair. It’s not exactly been an ‘every man for himself’ scenario for The Liberator crew, but they were all independent criminals and/or rebels before they got together. While they have all looked out for each other since, I think everyone has been treated as equally capable of looking after themselves. Cally and Jenna may not have had the best roles, but I definitely don’t recall any examples of ‘you girls better stick with us as it isn’t safe and you need us big strong men to look after you’ bollocks. If anything, in the last two episodes it has been Jenna and Cally trying to save Blake’s balls; Jenna took on Tarvin’s men in Breakdown and with the help of her telepathy Cally stopped Blake the bleeding elephant attracting the attention of guards in Bounty.
After last week, Cally doesn’t fare well in Deliverance either. In Breakdown she had spent most of her time nursing Gan and she immediately steps into this role again when Ensor is brought on board. Following this, she spends the rest of the episode lying face down on the floor.
Gan has been another poorly-served character but fares slightly better again as he has something to do this week, even if he has little to say. His strength finally comes in useful when they need to fight off the natives. He makes an interesting comment afterwards: “You know, Vila, for a minute out there, I was starting to enjoy myself.” To an extent, I’ve been assuming that the murder Gan was convicted for was a one-off, but the installation of his limiter would actually make more sense if Gan had had a history of violence. He seems too nice and innocent for it, but I’m uncertain.
Just a machine – can you hear me now?
I look forward to spotting more of The Liberator’s design flaws and obviously Zen has always been top of the list, but an aspect that has been irritating me since almost day one is the teleport system. In Deliverance, we see Blake using controls on the flight deck to communicate with Avon through his teleport bracelet while on the planet below. If the crew can speak to the teleport bracelets from the flight deck, why can’t they operate the teleport system from there as well? This is a terrible design! It would save a lot of time from running back to the teleport room, which has come close to costing them lives. If they had been able to operate the teleport system from the flight deck in Breakdown, Avon and Jenna would have heard Zen’s warning about Gan’s voice being faked. Instead, only Vila did and he couldn’t get in touch with them in time. So in conclusion m’lud, the design of The Liberator’s teleport system is fatally flawed and I need to find a scapegoat.
When did you start seeing things?
The special effects were impressive on my first viewing of Deliverance and even after many weeks of Zen’s screen and teleporting, I was still pleased. Despite the CSO when we see Ensor and Maryott’s spaceship, I liked the actual ship’s design. Yet it pales in comparison to the beauty of The Liberator and Servalan’s place. Shot on film, we seem to see a lot of these fantastic models in this episode as we cut between locations – and I’m certainly not complaining. They are stunningly beautiful.
There are plenty of traditional effects used in Deliverance, with smoke, explosions and fire all put to good use for the crash of Ensor and Maryott’s ship. It’s nothing on that scale, but I remember enjoying the explosion in Seek-Locate-Destroy too and I think these sorts of effects help bring a degree of reality into the series. It’s something familiarly threatening for the audience as opposed to, say, flashing white stars… All the same, I was fond of the teleport effect on The Liberator end when I first watched Deliverance, and still am.
A first glance it’s a simple thing, but here are an incredible number of screens in Deliverance. We are so used to seeing screens all day now. At work, school or in the home, we encounter laptops and tablets, the vast majority of us carry mobile phones everywhere, there are touchscreens in cars, displays in train stations and on buses, we can use self-service supermarket tills, the post office and Argos will flash your waiting number – it is quite astounding to think just how many more screens we encounter in our daily lives compared with 1978. In Deliverance, we get a small screen in Ensor and Maryott’s spaceship with a green tint that flashes a variety of patterns when they start to crash. Servalan has a similarly tiny screen to monitor them across a map, though hers is in red. If we count Zen’s huge display, this really shines in Deliverance, showing a greater combination of effects than usual. Down on the planet, the bunker (I’m going to call it that) gives the impression that it has tons of screens ready for the launch that all display a countdown imposed on the image of the rocket. This is a plethora of screens and the Blake’s 7 production team must have raided half the BBC for the bunker; there can’t have been many other drama series that needed this many displays. And that’s it – that is what impressed me about Blake’s 7 during my week in 1978; it seemed like nothing else I’d been watching during the 1970s.
The quarry men
Besides the models, the other parts of Deliverance on film are the outdoor scenes at the quarry. I’m not sure if it’s the film helping or what, but I enjoyed a lot of the shots used during these scenes.
I don’t think we have seen a quarry since Time Squad. I had been slightly surprised about that but I’m sure there will be plenty of other opportunities to admire, er, southern England’s many shades of… quarries. The production must have been filming in winter as there is snow on the ground at the quarry for some shots. I was looking out to see the characters’ breath, but spotted nothing. If it wasn’t that cold, it would explain why the snow is not in every shot, with it having already started melting before filming did, or else began to shortly afterwards. When it is in shot, we can see that the smattering of snow covers a decently-sized area, which is what convinced me it probably wasn’t fake. Avon does wear a snow jacket but none of the others do – they are just left to chance it in their regular raincoats. If the snow is fake and had been in the original script, the production has done a terribly lazy job. The only references to the temperature seem to be when they are on The Liberator so I think it is quite possible that the location filming took place first and when they saw the weather, they quickly grabbed the only snowcoat they could find for Avon (sorry everyone else), then slipped a couple of lines in for the studio scenes.
The tense hostage situation back on The Liberator had been what had gripped me most on my first viewing of Deliverance and I’d found it the more enjoyable aspect. Yet this time, without a doubt, my favourite strand was ‘Lord Avon’.
We don’t really need this additional plot of the dormant cells awaiting lift-off in a rocket. I think that was it anyway; there was some technobabble and I started getting distracted by Vila’s quips and Meegat. It feels like another half-hearted side plot of Terry Nation’s that doesn’t get given enough time. We could have had something else – more fights with the natives, a more intricate mission to free of Jenna, or give the natives a voice and go through some negotiations with them. We could have spent more time on The Liberator with Ensor and increased the conflict there, although given the choice I would be unlikely to select that as I feel not staying on The Liberator is a better way to add to the tension. It isn’t a bad plot. I was just disappointed that it felt squeezed.
With a myth passed down of a saviour, as the first to step into some caves, Avon is christened ‘Lord’ by the planet’s only immigrant inhabitant. Meegat is a beautiful young woman, whose innocence makes her seem little more than a girl. Her instant adoration for Avon amused me enough to keep me just about interested as we need to swiftly wade through some exposition.
Upon first meeting Meegat, Avon is a bit suspicious and isn’t too distracted by her; he keeps looking round the cave, perhaps expecting an ambush. Vila and Gan are both convinced slightly sooner.
Gan “She seems to be on our side.”
Vila “Yes, but the poor woman’s insane.”
Avon “Not necessarily.”
Following on from the last two episodes, Terry Nation seems to have settled well into developing the Avon-Vila dynamic. I could say Paul Darrow and Michael Keating have too but I think they hit it off early on anyway.
After initially being bemused by this woman bowing at his feet, it becomes clear that Lord Avon bloody loves it. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Vila says to him. “Probably,” comes the response.
Vila remains incredulous that Meegat has such admiration for Avon, teasing, “Counting yourself, that makes two people who think you’re wonderful.” However, it soon becomes clear that Avon is happy to fulfil Meegat’s prophecy and Lord Avon is a role that he is very comfortable taking on.
Avon “It does seem that we have a reputation to live up to.”
Vila “You certainly do, Lord Avon. I wonder why she picked on you?”
Avon “Well now, you are hardly the stuff that gods are made of.”
Vila “And you are I suppose?”
Avon is very patient with Meegat, indulging her to make sure he gets the information out of her. There are other moments when he looks at her and I wonder whether he also fancies her a little. That I even consider this shows how much Avon has developed this series because early on I regarded Avon as so cold that it would never have occurred to me.
To begin with, Avon acts surprised at his newly-acquired respect. But he’s always thought of himself (justifiably enough) as a genius, even if that didn’t extend to god-like status. I don’t think he’s at all interested in a god-like role for power, but he probably likes being revered for a change! As I said when looking at Breakdown, Avon’s technical knowledge makes him the most valuable member of the crew. We also get hints that this extends into other areas as when Ensor is brought back to the medical bay, Avon is the first one to look him over and provide recommendations. Yet Avon’s antagonism with Blake means he’s rarely, if ever, made to feel appreciated.
There is a great exchange when Team Avon get back to The Liberator.
Cally “Did she really think you were a god?”
Avon “Yes, for a while.”
Blake “How did it feel?”
Avon “Don’t you know?”
Blake “Yes, I don’t like the responsibility either.”
After sitting with a small, contented smile, Avon’s face at Blake’s final line is a picture. You had to spoil his day, Blake!
Blake the Bloody Hero?
But this moment turned out to be more thought-provoking. Servalan has already described Blake as “a legend” and “a fairy tale” and this series has gradually been adding layers on that with repeated comments here and there. Blake has become a Robin Hood-like outlaw figure for those suffering under the Federation’s repression to latch on to. Why just Blake? Well, he’s got his Friar Tuck (Gan), and, well, how many of the merry men can most people name? Whether the name was Blake, Vila, Avon etc. wouldn’t matter now that the legend is out there. But obviously being the person that is expected to continue leading a rebellion against the Federation, and hopefully ultimately succeed in destroying it, carries a certain weight.
I still can’t ever trust Blake though. Maybe he doesn’t like the responsibility because gods are often expected to be faultless, with impeccable or at least consistently-applied morals, and I don’t think Blake has that. He’s only human on the one hand, but on the other, I just don’t think of him as a good man. Like Travis, he can be blinded by his single focus and I’ve previously commented how little regard he has shown for the rest of the crew. He’s harsh in this episode and increasingly acts nastily. I don’t know how Blake would have dealt with Meegat, but he doesn’t display the patience Avon showed there. I’m not sure what Blake’s long-term plan is but unlike Avon I do think he actually enjoys his power. He assumed it to begin with and I really picked up on this in Duel, but Blake’s control is emphasised again in Deliverance as he specifically refers to them as ”my” crew. He presumes he always knows what is best for his crew. I wonder how defensive he would become if he was properly challenged on this.
Blake assumed his god-like power, Servalan simply oozes it and one suspects she was either born into it or ruthlessly took it, but in Deliverance, uniquely, Avon was given his.
Deliverance is the second episode in a row in which I’ve been worried about those left behind on The Liberator, even if I would have been content to see Blake snuff it. Time Squad was also another story in which ‘foreigners’ of some sort posed a danger on board.
It’s been made clear that The Liberator is far from a haven. Even if there are no Federation ships to blow the crew up or space webs to get trapped in, they could easily get killed on board by others. It feels quite a contrast to Doctor Who where the TARDIS is often a safe nest for everyone to run back to. In that, I usually felt our heroes would be alright and we could relax once they had slammed the TARDIS doors – they were home and nothing could harm them. The Liberator crew have no such luck. The Liberator is not impenetrable, not by a long stretch. There’s also a running theme on these guests that the crew actually choose to let them all in: in Time Squad, the capsule with the violent thawing guys was brought over; in The Web, the initial danger comes from the newly-arrived Cally; in Bounty, the crew think they are simply letting Gan return.
There is no one person to blame for these and they are hardly circumstances the crew could have learned from, all being different (though I still acknowledge that they really should have spotted the fake Gan voice). The situation in Deliverance is another new one as the threat came from someone who wasn’t initially hostile. Nonetheless, it shows that any or all of the crew can be convinced of their safety within The Liberator and have it backfire.
There has to be a first time for everything, m’lud
I enjoyed Deliverance when I first watched it but I was far from sold on Blake’s 7 at the time. More than anything, it was my intrigue in the characters that made me want to see another episode of Blake’s 7. I was fully prepared that I might still start to find the series dull. The first episodes ended up being nothing like I’d expected and after a few episodes, I was falling in love. But it did take those few episodes – this was not love at first sight.
Deliverance is not a good episode to see first because – and I realised this the first time – the main characters are split up far too much. I know this is par for the course with Blake’s 7 by now, but the difference here is that there is so little interaction between them. Blake and Cally are having to play off Ensor, whose scenes are not exactly filled with conversation. Jenna gets nothing while captured, Gan gets little as usual, so the only aspect we really see is the relationship between Avon and Vila. Even so, with them spending half their time scrabbling over rocks and fighting natives, this doesn’t reveal too much about them. The main reason I enjoyed the Lord Avon strand so much this time is because I have got to know the characters and this made a huge difference.
On a rewatch, I don’t think Deliverance is a fantastic episode anyway as it fails to do enough with each of its segments. I wanted something more from Blake while Ensor held Cally hostage, rather than just grumpy stares. We have no idea what the natives are going to do with Jenna; there are no hints of rape, violence, human spit-roasting – nothing. Although I’m normally more concerned for the crew stuck on the planet, this week the threat to Cally was obvious and as the episode went on their seemed limited danger to Jenna. Baring the couple of attacks, the natives are really just there in the background – we don’t even see them when they initially take out Jenna – and, as I’ve said above, I think they could have been seen more instead of the rushed plot with Meegat. It’s the end of the series and poor Terry Nation is running out of steam, so I hope they bring in some other writers next year.
I thought I must have missed something when I watched Deliverance the first time, but in fact, we never find out what Orac is – all we know is that it’s worth a lot to Servalan. It’s the first time since the series’ opening episodes that we have had a cliff-hanger ending, which I did like. I’m expecting Travis and Servalan in the finale and some serious shit to go down on Aristo.