With Games I noticed we had another new writer in Bill Lyons. I felt Avon and Vila were written well, with the latter getting the sort of humour that’s felt somewhat absent. I also loved the character of Belkov and Stratford Johns provides a wonderfully entertaining performance, which helped make Games such fun.
Compared to the previous scientists we’ve met, Gerren has relatively little bearing on the story – he puts events in motion to bring Team Avon to the planet, but he has nothing significant to do after that. Avon gives no good reason to have kept his contact with Gerren a secret, except he didn’t expect anything to happen so fast. Maybe Avon wasn’t sure Gerren was reliable.
Most of the scientists we’ve met this series are not especially good people and Gerren continues this vein. Practor is the only one who was clearly blackmailed into unsavoury deeds and his determination to do the morally right thing didn’t improve his lot at all. Dr Plaxton was helping the piratical Space Rats, Justin had been employed by the Federation and continued morally questionable experiments, while Muller worked for the dodgy-sounding “robot development cartel”. I think the one good thing to say about these four is that they were willing to consider helping Team Avon.
Gerren had to be blackmailed and Avon describes him as “greedy, avaricious and a crook”. “Has he got any faults?” asks Vila. It’s a nice reminder that our heroes are not decent upstanding people themselves and we really shouldn’t expect them to attract those who are. That one good thing the other scientists did was to support a group of violent outlaws, currently led by a man who will blackmail potential partners and readily risk abandoning his friends.
Upon first seeing Belkov alone in his quarters, I wasn’t sure what he would be like with other characters. He could have been an intimidating Federation employee, regardless of the fact he was also screwing them over. It was a delight to meet a character with such a cheerful demeanour that wasn’t the result of murdering someone. He appeared upfront and honest about his stockpile of crystals and someone that open about their criminal activities seemed at least partially trustworthy.
It’s interesting to meet someone in the Blake’s 7 universe who is neither firmly with nor against the Federation. Belkov is selfish and indulgent with none of the loyalty of a Federation officer and none of the empathy of a rebel. He also lacks the lust for power that might otherwise drive either of those groups. He’s a loner, although it does emerge that he desires some companionship.
What I like overall about Belkov is that he isn’t afraid. He doesn’t hugely fear the Federation so he neither kicks downwards nor quivers in Servalan’s presence. Of course, he’s fearful in a sense because he’s lied to the Federation and has spent years covering it up, lest he face the consequences. But he’s confident throughout the story because he’s certain that everything is in place to guarantee his exit strategy. He is calm and collected both when Servalan threatens him and when he begins to put his escape plans in motion.
This series, it sometimes feels as though anyone who tries to do anything that might be considered morally reputable ends up dead; therefore, I was rather hoping the opposite rules could ensure Belkov’s survival. He comes incredibly close and, having so nearly outwitted everyone else, I thought he deserved to get away.
Belkov’s affection for Gambit was a nice surprise but once realised then it becomes obvious looking back at earlier scenes and it’s ever so lovely. Naming the computer of Games as ‘Gambit’ does seem odd when the programme has already had an episode titled Gambit, the story for which featured several games. I haven’t gone back to check Gambit, but the computer depiction of the chess game does look similar, even if it now has three layers.
I enjoyed Vila’s scene alone with Gambit as he attempts to charm her. After spending so much time with Orac, he must be used to massaging a computer’s personality in the right way.
Quarry, quarry, quarry
Watching Blake’s 7, I’ve gone from “Surely not another quarry?” to “Ooh, another quarry,” and have now reached “Yay! Another quarry!” Admittedly, it’s an odd aspect of the series to get enthusiastic about, especially in Series D, which has contained a lot of beige location filming – I don’t think we’ve even visited a grim industrial complex yet. But quarries are comfortingly familiar for Blake’s 7 now and I remain impressed at the variety of landscapes the production has found.
The empty expanse seen in Stardrive proved marvellous for its final chase; however, what I liked about Games‘ quarry was that it appeared relatively busy. Usually, quarries provide an enormous area with no modern structures around, but we see only the regular cast and perhaps a few others. There is rarely any sense of a teeming mass of people nearby, nor much reason for many of them to be wandering around an empty quarry-like environment.
In Games, there is a greater sense that this is a functional and populated place. The location actually looks like a working area, with workers carrying out tasks, machinery sending out steam and plenty of equipment visible.
The verisimilitude is helped when Tarrant whacks a guard with a metal pipe, sending him plunging to his death in a piece of machinery from which a cloud of red dust emerges. I was reminded of a similarly grisly moment in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) when a villain is killed by a snowplough that then pumps out pink-tinged snow. The Bond connection is emphasised with Vila’s quip: “Nasty way to go. All that dust, very bad for the chest.”
It isn’t the only grim moment as Vila later watches numerous explosions going off and a man emerges from the caves on fire. This has been previewed in an interview with the stuntman in Blake’s 7 Monthly. These explosions are spectacular – there are tons and it’s fantastic to have such a huge environment for them too. I liked a shot over Vila’s shoulder that showed the explosion and the man emerging as it made us feel so close.
Vila the guard
I enjoyed Vila’s horror at being asked to stand guard outside the caves and felt his panic as I couldn’t imagine what Tarrant expected him to do. Being out of contact with Scorpio was a worry. Hiding seemed the best option, particularly as guards began to come past and the various explosions went off. When Scorpio did get back in touch, I like the contrast between Vila’s rising concern and Avon’s nonchalance over the radio.
“I’ve been shot at, trodden on, nearly captured twice… and now I think they’re trying to blow me up – a fairly average day, you know.”
Avon has had little cause for concern by this point as he has ensured that he and Soolin are quite safe. I was unsure how seriously to take him when he told her, “But at least you and I can be certain that we can get away when we want to.” Stardrive apart, Avon has been good at looking out for everyone. I had hoped to see Soolin in proper action again but enjoyed the depiction of here, posing questions in ways Avon hasn’t thought about. She does query the decision to briefly abandon Tarrant and the others with no radio contact, but isn’t as loyal as Cally might have been so doesn’t object to the idea’s soundness.
I had started to feel it was a shame that Avon hadn’t been having much fun in Series D but, despite only getting involved in the action towards the end of Games, it’s apparent he has a bloody good time. He’s understandably pleased with his idea to hide Scorpio from Belkov’s automatic tracking and he’s really enjoying himself once he starts theorising and working out how to get information out of Gambit.
Biting the dust
Avon informs us that Gerren is a geologist so, before we have even met him, I know Gerren is probably going to die. I now firmly believe that any Blake’s 7 drinking game should require you to empty your glass when a scientist dies during Series D. Also, Gerren had boarded Scorpio so that’s continued to be a death knell too. Even though Gerren did get injured before he met up with Team Avon, it’s all starting to feel like a curse and I seriously hope Avon is coming up with a plan ‘B’.