By the start of Gold, no one on the Scorpio seems to care anymore that Tarrant shagged their mortal enemy and I was intrigued by some viewers’ suggestions that the sand in Sand had influenced him and Servalan. Maybe the rest of the crew came to think this too, or perhaps they all decided that they could each give him one big smack to the face and then agree to get over it. However, I hope it’s the former because I’d be annoyed to have missed the latter.
Money, money, money
There is never any indication that the crew are short of money but it’s clear that’s never been a reason for Avon and Vila to hold back. They never talk lustfully about what they might spend any riches on and Gambit in particular made it apparent that they both enjoy the thrill of obtaining wealth.
Despite this, Vila stayed well out of events by choice in Gold. It’s interesting that Vila hasn’t been forced into things recently, and while he may have become a tad more stubborn, there simply hasn’t been so much call for his skills. When you’ve got four other crew members that are quite happy to go off fighting people, it seems pointless to drag along a reluctant fifth unless you’re certain there are some tricky locks to be picked. Vila’s comfortably become a fairly regular teleport operator, even if he can be consistently slow for Avon.
I did feel slightly cheated of seeing Avon and Vila pull off a heist together; I’ve enjoyed that pairing since the first series and there doesn’t seem to have been so much of it lately. However, Keillor offers enough light relief that three would have made a crowd and Soolin is much better suited to the action at the mine. I was really hoping she would punch Keillor when he kept calling her “pretty lady”. Her instincts and shooting are perfect, and I like the way Avon makes sure Keillor knows who saved their necks there.
Yet I wish there was a bit more to Soolin. While we’ve seen plenty more of her in recent episodes, the potentially intriguing back-story provided in Blake’s 7 Monthly has never even been mentioned on screen. I like the series having two women that can fight and shoot as well as the boys, but the way we were introduced to Dayna meant she was well-rounded when she joined the crew and I love that we’ve since seen her passionately in love and angry. I’m not that sure what Soolin cares about – would she hop off with another gang if the price was right?
Roy Kinnear has a varied CV and I’ve seen him pop up in various 1970s’ guest roles, so I was delighted to see him playing Keillor. The history between him and Avon would be great to explore as it’s clear Keillor and his “old friend” regard each other differently.
I like Keillor as a character because he seems like an ordinary person who has been living a normal life, barring the odd bit of opportunistic theft on the side. He’s neither ardently for or against the Federation and is simply looking out for number one. He doesn’t appear to be that different from our crew as they behaved in Series C when they weren’t actively taking on the Federation. In the first half of Gold, it isn’t incredulous to think of Keillor joining the crew for a bit.
Ultimately, the character maintains Series D’s rule that all outsiders who board Scorpio must die. I am long over my initial smugness at spotting this pattern because it’s started to become concerning. I was surprised that Servalan killed Keillor as I thought the threat of leaving him to die of thirst and starvation was much nastier and therefore just her thing. On reflection though, she’s been extremely careful to safeguard her new Sleer identity so couldn’t dare to risk any chance of Keillor surviving.
Location, location, location
It’s Series D but I’m still getting excited about Blake’s 7‘s location filming – even more so with Gold because this series we’ve had a long wait for an industrial facility. Of the many industrial locations that Blake’s 7 has visited, the mine on Zerok is arguably the least grim. It looks clean and bright, with more shiny silver, even if there is still a lot of grey.
That lovely silver is matched in the guards’ jumpsuits. It’s a hell of a work outfit and I love that when Soolin and Avon don them later, Avon keeps a touch of his usual style with a black and silver-studded belt.
What I love most about the mine is the attention to branding. The mine’s logo is everywhere. Helmets, packing bags – fair enough, but also doors, machinery and, my favourite, just a bit of wall next to a ladder. Is this a blank surface? BRAND IT UP. This roll-up door looks quite large. BRAND IT TWICE. By the end of Gold we learn that Zerok has ceded to the Federation and my greatest sympathies lie with that mine’s marketing department, who have clearly worked damn hard.
Did we just lose our crew?
For a couple of minutes, I was seriously contemplating whether Avon and Soolin were dead. There are only another three episodes left – could we have had them with a depleted, mourning crew? Back on Scorpio, Dayna looked like she would injure Keillor before too long and the anger made it a suitably tense scene while my confused brain tried to figure out what had actually happened. I think most the audience would be more sceptical than me though, so I’m glad it wasn’t too long until we saw Avon and Soolin safe and well.
Nonetheless, it was marvellous to have those heightened feelings because I haven’t felt as fearful for the crew during Series D. Xeron has proved a safe base for them and we’ve seen that only a couple of them will venture out in Scorpio sometimes. As Scorpio hasn’t been coveted in the same way the Liberator was, most of the time it hasn’t seemed in danger. It also hasn’t suffered close calls like the Liberator did – I do miss a cry of “Battle stations!” With Scorpio initially touted as a weaker ship, it’s a shame this hasn’t been exploited a tad more to make the most of its vulnerabilities. However, I can understand a wish to avoid spending too much time on the ship unless it’s helping to push an episode’s story forward. I just happen to like a thrilling space battle now and then.
There is a lot to like about the way the Princess ship is used. I like that we are introduced to its pastel pink interior early on before returning to it later, with soft music now added, having got a glimpse of all the onboard locations we’ll see again. I like that Keillor’s red jacket and his tannoy commentary made me think of Butlins’ redcoats. I like that the darkly-coloured vault is almost an inverse to the rest of the ship. Overall, I adore the contrast between the Princess’s lovely calming aspects and the tense heist. Earlier in the series, I had become fed up of seeing lots of bland and grey sets, so the Princess’s design makes a big difference. It’s marvellously ghastly.
When everyone returns for the proper heist, having numerous people wander about the Princess’s small lobby area, popping in and out of the lift, helps give the impression of a bustling ship.
There is a blonde, female guest who passes through the lobby a couple of times wearing a gorgeous, low-cut shiny blue jumpsuit that is tucked into thigh-high boots. Avon notices her too; he stops and his eyes momentarily follow the lady with a nicely subtle glance, accompanied by an equally brief, tiny smile.
Tarrant’s ‘off-duty’ black polo neck is ace and I imagine that this version of him and Soolin play tennis at the country club when they aren’t on drug-fuelled pleasure cruises. I’m also fond of Tarrant pretending to be drugged, as he increasingly gives the impression of a drunk man trying to appear sober.
Interestingly, Soolin is surprised and sceptical when Avon tells her the ship’s guests are probably drugged. Previously, it has appeared to be relatively common knowledge that the Federation drugs its citizens, but then the Princess is not a Federation ship, so perhaps that’s why Soolin is taken aback.
Among my favourite aspects of Gold was the modelwork – we haven’t been seen so much during Series D so the air bridge sequences felt a real treat. The addition of smoke and sound effects during the link-up between the Princess and Scorpio made it all the more beautiful. It’s another aspect that we see early on, so it means we know exactly what will happen when the crew are rushing to escape and Avon finds himself trapped. found myself leaning forward, willingly pleading along with Avon, “Hurry up, Vila!”
It’s Servalan again!
Oh, surprise surprise – this week’s villain is Servalan! Well now, as Avon said: it had to be her. Although by the start of Series D I’d had to accept that we weren’t getting Travis back, being this far into it, I’m feeling the loss of the character in the plots sometimes. It is always Servalan and we know she isn’t going to kill any of our lot and we know they aren’t going to get to kill her either. With Travis split off from Servalan, there was a bit more unpredictability and he continued to make decent attempts to kill Blake, while Avon also had several good attempts at killing him. I guess I do feel like the series is missing something.
Servalan and Avon are having far too much fun and I still think there is every chance of them shagging before they genuinely get close to killing one another. But I do enjoy them so much together and they’re delightful at Gold‘s conclusion. I like Servalan reproach of, “Avon, would you be careful with the gun?” and she suitably nails him when she says, “You’re not the sacrificial type.” I also love the delivery from both actors as they’re stood close together, with both having accepted they’ve effectively been snookered.
Avon “That was very good bait – the black gold.”
Servalan “I knew you’d like it.”
The crew’s anger with Avon at the end of Gold is entirely understandable. Regardless of whether the heist’s risks were any greater than previous ones, the key difference is that Avon hid information from them and gambled everyone’s lives anyway. It left me uncomfortably annoyed at him.
In Series D it’s sometimes looked as though Avon is more distant than ever and I wonder how losing Cally affected him – has he took a step back on purpose? It’s frustrating when there have been other occasions (Headhunter comes to mind) when he steps up. I don’t mind him taking risks but it often means risking the rest of the crew too, so he needs to be honest. Out of all those small unfair ways he’s risked the others this series, I think I disliked this the most because it felt a very Blake-like thing to do. At least Blake wanted something better than money. As Avon could do nothing but laugh, while being showered in their worthless money, I simply thought: he’s totally lost it.
Near the start of the story, Avon is pleased enough when Keillor mentions his “reputation for daring” – you could even argue he seems proud. But when Tarrant asks how Keillor heard about them, no one looks happy to learn, “You’re getting to be big news.” It’s a moment that the incidental music emphasises but nothing follows up – we take it for granted that Servalan is always after them anyway. Yet it reminds me again of Blake. I’ve previously said that this series has felt like Series B, with the crew’s larger purpose constantly thwarted by the mite of the Federation; similarly, this crew’s plans to assemble scientists and skills have gone nowhere. Series B was also when we started to learn that lots of people had now heard of Blake, his ship and what the crew were up to. He was becoming a pain in the neck, with the Federation willing to throw a lot more at him. Suddenly, in Series D this is all feeling familiar and it doesn’t feel good.