Blake’s 7 – Horizon

“I am not expendable, I am not stupid and I’m not going.”

Horizon had piqued my interest the moment I saw it on the DVD title menu as I knew it was the name of the Blake’s 7 fan club. Following the episode, I thought that was a neat idea. The episode’s titles themselves also posed further intrigue as Blake’s 7 has another new writer in Allan Prior.

At the expense of your friends

Prior to heading down to Horizon, Blake tells Jenna he wants her to come with him because he thinks Avon is less likely to do a runner without a “first-class pilot”. On the edge of the screen, we can see a glint of silver as Avon comes into the teleport room. Has he overheard? I believe so but Blake and Jenna don’t seem to, and it isn’t referenced later.

Blake can’t have always thought this about Avon, certainly not as strongly, so it must be a belief that has gained substance. I’ve usually been convinced Avon would leg it in the right circumstances but it’s interesting for Blake to voice this as a more serious concern. Blake might have thought it before, but now he feels he knows it, and I believe Avon knows he knows but does Blake know Avon knows he knows? Compared to Series A, there hasn’t been so much tension between Blake and Avon so far this series, so I’m pleased to see that this relationship is still being explored.

I am not stupid

The visit to Horizon seemed like a car crash in slow motion as various members of the Liberator crew continued to get shot with darts and captured. I fully supported Avon as he stubbornly told Vila, “I am not expendable, I am not stupid, and I’m not going.” It’s practically his slogan (I’m delighted to have been informed that this quote is available on a t-shirt). It was bad enough when Gan and Vila followed Blake and Jenna, but it was at least reasonable. Yet Cally’s decision to head down after all four of them had disappeared seemed ludicrous. We were back in Cygnus Alpha territory – give it an hour then give them up for dead and get out of there. Nonetheless, I was surprised that Avon let Cally go alone. I’ve previously noted that it’s something of a general rule that crew members don’t visit planets alone and I expected Avon to be more protective, or at least show greater indecision about remaining on the Liberator.

After overhearing Blake express his doubts about Avon to Jenna, I wondered whether Avon might be pushed into proving Blake wrong. I think Avon does have some form of loyalty to the others now and I’m not sure he would betray them all like Blake suggests. However, I think he would consider it if the action was solely against Blake.

Watching Avon talk through the possible outcomes with Orac was nice, as he worked through the logic so he could justify leaving – he wants to be sure he will be safe. There is that loyalty to the rest of the crew, yet he does seem convinced that everyone is probably dead and that’s what enabled him to seriously consider leaving in the Liberator. It doesn’t matter that he ultimately didn’t, the fact remains that he was going to and so could be pushed to do so again. I began to feel that the script might develop something to make him go down after them and I’m glad it wasn’t something naff like Avon suddenly discovering love or moral obligations. I think it would have felt out of character for anything to trump reason and logic. Avon ultimately decides to try to rescue the others due to the approach of three Federation pursuit ships, which he knows the Liberator cannot outrun.

Blake the Bloody Hero

Blake gets some lovely speeches in the series that position him as a leader. Gareth Thomas delivers them earnestly and I enjoyed his talks with Ro in Horizon. Unfortunately for Blake, he doesn’t get to be the hero and it is Avon who comes to the rescue. Having Avon nearly blow Blake’s head off is a nice touch, even more so followed up by Blake’s teasing line of, “Missed.” I was intrigued that the original line was supposed to be, “Can’t you tell your friends from your enemies anymore?” I like both.

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I’m trying to like Blake more but was annoyed when he criticised Avon’s “last-minute heroics” – and not for the first time. Avon has often operated the teleport with seconds to spare and Blake is always so bloody ungrateful! Why can’t he just say “thanks”?! One day, Avon will be wondering why he bothers.

Long sleeves and bare chests

Last series I pondered about the temperature on the Liberator because the crew are permanently in long sleeves. I noticed that this has continued even with their new outfits. Did something unseen on Cygnus Alpha hideously scar them? Had the Federation branded them as convicts? It now seems unlikely because Horizon is, I believe, the first time we see a crew member’s bare arm. With Vila in horrific stomach pain, Cally pulls his sleeve back to administer some pain relief.

As if this wasn’t enough, we progress to shirts being completely removed for Blake and Vila when they are working in the mine. I’m not too sure how common such sights were on television by 1979. Over in Back in Time For TV, I’d seen the progression from the 1960s when married couples were depicted in bed together wearing full pyjamas and dressing gowns, yet by the mid-1970s a man could sit at a breakfast table with only a towel around his waist. Context is part of this – there is a difference between seeing couples in bed and someone getting undressed in a doctor’s office for instance. That period’s television still always seems far more prudish than most of real life.

The initial sights of Gareth Thomas and Michael Keating’s bare chests are in the dim light of the mine, but they do later emerge into the open where we can see they are filthy from their work. Later still, Blake gets a full shot in the light. I termed this ‘the Putin shot’, due to Gareth Thomas’s resemblance to the Russian leader’s shirtless photos. Perhaps after what they had been doing with Servalan, the production felt they needed to offer something similar for the rest of the Blake’s 7 audience.

Vila’s shortcomings

Vila’s cowardice has been emphasised less than in the first series, though his yellow outfits are an ever-present reminder for me. I enjoyed Horizon‘s more subtle nod to this characteristic. We don’t see Vila captured and interrogated, but the Kommissar says that Vila confessed who he was at once. This wasn’t so bad, but he has also told them about the Liberator’s force field. There was clearly no need to see Vila’s interrogation because he must have been terrified from the moment he came round. It’s amusing that Vila had clearly chatted about anything they asked offscreen yet now sits in silence as they prepare to send him for the first day of work in his life.

This could not dampen my affection for Vila because it is exactly what I would expect from him. As a confirmed coward, he was never going to risk any form of pain. He stepped in to go with Gan to Horizon instead of Cally, but if only to save themselves, I think the crew should start acting more protectively towards Vila. He is emerging as a man prone to such primal weaknesses. He did everything he could to reach the ephemeral pleasures of Space City and promptly overindulged. When Cally provides him with the pain relief in Horizon, she reveals it contains Soma. As well as knocking Vila out for a while, it appears to offer a considerable amount of pleasure and he is keen to be allowed to raid the Liberator’s stocks. While Vila is a coward for the most part, this makes it all the more satisfying when he does summon up bravery. Yet I’ll be curious to see whether this penchant for vices does lead to more serious and dangerous problems for him, and the others.

Horizon

Up until now, I don’t feel like we have had much chance to see the societies of the planets we have visited and when it has been space stations like Space City or the Destiny ship, it’s far too small a snapshot. The Liberator crew are generally visiting places to blow up something belonging to the Federation, so we don’t see much. Cygnus Alpha and Redemption are probably the only two episodes to show us something substantial.

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I was so intrigued by Ro, who appears to have sold his entire planet into slavery for the Federation. We hear of him being educated by the Kommissar, who emphasises that Ro’s people are primitives and reminds Ro that he once was too. It should be obvious to Ro that he has not improved the lives of his people and has made them far worse, yet he seems blinded by everything the Kommissar tells him and I’m left pondering just what that education consisted of.

The leadership team on Horizon includes Ro, the Kommissar and the Assistant Kommissar. The Kommissar drew an “ooh” from me as he is played by William Squire, who I know best as Hunter from Callan. I think he’s got a lovely voice that hints at his Welsh background but mostly I like its deep richness. It’s a voice that is well-suited to authoritative roles and I enjoyed the assertiveness with which the Kommissar is able to influence Ro.

The population work in rag-like clothes in the mines, providing a fabulous visual contrast with the crushed maroon velvet worn by Ro and the Kommissars. I thought these were lovely outfits and were perfect for emphasising them as an elite, far removed from the lives of the population. Even though Blake’s words have influenced Ro and inserted doubts, he seems to only decide to take decisive action once he is reunited with his fiancé, Selma, who has been among the people and working in the mine.

A safe haven?

I had liked the realism brought into the initial setup of Horizon, with the crew mentally and physically exhausted from living their lives in a constant stressful battle with the Federation. Blake’s subsequent idea about finding a base for their resistance movement hugely intrigued me. The events of the episode left me uncertain but I’m still curious to see whether they ever do return to Horizon to use it as a base or temporary hideout. Having a base on a safe planet does seem like a good idea and I was all for it at the beginning of the episode. However, I now believe it would be far too risky. How safe is any planet? If it is safe, then for how long? How long until someone finds it, or betrays them, or is threatened and blackmailed into revealing its weaknesses? Their best chance is to stay on the move and find temporary places to recuperate.

What the everything

Horizon was hugely enjoyable and I felt there was just the right balance of plot, action, character and humour. The tension built up by placing the crew in a seemingly inescapable situation was great, with it increasing as more and more of them were captured in the same way. Having them all react to it slightly differently was good too and again I was pleased that Cally’s telepathy is more of a presence this series.

In Ro and the Kommissar, there were substantial roles for the guest actors. Sometimes 50 minutes has been nowhere near enough to give them chance to shine but Allan Prior did prioritise this more than other scripts have. I’ll be interested to see more of his episodes.

The crew are often split into two groups for most of the episode and especially in Series A, I was able to designate them easily as Team Blake and Team Avon. But Horizon provided a slower divide and gradually separating the crew provided different types of scenes. Cally using her telepathy with Ro was unexpected and placing Avon alone with Orac was a wonderful way of offering us a stream of consciousness. Both he and Blake are the most complex characters so getting an alternative insight into Avon’s thoughts and processes is a superb idea.

Comments

  1. AndrewP

    Many thanks as always. I remember enjoying this episode so much because of the sheer temptation that was placed in Avon's way and the odds which is he happy to play. Or not.

    Great location work as well, plus a good strong story riffing on elements of colonisation. Yes, a lot to enjoy here and I'm glad that you're enjoying it too all these years later.

    All the best

    Andrew

  2. Mrs Underhill

    Great review! That's an episode with a lot of meat to bite into, yes (oops could be taken in two ways :), with great character drama and interesting politics.

    I remember loving it on the 1st watch and also, embarrassingly, it was the 1st time I realized there weren't 7 of them. When Avon said "and then there was one" I started counting and came up with only 6!

    Avon catching Blake and Jenna talking about him – intriguing scene, can be interpreted in so many ways. Apparently it was added by Chris Boucher. Another angle: Blake showed his mistrust of Jenna too. He thought the moment he left her and Avon alone on the ship they'd run away, but in Cygnus Alpha he banked on Jenna preventing Avon from leaving – not anymore?

    I thought Avon's moment with Orac was amazing! Still I wonder how going down to look for dead bodies of his friends (he thought they were dead) would help him against 3 Federation ships? Seemed more logical to run just away, but then maybe it wasn't totally logical decision.

    Loved your observations on the heroes in states of undress. There also was that bit with Ro in the end: http://static.diary.ru/userdir/5/5/1/9/551988/85640719.jpg

    But as for showing skin before Horizon: Gan was sporting navel-deep neckline since Shadow but who'd pay attention to poor Gan. 🙂
    http://static.diary.ru/userdir/5/5/1/9/551988/86532241.jpg

    Another tidbit: Avon's thigh-high boots were cut down to knee-length after this episode, as it was hard to run and jump in them – which Avon did in the end. Still wonder how he managed.

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