Marple in Space“I don’t like an unsolved mystery.”
Someone described Blake’s 7’s Mission to Destiny as ‘Marple in Space’. Avon is definitely playing the role of little old sweet detective. With a spaceship as isolated as any country house, the programme’s step into murder mystery made perfect sense.
The episode opens with the murder of a spaceship’s pilot. I enjoyed the way this scene was partly shot from the point of view of the killer, enabling us to see exactly what had gone on while keeping the culprit secret.
Team Blake discovers a mysterious ship going around in circles. It doesn’t respond to any signals, so they decide to take a look. This is the first actual ‘exploring’ type of plot the show has done so came as a little surprise. Other episodes have been driven by Blake’s desire to rescue people and blow Federation stuff up, while landing on the planet in The Web was something they were forced into.
Blake, Avon and Cally teleport over to look round the spaceship. Once again, I notice that Jenna never seems to leave The Liberator.
As they start to explore the first room, Blake remarks that there is a “sickly sweet smell” in the atmosphere. My first thought was that they were about to discover a bunch of stoned space travellers who have passed out after too many intergalactic reefers. Avon is unconcerned and reckons it is just a different type of air filtration system.
They come across some of the crew sleeping and after starting to feel lethargic themselves they eventually figure out that something is being pumped through the air filters to knock everyone out. Soon it is shut off, the crew are awake and the pilot, Rafford, has been found dead.
After investigation, they discover the controls are stuck. Avon delights in telling Blake, “We can fit things together and we can make repairs…” but “there is, however, a problem.” He flashes his grin and clearly enjoys savouring the moment. Avon’s slightly ‘off’ sense of humour became one of the reasons I enjoyed Mission to Destiny.
It’s curious that the crew don’t go for the obvious idea from the start; they’ve woken to find three strangers on board and don’t ever accuse any of them of being the murderer. It’s nice to see the series avoid this as it seemed to happen several times in Doctor Who. Quite why this crew are so trusting of them, including the extreme liberty of letting Avon examine the ship’s engine and controls, is a bit odd though.
The ship can’t head back to the crew’s home planet except by manual control. This will take five months, but they need to get a ‘neutratrope’ thing there to stop the planet’s crop from failing.
We get some more subtle Federation background from Mission to Destiny as we learn that the crew’s planet, Destiny, is independent from the Federation. However, the Federation has been trying to convince them to join. Destiny’s crops were previously hit by problems and it is heavily implied that Federation sabotage was responsible. It’s interesting to gain the insight that the Federation’s methods aren’t always so blunt and violent.
Blake offers assistance, saying The Liberator can reach Destiny in four days to deliver the neutratope. To assure he won’t just run off with this incredibly valuable item, he proposes that Avon and Cally can remain with them and help make repairs to their ship. It isn’t entirely clear whether Blake ran this past the other two beforehand, but as neither looks particularly shocked nor mount any instant fierce objections, I presume they talked offscreen.
While Cally says they need to remain on board because “we must help these people”, Avon’s sole reason is curiosity, with him callously replying, “Personally I don’t care if their entire planet turns into a mushroom. I shall stay because I don’t like an unsolved mystery.” Avon has always shown himself to be selfish, but in a life-prolonging sort of way, so I suppose it is no real surprise to see an extension of that; he was dismissive of The Web‘s Decimas too. I’m not in agreement with him here though and am glad that they helped the stranded travellers.
By the end of Seek-Locate-Destroy, Blake had been growing on me. But he pissed me off again when he returned to The Liberator and was initially so evasive with Vila and the others about what had been happening. Vila asks what’s in the box, indicating the neutratope container, and wants to know where Cally and Avon are. Blake ignores him and tries to dismiss the subject with, “It’s a long story.” Just bloody tell them! He’s got four days to travel to Destiny and presumably another four to come back so he’s going to have to explain why. It’s a small, pointless thing that irritated me as it just feels like another example of Blake’s stubbornness. He’ll end up as bad as Zen.
As stated, the trip is supposed to take four days and we cut back and forth between the two ships during this. There is nothing in the dialogue to indicate when a day or two has passed and no handy on-screen captions to help either, so you can kind of forget that this is all meant to be happening over days rather than hours. It isn’t the first time Blake’s 7 has had time passing without me being able to follow it. In Space Fall and Cygnus Alpha the ships are supposed to take eight months to reach the penal colony but it isn’t made entirely clear when a significant amount of time has passed.
As more bodies start dropping down (quite literally), everything begins turning to shit and there in the middle of it all is Avon, bloody loving it. The group meet to discuss things and someone comments that the pilot’s death “was a misfortune”, followed swiftly by Avon quipping, “well it was for him.” He takes it all in his stride and is rather nonchalant about corpses cropping up everywhere.
By the time we are reaching the episode’s conclusion, he’s in his element, confronting the female murderer in a physical struggle. She puts up a good fight before he manages to knock her out with a punch. Out of breath, he tells the others, “You better get her out of here. I really rather enjoyed that.” This elicited a sharp laugh from me, but I don’t know how much to read into it. Is Avon referring to the fight or the whole detective drama that has just concluded? Even if it is the former, I’m reluctant to criticise him for smacking a woman because despite her smaller stature she put up a decent fight and was after all a serial killer.
Mission to Destiny seemed an unusual episode and hopefully it would seem obvious that you can’t just repeat ‘murder on a spaceship’ every few episodes. Yet, like Avon, I was initially drawn in by the mystery. I’ve usually slagged of Blake for leading the crew into danger. Avon’s love of a mystery has the potential to be a disaster in a ‘curiosity killed the cat’ way but, so far, he’s acted far too sensibly for that to seem a large risk.
I can’t help but think of Blake in my head as ‘Blake the bloody hero’. I feel I can only stand so much of him being so bloody good and moral so as it felt like Avon had more focus, I enjoyed the second half of the episode especially.
This was an episode which I remembered very clearly from the first screening, and your comments echo so much of what I was thinking in 1978. Yes – why is Jenna getting so little to do at this juncture after being set up so prominently in the opening episodes? Fortunately, this was the script which really allowed Paul Darrow to shine as Avon… and he went for it superbly! The sense of time passing is all over the place isn’t it? I remember that bothering me at the time. And you’re certainly getting the same sense of the characters that I was forming at the time… that Blake wasn’t actually massively interesting, and that Avon was the character who would end up stealing the series from him if he wasn’t careful…
Very enjoyable blog! Brings back lots of very happy memories for me!
All the best