Blake’s 7 – Redemption

“I think we just lost our ship.”

Having resisted the temptation to simply plough on with more Blake’s 7, I took a short break to let everything from series 1 sink in. What fun it had been! As I sat down with Redemption, it felt as though I was about to be reunited with old friends and I watched with an enormous grin on my face during the first scenes. I’ve become aware that the series tend to get referred to as A, B, C and D, so I’ll stick with that from now on.

We pick up shortly after Orac with the crew still worrying about when the Liberator will get destroyed. Blake is doing some deep pondering, rewatching the clip Orac gave them – Blake’s 7 itself is making damn good use of having to destroy that model. That the opening focuses on Blake and Avon shows that Terry Nation has realised who the fan’s favourites are. Avon thinks he’s figured out how the Liberator will be destroyed but has waited several hours to tell Blake, let alone any of the other crew, which I did think slightly cruel.

Complete control

It’s a wonderfully exciting start as the Liberator comes under attack and Avon summons the crew to the flight deck with a cry of, “Battle stations!” There is lots of running around and chucking themselves about as the ship is fired on. They are clearly all used to this now as immediately know what they are doing and Blake barks out orders. Feeling safe again and ready to inspect the damage, everyone seems to have gathered bits of technical knowledge. Blake heads off to sort some auxiliary stuff and asks Cally to help Avon, something we have seen her do a few times during series A. Jenna has a lie-down and I forget what Vila went to do. He complains of a headache and the sudden attack has not blunted Avon, who advises, “Have you considered amputation?”

Seeing the crew lose control of the Liberator was worrying and my first thought was Servalan because after the events of Orac she must surely have immediately begun planning how to get Orac from them. Yet this was easily dismissed because I couldn’t see how the Federation could remotely access the ship – if they could, they would have done so before now.

I started to give a shit about Blake again by the end of Series A, so was on his side as he hissed over the intercom to Avon while an electrical cable was poised over him. This literal ‘live’ cable was most bizarre and seemed more like something I would expect to see in Red Dwarf. I really struggled to believe it at first. I loved how it hovered and moved in a snake-like fashion, ready to strike at Blake.

I felt his panic when he found himself trapped and worried again when Avon had set the explosive but the ship trapped him in the room too. How powerful was that explosive going to be? On reflection, it makes sense that Avon wasn’t going to blow a chunk out of the ship, but at the time I was just panicking that we would lose a few parts of him. Avon is clocking up serious brownie points and could have at least three “I saved Roj Blake” badges by now – I recall that Blake was nearly caught in Mission to Destiny and Avon again saved him by blowing up Travis’s hand in Orac.

I love the idea that Liberator is a living ship and liked Avon’s explanation of it having a nervous system of sorts. Vila’s description of the crew as “germs” also seemed fitting. Both of these made me accept the idea of the cable attack much more. It’s an interesting concept and one that has also been explored in Doctor Who with the TARDIS. It also helps support the fact that Blake counted Zen as one of the 7. I found it concerning that the crew head off at the end of the episode having regained control, as I now worry that the Liberator has a vulnerability that could be exploited again in the future. If the ship is alive, does it have its own ‘brain’ that could begin to act independently? Even if no one else was controlling it, maybe the ship could independently turn against its parasites.

Only a machine

Zen isn’t much help, as usual, but Redemption makes it plain that it isn’t his fault. Orac ultimately saves the day, acting on his own initiative. This isn’t something we have ever seen Zen do. If he’s done something without being asked, it’s usually been at the inconvenience of the crew. I think Orac being separate from the ship and the fact that the crew know where he’s come from are good advantages. I’m trying to bear in mind Avon’s reminders that both Zen and Orac are machines. Yet as far as I am concerned, Orac has already shown some sort of loyalty to the crew – although saving the Liberator could have been merely self-preservation. Still, the Liberator has already got a couple of enthusiasts for that pursuit among the crew and one more is always welcome while Blake is around.

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After all those risks last series and all that pondering, we actually see little of Orac in Redemption. I can’t argue with this though as there can only be so much time spent watching the crew stand around arguing with a computer.

The aliens we meet this episode have some interesting costumes, by which I mean – crikey. They get a few extra bits of grey and plastic but their outfits are mainly just blue leotards. I recognised Harriet Philpin with her distinctive short blonde hair, having seen her in Doctor Who and The Sweeney. The revelation that these ‘aliens’ have been created by the system along with everything else makes sense. The pain-inducing punishment inflicted on Blake looks all the more brutal due to their lack of emotions and they are swift to hand it out too.

Series A seemed to show us lots of fantastic things that could be done with technology from judging trials to teleportation but Redemption runs on the theme of what could happen when these manmade machines turn against humans. While this scenario has been explored in fiction many times, I think it’s particularly pertinent to Blake’s 7‘s era. Computers were becoming a larger part of everyday life for more and more people and they had now started to enter the home as well, so while it was a time of exciting developments, these fears for the future would have resonated with 1979’s the audience.

In a way, seeing where the Liberator and Zen came from was a bit of a letdown and I’d rather it had remained a mystery. I expected some great, powerful alien race. Instead, it comes across as a few random planets having squabbles until one of them built a decent computer, which has since run everything. We see very few people – I wanted tens of guards pushing on hundreds of slaves and obviously this isn’t possible on a Blake’s 7 budget. Avon’s been desperate to meet Zen’s creators and he doesn’t even get to have it out with them. He has to sit in a cell and wait for Vila to spring him, then everyone legs it.

Location, location, location

We spent so much time on the Liberator in the first half of the episode that we are left with little time on the planet. I wouldn’t have lost any of that first half so felt like the episode could have been slightly longer. I found the crew’s escape a bit too easy and I did want to see more of where the Liberator and Zen had come from.

I did like the massive spaces within the complex on the planet. Blake’s 7 now appears to make good use of quarries and industrial facilities, which is what I presume this steel and grey environment is in reality. I found it eerie that this huge place was so empty and when the crew attempt to make their escape, they seemed so exposed and vulnerable – until Gan knocks some guards together. Vila barely lets him put them down before he’s telling him to hurry and as Gan turns to catch up, his cape flows majestically behind him.

A dandy fetish

A new series means new costumes and it’s a mixed bag for the Liberator crew. I wasn’t keen on the crew’s costumes in Series A. Aside from the raincoats, I haven’t looked at anything and fancied it myself, nor have I thought much looked that great on anyone else. Jenna and Cally had some nice, often very figure-hugging outfits, but the blokes really draw the short straws. Whatever century we are in, it just isn’t to my tastes. But I still enjoy seeing this strange mix of costumes every week, trying to fathom what on earth is going through the mind of the wearers.

The first person we see is Blake, who favoured layers in Series A. He wore browns and black but also a lot of green, a palette that he seems to have stuck with. I wouldn’t have put Blake down as a fashion-conscious man but I’ve decided to refer to this as his ‘Regency Dandy’ outfit. The sleeves are absolutely enormous. It’s like someone inflated them. I can’t decide if he should be a young member of the aristocracy or waving a cutlass alongside Long John Silver. Is that where we’re going with this? Blake’s already got a smuggler aboard so are they going to become Robin Hood-style pirates against the Federation? I just don’t think those sleeves are practical.

I never got round to mentioning all the flares in Series A – oh the faith they had that this fashion trend would last down the centuries! I’m desperate to see an automatic door trap someone in Blake’s 7 due to their flares. Avon’s outfit in Redemption includes flared trousers, but that is the least important thing to comment on. Avon clearly spent a lot of Series A looking at Travis’s all-black leather Federation uniform, thinking, “I like black and that’s an exceedingly practical ensemble.” With the Federation logo emblazoned across his chest and similarly-dressed guards by his side, Travis could pull this look off. However, in full black leather and silver studs, Avon is halfway between a motorcycle gang and a fetish club. I don’t mind, it’s just I had never imagined him swaying either way.

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Vila never had many outfit changes in Series A and had a very long shirt of many colours, patches and garishness. His grey-ish top for Redemption is much quieter and balanced out by his yellow trousers, a colour which perfectly suits his personality. There is a moment after he has sprung Avon and Jenna when he has a quick look around a wall, before stepping back to let Avon have a proper look and making sure he’s the last to go behind Jenna. It may well have been in the script’s directions, but the way Michael Keating positions himself is a perfect reflection of Vila’s personality.

I’ve little to say on Jenna’s clothes – she just looks as glamorous as ever.

Cally has had a haircut that includes a perm for everything except her straight fringe. Her outfit seems to include a cream bodywarmer (surely destined to get ruined in a quarry within weeks) and the rest of it really emphasises how very slim she is.

Last series Gan’s outfit included bits of netting, one of the most pointless layers possible, so I’m glad that seems to have gone. I like his new billowing cape-like waistcoat.

Total destruction

I was sure the crew were going to lose the Liberator. I didn’t expect it to happen in Redemption because this seemed like an ongoing plot point that could easily be dragged out – every week the audience would be wondering whether this was the episode when the ship would get blown up. This made it a surprise when Avon spotted the same stars he’d seen in Orac’s prediction and realised they were in the right location for the explosion. I was now certain that the ship was doomed that episode and kept expecting the crew to need to steal a ship while making their escape. I was disappointed when we did see the explosion and it was not really the Liberator. I’m still slightly sceptical that that is it. This feels like such a cop-out and one done far too soon.

Apart from this niggle, I enjoyed Redemption. It was a good episode to ease us back into things and we see enough of most of the crew for new viewers to start figuring them out. The opening scene immediately brings us up to speed with what’s needed for this episode and it’s pretty simple actually – Orac has predicted their ship will be destroyed. We don’t need Travis or Servalan, the Federation, a load of arguing between Blake and Avon, or everyone’s backstories – no, it can all come in the future. Redemption gets on with a fun story, setting up a mystery early on, the crew solving it, getting captured, running around an alien complex, and escaping with some action.

SPOILERS

I thought I’d clarify where I am in regards to spoilers. I haven’t gone out of my way too much to avoid spoilers because I feel simply not googling “Blake’s 7” etc. should be enough. It’s also why I’ve repeatedly, perhaps annoyingly, mentioned on Twitter that this is my first time watching the programme – people like discussing things they love but I’m afraid I can’t join in properly yet.

There are a couple of things I’ve stumbled across, which may or may not impact my viewing of Series B. I know that Blake departs the series at some point and I know we get some new crew members, with, I think, Jenna and Cally both leaving. That’s it. I don’t know what happens to any of them and am unsure whether they live or die.

There is one, arguably rather large, spoiler I neglected to mention before I began watching the series. This was originally because it slipped my mind when I wrote the first blog, then it became a case of – where do I put this so that it doesn’t spoil it for anyone reading who hasn’t seen everything? So now it is here at the very end of a post. I’ve always known that everyone dies. Who is everyone? No idea because those two words are literally all I know. I’m not sure where I got this knowledge from but it’s possible it came from Doctor Who Magazine many years ago, as this was where I first came across references to Blake’s 7. It feels a long way off at the moment so it isn’t something I’ve thought about. It will be exceedingly interesting to see how we get to that point though.

Comments

  1. Andrew P

    Great to see you progressing to Series B – one of my favourite series of the show!

    I remember enjoying the tense atmosphere of the episode as the Liberator hurtled into the unknown when it first went out – I think “Blake’s 7” really had captivated me during its first year and I was so excited to have it back (fuelled by the “Orac” compilation a week or two earlier).

    Nice to see Harriet Philpin getting a name-check. She’s brilliant in her episode of “The Sweeney”, “Thou Shalt Not Kill!”, and she had a comparatively short TV career. I remember all the fuss a few years back when there was an appeal to track her down to recreate the 1970s R White’s lemonade commercial which she appeared in with Julian Chagrin.

    The location shooting is pretty impressive isn’t it? Works very nicely in this one. And the “look” of the costumes in Series B does hint at a more flamboyant designer and a bigger budget than Series A!

    Michael Keating’s performance as Vila is quite amazing – when you see him at events and realise that he is a very different man from the character he plays, you admire even more the body language which he adopted to convey Vila so effectively.

    And thanks for flagging up the “spoiler” of which you’re aware/not aware. Very honest and very useful.

    All the best

    Andrew

  2. Mrs Underhill

    Ah, such a joy to see your B7 reviews back! Glad you're still enjoying it – for me, visually it was a welcome change after somewhat drab Season A, with flamboyancy and camp ratcheted up many notches.

    I adore Blake's giant sleeves and Gan's giant cape. As for Avon – I saw his Redemption outfit described as "demented dentist" and it still makes me giggle. But more fabulous outfits of his are coming up, some are my absolute favorites!

    But my favorite change in appearance was Cally. Love her new haircut and her quirky dresses. If you look closer you can see her wearing shorts under that dress, see here: http://static.diary.ru/userdir/5/5/1/9/551988/85638222.jpg

    Blake and Avon interaction was a joy for me in this episode. Yes, Avon got more brownie points here for saving Blake, he also protected Blake with his body when the ship was thrown about – right after one of his ferocious verbal attacks. The tension between them was so exciting to watch.

    It was also exciting for me to realize that it's the Liberator's makers attacking it – those little ships had the same design as the Liberator. But huh – you make a good point that Avon was the most curious to meet Libbie makers and he didn't get to. And they get destroyed anyway, we have to assume.

    Overall I felt the same about this episode – the mystery of Liberator creation was underwhelming and it dragged at the end, but it was great to see the gang back, looking fabulous and in a great fighting form.

  3. Eve

    Good to see your blog back, it's always interesting to read others views on the series, even if one doesn't agree with everything said. It was interesting to read your take on the Blake and Avon outfits. The general consensus then (and now?) was that Blake's outfit was slightly ridiculous with the huge puff sleeves. On the other hand Avon's outfit was quite a hit with viewers, especially teenage girls and mums! He certainly wore the leather and studs well. I suppose today when generally people go around in drab mundane clothes, it must seem rather outlandish. I agree he and the others did look far more glam and expensively dressed to viewers at the time in this first episode of the new series than when we left them at the end of series 1.
    Apparently Avon's outfit and a few more were made/adapted from outfits bought in a leather shop in Soho!
    Sorry to disappoint you (or not as the case may be) but Avon definitely does not "sway both ways" as a character. I don't think I'm revealing any spoilers when I say that future episodes will reveal his character is definitely a "ladies man". I wouldn't want you to waste valuable time misinterpreting every Blake and Avon conversation in the meantime, as some are wont to do…

  4. H E Cooper

    I was surprised to look up Harriet Philpin and see she had such a short career as I would have expected more based on her performances, especially that fantastic Sweeney episode.

    Wonderful to hear that about Michael Keating. Vila didn't make much impression on me in the first few episodes of Series A but then quickly grew on me.

  5. H E Cooper

    'Camp' definitely feels the right word so far! I can't wait to see how much more OTT it can get. Cally definitely needs all the extra layers.

    Seeing other little Liberator-like ships was rather exciting! It was a nice way of having that realisation.

  6. H E Cooper

    I suppose the outfits are somewhat signalling the looming outrageousness of the 1980s where these things were definitely more acceptable. Also: space, the future – you can get away with anything really! Must have been a gift to the designers.

    Your 'disappoint' line made me LOL. I will clarify that I do not fall into *that* camp of Avon's fans. Additionally I should explain that I did not mean to imply that Avon was gay/bi, rather that he simply had a fetish!

  7. Eve

    Thanks for your reply, however the term "swing (sway) both ways" is almost universally taken to have a certain meaning, therefore the reader could be forgiven for thinking that you were using it in that context. However you have explained that you meant something quite different by that phrase so we can leave it at that!

  8. Joe Dredd

    Just a quick note to say that the 'industrial facility' they filmed in is actually a nuclear power station. Anecdotes from filming include that setting off the explosions produced the sudden appearance of numerous worried staff and engineers; that the cast and crew had to be checked out with geiger counters – revealing that Jan Chappell had leant up against something and irradiated her bottom; and Jan making it part of her contract that she never had to film in a nuclear power plant again.

    My memory is a bit hazy now but this may also have been the episode where Jan was worried about filming running over time as she wanted to get back to her small son, Sam. Gareth Thomas stepped into his Blake mantle and halted filming until something was sorted out to accommodate Jan.

    There's a neat fan video on Youtube that has some Redemption footage speeded up with Benny Hill chase music and sound effects. Search for "Benny's 7" by zman953. It's uncanny how well it works.

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