After a couple of debuts, Blake’s 7 is back to a proven writer with Sand penned by Tanith Lee. Despite needing to watch Series C’s Sarcophagus twice to understand much of what was happening, I had enjoyed it for being so interesting and different. Sand would provide something equally weird.
I like that Tanith Lee provides dialogue references to her previous story as it’s a nice touch of continuity for Blake’s 7 – why wouldn’t the Scorpio crew discuss their other adventures? There are similar themes at work too. Most of Sarcophagus was set on the Liberator, trapping the characters in with ‘it’ and again the crew find themselves stuck, with Tarrant isolated on the planet below and the Scorpio unable to leave. The claustrophobia is emphasised when Tarrant finds himself in the base with Servalan and the sand outside starts burying them in.
Once again the characters are battling something mysterious they can’t see. I love that Tanith Lee has found another way of exploring an enemy that doesn’t take a conventional physical form. Yet it’s still a huge threat; it’s an intelligent ‘it’, assessing who is the strongest and who can provide it with the greatest advantage. Just like the being that possessed Cally, the sand is simply doing what it needs to survive, but I think this one is ultimately more frightening because it doesn’t communicate at all and therefore there is no hope of trying to reason with it.
I also love that the links with Sarcophagus provide a way for Cally to be mentioned. Vila lashes out at Soolin when she mentions Cally’s death, telling her, “Why don’t you just shut up! What the hell do you know about any of that!” This is unusually harsh for Vila and it’s telling that no one calls him out on it. His mournful drunkenness is sad too as he ponders, “If I died, it’d be a real joke. Who’d care? Who cared about Cally?”
I found it all thought-provoking and reflected that none of them had really dealt with Cally’s death properly. It felt different with Gan as Trial gave most of them a day off from rebellion activities and time to grieve/blame Blake. But undoubtedly the crew were closer to Cally – Vila and Avon especially, having known her the longest – and when they talk about her, it’s apparent they haven’t got over losing her. Who cared about Cally? Well, a couple of thieves at least.
Not a quarry
I was delighted by the visuals throughout most of the episode and it began with a strong start in Sand‘s opening scene. I love the slow shots of Virn, particularly the one that takes us through a canyon in what feels like a point-of-view shot. The various colours, combined with a starry sky and the mist make it a gorgeous landscape, with the sand sparkling while Keller’s voice poetically hints at what’s been happening. I liked the stillness of the planet and the simple, measured voiceover as a soundtrack. It was also another aspect of the episode that reminded me of Sarcophagus; there, too, I was entranced by an unusual opening with imagery that intrigued me.
I’ve mixed feelings about the sets in Sand. After so many quarry visits, we’re denied one when the story needs sand the most. This was disappointing at first, but made sense as the episode progressed and it was apparent the production needed to manipulate the sand in ways that would have been challenging on location.
Unfortunately, I think the studio set that Servalan and the guards traverse looks naff; it’s like a yellow cloth has been draped across an uneven surface. The first scene on this set has appalling picture quality and I’m unsure why. The studio also fails to offer the depth of field needed here. It’s one advantage over location filming is that it enables the planet to look wonderfully alien and I love its sky. When the dry ice kicks in, it does help disguise some of the naffness. I adore the costumes in this episode and both Servalan’s dress and her assistant’s uniform shimmer alongside the sand. Essentially, we are being distracted by mist and glitter and I’m perfectly alright with that.
When the action moves from this open landscape into the smaller area, surrounded by rocks, I think it looks much better. I wasn’t entirely sure whether this was still in the studio or not as the rocks looked quite realistic, although I’m still inclined to think it was in studio due to the lighting. These other scenes are also on film instead of videotape, which definitely enhances it. Film is certainly more suitable when Servalan and co get a fire going as flames tend to flare up (no pun intended) and produce colour problems on videotape.
I loved the effect provided from the green lighting used in several scenes throughout the story for “the green planet” and in combination with the background sounds, especially the thunder, I was soon mesmerised as it all seemed beautiful.
“Everyone’s entitled to one really bad mistake.”
It was fascinating to watch the scenes between Tarrant and Servalan. From the moment I saw her grasping on to his arm around the base, it looked like her guard was down in a way I couldn’t have expected.
Tarrant “If you were the girl next door, I’d move.”
Servalan “Where would you move to, Tarrant?”
Tarrant “Next door.”
If anyone was going to sleep with Servalan, my money (at least a tenner) would have been on Avon. Yet their intimate moments have been tense, almost wildly passionate, and brief – like two people letting off steam, and I’ve perceived it as purely physical; Tarrant and Servalan looked more, well, loving. Although by the end of the episode Servalan’s reaction left me unsure how greatly emotions were really shared between them, it still cut deeply because I don’t think what Tarrant did was necessary and I felt he had betrayed the others. I don’t care if you are in a base under siege and certain of death, you don’t shag your friends’ greatest enemy.
We don’t actually see Tarrant and Servalan emerging post-coital, which certainly could have been done more explicitly. Last series, in Harvest of Kairos we saw Servalan and Jarvik lying down together, clothes in disarray after she had led him off, and we also saw Anna’s bare shoulders above the bedcovers in Avon’s memories during Rumours of Death. The context made the situations clear to the audience, whereas there is more ambiguity on screen here. However, with Tarrant having explained that they are only being left alive so they can produce a further food supply, a snog followed by a later cut to Tarrant waking Servalan – even if they are both fully clothed – seems enough. It took little consideration for me to be certain of what they had done.
Servalan has changed. I wasn’t keen on the cracks that emerged in her stony facade last series – I wanted to keep the pure evil person we had come to know. I was particularly sceptical about Servalan’s desire to be a mother. But here, her statement that she turned to the pursuit of power after losing the (first?) man she loved really threw me. It’s a reasonable explanation that has made it easier for me to accept seeing these different emotions in Servalan. In fact, I think it makes her a far more rounded, realistic character. It might have been fun to watch such an evil human, but no one is born that way and it makes sense for a trigger to be hidden somewhere in their past.
Tarrant, you twat
We don’t know what Tarrant initially told the rest of the crew about “the girl” he had been with, but when he revealed it had been Servalan the reaction was not good. Sleeping with Servalan may be highly desirable to some yet it isn’t something to brag about – his friends are annoyed and Servalan is determined to kill him.
Tarrant might simply have told the crew that he chose not to shoot someone and their reaction that it was Servalan could have been similar, but I doubt it. Why did Tarrant tell them? He clearly didn’t originally intend to so must have changed his mind – perhaps he realised that Servalan might mention it next time they all meet and ripping the plaster off sooner rather than later was for the best.
He may have been less of a twat during Series D – up until now- but if ever there was a time for someone to punch Tarrant, this was it. I’d have put money on Dayna (I’m doing a lot of retrospective betting this week). Instead, while most of the crew cannot find the words to respond to Tarrant, I think them walking out says more. They didn’t just storm off in anger; they were stunned, disappointed, and quite possibly disgusted. Despite the fact he’s given nothing away and put none of the others at risk it still feels like a betrayal of trust. You’re supposed to shoot her, not shag her!
I’m pleased to have the odd episode that doesn’t kill a scientist and it’s interesting to see how forward-thinking the group have become. Under Team Blake, the Liberator crew were often attempting to tear down existing aspects of the Federation, but the Scorpio crew are now also trying to prevent new advantages from being established. Nonetheless, it has felt like Avon is really winging it over the last two episodes.
The most worrying thing to come out of Sand is the possibility that Servalan could be pregnant. The best thing is that Series D feels properly in gear now and each episode is hitting high marks.