Blake’s 7 – Time Squad

The Full Blake’s 7
“I’m just wondering how long we’re going to live to enjoy our newfound skills.”

If we were in any doubt, in Time Squad Blake firmly asserts his leadership by dragging The Liberator’s crew to a planet so they can blow up a communications system. I gather this is Blake’s plan from now on – fly around the universe to find ways of pissing off the Federation as much as possible. Although we are still not a full Blake’s 7 at the start of the episode, this does feel like the first ‘proper’ episode of the programme following three episodes of setting everything up.

There are two plot elements to Time Squad. Along with the planned attack on the communications system, their ship, named as The Liberator, comes across another ship, seemingly empty. Jenna and Blake go aboard to explore and find a couple of cryogenically frozen men with cum on their faces. Sorry, but in fairness, it’s never explained. I think they are supposed to be veins but the production could have chosen any other colour.

This provides another chance for Zen, The Liberator’s computer, to show just how utterly useless it is. Zen refuses to do anything. If I thought Avon was a bit of a stubborn sod, he’s starting to look like a ray of sunshine next to Zen, who randomly decides whether it’s going to answer questions or do anything the crew requests. With oxygen running out on the other ship, Zen won’t allow Blake and Jenna to teleport back so Avon has to manually move The Liberator towards the ship.

There have been some costume changes over the last couple of episodes as the convicts remove the clothes they’ve worn while travelling from Earth. Jenna got a new outfit in Cygnus Alpha and I didn’t mention it because I couldn’t think of anything positive to say about it. In fact I couldn’t think of much besides just “yuck”. Her pink top has multicoloured bits stuck on below the shoulders and reminds me of a toddler’s ‘touch and feel’ toy. Meanwhile, in Time Squad Avon has ditched his grey for an outfit of orange, cream and brown – my favourite 1970s’ shades. Sometimes you can barely tell them apart. I’m sure I’ll have plenty to add about the other characters’ various costumes as the series goes on because so far I’ve found most of them impressively vile.

Brighter colours haven’t cheered up Avon. He isn’t happy about Blake making decisions for everyone. He’s slightly grumpy throughout most of the episode and in the opening scene he winds Blake up. He, quite reasonably I think, keeps bringing up Blake’s ignorance of everyone else’s wishes. Blake does seem to just say “we’re going to do x, y, x” and then expect everyone to go along with it. His response when questioned is that they can always leave The Liberator but it’s an unfair position because he knows that that’s not a realistic options for wanted criminals. He may claim to be providing a democratic system but he isn’t really.

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Avon continues querying and wants to know why Gan, who’s expressed some interest, is so keen to go along with Blake. When we met Avon, we found out he got caught by the Federation because he “relied on other people” and it’s a satisfactory explanation of why he’s so cautious now. In fairness, none of the crew have known each other very long, making it even more unfair for Blake to force them to follow him.

Eventually, Blake has had enough today. He turns to Avon and viciously snaps, “Enough!” It’s the first time he and Avon have come close to an actual angry clash; they have disagreed but their previous discussions have all been reasonable with thought out arguments. To Blake’s sudden bark, Avon seems slightly shocked and gives a look that says, “I would happily leave a trail of your intestines from Earth to Cygnus Alpha.”

It’s hard to decide if Vila or Avon look the most unhappy about being persuaded to visit the planet below. Vila because he’s used to being a coward or Avon because he’s convinced Blake is going to kill them all. His open cynicism was already displayed earlier when, as the others got to grips with the Liberator’s controls, he deadpanned, “I’m just wondering how long we’re going to live to enjoy our newfound skills.”

Vila decides to touch one of the alien plants, which seems like the very first thing you shouldn’t do on an alien planet. I’m pretty suspicious of dodgy looking plant life since reading Day of the Triffids and Blake confirms that some of the plants here are carnivorous.

They’re hunting for rebels to make contact with. There’s only one but Blake manages to find her by just standing around in a quarry for a while. It was dark when we saw the surface of Cygnus Alpha but that too looked quarry-like. It was probably the same quarry. I feel this could become a bit of a series cliché.

The lone rebel they meet is Cally, who quickly establishes herself as being hard as fuck, though clearly not an experienced fighter, falling for Blake’s simple distraction trick. Nonetheless they convince her to help them destroy the planet’s communications.

While my attention was focussed on the new recruit (it’s immediately pretty clear she’s going to join Team Blake), this part of Time Squad does show us more of Vila. His cowardice is again brought up as Blake tells Cally that getting inside the Federation’s communications complex will be risky. I thought the dialogue was also a neat way of incorporating all three main characters in the scene.

Vila “I plan to live forever… or die trying.”
Blake “If you can get us inside that complex, we’ll provide all the destruction you want, and still get out safely.”
Avon “Or die trying.”

We also get to see Vila in action doing what he apparently does best – breaking into places. Faced with a locked door, Vila exudes confidence as he says to Avon, “Listen, Finger – computers are yours, door are mine, right?” I adore how proud he is at the chance to show off his skills, swiftly getting inside with the use of an electronic screwdriver tool-type thing. Vila has finally had the chance to contribute his skills to the team!

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When Blake, Avon and Vila head down to the planet, Jenna and Gan are left with the two defrosting blokes. The whole cryogenic process seems to have gone awry though and sent them homicidal – it later turns out they were programmed to protect their own ship.

There’s a short conversation between the two crew on The Liberator that reveals Gan’s crime that got him sent to Cygnus Alpha. Apart from framed child molester Blake, the others are all thieves of sorts, so it makes quite a contrast to discover that Gan killed a man in revenge. It’s played very carefully to ensure we still think of Gan as one of the good guys, with Gan seeming a tad reluctant to admit it all while telling Jenna that “he killed my woman”.

Now, the choice of dialogue does make this sound bloody awful, but in trying to understand what on Earth Terry Nation (the scriptwriter) was getting at, I had to reflect some more. I concluded that he was trying to avoid the word ‘wife’, probably thinking that marriage as the 20th century knew it would be outdated by whenever-we-are-set. The next obvious non-sexual word for me would be ‘partner’ but perhaps this sounded a bit too homosexual for Nation and the BBC in 1978, or maybe it still implied the missing word for ‘sexual partner’. I’m trying to be very generous.

We cut back and forth between Jenna and Gan and the others on the planet, but I found the action on The Liberator dull. Jenna and Gan feel like the least developed characters so far and though they do have a heart to heart, it’s mostly action so feels like a slightly wasted opportunity. We know bugger all about the thawed bodies, and any tension that may have been built into sudden shocks can’t be maintained because we keep cutting back to the more interesting events on the planet.

Although I’d have liked more of Gan, it was good to finally get some of his background. It really just leaves Jenna who still feels lacking in character for me. I liked Cally and like Jenna it’s good to see another female character who seems like she will be able to look after herself. I’m still not keen on Blake.

We conclude Time Squad with Blake declaring the crew to now number seven. He’s brought up on this and then, in what is undoubtedly the biggest cop out of the series so far, declares that the seventh crew number is sodding Zen. If Zen is part of the crew you should be considering him bleeding suicidal based on events so far.

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