Blake’s 7 – Ultraworld

Ultraworld by Trevor Hoyle

I’m unsure why Dayna says she doesn’t like the look of Ultraworld as I don’t think there is anything inherently nasty about a spiky silver disco ball. It matches several of the crew’s outfits.

I do feel the crew should be less trusting of the universe by now. As Cally’s voice came over to them, I immediately had a flashback to an earlier episode when Gan’s voice had been to used to lure the crew somewhere. As then, the voice pattern is slightly unnatural and one of them really should have noticed that something was wrong.

In fairness, Avon does advise against rushing into somewhere they know nothing about but gets taken in by Dayna’s assertion that if it’s so mysterious, there is no way they could ever prepare for it.

Running through corridors

Ultraworld gives Blake’s 7 the opportunity to visit another industrial facility. For an episode with a considerable amount of running up and down corridors, I thought the curved design of these corridors made the location an excellent choice. As ever, creative angles are needed and hopefully help imply they are in different places – it’s impossible to tell most of the time. When Dayna and Tarrant approach Ultraworld’s brain, it appears to give off a red hue that reaches down the adjoining corridor and this also provides some variety. The combination of the location’s large corridors with the sets and the model work meant Ultraworld scaled up hugely in my imagination.

Dayna and Tarrant standing in a corridor with red lighting

Team Dayna and Tarrant

Cally spends most of the episode unconscious and Vila’s cowardice seems to guarantee a job operating the teleport more frequently than ever in Series C. Avon gives it his all to stay awake but I knew he would be out with Cally soon – you can’t fight drugs, which left us with a decent chunk of the episode to focus on Dayna and Tarrant.

Tarrant is almost normal in Ultraworld, but his character continues to bug me. Short of sacrificing himself to save everyone, there is little Tarrant can do to redeem himself to me now. He’s been a git from early on and it isn’t particularly enjoyable disliking him either. There is a delight in watching total villains like Travis or Servalan. Blake would annoy me the majority of the time, then do something admirable enough that I could warm to him a tad. Blake was frustrating but I could at least see that he was trying bloody hard to be a decent bloke. Tarrant isn’t utterly evil and he isn’t a flawed hero – nor even an anti-hero.

Despite enjoying Tarrant’s occasional stand-offs with Avon, everything diffuses afterwards and they are amicable most of the time. One of the first things that attracted me to Blake’s 7 was noticing the tension between Blake and Avon, even though they had had few scenes together in the first episode I saw. The absence of such an atmosphere between  Tarrant and Avon does mean that Tarrant’s attitude has no wider impact – it doesn’t feel like his character is going anywhere and I wish there was something more to intrigue me. In Ultraworld, he acts fairly reasonably and it’s as though we are supposed to go from loathing him one moment to supporting him along with the rest of the crew in the next.

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The bonding ceremony

I’ve liked Dayna, yet all the characters are getting a fair amount of involvement now, so I haven’t seen much to enable me to really fall for Dayna. She’s become a bit sarcastic though and grew on me substantially in Ultraworld, gaining my undying admiration when it looked like she was going to sleep with Tarrant in the name of science and freedom.

The Ultras request their own private performance so the nitty-gritty details of human reproduction can be added to their database. While Tarrant is hesitant, ready to dismiss the request, Dayna is thinking on her feet – and then she proper goes for it, getting right on it to snog Tarrant’s face off. The Ultras commentary – “Has the bonding ceremony started?” – only added to the absurdity and I thought this was hilarious. I know anyone would do almost anything just to live a little longer, but getting that close to Tarrant seals Dayna’s Blake’s 7 hero credentials.

Dayna and Tarrant on CCTV during the bonding ceremony

The icing on the cake was seeing the Ultras room shaken by a distant explosion, with one wondering aloud, “Is that the bonding ceremony?” Simple, crude perhaps, but that gave me the biggest laugh I’ve ever had watching Blake’s 7, partly because it was unexpectedly blatant for a pre-watershed show.

Dayna’s noble act is part of a plan that enables them to run off and start rescuing Cally and Avon. Both Dayna and Tarrant spend much of the episode running around, fighting off the domestics, and I’d say she is as involved as he is. Suddenly, with Vila left on the Liberator, we have an equal crew on an adventure.

There was a young thief called Vila…

Even though Vila doesn’t get to visit Ultraworld with everyone else, we do still see plenty of him on the Liberator. Again, the scenes seem written to suit his comedic style and I enjoyed seeing his elation and deflation as he attempts to entertain himself with Orac. After Orac’s desire to learn more was previously shown to be such a danger to the crew, it was interesting to see him pick up a new skill and quickly identify a use for it – in this case, confusing another computer.

The Ultras and Ultraworld

I liked the idea of Ultraworld and a giant computer you could walk around in. It does leave me with questions of how it came into existence though. It’s all very well saying the Ultras simply want information for information’s sake, but where did the Ultras come from? Ultraworld has a brain so where did that brain come from? Was it an Ultra? The Ultras themselves appear to be organic too – how long do they live? Will others come to replace them? They do appear to have sprung out of existence and to have been there forever. They also seem to be reliant on passing ships to feed the computer – had no one noticed a Bermuda Triangle in space from which travellers never returned?

The Ultras may have been more impressive if I hadn’t been constantly distracted by their costumes: the collars where they met their skin were obvious and it was a shame because a skin-tight blue leotard seemed like a simple solution. Perhaps it was impractical with the veins on the bodies too. I was also thrown by the one Ultra with hair, who clearly wasn’t keen on shaving it off for the role. It looked like one might have had a bald cap on though, with the veins used to disguise the blend between the cap and skin.

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three Ultras facing Avon across a table

The brain of Ultraworld is a throbbing mass. When I first saw it, I thought this was bound to end up looking terrible, but I think it’s actually pretty good for what it is. We don’t see any people next to it – it’s surrounded by metal – and the lighting is generous. For a brain, it moves like a heart, as though it’s breathing in and out, and this is far better than a static blob. When it starts breaking down, I loved the use of smoke around it as green goo shot out. This would all definitely be CGI nowadays, but while that dates within a few years, I like that Ultraworld’s brain is clearly physically real. It makes it that bit more threatening and nasty when we start seeing the bodies poured down to feed it.

I do find it interesting that the Ultras are effectively slaves to Ultraworld. They have to find more information and it can’t just be a case of building up a library because they have to feed the computer with physical species. Perhaps they are still interested in the universe, but they study it like outsiders and have no regard for preserving any part of it – keeping Ultraworld alive has taken precedence over anything else.

Ultraworld's throbbing brain

Escape

I enjoyed seeing Dayna and Tarrant on their own, proving their worth to save Cally and Avon, and thought Ultraworld‘s plot was great. Tarrant’s description of a snail sucking out the insides of a bird egg stuck with me so the prospect of being drained, then your husk of a body fed to the computer was grim. The story built and built up to its climax and I loved the rush to get out before Ultraworld exploded.

If there was one drawback to that ending, it was that the bars that came down to lock the Liberator in place were ultimately pointless. I thought the crew would have to reach some controls to retract them and yet there clearly wasn’t time in the story, nor in the episode’s running time. But I do love some model work destruction so it was hard to be too disappointed.

Liberator trapped by iron bars in Ultraworld's docking bay

We are edging towards the end of Series C and I’ve no idea where we are going. I only note this because  Series B had a definite arc and I had expected something similar. I did become frustrated at how dragged out that arc felt so it’s not something I’ve missed. More than anything, this has been a series for adjustments and trying new things. After a couple of episodes without Servalan though, it does seem like we are due to meet her again soon.

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