Blake’s 7 – Voice from the Past

“So much for Blake’s new epoch of peace.”

Voice from the Past was an interesting episode as I was intrigued by the plot immediately. The idea of Blake reverting to his pre-The Way Back brainwashed state was fear-inducing as the consequences I imagined were disastrous. I saw him covertly redirecting the Liberator and turning the whole crew over to the Federation. This is almost where we headed, only with Blake acting with much less consciousness than I pictured. While nothing seemed truly clear for most of the episode, the payoff from the final 10 minutes was superb and among the most thrilling, nerve-wracking I’ve experienced with Blake’s 7 so far.

What the plot?

I was trying to work ahead of the episode’s plot throughout but could never get there. I felt I couldn’t trust anyone – not Ven Glynd, not Shivan, not Le Grand, not Blake – and this meant I was sure of nothing and believed nothing. I had a constant feeling of dread that the crew were being led into a horrific trap. Blake’s rerouting of the Liberator was concerning, his duping of Vila made me want to bang my head against a wall, and despite the friendly demeanour of the rebels, they seemed too good to be true. As for the councillor-type woman, Le Grand, until she turned up on the Liberator I was sure she was on the Federation’s side, yet then I wondered if she wasn’t but maybe Ven Glynd was really in league with Servalan. There were too many possibilities.

Blake the Brainwashed

I had pondered just how easily the Federation would be able to brainwash Blake again, yet I always imagined they would need to physically get hold of him first. Therefore this remote attack using sound seemed clever, and I loved seeing Blake’s 7 use continuity in the plot, as opposed to merely weaving it into lines of exposition.

I could be more annoyed at Blake, but it’s hard to justify anything when he spent the entire episode brainwashed. However, his assertion to the others that he “commands this ship” provided a stab of anger and I was glad that Jenna immediately countered with, “You lead – we don’t take commands.” It is a vital distinction. Blake may not be a perfect leader and I don’t think any of the others would be either, but Avon has been eyeing up the position and from day one has had strong feelings about democracy onboard. That statement sounded utterly like Blake and I hated him for it because good grief – every time I find aspects to admire in him, he does or says something like this again.

It was hard to measure how much Blake’s decisions to ignore Orac were influenced by his altered state of his mind. He overruled Avon’s request to consult Orac before bringing Ven Glynd and Shivan onboard. Yet while I despaired over what seemed an incredibly poor judgement, this didn’t seem to make any difference in the end as Orac couldn’t accurately determine if Shivan was who he claimed to be. Even though Blake’s judgement was poor and it was a foolish decision, this could be attributed to his unstable state of mind. However, turning Orac off later and taking the key was a sign of Blake wielding his power and I was livid, crying out, “Where is our bloody democracy, Blake!”

Loyalty to your commander

It feels like Series B is testing the crew’s loyalty to Blake. If Blake had shown similar signs of regression in Series A, Avon would have advocated abandoning him as a security risk. They all make considerable efforts to help Blake here and it’s interesting that this devotion to one another is still there, regardless of the crew’s dynamic now often being Them vs. Blake.

I thought Vila would notice the clear change in Blake’s tone of voice when he insisted that Avon and Cally had plotted against him. Instead, I was surprised Vila believed Blake at all, especially considering how secretive he has been this series. I might have expected Vila to trust Avon as much as Blake now – if not more – but that clearly isn’t the case and Blake still has the most influence.

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Cally and Jenna both had more to do than in any recent episodes, helped partly by so much of the episode being set on the Liberator. From the opening scenes, I began to think we would spend the entire episode on the Liberator and I would have been perfectly happy with that. It did occur to me that the programme’s budget might incorporate a ‘lite’ episode that forced them to set one episode entirely on the Liberator. Cally has taken on a caring, nursing role in much of Series B and she continues it in Voice from the Past as she and Avon attempt to help Blake.

Finally getting a brief opportunity to leave the Liberator did not work out well for Jenna. She has always seemed the most loyal to Blake but I had wondered if his recent actions had planted seeds of doubt in her, as she has been annoyed by his secretiveness. At the episode’s climax when Blake has removed his teleport bracelet, Jenna tries to help him, even removing her own bracelet to ensure she can stay and try to save his life. It’s interesting that this is the second episode in which teleport bracelets have been removed on purpose like this, and especially so because the episodes have different writers. Both actions were life-threatening, yet the still, tense atmosphere of Avon diffusing the bomb in Countdown could hardly be more different from the panicked and action-packed circumstances here. I admired Jenna for this tremendously risky act as I am unsure whether any of the others would have gone this far for Blake. It perhaps reflects the more romantic feelings she has for him, which we got a flash of from her scowl at Blake’s kiss in Hostage.

Home invasion climax

Down on the asteroid, it all seemed too easy that everything should fall into Blake’s lap like this and my anxiety increased as they brought the strangers onto the Liberator.

It was hard to make anything of Shivan as the bandages ensured the only visible part of him was his eye and I struggled to understand his few lines when he spoke to Ven Glynd. I was willing to believe his miraculous survival story though and paid him little attention because Ven Glynd seemed likely to be the real double agent.

I never had a clue to Shivan’s real identity, so Travis’s reveal elicited a shocked “NO!” followed by a string of expletives. That hand! Travis on the Liberator! I’d been concerned when the Liberator was infiltrated in Redemption, but this was different – this was Travis. They had let the Federation in. BLAKE LET THEM IN. The Liberator has felt like a haven; as long as the crew have got their teleport bracelets, they are safe because they can escape – we’ve seen the Liberator outrun dreadful odds. The Liberator is home.

I loved the detail that Brian Croucher appears to have a degree of stubble, implying he’s spent days or more literally undercover with the rebels.

Prior to this, the appearance of the guard is a bit grim as attention is given to the knife in his back with blood on display. This is even more shocking than Avon’s arm wound in Hostage. I continue to be interested in the way the show depicts violence as Series A probably had a similar amount but was bloodless.

Combined with that desolate auditorium and the appearance of Federation guards, I spent the next few minutes panicking, staring at the unfolding events in wide-eyed horror.

The reveal of the empty auditorium was magnificent. Servalan’s booming voice was imposing and the projection of her image was a wonderful addition. The letterbox shot of her eyes reminded me of the watching eyes of Big Brother in 1984 (did I imagine this poster or does the book specifically reference it?), and there can be many comparisons of the Federation’s regime made to the novel, from its undefeatability to its revisions of established history. Le Grand’s tears were so sad and spoke of years of determined work vanishing in an instant, reflecting her own now-inevitable fate. Ven Glynd and Le Grand were goners and knowing the Federation, it was for the best. I think Le Grand’s may even have been suicide.

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Everything got far worse when Blake’s mind began to be attacked and he took off his teleport bracelet. I’ve never been so worried about the fate of the Liberator crew. It felt like the biggest trap they had ever been in. As Travis went down from the Liberator, Avon and Cally seemed safe again, yet it continued to deteriorate below. When Vila went up and Jenna had taken off her bracelet too, I thought this was it: we were about to lose Jenna and Blake! Avon and the others would have no choice but to leave them because they couldn’t get them back!

The resolution is a variant on the ‘teleported just in time’ trope we have seen, though it has previously tended to be the result of someone having to rush to the teleport bay. I was initially unsure why Travis needed to teleport down as I assumed his aim was to capture the entire crew, so why not force Cally and Avon to bring the others up, regardless of the message Avon managed to send. However, although Travis may have been compelled to attempt the whole crew’s capture while under Servalan’s formal command, he has really only ever cared about Blake. With Servalan’s trap a success, she would know the Liberator was nearby so must have been poised to send in Federation ships to surround it as soon as Travis gave the word.

I had been hoping for another appearance from Servalan and Travis, the former especially, but it was all too brief and I was left longing for more. They should never appear in every episode yet I would like to see plenty of them when they do. I don’t know whether I can ever expect to see more of Servalan: she wasn’t a huge presence in Series A, when Travis took centre stage and she pulled the strings from afar. I think it is just the fact I adore the character so much that I feel we deserve more of her.

Voice from the Past sags in the middle. After the episode’s opening intrigue (and joy of discovering the crew do team yoga sessions), we begin watching a series of political discussions until towards the end. It was only curiosity at ‘what on Dell 10 is going on’ that kept me interested. You then have to appreciate who Travis is for that unveiling to have an impact, so while the episode sits well in the series as a whole, it may have been a struggle for more casual viewers who gained less from the ending. I am also conscious that while I love admiring the model work, there was a lot of it this episode and I began to wonder if it was underrunning.

Voice from the Past’s strength is absolutely in its exciting climax and it made me realise just how invested I had become in these characters. As much as I enjoyed this conclusion, a lot of it was down to the shock of Travis’s reveal combined with the sudden cascading of events, so I don’t think it is an episode that would stand up well to repeated viewings. But this is 1979 when home video barely exists, and in this instance, I am more inclined to evaluate Blake’s 7 in the circumstances of its creation. Voice from the Past did its job: I was interested, entertained and gripped enough to return again next week.

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