We return to a regular type of Blake’s 7 adventure with a planet of the week that even Cally gets to visit now.
The opening act of Volcano had me solely by the intrigue of having no idea what was going on plot-wise, which I thought was better than the crew finding a planet and Blake telling us that he’s had a plan for three days but he’s only revealing it now. Once the Liberator came under attack, I was hooked for the rest of the episode. The combination of the interesting location filming and the exciting events on the ship worked perfectly for me. I remained gripped as I was seriously worried that the episode would end without Cally or Orac returning to the Liberator.
What the plot
I did feel like we had skipped an episode. Where did they hear the crew hear the rumour of Blake being on the planet? It appears that Servalan purposefully spread a false rumour, but it does feel like we’ve missed an adventure with them finding out this information.
I am also lacking an explanation for why they are going after Blake. What is the plan? Find Blake and hope he has a plan? Blake is a prick. He does not have enough redeeming features to overcome the rest: he kept important information from the crew; he placed them in unnecessary danger; he had an absurd number of chances to kill Travis and it wasn’t until he was almost literally dying on his arse that he tried it; worst of all, he was obsessed and selfish, with his desperation to find Star One partly still coming down to having to know if he was right. Letting Travis live was perhaps Blake’s way of proving to himself that he was a good person, but his all-consuming drive seemed to overcome his other decisions. Blake was not a good leader on the Liberator, yet he may still make a decent resistance leader, so I’m not entirely against finding him – just so long as it’s clear that this is Avon’s ship now.
Despite Tarrant and Dayna being the newbies on board, it’s these two who head off alone to the planet. The others have known Tarrant five minutes, so this is irresponsible as far as I’m concerned – what’s happened that Avon suddenly trusts him enough? A separate issue, and a minor plot hole, is that Avon has sent two people to find Blake who have never met him before: if I was one of the most wanted people in the galaxy, I wouldn’t trust two strangers, even if they did have Liberator teleport bracelets.
While I continue to find any invasion of the Liberator shocking, it has happened several times now: Bounty’s bounty hunters, Zen’s creators, Travis, last episode’s Federation Death Squad, and now more Federation troops. Though it’s come close, no one has ever been seriously hurt in any of the previous encounters, with the crew’s knowledge of the Liberator’s design and features often being used to their advantage. The Liberator’s familiarity has ensured it remained safe in a way, compared to a neutral ground, so shooting Avon stripped that away. It seemed highly unlikely that even Blake’s 7 would kill off its new lead three episodes into the series, but nonetheless, seeing Avon drop down unconscious, looking in such pain, instead of just clutching his arm and carrying on fighting back was concerning.
Avon does a cracking job alone on the flight deck, leading the battle, but he still needed back up. I was tearing my hair out, desperate for Cally or Vila to contact him, or for Avon to stop, turn around and realise something was wrong. I did like his little trick with Zen that gave him the chance to grab his gun. Avon now seems to have been hurt more than Blake. We may know he was far from perfect, but still, Blake’s almost mythical status is a contrast to Avon, who is starting to be presented as much more ordinary.
I’m finding this slight change in Avon’s character interesting. It feels significant because, when the circumstances have been right, Avon has thrown himself into a fight. Yet the series appears to be trying to show that Avon definitely isn’t a superman: he’s penetrable and vulnerable just like everyone else. He’s been exceptionally guarded both emotionally and physically up until recently but it’s falling away, crumbling a little. It’s such a strong aspect of his identity that I am increasingly curious where the character will go this series.
Location, location, location
I’d whoop with joy if Blake’s 7 suddenly got to film abroad and we had far more extreme ranges for locations, but my expectations are only slightly above rock bottom. I’ll take it all back if they show up in the Grand Canyon next week. While it’s nice to be wowed, I take enormous joy in the creativity of ambitious productions on more limited budgets.
Volcano has another great location that’s used effectively, and with the combination of wind, smoke and coloured lights the live effects are grand. I KNOW it’s all being mashed in with stock footage, but it works as well as it can – bonus points for using the same eruption footage as seen in 007’s You Only Live Twice (1967) and Doctor Who‘s Inferno (1970), as this clearly hasn’t been bettered in at least 13 years. Minor points deducted for the unrealistic shot of the bloke falling into the volcano.
Like Vila’s forest clearing, we are again getting scale to these location scenes. There is no attempt to stick to closer shots and avoid showing this vast, empty expanse – Volcano embraces it, with a distant shot of two native men approaching Servalan in a time-lapse. The population living below ground is a justifiable way of explaining why we see so few of them on the surface (The Keeper did this too on Goth, so I certainly won’t be accepting it every time, Mr Prior). This surface seems huge and I liked its variety, with Servalan coming down on a flat plain but Dayna, Tarrant and Avon all teleporting near rocks on a hill, while we also see Cally in a small cave.
Missing pieces – Dayna and Tarrant
I want to see more of Dayna and, even more so, Tarrant. After Powerplay I was distrustful of him and there wasn’t enough in Volcano that made me feel like I knew him much better. His negotiating skills need some work as he came across a bit forceful and I was interested that Vila has already voiced his uncertainty about Tarrant. It was a wonderful three-hander moment when Vila told Cally that he “hadn’t really noticed” whether Dayna was pretty and Avon replied, “We’ve seen you not really noticing – frequently.” Despite what I’ve previously said about Dayna and Avon, Blake’s 7 has rarely so directly acknowledged such feelings – either lustful or romantic.
Not all Federation officers
There are at least a couple of things to note about Tarrant. His movement into Avon’s old position is cemented further as he tells Dayna, “I don’t trust anyone except myself. That’s why I’m still alive.” It’s also mentioned that he was previously a Federation Captain, which I must have missed or forgotten from the last episode.
It has been easy to see the Federation’s forces as one enormous entity as Travis is the only individual depicted more closely. I would expect a screening process to rule out anyone with even a glimmer of potential to let them down. The fact that Tarrant made it through in the first place makes me trust him even less, but it’s interesting to see someone like that who has successfully turned against the Federation.
Servalan’s underling in Volcano is Commander Mori, another officer who does not perfectly fit the Federation model. He seems so suited initially, but when Servalan orders him to kill the two Obsidians, Mori hesitates. He’s deeply uncomfortable with murdering the men in cold blood and though he does carry it out, his face turns grim as he stares at the bodies. Servalan’s expression also switches – to one of disgust. She needs loyal, unquestioning people with her and unfortunately for her, I don’t think she’s likely to find any who take the same sort of sadistic pleasure with as little disregard for life as Travis did.
I’m concerned that we might not see Travis again. It’s occurred to me now that I was certain we would but I’m no longer sure. I’ve enjoyed having both him and Servalan as villains because they each offered something different. I like having Servalan to smile as she hurts you, for delicious moments like the conclusion of Voice from the Past. But her threat only works from afar. If our heroes turn a corner and see Servalan, I gasp. If they suddenly spot Travis, I swear and imagine them reaching for a gun. For the series to work as well with just Servalan, I would like to see more of a physical threat from her. Her quite nasty murder of Mellanby was an excellent start, so I suppose what I really want is extra violent bloodshed.