Blake’s 7 – Warlord

Blake's 7 warlord by simon masters

After realising I may never entirely recover from Orbit, I decided I was going to have to press on with Warlord eventually. The trauma was one reason holding me back, but I also know I’m nearing the end and I don’t want there to be no more new episodes of Blake’s 7 for me. The urge to see those last couple was just a little bit greater though.

I was curious to see any scenes between Vila and Avon, but they shared none until the end when everyone was together on Scorpio, where nothing was given away.

The representatives

Having failed at getting a group of scientists together throughout Series D, the crew do still have an antidote to the Federation’s control drug. I had to wrack my brains a bit because I initially thought I’d missed something; however, I think this is what they picked up in Traitor. If so, my mitigation is that my viewing has been a tad slower than the one-episode-per-week that 1981’s viewers would have seen and that story now feels a long time ago.

The footage of Zondor does go on a bit too long. I was intrigued by the shots used and the screen inserts that gave us views of the Federation guards. Yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was watching CCTV from a shopping centre.

The various planets’ representatives seemed an interesting bunch and I was disappointed that all of them except for Zukan disappeared after 10 minutes. Among the representatives is Charles Augins playing Lod, whose voice was immediately recognisable from his role as Queeg in the Red Dwarf episode of the same name a few years later. My eye was also drawn to Rick James playing Chalsa as, with much of his upper body visible, his tall, slim and muscular physique stands out among the others, and it couldn’t be seen through his jumpsuit while I was watching him in Doctor Who‘s ‘The Mutants’.

five representatives standing in a line

Desperate diplomacy

Avon’s diplomacy skills don’t look good and initially I felt he needed to be nicer to the people whose help he needed. He came across as harsh, forceful and angry.

It’s noticeable that Avon is smaller than all of the representatives and while he has always had better ways of persuading people than sheer size, in a room among several powerful men who all possess strong voices of their own, it’s clear there is no weaker party and it was never going to be easy to persuade them all to come together.

Although the directing never chooses to emphasise it through their physical statures, the representatives do look down on Avon so I think it would have been an interesting and unusual depiction. Boorva says the crew are a gang of renegades and after the other descriptions we’ve heard (“ruthless desperados of legend”), it’s understandable that legitimate leaders like the representatives would be reluctant to make deals with them. We’re used to seeing the crew deal with other outlaws, rebels and crooks, and it’s rarer for them to be confronted with people so far removed from this who may see the crew’s criminal status as more of a barrier.

While Avon’s negotiating does come across badly, I think it boils down to frustration. It’s difficult to convince the representatives of what must seem an invisible danger. It’s been hard work just to get them all together and Avon knows they don’t have lots of time anymore. Viewed from this perspective, his intense insistence starts to seem more like a man at his wit’s end.

Avon leaning against a wall

After cursing him non-stop after Orbit, I unexpectedly had several moments of sympathy for Avon. Although the reason for Soolin joining him aboard Scorpio become clear afterwards, her assertion that Zeeona “deserves better than having just you for company” was harsh! From Avon’s expression, I’m unsure if he was genuinely a little hurt by this comment or simply taken aback by it; he doesn’t look at Soolin, which makes me inclined towards the former.

I was also on Avon’s side when Soolin and the others tricked him so they could teleport Zeeona back to the base. However, this was because I sensed that it would be a mistake – I thought Zeeona might be planting a trap of some sort, as I attempted to pull together the early clues that something was going to go wrong.

Another sandy planet

As a confirmed Blake’s 7 Quarries Fan™, I was happy to see sand and hills again. I was really impressed with the way these location scenes were shot and enjoyed seeing Avon and Soolin running around up and down the sand valleys, fighting off the Federation guards who have all been taking gymnastics’ classes. The soundtrack is superbly exciting here too.

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It’s also great to watch Soolin being awesome – in the location scenes especially, but I enjoy her part throughout the episode. We finally get a couple of lines about her backstory and discover she took revenge on the men who murdered her parents. It all feels too little too late though; this is the kind of detail we should have had early on to help build up a picture of what sort of person Soolin is.

With all the crew only possessing about two outfits each in Series D, it was nice to see both Avon and Soolin in something different and the green is a positively happy colour for Avon. He pairs his jumpsuit with the same studded belt he wore with the silver jumpsuit in Gold.

I was a little uncertain when Soolin yelled at Avon to drop his gun. She gives him quite a knock to the floor and his snarl is superb. I was sure she would have had time to take out the approaching guards and for the few moments until she told them she was Zeeona I wondered if she might be about to betray Avon properly. The events of Orbit have helped diminish any faith I still had in a lasting bond of trust between any of the crew.

Xenon

Being a teeny bit claustrophobic myself, my concern rose as the impact at the Xenon base became worse. I’ve no idea why Tarrant chose Vila to help him with the digging when it’s clear that Dayna or Soolin would crack on with it with far less moaning and panic. Things were looking increasingly hopeless and by the time Vila was perched drinking wine and hoping to die pissed, I was fully behind him. After what he’s been through recently, who could blame him?

Vila lounging and sipping wine

Zeeona

Tarrant has shown quite a fondness for women. In fairness, he’s a young man and the crew’s lifestyle doesn’t often provide much room for extracurricular activities. He might not always be too subtle, but neither does he rush in with the enthusiasm of Vila at Space City.

It’s rather sweet that in Zeeona Tarrant has met someone who feels just as strongly and without him having to do any dick swinging next to Avon. I find it effective that we learn they have already met once before, so this doesn’t feel like a sudden romance within the confines of the episode – both of them have been thinking about the other and it’s Zeeona who has sought Tarrant out again.

With Zukan dead by the end too, Zeeona might have returned to their planet to promise peaceful negotiations and an end to war-waging with its neighbours. But it’s become clear that Blake’s 7 laughs at happy endings (literally sometimes, unfortunately), plus Zeeona is a scientist who boards Scorpio and the series is still dedicated to maintaining a rule that dooms them.

Zeeona smiling

I was distracted by her hair at first as not only is it big and pink, but it also looks very plasticky – more synthetic than synthetic hair normally looks. When Tarrant discovered Zeeona’s grim, skeletal corpse, I was wondering how she had got her hair inside the suit’s helmet.

Tarrant was such a twat throughout Series C, yet he hasn’t been as twattish at all during Series D. It would be a stretch to say he’s grown on me, but my strong dislike for him has abated, which meant I did feel quite sorry for him.

CS-Oh no?

It’s really noticeable how much the CSO work has increased for this episode. Blake’s 7 has never made much use of CSO and I’ve been grateful because I can find it grating – it’s undoubtedly one of the reasons I love seeing modelwork so much.

Warlord uses CSO at the beginning so Avon can present the video of Zondor, which is a reminder of how easily it can be to take large screens for granted now – that could easily be either a screen or projected image.

But the CSO is most often used for windows. In a scene between Soolin and Zeeona (presumably on Zeeona’s ship) the window is filled by the image of a giant flower, which Zeeona then changes to the view of a lake or river. When she’s there with Tarrant later, we get stars on black. On Zukan’s ship, the view from the front of the ship is presented similarly, with Servalan’s ship visible too.

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It’s strange to have this sort of technology alongside Xenon’s monochrome video monitors. The CSO bothers me more in this episode because it’s constantly shown up by people walking across it, highlighting a slight distortion. It’s a shame because I remember being excited to see any effects at first in Blake’s 7. I also wonder if I’m being unfair because in other contexts I’ve simply been impressed by the ambition of such programmes when they have attempted new things like this.

What the plot

There are a few plot areas that bugged me. Orac may have been an arse but it still hurt to see him put out of action – his little noise was like him crying out in pain! – and while, unlike Zen, he was never officially counted as one of the show’s eponymous seven, I’ve always considered him an extra character in the same way. As a result, it’s annoying that by the end of the episode there has been no definite confirmation of whether he is damaged beyond repair.

Orac with a girder on top

Following the explosion in the base’s teleport, I expected the crew would need to find another way in and out. It therefore seems far too convenient that despite all the damage to the Xenon base, the teleport still functions normally when Avon and Soolin return with Scorpio. The same can be said for the radio, which has perfect signal, significantly reducing the tension created from the crew’s claustrophobic isolation.

Servalan and Zukan

By the end, I was still thinking through Zukan and Servalan’s arrangements. There is little explained in their brief scenes together and it isn’t made clear why Zukan has agreed to help Servalan at all. His access to the antidote doesn’t appear to be part of their deal. Zukan says that immunising his people would mean conning others and I was unsure if the names he mentions were those of the other representatives’ planets. It was unclear to me whether the other representatives were still on Xenon when the base was destroyed; Zukan is the only one we see after their negotiations, so perhaps he was wiping out his planet’s neighbours. However, when he later refers to conning others, he doesn’t sound that keen.

Zukan knows her as Commissioner Sleer, so, like all the others before him, she was always going to kill Zukan once his task was accomplished. Perhaps he suspected this was a risk, else why should he send Zeeona home in Scorpio instead of simply taking her with him? Would there be any reason he needed to ensure she didn’t meet Sleer?

Scorpio’s journey also causes questions. It’s Zukan who tells Avon that the crew will have to travel to collect supplies. But why? If Zukan had lied and said they would be delivered to Xenon, all of the crew would have remained at the base to be killed together. Servalan isn’t happy about risking Avon’s escape. I realised that when she leaves Zukan, she believes that all the crew except Avon are as good as dead – it’s only him she may have been unsure about.

Zukan and Servalan on Zukan's ship

Warlord feels the weakest out of the recent run of episodes, yet that’s simply down to how great the others have been. Earlier on in the series, Warlord would have looked much stronger and I still think it’s a good story. However, I remain frustrated by how easily the story resolves the impact at the Xenon base.

This is nearly it then. After a rocky start, Series D has built up well towards its conclusion. I’ve always had a vague idea of how Blake’s 7 ends (see this spoilers section at the end) and I expect Servalan to show up, but I thought Series D might have filled in some details. I’ve got an episode title that raises even more questions. I’m excited and nervous, and all I really want from the finale is for it to feel appropriate and satisfying.

Comments

  1. Reggie

    “and discover she took revenge on the men who murdered her parents. It all feels too little too late though; this is the kind of detail we should have had early on to help build up a picture of what sort of person Soolin is.”

    We did! Dorian mentioned it in the first episode!

    I’m very excited for the finale – this episode is more setup for that than anything else.

  2. Joe

    Another brilliant review, Hannah. The point about our rebels usually dealing with their own kind and the nervousness of the authorities in dealing with them is a good one. I had also never considered that the scorn and frustration Tarrant heaps on Vila as he tries to dig them out is entirely in the absence of knowing what went on in the shuttle over Malodar. And, despite their situation and his misery, Vila never brings it up, never tries to get anyone’s sympathy or understanding, and never puts Avon in a hole with the rest of the crew by telling them.

    I love the set for Zukan’s ship. Not only do we get a full four walls but there’s also that glorious view of Servalan’s cruiser out the window, similar to the shuttle window we saw last week.

    Paul Darrow was unhappy with director Viktors Ritelis’ approach to the scenes in the sand. Ritelis told the actors where to run, but wouldn’t tell them where he’d hidden the explosive charges. He wanted to catch the actors by surprise by being able to detonate them safely (but close) in order to capture real tension. The gymnastic troopers are great though (and/or silly). It’s a pity they get gunned down so quickly. They seem fearless and formidable. I would be toast against a trooper who can hide under the sand.

    I’m not sure I’d agree that Orac was never part of the seven. There’s only been five human(oid)s in the crew since partway through series two, so Zen (or Slave) and Orac have always made up the numbers.

    A man at his wit’s end; more backstory for Soolin. Very good points.

    I’m really looking forward to hearing what you make of the next episode.

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