Blake’s 7 reviews
Monday, 22 January 2024
Here are two reviews of Blake’s 7 VHS tapes, which were published in Data Extract Number 100, which was a bumper issue of the Doctor Who Club of Australia newsletter published in May 1993, full of articles and reviews written by people who would go on to become hosts on Flight Through Entirety. It was on the “strength” of these reviews that Peter Griffiths invited me to review The SevenFold Crown five years later.
Of course, if you want to hear my more mature and circumspect takes on Blake’s 7, you’re out of luck, but you can still hear me talk a lot of nonsense about the show on the podcast Maximum Power.
Tape 22: Stardrive, Animals
Scripted by Jim Follett and Allan Prior
It is part of the received wisdom of B7 fandom these days that each Blake tape has one good episode and one not so-good episode. Tape 22 is, I’m afraid, an egregious exception.
Despite some truly awful model work, Stardrive begins with some tense and reasonably well-acted scenes. It’s when we discover the murderous, psychopathic Space Rats that things start to get silly and extremely clichéd. It’s off to the planet Quarry, where the strong-willed female scientist is being menaced by a group of definite fashion don’ts on motor tricycles — all of whom look like refugees from those seventies Glam Rock bands which we are all (thank God!) a little too young to remember. After a lot of running around, being beaten up, and burning holes in walls behind people without their noticing, it’s back to Scorpio in time to fit a new space drive.
There is not enough material here for a fifty-minute episode, and by Season D the tribe-of-murderous-savages scenario has begun to wear very, very thin. The ending is a nice one, however. Listen up carefully for the final line from Avon: damn me if Dudley hasn’t rendered it nearly inaudible with his final sting!
The second episode on this tape, Animals, is not much better. Dayna and Tarrant are off to Bucol 2 to recruit the scientist Justin, who just happens to be an old tutor and old flame of Dayna’s. Naturally the love-birds are stranded alone with nothing but a group of hairy horned genetic experiments for company, rousing the suspicions of Julian Clary’s twin sister, the oh-so-lovely Servalan. By the time we reach the final scene and all the right guest actors have been killed and all the mind control techniques have worn off, we have seen some atrocious acting from Josette Simon and Jacqueline Pearce and some very silly gunfight scenes in which the combatants leap out from behind pylons only to get gunned down by other people leaping out from behind other pylons.
It’s a truly clunky script which no amount of cleverness from director Mary Ridge can save. Keep a special lookout, though, for the episode’s two major design highlights: Servalan’s gorgeous ostrich-feather evening frock, and those fabulous wigs worn by Servalan’s female crew. Now surely there are two merchandising opportunites for anyone brave and entrepreneurial enough to take them up…
Tape 23: Headhunter, Assassin
Scripted by Roger Parkes and Rod Beacham
Tape 23 sees us halfway through Series D of Blake’s 7, and the teething problems have been ironed out. Headhunter and Assassin are both excellent episodes.
Headhunter first — a very tense, well-written episode which takes full advantage of the new post-Liberator set-up. Once again there is no Liberator, no teleport and no Orac to help the crew out of their difficulty. They are trapped on the planet Xenon with a convincingly frightening creature that turns all their machinery against them: they have only their own ingenuity and some convenient ancient ruins to get them out of what could be a terminally tight spot. The location work is nice, [and] there are some satisfying explosions and a nice closing line from Orac, who once again proves that a perspex fishbowl full of flashing lights will beat a fluffy dog for episode completion purposes any day. Oh, and watch for Lynda (the Inquisitor) Bellingham’s appearance as someone whose relationship with [space scientist] Muller was purely “recreational”.
The second episode is the one that I remember most vividly from its screening on the ABC in the early eighties. Tense (again), atmospheric and downright scary was how I remembered it — and I was, on the whole, right. Servalan hires an assassin called Cancer, prompting the crew to intercept and kill her as she arranges to pay Cancer off. As usual, things don’t go to plan and Tarrant, Avon and Soolin find themselves trapped on board Cancer’s ship with the assassin wandering around loose.
It’s good, claustrophobic thriller material, and as tempers start to flare all the cast get an opportunity to shine, particularly the often weak and underused Soolin (although she does have one narrow escape from Cancer which is nothing short of laughable). Guest star Richard (The Five Doctors) Hurndall is gentle and sympathetic as the aging slave Nebrox, while Caroline Holdaway’s Piri is a suitable silly girly thing for Tarrant to get all macho about. Only at the end does her performance start to get a little too over the top. (I don’t know, the sexual politics of this programme are a worry sometimes.)
So, two good tense episodes. And wedged as they are between the rather patchy opening to Series D and the gruelling succession of disastrously failed missions (but excellent episodes) that concludes the series, they are not the best of Blake’s 7’s last year, but perhaps they’re the least gloomy. Enjoy.