Blake’s Seven – tape 1959

It’s UK Gold on this tape, and you can tell immediately from the titles that this is season 4 of Blake’s 7.

Blake's 7 Titles

This is one of my favourite title sequences ever. At the time the Head-Up Display wasn’t a visual theme that had been done to death, unlike today, and it looked fresh and utterly cool.

This episode is Traitor, written by the great Robert Holmes, one of the best writers to write for Doctor Who and a stalwart of the BBC drama department.

The show opens with a ‘matte painting’ which appears to have been stolen from the titles of A Very Peculiar Practice.

A Very Peculiar Matte Painting

Christopher Neame guest stars, sporting a fetching eyepatch. Not quite up to Travis standards, but you can’t get a better signifier of evil than an eyepatch. Except, perhaps, a goatee.

Christopher Neame Blake's 7

Anther signifier of evil: “I don’t know what the pacification police use but I wish I could get hold of a shot of it. Next time I go on leave I could use it to get my entertainment for nothing.”

I don’t think the teleporter on the new ship, Scorpio, is as impressive as the Liberator’s.

Blake's 7 Teleport

This story takes place on Helotrix, where federation forces are pacifying the locals, and installing a new, federation friendly president.

This is early in Season 4, so Servalan is dead, killed in a big federation civil war. The new golden boy is Commissioner Sleer, who has developed a pacification drug. The new president of Helotrix tells one of Sleer’s men that he knew Servalan well. Shortly afterwards, he’s killed by a shadowy figure. Ooh, the mystery.

Mysterious Figure

There’s a very confusing battle scene where all the combatants are dressed in a similar dull brown colour. I wish they’d brighten themselves up, or wear funny helmets or something.

Tarrant and Dayna find the source of the pacification drug – a scientist kept prisoner by Sleer – and also an antidote to its effects. They lead an attack, having taken the antidote, so the federation use their pacification weapon thinking it will work. And look who’s leading the federation troops.

Servalan

It’s Servalan.No, wait a minute, she’s actually Commissioner Sleer, the mysterious man in charge. And she’s killing everyone who used to know her as Servalan, which would seem to be a long list.

I don’t know if this is the first reveal that she’s still alive – certainly it takes the regulars by surprise. I love a good villain coming back from the dead.

Next episode is Headhunter so we’ve skipped a couple (according to Wikipedia). It guest stars Lynda Bellingham.

Lynda Bellingham

Tarrant and Vila are after Muller, a cyberneticist, and Bellingham’s husband. When they find him, he’s a bit nervous, and very scared of a black box, and so angry that Vila brought it with them onto the Scorpio that he goes a bit mad. Vila clonks him on the head, and accidentally kills him.

Meanwhile, back on his planet, someone there finds a dead body without a head and thinks it might be Muller.

So what’s in the box?

What's in the box

I love the environment suit designs. Very retro.

Blake's 7 Suits

Eventually, they discover that the man they thought was Muller is his android with Muller’s head on it. The headless android is less than convincing.

Headless Android

It wants to get Orac and create a brand new ruling class based on computers. So the gang have to blow it up in a spectacular explosion in the middle of some woods.  think the effects team had a lot of fun that day.

I’m enjoying this series a lot more than I remember enjoying it the last time I watched. There’s a zest to the episodes and dialogue that I think might have a lot to do with Chris Boucher as script editor.

One thing I definitely don’t like is the arrangement of the closing theme. They’ve added a drum part which makes it sound very Stars on 45. I believe the producer also wrote some lyrics for it, and wanted to release a single. We should be thankful this never happened.

The next episode is Assassin by Rod Beacham. My goodness the Scorpio is an uninspiring spaceship when you compare it to the Liberator.

Scorpio

The crew intercept a message from Servalan to someone called Cancer. Avon knows him by reputation – a hired killer. Infallible.

                           TARRANT
              Oh come on, nobody's infallible.
                           AVON
              All right then he's not infallible, 
              it's just that up to now he has never 
              failed.

Avon and Vila teleport to the surface of a planet, and immediately drop down to a defensive stance. I wonder why they don’t teleport while crouching.

Richard Hurndall, who played the First Doctor in The Five Doctors guest stars. He furnishes Avon with information about Cancer, saying that his ship arrived, but nobody got out. Servalan went in for a time, then left and returned with a slave, whom she left on the ship.

Richard Hurndall

Sometimes I think the costume department were taking the piss.

Freaky Sci Fi hats

Avon lets himself get captured by slavers to get close to Servalan. While in the cell, he discovers the unappetising prison food is called Mangan.

After a bit of a scuffle, Avon escapes, and he’s obviously getting a bit soft in the head, because he takes old Richard Hurndall with him.

They find Cancer’s ship, and go aboard. But he’s waiting for them. He’s the kind of cold, hard killer who’s so frightening that he can draw on his beard with charcoal and nobody would dare to laugh at him.

Cancer

He’s about to shoot Avon and Tarrant when he’s stopped by a woman in purple. She’s the slave Servalan brought to the ship. She’s there to help him celebrate after finishing a job.

Caroline Holdaway as Piri

I don’t know if this is supposed to be a robot spider, or whether it’s an unconvincing real spider.

Unconvincing Spider

We finally find out Cancer’s big secret.

The Real Cancer

Nice to see she’s had time to get her hair done. Her (spoilers) death scene is particularly hammy.

Another fine episode. Does Blake’s 7 get the credit it deserves for having good roles for women? It puts a lot of modern TV to shame. If it were only Servalan it would be doing well, but Dayna and Soolin are brilliant, and our guest star here, Caroline Holdaway, is a lot of fun, as she gets to play both the scared prisoner and the scary assassin. I don’t begrudge her her epic death scene at all.

The last episode on this tape skips over another few episodes, as it’s the penultimate episode in the whole show, Warlord by Simon Masters. Avon has gathered some planetary leaders to tell them of the federation’s increased use of its pacification drug, and show them scenes of federation troops massacring pacified people. He’s fomenting revolution.

Warlord

The leader on the right is Charles Augins, who is also a dancer and choreographer, and who played Queeg in Red Dwarf.

The Warlord of the title is Zukan, one of the leaders, and one of the more violent ones. His daughter is played by Lady Gaga.

Zeeona

Or is that Bobbie Brown? She’s in love with Tarrant, and we’re treated to a frankly creepy smooch between the two. Her father’s not happy about this and want her returned to their planet. But he’s got a different reason for not wanting her there, as he’s conspiring with Servalan and blows up all the exists from the base. But his daughter has teleported back to the base.

Incidentally, Zukon’s home planet is called Betaphile.

This is another rollicking episode. Passions run high, and sacrifices are made. In the end, Lady Gaga volunteers to go back down to Xenon base to try to repair the ventilators, and flush out the radioactive virus that was put there by her father. This being Blake’s 7 there’s no happy ending.

After this, there’s a special trailer for the end of the series, Blake featuring Gareth Thomas himself.

Then there’s a strange porny trailer for Miami Vice, and the recording finishes.

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3 comments

  1. I think if they had released the Blake’s 7 theme on record John Miles would have been contacting his lawyers for notorious “middle eight” similarities. It is an excellent theme tune, though slightly irritating to see even in the last series titles they still hadn’t added an apostrophe to the name.

    I remember being disappointed with the fourth series when I was little, purely because I preferred the Liberator to the Scorpio, which was basically the Star Destroyer from Star Wars with some tweaks. But I watched it on UK Gold a while back, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Servalan remains one of the great TV baddies.

    1. I think I might have had the same reaction the first time – The Liberator is such a great design it was horrid to lose it. My memory of rewatching around the time this tape was made was that middle-seasons got quite dull, and I might have given up before the end, so the quality of these stories (ignoring the production quality) was quite a surprise.

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