B2 – SHADOW (and a bit about the reboot.)

“What a good idea. We must consider that for general use.”

Every show needs a reboot – by this I’m talking about how a continuing series changes in tone at points during its lifespan.  In Doctor Who terms, this is usually attributed to a change of producer and/or script editor.  John Wiles brought a more mature approach in contrast to Verity Lambert’s more universal tone.  Philip Hinchcliffe brought horror and pastiche from movie elements,  whereas Graham Williams brought an eclectic dynamic, combined with a strong literary feel.

As I type, we’re in the early days of the Chris Chibnall era of Doctor Who.  It’s definitely a reboot.  The fact that the Doctor is played by a female actor matters not a jolt to me, but this series feel different from Moffat in many other regards:

  • It’s on a Sunday, which is a reminder to the whole world that you can sit down together at a set time to watch something.  Just pick a day, and join the fun.
  • It’s more accessible, meaning that the intricate links between the myriad of story elements are (for now) a thing of the past.
  • It looks different.  The cameras, the cinematography, the special effects.  Will we look back at this and think this was the Doctor Who of the ‘Netflix’ era?
  • The stories involve ‘the gang’.  Since the days of Doctor five, Adric, Nyssa and Tegan, I’ve always loved stories about a group of people.  The dynamics between them create another level of drama.  There’s a series from yesteryear called Blake’s 7 that had a gang.  Perhaps you’ve heard of it?
  • Finally, and most importantly, this is a series that a young child – maybe slightly younger than any target audience the BBC might have in mind – can reach out and enjoy.  This is Doctor Who investing in a new audience for another five or ten years.  When you consider the franchise, this is wise.  For the first time since the show returned to our screens in 2005, there is now a genuine opportunity to replace the few million people who might have either grown out of Doctor Who, or life has simply taken them in different directions.  This is Doctor Who saying “Hello, would you like a jelly baby?”

On a personal level, the Chibnall reboot works for me on two levels.  Firstly, I get bored. After a year or two, I find myself a smidge restless with the series.  This is not a criticism of Doctor Who in any way – in fact it celebrates the remarkable achievement of a franchise that has run for over half a century, that still draws in millions, even in its darkest days in the late 1980’s.  This is truly amazing.  But with each new Doctor, or change in showrunner from Russell T. Davies to Steven Moffat, I hoped that successive reboots would be ever more comprehensive.  But it never arrived, and indeed, why should it?  There was the risk that you would lose the established audience.  However, the shift from Moffat to Chibnall feels like the most significant that there has ever been.

The second factor for me, is the fact that this is the first series where I’m watching Doctor Who through the eyes of my six-year-old daughter.  I was in genuine disbelief when she actually asked me if we could watch Doctor Who together, and I think I still am.  We started with Eccleston, which she loved.  Then she was upset when he left and Tennant arrived, but quickly got used to him, and so on.   I felt a bit of a pang when I had to explain that Sarah Jane Smith would continue in her imagination, but there would be no further adventures on the television.  It’s been a roller coaster ride, but I knew before the first frames of ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ aired that she would instantly fall in love with this incarnation of the Doctor.  I mean, who wouldn’t?

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So far, watching this series has been a revelation to me.  It might not have all the elements I want from a Doctor Who, but when has it ever had everything?  This reboot is the most joyful experience I have ever had as a fan of this show.

Reboots carry risk.  It’s interesting how Wiles and Williams found it tough following their predecessors due to the culture of BBC working relations, and the hostility of its lead actor, not to mention the vocal displeasure of some of the fan community towards Williams in particular.

So what of Blake’s 7?  It only ran on television for four series.  It was a show that never sat still, either narratively or from a production context.  The very essence of a space age saga is that it needed to keep us moving forwards.  Cast changes were an obvious example of this, but when I think about it today, there’s more to it than that.

The idea of a reboot manifests itself very differently in Blake’s 7.   I’m interested in exploring how and when the series shifts gear to a greater or lesser extent.  In fact I’m going to call these ‘nudges’.

‘Shadow’ is the first nudge.  This is down to the writing.  Terry Nation is behind those first 14 episodes, and they are a heady brew of action, excitement and pulp sci-fi concepts.  The first scene in ‘Shadow’ feels completely different; the background Muzak, the depiction of corruption, the aggressive and quick fire dialogue, and the set design.  It all feels more considered, as though all the ground work has been done, and now it is time explore the nature of power and rebellion in a more sophisticated way.  There’s a French police/justice drama familiar to anyone who watched BBC4 on a Saturday night called ‘Spiral’ which feels as much about the inner workings of power, as much as about the everyday experiences of its characters.  And this is what ‘Shadow’ reminds me of.  It’s a move away from what is happening on a surface level in the Blake’s 7 universe, and what are the hidden factors driving the events – the maneuverings and subtle mechanisations of “the dirty grey areas of your politics.”

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I think ‘Shadow’ is the reboot with the greatest impact, as all the ingredients are already present – there are no cast changes or untried writers between this episode and the previous stories, allowing us to compare the what was then and the what is now.

Gan’s death didn’t necessitate any kind of reboot in my eyes.  Perhaps little things changed; Blake’s persona appeared to become even more simple minded and preoccupied, and the introduction to the ‘Star One’ storyline gave the series a new focus.  However it is between season B and C, where the series gets its next ‘nudge’ – and it’s a big one.

It was obvious that with the departure of the title character there was going to be a change in focus, and the departure of other figures, alongside the introduction of new ones, would change the dynamics of the regular team.  But the first few minutes of season C starts with typical Blake’s 7 ingredients; action, explosions, and quick fire dialogue.   It’s noisy, and directed with vigour.   But then for a moment, the guns and the explosions stop, and we hear a soft flute motif as the planet Sarran appears on-screen, followed by a long, sweeping long shot of horses on a beach.  It is this moment that signifies a new direction.  It’s the first shot in Blake’s 7 that feels ‘epic’ in nature, and that alone immediately removes it from the trappings of a television adventure series that it has had from the start.  By this I’m thinking of how the show opened in ‘The Way Back’, with a claustrophobic corridor and extras walking around in a style reminiscent of studio based drama.   We’re not in a familiar quarry, or forest, nor are we in space.  That long sweeping shot feels like the introduction to a new civilisation, and with that, a new type of story that is not centred around a ‘space battle’ but more a conflict between people – the raison d’être of season C.  It’s not a stylistic change in terms of production techniques, but more a tonal shift in the motivation of the stories.

aftermath

The biggest stylistic change in the show is between seasons C and D.  The reasons seem fairly obvious; a change in producership, the need to rebuild everything from scratch, and hurried commission. These factors all point to a change.  But it is interesting to think how that stylistic change manifests itself.  The model work is totally different, both in technique but also in the look of the stars, the set designs feel more functional and generally over-lit, and Dudley Simpson uses a new synthesised sound to replace the majestic sounds that accompanied the Liberator.

Of course, that’s not all.  There seems to have been a revision in how the regulars treat their performances – all of the returning characters are portrayed slightly differently, in addition to a subtle change in their characterisations.  It’s all a little bit more theatrical in nature.  I’m going to explore season D in more detail, in my review of ‘Games’.

The final ‘nudge’, comes at the end.  ‘Blake’ doesn’t feel like a finale, but more a look ahead to a potential new format, free from Scorpio, and possibly Avon’s leadership.  But old habits die hard, and the final scene, while memorable on its own terms, is a judicious mix of familiar Blake’s 7 tropes – gunfire, gore, give-it-all-you’ve-got death scenes, and a final enigmatic grin.

Throughout the televised history of the show, there are other smaller ‘nudges’ too.  ‘Seek – Locate – Destroy’ is the moment where the Federation has an identifiable face and that affects the dialogue and the dynamics of the crew, with the stories becoming even more personal in nature.   Even ‘Children of Auron’ is a moment where there is a subtle shift in gear.  It’s the point where the consequences of emotional turmoil are truly felt – something that will be a feature of almost every subsequent episode of the third season.

But it is ‘Shadow’ that draws the most interest as that first scene is unlike anything seen in the series up to that point.

So let’s take a closer look…

EPISODE DISCUSSION

This episode starts with a scene away from the Liberator and our heroes.  Nothing new there.  Many episodes have started with action away from the Liberator crew – notably ‘Duel’ and ‘Deliverance’, but these merely give a hint about what is to come.  This time it feels like the episode is racing ahead of Blake and his rebels.  We experience the building of a world right from the start.  We begin to understand the key background of the Terra Nostra, we understand what Shadow is, we learn about its effect, and get enough information about Space City to start making judgements.  There’s exposition galore, but it feels more subtle than before.  It’s almost like the there’s a different writer telling this particular story.

This first scene is significant for another reason – the way it is played.  A Terry Nation script is full of excitement, jeopardy and baaaaad things, however the performances here depict a more realistic taste of nastiness and callousness not seen since the first episode.  Hanna is distant, Bek flips between rapid fire aggression and matter of fact gloating, and Derek Smith as Largo conveys real callousness in his treatment of Hanna.  Listen to his “Gooooood.  Alllllrrrigght” as he forcibly pushes her away.  And then we have the background score – notes that sound bleak and unsettling, despite being musak, it actually creates a feeling of isolation and desolation – like comfort and safety is a long, long way from home.

I’m noticing the camera shots and blocking; the way Hannah and Bek appear from opposite ends of the set, Largo in the centre of his palace with Hannah in the foreground, the symmetry to many of the frames, the deep focus of the last shot in the scene, and the way the cactus is housed within a cube like frame (a little visual motif used again later in the episode.)     This is a move away from the theatrical and comic book, and towards a more realistic and stylish direction.  The two don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I remember watching this for the first time and thinking that this all feels a bit different.  There’s a very nice composite shot, mixing live action and model work.  It makes me use my imagination more – imaging a world bigger than three walls in a television studio.

Bek mentions an unnamed female who told him to look after Hanna and Peety.  He also talks of “crew six who are up for sale“.  I like the fact that everything is not explained to us.  We have to fill in the gaps.

By the time camera points towards the window of Space City, and the cardboard Liberator glides into view accompanied by Dudley Simpson’s fanfare, it feels like Blake’s crew are – very briefly – secondary to the main story.  To me, this is part of the reboot. The introduction of the comings and goings of Space City suggest a bigger universe, and that there is more to discover away from the Liberator crew, rather than through their eyes.

Something I noticed about those early exchanges, is that there is particular camera shot that is used when depicting dialogue between Vila and Avon.  It’s used throughout the first three seasons and it always seems to accompany some of the best put downs by Avon.  It’s like they have been separated by their parents and positioned as far apart on the flight deck as possible, to avoid endless squabbling.

Gan gets some uncharacteristically meaty dialogue when he challenges Blake (more on this later.)  In fact everyone is getting some nice lines here.  But also there is something really subtle going on in the background.  I’m listening to this episode on headphones and I’m hearing the hum of the Liberator engines.  There’s a lowering of pitch as the ship arrives at Space City, which also shifts subtly when Blake instructs a ‘stand off position’. It’s such a small detail, and shows the level of thought that went into the sonic experience of Blake’s 7.  I think it is really impressive.

As we leave Vila reeling from being stuck in the Liberator, we fade into a nice sequence of model shots, each taking us deeper into the underbelly of Space City.  It’s the first time models have been used to give the audience a sense of the geography of a location, rather than being simply a means to depict something happening in space.  Another nice touch.

In a loading bay, Hanna is stoned, and Peety is no more.  Bek’s realisation of her plight is really hard-hitting.  I’m thinking this is pushing the boundaries of post 7.00pm television.

The scene between Vila and Cally is significant in that it not only dissects Blake’s plan, but it also starts to explore Blake as a person.  This is something that – bar some character notes in ‘Seek – Locate – Destroy’ – we’ve not really touched upon since the beginning of the series.  Vila’s observations sound really plausible, and the nod to class systems sound like an interesting note to Blake’s character, should they choose to explore it further.

The crew beam down to Largo’s headquarters.  It’s a fascinating encounter, full of good dialogue for Jenna, and priceless put downs by Avon.  But look at this picture of Blake.

If a picture could tell a thousand words.  We’re used to Blake leading from the front.  Active, shouty, dynamic, full of energy.  And by in large that’s the case in ‘Redemption’.  But as ‘Shadow’ kickstarts season B proper, we see a new Blake – and for Gareth Thomas – a new portrayal.  In this scene, he is quiet, studious, letting the others take the lead and do all the talking.  He is like the mysterious benefactor, while Avon takes command of the negotiations.  And that change from the norm is highly effective.  But he can’t change completely, as he still needs to have a bit of the Blake we have known since ‘The Way Back’, otherwise the show runs the risk of alienating some of its viewers.  So his click of the fingers as Avon reluctantly hands back the jewels feels totally right.

Largo takes control of the situation with consummate ease.  I don’t know why, but during the shot of Gan in the corridor, I’ve always found the hand holding the gun that comes into shot really comic.  It’s like they’ve asked the assistant floor manager to chip in, with not a word to Equity.

Many of these scenes are mixing the dialogue with well-timed passages of Dudley Simpson’s music, creating a really satisfying sequence.  Take the moment when Jenna is relinquished of her communicator and Gan is shoved into the room.  The music builds up, and then quietens again to allow Largo’s “A pro keeps it simple” to feel like an afterthought – a neat summation of who they are dealing with.  Again it’s subtle, but effective.

Thanks to the one called Orac, Vila is intoxicated.  Although Blake later describes it as an “attack of alcoholic remorse“, the wider narcotic theme of the episode, combined with the description of Space City as the “satellite of sin” always makes me think that he is experiencing something else entirely.  Whatever the case, it’s perhaps Vila at his most sinister and dark.  His hedonism means he is totally blind to the danger the rest of the crew are facing.  Once again Dudley Simpson’s muzak adds to the unsettling discussion, which is abruptly cut off by Cally.    Tonally this is different to anything we have seen up to this point in Blake’s 7 – it’s all very adult.

With Avon and Gan detained with Hannah and Bek, it’s down to Blake and Cally to concoct a telepathic plan.  It’s the first time I’ve noticed Cally’s telepathy being dramatised in a such an obvious way.  In season A it’s about simple voice overs, but here we have some added suspenseful music, which will – in a variety of guises – accompany any telepathic shenanigans in the future.

I’m really enjoying Derek Smith’s performance.  It’s theatrical for sure, with very pronounced delivery and gestures, but it never feels overblown.  The way he says lines like “We shan’t be needing his other two friends…kill ’em” encapsulates his egotistical but not pompous feel.  I think it’s the way he bites the bottom of his lip, or exaggerates his facial gestures, but never the eyes.

On the Liberator, Cally threatens an attack on Space City.   She’s forthright, blunt and no-nonsense.  It’s a little reminder of her hard-nosed freedom fighter beginnings, and also the fact this this take on her character is drawing to a close.   It’s a great scene, not only for the way she handles the situation so coolly, but also the jaded, bored and world-weary operative from central control.  It’s somehow very 1970’s – the excitement of space travel and discovery, giving way to over-familiar space weariness.  And he reminded me of Nigel Lambert’s malevolent computer clerk in ‘The Way Back’ – all huffy and puffy.

Back on Space City, Largo’s enforcer is counter enforced thanks to a nice little distraction from Bek and Hanna.  When I was taking some action screen grabs, I chanced across some fine overpowering facial expressions from Darrow and Jackson.  True acting.  And then after the storm, Wight-Miller elects to finish the scene with Hanna on the floor rather than her getting up to say her lines, this is a decision that totally works.

There’s some more overpowering, and Avon tosses the keys to the handcuffs in such a cool way.  Oh yes, Darrow’s got tossing actions down to a tee – I’m thinking of the wire cutters in ‘Headhunter’ of course.

Again these scenes show a real determination from the director to cut action as aggressively as possible within the realms of multi camera drama.  The crew teleport safely, with Blake returning for Bek and Hanna, and the return of necklaces made from teeth.

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On the Liberator the post-mortem takes place, with Blake proposing that they attack the source of the Terra Nostra’s power – Shadow.  But matters of a darker nature are starting to reveal themselves as Cally is attacked by Orac.  This is the point where the episode turns a touch ‘new wave’.  There’s a fantastic transition (both visually and sonically) from Cally running through the corridors, then being mentally trapped, to Largo explaining himself on Space City.

And who is Largo explaining himself to?  None other than Vernon Dobcheff, who I immediately recognised the first time I watched this, as nightclub owner Max Kalba – one of the victims of ‘Jaws’ in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’.  His calm demeanour in this episode, echoed his performance in that movie…well, until he stepped into a phone cubicle.

Zen explains the make up of Shadow, however Blake cuts off the examination before it can announce that it contains a radioactive trace, allowing Largo to track the whereabouts of Hanna and the Liberator.  I like this moment, as Blake’s fervour is getting the better of him.  Meanwhile, the Enforcer explains all of this to the Chairman, having dispatched Largo – death by custard.

Things are heating up – we’ve never seen this kind of moral dilemma.  Gan speaks up, and Blake has to force the argument.  Even Avon looks conflicted.

Vila finds Cally whose scream is not only vocal, but augmented by a sonic screech, which is really quite disturbing.  Orac’s dispassionate “Obviously, she’s insane” is really dark.

Karl Howman accidentally comes in too early with one of his lines, a reminder that despite all the stylish trappings of this episode, the studio clock is still ticking, and that precious second take is elusive.

With the crew in desert gear, there is considerable tension as Blake’s determination continues apace.  Even Jenna is openly challenging Blake.  I’m thinking back to the first time I watched this scene, it was quite arresting to see the crew so hostile.  It is only now that I realise why this argument feels so different to all the other disagreements they have had with each other.   Wit is one of the core components of Blake’s 7.  The sparring between the crew is built on quick fire thinking, and strategic put downs.  But here the wit disappears.  What is left is an edgy, aggressive dynamic that really wrong footed me the first time I watched it.  Even Jenna seems to have lost her patience with Blake.   It was the first time I felt a real lack of sympathy for someone who might sometimes be unsympathetic, but can often get his way through charm and persuasiveness.

But it’s the little moments that strike me too, the impatience to hear out Zen’s full analysis of Shadow, leaving out some significant information that could have led to a very different story.   This is a clear signal on the part of Boucher that Blake’s zeal and mindset needs to be explored, and to do that, there needs to be a tonal shift in the type of dialogue flying around. This zest for getting things done in the moment is a theme that runs through the season.  As mentioned earlier, Gareth Thomas shifts his portrayal of Blake skillfully, adopting a more muted, silent-but-determined approach in keeping with his increased single-mindedness in defeating the Federation.

Blake, Avon and Jenna teleport down to Zondar.  It’s funny how matte shots are designed to make the visible frame appear larger, but this time the planet and its suns are depicted in a way that makes it feel more enclosed.  The next time we’re confronted with a significant matte shot in the season C episode ‘Children of Auron’ we will face the destruction caused by a giant fly!   Nonetheless, this planet is well realised, and allows me to forget quite quickly that Gareth Thomas’s hair is much bigger on location than in the studio.

We’re introduced to the Moon Disks and a great line from Jenna about what collection Blake ended up with.  I wish we had more lines like this from her.  Jenna’s cynical nature always cut though tension nicely.

Whatever is using Orac is ready to engulf Cally.  This is technically well executed, and the barking of Orac’s “Run!” over and over again is an excellent use of sonics to heighten the drama – hats off to Richard Yeoman Clark.

Out come the tent pegs – I mean the sensors that will allow the battle computers to pick off the gardens of Shadow.  But before this there is a fight, which contain some interesting editing and shots, both static and handheld.  “Next please.

On the Liberator the power is being drained through Orac, and in the heat of the moment, Hanna is killed.  Once more Wright-Miller is able to use video effects to give this a more visceral edge.

Luckily the Moon Disks give Cally the solidarity she needs to break free from her imprisonment, and with that saves the Liberator from destruction.

The downside for me is the ending. It’s overlong and a bit reliant on extended discussion to explain what went on – a similar failing of the third series episode ‘Sarcophagus.’  But considering the fascinating concepts on display here in this episode, I’m happy to go along with the ride.

Shadow is my favourite episode of Blake’s 7, even if it is not the most quintessential entry.   Tonally it hits very hard.  There is humour, but its function is to break up the tension, rather than something that comes out naturally from the situation.  Lines like “a necklace made of teeth” is as close as it comes.  It’s one of the most bad-tempered episodes too.   It also gives less away, forcing us to try to make sense of what is going on.

I remember watching this one with my Dad.  His first words were, “that was a bit of a confusing one” but I remember he said that thoughtfully, as though what he really meant was that it was not a cosy experience.   ‘Shadow’ requires an understanding of many things we don’t see on-screen, such as the background of the Terra Nostra, and its infrastructure, rather than relying on an understanding of what we do see on screen. Compare this to ‘Gambit’ and the setting used in that episode.  Freedom City is fully realised; its atmosphere, its geography, and its internal workings.  It is the thing that helps makes the plot unfold.  In ‘Shadow’ however, Space City plays second fiddle.  It is a place that is sketched well, but it is simply an environment where the plot unfolds, and not so much the driver of it.

The dialogue is a different type of sharp – more biting, and more sinister.  It’s like this is Boucher’s first real chance to subvert Terry Nation’s original universe.  In fact whenever I hear the words ‘Terra Nostra’, what I actually hear is ‘Terry Nation’.  I must be clear here, when I say ‘subvert’ – I’m not talking about the need to make something better, or imply that there was something lacking in Nation’s scripts.  What I am referring to, is that this is a big chance for a talented writer to put a new spin on things, which he does brilliantly.

Boucher’s arrival is also important in that EVERY character gets key moments to shine.
For the first time this is Blake’s 7 as an ensemble cast, all feeding off each other, all adding to the group dynamic. It’s been one of the perennial problems of the series formula – how to ensure every character gets something meaty to do.  Up to this point, in every episode, there are characters who have been sidelined to a greater or lesser extent. Gan is an obvious case in point, but lets not also forget, Jenna and Vila in Mission to Destiny, Cally and Avon in Duel, and even Blake to a degree in Deliverance.  But not here.

And that’s not all. Each character is given an extra depth. Blake is ever more fanatical and unsympathetic, we see a strength to Jenna in her scenes on Space City, there is Vila’s hedonism and manipulation writ large, and we see Cally not so much possessed but attacked, and terrified not subdued.  Some bemoan the regularity of Cally’s possession in many episodes, but this feels different, as we get a sense of an unsettling attack on her consciousness, rather than the passivity of a standard sci-fi takeover.  We get additional backstory to Jenna, Vila, and Cally.   Finally, Gan is given something that matters, as he challenges Blake on his aims.  Perhaps for the first time, this invites the audience to really start to question Blake’s motivations and judgement, simply because it is Gan of all people.  It’s a pivotal moment in the shows history, and one all too easily overlooked.  And it doesn’t stop there, as later in the episode Gan is in control of the Liberator.  He is written with confidence and with an assertiveness that has rarely been seen.  These scenes, along with material for Horizon, is the last time David Jackson would perform in the show.  It’s sad to see that is only at the very end that Gan is written in the way he should be – as a vital part of the crew, rather than a bit part player.

Sometimes when I watch an episode I’m often comparing it to other series within the fantasy genre.  Unfair perhaps, but that’s how I have enjoyed Who and Blake together over the years.  Many is the time when I’ve compared a Blake to a previously watched Who.  However on this occasion, I watched a Who, and ended up comparing it to Blake.  The story in question was ‘Nightmare of Eden.’  OK, there’s an obvious link, in terms of the depiction of drug abuse.  Whilst in both shows drugs are portrayed as bad, it’s the attitudes in the two universes that strike me, compare the Doctor’s reactions to those dealing with Zaroxin, to Avon’s ‘she was dying anyway’ and it just reminds you of how the two programmes were light years away from each other at the time.

Much of this tone is also down to another first – the introduction of an unknown in the director’s chair. Up to this point we have had established names who are often ‘Who’ luminaries such as Briant, Roberts, and Camfield. But this time it’s Jonathan Wright-Miller. So what do we know of him?  As someone who has not immersed himself in Blake’s 7 fandom there might be some interview out there in a forgotten A4 printed fanzine somewhere. But I can’t find one.  So he remains an enigma. A name who is so familiar on the credits along with other double barreled crew like Spenton-Foster, yet in this case, unreachable.
I think Wright-Miller’s direction is a fresh breath. And a badly needed one. By this I don’t mean that the direction on Blake’s 7 has been uninspired or formulaic, but there comes a point where the visual style of the show requires a little nudge.  Video wipes, composite images, and inventive camera angles especially the space city are used to good effect. Apparently Chris Boucher wrote the entrapment of Cally based on a suggestion from electronic effects wizard A.J. Mitchell, who claimed that he could achieve a long shot of Cally, and finish with a zoom right into her eye.  The final result is testament to that collaboration.

A moment that illustrates this is how Wright-Miller effectively conveys a seamless transition from Cally’s mind to Largo’s office in Space City using efficient camera trickery and well-timed musical cues. It’s a technique that he re-uses effectively in ‘Horizon’, from Avon’s ironic laughter on the flight deck, to the next moment in the teleport bay. It’s a pity that this progressive approach took a step back in the next episode.

The location footage is a little idiosyncratic, which I greatly enjoy.  The flight scene between Avon and the guard on top of the cliff face has a strange sense of vérité, as though the impact of the shots is more important than a beautifully composed image.

He cuts action with gusto.  Take the scene where Largo gets the upper hand of the crew, calls in the enforcer, rounds everyone up, and throws in a sneaky aside for good measure!  It’s a great fusion of tempo, and cut together with punchy musical motifs.

He does it again later, when Avon and Gan make their way back into Largo’s quarters and Blake overpowers him.  It’s quite subtle on first viewing, but it is definitely a sign of a new director, early on in his career, trying to give things a little bit more zip.

This is the real beginning of season B; realpolitik, fanaticism, and the infrastructure of unknown things that are not immediately apparent until later in the series.  This is the season with an 11th hour twist that no-one could possibly see coming, the legacy of which will shape the type of adventure we see in the third season.  That’s a long way away, but it starts with ‘Shadow.’

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Cast wise, I’ve mentioned Derek Smith and Vernon Dobbcheff earlier, leaving Karl Howman as a recognisable name from his star turn in the BBC comedy ‘Brush Strokes’.  In fact he had worked with Jonathan Wright-Miller before in the ITV cult series ‘The Jensen Code’.  In contrast, Adrienne Burgess now works on a range of personal relationship and family support in the UK, while Archie Tew is now a life coach based in America.

SET DESIGN

setshadowThe set design is excellent here, with interesting cuboid forms and patterns within Space City, and a hint of ceiling!  In some ways it’s quite minimal, with the coloured podiums that Largo sits on, but there is definite detail in there.   It’s one of Paul Allen’s best contributions to the show, and one that will be re-used in ‘Warlord’ in series 4.

This is the main set design, as the rest of the episode is spent on location, or on board the Liberator.  There’s more about Paul Allen in the review of ‘Horizon‘ (made during the same recording block) but also you could do a lot worse than check out the beautiful scenic photos unearthed by @MakingBlakes7 on Twitter.  I would hope anyone reading this post is aware of the existence of this account.

MUSIC
Musically, the Liberator first appears with an assured, confident swagger from Dudley Simpson. This is the Blake’s 7 theme not as bombastic, nor as an ‘announcement’ but as an established theme.  Perhaps now Terry Nation is taking a back seat, everything else, including the music, is settling down too.
Incidental music is part of the DNA of this episode, giving it an uneasy atmosphere. The dreamlike and eerie background to Space City is as much of an example of world building as the cues used in ‘Duel.’  It’s both memorable and distinctive.  It was even given its own title – ‘Background Music on Space City’ and ran for almost 11 minutes. There is also some mysterious vibraphone/synth leaden music for the telepathic scenes for Cally.  Meanwhile Richard Yeoman-Clark provides perhaps his most delicate work, a foreshadowing of the more ethereal and organic sounds created by his successor Elizabeth Parker, whose contribution would commence in a few episodes from now (in production order.)

HOW TO SELL THIS TO A NON BELIEVER?
White linen and big hair, complete with cloth sac addict wear.

MY FAVOURITE MOMENT
The transition from Cally’s mind to Space City, Avon’s ‘Next, please’, and any scene where Gan questions Blake’s strategy.

THE MOMENT I’D RATHER FORGET
Peety.  Stupid Peety.

VERDICT IN 10 WORDS EXACTLY.
The first episode to really make me think.  Next, please.

Picture credits
BBC
https://karlhowmanactor.com/the-jensen-code/
http://doctorwhocastandcrew.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-myth-makers.html

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