‘Personally I prefer the edges a little blurred.’
As I have slowly worked out how I want to write this blog, I’m going back to the early posts and giving them a spit and polish. This is a fairly hefty rewrite of ‘Hostage’ – updated and expanded – a rewatch of a rewatch.
As childhood memories go, there is nothing more nostalgic than the soundtrack of a black and white matinée movie, watched by my Mum on a rainy Saturday afternoon, usually on BBC 2 in the 1980’s.
There’s something about the timbre of the recording, the way the music score is mixed with the dialogue, and those sounds. No I’m not talking about ‘The Wilhelm Scream’ nor other celebrated moments of sound design, but I’m talking about the everyday things: the distant thunder, the making of tea using the finest bone china, the engine of a spitfire, the sound of high heels on the pavement, the door bell ringing in an opulent looking hallway or the obligatory horn of a stream train. It’s the sounds that linger in my head more than the visual imagery.
Then the world of unfamiliar sounds crept into my life. Two sounds in particular – both high frequency noises. The first was the white noise that accompanied Delia Derbyshire’s arrangement of the original Doctor Who score. This ‘breathing’ sounded so sinister to the point where the unsettling and suspenseful bass line of the theme seemed almost cosy.
The other was a similar sound that accompanied Richard Denton and Martin Cook’s theme to ‘Tomorrow’s World’ back in the early 1980’s. Some reading this blog might remember the title sequence that accompanied it, where the camera travels through what looks like a series of canyons, which are eventually revealed as the human brain. The imagery was dark and imposing, and the theme tune was hardly uplifting, but it was the ‘electronic hisses’ at the end of each bar and the Vocoder style ‘voices’ in the background that made the most lingering impression on me. Great stuff.
I have no idea what a ‘special sound’ was back then, but I did start to piece together the impact that sonic design could have on a film or television production. And it’s a fascination that has never gone away. Recently, I watched some vintage footage of BBC Radiophonic Workshop composer Elizabeth Parker recreating some of the special sounds for Blake’s 7, using a cup of water as the source material.
When I think of Parker’s sound design work I immediately associate it with the manipulation of vocal sounds: breathy, etherial, and choir like. Recently I stumbled upon a BBC series from 1979 called “The New Sound of Music” – a documentary which, in a dim and distant past, I recall Peter Howell dabbling with a Vocoder. There’s a nice little bit of footage of Parker as she demonstrates the composition of a soundscape using a bubbling sound, which when treated accordingly starts to sound very much like elements of the alien tomb in ‘Sarcophagus’.
Her use of the bubbling, everyday source reminded me of another notable female pioneer of soundtrack production, and one of the earliest compositions that has stuck with me over time – I’m talking about Mary Habberfield’s ‘Guggle Glub Gurgle.’
In the 1951 satirical Ealing comedy ‘The Man in the White Suit’ Alex Guinness plays Sidney Stratton, a brilliant graduate who invents a remarkable new fibre that is resistant to dirt. Stratton’s ‘contraption’, eventually discovered by other characters in the factory workshop, is the initial source of the fascination. It is a myriad of test tubes, beakers and assorted scientific apparatus that houses various chemicals and liquids, bubbling away in the great tradition of the cinematic ‘laboratory’ so familiar in many a Hammer horror film.
Mary Habberfield was a pioneer of sound design, working at Ealing studios for large part of her career, providing notable tape loops, and multi layered dubs to movies such as ‘Hue and Cry, ‘The Titfield Thunderbolt’ and ‘San Demetrio London’. But it was her collaboration with director Alexander Mackendrick that resulted in the remarkable sounds that accompanies Stratton’s apparatus. The bubbles, gurgles, and pops are scored to a samba rhythm. Made using a range of musical sounds and ‘concrete’ sources, the score reads “Bubble, bubble, high drip, low drip, high drain, low drain.”
“The bubble sound was obtained by blowing through a glass tube into a viscous glycerin solution. The two drip sounds were obtained by pinging two different sized pieces of brass and glass tubes against the palm of the hand. The drain sound was created by air blowing through a tube into water and then amplifying the bubble sound through a metal tube.” (1).
Other sources state that elements of Tuba and Bassoon are added to the score. It’s true that once the ‘guggles’ are at full pelt, you can hear some of these subtle elements in the background. Habberfield then cut, mixed and remixed the sounds, eventually creating this most memorable of compositions. It is interesting to note that the distinctiveness of this effect resulted in it being used in many other film and television productions, including ‘The Avengers’ and the film ‘School for Scoundrels’. It is listed on a BBC sound effects record as ‘bubbling musical’, and was even made into a record – Jack Parnell & His Rhythm – The White Suit Samba – recorded by George Martin no less. And the title itself has a life of its own, being listed in books, records and journals by a range of different identifiers, including ‘Guggle Glug Guggle’ and ‘Gurgle Glub Gurgle.’
It’s a fabulous, inventive and intricate soundtrack and one that evokes memories of the Saturday afternoon matinée. It’s also worth noting that Mary Habberfield received no credit for creating this score in the credits for the movie, which is a familiar sounding story to another notable female name in the world of soundtrack production – Delia Derbyshire, who wasn’t credited for her radiophonic arrangement of Ron Grainer’s Doctor Who theme.
Here it is…
In fact, the ‘Guggle Glub Gurgle’ feels like a precursor to the famed sound effect created by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for ‘The Goon Show’. Ladies and Gentlemen, I bring you ‘Major Bloodnok’s Stomach.’
And on the theme of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, ‘Hostage’ is the Blake’s 7 episode where a significant handover takes place – with Elizabeth Parker taking over special sound duties from Richard Yeoman-Clark. And it is a significant shift too, from the futuristic tones and frequencies of Yeoman-Clark, to the more organic approach of Parker.
When Blake’s 7 started, the distinctive sounds were largely electronic, created using oscillators and various synthesized means. Yeoman-Clark came from very much an engineering background (and returned to that career when he left the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.) In many ways, this futuristic approach is perfect for the ‘space adventure’ of Blake’s 7. The activation of the force wall, the main screen, the hums of the flight deck, Zen, Orac, the teleport dematerialisation, and materialisation. It’s all about tones, and oscillations, and vibrations and things.
What Yeoman-Clark created was a house style to the sound effects. Blake’s 7 sounded like a very mechanical series. The range of space craft engines, from the background of the pursuit ship captained by Travis, to the noises of ‘Sub control Four’ in Redemption all sound somewhat industrial and electronic, rather than unearthly. With his departure, Elizabeth Parker brings in a more concrete, multi layered and organic approach. As she mentioned on the Blake’s 7 DVDs – more “feminine.” In an interview for a music journal in March 1981, Parker’s approach to creating sounds for a contemporary adaptation of ‘Lord of the Rings’ sums up her approach nicely.
‘To get a thunder effect, Elizabeth started off with tin foil, tearing it apart slowly to make a cracking sound. She likes this much better than using sound effects records or even a synthesiser, because it retains such a sharp edge which can be spliced and edited together using the live recording for multi-tracking at different speeds. Add to that two white noise tracks and various degrees of echo and you’ve got the final effect.’ (2)
This is a perfect illustration of Parker’s approach to Blake’s 7. Listen to her work on ‘Sand’ or ‘Warlord’ and you can hear it. Yeoman-Clark created an excellent canvas for the show, but it is Parker who really paints onto that canvas. It’s an approach that is the polar opposite to her predecessor, and something that will greatly benefit the show for the remainder of its lifespan.
One of the things that captures the essence of Blake’s 7 is the sound design. It is an intensely rich sonic experience. Listen to the first 20 seconds of ‘The Way Back’ and then the last 20 seconds of ‘Blake’. There’s a lot going on in between, for example:
The rhythmic ‘barking’ of Orac as it says “run” in Shadow.
The background ambience of Freedom City in ‘Gambit’.
The Auron connection between Cally and the Thaarn in ‘Dawn of the Gods’.
The tomb in ‘Sarcophagus’.
It serves to reminds us that a special sound is not something frivolous, or used to simply punctuate action, but it is integral part of the identity of the entire series.
In my mind there is a logical progression from Habberfield’s multi-layered and intricate cutting of sound sources, to Derbyshire’s more mathatical approach, to Parker’s more organic feel. These three female pioneers are a massive part of my interest in the aural aspects for film and television production.
Being an episode directed by Vere Lorrimer, we are treated to his usual establishing shots of space. Accompanied by Dudley Simpson’s spacey music, they work in sets of three.
‘Ding dee ding’
‘Ding dee ding’
‘Ding dee ding’
(Trumpet – three notes from the theme tune.)
‘Ding dee ding’
It’s a device that will be used again in the next season episode ‘City at the Edge of the World. In fact it’s the exact same series of shots, and musical motifs. Excellent creative self plagiarism!
I enjoy the fact that we start with a quiet scene. Previous episodes have gone straight into the action or exposition. Two soldiers in the Forbidden Zone on Earth. Two Federation troopers at Space Command Headquarters. Two of Blake’s crew teleporting down to a communications base.
But here we wait. The two characters that open this episode are bored. This feels at home within season B, which includes a gentle sub-plot about stress and fatigue experienced by the crew. So naturally Avon and Vila don’t know what to do with themselves now there is little going on. This is a series comfortable with itself. We’re also in a weird little phase in this second series, between the emotional fall out of the first half of the season, and just before the true establishment of the next story arc – the search for Star One.
But of course this is Blake’s 7, where there is rarely any time to breathe. Cue the deep rumble of Dudley Simpson’s brass…
When Zen announces that Federation ships are approaching, Blake’s response is somewhat battle-weary. It’s like he has lost his fizz.
The latest attack begins, and Avon activates the force wall.
It’s no wonder this episode was helmed by Vere Lorrimer. He’s well versed with directing the attacks on the Liberator, as these early sequences feel like a retread of the events of ‘Redemption’ – even using some of the same shots. What is interesting to note is that this doesn’t just hark back to past episodes, but point to a way ahead, as I lose count of how much of the actual filmed material, such as the model shots, the zooms in on Zen, and the various explosions on the flight deck make their way into the opening scenes of ‘Aftermath’ in the next series. I say it again, Lorrimer is an expert in borrowing from himself.
Slowly Blake is awakening, and gets a little more shouty. As further pursuit ships join in the attack, he is starting to give command with a bit more urgency.
Also have I just turned a deaf ear to the space age ‘bafflegab’ spouted by the Liberator crew? For some reason I seem to notice this one more than others.
‘Delta 1 vector 2-9.’
‘Tangent 1 – 8.’
They could have made great titles for a Glenn Miller album.
Is it me, or does anyone else feel a certain sense of dread every time the Liberator approaches some kind of red space phenomena? It’s a cue for alarm, alongside any moment where Zen uses the words “adhering to the hull.”
This battle is one of the most sustained attacks yet, and is directed with considerable flair. The only iffy moment is when the Liberator travels through the ionised particles, and everything turns red. The crew do not act as though they are experiencing a rocky ride via a space phenomenon, but more like they are responding to the lighting director bringing up the coloured lights in studio TC6.
All seems well, even Dudley’s music sounds triumphant once more. But as we will discover, this is just a pre-cursor to soemthing bigger.
Meanwhile the Mutoids are now blond. Andrew Robertson puts in a good, and very measured performance as the Space Commander – a far cry from his comic turn as Mr. Fibuli in ‘The Tom Baker Show’ the year before. A friend (not a Blake’s 7 convert) once asked me why he was talking into a vibrator when watching this episode. I didn’t immediately have an answer to that one.
“Hang on everybody!” Blake cries, and we are treated to various explosions on film and in the studio, which are pretty tasty, and no doubt the cause of another few battle scars on the flight deck set.
But the whole operation is too intricate, and reliant on the descriptions offered by the characters, rather than using the model work to tell the story. There was only so much money in the kitty, and clearly not enough to superglue the control unit that the Mutoid operates in the pursuit ship. For years I relied on the front cover of the VHS video of Hostage/Coundown to help me imagine it.
Amidst the bangs and crashes, there’s some good character development on show, but mainly it is centered around Avon. His line “I was rather hoping to sell them the idea” is a great reminder of his self-interest. Yet on the flip side, his concern for Blake’s is also an important reminder of the complicated relationship that these two characters have. And that is really important, at this ‘comfortable’ stage of the series.
So far I’m enjoying this episode. It’s nipping along at a good pace, it’s got bangs, crashes, leaning camera angles and red lights – all the ingredients of action packed Blake’s 7. It’s like a greatest hits package. But so far, there is nothing new, or out of the ordinary. After almost 10 minutes, it’s like we’re still waiting for the episode to begin.
A coded message is received. Orac does the translating, and…
It’s Travis. When I started watching Blake’s 7 in order, following a long time viewing episodes in order of availability, I found this appearance of Travis to be a bit of a disappointment. I’d entertained the idea that this episode would mark the beginning of his second act – as someone no longer a part of the Federation. I imagined that his first appearance would be someone who lurks in the background, like a snake, working things out, making sense of his new life, and waiting for his moment to pounce. But no – he is right in our face, playing the part of pantomime villain. As mentioned in ‘Trial’ this is not the fault of Brian Croucher, but simply the decision to develop his character in this manner. Fair enough.
But it has got to be said that Gareth Thomas looks so bored. Maybe it was something in the dubious pale blue milk that is seen during this scene. Compare this performance to the previous episode (which was recorded early in the series run) and it looks like a little bit of the spark has gone. I’m sure that a professional such as Thomas would not let his frustration with an episode or direction of the series affect his performance, so I will put it down to how he has decided to portray Blake in this second series, but the thought still crosses my mind. Nonetheless, Blake’s impassioned ‘as might you all’ speech is well delivered and is one of the few times Blake is seen to call in the crews debt, in a similar way as Avon calls in the debt in ‘Terminal’. And Dudley Simpson finishes the scene with a little bit of “So that’s told YOU” type music, as Blake walks off the stage.
Perhaps I’m missing something, but I’m guessing that Avon sends the message to the Federation about the whereabouts of Travis around this time. Deliberately or not, the moment he sends it is vague, and I feel this impacted on the overall storyline as a result, as it would have helped me get a greater sense of Avon’s internal conflict.
So far all the scenes in this episode are acted either in a controlled, half-hearted or slightly understated way, so it’s quite a nice little lift when we cut to Servalan’s debrief with the Commander. Her quick fire dismissal of him is great, but it’s the way she flicks the ‘off’ button on her screen in frustration is one of the little details that go a long way in giving off a certain energy on-screen.
The Supreme Commander is painted well. Under increasing pressure within the Federation, she is turning to more outlandish and unofficial means to pursue Blake. The scene with Kevin Stoney as Councillor Joban is both fabulous and familiar – an echo to her very first scene in ‘Seek – Locate – Destroy’. It’s also like those scenes in various James Bond films where he meets the villain for an afternoon tipple as they suss each other out.
“Personally I like the edges a little blurred” – a great line.
It’s a brilliantly acted scene, and it left me wondering what are the expressions that actors use to communicate insincerity. Check out the look Servalan gives Joban as he leaves.
Back on the Liberator, Zen does its closest impression of David Attenborough, preparing the boys for what to expect outside, while Cally plays Mum, foreshadowing the overall fate of the female regulars in this episode.
On Exbar, Blake meets up with Ushton, while Avon’s conscience gets the better of him. At this half way stage, the action is now shifting away from the Liberator, and onto the planet.
We reach some much-needed exposition, and get a sense of the situation on the planet. The idea of Travis using criminal psychopaths as a substitute for obedient Mutoids is a nice one, and it fits in with the new, slightly unhinged Travis that is on offer from now on.
There’s a nice little cutaway from Ushton looking up to the top of the mountain, to Travis surveying the situation below, and back to Ushton who sticks a knife into the table and makes the call.
Servalan is now en-route to Exbar. I really enjoyed this scene. On one hand she is still under pressure from the Federation around her, but on the other hand she is pursuing her own agenda without hesitation. Whilst her dismissal of Joban’s communication is the obvious example here, it is another little touch that I was more drawn towards, namely her disdainful demeanour when a familiar looking Mutoid (more on her later) arrives with a drink of soma. It’s both the way she takes the glass from the tray and the look of contempt at…well absolutely everything. I remember Joe Strummer from The Clash once describing fellow band mate Mick Jones as walking into a room like “Elizabeth Taylor in a filthy mood” – this is what pops into mind with Servalan here.
It’s now Jenna’s turn to play Mother, as little ole’ Vila is sent down to the planet with his lunchbox and an empty bladder. Once down, he complains to Avon that he is freezing. Avon responds with “Well freeze in silence” – a killer line this episode badly needs at this point.
Avon plays Miss Marple with a twig, Blake ends up on the receiving end of a nasty hunters trap, and Vila is rumbled by Ushton. Suddenly things are happening all at once.
In the Tower, Blake and Travis discuss life. I like how Travis can suddenly snap as he lashes out at Blake. I think this is a key difference between pre therapist Travis (Grief) and post therapist, post Federation Travis – where anything can happen.
This phase of the series is very much Blake’s 7 – the adventure series for boys. It’s a little period where the show became about the males, at the cost of the females. It’s not simply a case that the women were not given enough to do, its more about how the men were playing the battle for themselves.
A good example is how Cally says something is wrong. “Lets go down.” But Jenna says no because “the ball is in Travis court.” So its all about the men down on the planet, and there really isn’t the will power to involve the female characters. Bar a couple of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trips for Jenna, the two female characters largely remain on the Liberator between ‘Horizon’ and ‘Gambit’ – over half of the series!
Anyway, these magnificent men end up stuck in a room with no oxygen. Travis forces Ushton to reveal who is the weakest, and when he does John Abineri seems to not know where to look, apart from towards the camera, perhaps it’s a nod to the audience to communicate “It was a last minute call up – a mercy bid.”
Travis gets the information he required from Vila (a word, apparently) but not before he activates his in-built blaster in a wonderfully obvious manner.
I’ve mentioned that this is an episode of fairly understated performances either by design or circumstance, but James Coyle’s performance as Molok feels just right. He barely emotes, and his softly spoken voice makes his character that little bit more unsettling. In this case, less is more.
Now we venture into cartoon capers, with various chases taking place. It’s filler, but it’s good quality filler – entertaining for the right and wrong reasons. And of course it’s a chance to see the polystyrene rocks. Actually it’s not just the visual appearance of them, or the fact that they display that unique quality of actually bouncing, but it’s a rare moment that the sound effect doesn’t quite help sell the illusion. Great fun though!
There’s another nice little moment as Travis gets a chance to score a hit. Avon is on the receiving end, but look at the very brief reaction shot of Travis, complete with blooded mouth. His delight is about the most unsettling that his character will get.
As we near the end of the episode, all the loose ends are tied up fairly quickly, Blake kisses Inga, and gets evils from Jenna.
The episode does end with one little moment of genuine quality, namely the final scene with Travis and Servalan. It’s simple two-hander (three if you count the Mutoid) played with subtlety and an air of wistfulness from both characters. It’s an important moment that opens up a little story arc that will run until the rest of the series. After all the capers of the preceding 45 minutes it is as excellent as it is welcome.
This scene also presents itself with a little mystery. I was drawn to Servalan’s Mutoid, who approaches Travis with, at first, a wariness, and then a hint of “You would get yourself into these situations, you stupid boy” as she unties him. And for ages I was left thinking, where have I seen her before? And being a supporting artist, the hunt to work out where previous appearences became quite a fascinating challenge. The woman in question, Margaret Pillaeu, has appeared across time and space, from the early 1970’s, where she was a technician at the research base on Wenley Moor in Doctor Who, and Project Sahara in ‘Doomwatch’, and then a decade or so later, she could be spotted as a Concorde passenger stranded on a prehistoric Earth. But after a lot of faffing around, the answer turned out to be right under my nose – she played exactly the same role in ‘Pressure Point.’ Drat!
We welcome back Allan Prior. This means that there will be some reference to Vila requiring Adrenalin and Soma, and a rescue of some description. I shouldn’t be too unkind about this script. As far as I understand, this was a last-minute replacement for another story, so it was a hurried affair. Perhaps. But something doesn’t quite add up. It’s a very straight-forward adventure, which is no bad thing, but when there’s such inequality in the action and dialogue between the male and female characters it somehow misses the team spirit that Blake’s 7 is often capable of reaching. Nauseating examples include: “Your champion is coming to rescue you” or Jenna worrying about the approaching pursuit ship, met by insufferable cool as a cucumber Blake. Oh, and was it acceptable to boff your first cousin in the 1970’s?
It sounds like this was a troubled production. The lead guest star Duncan Lamont (sci-fi fans will recognise him in Nation’s ‘Death to the Daleks’) died a month after location filming. Lamont had a craggy, gruff quality in his performances, and it is easy to see why he would have been selected for the role of Blake’s “uncle or whatever“.
Following Lamont’s death, the production team hurriedly arranged for Welsh actor Ronald Lewis to take on the role. But this was quickly abandoned due to his ill-health. His is a sad story. An actor with considerable charisma (which I don’t believe would have worked for Ushton) he was a staple in the British film industry of the 1950’s – 1960’s. However marital disagreements, and financial difficulties followed and the work dried up. By the time of ‘Hostage’ Lewis had been credited on television for the last time, and it would appear that the health issues that prevented him from taking on the role of ‘Hostage’ were related to the decline in his career. He died in 1982 of an overdose, bankrupt, and largely forgotten by the acting profession.
It is always curious to imagine how characters would have been portrayed in those ‘Sliding Doors’ moments where perhaps another actor got the role. But in the case of Ushton, John Abineri was very much the right choice. Craggy and gruff – yes. But also physically active enough to take on the action sequences.
So what of the resulting location shooting? Well it’s a case of this episode being the one that defies time and weather conditions. We’re back at Betchworth quarry – Vere’s home from home. All of the scenes featuring Lamont had to be re-filmed. And inevitably, it shows. All of Abineri’s material is filmed in the bleak misty cold, in contrast to the bright sunshine of the other scenes – take the scene where Avon is trapped in the net. As night falls we are treated to successive shots filmed in different conditions at different times. After a while you get used to it. That’s showbiz.
But for all the trouble that faced this production, the real issue here is the direction. It’s probably Lorrimer’s least effective, both in terms of the portrayals of the characters, and the more technical aspects:
– Travis mentions a grid reference (BW 13O for those keeping record) like it’s a car number plate.
– Servalan’s chair moves on its own free will in the Space Command set.
– Jenna teleports someone with her back to the teleport bay.
– After an excellent previous episode – Brian Croucher looses credibility.
– Travis activating the hand – nuff said.
– ‘Flotilla’ – tricky word to say. Both Chappell and Knyvette both struggle to say it. I can picture it now. Take 9 – ‘oh, sod it, we’ll use the best one.’
In addition, there is the “Two for the price of one” scene where Travis has Blake and Avon where he wants them. The pace of the edit feels wrong, using too many shots:
1) Net appears. (Nice wooshing sound)
2) Cut away to Avon.
3) Cut to Uston post throw.
4) Cut to Blake turning.
5) Cut to Ushton shouting ‘Get him!’
6) Cut to Blake again finally moving.
7) Cut back to Ushon.
But after watching all of this unfold I asked myself whether I enjoyed it? Of course I did! It’s still full of amusement and fizz, and I often have to remind myself that I am not watching any scene stuck on Commissioner Sleer’s beige spacecraft set, which rendered any fourth series episode it featured in officially dull. And how can anyone not be warmed by the sight of a rotund criminal psychopath running away from a polystyrene rock with his arms flapping in the air like Daffy Duck did in the Looney Tunes cartoons of yesteryear. In fact, after watching this I can’t stop associating Travis falling down a reactor in ‘Star One’ with Wile E. Coyote falling of a cliff.
So ‘Hostage’ is a perfect episode that demonstrates Blake’s 7 running on cruise control. It feels a bit lazy, where everyone is comfortable with how to bring the show to screen. But I can’t blame everything on this – unfortunate circumstances didn’t help. And yet I quite enjoy it. It’s interesting to compare it to episodes where it appears that everyone is working even harder to make something that was ultimately unsatisfying – ‘Animals’ springs to mind here.
And where was Elizabeth Parker with the force wall noise when you needed it? Hand overs never run smooth.
Cast wise, there are some familiar and not so familiar faces. Judy Buxton faces the biggest challenge, and does everything she can with a character that is written without too much depth. She puts in a much-needed plucky and passionate performance. Kevin Stoney will pop up again in season D in an equally blink and you’ll miss it role. Judith Porter is the least credited, but has a handful of roles to discover if you dig deep enough, and while James Coyle isn’t a household name, he has a ton of credits spanning many decades. More familiar is Andrew. ‘Mr. Fibuli’ Robertson who around this time featured in ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ as not a space commander. Finally it is my moral duty to say that out of all of his roles in shows that are familiar to me, it’s John Abineri’s putdown of Rimmer in the Red Dwarf episode ‘Better Than Life’ that gave me much amusement back in my teenage days.
The set design is functional, but not memorable. While Steve Brownsey provides the design on film, it is Gerry Scott who provides most of the scenic content here. There is a chunky metallic feel for the tower, which appears to be circular in shape with a column in the middle, and a suitably low lit subterranean feel for Ushton’s hideaway. The Federation pursuit ship references the previous design seen in ‘Duel’.
In my mission to catalogue the chairs of Blake’s 7, I found only partial success. The ‘Omkstak’ chair is a classic of British design, created by Rodney Kinsman 1972, and it features in the Tower set. But the one that I was really eager to find were the chairs featured on the Liberator, during the discussion between Blake and Avon. They look like the type of moulded plastic chair, such as a cross between the ‘Umbo’ stacking chair, by Joe Columbo, the ‘S’ shaped chair designer by Verner Panton, and the ‘Nielaus 290’ chair by Steen Ostergaard. But irritatingly I had to concede defeat. Perhaps they were custom-built for the BBC or a knock off design. You win some, you lose some.
Dudley Simpson’s music still has some spark throughout, with a staccato synth and rumbling brass during the space battle, and Vila’s ‘Chilly isn’t it?’ is accompanied by a light entertainment style ‘Bomp-ity bomp-ity bomp-ity bomp BONG!’ It kind of sums up the direction really.
HOW TO SELL THIS TO A NON BELIEVER?
Anyone with an interest of physics will find this episode fascinating as an experiment on the compression of human tissue by solid rock.
MY FAVOURITE MOMENT
The Joban scene
THE MOMENT I’D RATHER FORGET
I want to forget it, but also I don’t – the activation of the Travis’ hand blaster.
VERDICT IN 10 WORDS EXACTLY.
It’s lazy, but I can’t help love it a bit.