A09 – PROJECT AVALON (and a bit about the supporting characters.)

“The others, what about the others?”

I hope any Blake’s 7 fans who don’t have interest in Doctor Who will forgive me for doing this, but since the two series are mainstays in my life, I’m going to use ‘Who’ once again to illustrate the theme of this post before talking about how it applies to Blake’s 7.

Growing up in the 1980’s I quickly realised that there was a kind of pecking order relating to the different characters, and the impact that they had on me, and the story.   At the top, we had the regular crew.  My first memory is of Peter Davison’s Doctor, accompanied by Nyssa, Tegan and Adric – a group of characters who felt close-knit due to their openness with each other, even if that did include a lot of bickering.  Then by the time I was a true devotee, it was Doctor Davison, Tegan and Turlough, who to this six old, also felt like a ‘gang’, but were now oddly quiet and slightly unsettled with each other.  I found this dynamic oddly fascinating, and was a reason why Doctor Who was fully locked in my imagination around the time of its 21st season.

Then we had the guest star.  The main character (or sometimes two) who seemed to carry a lot of the story I was watching.  I remember Lytton and Styles from Resurrection of the Daleks (1984) vividly, alongside Maurice Denham’s Edgeworth in Colin Baker’s ‘The Twin Dilemma’ and Nabil Shaban’s excellent portrayal of Sil in ‘Vengeance on Varos’ (1985).  These were characters who had a key part in the story, but also enjoyed a considerable amount of screen time.

And then there were smaller characters who might not have had much screen time, but either left a mark, or contributed to the flavour of the story.  I remember the nervous, agitated crewman of Sea base 4 in ‘Warriors of the Deep’ (1984), who gave the whole atmosphere a very serious, and humourless edge.  There was also Kimber (a fool knows everything and nothing) in ‘Terror of the Vervoids’ (1986), who seemed to communicate a pleasant, curious atmosphere, ripe for disrupting.  He was too nice, and created to get it in the neck – literally.

Then as I became a teenager, I was finally able to see older Doctor Who on VHS.  It was such an exciting time, and long overdue.  Other smaller characters made their mark on me.  There was Kemel Rudkin, a crew member of ‘The Wheel in Space’ (1968) whose polite and quiet manner served to heighten the threat posed by the thing that was hiding out of sight.  This seemed to represent what was scary about the wider story – the threat is largely unseen by the crew for quite some time.  His death scene was pretty effective to me, no doubt helped by its inclusion in the ‘Resistance is Useless’ documentary on BBC2 in 1991.

Some of Troughton’s unavailable episodes were interesting too.  There was the older controller of the colony featured in ‘The Macra Terror’ (1967) who is a reasonably important part of the story, but gets little in actual screen time.  But the shot of him on the receiving end of a giant claw represents the sinister, unsettling black and white mystery of an episode which we have to think that little bit harder about, due to its absence in the BBC archive.  Interestingly this pivotal moment is captured in both an instantly recognisable publicity still (below) and the tantalising few seconds of footage that exists.  The fact that we only get a glimpse makes this an extra sinister moment.

And speaking of sinister black and white photos, there was Bromley from ‘Inferno’ (1970), who I have talked about in another post.  His presence had captured me years before, thanks to the atmospheric and sinister cover to the Target novelisation by Nick Spender.  His involvement throughout the whole seven episodes gave ‘Inferno’ its tense and unnerving atmosphere.  He represented the idea that there is something around the corner, ready to strike at anytime over the whole of the story, and perhaps that is what makes ‘Inferno’ a more involved viewing experience for me.

Butler from ‘Invasion of the Dinosaurs’ (1973) had some good screen time, but little in dialogue and background, and as such provided a strange sense of unease and mystery about Operation Golden Age.  There’s a photo where he stands in the background, and that’s where he seems to feature within the televised story.  Quiet, emotionless, mysterious.

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‘The Sea Devils’ (1972) included two characters; Clark, played by Declan Mulholland, who was one of the maintenance team stuck on the fortress.  His involvement gave episode one a suitably tense feel, and a provided a dramatic and unsettling cliffhanger.  The second is 3rd Officer Jane Blythe, played by Jane Murphy, who seemed to be the only rational thinker in the naval base.  Both of these characters stood out to me, because of their sympathetic nature, which meant I was convinced they were going to be killed off, especially considering that Blythe sat in an office in front of Captain Hart, meaning she’d get zapped first!  Happily, both characters lived to tell the tale, but it gave ‘The Sea Devils’ a feel which seemed to be characteristic of Malcolm Hulke, where the dividing lines between ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’ are a little more blurred, and how the most sympathetic characters are not safe.

Binro and The Seeker in ‘The Ribos Operation’ (1978) were given the George Spenton-Foster treatment, a mix of the operatic and measured.  Although both characters only feature for a handful of scenes across the later half of the story, they are memorable in performance and presence, and represent the wider themes of magic, belief and superstition within the episode.

Other characters, no matter how minuscule, also signified a whole load of things to me.  As you might have guessed, the Graham Williams era is a period of Doctor Who that I’ve always been quite well disposed to, with its shortcomings being different, but no greater to what other producers have faced throughout the series.  Having said that, season 17 is an overwhelming mix of sublime and ridiculous.  There is a scene in episode 3 of ‘Nightmare of Eden’ (1979) where the Mandrels attack the passengers onboard the Empress.  There is a female passenger who appears in close up on the receiving end of a hairy arm.  I think.  I’m not sure.  Maybe she is cuddling it?  But either way the expression on her face suggests a directorial touch that doesn’t sit well with me.  It lacks a bit of conviction, something of which I felt by this series was starting to creep into the show.  On the flip side, it does make me laugh out loud.   Years later it reminded me of a poor version of ‘Alien 3’, and I have a recollection that it featured in one of those lovely “Supporting Artist of the Month” articles in an old edition of Doctor Who Magazine.

But these split second character moments are oddly fascinating; a point in time, where your attention is diverted to something else entirely, and your mind starts to wander to other, often bigger considerations.

OK, Blake’s 7 fans, you can come back into the room.

I want to celebrate these smaller roles, that either offer a Chekhov’s Gun type thing; the idea that a character or appearance might not seem initially important, but plays a greater or more prominent role in the proceedings than at first thought.  Alternately I might simply want to note those lesser roles that simply stick out in my mind for one reason or another.

In those first compilation tapes, my attention was drawn to David Bailie’s Chevner, who gave ‘Project Avalon’ a tension.  This was down to the possibility that he might be a double agent – he looked mean, with a humourless voice in those early scenes.  I thought that Turloc might not be the only one who was seeking to betray Avalon.  Later in the episode the camera pans in on him looking suspicious.  Aha!  My suspicions are confirmed, I thought.  He is a meany!  Then 60 seconds later he was dead.  I had been wrong footed, and I released that this was a show I should stick around with.

Dev Tarrant from ‘The Way Back’ could well be considered a major character, but I’ve included him as he gets little in the way of screen time.  His involvement is crucial.  This first episode has a million things to do, not least of all make the audience understand the characteristics of the Terran administration, and why Blake would be up against them in the first place.  Dev Tarrant represents the ‘silent assassin’ threat of the Federation – cold, clinical and ever more dangerous because the threat runs far deeper than a helmeted Federation guard.  As the audience being introduced to a series for the first time, you have to give them something quickly to suss out – a clue, an action, a signal, a certain something that represents the corruption of the Federation.  And all of this is there in the curl of his lip.

OK, so perhaps he is a major character.  But ‘The Way Back’ does offer someone with the same level of malevolence – that of the computer operator.  In his one scene, he starts off as self-absorbed, which is sinister enough for someone in charge of important data, but it’s the way Nigel Lambert delivers his dialogue in such a cold manner, and with a sneery look.  He’s a perfect representation of the Federation for the audience at this early stage, in that no matter whether you’re high up or low down, this is a pretty unified operation.

In ‘Seek-Locate-Destroy’ the character of Rai offers a similar job – a representation of the Federation from within the ranks.  But in this case, he allows us to understand Servalan, and how ruthless she is, even with ‘old friends’.  Unlike the computer operator, Rai appears to have a sense of morals, which serves to highlight the contrast between the administration and those who serve under it.

I also want to mention Levett from ‘Mission to Destiny’ who I distinctly remember being my number one suspect onboard the Ortega, simply due to the fact that she got generally less screen time than the others, in the classic whodunnit mode.  She might not feature much, but the episode would be lesser without her.

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The doomed slave (Norm) in ‘Redemption’ sticks out.  On one sense he represents some of the bleakness of Space World; a cold metal and concrete bunker of a world, which is massive on the repression of human rights, and minimal on any chance of escape.  He hints at his history, and that of his family.  This is something that always feels like a death warrant in a series like Blake’s 7.  We’re not that interested in uninteresting people dying!  But there is something about the manner of Roy Evans performance which switches between initially defeated and slightly lifeless, to the point where he kills his oppressor, spitting out the words “Destruction Level” with the pent up rage of…well someone who has been a prisoner for a long time.  It’s a good performance and ‘Redemption’ badly needs this human perspective.  ‘Ultraworld’ feels very similar. You could substitute Norm for Relf from Probus Four, but Relf offers nothing to the audience aside from a bit of exposition.

In the following episode we have the performance of Vernon Dobtcheff as the Chairman in ‘Shadow’.  Dobbcheff is immediately recognisable as the suave Max Kalba, owner of the club in Cairo that is frequented by James Bond and Jaws in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’. It’s the silky smooth voice and the impassive expression that connects the two roles.  As the Chairman, he is the perfect foil for Largo’s bluster.  This is the true face of the Terra Nostra, an operation, that runs usually “without anaesthetic.” Most of the performance is spent playing with a spider, but more importantly of all, there is the fact that he barely makes eye contact with anyone apart from a direct threat towards Largo.  This dispassionate approach is hard to match, not only making the performance standout, but somehow reflects the cold nature of the episode itself, one of the least cosy in the 52 episode run.

Brian Miller puts in an interesting performance in ‘Horizon’.  The Assistant Kommissar might be a biggish character in the story, but he pales in comparison to the others.  He appears so brow beaten and weary, especially when in the shadow of William Squire’s assured presence.  His “What do I get?” when discussing any reward for Blake’s capture, signifies a man who know he’s not going to get anything, even before he has asked the question.  He might not get many lines in the episode, but his presence tells us a lot about how the Federation operates so far on the edge of the galaxy.

Chris Boucher follows the tradition of his mentor, Robert Holmes, in his ability to write some good double acts.  But most memorable are the minor characters who help the story along.  In ‘Trial’, Par and Lye offer a really important commentary about the in fighting and current status of the Federation, as Space Command makes ready to take over.  A year later, Forbes and Grenlee pop up in ‘Rumours of Death’ providing a similar commentary about how Servalan has established power on Earth.

Other subordinates offer a different role.  Peter Craze and Daniel Hill are portray their officer roles with an interesting level of emotion, befitting an episode with as much depth to it as ‘Sand’ has.  Hill appears perpetually anxious and a bit beaten, while Craze performs his role with an equal measure of worry, but also bottled up resentment for his Federation commanders.  While Stephen Yardley’s Reeve is centre stage with Servalan, these smaller portrayals are really important in building up the unique and deep atmosphere in this episode.

Some minor Federation characters are far higher up the ranks.  While Peter Miles, and John Bryans put in an excellent and double act of their own in two episodes, it is Kevin Stoney who I think of most.  He makes the briefest of appearances in ‘Hostage’ but makes an impression simply because he is Kevin Stoney.  Smooth, a bit smarmy, but adding up to a dangerous enemy.

But my favourite character within the ranks is Durkim from ‘Star One’.  This is an episode with not only considerable gravitas, but a ton of pretty major things going on.  Not little things, but big bad things.  Things that will have an impact on the rest of the series.  Durkim first and foremost offers a connection with the audience.  He is right in the centre of the hurricane.  When we need to understand the implications of Star One failing, it is up to Durkim to gravely, but slightly cautiously deliver the news to Servalan.  When we need to understand that the Federation is at the moment of a monumental turning point in its history it is up to Durkim to be the confused one, as Servalan explains what the hell is going on.  And as the episode ends, it is up to Durkim to offer the big question that hangs in that zone between seasons B and C – “But what happens in the meantime?”  It’s not just the character, it’s the straight way that actor John Bown performs it.  There’s quizzical, forthright and confused.  But there’s also the occasional, and very subtle hints of divided loyalties, something that is really important in this episode as big questions are raised across protagonists and viewpoints.

In the post Star One universe, suddenly the characters seemed to come out of their shell. It’s like the loss of Blake has created a vacuum, where the uniforms and protocol are replaced with more variable possibilities.  Take the depiction of the Mutoids.  In Duel, Carol Royle’s portrayal would appear to be the definitive take on the emotionless modified humanoids.  But by season C they appeared to gained a hint of attitude. In ‘Volcano’ Judy Matherson features in some fascinating scenes, where her character concurs with President Servalan, with a kind of disregard for the Liberator crew.  A couple of episodes later Captain Shad, appears like such a pleasant fellow, that I can’t quite imagine him as in the employee of the Federation.  While these two characters don’t necessarily say much about the stories they feature in, they do suggest a season that is – with its reboot of the entire galaxy – a case of anything goes, and the generally devoted officers of the Federation are a thing of the past.

The colour of season C is further represented by Sherm, who is easy to ignore in ‘City at the Edge of the World’ due to the pure energy and screen presence of Colin Baker’s Bayban.  But his supporting character is important, as he provides the perfect counterpoint to the feisty Kerril, giving us more of a reason to care about her, and also gives Bayban the opportunity to show off his bombastic, bullying ways, and also giving Vila a chance to deploy his wit.  John J. Carney plays a similar role in the Doctor Who adventure ‘The Time Warrior’ and he is just as effective in that.  We can easily identify a guest star but a talented secondary character is rare.

Turning my mind to season D, Cato in ‘Power’ is integral to the story, not only as a voice of wisdom in the juvenile atmosphere of Gunn-Sar’s leadership, but also as the provider of the backstory that drives the conflict on Xenon.  Well, at least until he is removed from the proceedings mid-sentence.

I have a soft spot for the hapless Borr in ‘Animals’.  He may be a very minor character confined to a monitor on Sleer’s chat show type desk, but his rabbit in headlights performance tells us that while Servalan might not be president, she can still manipulate situations and give orders with complete ease.

Finally there’s Dean Harris as Finn, from ‘Warlord’.  His character features often, usually at Zukan’s side, and he offers much to the tone of the episode, although not due to his involvement in the action, but simply as a showpiece for the stylish cut above the rest direction by Viktors Ritelis  – his death scene is brilliant!

In my discussion of ‘Voice from the Past’ I talked about the ensemble nature of the series, namely how well the regulars interacted with each other.  Outside of that, there is a glut of memorable main characters who drive the episode, but behind that are those lesser characters, that might not stick in our mind, but play an important part in adding the little details that makes all 52 episodes of Blake’s 7 so memorable.

EPISODE DISCUSSION

We open with stock footage of a snowy landscape, material that will give Blake’s 7 good value during its lifespan.

There is a seamless cross fade to a cliff face and Soolin and Travis walk into a suitably season A style entrance carved into a cliff.  Blake’s 7 is good at entrances.  It really has got them all; shiny and hologramatic on Obsidian, pure B-movie aesthetic on Star One, and plan naff on Caspar.  Here we have one of the more subtle examples, as the snow takes centre stage.

Inside the cave, there is an excellent close up of Travis as he removes his head gear.  Never has he looked so menacing.

An encounter with Turloc the betrayer results in some strategy, and more importantly another chance to look mean, moody and menacing by breaking the fourth wall and occasionally affording the briefest of intense stares.  With Grief, less is most definitely more.

Even though this is episode nine, we’re still being treated to very earnest scenes involving the Liberator crew working very hard and concentrating on staying alive.  Cally and Gan respond to Blake’s instructions in a cooperative way – something that seems to disappear by season B, alongside a sense that everything to do with handling the ship is a lot less of an effort, and is far more instinctual.  It always distinguishes season A from the rest – the hardworking season.

Avon gets his own introductory shot as he walks into position.  It must mean he is ready to spice up the scene a bit…

…but he comes in a touch too early, interrupting Gan’s “Right.”  It’s one of those little moments where the director has to make the call to go for another take or not. The countdown to 10pm is ticking.

There’s a killer line.

Blake: ‘Does it support any intelligent life?’
Avon: ‘Does the Liberator?’

It’s slightly marred by the slightly heavy handed way that Blake and Jenna exchange glances afterwards – another season A characteristic.

Avon’s decision to defer the meeting with Avalon by staying in the warm is far more subtle.

In the caves Soolin overcomes one of Avalon’s party.  I shouldn’t really use Soolin is a lame reference here.  I remember watching this for the first time, with no knowledge that Soolin even existed.  Glynis Barber was simply a Mutoid, and for my money is one of the best.  Carol Royle was excellent in ‘Duel’ and got some good material, but I think Barber also nails it – she’s not completely two-dimensional, such as when she kills someone with the faintest of a smirk.  It’s nothing too obvious, but just enough to give the character a hint of malevolence.  It’s a really well judged performance, at the beginning of her career.

I’m very much enjoying the shots of the Mutoids responding to Soolin’s codes.  The first trio are established, and then the next four are comprised of the trio we have just seen, plus Soolin herself!  Good budget management here.

Man alive Grief knows how to hit Stuart Fell.

Avalon’s party are dispatched in a scene reminiscent of the massacre in ‘The Way Back’

Our attention is now firmly on the Liberator, where there’s some more wonderfully exaggerated crew behaviours, like the switch flicking by Avon, following a navigational adjustment identified by Zen.  But my teenage self remembers wanting to throw up at Cally’s ‘You too!’ line following Jenna’s gooey ‘Good luck‘.

Down in the caves, the episodes sags briefly while we are treated to a rather long winded scene of Blake and Jenna discovering the aftermath of the massacre, and Chevner collapsing with his gun.  It’s one of the few times where Dudley Simpson’s music drags the scene down slightly.

It might sound odd to say, but doesn’t everyone involved have really great voices?  Gareth Thomas is always noted for his deep, rich voice.  David Bailie is slightly more sharp, but equally gravelly and menacing.  And they both contrast with Knyvette’s hushed, whispered tones.  I don’t know if it is something about how film sound is captured, but they just sound…great.

Into the lair we go, and a lovely corridor (see Terminal for more on why I like this.) There is a bloomin’ good shot as Soolin walks down and the camera tracks upward to reveal the Federation troopers.  Neat.

As Soolin walks into the main control room, where Travis is seated, I’m sure the tannoy says ‘Doctor LSD  to area Blue Six.‘  Which means one thing in my mind – Dr. Funkenstein aka George Clinton from P-Funk.  It might have given this episode an edge.

Meanwhile the real Doctor is studying “a good healthy specimen”.  I bet he is.

I must say that I would find it rather off-putting to deliver my lines in such close proximity to the ticking, flickering light.

Blake, Jenna and Chevner get all the backstory and exposition out of the way, and with that Vila is called into action, but not before another wonderful line about weak chests, It is brilliantly delivered by Paul Darrow, who is displaying a nice line in nonchalant poses.

Another classic season A trope is an inability to convincingly sell the idea that Blake is talking to the Liberator from a far away location via intercom.  Take the increasing desperation towards the end of ‘Time Squad’ where we hear his voice onboard the ship – it doesn’t seem to match the drama unfolding where he actually is.  Here, he talks to Gan as though he is reading his lines through a toilet roll.

When I first watched this episode via the ‘Duel’ compilation tape, my first impression was that Blake’s 7 was a slightly less humourless, and more earnest series than Doctor Who.  But the scene involving Avon teleporting Vila down before he was ready, and the resulting smiles between Avon and Cally totally cracked me up.  Years later, I still enjoy it.  It’s a reminder that the crew really are total arses to each other, when they’re not so busy just surviving, and that is very funny.

Again Grief’s punching is convincing as he checks over a prisoner for his overall health.

Ahhhhh!  The supreme commander!  I’m writing this in the days following Jacqueline Pearce’s death, and it feels fitting to see her at this early stage of Servalan’s character.

I must say that it’s a great entrance – pure Dynasty.   The dropping of her fur coat on the floor is a great touch.  But it is the fur coat that reveals more than meets the eye.  Not only is it typically Servalan, but it even looks like an extension of the ‘Eldra’ chair that she sits in at Space Command.

As Servalan talks to Travis about the pressure she has been under to have him replaced, we get the first little caress, the first sign that Travis is her plaything.  ‘Seek – Locate – Destroy’ established a sense of respect towards him.  But now, for the rest of his involvement in the Blake universe, it is cat and mouse.

This single scene is a perfect distillation of both Servalan’s character traits, and what Jacqueline Pearce brought to the role.  She was – and always will be – someone who reigns supreme.

Nasty death time.  The lab has come up with what we wanted.  An impressive C.S.O static ball.  Very costly.

It’s a well executed death.  Silent, impassive, gory.

Satisfied?  Completely!

We’re halfway through.  It’s time to add some new ingredients.  We have metal Micky from ‘Seek – Locate – Destroy’, the introduction of the base entrance, and the arrival of Federation pursuit ships within detector range of the Liberator.

At this point I’m realising that ‘Project Avalon’ a pretty heavily padded episode.  I’ve already mentioned the long scenes of discovering Avalon’s former party, and here Vila breaks in through one security door, only to eek out a few more minutes by trying to get through another.  But the way in which the episode is structured seems to disguise this, and as we reach new moments of jeopardy it feels like quite a lot has happened.

Avalon is put into her quarters…I mean cell.  And there is a brief moment of calm, order and quiet…before the noise starts up once more…

It starts with Blake’s commanding voice, which lures in the guard, and gives Sally Knyvette a chance to deliver some of the finest attitude ever seen in all 52 episodes.

And then the alarms ring out, and suddenly it feels like a Crystal Maze game – a countdown before an automatic lock in.

Vila correctly identifies that Avalon will freeze to death in her attire.  Surely not.  She is a ‘goooood healthy specimen.’

There are some good healthy groans from successive Federation guards as they are shot down, although it’s not going to go down as one of the greatest audio moments in Blake’s 7 history.

Gan switching on the communication channel might be one of my favourite moments in Blake’s 7.  The fact that he has to walk an inordinately long way to activate it, then the urgent look up to Avon, and the casual ‘see if I care’ stance from Cally, as the others run to the teleport section.  To top this scene off, Blake actually sounds like he is in grave peril.

There is a nice “welcome back” scene as Avon smoothly greets a load of gun tooting rebels, with the exception of Vila, who is suitably hiding behind Avalon and Jenna.

Chevner is the red herring.  There’s ten minutes to go, and there is still a ton of stuff to get through.

The crew debrief establishes dud guns, and a plan to capture the Liberator.  The hunt is on for Chevner.

There is a nice touch of Gan popping a pill to temporarily ward off approaching pain in his head.

I’m enjoying the hammer horror vibe when Dudley Simpson throws in some menacing piano notes, as a blooded arm advances on Cally and Jenna.  Even Jenna’s scream is well amplified – an essential requirement.

Back in the teleport bay I’m loving the handheld work as David Jackson gets a fabulous two shot (and an elbow in the stomach) from Avalon.

The dust has settled, and Michael E Briant treats us to a lovely mole crane shot, zooming out to reveal as much of the somewhat battered Liberator flight deck as possible.

And then we move into the final scene.  I really enjoy it, particularly the pregnant pauses.  It makes me concentrate on the reactions and body language as much as the dialogue itself.

Project Avalon has failed totally.

It might have failed totally in fiction, but ‘Project Avalon’ is one of the highlights of season A.  Like I mentioned earlier, there is much that should go against it.  There is a lot of padding, but it does what good padding should do, keeping the story moving forward in a way that doesn’t dent the budget too much.

It’s an episode that I have loved slightly less over the years as other, more conceptually challenging episodes have taken its place in my affections, but it’s still a great example of the gritty, no-nonsense and slightly melodramatic season A – a season all of its own.

The other thing ‘Project Avalon’ is successful at, is taking the budget and making it look really big.  This is something that would have been so important to season A in particular, with its ‘Softly Softly’ funding.   I suppose the simplest way of describing this is to take the number of ‘rooms’ or ‘environments’ in any Blake’s 7 episode and think about how they were created.  Typically a Blake’s 7 episode will contain a main set, a corridor or two, and perhaps a couple of smaller rooms (think ‘Moloch’ or ‘Shadow’) but here we have a designer who really knows how to make the most of the script requirements and create it economically.  The key here, is lots of smaller sets than normal.  There is the main laboratory set, which also doubles up as the place where they ’study’ Avalon, and acts as the area where Servalan and Travis sit.  There’s lots of corridors set across multiple levels, but are shot using a criss-cross style, thus deceiving the audience and creating a labyrinthian feel.  There are other smaller corridors that are linked to adjoining rooms, which are linked in turn to smaller cells, and there are a couple of small ‘L’ shaped spaces where some good intercom action can take place.  And that is just the studio material!  The same is the case with the location footage, which takes advantage of the compartmentalised spaces, and multiple levels made available at Wookey Hole in Somerset.

Julia Vidler’s television credits appear to be limited to the years around her Blake’s 7 appearances.  The same is true for Glynis Barber, who seems to have disappeared from trace following this role – a name never heard again!

David Bailie will be familiar to many, not least for this Doctor Who appearance the year before, where instead of playing a goodie who could be a baddie, he played a baddie who could have been a goodie.

John Baker has turned up in a couple of Doctor Who’s, playing the full range, from servant to Time Lord.  The same is true for John Rolfe, from a base on the surface of the moon, to a shady global business in Wales.

I was watching the lovely comedy/drama ‘Detectorists’ and I immediately recognised David Sterne.  This is of course a lie, but it is interesting to see someone go from a couple of lines behind a Federation helmet to an RSC member.  The other speaking guard, Mark Holmes, didn’t quite match up to that string of achievements, but seems to have enjoyed a modest career playing supporting roles, even sneaking in an appearance in ‘Time Bandits’!

SET DESIGN

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Aside from the compartmentalised and claustrophobic approach that designer Chris Pemsel used to create the understand base, I’m struck by how he creates some really interesting shapes for the corridor sections, which reminds me of the those used (not by Pemsel) in Patrick Troughton’s 1966 Doctor Who debut ‘Power of the Daleks’.

In fact I was looking at another of Troughton’s adventures which was designed by Pemsel – ‘The Enemy of the World’ (1968).  This stands out due to its similarly distinctive shapes and textures, mixing of marble and neon lights.  It’s stands out from the adventures at sit around it, something of which is also true for ‘Project Avalon’.

Big up for the columns that reappear in ‘Redemption.’  They look like the most powerful domestic hi-fi speaker units ever designed.

Rejoice!  There’s a chair to talk about!  This is the office chair that features in the rest room, when Cally is unconscious.  It is an Eames Aluminium Group Management Chair by Herman Miller.  This dates from the late 1950’s to mid 1960’s. An example I found on the internet offers some more information. ‘It also has a four-point “contract base” with original glides, which was replaced by the more common “universal base” in the mid-1960s. Gleaming clear coated aluminium frame and arms with dark caramel channeled vinyl seat. Retains original and complete “4131 Redwood Ave., Los Angeles 66, Calif.” Herman Miller showroom label.‘ (1)

MUSIC SCORE
This is one of Dudley’s best scores in the entire series.  He gets out his electric piano, and puts in a melodramatic score, reminiscent of ‘City of Death’ the following year.  He straddles mournful, as Blake and Jenna survey the aftermath of the massacre in the caves, to high drama, as the rescue of (fake) Avalon reaches its conclusion.  There are little moments that are simply so beautiful.  For example, when Servalan and Travis walk up to the booth where the prisoner has succumbed to the Phobon plague.  But my favourite motif comes around 34 minutes in (on the official youtube video) where we see the Liberator advance towards the camera, with Zen announcing that the pursuit ships have been evaded.  It’s simply a nice little moment.

HOW TO SELL THIS TO AN UNBELIEVER
It’s got caves, and is perfect to watch on a cold winters evening.  But it does come with a warning – it’s not an episode to watch if you don’t like noise and alarms.

MY FAVOURITE MOMENT
The moment following Vila’s teleportation – it’s Cally’s smirk, in response to Avon’s beaming smile.

THE MOMENT I’D RATHER FORGET
Cally’s drippy “You too!

VERDICT IN TEN WORDS EXACTLY
Tense and claustrophobic in places.  Corny and melodramatic in others.

 

Picture credits
(1) http://www.1stdibs.com/furniture/seating/office-chairs-desk-chairs/early-eames-aluminium-group-management-chair-herman-miller/id-f_5825503/ (accessed July 2020.)
The Great Cave of Wookey Hole – H.E. Balch
http://tragicalhistorytour.com

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