“This alpha scale is registering.”
Just a little note before we begin. This page is full of large GIF’s that are somewhat data heavy, and might take a little time to load up.
In the post about ‘Duel‘ I waxed lyrical about Douglas Camfield’s ability to cut action, especially when using film. The single camera technique used is clearly advantageous for many reasons, namely the ability to light, frame, or change lenses to suit the needs of each individual shot. There’s the opportunity for some flexibility in the edit too. With each shot being its own entity, there’s potential to switch and swap materials around to suit. As Walter Murch, the famed Hollywood sound designer and editor once said “When you see those lucky chances happen, you preserve them.”
But in the time pressured world of BBC drama of the 1970’s, chance wasn’t always commodity that could be relied on. Planning and preparation was the key. And sometimes, editing would be about fixing things and covering up the gaps, as much as the opportunity for creative flair.
The world is videotape was (and still is) a very different beast. Studio recording of material was (and still is) about what is being shot in real time – a single piece of action shot from a number of different angles.
I mentioned creative flair a moment ago. Some bemoan the multi-camera studio technique used by Blake’s 7 and many other series of the era, due to the functionality of the medium. This includes the use of more standard lighting, framing and camera positioning, often in a proscenium arch, in order to avoid the audience seeing the other cameras in shot. At this point, I’m thinking about the times a camera creeps into view – as evidenced by the very far right of the three shots below.
The advantages of the medium are often economical – a quick fire method to record material. This is probably the reason it is still used on the relentless juggernaut of a soap opera. However I really like multi camera – its theatrical roots make watching Blake’s 7 a more involved, intimate affair. I’m more than happy to be the fourth wall in this regard. But I also really like the rhythm achieved by ‘cutting’ live to the shots called out by the director, based on the camera script. There’s something so unpretentious (moi?) about it all, and at times it allows for some wonderful creative touches.
Yep, I’m going to say it…
You can’t stop me…
This is vision mixing as ‘art’.
Its speedy and economical style became obvious to me, from the early days of getting my hands on vintage Doctor Who, once I finally was able to afford a video cassette player.
Say you have a character who is being possessed by a mysterious force, and you need to convey the battle for control. What do you do? You stick a load of cameras around the individual, from all angles, get them all to zoom in and out, and rapidly cut between them. Throw in another camera to record some reaction shots et voilà!
Whoever is making the decisions about where to cut between shots is consciously or unconsciously thinking about where our attention should be focussed. The ‘in the moment’ feel that vision mixing offers is a big part of why it appeals to me. There’s also a rhythm to cutting between cameras that is instantly recognisable. Its pace makes me appreciate the dialogue, the situation, the story, and other production elements that sit all around it.
Lets take something that should be familiar to many people reading this blog right now – the pattern and sequencing of shots that make up a scene where a character ends up unconscious.
A scene from Doctor Who pops into my mind. Derrick Goodwin directs the moment when the Doctor is infected by the virus in ‘The Invisible Enemy’ (1977) very economically. Three camera angles, and only three shots. There is a wide two shot to kick things off, but when ‘contact is made’ and the Doctor is infected, it is simply a case of defocusing the camera and zooming in and out. Finally we cut to a shot of the Doctor falling to the floor. This might have been filmed as a separate take, in order to line up the fall correctly. It’s pretty basic as a set up. Perhaps time was ticking in the studio.
Gan’s battle with the System guards in ‘Redemption’ is a bit more elaborate. It starts with a long shot of Gan at the teleport controls, and then we cut to him turning around to face the danger. What follows is a series of separately recorded camera shots; a first-person shot of the guard holding the gun, a handheld close-up of Gan snarling, a low angled shot of his boots, and finally the same familiar fall to the floor. Apart from the first two shots where Gan turns around, these are probably not vision mixed live in the studio, but edited together later. None the less it feels like it is mixed live, because of the rhythm of the editing.
Then finally we have the scene where Vila is clonked by Cally in ‘The Web’. This is another perfect demonstration of live vision mixing, and subsequent editing. The scene opens with a succession of shots that would have been cut live (the two ‘two-shots’ in the corridor, and the point where Cally turns around.). But this time the scene feels a bit more filmic in the way handheld first-person perspective shots are used. These are cut together later in the edit, creating increased tension until Vila finally meets the floor.
This is the moment that often pops into my mind when thinking about the opportunities and limitations of studio based drama. It’s an effective scene, but it can only be mixed and shot ‘as live’ up to a point. The rest of the scene can only be completed by using a single camera set up, where each shot is recorded on its own, in order to capture the right kind of material, which can be edited accordingly later on.
Famously the director Lovett Bickford used the filmic method of recording and editing material, when he directed the Doctor Who story ‘The Leisure Live’ (1980). The results were wonderful as far as I’m concerned. The inventive camera angles, face to face confrontations, first-person compositions, deep focus and a myriad of editing touches create a really sophisticated visual style, which at times reminds me of some of Jonathan Wright-Miller’s stylings in ‘Shadow’. But unlike Wright-Miller, who was asked back to direct Blake’s 7 once more (he declined the offer), Bickford’s approach caused an expensive overrun in the studio, resulting in the end of his association with this demanding show.
Due to the way that television drama was produced, the single camera method was never going to be sustainable. And while television drama is created using this technique today, I remain very fond of the ‘live’ feel that studio that studio drama provided. It was all about what was happening ‘in the moment’.
I can think of a number of moments in Blake’s 7, where there are little creative touches in either the way it is vision mixed, or in the individual elements themselves and how the vision mixing simply brings them together effectively. I watched these scenes once again, this time with the volume turned right down, allowing me to concentrate on the way all of the shots connect with each other. I present them to you through the medium of animated gifs sped up twice as fast. By seeing it a bit differently than the norm, it will hopefully help focus on where the cuts are actually happening.
Take the first moment onboard the Liberator. For a scene with such a lysergic dreamlike quality to it, I find it interesting to note just how much is taking place ; cross dissolves, zooms, repeated reaction shots, jump cuts. I’m guessing the vision mixer is adding film sequences to the mix. Yet as the intensity builds up to a final climax, we return to a more standard style of live cutting as Blake physically prevents Avon and Jenna from reaching the point of danger.
We have the first scene of Travis in Duel . Each successive shot of him is closer and closer, made possible through cutting between him and the Mutoid. The final close up makes it clear that this is his episode.
Sometimes the use of multi camera techniques can limit the impact of drama unfolding on-screen. Compare the various filmed fight scenes in ‘Duel’ with the battle between Cally and the Federation guard in ‘Seek-Locate-Destroy’, which suffers from a lack of shots and cross cutting, disguising the rather gentle attempts from Jan Chappell and Frank Maher to not actually hurt each other. Sometimes a lack of cutting can work, as demonstrated by the fight between Gan and the rest of the crew at the beginning of ‘Breakdown’, which – bar a couple of cutaway shots – is all shot in one continuous take. Impressive stuff.
The intercutting between shots can create nice rhythms that become as much a characteristic of the scene as the action itself. Take the following moment set in the teleport section around half way through ‘Orac’. Gan, Jenna and Avon discuss how long it has been since Cally and Blake have been down on the surface. All three have different viewpoints and there is a build up of tension which Avon cuts through with a knife. Following this there is an aknolegement from all three that it is useless arguing, and they all rest up. What I like about this scene is the shot selection and how it all cuts together.
In this section of the scene it goes like this:
Avon kickstarts the discussion, and then the action is sequenced as follows:
Shot 1 – MCU of Jenna offering viewpoint.
Shot 2 – MCU of Gan offering viewpoint.
Shot 3 – MCU of Avon offering viewpoint.
Shot 3 (cont) – Avon looks at Jenna
Shot 4 – Jenna looks at Gan
Shot 5 – Gan looks at the other two.
Shot 6 – Avon rests up
Shot 7 – Jenna rests up
Shot 8 – Gan rests up.
It is the rhythm of the cutting that is important here. Everything is happening in threes, and it links the interactions between the three characters beautifully.
Other directors started to creep into the series, bringing little visual touches of their own. The aforementioned Jonathan Wright-Miller, played around with visual elements; fades to colour, multi layered shots, and a range of video effects keyed into the main action. But there are little moments that stand out for me, which sometimes are a case of ‘blink and you’ll miss it.’ A nice example is towards the climax of ‘Horizon’ where a number of things happen all at once. Blake teleports down to the planet, Ro dons his native attire, and both the Kommissar and his Assistant are dispatched. Between the first shot of the scene and the longer shot of Ro advancing on the Kommissar, there are eight quick fire shots that highlight not only the events, but also show off the skill of quick fire vision mixing.
The same is true around 22 minutes into ‘Shadow’ where Avon and Gan rescue Blake and Jenna from Largo. Immediately following the shot of Gan releasing Jenna’s hands from the cuffs, there is a rapid fire collection of shots:
Shot 1 – Blake positioned at Largo’s communicator.
Shot 2 – Bek about to kill Largo.
Shot 3 – Blake shouting “Leave it!”
Shot 4 – Avon pointing a gun at Bek.
Shot 5 – Blake answering the communicator.
It’s a frantic four seconds of action and gives the scene real intensity.
Later that season, in ‘Star One’ there is another flurry of activity around 40m46s where Travis is shot by Blake, then a number of shots ring out, until the point where Avon finally dispatches Travis one and for all. It’s a great example of how effortless it looks to cut between shots quickly, creating scenes of action.
Shot 1 – Avon stubs out Travis’s weapon (?)
Shot 2 – Three shot of Blake, Avon and Cally.
Shot 3 – Travis lurching forward.
Shot 4 – Three shot of Blake, Avon and Cally.
Shot 5 – Travis continues to lurch forward.
Shot 6 – CU of Avon’s gun firing.
Shot 7 – Travis falls through the barrier.
Shot 8 – Travis falling down the reactor.
Shot 9 – Avon’s “He is now.”
The scene between Avon and Blake discussing control of the Liberator in ‘Pressure Point’, is rightly lauded as a key moment in Blake’s 7. For those who have not read Erin Horakova’s Boucher Backbone and Blake essay, I can recommend it. But the effectiveness of the final scene is also due to the shot selection and intercutting. It starts with a number of two-shots, but as soon as Avon goes onto the front foot about why the attack will need his help, the intercutting allows the camera to zoom in quickly on his face to a medium close-up. This is maintained throughout the next section of the scene, which rarely seeks reaction shots, but focusses more on who is speaking at any time. When the camera does sit with Blake for a second or two, as he mulls over what Avon is saying, it allows the other camera to go into a big deep close-up on Avon’s features. And it needs to, as Avon is about to reveal the true purpose of his decision to help Blake. When he tells him (and us) that he wants the Liberator, the camera is right in close on his face, allowing the other camera focussing on Blake to zoom into an equally big close up, as the stalemate between the two characters is achieved. The final hold on Blake’s features reminds us that, for the time being, this is still his show.
There’s nothing partially radical about the way this scene is directed, but it is certainly an example of how a production method that is often seen as limited in creative opportunity, is in fact, incredibly effective in bringing out the emotion of a scene.
The effectiveness of certain scenes are largely down to the timing. At what point does the vision mixer cut between two sources of dialogue? I find it interesting to compare Servalan’s dealings/confrontations with a number of ‘powerful’ political figures she encounters. Take the scene between her and Joban, where the vision mixer follows the dialogue for the most part. We see what is said and the venom behind the words. The heat of the confrontation is key. Interestingly there is one instance where the camera focusses on Servalan’s immediate reaction to what is being said – the moment when Joban says “Order, order Servalan. It is all that matters.” This sets up the final barrage of dialogue before Joban finishes his drink and leaves cordially.
Compare this to two scenes between her and Krantor in ‘Gambit’, and Bercol and Rontane in ‘Seek Locate Destroy’. Here, there are long periods where the shot does not focus on the character uttering the dialogue, but more on who is on the receiving end. This allows a different dynamic to be achieved – not one of combativeness, but more of strategic manoeuvring. We see the body language, the reactions and we imagine what they are thinking, and what they might say next.
The use of extreme close-ups (or big close-up) is something that feels particularly at home in the world of multi-camera television production. When I think of the theatrical elements that characterise this method, it is this type of shot that comes to mind immediately. It is so unashamed. When a close-up is required, the directors really go for it. Take the final showdown between Servalan and Travis in ‘Trial’ – the intensity of Travis’s rage, and Servalan’s stoic attitude is communicated by a series of big juicy close ups.
It’s the same again as Vila gets under Avon’s skin in ‘Killer.’ That knowing look Vila gives at the end of the “Unless someone ditches him first” scene would not work if it was delivered in long shot.
35m38s into ‘Rumours of Death’ there is a use of flashback, a method that is traditionally established through using transitions, giving the impression of time passing. When the flashback is finished we cut to a separate angle of Avon, just as he takes out his gun. This side-on angle breaks the train of thought, taking us out of the situation as much as Avon himself.
Vision mixing can also prolong a moment. Think of when Avon pulls a gun on Tarrant in ‘Terminal’. Look at the number of times the camera switches between the two characters, before finally settling on a shot of the gun poking into Tarrant. It holds the situation in a way that suggests “Yes this really is happening, but it’s going to take us a moment to recognise this!”
And finally – and I think appropriately – there is an almost autobiographical scene in ‘Blake’ where Avon sums up the characteristics of the crew. Thinking about the overall theme of multi-camera editing, I love how the mixing of shots gives a feeling of being ‘in the moment’, leaving us with Avon’s wry smile at the end of this scene.
As those Soviet dudes, Eistenstien and Kuleshov identified, it’s not about the shots themselves, but about the way they collide. Classic montage theory. In its simplest form, how do you take two shots and use them to create a third meaning. Many will favour single-camera over multi-camera production, and I understand why. The freedom to build, light, compose and edit scenes without the limitations of filming it in real-time is attractive. But when I think of some of the moments explored in this post, and plenty of other examples in other series of the time, I think of how intricate vision mixing actually is – rapid, intensive cutting between shots.
Later on in this post I will reach one of my favourite scenes in Blake’s 7 – the six-minute game of cat and mouse between Servalan and Travis that sits right in the middle of ‘Deliverance’. It’s one thing that it is well written and performed, but the choreography and the cutting between shots is what really gives it impact.
But until then…
We open with a ship. It looks familiar, but there is no time to dwell, as our curiosity is piqued. Within seconds we have switched to Space Command Headquarters, where we are treated to one of those lovely 1970’s rotating tracking shots – from a monitor on a desk, zooming out to reveal Servalan battling with her receptionist via intercom – a theme that seems to be familiar on this satellite. You just can’t get the staff these days.
Yet this scene is nothing more than a brief encounter, as we immediately cut back to the ship again.
In ‘Time Squad’ this ship housed a number of frozen aliens, but this time it is carrying two people with a number of questions we need to find answers for.
“And do you see that, Maryatt? That’s the planet Cephlon. It’s where the adventure is going to centre around.”
Ensor (junior) mentioned that there are six more days to go until they reach their destination. Looking at the tiny shuttle, I hope there’s en suite facilities on board, but I’m not sure where it would be. Anyway I’m sure it’s all been considered.
There’s a spot of exposition, and then the alarms ring out, giving Tony Caunter the opportunity to demonstrate some good spitty anxious acting, and a chance to call his thoroughbred ship “my beauty”. But it’s James Lister who I’m watching as the camera starts juddering. He uses plenty of facial ticks, excessive gulping and tense body language. Nicely done.
Then we have the crucial explosion – a quick fire mix of video and film all cut together.
And from this we fade to that slow revolving shot of the Liberator – another one of those model shots that will see a good few years of usage.
Michael E. Briant is throwing in some nice new camera angles that show off the flight deck. Apparently it was a tricky set to shoot on, according to some accounts. I like to think it offered directors a creative challenge. A chance to up their game even further.
Mind you, one challenge that often doesn’t work out is when trying to shoot anywhere near the main screen, as successive camera angles include the superimposed oval…or not.
The ship enters the planet’s atmosphere, through the use of some nice graphics, which is something season A always seemed to be good at. The life capsules are ejected, in a lovely model shot which feels very Ian Scoones – reminding me of the columns flying through the darkness of the Doctor’s mind in ‘The Invisible Enemy’ (1977).
There’s another lovely camera angle of Servalan at her desk, in her Elda lounge chair (it’s the last time we will see it) with a rather fetching atomic tower lamp behind her.
On film, we are treated to some primitives exploring the scene of the crash. There are some recognisable faces such as Pat Gorman, and Harry Fielder, who looks completely deranged!
Back on the Liberator, Avon gets a chance to indulge in some Blake bashing. This time it is about Avon being able to deal with the surface conditions better. It’s a nice moment. Avon appears to almost relish the chance to get the dig in, which for a brief moment, Blake neatly appears oblivious to. When he realises the nature of Avon’s comment, he deftly sidesteps it with a hint of weariness – something that perhaps Gareth Thomas was displaying in real life at this point in the tough intensive first series.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but Cally takes her seat at the teleport controls for the first time. It’s a place that she will spend an awful lot of time seated over the next two and a bit years.
One of the capsules is found. But Maryatt is dead.
Not long after, Ensor is found too. I don’t dwell on them for long, as we cut to a shot of Cally enjoying some lift music via the space walkman. I love the way the track ends with that familiar jazzy ending as she takes her place at the teleport control.
I love how in this first season there is a particular sequence to activating the teleport. It’s all wonderfully precise, and very laborious.
As Ensor is placed in the medical unit, we get to see Blake at the teleport controls. It is the only time in the entire run that we will see him actually operating the teleport. It’s funny to think what might motivate him to actually do some leg work – a missing Jenna is that reason.
Avon tells Blake that they will go back down. Blake says “You’d better”. 1-0 to Blake.
Ensor is coming round. It’s a long drawn out breathy scene as he tries to communicate the mission to Blake and Cally. I’m struggling to keep my interest if I’m honest. I’ve been spoilt by high-octane Blake’s 7. The highlight of this scene is the moment where Blake looks through Maryatt’s ID, and suddenly his facial expression changes to surprise as he discovers how important this surgeon was.
Back on the planet, I give a round of applause for the moment where Vila pops his head over the cliff face. It’s a lovely character moment. As is Blake’s “Just don’t give up on her” plea to Avon.
Then Ensor takes over. It’s a scene with little moments where, if the clock wasn’t ticking, Michael E. Briant would have gone for another take, such as the shot of Blake which briefly fails to line up successfully, (“One of my crew is lost on that planet…”) and also what might be a fluffed line from Tony Caunter when he says “her first, and then you.”
As hinted earlier when Blake was at the teleport control, it funny to see him now in Jenna’s flight position, being responsible for the ships flight path. And then there is what feels like an uncharacteristic moment where he explains to Ensor about how the pain will eat into him. The camera slows zooms into Gareth Thomas as he delivers his lines with a darker more dangerous tone than we are used to.
We’re pretty much at the mid-point of the episode. So far it’s all a bit familiar. We’re in Betchworth Quarry again, with a similar ‘one of our crew is missing’ scenario. But luckily a really interesting scene is about to capture my interest.
Long scenes are not commonplace in Blake’s 7, but there are enough of them to make an impact when they are happen. This one might well be one of the most essential, giving us an overview of what has gone before, but also what lays ahead.
It starts with a neat touch – the fact that Space Commander Travis actually announces his arrival through Servalan’s receptionist, rather than bursting in as usual. In ‘Seek-Locate-Destroy’, it is Travis who is dominant. But ‘Project Avalon’ sees Servalan begin toying with her plaything, caressing him and talking softly. And now in their third episode together, it is Servalan who is firmly in charge of the relationship, something of which will be the case until it is time for them to part in season B.
Travis is getting some excellent character development here. He is a little wounded in the pride department, and Servalan is given a chance to wax lyrical about his failure to capture Blake. But it is all a test, and for Travis the outcome of this meeting is simple – he wants his command back, and a chance to destroy his nemesis.
The scene then continues to provide the back story to Ensor (Junior and Senior) and Orac. It’s a pretty weighty backstory. But what I love about all of this, is that it isn’t really about Orac at all – it’s all about Travis. This is his trial, and Servalan is judge, jury and executioner. She discloses that she hasn’t told anyone about Orac, or how much it cost, and she also mentions Maryatt. Look at her smirk as she surveys Travis’s guarded reaction. It is a tough test of his resolve and loyalty. And she is convinced that Travis is one of the few people she can confide in.
Also look at the body language and anguish surrounding Travis as Servalan reveals Maryatt’s demise. This scene is as much a character study, as an opportunity to offer the significant backstory that is the scaffold for this and the following episode. It’s taken me a while to realise, but this six-minute scene is perhaps one of the greatest scenes of all Blake’s 7.
SERVALAN: “You underestimate me, Travis.”
TRAVIS: “It begins to look that way.”
So going back to the initial theme of this post, lets look at the structure of this scene through this rather amazing GIF I have made, which will surely go down as one of the great GIF’s of its time.
It’s a game of cat and mouse in the way that the scene is blocked. Once Travis has walked in, it is Servalan who does all the moving while he is fixed in the same position. It highlights the power divide between them. It is only once Servalan is comfortably seated that Travis starts to move, but only in little steps. She really does have him wrapped around her finger.
The choice of shots, and the way they are cut, all play on their relationship. The camera repeatedly cuts back to Travis early on, as Servalan ignores him. There’s also a nice two-shot of both of them in profile, which communicates their scheming nature. Finally there is a succession of shots that concentrate on Travis, following the revelation that Maryatt is dead. This includes a lingering shot once he realises, and a repeated number of shots where the director isn’t cutting to who is speaking the dialogue, but on whether Travis will break. It’s very subtle, but the grammar of vision mixing plays its part in the effectiveness of this scene.
Meanwhile, back on Cephlon it’s raining rocks, and the natives are getting restless. Luckily there is a entrance carved into a cliff. A true Blake’s 7 trope.
And we meet Meegat.
I remember watching this for the first time and thinking that her character was a bit cod. And then later, I started to wonder whether it was a signal that Terry Nation was running out of ideas. But time has mellowed me, and now I am very fond of Meegat, and the opportunities provided for some humorous bi-play between her and Avon.
Back outside, Jenna finally reappears, stuck in a hut with Pat Gorman, sharing glances like an long term married couple, who are probably deep down very fond of each other, but secretly take delight in being an annoyance at any opportunity.
Gorman gets clobbered, followed by an interesting shot where Jenna breaks the fourth wall, and escapes for about five seconds, before coming face to face with ‘Big Ron’ ‘offa Eastenders.
Back in space, the Liberator is still perpetually turning on its axis. Blake makes an aborted attempt to rescue Cally from an ailing Ensor. Pretty tense stuff.
Avon is still lording it up with Meegat, and Paul Darrow gets a chance to utter one of the most Blake’s 7 type words ever – prophesy.
There’s talk of Kashell the Wise and a lot more exposition and backstory. But I’m struggling to keep on top of it all. But I do enjoy how this episode offers another example of a Blake’s 7 tradition – the book at bedtime. By this I’m referring to the scenes where extra time is taken to explain a tale, a history or an event from the past. Examples include Blake offering the story of Travis in ‘Seek-Locate-Destroy’, or Cally talking about the Thaarn in ‘Dawn of the Gods’.
Meegat’s worshiping is becoming a bit tedious, but lucky there is a distraction – a blue button described as an ‘active power source register.’
And there’s Gan – the voice of reason – reminding Avon and Vila that there is still a crew member to find.
On the Liberator the situation is getting desperate. I love the way that Gareth Thomas licks his lips to convey the intensity of the situation.
On Cephlon things are intensifying further as the crew prepare to rescue Jenna, and Gan blatantly reminds the audience about his limiter.
Avon’s method of dispatch is wonderful. It’s not subtle, nor elegant, nor the remotest bit heroic. But definitely effective.
As is the subsequent kick in the chest.
Gan gets some snarly action, and everyone reaches the safe place, but not before some hideously cheesy dialogue between Gan and Vila about enjoying the fight out there.
It’s interesting how Blake weighs up the percentages when it comes to rescuing crew members. In ‘Seek – Locate – Destroy’ he was willing to turn the ship towards a heavily protected planet in order to rescue Cally, but here, he chooses to wait and take more passive action to see if Cally can literally dodge the bullet.
Which she does, as Ensor bites the dust, in a classic gurgly last breath type scene, with wide open eyes…
…and the suitably solemn “He’s dead”.
Jenna contacts the Liberator through ‘sub beam’ – it’s a little moment where I’m not only reminded how wonderful Gareth Thomas’s voice is, but also how his Welsh accent rings out proud. Listen to the line “Slight detour. We’ll tell you when we see you. We’ll be in teleport in about four hours”.
With the rocket launched, the business of this episode is concluded. We move on to the final scene, which ties up the whole ‘God’ business. But it feels strangely ineffective as the credits come in with Jenna saying “Standard by Six” as Avon simply walks away in the distance.
Sorry to any lovers of ‘Deliverance’, but overall I found this episode more of a chore than I did when I first watched it. It’s funny that sometimes I’ve rewatched episodes and found a new appreciation for them, but unfortunately the reverse is the case in this instance. It is one episode too far for Terry Nation, and while it contains some interesting character notes, it is the whole pace that is its Achilles heel.
I must be clear, that a slower paced episode is not necessarily a bad thing, but when it is based on established scenarios we’re all used to, then it’s not really adding anything new to the mix. The runarounds on a planet, and the intruder on the Liberator, are examples in point.
But there are positives – there’s still much to like. The episode establishes a big part of the Blake’s 7 future, which is interesting. But the most fascinating aspect about ‘Deliverance’ is the way the episode is structured. It’s quite unlike any episode of entire run (with the possible exception of ‘Sarcophagus’), in that there is a break in proceedings during the middle of the episode. ‘Dayna’s Song’ is the interval between the discovery and activation of the alien device, and the subsequent sense of all hell breaking loose on the Liberator. In this episode, the extended scene between Servalan and Travis on Space Command provides the explanation behind the episode and separates it into two distinct halves – the search for Jenna, and religious mumbo jumbo.
It’s also an interesting story for Avon, who seeks to control the Liberator, and gets a chance to taste power as ‘Lord’. But then again it somehow doesn’t quite feel like true Avon. When David Maloney suggested to Paul Darrow that he becomes more heroic and moral in season C, following the departure of Blake, Darrow objected strongly to this idea. And quite right too. This is the episode I think of when imagining what that portrayal might have felt like. There’s plenty of Avon moments, but somehow I feel that the character wasn’t nasty enough in this episode – he was a bit too Captain Kirk for me. I recognise that that might be the whole point of this plot, but it somehow fails to connect with me.
‘Deliverance’ also feels representative of the final third of season A, which was a gritty, exciting run of stories, low on budget, but high on attitude. However, following ‘Project Avalon’ I feel that the final four stories are trying so hard to reach the finishing line, just as Terry Nation and Chris Boucher were trying their hardest to flesh out under running adventures and make them into something as good as possible. The same is true with the production, which appears to be suffering a little bit more with the minimal money left for the series. The result of this group of stories is that they are a little bit lesser than the episodes before it, but still full of really good material; the development for Zen and Avon in ‘Breakdown’, the character study of Sarcoff in ‘Bounty’, and the Ensor/Orac plot in these last two episodes. The finish line was in sight, and they all made it by the skin of their teeth.
There’s a small but notable cast on this one. Tony Caunter will be familiar to Doctor Who fans – he worked with Michael E. Briant for ‘Colony in Space’ (1971). Suzan Farmer was an excellent actor, perhaps most famous for her roles in various horror movies, while James Lister appeared in a number of roles from the mid 1970’s, through the 1980’s.
There’s harpsichord style synth on the planet, and similar high frequency sounds for the rocket in space. Flute dominates for the scenes involving Meegat. The music in the background of space command is also worth a mention, as it is a track composed by the resident Blake’s 7 soundsmith – Richard Yeoman Clark. The track in question is called ‘Mysterioso’ and would appear to be specially created for this episode. It also pops up again in ‘Weapon’. http://www.juno.co.uk/miniflashplayer/SF607140-01-01-32.mp3
Robert Berk is the designer for this one. He creates a pretty good ancient looking rocket launch silo, and suitable primitive settlements. Again he does the best he can with a minimal budget, but like ‘Breakdown’ it feels like a case of plundering the storeroom and seeing what can be re-dressed, rather than making original design scenery.
There’s chairs galore in this episode! But for this geek they appear to be spin offs from familiar designs. A good example is the knock off of the famous Barcelona Chair, designed for the Knoll studio by Mies van der Rohe.
I love the fact that there are phones galore on Cephlon. Where 1970’s Doctor Who uses trim phones, Blake’s 7 opts for another classic piece of modern design – the ‘Contempra’ phone. This was created by Canadian designer John Tyson, with the original concept based around being a beautiful object, rather than simply a phone. It even features in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection in New York.
HOW TO SELL THIS TO AN UNBELIEVER
Classic sci-fi tropes and a touch of Matinée idol.
MY FAVOURITE MOMENT
The entire six-minute scene between Servalan and Travis.
THE MOMENT I’D RATHER FORGET
Vila and Gan’s exchange following the battle with the natives.
VERDICT IN TEN WORDS EXACTLY.
It’s a bit familiar, but I did enjoy it…probably.