“Wherever it is, we are not in space.”
For any series that is full of the imaginative, fantastical, bizarre, and unreal, there is a certain joy when programme makers manage to create something that is even more plain weird or arresting within it.
By this I’m talking about the occasions where established television dramas take the viewer out of the realms of the ‘normality’ it has created for itself. Even something as broad as Doctor Who can move us into unfamiliar situations, such as the sideways shift into a parallel universe in ‘Inferno’, the World War II imagery of ‘The Deadly Assassin’, the Roman columns in ‘The Invisible Enemy’, the white void and regal elements of ‘Warriors Gate’ and the hallucinogenic experiences of ‘Kinda’.
Mind you, there is a fine line between surreal and the ‘out of the ordinary.’ Let me explain.
There’s a scene in episode four of ‘The Armageddon Factor’ (1979) where the interminable Marak searches for his beloved Princess Astra, in the claustrophobic corridors of Zeos. Astra appears as some kind of projection, presumably created by ‘The Shadow’. As Merak advances literally through her, he appears to fall through a trap door.
In a later scene he appears in a cave somewhere, blooded but alive. But what I find interesting about this scene is what is going on between the two points. Once Merak starts to fall, the video slows down, the music goes all weird, and the background that is behind him becomes a fast moving collection of light effects. To top it off, he appears to be spinning through space in some kind of space bubble.
These creative decisions are all completely, and wonderfully, unexplained. We are simply not sure about what is happening. The light show doesn’t feel remotely connected to the cobwebbed blandness of Zeos.
In a later scene where Merak is clearly at the end of his trip, Astra reappears through the weird orb thing and reaches out to him. The next time we see them is back together in the corridors of Zeos, meaning that whatever that bubble Astra was in, was perhaps closer to Merak than his original fall would suggest.
I first saw this in the 1990’s when I was a teenager, and the memory stuck with me. It’s such an unexpected departure from the straightforward direction of this story. It’s a turning point of the story as well, as from this moment onwards there is an increase in fantastical elements, as multiple projections of Romana start to appear, characters are miniaturised or start to behave oddly – you know, rolling eyes above head acting, and all that.
In fact the only thing that did feel familiar about this sequence was the technique of filming through a fish eye lens type device, something of which brings up images of 10CC performing on Top of the Pops in the mid-1970’s.
This scene on Zeos, is strangely more sinister than the dream like sequences in ‘Kinda’ or the sideways slip through time in ‘Inferno’, as those elements are an integral part of these stories, and are clearly defined as such.
Shows such as Sapphire and Steel (ITV 1979 – 82), have a premise that requires it to be chock full of arresting moments. For example, the scene where the bedroom disappears off into the distance in ‘assignment I’ and the moment where the box is opened to reveal the never-ending at the end of ‘assignment VI’ are both very unsettling, but they stick out less because they exist within a series that is downright odd in the first place.
Perhaps one of my favourite Blake’s 7 sequences – the mental attack on Cally in ‘Shadow’ – works for a similar reason. I now understand what is happening, and that the visuals are representing this. However at the time it was such a departure from the way that sequences of a psychological nature had been depicted – usually shot on film. I’m thinking of flashbacks, and hallucinogenic moments in ‘The Way Back’, ‘Space Fall’ and the attack on Blake in ‘Duel’, where the focus was on distorted edits, multi-layered video and expressive cross fades. This time, the distinctly electronic effects and the graphical representation of a ‘prison’ surrounding Cally, blurs the boundaries between representing what is happening in the narrative, and the truly ambiguous. The way the establishing shot of the following scene (the model footage of Space City) feels like part of Cally’s attack, through the use of a circular screen wipe adds to the intriguing nature of this sequence of images.
All of this reminds me of anther Doctor Who moment. ‘The Wheel in Space’ (1968) is, on the surface, a base under siege story told and directed in a straightforward manner. Sure there is much alienness around, such as the lava lamps, and Brian Hodgson’s electronic score, but briefly at the beginning of episode three, there is the scene of the Cyberman hatching from the ‘egg’ in the stationary rocket. Once again, what is going on seems straightforward, but the way the events are directed makes it feel like it sits outside the rest of the six episodes. Firstly there is a very creative sequence of dials and countdown timers, some of which are filmed at an angle. This is something that is very different to the established direction from Tristan De Vere Cole – based on what still exists at least. Before long we are seeing an effective mix of live action and electronic effects to depict the developing Cyberman inside the ‘egg’, before we cut to a really powerful close up of a sinister Cyberman hand punching through the skin and into the outside world. The imagery is quite arresting, but it is the additional creative touches deployed by the director that makes this a somewhat out of the ordinary moment.
Sometimes the out of the ordinary is achieved through the juxtaposition of images or artefacts. Much has been written about how history and anachronisms are part of the ‘time and space’ identity of Doctor Who. Take the first ever episode, or the gramophone in ‘The Time Meddler’ (1965) or the regal environment depicted in ‘Warriors Gate’ (1980).
One of the key components of Sapphire and Steel, is how the drama used anachronisms. Take something familiar, and put it into a context that is unfamiliar, and it will be scary. In Sapphire and Steel they were active drivers of the plot – the core of the storyline and often the heart of the resolution. They were used as a key element of the mise-en-scène and overall tone of the production. Great stuff.
Blake’s 7 was also no stranger to using anachronisms, but in a completely different way. Here they were traces of the past, and often a more subtle way of communicating its far future setting. But I found its occasional appearance unsettling. Seeing something I was familiar with, allowed me to clearly imagine that the dystopian future that Blake’s 7 inhabits. It gave the impression that this was a genuine future of ‘our’ world. Take the church, and cottage in ‘Pressure Point – it made the Earth ever more real. The same is true of the stately home in ‘Rumours of Death’. There are other occasions where it was a bit more integral to the plot – take Sarcoff’s collection in ‘Bounty’ and the use of pencils and paper in ‘Dawn of the Gods.’ Overall these gave Blake’s 7 a distinct, and unique feel all of its own.
For this viewer, the oddest, arresting and impactful moments of my favourite television series are not the ones that try to purposefully be surreal, but the ones that play with our expectations, or what we have become used to. It’s those little moments that you don’t see coming, but stick in your mind for years. Ultimately I chose to revisit those moments 25 years later, reimagining them as animated gifs, with even more added weirdness and content thrown in.
Writing a blog can throw some interesting curve balls – the kind a script editor has to face when choosing the story order of a season. Early on, I decided to review episodes across all four series in a random order, so I can concentrate on what it is like to watch them as a standalone attempt to make a television drama. Despite this, for some reason, ‘Volcano’ and ‘Dawn of the Gods’ ended up being reviewed one after the other. When I looked back at what I wrote, it felt like ‘Volcano’ had its fair share of merits, as much as less successful aspects, but it didn’t really communicate how fondly I feel about Blake’s 7. My review of ‘Dawn of the Gods’ was written next, but again reading it back, it felt like there was even less to be positive about, and the tone didn’t quite feel right. So I mothballed it. After a hearty bit of rewriting, I’m finally ready to unleash it upon the masses. I’m treating this post a bit like ‘Killer’ from season B – made second in production order, but transmitted a lot later.
Anyway, back to the past…
We open with model shots lifted from ‘Hostage’, followed by a lovely shot that is definitely season C. It’s a nice side on view of this lovely starship, and all seems calm. However, Dudley Simpson is providing a deep rumbling – the suggestion of a distant threat.
Oh look! Space Monopoly. That seals it. Something bad is about to cut through the fun.
I’m trying to make out the symbols on the board game, but I’m struggling. Isn’t that Servalan’s space whale star-cruiser on the red square at the bottom of the screen?
The scene feels odd, in the way that I can’t really imagine the characters playing board games. It’s funny watching the actors suddenly shifting out of their regular portrayals. Somehow it doesn’t suit Avon and Cally at all.
And isn’t Tarrant a bore. “I’m getting a 0000555 whatever course shift”.
The crew attempt to work out what is causing the Liberator to shift off course. They explore everything, yet they end up not doing the one thing I would expect Avon to do – turn around.
There is a jolt and the stakes are raised.
We then see a curious and very low budget shot of the Liberator drifting off course. Yet it doesn’t quite look like the Liberator. I can’t tell whether we are looking at it backwards or forwards.
I’m indulging in my favourite pastime – shot watching. There’s a nice close up shot of Zen announcing a course established, at which point the camera pans across to Dayna. Nicely done.
Throughout all of this, Orac is being a pain in backside. Literally a case of lights shining out of its superstar arse.
During a discussion with Orac and Avon, Tarrant mentions Newton. This means that this episode is being written by a newcomer. There is a dreadful edit between Tarrant’s “...there’s more. A moving body will continue to move in a straight line and at a constant speed (EDIT) unless it is acted upon by an outside force.” It’s amusing to watch Steven Pacey use what looks like every ounce of concentration to deliver that line.
I’m also noting the state of the Liberator flight deck. There’s the muted lighting, and the botch-it-and-scarper construction behind Tarrant, where the horizontal lines above the corridor seem to be all over the place. At this point I remind myself that it might be a good idea to focus on the characters and dialogue for a change, rather than why the cream coloured bands are not perfectly aligned across all four control panels of each crew position.
Tarrant is stuck with the bafflegab. There’s mention of a “telemetric band sweep“.
I’d not heard of this word, so I looked it up. “The science and technology of automatic measurement and transmission of data by wire, radio, or other means from remote sources, as from space vehicles, to receiving stations for recording and analysis.” (1)
It’s interesting to note the dynamic of the relatively new crew at this point. When there is uncertainty about the reason of the course shift, Tarrant picks on Cally, wondering whether Auron could be a cause. The crew clearly do not trust each other, certainly less so than when Blake led. Everyone is quick to point fingers.
One thing I noticed with ‘Volcano’ – also directed by Desmond McCarthy – is how the sound mix feels slightly different to other Blake’s 7 episodes, with the music and ambient sound effects high up in the mix. This sometimes makes the dialogue a little more tricky to pick up. And it’s the same in this episode. Take the scene where the camera zooms in on Tarrant following the discussion about the unhealthy reputation of sector 12. It’s hard to hear his key line.
Avon’s decision to do nothing, is based on a certain logic that suits his character. But for me, it doesn’t feel like a decision he would call in any other circumstance. It feels like the timing is well off for a start. I really was expecting him to make the call to use brute force and turn the ship around a long time before this point.
It’s nice to hear the beep of the navigation information, previously heard in ‘Mission to Destiny’ – even if it is a bit of a cod sound effect.
But soon that is forgotten, as the crew realise that they are falling into a black hole. This time it is Vila’s turn for the slow dramatic zoom. Elizabeth Parker throws in a lovely sound effect to accompany an interesting model shot.
The dialogue is not the most snappy example of Blake’s 7, although when Avon explains the fate of the crew as a result of falling into the black hole, it allows Dayna a fabulous reply as she looks genuinely aghast at Avon’s candour.
Orac reveals its hand. And a gap in its knowledge.
We’re reaching critical point. We have another excellent sound effect, but it is the use of some tried and trusted effects that I’m taking note of – Mirrorlon, red lighting, and that weird delay effect seen so many times in Blake’s 7, Doctor Who and Top of the Pops. If I’m honest it’s not Blake’s finest hour in the effects department.
Nonetheless it is an interesting scene as we get to see Tarrant’s thinking in a crisis, as he prevents Avon from putting on a space suit. The ultimate team player.
As things settle, with the familiar sound of the Liberator’s engines slowing down, there are a couple of intriguing shots, firstly of an eye, and then Tarrant breaking the fourth wall. I really like this moment, as it creates uncertainty about what has just happened.
There is a lovely little moment as Vila experiences his vision of hell…and it’s full of Avon’s. It’s a humorous moment in an episode that is generally devoid of amusement at this stage.
Orac is a bit creepy. I like how a subtle change in tone from Peter Tuddenham can give it an unsettling edge.
In the medical bay, there is an unfamiliar voice, heard over the dialogue of Tarrant and Dayna. It’s the point that I realise that the sound design on this episode is paramount.
I’m liking the drip in to the right hand side of the medical bay. A token medical prop.
Tarrant’s impetuous attitude takes over, as the crew try to work out what is or isn’t out there. For all his faults as a character, his impatience is a good driver for conflict.
There’s another historical reference to “dragons and unicorns” as mythical creatures to the people of Earth. As Cally delivers this line, I’m realising the dialogue isn’t as subtle as it could be, as the identification of the Thaarn is a bit thickly laid on.
Deadpan Vila is sent outside, and falls into the world of celluloid.
The outside world is nicely realised. There is what looks like a forced perspective shot making the ground look vast, and the blackness creates a space where boundaries cannot be easily seen – always a good strategy when filming on a shoestring budget. But once again it is Elizabeth Parker’s multi-layered sound effects that is the biggest and most effective ingredient in this example of world building.
Cally is contacted once again by the Thaarn. He’s persistent.
The flashing lights approach and Vila loses pressure in his space suit. Could it be that he is not going to see out this episode?
The mechanical ‘thing’ seen on the ships main screen is intriguing, helped along with another exciting sound effect.
Vila isn’t dead of course.
I’m interested in the table that Zen uses to scan the objects brought back to the ship.
I want to put my hands through the two circular panels.
I think the film work on this contains some really effective touches. Based on this episode and ‘Volcano’ I would suggest that Desmond McCarthy enjoys working with film more than video. There’s more visual impact and bolder creative touches to both the scenes set on the surface of Obsidian, and here in this uncharted blackness. A good example his the first person perspective shots as the toothy machine rounds up the Liberator crew.
There’s a lovely profile shot of four of the crew in a row.
Thank goodness the camera work is so good, as the machine that comes into view is somewhat primitive, something of which is not lost on Avon. I just want to tickle it under the chin and tell it what a lovely creature it is.
There’s a puff of smoke, and the Caliph appears. Well, in my imagination that is what happened.
This character offers some explanations, and does some mean things with his noisy stick. And of course he gets an end-of-scene big close up, meaning that he will be a key player as the episode unfolds. It’s in the contract.
In a prison cell, Cally starts reading the story of the Thaarn like an episode of Jackanory. It doesn’t work as a scene. It’s too cosy. In order for the jeopardy to be raised, it might have been more effective to tell the story with more uncertainty or concern. As it is, I struggled to pay attention to the reading.
The guards appear be wearing the same outfits as those who keep an eye on the population of Zanak – The Pirate Planet.
Back on the Liberator there is another lovely sweeping camera shot of the light deck, finishing off with a close up of Orac. Have I told you how great this set is? I’m sure I must have done.
Look at that great big BBC camera behind Dayna as she walks the flight deck with the Caliph! The 10.00pm ‘lights out’ deadline must have been looming large on that studio day.
We’re into something new. The camera tracks down a spiral staircase, as an interesting looking creature/fellow appears briefly. Avon and Tarrant are introduced to the senior technical man – Groff, who I immediately warmed to.
I also loved the moment between Tarrant and Avon, who share a little smile, as Tarrant waxes lyrical about his apparent skill in dynamic flux mathematics.
But once again, all of this doesn’t feel like a natural Blake’s 7 fit, as Groff talks about the endless wealth and status that will be afforded everyone once the Thaarn’s grand plan is achieved.
A graphite writing stick! Another curio in an episode that is becoming a curio itself.
I am really enjoying Terry Scully’s performance as Groff. He has real screen presence, and he displays the internal anguish and attempted self control between what he says about his family, and what he is really thinking.
A crew with lightsabers are ripping up the ship, but thanks to Zen’s defence mechanism they don’t get that far. It’s a nice scene, both in terms of a returning concept, and technical execution. However it does raise questions in my mind about why we have not seen it since ‘Space Fall.’
After a curious, bored, rigid cutaway shot of Dayna and Vila…
…we are treated to another visually interesting composition as Cally lays down on a circular podium surrounded by a triptych of images. It’s a nice effect, given additional gravitas by – yes you’ve guessed it – some excellent sound design.
Cally convinces the Thaarn to switch off the energy isolator, in order to gain his trust. Groff allows Tarrant and Avon to escape, in a strangely poignant shot where he stands alone in the middle of the room, a man who knows he is not going to ever leave this world.
Cally pulls back a floral curtain, revealing one, two, three – the Thaarn. I quite liked the reveal. It had gravitas. If only the rest of the episode had that.
Visually the Thaarn looks fine, but it is the voice that really works. He’s sitting in a vaguely Art Nouveau seat, but I couldn’t identify it, which was a crushing disappointment to me.
The Liberator makes its escape as Groff wins the final fight against the Caliph. It’s difficult to care much about the inhabitants of Crandor, due to the fact that they are barely sketched out, so the fact that I will miss Groff is mainly down to what the actor brought to the role.
I enjoyed the final shot – it feels like it is following a grand tradition of using water, sand, plug holes and anything else there is to hand. From the Mandragora Helix to Crandor it probably is a lot harder to achieve a good result than it might appear.
The final line isn’t too bad. A little comeuppance for Orac, and a hint of affection for Zen, which probably counts as character development for the first time since ‘Breakdown’.
‘Dawn of the Gods’ really is a curio.
Let’s start with its position in the context of this period of the series. In the review of ‘Volcano’ I touched upon the some of the early dramatic decisions that were being made with this new reboot of Blake’s 7. Thinking about season C up to this point, we’ve had a two part introduction to the series, and a 3rd episode that introduces a key story line relating to the rebuilding of the ‘enemy’. So the ground work is done, and this is the opportunity to really show off that the season can do. Unfortunately the board game seen in the first scene falls a little short in creating the interest required to care further at this point.
The black featureless limbo is a nice expression of this stage of Blake’s 7. It is literally a period of uncertainty. Blake is not mentioned for the first time and the Federation is irrelevant, leaving the a good bulk of the episode exploring the dynamics of the crew. Sadly it’s hard to care at this stage. There’s been no crisis or loss to build up the dynamic – but that is to come.
The board game not only suggests that the crew can have downtime (board games become a repeated motif in a further 4 episodes in this season) but it also speaks volumes about the post Star One universe that the Liberator exists within. The crew don’t have a purpose, and don’t know what to do with themselves. They are uncertain about Blake, and are unsure about what to chase next. It’s like they are just marking time waiting for something to happen. In a later episode (Ultraworld) Tarrant makes reference to the “rate that Servalan’s empire is expanding”, but even then they don’t seem to be doing anything about it. Compare this to the early Liberator scenes in Volcano, where there is still urgency, as Avon, Cally and Vila talk about about their new recruits, and rumours of Blake. But Blake is gone, and with that, the direction is gone.
I took a bit of time out to try and work out which word encapsulates the overall tone of this season. I stumbled across a few options. My favourite was ‘Langour’ – defined by the Urban Dictionary website as “Not only a sense of listlessness, lassitude, debility, torpor, ennui, and/or melancholy, but also a way of life wherein much time is spent lying around smoking opium, listening to peaceful, hypnotizing music and making slow, passionate love amidst whisps of bluish smoke, while the night outside is damp, warm, and ineffably still.”(3) It all sounds a bit like ‘Sarcophagus’. At the end of the day, the word that I came back to was more common currency – uncertainty. It’s everywhere.
But is this loss of focus a bad thing? I’ve read some viewpoints that seem to see this lack of direction to be a weakness of this series, and the beginning of a downward shift in terms of quality. There is a case for this, if we think of Blake’s 7 as we have understood it up to this point – a narrative space opera, with story arcs being the order of the day.
However I don’t think it is comparable. We are now talking about a fundamentally different series. I think, after two seasons, and a major shift in positioning, this is one of the most liberating things to happen with the show. However there is a risk with this approach. In order for a more flexible, self contained and individual form of storytelling to become the focal point of the series, the stories have to be at the top of their game. Up to this point, weaker episodes in the previous series, can be carried to a degree by how they further the overall narrative of the series. From now on, if the story is duff, or the production lacks the quality we know Blake’s 7 is capable of with its meagre budget it is going to be an unsatisfactory 50 minutes of drama.
So the stakes have been raised – and it is for this reason that season C remains my favourite season.
‘Dawn of the Gods’ is also a curio due to the smaller details.
There are many observations to pick out. Lets start with the crew. Orac’s single minded thirst for knowledge is a new thing. On paper his malicious control and manipulation of the spaceship and the crew is a nice idea, and could be a good character development for the computer. However it’s too much of a shift, in too little space of time. Whilst Orac is capable of allowing the crew to be devious, it has never displayed such manipulative forms of behaviour of its own free will. For this reason, it feels like James Follett isn’t too sure of all of the characters, and as such the whole driver of this episode feels flawed, and not quite belonging to this show. Vila’s comic overtones are more familiar, but it is Tarrant’s aggression, zeal and impatience that stands out. He is rather shallow as a character, but at least he is given some kind of dramatic impetus.
However it is Cally who is the biggest disappointment here. She had a whole lot of things going on for her in this episode; the one who is taken over, the one who is bullied, the storyteller and ultimately the savour. But for all the material that Jan Chappell delivers, it doesn’t actually add up to much in the way of character development for Cally. I was hoping to see more of an effect on her during the course of the episode, given the revelation of the Thaarn, yet ironically she is the regular character I noticed the least.
But the most important thing is that the characters are still interesting, and yes I believe that they wouldn’t have mourned Vila’s demise – they’re all to selfish to do that.
The idea of gravity being the key driver of not only how the Liberator ends up on Crandor, and the means of the Liberator’s escape is nicely referenced, but the idea of a good ole’ energy isolator that can be put into reverse, or full reverse, feels like a unchallenging mechanism that this episode relies on to bring about a conclusion. The way Cally convinces the Thaarn to switch off the isolator just about gets away with it, but what happens afterwards feels contrived – surely the isolator could easily be switched back on immediately? And the lever itself is conveniently placed slap bang in the middle of the studio. “No! Don’t touch that lever! That one! The one that says ‘pull me!” The crew’s escape feels a little cosy.
There is mystery to be had, and this is mainly comprised of everything up until the point where the Liberator reaches Crandor. And that is where it all goes wrong for me. Groff states the Thaarn has a plan to be “master of the universe“, but this is when it ceases to be anything to do with Blake’s 7, a series where any ambition, power or conquest is a complex calculation, usually political in nature. Old school megalomania is something that has a more natural home in other drama series. Groff also states “We will be kings, and the Lord Thaarn will be Supreme Emperor” – the line feels like it should belong in Flash Gordon or something similar.
And unfortunately this is the problem with ‘Dawn of the Gods’. It’s not badly written per se but it doesn’t feel like it belongs in this show. The fairy tale and fantastical elements work when they are pivotal to the tone of the episode, such as ‘Sarcophagus’, but here it feels like window dressing, added to give colour to an unsatisfying plot. It simply doesn’t feel that this a successful attempt to expand the way Blake’s 7 tells stories.
On a personal note, I came to Volcano and Dawn of the Gods last in the great unedited VHS journey. Being last, they were the episodes I had a lot of anticipation for, due to their mystery. I knew little about them, and they didn’t seem to belong anywhere – just tucked away within the series, quietly bubbling away, like Obsidian itself. They also were made by a director who came and went like a breeze. Watching them for the first time didn’t seem to change my view at all – they remained a bit of an enigma. However ‘Dawn of the Gods’ – perhaps more than any other episode – is the one where repeated rewatches have changed my opinion, sadly not for the better. When I first watched it, the fantastical elements didn’t bother me too much. However as the years have passed, I find its whimsy ever more grating. It’s made me realise why I like the central tone of Blake’s 7 the way I do – political power games and relationships.
So at the end of the day this is one of the least successful points of the third series – a moment where Blake’s 7 is in limbo, short on workable scripts, and uncertain of what to do with itself.
Like Jonathan Wright Miller before him, director Desmond McCarthy enters the world of Blake’s 7, directs a couple of episodes, never to be heard of again – well not in the world of Blake anyway. Here is another example of David Maloney’s practice of bringing in some less familiar names to contribute a significant part of the series. And McCarthy brings in some interesting visual touches in these two episodes. The fading in and out of Milus and his brother as they advance towards Servalan’s party on Obsidian. The close up of Tarrant’s eye once the Liberator succumbs to the supposed Black Hole, the lighting for most of the scenes set on Crandor, and some of the early material involving Vila in the black void. Even the first sight of the Thaarn, whilst mocked by some, is a reasonably effective and dramatic reveal.
Other areas are a a little more disappointing, although this is a fault of script as much as execution. Cally telling the story of the Thaarn fits in with the fairy tale motifs running though the episode, yet it is a massive info-dump, that struggles to sustain itself. Compare this to Blake’s retelling of how he wounded Travis in ‘Seek Locate Destroy’. In this case the story is told by the two opposing characters, which is a nice directorial touch that moves things along. Here, it’s a simple ‘book at bedtime’ reading, reliant on Jan Chappell alone to make it work – she has no support in terms of script and direction to keep it going.
There is only a small cast in this one. Sam Dastor is still acting, and Marcus Powell previously appeared in ‘The Web’. From what I understand, Terry Scully had a hard time in the 1970’s becoming ill during a key role in Survivors, necessitating a last minute recast. Certainly his whole persona seems to favour anxious or tragic figures. His final farewell and the hope that a message can be relayed to his family is certainly heartfelt, and sensitively played.
Dudley Simpson brings us marimbas, woodwind and brass predominantly. These all complement each other nicely when accompanying the scenes set on the surface of Crandor. There is a nice, slightly dreamy motif that we hear while Cally is asleep in both the medical unit on the Liberator and in the Thaarns lair. Otherwise the rest of the score is brooding, and very much in the background.
It’s harder to comment on the (Ealing Studios) location work of Ray London. His two greater contributions to the series will be ‘Children of Auron’ and ‘Star One’ which reuse the same primary set. Gerry Scott provides the studio design, and to be fair, she must have worked exceptionally hard with the non existent budget.
This episode comes across as one of the more cheaper affairs. Take the set design of the workshop where Groff is based – it is cobbled together from stock bits of scenery from the past. But look a little closer and there’s some interesting things going on. There are curtains with a flowery motif, which combined with the dove on the Caliph’s belt, nod towards the fairytale theme that runs throughout this episode.
But there are times where directors and set designers can make the most of a lack of money, and this is where they concentrate on simple visual images. The one that springs to mind is towards the end, when the camera tracks away from Cally laying on a circular spot, revealing a triptych of interstellar and ethereal imagery. A simple studio set is embellished with lighting touches, and minimal detail. I think it works, and is a suitable depiction of the Thaarn’s domain.
But every world needs something to keep those graphite writing sticks safe and sound. In this case, a classic 1970’s pen holder by Platignum – a name that is around 100 years old.
There’s also the Omkstak chairs, designed by Rodney Kinsman, which also feature prominently in Aftermath.
Careful as you sit down Messers Darrow and Pacey, as you are sitting on a Vitramat 20 by Wolfgang Mueller for the Vitra studio. This German designed office chair was described by Vitra as offering correct posture. The rear upward slant of the seat surface, which – according to a Vitra advertisement – ‘prevents the pelvis from tilting backwards’, merged into a flexible lumbar support connecting the seat and backrest. The construction culminated in a ‘swivel-mounted backrest, which flexes in every direction to provide resilient support to the upper back’ – and unlike that of conventional task chairs, required no height adjustment mechanism. (2)
The chairs seen in Blake’s 7 are probably circa 1976, so I’m assuming it had seen it’s fair share of showbusiness bottoms by this point.
HOW TO SELL THIS TO A NON-BELIEVER.
It’s as fantastical as Blake’s 7 will get. There’s more than a hint of the unknown – a la Dungeons and Dragons. Those who rely on a book at bedtime might also take an interest.
MY FAVOURITE MOMENT.
I’m in hell, and it’s full of Avon’s. The concept is funny, but Paul Darrow’s facial expression sells it beautifully.
THE MOMENT I’D RATHER FORGET.
Cally’s book at bedtime.
VERDICT IN 10 WORDS EXACTLY.
It’s initially intriguing, but disappoints due to a handy lever.