B05 – PRESSURE POINT (and a bit about the death of a regular character)

Pressure Point sees the death of a regular character.

Cally.  Her name was Cally.

Out of all the regular characters of Blake’s 7, it is Cally who I find the most fascinating.  I simply cannot work out what I think of her.  I’m in two minds.  Flip-flop.  Enigmatic. Undetectable, virtually invisible.

I’m hoping that by writing about her, I might draw out some conclusions and work out the dichotomies that surround her character.

Let’s see what happens.

cally

When we first meet her, via a foot that creeps into shot, sending Blake down a slope, she is given the most character development she will ever get.  Even more than ‘her’ stories that follow, such as ‘Shadow’, ‘Children of Auron’, and ‘Sarcophagus’.  Her costume immediately says guerilla fighter, and her persona is waspish, hissy, brittle.  She shows a idealistic determination to destroy the Federation until she is destroyed.  You can see why Blake warmed to her.

The following three stories add to her character, without really giving the audience the opportunity to truly understand her.  She remains ‘the alien’.   ‘The Web’ shows her to be dangerous to herself and others, which I find to be a fascet of her character that is really exciting, and a potential well of drama for the writers.  If only it had been taken up.  Her takeover by the Auronar, affects the entire Liberator crew, each creating small pockets of mistrust and drama, that, in turn, develop their own relationships in future stories.

‘Seek – Locate – Destroy’ might be remembered for awful fight scene between Cally and a trooper, but throughout the episode we still see a lot of Cally’s original spirit – resilient under torture, and vengeful when Travis is confined to the chair.  But the main character note is uttered by Jenna – who initially appears very wary of her – as she gives a sombre Blake a reality check when he believes she is dead.  Jenna notes that Cally knew the risks, and was more than happy to play an active part in Blake’s plans.  Basically she tells the resistance leader who was a figurehead to millions, to stop being such a drip.

Then we have ‘Mission to Destiny’, which wrong-foots me.  Sure, there is plenty for Cally to do, and it is good to see the writers identifying that she is not all instinct, but can be calculating and considered in her thinking.  While Avon takes the credit for solving the mystery of 54124, it is Cally who is sneaking around, upsetting the status quo and opening up lines of enquiry between the crew.

Suddenly the animal instinct seems to be a thing of the past.  Cally now starts to talk gently and reassuringly to the Ortega crew, showing a softer, subtler side that is very effective, even if it is a total character shift from her first appearances.

This episode could be seen as a natural opportunity to add a further layer to the character, although one wonders whether it is simply a case of Terry Nation quickly realising that Cally could be something else entirely to what what he previously wrote.

While Cally has less to do in ‘Duel’ her contributions are crucial.  For aeons I thought it was Cally who shook her head knowingly, when Blake was unable to kill Travis, but I’ve been reminded that it is Avon.  Meanwhile Cally is playing the diplomat, and offering wise, sage advice to others.   For me, this is the episode where her original character ‘dies’ for the first time.  From here on in, the instinct to destroy and die young, is diminished.  She is now a predominantly sentient creature.

Over the rest of the first season, Cally is written as a versatile member of the crew – an all rounder.   She flies the Liberator in ‘Project Avalon’, and operates the teleport in ‘Deliverance’ and generally acts as a point of view in various arguments that take place.

But this is the point, where Nurse Cally – Cally mark 2 – starts to develop. ‘Breakdown’ and ‘Orac’ show off  her sympathetic nature and compassion towards others.  This means that she takes over from Gan as carer, and with that, removes one of the few facets of his character that was left to him.  In this sense, Cally is the death of Gan.  It’s always the quiet ones.

So far, Cally has evolved as a character, dramatically.  Not for the better, and not for the worse, but just very different.

Season B is the season that could have defined her, following the variable takes on her character.  But it doesn’t.  In fact, it neglects her to the point where her presence on the series takes on an interesting new twist.  She becomes the epitome of subtle.  The lurker.  The loner.  The quiet one.  The one who doesn’t get much action, but the fact that she is there is important enough.  In short, Cally is the one who gives the a balance to the dynamics of the crew.

‘Shadow’ starts brightly, as we are introduced once again to her ‘alien’ qualities, as she experiences a psychic attack, which she overcomes through the connection to the Moon Disks.  For a series that is big on brash words and bold actions, this telepathic connection reminds us of her mysteriousness.  But the most striking moment is when we see a bit of her original zeal, as she clinically threatens Space City with destruction, handling the duty officer with ease.

It’s at this point where I’m interested about the order of the scripts being edited.  Based on the studio recording blocks, it would appear the the order of the stories were:

Redemption
Killer
Weapon
Pressure Point
Shadow
Horizon.
…then the rest.

‘Redemption’ is a season A hangover, reminding the audience that they are watching a show called Blake’s 7.  But both ‘Weapon’ and ‘Pressure Point’ are where season B can begin.   Being early on in production order, they both hint at the last vestiges of Cally’s original blueprint.  ‘Weapon’ begins with the typical disagreement over Blake’s leadership, with Cally suggesting the raid on the weapons centre.

Strangely for an episode that sidelines her, I found myself thinking a lot about Cally in  ‘Pressure Point’.   We’re pretty much half way through her involvement in Blakes 7, and this is the point that marks the final shift into the new iteration of her character that will last until her departure.  Witness the moment when, on the Liberator flight deck, the crew argue Blake’s plans.  Breaking through the dissenting voices is Cally’s “We must take this risk!”  It’s a blink and you’ll miss it, but it is so important.  It’s the last moment of the Cally that we first met on Surian Major, the freedom fighter, a motivator for the continued fight against the Federation.  It’s a suitable follow-on from Cally’s plotting with Blake in ‘Weapon’.

It’s the moment where the original Cally, dies.

But Gan’s death will change the dynamic of the crew, and from the next transmitted episode onwards, Cally’s role will be more subtle – and previously hinted – sentient.  Later episodes that provide the opportunity for Cally to take the battle onwards are missed.  Compare the desire to attack Control, with the questioning of Blake’s plan in ‘Star One’ – ‘Pressure Point’ is the first real evidence that she is there to flip the teleport control switch.  It’s nothing against Jenna as a character, but I would have been interested to work out what the climax of this episode would have felt like had Cally found Veron, and saved the day.  I imagine it would have been a two fingered gesture towards Blake, for excluding her on missions that she was so supportive of.  “You see, you did need me after all.

The following recording block features ‘Shadow’ and ‘Horizon’, which feels like a mix between the Cally of old, and the Cally that we will become accustomed to.  There is fizzy attitude directed against Vila and Space City, the request to join Blake on Horizon, and her manipulation of Ro.  But there is also nurse Cally.

The period after Gan’s death could have been an excellent opportunity for some character direction.  It could have been a chance to depict how she felt about Blake’s inability to actively involve her in his planning.  This could have led to some interesting character dynamics and tension.  However the overall assessment of Blake’s handling of the raid was lead by Avon.  From ‘Trial’ onwards we are witness to under utilised Cally.  Sure, she uses her compassionate nature to help release Blake’s sulky recorded message to the crew, and later in ‘The Keeper’ she is forthright in objecting to Avon’s decisions.  However these are only occasional moments.

In many ways ‘Star One’ could be the greatest offender of all, with Cally taking a good share of action, and quietly questioning Blake’s ideology.  But most of the time she is playing second fiddle to Avon – something of which is a feature of ‘Voice from the Past’.  For a character that had such a connection with Blake’s mission, it would have been interesting to see her fighter instincts one last time.

Just as Gan’s death shifted Cally’s character into the caring one, Blake and Jenna’s departure would have a further impact.  As we move into the third season, she is one of the ‘old guard’ (and billed second on the closing credits).  Cally could have been in line to be one of the key players in Blake’s 7, but once again the strange dichotomy strikes again.

In one respect, season C contains much Cally related content, and certainly a good number of, shall we say, ‘Callycentric’ episodes.  ‘Dawn of the Gods’ and ‘Children of Auron’ explore her background, while ‘Sarcophagus’ is a fascinating exploration into her psyche and her relationship with the Liberator crew.

There are other important moments, that showcase a stronger personality – the goading of Servalan in ‘Powerplay’, the gentle taunting of Avon in ‘City at the Edge of the World’, and the disgust at the crew in ‘Rumours of Death’.

On the flip side, Cally continues her move towards a quieter, more subtle presence.  This might be a legacy of the previous season, where she simply wasn’t used enough.  She seems to be the most sentient, level headed, and most emotionally intelligent of the characters on the Liberator.  Again the recording order of stories seems to dictate how Cally comes across.  The early recorded episodes – ‘City at the Edge of the World’ and ‘Children of Auron’ contain moments that suggest there is still some spirit in her character, but already she is starting to be dwarfed by the other regulars – Avon is the new lead, Servalan is sole aggressor, Vila is just Vila, and Dayna and Tarrant enjoy the benefits of being new young things.  Cally seems to spend a lot of time either in the background, or having a very subtle presence.

However, as I noted in my discussion of Gan in ‘Breakdown‘, there can be something quite fascinating about being in the background.  Although her presence is diminished, my attention is strangely drawn to her even more.  Perhaps it’s a weird alien presence she has.   When other characters argue, I’m watching Cally’s reactions.   Her level-headed nature is the glue that keeps the unit together.  She is more important than her appearances might suggest.  The only way to test that is to think about what happens when she gone…

It is suggested that ‘The Harvest of Kairos’ is the episode where Jan Chappell decides to call it a day.  The shot of her reacting to the the ant/spider thing advancing on Dayna and Jarvik as they grapple is a classic moment of life imitating art.

When I see that shot – just for the briefest of moments – I see Jan Chappell, and not Cally.

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 12.03.51

As the season progresses she continues to drift towards the shadows.  ‘Ultraworld’ and ‘Moloch’ are prime offenders.

By the time of ‘Death-Watch’ she is the character who appears to be the most ‘alien’ in that she seems to exist on another level to the others.  She actively questions the Teal-Vandor battle, and later is the one who just wants a quiet life, and a cheeky drink while the others mingle with the joyous multitudes.

‘Terminal’ – her last appearance – is a good way to measure her character.  Cally gets one last chance to demonstrate her importance within the crew, by accompanying Tarrant in the persuit of Avon.   Once again she enjoys much screen time, without contributing much, bar offering the conclusive “We can’t afford to lose you”.

‘Terminal’ is a perfect encapsulation of season C Cally.  She has some good moments, and has some good screen time, yet her presence is generally quiet, light, subtle, and not containing the fire of her earliest episodes.

Out of all the characters who didn’t make it to that final episode, Cally appears to be the one whose presence is felt after her death.  Gan and Travis are not mentioned following the aftermath of their deaths, and Jenna is slowly forgotten, apart from a questionable reference in the final episode.  But Cally is name checked in ‘Rescue’, ‘Sand’ and ‘Blake’, and her death itself is full of possibilities, with the enigmatic line – “Blake!”  It’s almost as the Scorpio crew feel there is a missing link.

cally2

So much for the contradictions that surround the character, what about the portrayal and creative input from Jan Chappell.

I find both her performance and presence really fascinating.  Cally never comes across as a physically powerful presence able to maintain an active role as fighter, she’s more like Zil, who darts and leaps around deftly – always using her instinct.   In later seasons, she sometimes appears either distant or not demonstrative in her reactions – like the fight has gone.  Examples of this include when Servalan teleports onto the Liberator for the first time in ‘The Harvest of Kairos’.  Instead of angry, or reactive, she stands passive, and emotionless.  Another example is where she walks out of shot in Terminal – following the line “And that sequence is known only to Avon, I imagine.”  There’s a hint of a knowing expression as she does so – but it’s very subtle.

Chappell is quoted as expressing disappointment about how the character moved away from the original fighter element, and being endlessly taken over by other entities.  This seems to be echoed in a good deal of discussion I have read or listened to over the years.   However I’m not sure it’s a simple as that.  In season A, she is taken over in ‘The Web’ while in season B, there are moments in ‘Shadow’ and ‘Killer’.  In season C there are takeovers in ‘Dawn of the Gods’, ‘Sarcophagus’ and ‘Ultraworld’.  An increase for sure, but not the ‘endless’ takeovers mentioned.   If anything, the only difference between pre and post Blake, is that the takeovers tend drive the episodes rather than being mere moments within them.

To sum up.

In the post about ‘Breakdown’, I talked about Gan and how crucial he was to the dynamic of Blake’s 7, despite his lack of screen time and involvement within many of the episodes.  The character of Cally is slightly different.  Like Gan, there are many episodes where she is sidelined.  Unlike Gan her presence looms large over the proceedings.  Her involvement onboard the Liberator is always important.  The first half of her time on the show, she is Blake’s true revolutionary sidekick – ‘Bounty’, and early scenes of ‘Weapon’ makes a clear case for that.  But there are also other little touches, such as when she offers to join Blake as he teleports onto Horizon (an offer that is refused), and her goading of Travis at the end of ‘Seek – Locate – Destroy’.   The second half of her involvement, is more of the mother, the nurse, the confidant.  The little examples include her dismissal of the Teal-Vandor agreement, her assessment of Tarrant’s actions in ‘City at Edge of the World’, and the yoga in ‘Voice from the Past’.   For a series that is big on ego, bold statements, and bluster, Cally is the character who offers much to the crew, by simply being there.  She is the character where the audience fills in the gaps, and the perfect encapsulation of not realising what you have got, until it is gone.

Screen Shot 2019-06-02 at 12.07.42

EPISODE DISCUSSION

Ooo!  There’s a little jump when the title caption appears.  This explains why, on the VHS releases, the typeface used was a poor substitute for the Aquarius font.  For the DVD release, it has been reinstated.  Well, you can’t accuse the BBC of not being purist in this case.

I’ve always admired the ability that Blake’s 7 has for launching into straight into a story.  And here is a good example, as we are immediately confronted with some rustling and a faded sign that says Security Zone.  Perhaps it’s faded condition implies that it is no longer operational?

point00003

The rustling belongs to a couple of characters, whose job is to give us some exposition.  There’s mention of the Forbidden Zone, and a character called Kasabi.  Seconds in, and we’re asking questions.  Good start.

We then cut to a familiar image (the Federation CCTV), and an unfamiliar one (the thatched cottage).  It’s easy to say that it lends Blake’s 7 a state of unease by juxtaposing a familiar image into an unfamiliar timeframe, but it’s more about the electronic screeching in Richard Yeoman Clark’s radiophonic lab that causes it to be more unsettling.

Inside the refurbished interior that would make it onto ‘Grand Designs’, the relationship between Servalan and Travis is neatly depicted.  It’s nothing about having to wait 18 days, it’s simply they are bored of being holed up together, where their only pleasure is the opportunity to take chunks out of each other.   ‘Weapon’ suggested a new spiky dynamic between the two, and this episode takes it further, with Travis being more active, but still facing up to a contemptuous Supreme Commander.

I quite like this visual effect/forced perspective shot.  It’s tricky to work out the scale, but there is just enough to suggest this is a big, significant area.  It’s reminds me of a similar visual effect used in the future Earth in ‘Day of the Daleks’ (1972).

One of the characters (Berg) looks like the nervous type, which is a fatal character trait in these sci-fi dramas.  But he’s offering some more good exposition.

But soon that runs out, and sure enough, they are both doomed, as the electronic screeching simply carries on in the background.

The screech turns into a familiar hum – we’re on the Liberator flight deck.

Say what you like about George Spenton-Foster’s direction – and I have plenty to say – he’s good at finding some lovely shots on that set.

point00017

Blake’s being all ‘Hey, look at me, I’ve taken us to Earth’.  Cue a succession of objections from the crew, apart from Cally, who offers one last suggestion that she was once a guerrilla rebel.

Shouty Blake now offers some more backstory as he recounts the past 200 years.

“It’s a challenge!” And into a deep close up Spenton-Foster goes.

Kasabi is established, through some good backstory from Servalan, which also establishes more about herself.  This is great stuff from Terry Nation, and shows off season B in its best light, where it’s time to take the key characters and have fun with them.

We cut back to the Liberator, as the crew emerge from the corridor to announce that they will join Blake in his attempt to destroy Control.  What I love about their arrival, is the importance of actors hitting their marks – watch Jan Chappell negotiate with Sally Knyvette’s arm, as they attempt to appear in shot correctly.

I mentioned a significant moment earlier, when Cally’s original character outline is put to bed.  In this scene, there is another, where Blake says to Vila and Gan “You two get kitted up“, while Jenna and Cally are put on “Standby“.  This seems to be the point where their fate for the rest of the season is decided – to be the back-up, rather than leading the action.

And onto a key discussion.  Blake and Avon.  When they sit down, there is a wait and a long stare before Blake instigates the conversation.  I like this little detail – it adds weight.

Firstly Avon uses the discussion to make pithy comments, and revel in the knowledge that Blake needs him.

Then Blake rebounds with affairs of the heart.  “Do you want to tell me why?”  But I like the fact that for the first time, it is Avon who is explaining to the audience what will happen if the Federation is bruised, rather than Blake.  Again this add extra gravitas to the scene.  Suddenly we are not only talking about the possible end of the Federation, but also the impact on the regular characters beyond that.  It’s a little bit like art is imitating life, as for the first time, the series is really talking about the long game, a recognition that the show is successful, and that there are further adventures to be had after this season is finished.

They are also talking like equals, rather than snapping at each other, with quick fire put-downs and witty one-liners.  This is a key conversation.

And Spenton-Foster knows this – his close ups show the locking of horns.

And the scene ends, as it began, with a long stare at each other, as the Liberator engines wind down.  Great stuff.

And Earth is revealed.  “It’s been a long time.”  Why is it Jenna who always gets the crud lines?

On the ground, Servalan confronts Kasabi’s rather stupid army.  They are dispatched quite quickly.

We’re about quarter of an episode in, and we jump suddenly from outside to inside, as Kasabi is prisoner.  I’m really enjoying the dysfunctional nature of Travis and Servalan’s relationship, as she hi-jacks his ‘last chance’ plan in order to capture Kasabi.

The first round of dialogue between hostage and captor is full of great lines, and a feeling that there is still so much more to discover about these major characters.

At this quarter point of the episode, the action shifts to the teleport section, as the waiting begins for both Blake and his crew, and Servalan and Travis, as they try to coax the answers out of Kasabi.

Her slow death is quite grim really, and her final line is both understated and powerful.  It clearly has the briefest of an effect on Servalan, which as far as she is concerned, is a big effect.

It’s funny that Kasabi only lasts a third of the way through the episode, but she makes such a huge contribution.  It’s also a great performance from Jane Sherwin – powerful, but not theatrical.

The homing beacon transmits, and with that, the next phase of the episode.  Blake clearly senses a problem, with the timing an hour out, but there is clearly no intention of leaving now, so he lands a little away from the rendezvous.

Jenna gets another one of those cod moments, that she seems lumbered with in various episodes, as she wishes Blake luck in close up.  It’s as though she is instructing the audience to recognise that this situation is a big deal.  Terry Nation, you don’t need to worry about this – I’m already convinced.

We step back in time again, as Blake and Gan cautiously walk through the grounds of a church, which offers us a little more information about the Federation, and how religion seems to be removed altogether.   In all the years I’ve watched this show, I’d not stopped to think about how Blake’s 7 depicts religion – usually confined to penal planets, and alien tombs.

Inside the church, Kasabi’s daughter falls to the ground with a rare mis-step in the sound design.

The resulting discussion between Blake and Gan, is really fascinating, as we see Gan genuinely ruffled for the first time – agitated at Blake’s decision making.  But Gan’s core character trait is the need to not be alone, and while this is his sternest test of loyalty towards Blake, it’s not one that is ever going to change anything.  Out of all the regular characters in Blake’s 7, it is Gan who is the most doomed.

In an episode with such high stakes, it is interesting to see where the essential humour comes in.  As usual it is Vila who offers the much needed respite, allowing Avon a caustic put-down just before they teleport down.  It is proof that, on this occasion, David Maloney was correct in fighting to keep him in the series, opposing Nation’s view.

Once again Jenna has to say “Good luck” in a rather cheesy manner.

As Avon and Vila arrive down and safe (for now) in the Forbidden Zone, and there is the usual rat-a-tat-a-tat-a of Dudley Simpson’s television cue, it’s made me realise how little music there is in this one.

Veron makes her move, and the teleport bracelets are in the hands of Servalan and Travis, who throw them away.  It’s funny how recognisable certain sounds are when you hear them over and over again.  There’s the clonk as the Liberator gun is put into its holder, or the distinctly lightweight sound that is made when the bracelets are tossed aside.

Gan gets a chance to do one of his snarly breaking doors down moments.  Then the penny drops for all of of them.  The bracelets are gone.  Silly boys.

Travis uses the word expedient.  It’s the only time I’ver heard that word used in anything, ever.

We’re nearing the final quarter of the episode, which is the story of the break in.

There is some welcome action that takes place in the form of a race to the death.  It’s one of those sequences where you can genuinely feel the angst of the regular cast as they try to prevent being blown up by the visual effects team on location.  It’s a good scene.

Travis asks Servalan for the zone to be deactivated.  The moment where she contacts the high council, once again shows that the stakes in this episode are very high indeed.  This episode is starting to feel like a season climax.

The crew descend a ladder, three times.  I wonder what the heath and safety laws were for actors back then?  Oh well, if John Noakes can do it.

We’re back to the sterile Federation aesthetic – white corridors and factory sounds.

We’re moving into Crystal Maze territory as the crew face a range of physical and skill games in order to break into the chamber.  Unlike that series, these contestants seem to understand what they need to do.

Servalan achieves the deactivation of the zone, and Travis makes his way in.  At is at this point in the episode where more than one door opens.

The one last door that still needs to be opened is crucial.  And Vila points out that “it is a bad one“.  This is a great little scene as we see that absolute point of Blake’s tension – the desperation to achieve his goal.  I sense that Gareth Thomas really thought about this moment, grabbing Vila with real aggression.

And mission accomplished.  Blake makes his way into a fairly effective glass shot of an empty room.  The moment where Blake triumphantly shouts “I’ve done it” is wonderfully absurd, and totally blind.  And it should be.  This isn’t a series to be subtle and sensitive.

Travis says that ‘Control’ “was moved, 30 years ago“.  And thus starts the second half of the season.

This scene is captivating.  I’m right in the moment.  When Servalan walks in, I’m not actually paying any attention to her amazingly striking dress with insect on the front, I’m actually thinking about the situation – which is really saying something.

But she does look incredible.

point00128

Jenna saves the day.  It’s probably one of her most important moments, but it is all too brief, and somehow, like Servalan’s dress, gets buried somewhere under the overall situation.

Long pause.

SLAP!

It’s little moments like this that not only set Blake’s 7 apart from a show like Doctor Who – where there will always be comparisons – but also from any other show too.

There is still a few minutes to go.  I reckon this episode is just going to ease up now, and finish with a laugh.

Travis throws a grenade, and along with Servalan, runs towards it!

Art is imitating life, as the crew race to escape to the top, while in reality, the production team are trying to get everything recorded before the 10pm lights out in the studio.  Something has got to give…

It starts off logically enough, as Gan prevents the door from cutting off his comrades.  But once Blake is through I’ve no idea why he stays there.  It’s as though there are the right shots, but not necessarily in the right order.

More filmed inserts are chopped in, and Gan is dead.  Killed by polystyrene.

Poor David Jackson.  It’s a fitting epitaph in many ways.  A death scene that fails to go the whole way, just as his contributions were often muted, or failed to reach their potential.  On the other hand, his death is really good – a blink and you’ll miss it moment that feels very Blake’s 7.  This is a show where danger really is around the corner.

But at the end of the day, Gan’s limited potential is defined by his last shot – he’s slightly out of focus, while the beam that crushed him is sharp.

There’s clearly no time for a re-take.

point00152

I really enjoyed the immediate aftermath of the explosion, as Servalan looks immediately at her surroundings, totally aware of herself and what needs to happen in the moment.  In contrast, Travis is staring into space, possibly thinking about what is to come for him.

Veron opts to stay on Earth.  I think it is good that she does.  Perhaps that would be been the ultimate ignominy for Gan as, with his body still warm, the crew solder on with some new eye candy for Vila.

The final scene is typically Blake’s 7.  For once there isn’t a laugh, or a cheeky final line.  There is something far worse – a cheesy ridden shot of Gan’s empty chair.  OK, maybe I’m being a bit harsh, perhaps it is a suitable final shot – after all it is from Blake’s viewpoint, as he sees a hole in his crew.

I’ve no idea whether the public had any sense that Gan would be killed, just as Adric’s death was kept secret in Doctor Who.  But the two characters do share a little connection.  Adric’s death has the end credits changed from the usual, with the silent rolling of cast and crew over a fragmented badge.  Gan gets a more subtle nod.  If you look closely, the starscape background fades to black towards the end.

Oh ‘Pressure Point’, you are a frustrating episode.  Here you are being the most important Blake’s 7 episode up to this point.   You have everything going for it.  You have your series creator, penning big bold events, action, and adventure.  You are the first real climax of Blake’s 7.  You have all the characteristics that make Blake’s 7 so brilliant writ large – distinctive relationships between characters, the dystopia of the setting (both on the ground, in the galaxy as a whole), and the unmistakable ability to surprise and shock.

But you are disappointing.  Not in the sense that you sit towards the lower end of my affections in the whole 52 episode run, but more the case that you could have been so much more.

OK, time to stop this ‘letter to you’ nonsense.

There is a lot that this episode does do well.  It is full of symbolic touches – the stark sets that lack detail, the empty rooms, the same ladder shot three times with different lighting.  These all serve to show the Federation for what it is – clinical, utilitarian, mighty, uniform.

It also paints a picture of what feels like impending hopelessness, right from that very first scene, where you know the two characters are fodder after a few seconds.  Moments later Blake announces his trip to Earth, and immediately I’m connecting his challenge, with this atmosphere of futility.

‘Countdown’ might be the episode with a literal countdown, but this is the episode which spends its entirety counting down towards a moment that can’t end well.  It’s the first time, perhaps since the very first episode, where I’m thinking that this entire show might end with an unhappy ending.

It’s an episode with many cracking scenes.  There’s the prisoner/hostage scenes between Servalan and Kasabi, the intensity of Avon’s near death in the Forbidden Zone, and the early discussion about control of the Liberator.

Clearly designed as a mid-season climax, it does act as a good ‘pop of the cork’ for not only Blake, whose fever pitch elation when he breaks through the doors is totally convincing, but also for Travis and Servalan, for whom the stakes are raised – one final failure, and he is likely to be dust.  Servalan’s failure will act as her first major character trauma.

And with this in mind, ‘Pressure Point’ acts not only as a climax, but the opening of the door for the rest of the season – a period of trial and retributions, a tale of a desperado, and complex political manoeuvrings.  It’s the point where Blake’s 7 moves into its most complicated, intricate and volatile period.  This is an episode that is good for the whole of season B, and good for Blake’s 7.

However…

The pacing of the episode is plodding, and for this I blame the direction.  There’s no doubt that some of the scenes are worthy of being longer – when the stakes are so high, it pays to go into detail.  However there are scenes where my attention was wandering – the scenes inside the crypt, when Veron is prisoner to Servalan, and the endless ‘Krypton Factor’ obstacles.

This all leads me to conclude that ‘Pressure Point’ doesn’t go far enough in its intensity.  It’s very considered, measured, and spare.  The scenes of the church are initially quite impactful, but then the story seems to stall when we reach the crypt.    A slower pace doesn’t have to be a bad thing, but Blake’s 7 thrives on a bit of nip, and all too frequently I’m thinking that Spenton-Foster is actually directing the wrong show, he is in charge of an episode of ‘Survivors’.

This has made me think once again about the importance of the direction within a multi-camera sci-fi drama.  When you have such limited resources and time, the skill of the director is paramount.  They can make or break an episode through casting choices, visual feel, and the depiction of the drama unfolding.

Spenton-Foster remains a director, who straddles the line between the brilliant and the absurd.  For utter brilliance, seek out ‘Voice from the Past’ – OK, if nothing else, it is entertaining.  ‘Gambit’, and ‘The Ribos Operation’ are two examples of how his grandiose tendencies translate well into BBC telefantasy.  He can also deliver a more measured production, such as Image of the Fendahl (1977).  ‘Pressure Point’ fits into this mode, but somehow feels hurriedly made, for such an unhurried pace.  His set ups feel half-hearted – pacing, location work, and editing.

I think the heart of the matter is that ‘Pressure Point’ is the episode where the direction, generally adds little to the episode – it feels like Spenton-Foster is simply turning a good script into a television production, without much in the way of voice or tone.  The sense of impending doom comes from repeated viewing, and the writing, but not the direction.  For such a pivotal episode, that is why it might be the most disappointing episode of Blake’s 7 of all.

Luckily there is possibility that the production team might, just conceivably, have a chance to have another go at delivering a climactic episode at the end of the season.  Maybe it will work second time around.

point00158

Jane Sherwin’s credits are few and far between at this point, but it did lead to an episode of ‘Cribb’ where she gives a rousing performance, enough to cause you to lose your trousers.

The late Yolande Palfrey enjoyed a busy career around this time, also appearing in Doctor Who and Dramarama (cue vocoder theme music in my mind).

dramarama1

Alan Halley, had popped up a couple of years earlier in Terry Nation’s ‘Survivors’.

Martin Connor had a handful of television credits, and still enjoys a stage career to this day.

Sue Bishop appears in a number of 1970’s dramas and sitcoms.  She even pops up on various sci-fi planets – Helotrix and Sarn.

Meanwhile, there are familiar names as supporting artists, including Margaret Pilleau (see ‘Hostage’).

SET DESIGN

serpressure

Mike Porter’s approach to the future appears to be a sparce and bold take, away from intricate detail, and more towards split level set design.  In this regard, there are similarities to this episode, and the other one in the same recording block – ‘Weapon’.

I was massively disappointed – distraught even – to discover that there wasn’t a single chair that I could identify.  Luckily the two chairs that do feature are instantly recognisable as the type of seating that was top of the pile in a number of BBC future settings.  Thanks to @MakingBlakes7 or unearthing the evidence below

DIRiis7WAAAaGjL.jpg-large

Firstly we have the bucket shaped seat, which makes an appearance in ‘Trial’ and ‘Ultraworld’ to name but a few.  It looks familiar outside of television, but I can’t find it’s origins at all.

Then we have the seat, discussed previously in ‘Hostage’.  Since then I have seen it pop up as early as 1973 in ‘The Three Doctors’ where it features in the ‘pre-Gallifrey’ Gallifrey – which also includes Servalan’s season B chair.  It’s appears again in ‘Redemption’ and several other episodes.  My inability to identify it makes this chair the ultimate mystery in telefantasy.

MUSIC SCORE
As mentioned earlier, the most striking thing about this score, is the lack of it.  Crunchy mournful synth accompanies Gan’s demise.

HOW TO SELL THIS TO AN UNBELIEVER?
This is quite a good episode to show to someone watching Blake’s 7 for the first time.  All they need to know is the challenge, and the two opposing sides.  There’s plenty of action for the newbie, and a chance at the end for those with a penchant for US soap opera slaps to revel in this.

MY FAVOURITE MOMENT
Lots to choose from.  But I’m going for Servalan’s slap.  Not the famous one at the end, but the one where Travis tries to prevent Servalan from administering another dose of deadly drug to Kasabi.  The defeated look on his face is very funny.

THE MOMENT I’D RATHER FORGET
A little moment where Avon and Vila teleport into the crypt.  For some reason the cod scream, and Dudley Simpson’s music fail to evoke genuine shock.

VERDICT IN 10 WORDS EXACTLY
The whole is less than the sum of its parts.

So there we have it.  The first true climax of Blake’s 7.  Now, lets see how the production team deliver the next one at the end of this season.

And on, with luck, to Star One…

 

 

Picture credit
https://www.gsmd.ac.uk/acting/staff/staff_biographies/department/16-department-of-acting/668-martin-connor/
MakingBlakes7 on Twitter

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s