Blake's 7 series 1 episode 4 - Time Squad
The Liberator crew take a strange ship on board, but the ensuing plot is wanting in suspense...
Blake has learned how to pilot the Liberator. Vila's confident that the Liberator can outstroll Federation pursuit ships. Gan's pleased to be part of a team. Everyone's happy, except of course, Avon, who's wondering how long the crew will live to enjoy their new-found skills. His temper doesn't improve when Blake announces that instead of hiding from the Federation, he plans to hurt them. He instructs Zen to set a course for Saurian Major, where the Federation have built a vast transceiver complex which receives and redirects all Federation signals and navigation controls. Blake aims to destroy the complex and so blind, deafen and silence them.
En route to Saurian Major though, the Liberator picks up a distress call from a projectile spaceship. Giving this new arrival priority, Blake and Jenna teleport across and find themselves in a tiny cabin that contains a small crew of men in suspended animation. One small problem though, the air in the ship is rapidly running out.
What's worse, the teleport control has burnt itself out and for some inexplicable reason, Zen refuses to divulge information on how long it will take to repair. Much to his chagrin, Avon must pilot the Liberator with Gan and Vila to catch the projectile ship like a net catches a fish. Despite the chancy risks, Avon succeeds in bringing the ship on board the Liberator. Investigating the small vessel, Avon concludes that the ship is old or from a technologically backward culture, and was only set for a one way trip. He cuts in the re-animation unit to wake up the crew, so that they can explain what it's all about.
Returning to the original plan, Blake, along with Avon and Vila teleport down to Saurian Major. Aiming to make contact with any rebels by lighting fires, this initial idea doesn't bring any response - at least until Blake is attacked by a red-clad, dark haired girl who communicates by telepathy. Blake manages to overpower the girl, whose name is Cally, the only survivor of the resistance force, who were all killed by airborne poison. Despite her initial hostility, Cally gradually agrees to help Blake, Vila and Avon destroy the complex.
Back on the Liberator, Jenna's and Gan's new friends prove not to be so friendly - they are attacked by two of the crew - programmed guardians conditioned to eliminate anyone seen as a threat to their brood units and genetic banks - and after initially dispatching one of them, Jenna only just manages to shoot the other one in the nick of time. What they hadn't bargained on is that there is another guardian somewhere else on the ship.
Blake, Avon, Vila and Cally have succeeded in breaking into the generator room of the complex. Avon manages to sabotage the main control bank and turn it into a gigantic bomb. However, they are trapped in the room as Jenna has gone back to the Liberator hold to disconnect the guardians power cable from the ship, and Gan's limiter has caused him to momentarily break down on learning of the presence of another guardian. By one last surge of strength, Gan succeeds in teleporting them out of the complex before it explodes, taking a gaggle of Federation guards with it.
Blake rushes to the hold where he manages to warn Jenna of the attacking alien, and pushes him into a power panel, killing him.
With Cally choosing to stay on board rather than returning to her own people on Auron, Blake sets a course for the planet Centero and decides to dump the projectile in deep space - if only to avoid being up to his arms in homicidal maniacs in one hour flat...
As a set of character studies, Time Squad succeeds. After the frantic pace of the opening trilogy of stories, Time Squad slows down to take stock of the situation and look more in-depth at the established characters, as well as establishing the final regular, Cally.
One of the most popular regulars, Cally is well portrayed by Jan Chappell right from the word go. Initially, she's seen as a tough-as-nails freedom fighter, hostile to Blake, and ready to commit suicide after the deaths of her fellow companions. Already at this story, we're given some clue as to how Cally interacts with her future friends - she looks up to Blake as the leader, Vila's clearly taken with her, but Cally is more interested in Avon, who, amazingly, seems to return the interest, given his distrust of other people. It's a shame that Cally's part would be watered down in future stories - especially in Season Two, where she's mostly stuck glum-faced behind the teleport controls - but here at least, she gets a strong debut.
Gan also gets more back story and probably more lines than his other 16 stories put together. Here, we learn that his crime was to kill a guard who was responsible for the death of "his woman", and so, had a limiter installed in his head to curb any future murders. It's a shame that this past wasn't explored any further - instead, from now on, all David Jackson generally gets to do is to chip in with the occasional line and beat up anyone that gets on the wrong side of the Liberator crew.
The others also have much to do - Avon, in particular, shows the different sides to his character. Cynical and sarcastic one minute, especially when criticising Blake's leadership and Vila's blind devotion - but when it comes to the crunch, he surprises even himself by saving Blake and Jenna after piloting the Liberator to scoop up the oxygen-starved guardian capsule. Paul Darrow again turns in a fine performance, with great use of subtle expressions. Look at how he reacts after Blake tells him that he had better get the manual control of the ship right.
There's also a greater hint of a relationship, or a strong bond at the very least - between Blake and Jenna, especially in the scene where they are facing death by oxygen starvation and holding hands together. Jenna's final tactless quip about the wisdom of bringing aliens on board right in front of Cally also shows her jealousy at a rival for Blake's affections. Very subtle...
Unfortunately though, as a piece of drama, Time Squad fails to inspire. The two main threats are about as intimidating as bunny rabbits. On the one hand we have the guardians - a rubbish bunch of badly dressed Tarzan wannabes with Jesus sandals and arty farty beards. They're overpowered way too easily, and it doesn't help that the many fight sequences between them and Gan and Jenna are poorly executed and drag on for aeons. Similarly, the Federation guards on Saurian Major are poor shots and pose virtually no threat to Blake and his crew, who manage to break into the heart of the complex rather too easily. The final 'big' explosion actually turns out to be a small bang, a puff of smoke and a white light. I've seen Bonfire Nights with bigger explosions than this one.
Pennant Roberts' direction is hit and miss, and while he does crank up the tension in some scenes such as Jenna in the hold, more often than not, his rather bland handling of the story creates even less impact. The location filming for Saurian Major is well done though, with an unusual red tint added to the picture, and Dudley Simpson's fantastic incidental score manages to establish some sort of tension, even when there isn't much in this story.
Appreciation of Time Squad really depends on what you're looking for. If you want more in-depth studies of the Seven, boosted by fine acting and dialogue, it's definitely worth a look. But for full on melodrama and tension, Time Squad doesn't quite deliver...
Check out our review of episode 3 here.