Blake's 7 series 1 episode 5 - The Web
Something green and silly this way comes in today's review of the 1970s sci-fi series...
"They must come. They must come to us..."
On a mist-shrouded, woodland planet in a futuristic, prefabricated dome, inhabited by a pale, gaunt young man and woman, a weird tank-based creature consisting of an alien head and shrunken body repeats this phrase over and over again.
The Liberator is facing problems - its speed is increasing due to a malfunction in the PN overrides. If that wasn't bad enough, Cally is behaving oddly - carrying out sabotage on the ship, and knocking out Vila - presumably not because of his new outfit. Cally then sabotages the forward detectors, to cause the Liberator to run blind.
Blake and Avon find Cally, who at gunpoint, orders them back to the bridge. Jenna deduces that Cally has been possessed by an outside force, but after Gan has overpowered her, the force leaves. The Liberator, despite having repaired itself, is now trapped in a strange, web-like substance. Before they attempt to escape, Jenna is possessed by the same force that took over Cally. Speaking in a weird, alien voice, 'Jenna' informs Blake that the Liberator is trapped, and can only be freed if Blake teleports down to a nearby planet to give his assistance. The force leaves Jenna as suddenly as it came, and highly mistrustful of the message, Blake attempts to escape from the Web with the Liberator blasters. When this proves futile, Blake has no choice but to teleport down.
When he arrives, Blake is attacked by one of many, small, dwarf-like chattering alien creatures. Running to the nearby dome for help, another of the creatures pleads with Blake for help. Before Blake can intervene, the young man from the dome kills the creature. Leading a disgusted Blake inside, the man introduces himself as Novara, while his sister Geela heals Blake's wounded hand with an enzyme culture.
Both Novara and Geela explain that the creatures are called Decimas and are hostile. They add that they created the Web, a line of research that got out of control. There is a solution - to provide new energy cells that will replace the two old ones, one of which is dead, the other rapidly fading. Without the cells, Novara and Geela will die, but from Blake's point of view, he will never be able to free the Liberator from the Web.
Before Blake can agree, they are distracted by a horde of angry, upset Decimas who are lamenting the death of their friend. Blake observes with sympathy, but Novara and Geela dismiss the incident as a diversion to move their dead. Blake nevertheless agrees to contact the Liberator to provide replacement cells.
Unfortunately, the Liberator has problems of its own with a clutch of Federation pursuit ships on its tail.
Novara and Geela explain that they have conducted genetic experiments into halting the ageing process and to create a new species of animal that would perform simple, menial tasks - the Decimas. Somehow the mutant strain became too great among the prototypes and Geela says that the whole race will have to be destroyed as a laboratory experiment that failed. Horrified, Blake realises that the cells, while creating an energy beam to destroy the Web, will also allow Novara and Geela to destroy the Decimas. Unfazed, Novara explains that himself and Geela are also made, genetically engineered, grown to the point of maturity, with their ageing processes halted. Geela is suddenly possessed by the alien force and leads them to the creature in the tank.
The creature Saymon, is a corporate body of a six-strong Auronar team that controls Novara and Geela. Saymon confirms that the cells will be used to destroy the Decimas. Blake urgently contacts the Liberator to hold onto the cells, but Avon has already teleported down.
Blake, Novara and Geela look for the computer expert, but it's Avon who finds Blake. They hide themselves and the cells while Blake aims to make a deal that will allow the Decimas some chance of life. Novara and Geela find them however, and after Geela has injured Avon's hand, Blake reluctantly hands the cells over.
Returning to the Dome, Novara and Geela foolishly leave the door open - allowing a large horde of Decimas to enter and attack. While Blake adjusts the cells to form a beam to free the Liberator, the Decimas go on the rampage, attacking Novara, Geela and Saymon. Novara's and Geela's life forces rapidly drain, leaving only skeletons for the Decimas to kick around like footballs. Disgusted by the carnage, Avon urges Blake to teleport them both back to the Liberator.
Now back on course for Centero, and free of pursuit ships, Blake muses that living creatures can't be separated, something that Avon naturally disagrees with...
For all Blake's 7 cynics, The Web provides a hell of a lot of ammunition. An army of squeaking, daft looking dwarf creatures that sound like someone's let loose a horde of guinea pigs in a recording studio; an 'alien' that's actually a bloke pushing his head through a wall in a giant fish tank; and a web that's actually a bit of cotton wool dangled on a stick. Heck, Blake and Avon wear anoraks, thereby cementing Blake's 7's geek credentials.
And yet, despite these problems, The Web is one of my favourites, not just of the season, but of the whole run of episodes. It's been given a fairly lukewarm response by fans for various reasons, but there's an awful lot to commend the story.
It's one of the creepier episodes of Season One, and despite the silly appearance of Saymon and his repetitive "They must come to us" gurgle, there's a tangible sense of tension and doom running throughout The Web. This is helped no end by Michael E Briant's brilliant direction. Briant creates a real sense of atmosphere, right from the opening slow, moody panning shot into the dome. He's a big fan of hand-held camerawork and this pays dividends in the scenes of Cally possessed by Saymon, giving her a real sense of threat. Briant's camerawork also adds much to the climatic sequences in which the Decimas destroy the dome base, creating a real sense of queasy claustrophobia which successfully disguises the fact that there are only six of the things. The scene in which the Decimas kick the dismembered skeletons of Novara and Geela is one of the more brutal in Blake's 7 and all the more effective for it.
Briant's casting is also spot on. Miles Fothergill and Ania Marson are perfectly chosen as the eerie Novara and Geela, with Fothergill reprising his SV7 act, albeit in humanoid form. Richard Beale has a somewhat thankless task of shoving his head through a wall and making it half-believable, but his convincing vocal performance does compensate for the shortcomings of his appearance, such as when he leans back to scream, revealing a tell tale gap in the wall. The regulars are also on top form, especially Gareth Thomas, who takes centre stage with his moral outrage against the Decimas' plight.
The Web throws up a number of interesting moral issues such as the nature of genetic testing, genocide, and also the question of what rebellion really means. Blake and Avon witness a rebellion taking place before their eyes, but Avon's visible disgust ("These are what you wanted to protect?") and even Blake's weary head shake at the end suggest that it's nowhere near as easy as it sounds.
The Web requires a kind eye to appreciate its full potential. The Decimas undoubtedly look and sound daft with their high-pitched helium squawking (the lone Decima always sounds hilarious rather than pitiful when he squeaks "Help us! Help us please!") But beyond the obvious shortcomings, there is one of the best tales in the series with top flight direction, acting and script. And Jenna's bizarre facial expressions when she's been possessed are priceless...
Check out our review of episode 4 here.