Blake's 7 series 1 episode 7 - Mission To Destiny
Possibly the first whodunnit in space, but far from the best...
On board civilian cruiser Ortega Rafford (Brian Capron) is brutally attacked by an unseen assailant on the flight deck. The attacker proceeds to assail the flight controls, leaving them burnt out and useless.
The Ortega is picked up on the Liberator scanners. Blake and Jenna notice it circling every two minutes, and when Cally tries to make contact, there is no reply. Blake, Avon and Cally teleport across to the ship to investigate. When they arrive, they find that the crew have been knocked out by a tranquilising gas, Sono Vapour. While Blake and Avon discover the crudely fitted device in the filter plant, Cally finds Rafford who collapses from the other side of the flight deck door, dead.
After the crew have woken up, they are questioned by Blake. The crew comprise Dr Kendall (Barry Jackson); intense Mandrian (Stephen Tate) and his girlfriend Sara (Beth Morris); the even more intense Sonheim (Nigel Humphreys) and his easy-going room-mate Pasco (John Leeson); the aloof Levett (Kate Coleridge); and the mild-mannered Grovane (Carl Forgione). Flight engineer Dortmunn has curiously gone missing, although an ejected flight rocket may hold the answer.
Kendall is convinced that someone is trying to sabotage the mission of his crew: to take an energy refractor, the Neutrotope, back to their planet Destiny. The Neutrotope will kill off a fungal disease that has wiped out the plants and vegetation on Destiny, an agricultural economy that will be in financial straits if the disease isn't halted.
Unfortunately, Avon delivers bad news - the fracture of the Ison Crystal means that while the crew can still return to Destiny, they will have to travel at sub-light speed in a prolonged five-month run. Blake offers to take the Neutrotope back in the Liberator which will take only four days to get to Destiny. Despite protests from Mandrian and Sonheim, the majority of the crew vote in favour of Blake's offer. Avon and Cally stay behind as 'hostages' to carry on repairing the ship.
On her way to the flight deck, Cally finds Mandrian trying to prise open a small electrical device. More significantly, though, Cally finds the missing Dortmunn - dead. Avon surmises that Dortmunn's body was meant to go in the life rocket but when it proved to be too big for the killer to move, he or she did the next best thing and hid it. He also deduces that Rafford was unaffected by the Sono vapour because the vent ducts on the flight deck were closed.
The Liberator is on course for Destiny, but has to go through a high scale meteorite storm to get there...
The killer strikes again - this time, Mandrian is stabbed to death - and what's more, it looks like the culprit is Sonheim, who was discovered standing over Mandrian's corpse. Despite this, Avon thinks that the killer is someone else. He works out the real killer's identity from an obscure number 54124 which was written in blood by the dying Rafford on a plastic course graph. The numbers are actually letters which spell out S-A-R-A.
Sara wants the money from the Neutrotope (Mandrian didn't want to be a party to this, so bought the dust) and has made contact with a prospective buyer on their way to the Ortega via a homing signal from the small electrical device Mandrian was trying to prise open. Sara, at gunpoint, exits the living quarters to the flight deck with the Neutrotope - all the Liberator has is an empty box and the prospect of going back through the meteorite storm.
Avon organises a decoy to lure Sara out with a pretend massacre among the crew. When Sara comes out, Avon knocks her out and takes her back to the living quarters. Blake returns with teleport bracelets to take the crew to the Liberator, but Sara gets rid of hers at the last minute as the others leave. The Ortega is due to rendezvous with the pickup ship, but, along with Sara, they are destroyed by an explosive device left by Blake on the ship. Blake offers to take the Ortega survivors back to Destiny with the Neutrotope intact.
I actually did a mis-spell when I first wrote about Mission to Destiny, which initially appeared as Mission To Density, thanks to my clumsy typing. Although, thinking about it, this isn't a bad way of summing up this story.
It's not really worth getting into an angry diatribe about Mission To Destiny - it serves its function adequately as a bog-standard whodunit, and compared to some of the dross on TV recently (All The Small Things, anyone?) it's a work of genius. It's too bad that it falls some way short of the high standards set by the series so far.
Much as I like murder mysteries, Destiny doesn't quite cut the mustard. Shows like Poirot, Lewis and even Midsomer Murders work. Dr Who has also explored this genre with great success - think The Web Of Fear and The Robots Of Death. Don't think of Terror Of The Vervoids. All these examples allow greater scope to develop the characters and the mystery.
In a 50-minute slot, though, there's less room to do this, and so this format makes for a more underdeveloped whodunit. Besides which, it doesn't take many of ze leetel grey cells to work out who the killer is in Destiny. Even Mr Magoo could realise that 54124 is a load of gubbins, and that Richard Hillman scrawled Sara's name in blood on the graph. Avon's ham-fisted explanation of how the scrawl relates to letters instead of numbers never rings true, making the mystery element of Destiny a bit pointless.
Matters aren't helped by Pennant Roberts' flat direction, which contains very few surprises. The acting is also highly variable this time around. Ironically, the ubiquitous pathologist Dr Bullard from Midsomer turns up on the other side of the tracks here. Barry Jackson is actually the best of the bunch as Kendall, although John Leeson makes the most of his small role as Pasco. Otherwise, the rest of the crew are a faceless lot, partly a fault of not enough backstory, and partly because they're walking clichés. Sonheim scowls his way through the episode, Levett contributes nowt, apart from a bizarre power walk between locations, while Sara fails to convince right from her opening OTT shriek at Rafford's corpse. The nadir of Beth Morris' performance must be her refusal to teleport to the Liberator, where she sounds more like a 5-year-old refusing to go to school.
On the up side, though, Dudley Simpson's music is once again, first class. He creates a memorable cello and piano driven score that adds vitally needed atmosphere. Destiny also boasts good characterisation for Avon and Cally - Paul Darrow and Jan Chappell grab this opportunity with both hands, performing their sparring, slightly flirtatious banter with ease. Kudos also to Darrow for making Avon's lengthy deductions seem as easy as putting on a hat, even if it's slightly out of character for Avon to suddenly become a space-age Poirot.
And there's the rub. Avon, despite an amusing line about not caring if Destiny turns into a giant mushroom, is shoehorned into a detective role that doesn't quite fit - much like murder mystery in Blake's 7. The plot is reasonably well constructed, but unfortunately, the blatantly obvious identity of the killer and a pedestrian production make this story a failed experiment. It's reasonably diverting, but Mission To Destiny's mystery wouldn't tax Scooby Doo in a million years.
Check out our review of episode 6 here.