Blake's 7 series 2 episode 4 - Horizon
Season 2 continues its temporary slump with a soggy outing that tackles the interesting theme of colonisation, but to no real effect...
After the many encounters with the Federation, the Liberator crew are feeling tired and ill and in desperate need of a holiday. But before Cally can suggest a haven of relaxation, a Federation freighter is picked up on the scanners - despite being so far out on edge of the Spiral Rim.
Intrigued by why the freighter is heading for the planet Horizon (to which there is a whole lotta nothing in terms of information) and this far out in the galaxy, Blake instructs Zen to follow it. The Liberator follows the freighter's course, even through a painful magnetic barrier. Having successfully passed through it, Blake decides to visit Horizon in order to form a base for the resistance and to get at least one planet on their side. He teleports down with Jenna, but when they land, they are both stunned with poison darts by one of the natives.
They are brought before the planet's ruler (or puppet ruler, since the planet is in the process of being colonised by the Federation), Ro (Darien Angadi) who holds them captive. He is joined by the Federation Kommissar (William Squire) and his second-in-command (Brian Miller). Ro is the Kommissar's protege, and the Federation representative aims to make Horizon another part of its growing empire. Following the Kommissar's orders, Blake and Jenna are forced to talk by means of a trippy, mind-affecting device. Blake knows Ro as he remembers meeting his brother Paura on the prison ship to Cygnus Alpha. Appalled at Ro's cowardice for joining the Federation, Blake warns him that the new Horizon will be one that he never lives to see...
Concerned about Blake's and Jenna's absence, Gan teleports down to Horizon with a reluctant Vila. The two are again the victims of stun darts, and when they wake, Vila is forced to work in the planet's mines along with Blake, Jenna and Ro's lover Selma (Souad Faress). Cally also teleports down shortly after, leaving a non-contrite Avon alone on the Liberator with Orac. As a captured Cally warns Ro of the Kommissar's murderous intentions, Avon is considering whether or not to abandon the crew and make off by himself. However, the alert of Federation pursuit ships makes the decision for him, so he teleports down to Horizon to rescue the Liberator crew and bring them back on station.
The Kommissar, having realised the identity of Blake and his crew, has warned the Federation to send pursuit ships to destroy the Liberator. He decides to step up his campaign to totally convert Ro to the Federation's way of thinking, and goes so far as to torture Selma in order to extract information about Blake's escape. The Kommissar also confesses that if Ro did not conform, he would have killed him.
Ro says that he needs time alone to think, but when he returns he is now dressed in the native dress of his people, and using a blowpipe and dart, kills the Kommissar. Blake, who has teleported back down, kills his aide. He leaves Horizon in the capable hands of Ro and Selma who will lead their people to a natural life once more.
The Liberator still has to contend with the threat of the pursuit ships, but luckily the ships are not protected from the magnetic barrier, and so explode one by one. If the crew thought they were tired before, they ain't seen nothing yet, but Vila still prefers this life to work...
Break out the balloons, it's holiday time on the Liberator!
Except Blake being Blake decides to teleport down to Horizon where the Liberator crew experience the equivalent of a camping holiday where it's raining non-stop and the tent just will not stay up properly.
What's more, after the slow-moving Weapon, it was hopeful that the next instalment of Season Two would spice things up again. Instead, Horizon's so dull that it makes Weapon look like an all-singing, all-dancing epic of swaggering proportions.
It's the first of Allan Prior's five contributions to the show. While Prior's a perfectly good writer in other fields (he was one of the co-founding writers of Z-Cars), unfortunately, his Blake's 7 offerings are, for the most part, clunky, dull affairs that somehow fail to entertain me. His debut showing sets out the pattern for all his stories - Horizon contains a dull plot, a handful of plot conveniences, slightly pompous, overblown dialogue, pursuit ship tussles and a baffling obsession with Soma, which seems to be the space-age equivalent of a slug of Vodka. Horizon does tackle a worthy theme - that of colonisation, but it's done in such a laboured, obvious way that the Peter and Jane Guide to Colonisation for five-year-olds is probably the more appealing alternative.
The story revolves around Horizon's puppet ruler Ro, the protege of the evil Federation Kommissar. The Kommissar is constantly bullying Ro into letting his planet become Federation territory, even forcing him into compliance with the torture of his lover Selma. On paper, these are two stock cliches, the weak, overpowered young man and the overbearing, hectoring dictator. Naturally, there's only one outcome as Ro miraculously overcomes his fear to shoot the Kommissar with a poison dart so favoured by his people. It's a good thing then that the two actors give excellent performances and make these cliches real, three-dimensional people. William Squire gives a studied performance of controlled evil, a contrast to his hammy but still enjoyable portayal of The Shadow in Doctor Who's Armageddon Factor. Darien Angadi is the star turn of the episode, giving a thoughtful, sensitive performance and making Ro's moral dilemma all the more believable.
While these power struggles are taking place, Blake and his friends are too busy indulging in their own version of Ten Green Bottles Hanging On The Wall. Teleporting down to Horizon, one by one, the Liberator crew are captured by the slaves and forced to work. It's left to Avon - who after much soul-searching - decides to save the day. This corny old plot device has a very predicatble outcome, and also provides a cringe-inducing moment when Gan inexplicably keeps walking towards his attacker after being stunned once with a dart.
It's just as well then that Jonathan Wright Miller does his level best to inject some sort of life into Horizon. His arty use of screen shots, such as the opening shot and the magnetic barrier scenes do demonstrate an imaginative attempt to make Horizon look visually interesting. As mentioned, his casting choices are excellent, and even the lesser roles are served well by Souad Farress and Mr Elisabeth Sladen, Brian Miller.
But overall, the direction and acting don't quite save Horizon from being a tedious chore. The plot drags awfully, and the dialogue occasionally comes across as overblown and unreal. While it's saved from total anonymity by the director and the actors, Horizon is still one of the weaker offerings of Season Two.
Check out our review of season 2 episode 3 here.