Blake’s 7 S1 E2- Space Fall

In Martin's episode rundown of Terry Nation's space-opera, the appearance of the Liberator offers freedom to Blake and Co...

Blake and two of his eventual seven seize the Liberator...

The plot:Framed as a paedophile, convicted dissident Blake sets off on the prison ship London for the penal colony on Cygnus Alpha, where he’ll have eight months to get to know Jenna Stannis and Vila Restal better. Through them he meets towering fellow-convict Gan (David Jackson) and sardonic computer hacker Avon (Paul Darrow).

The London ’s commander Leylan (Glyn Owen) is mystified to find some kind of distant space-battle blocking his flight path, and attempts to take a safe route around it. In the meantime his psychopathic subordinate Raiker (Leslie Schofield) has lustful designs on Jenna, and punishes her rebuttal with a brutal slap. “You’ll come round…”

Blake instead has designs on the London itself, but he needs the co-operation of the cynical and self-serving Avon to get access to the ship’s computer room and take control. Vila believes that Avon is actually doing a deal with the ship’s guards to hack the London ’s flight-log, dump the ‘cargo’ mid-journey and pocket the savings (long-distant space travel is expensive).

Unable to avoid the battle, the London suffers broadside hits, but the ship’s self-healing systems repair the hull-breaches automatically with quick-hardening foam.

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Finally Avon resolves to help Blake take over the ship. Initially waiting out a technician who is in the computer room, Avon decides to attack, and a violent struggle ensues.

Wondering where Avon has got to, fellow prisoner Nova (Tom Kelly), volunteers to go in the conduits after him, but ends up sealed off by the ship’s automatic systems after a hull-breach, and dies in a torrent of quick-sealing foam.

Defeating the technician, Avon succeeds in disabling the ship’s closed-circuit monitoring system. With the red recording light off, Gan and the others overpower the guards and storm the ship. Escaping from a gun-fight with Raiker, Blake and Jenna take shelter in the besieged computer room with Avon , but Raiker forces them out by systematically murdering the other convicts until Blake co-operates.

The overthrow quelled, the London comes into range of a huge and apparently abandoned spaceship of unknown design. Determined to earn the salvage on it, Commander Leylan extends a boarding-tube and sends across various of his guards to investigate, but all succumb to some nameless madness and die.

Raiker suggests sending Blake, Jenna and Avon over rather than risking any more officers, and Leylan promises to have the prisoners’ sentences quashed if they take the task on.

On board the ship, the three succumb to its psychic self-defence mechanism and face up to some of their most painful memories: Blake is thrown back to his own persecution, Jenna to the brutalisation of her mother by the Federation and Avon to bitter memories of his brother. Yet the defence system does not kill them.

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Suspecting that the three might not wish to return, Raiker prepares to board the ship himself and ‘tidy up’. His suspicions prove correct, as the trio are indeed making off with the amazing – and very roomy – starship.

Unable to shut the airlock door, Blake is wounded by Raiker, but when forward thrust is engaged, the spaceship shuts the airlock itself and leaves Raiker to die in space as the boarding tube is torn away.

In rudimentary control of what we now know as the Liberator, Blake decides the next course of action: to shadow the London to Cygnus Alpha and rescue the others…

Analysis:Nation continues his slow build-up of the core series structure in Space Fall with a systematic and unrushed gait. Gan and Avon slowly emerge from the crowd of prisoners in the confines of the London , and finally we get a look at the ‘super-ship’ we have already seen twice in the opening credits. At episode’s end, Gan and Vila remain in the clutches of the federation.

The routine, Huxley-esque drugging of citizens first expounded in The Way Back extends into Space Fall, as Leylan declares that Raiker should keep the prisoners on the highest doses of tranquiliser – he likes a quiet ship.

Leylan himself is the embodiment of the ‘old’ federation; no sadist or fascist by nature, he only wants a necessary job done with efficiency. Not lacking in a sense of justice, Leylan is quick to promise Raiker that his murderous behaviour will go to tribunal, and that his own part in the rather botched handling of the uprising will equally be a matter of record.

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On the other hand, Leylan seems to recognise that he is part of the old guard, and that the likes of his sadistic second-in-command represent the future of a more brutal Federation than the one he has served his career under. Raiker’s status as an unrepentant and opportunistic rapist is made fairly clear in several exchanges, and Leylan’s adjuration to ‘be discreet’ suggests either complicity or the inevitable understanding that he has to work with the materials he is given these days.

Some of the conventions of prison-movies surface in Space Fall, though happily no-one is raped in the showers (or anywhere else). There’s a good warden (Leylan) who is at least partly ignorant of the savagery of his underlings, an escape committee (Blake, Jenna, Gan, Vila and – finally – Avon ) and a lot of mucking about in tunnels.

And of course, dumb guards, without whom many fictional ‘escape’ scenarios are unworkable. Vila has to distract a guard with magic tricks on no less than three occasions in Space Fall; later on Vila will be called on more in his capacity as a locksmith than a clown, but the doors of the London are beyond his skills and so his social skills and cunning are enjoyably emphasised instead.

Avon’s cynicism and entire character-arc is expertly summed up by Nation in an early exchange with the others; when Blake asks why Avon ’s plan to hack 5 million credits from the Federation’s coffers failed, he replies: “Because I relied on other people”. It’s quite clear from his demeanour that he has no intention of repeating the mistake.

Further insight into Avon ’s pragmatism occurs later, when Blake surrenders the ship back to Leylan to stop Raiker murdering any more of the prisoner-hostages. Avon afterwards remonstrates with Blake that he took on the job and did his part, and that it was Blake that screwed it up – a sentiment that he shares with the psychopathic Raiker: “You could have won, Blake – all you needed was guts.”.

Yet too, Avon’s shield of cynicism is proved wrong in Space Fall – declaring that the uprising was their one chance and that Blake ‘blew it’, the random arrival of the Liberator demonstrates the limited scope of the pessimistic and pragmatic mind. Blake and Avon are already developing a symbiotic relationship, with Blake as the noble and driving force that must be tempered by Avon ’s practical and ideological realism.

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The relationship is the inverse of that between Kirk and Spock, as Blake and Avon will remain enemies forced into co-operative efforts by circumstance, and only occasionally admitting of mutual respect and the one’s need for the other.

By the end of Space Fall, it’s fairly clear that Jenna is beginning to permit herself the hope of Blake’s vision, and perhaps to fall for the man behind it. There’s no evidence yet of Gan’s violence-restricting brain implants, and Paul Darrow shows the practical side of Avon’s ruthlessness with a truly nasty two-sided chop to the ears of his opponent in the computer room, a shot that would have hit the cutting room floor in Doctor Who as bad ‘playground influence’.

The fly-bys of the London are perfectly up to Gerry Anderson standard, if shot on 16mm rather than 35mm film, but the reliance of the BBC Visual Effects department on rostrum animation to render the Liberator begins here to show some of the lower-quality SFX to which viewers must inevitably become accustomed over the next four years of Blake’s 7.

The first appearance of the ‘sealing-foam’ in the main gallery is patently a props man squirting shaving foam through a hole in the wall, whereas Nova’s demise is a rather soapier affair. A pity, because it’s a terrifyingly claustrophobic idea. Raiker’s death, blown out into space from the disconnected boarding-tube, is very well-realised, apparently with a prop-chute and the type of huge photographic backdrop that Johnson and Meddings often devised on the far more lavish Space:1999. Don’t get used to it, though…

Space Fall is quite a change of pace after the ideological machinations and roomier scope of The Way Back, and once again Nation enjoys wrong-footing his 1978 audience by killing Nova and stranding Gan and Vila on the London after the others escape in the Liberator. There are no guarantees of anything for Blake’s band, or for those enjoying their exploits.

Next: Cygnus Alpha…

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