THE PLOT As if entering a meteorite storm isn’t bad enough, Gan has suddenly gone berserk, attacking Jenna and then Blake. It takes all of the crew to overpower him and get him to the medical unit where they find out what’s wrong with him.
Due to a malfunction in his limiter, Gan is suffering from severe brain disturbance. If he’s not treated by a neurosurgeon soon, his brain will rapidly deteriorate to the state where he is no more than a vegetable. Gan is kept in the unit, but secured – an act that Cally considers barbarous.
Looking for possible places with neurosurgeons, Blake is not having much luck. All the neurosurgeons are too far away – except for XK-72, which is suggested by Avon. The space laboratory offers an odd mix of weaponry and space medicine and is funded by a consortium of neutral planets. Avon, having considered ZK-72 as a possible bolt hole, says that flight time will only be 150 hours – but Zen says it will take 643. The problem is that the direct route is prohibited because of unacceptable danger.
As they approach the prohibited zone, Zen goes dead. Avon realises that the auxiliary computers make every minor adjustment that the systems require. The chances are they are going to need a lot as computer control is part of the Liberator’s design concept. Avon attempts to override the signal to abort the auxiliary computers. Unfortunately, he needs to be quick as the Liberator is trapped and heading for the danger – a gravitational vortex.
What’s worse, Gan has broken free after tricking Cally into releasing him. Gan goes on the rampage and attacks Avon. Blake luckily arrives in the nick of time and knocks Gan out. Avon manages to fix the auxiliary computers which are now online and functioning.
Not that it should matter, since Blake’s latest decision causes Avon to announce that he has had enough. Blake proposes to head straight for the centre of the vortex at maximum power. The Liberator endures intolerable turbulence but against all odds, makes it to the other side.
Now within range of XK-72, Blake teleports across to meet the station’s neurosurgeon, Kayn (Julian Glover) who agrees to see Gan. Avon also teleports across to discuss possibilities of working with the bureaucratic Farren (Ian Thompson). Avon tells Farren that he is not from a neutral ship as was thought, and is in fact, from the Liberator. Avon demands a personal guarantee from Farren that the Liberator is allowed to go free in return for his services.
Unfortunately, Kayn – a Federation supporter – has also realised the real identity of the Liberator. Having teleported his assistant Renor (Christian Roberts) across, Kayn delays surgery on Gan’s brain as he alerts nearby Federation pursuit ships. Vila is deeply suspicious of Kayn, and so, threatens him at gunpoint. He is quickly joined by Blake and Avon, who has also returned after realising that Kayn sold them out. Kayn says that any movement will result in Gan’s death, but Blake threatens to destroy Kayn’s hands if he does not operate immediately.
Gan is operated on and restored to health. A furious Kayn teleports back to XK-72. Now totally insane, he confronts Farren, who has dared to criticise Kayn for his impartial behaviour. Kayn promptly bludgeons Farren to death over the head. The pursuit ships attack the Liberator with plasma bolts, but one of them goes wide and ends up hitting XK-72, which explodes in a ball of flame.
Blake and the crew heartily welcome Gan back, who feels like someone’s been poking around his head – with a foot.
ANALYSIS Much like Gan’s brain, Breakdown is something of a jumble. Containing three stories in one, Breakdown focuses on the danger of a gravitational vortex, the threat from mad Kayn, and of course, the plight of luckless Gan.
Because of all these different plot strands, Gan gets a raw deal. If the episode were made today, no doubt we’d get interludes of Gan’s backstory, telling how he came to have the Limiter implant in the first place. Instead, all Gan gets to do is run around, attack his crew mates, lie down lots and pull cross-eyed gurning faces. Which is something of a wasted opportunity.
Much of the first half of the story is instead spent on lots of bickering among the Liberator crew. It’s like a space-age version of Big Brother. Dee Eeetee eet on the Liberator and tempers are ge-ing freeeeed. Blake barks at everyone. Vila worries too much. Cally has a go at Blake for securing Gan and dismissing Avon, who himself has had enough of his leader’s heroics. Unfortunately, this non-stop argy bargy becomes wearing very quickly, and it makes the forced Scooby Doo laughter at the story’s conclusion even more false than it is.
That said, some of the regulars do get some good character moments. Vila, for example, gets to play the hero at the end, and turn his usual cowardly stereotype on its head.
Surprisingly, I’ve hardly mentioned Vila, given his popularity among fans. On paper, Vila is something of a cardboard cliché, always whining, worrying and bungling his way through episodes like a space-age Shaggy from Scooby Doo (That’s enough Scooby Doo references now). On screen, however, Michael Keating’s consistently excellent performance makes Vila a three-dimensional character, thanks to his subtle facial expressions and mannerisms. Consistently delivering the goods, even in weaker episodes, Keating’s spot-on performance has rightly made Vila a fan favourite. Kudos too, to Gareth Thomas, who allegedly soldiered on through Breakdown with a badly injured leg. Thomas’ plaintive delivery of his threat to destroy Kayn’s at the end also makes this line of the episode, thanks to its brutal simplicity.
On the subject of Kayn, things pick up considerably in the second half of the episode with the introduction of the famed neurosurgeon and his XK-72 colleagues. Julian Glover steals the show as Kayn, building up from an apparently matter-of-fact but genial character to a frenzied madman.
What’s great about this is the way in which the audience is led to think that Farren (also well played by Ian Thompson), the bureaucratic pen pusher will initially be the one to turn traitor, given his habit of sticking to the rules and maintaining the status quo. Unfortunately for Farren, his over-fussy bureaucracy brutally costs him his life at the hands of Kayn.
As for Renor though, what’s that all about? A man who’s been watching too many Leslie Phillips films, Renor wastes no time in attempting to woo Jenna and Cally with some of the naffest chat up lines this side of Blind Date. Thank goodness I didn’t take Renor’s approach to wooing women when I first met my wife, or she would have laughed in my face. Poor old Christian Roberts – props to the man for giving it his best shot, but the clumsy scripting leaves Renor as nothing more than an Alan Partridge-esque laughing stock.
Altogether, Breakdown is actually a perfectly competent episode of Blake’s 7 – it’s just a shame that the episode reeks of missed opportunity. Gan’s past could have been explored in greater detail, and would have provided more intrigue than the arguing and rather run-of-the-mill threat of the gravitational vortex. Good effects though, and altogether, Vere Lorrimer keeps the action rolling along, especially during the opening scenes of Gan’s attack and the effective close up of Kayn’s blankly insane expression as the plasma bolt hits the station. A real mixed bag overall, but the good points just manage to outweight the bad – and that includes the cheesy laughter at the end…
Check out our review of episode 9 here.