Blake’s 7 series 1 episode 11 – Bounty

Exhausted Blake's 7 writer Terry Nation is rescued by Doctor Who stalwart Chris Boucher this week, resulting in a great episode…

Blake's 7 series 1 episode 11 - Bounty

THE PLOT Blake and Cally have teleported down just outside the ‘prison’ of Lindor president, Sarkoff (TP McKenna) in a bid to reunite him with his people. Avoiding a horde of Federation guards, they see the man himself being driven by his ward Tyce (Carinthia West) in an old-fashioned automobile. Blake and Cally need to be careful as the chief Federation guard Cheney (Mark York) puts the area on red alert, having deduced that intruders have broken in rather than rodents…

On the Liberator, an unidentified ship is moving in on its position. Wary of the incoming craft, the remaining Liberator crew receive a message from the civilian cruiser, Star Queen. Gan foolishly offers to teleport across and sacrifice himself by warning the others to open fire in the event of a trap. Despite the others’ baffled objections, Gan beams aboard Star Queen and apparently tells Jenna and Avon that it is OK to bring him back. Vila, on the other hand, receives alarming news from Zen, who tells the thief that that was not Gan speaking. Only Vila can make a personal investigation of who or what has been brought abroad instead – much to his annoyance.

Blake manages to break into Sarkoff’s domain, a 20th century replica of an Earth style design which houses the finest private collection of 20th century Earth objects in the galaxy. Tyce enters behind Blake, at which point he explains that he and Cally have come to take Sarkoff back to his people. Refusing wholeheartedly, Sarkoff explains that he was the leader of the planetary government on Lindor for five years, during which time the planet resisted political pressure to join the Federation. He settled the issue by trying to get a vote of confidence through elections, but the move backfired when he was beaten. As a result, Sarkoff and Tyce ran away and hid on the nameless planet that the Federation provided.

Blake explains that Lindor is now in total chaos and on the brink of civil war as dozens of factions fight for power. And when the fighting starts, the Federation will move in with a peacekeeping force to take over administration and government. The planet would lose its freedom – but legitimately.

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Blake tells them that he has picked up the Lindor Strategy on the stolen Federation cipher machine, a plan that began with rigged elections to remove Sarkoff from power and which can only end with the former president returning to power as the puppet ruler of a subjugated people. Despite Sarkoff’s protests, Blake forces the broken man to come with him by threatening to destroy all of his beloved collection.

Blake, Cally, Sarkoff and Tyce make off in the automobile, urging the Liberator to bring them back on board. They are teleported back, but only at the last minute before the car loses control and crashes.

Once on board, Blake finds the ship deserted – except for Jenna, who is acting strangely. Her odd behaviour is explained by the invasion of the bounty hunters, the Amagons. Apparently, Jenna has sided with them…

Hoping to sell Blake and his crew to the Federation for 13 million credits, Amagon leader Tarvin (Marc Zuber) holds the others in captivity with killer neck bands placed around their necks. Jenna, an old acquaintance of Tarvin, offers the Amagon leader a higher price, but this is refused.

Blake doesn’t believe that Jenna has sold out, and sure enough, after Vila has succeeded in releasing his neck band, he manages to escape and rejoin Jenna, who has merely bluffed her way into Tarvin’s good books. They find Sarkoff and Tyce being held captive on the flight deck. Tyce threatens Tarvin with a gun, but he momentarily tricks her, dropping the weapon. Sarkoff promptly picks up the gun and Tyce – now revealing herself to be the president’s daughter – urges her father to pull the trigger. Blake distracts Tarvin, at which point Sarkoff shoots the Amagon at point blank range.

Sarkoff agrees to reunite his people, and along with his daughter, teleports back to Lindor.   

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ANALYSIS What with the current political shenanigans going on in 2009, you have to wonder how President Sarkoff would react to all this hullabaloo. Expenses rows, sleaze stories, not to mention endless economic blunders – they’d probably leave Sarkoff more of a broken man than his predicament does in Bounty, and who could blame him?

Still, this tale – part political intrigue, part bounty-hunter battle is one of the more complex, but actually one of the most rewarding season one episodes of Blake’s 7. Which is ironic, since apparently, there were behind-the-scenes problems in its writing. Terry Nation had delivered 10 stories on the trot, and was now finding it hard to keep the stories fresh and interesting. As a result, Bounty allegedly had to be rewritten in places by Chris Boucher. You can definitely spot Boucher’s hand in the complex back story of Sarkoff’s removal from power, and surprisingly, the plot hangs together really well with a good mix of action and rich dialogue.

It’s a boost that we’re plonked right into the action at the start, an unusual move for the series. The location work at Waterloo Tower in Quex Park, Kent is excellent, as is the interior set design of Sarkoff’s dwelling, and altogether, Bounty is a massive improvement on Pennant Roberts’ previous lacklustre offerings. His casting choices are also better this time around, with T.P. McKenna giving a great performance as the pompous but broken former leader of Lindor.

Sarkoff gets to deliver lots of expository dialogue about his past and the political backdrop of Lindor, but McKenna does this brilliantly. Although Bounty is a talky piece in places, somehow it never gets boring thanks to the compelling dialogue and McKenna’s performance. Carinthia West also does well as Tyce, Sarkoff’s feisty daughter, as does Marc Zuber, who copes well with the limitations of his Amagon costume.

Unfortunately, the appearance of the Amagons leaves much to be desired. Their costuming is a big mistake, with their rather stereotypical garb looking like the bounty hunters should have appeared in creaky old 70’s ‘sitcom’ Mind Your Language.

At least Tarvin’s presence provides Jenna with something more substantial to do, though, and her apparent duplicity is a nice twist to the story. The pattern of Bounty follows on from Breakdown, with different plot strands coming together, although this time around, it’s more of a seamless join than the preceding tale.

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Bounty also contains lots of hidden gems, such as Avon’s sarcastic response to Gan’s inexplicable suicide mission (maybe the events of Breakdown were still weighing heavily on Gan’s mind) and Vila’s “Personal investigation” clash with the non-committal Zen.

For those who are more used to modern-day scattergun storytelling with greater emphasis on action than dialogue, Bounty may take some getting used to. Although the action scenes, such as the Sono Vapour attack on Blake, work well, there’s an awful lot of dialogue to absorb – it’s up to the viewers to work things out for themselves rather than have it spelled out in big bold letters. That’s no bad thing though, and, altogether, Bounty definitely stands out as one of the most sophisticated offerings of the first season, and one of my own personal favourites.

Check out our review of episode 10 here.

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