Blake’s 7 series 1 episode 13 — Orac

Our heroes finally get close to the mysterious and valuable computer that the Federation are gasping to obtain…

Blake's 7 series 1 episode 13 – Orac

THE PLOTThere seems to be an outbreak of illness on board the Liberator. Gan, Jenna and Avon are feeling the side effects of a virus, with Avon feeling strange as he listens to Blake’s recap of recent events on Cephlon and the Liberator. Blake is bothered by the explosion on Ensor’s Spacemaster ship and realises that the Federation have sabotaged it in order to get out of paying 100 million credits for Orac. The plan is now to reach Aristo before the Federation does.

However, Cally brings bad news. Testing out a Geiger-counter device on Avon and Vila, she declares that they, along with Jenna and Gan, have absorbed dangerous levels of radiation while on Cephlon, far beyond their tolerance. What’s worse is that they don’t have any decontaminant drugs to combat the radiation…

On Aristo, the disembodied voice of Orac informs Ensor Snr (Derek Farr) that a Federation ship has arrived. Ensor isn’t too bothered and tells Orac that the new arrivals will have security to deal with along with the mysterious Phibians if they try to get through the tunnels. Sure enough, Servalan and Travis have found the entrance to the tunnels and start on their quest to recover Orac.

On the Liberator, Blake and Avon are gathering information about Ensor, a computer genius that developed Tarriel Cells, which can now be found in every single computer. 40 years ago, Ensor took a vacation on a frontier planet, Aristo, but suffered a massive heart attack, with the only available help being a mechanical heart powered by microcells.

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As the Liberator reaches orbit mode above Aristo, Zen is taken over by Orac, who demands that Blake states his business. When Blake mentions his mission to bring the power cells to Ensor, Orac agrees to teleport Blake and Cally down, as it takes over the teleport controls. When they reach Aristo, they encounter a force barrier and apparently no way out. Luckily, a floating ball-type object with Orac’s voice guides them into a black cylinder transporter which takes them down into Ensor’s base. They have had an easier route than Servalan and Travis, as the Supreme Commander has been attacked by a Phibian, a reptilian type creature in the tunnels. With the Phibian stopped by Travis, they are nearly at their goal…

Blake and Cally meet the irascible Ensor, who impatiently demands the cells for his artificial heart. On learning of his son’s death, Ensor calms down and thanks Blake and Cally, who are allowed to leave with as many decontaminant drugs as they want. Blake offers to take Ensor up to the Liberator where the genius’s heart can be operated on, restoring him to full health. Ensor agrees, but insists that they take Orac with them.

Orac – despite its box of tricks appearance – is a brain that can draw information from every single computer that contains Tarriel Cells, and has access to the sum total of all knowledge on known worlds.

Blake, Cally and Ensor start to leave, but run into Servalan and Travis on the way. Instead, they decide to make their escape through the tunnels, although Servalan finds a quicker route that will allow her and Travis to reach the surface first.

Concerned about Blake’s and Cally’s absence, Avon decides to teleport down to Aristo with a less compliant Vila. Blake and Cally, in the meantime, make their way through the tunnels with a rapidly weakening Ensor. Cally is attacked by a Phibian, but Blake knocks the creature out. Unfortunately, the skirmish has wasted too much time, as Ensor dies from his heart condition.

Making their way to the surface, Blake and Cally are ambushed by Servalan and Travis, who demand Orac. A trigger-happy Travis is more interested in Blake’s death, but before he can fire, Avon blows his artificial hand off with his blaster. Rather than killing them, Blake decides to send a message to Federation Control that Servalan and Travis have bungled their mission, leaving both of them in a lot of trouble – well, Travis anyway, if Servalan has her way…

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Safe and well on the Liberator, the crew are testing out Orac. Blake wants to know what Orac is capable of – Orac replies that it can predict events in the future. Vila demands that Orac predicts something, to which it obliges. On the scanner screen, an image of the Liberator appears – Orac predicts that the space vehicle will be destroyed.

The ship explodes into fiery pieces…

ANALYSIS Forget your Amstrad computers. Forget your Sinclair C5’s. Heck, forget your BBC Micro’s. When it comes to computer devices, Orac is the real deal. Despite looking like a futuristic Fisher Price Activity Centre, Orac has access to any computer in the world, a prospect that would make 21st century computer geeks drool. Mind you, what with all the unwelcome spam, surveillance and bugging on computers today, you kind of wonder if someone’s learned to build their own Orac…

Finally, we get to learn the identity of Orac in the highly enjoyable season finale. Orac may look a tad uninspiring, but the idea of it is an excellent one, and it’s marvellously brought to life by the voice of Derek Farr for this episode only (Peter Tuddenham would take over the voiceover duties in the following seasons). Farr also turns in a brilliant performance as his similarly irascible creator, with his mood swings just being a defence mechanism against people he doesn’t know. Ensor is a man that gets on better with animals rather than people – look at the way in which he bids adieu to his beloved pets before he sets off on his doomed mission. It’s a great shame that Ensor dies in the tunnels, as he would have made an amusing recurring character in the future.

The season finale is actually quite low key, compared to future offerings which forecast an unhappy ending from the word go. In Orac, the cliff-hanger threat appears out of nowhere, rather than being signposted heavily from the outset. The episode certainly gets off to a shaky start with a clunky infodump which is just a blatant recap of the events of Deliverance. These days, we’d get a tacky ‘Previously on Blake’s 7’ intro. Fortunately, things pick up considerably with the hazard of the Cephlon radiation – at this point, it’s unusual to see the Liberator crew at death’s door, although as we’ll see in the next season, the threat of death becomes a lot more real for one crewmember.

Talking of threats, the Phibians aren’t exactly the greatest monsters in the world, although they certainly freak the hell out of Servalan and Cally. They’re obviously men in rubber suits, but it is refreshing to see Servalan looking so stunned at her narrow escape, a trait that we don’t normally get to see. It’s a shame also that this is Stephen Greif’s swansong, as he has been consistently excellent as Travis, although it’s a greater shame that his studio appearance is limited to an obvious voiceover and an equally obvious double – the result of an injury sustained by Greif, which necessitated a hasty solution.

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The dialogue in Orac is as sharp as ever, with some edgy arguing between the sick crewmembers and plenty of pithy comments from both Orac and Ensor. The plot is relatively simple to follow, but altogether it’s capably shot by Vere Lorrimer and manages to tie up most of the loose ends of the season well.

Apart from that cliff-hanger, which would become a staple of future season finales. You can imagine the 13-year-olds spitting out their tea and Marmite on toast as the Liberator explodes in a puff of smoke. Even if the hazard isn’t as violent as, say the ending of Blake, it’s still a very memorable one, and guarantees that the viewers will tune into Season Two.

Now that’s a season to write about…

Check out our review of episode 12 here.

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