Blake’s 7 series 2 episode 10 – Voice From The Past

An episode of Blake's 7 that's not a fan favourite by most measures. John wonders if it Voices From The Past deserves a bit more love, though...

Blake's 7 series 2 episode 10 - Voice From The Past

THE PLOT Cally’s exercises are not doing much good to the stressed out Liberator crew during some down-time. Especially Blake, who keeps hearing a piercing, oscillating tone in his head. Blake is behaving oddly, having changed course from paradise planet Del 10 to asteroid PK118, now no more than a ‘discarded rock’. Blake’s weird mood swings are now counterpointed by nightmares from the days in which he was caught as a freedom fighter and forced to renounce the Freedom Party.

Orac makes a diagnosis of the tone, which is a ‘trigger signal’ used by crimino therapists to condition convicts for memory revision. Orac says that the way to cancel this out is for another of the crew to link minds with Blake – the computer recommends Jenna. The ensuing session causes both Blake and Jenna to nearly go over the edge, and with the prospect of brief five-minute sessions over a 26-hour time span, Jenna isn’t happy.

With the Liberator on course for Del 10 again, Blake is restrained with Avon acting as ‘leader’. A sulking Vila is tricked by Blake into freeing him after saying that Avon and Cally are playing some sort of treacherous game. Blake also convinces Vila to resume course for PK118, as he locks the others in the rest room. As the Liberator makes orbit, Blake teleports down to the barren asteroid where he makes for the living accommodation quarters.

Once inside, he meets a group of people guarding a bandaged, cloaked figure called Shivan, the Defender of Truth, who had apparently been killed in a Federation trap. Among the people are Nagu (Martyn Read) and none other than Ven Glynd (Richard Bebb), the former Federation arbiter general who was part of the team responsible for making up the false charges that led to Blake’s initial arrest on Earth. Glynd says that he has now defected after the sham trial in the name of justice.

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Glynd and Shivan teleport back up to the Liberator as Blake says that they now have a real chance of defeating the Federation and in a way that is free of bloodshed. Glynd has enough evidence to convict the Federation, and with Governor Le Grand (Frieda Knorr) in on the case, this now seems a real possibility. Because Le Grand has many other governors on side, a meeting at Atlay of these officials is the best place to put this case forward. Le Grand herself has contacted Servalan to check on the security arrangements for Atlay, and satisfied, teleports aboard the Liberator.

Avon though is still suspicious of this setup, and has learned from Orac that Blake is still being controlled by a low-power source near to him. Avon and Cally force Glynd to show them the device – a so-called course interceptor from Auron – that has control over Blake’s mind. Avon demands that the device be left on board the Liberator as Blake, Jenna and Vila leave for Atlay with Le Grand and Glynd. However, after they have gone, Nagu is stabbed to death by Shivan, who has miraculously recovered – probably because he is actually Travis, now working with Servalan again.

Down on Atlay, the conference room is curiously empty – except for a large screen that displays a sneering close-up of Servalan’s face. Servalan explains that Le Grand’s attempt at mutiny has been monitored from the beginning and that the whole conference is a trap. Both Le Grand and Glynd attempt to escape but are shot by Federation guards. Le Grand is killed in the ambush, while Glynd has been badly wounded.

Blake, Jenna and Vila, along with Glynd, seek sanctuary in a mess room, where they urge Avon to teleport them up – but Blake is badly overcome by the hypnotic signal. During the confusion, Travis is teleported down instead, where he shoots Glynd dead. After Avon has destroyed the device, Blake teleports back up with the others.

Blake, now himself again, tells the others that it’s time to get back to finding the location for Star One. Avon announces that their leader is well and truly back…   

ANALYSIS Poor old Voice From The Past. Its standing in fan circles isn’t very high, in fact it’s generally regarded with the same reaction that you’d get if raw sewage had just been tipped onto your living room floor.

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Such a shame, since despite its many faults, there are some good ideas and concepts at work here. It’s just that the sheer weight of hammy acting, pompous dialogue and iffy execution keep burying these ideas. So let’s start with one of the most obvious howlers – Shivan, a walking, one eyed mummy in a green curtain that – guess what – turns out to be Travis in disguise. For reasons only known to Travis, Shivan is required to speak in a croaky cod-French accent that sounds like a cross between Inspector Clouseau and Zed from the Police Academy movies. Travis’ plan is again, deeply flawed, since he has countless opportunities to kill Blake, and yet instead, chooses to wait until his nemesis has teleported down. Only when he does eventually teleport down to Atlay, he shoots Glynd rather than Blake – all nonsense, and besides which, quite why Servalan and Travis are working together again after their recent fall-out is a mystery.

Glynd’s and Le Grand’s plan is shaky too, Le Grand in particular, seems highly naive to think that her plan could have ever succeeded. In particular, why does she report to Servalan, a woman so devious she could win at poker blindfolded? I don’t know, maybe the excessive amounts of blue eye shadow weigh heavily on Le Grand’s cerebral cortex. Matters aren’t helped by the portrayals of these characters. Glynd is played by a completely different actor, so it makes his return rather less effective than it could be. And while Richard Bebb is fine as Glynd, he still lacks the creepy intensity that Robert James brought to the part in The Way Back.

Frieda Knorr’s performance, on the other hand, is awful – all mad, googly eyes and OTT speech. Knorr has an annoying habit of over-EMPHASISING every OTHER word THAT she SPEAKS. Bizarre, and what’s more Le Grand has to contend with a bucket load of pompous, artificial dialogue that rockets around like wildfire in this episode. Even Blake gets to spout rubbish like “Herald at last the true epoch of freedom!” It’s as if Roger Parkes borrowed the Allan Prior Handbook of Pompous cliches and decided to use his own version for Voice From The Past – writ large.

Despite these many problems, there are still some good things to be found in this episode. While the knack for writing convincing dialogue seems to have temporarily bypassed Parkes in Voice, his ideas are actually very good. The thought of Blake being taken over by some mysterious force is an intriguing one, and the early scenes of Blake apparently turning against his friends are very effective.

Gareth Thomas is excellent here, especially when he’s quietly outlining his scheming thoughts to a nervous Vila. Great stuff, and so it’s a shame that Blake doesn’t get so much to do in the last act – another example of how Avon is becoming more of a leader. Indeed, Avon just automatically assumes the role of leader during Blake’s absence, and sets himself up for the forthcoming Season Three. In fact, all of the regulars make up for the less impressive supporting actors, and its nice to see Jenna and Cally taking more of a proactive role in the action.

Parkes has also done his homework on the show too, as there are various references to past stories – in particular, events of The Way Back, and also oblique nods to Orac, Seek-Locate-Destroy and Pressure Point. It’s great that Parkes has taken the time to research the other episodes, a hallmark of all his stories for Blake’s 7.

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The production values are hit and miss. The obvious CSO landscape that Blake walks on is a misfire, but there is at least effort in other aspects of Voice From The Past, such as the pullback from the planet through the Liberator window and also the avant-garde close ups of Servalan’s eyes and mouth as she traps Le Grand and Glynd. Dudley Simpson’s incidental music is as evocative as ever, too.

All of which adds up to an episode that I actually didn’t find as painful as Hostage or Horizon. At least it’s not as boring as either of these, and it does contain some strong ideas and good performances from the regulars (and you’ve got to laugh at the way in which Darrow says “Renounce. Renounce.”). The execution and the dialogue are what let this episode down, pity really, with more tweaking and the loss of Shivan, this might have made for a more highly regarded installment.

Check out our review of season 2 episode 9 here.

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