Blake’s 7 series 2 episode 3 – Weapon

Much talk, but not much action in this week’s review of the 1970s sci-fi series...

Blake's 7 series 2 episode episode 3 - Weapon

THE PLOT Having set his ship to explode and make people think he perished in the fireball, beta-class weapons technician Coser (John Bennett) and his companion, a former bond slave girl Rashel (Candace Glendenning) look for somewhere to hide on the planet.

Travis is meanwhile using a precise clone of Blake for target practice. This meets with disapproval from Clonemaster Fen (Kathleen Byron) who states that life must have reverence. Dismissing Fen, Travis demands that the other Blake clone be brought before him. Two clones were made with one of them used by Servalan to see if there were any defects. Servalan is now hoping to persuade the Clonemasters to let the Federation have the clone for their own uses. Fen and the Clonemasters were sent Blake’s DNA identity profile, which resulted in a physical copy only rather than a precise one drawn from one of Blake’s cells. News comes through of Coser’s escape, and Servalan demands that he be found.

Blake has also received the message of Coser’s disappearance, along with something called IMIPAK – this was after news came through of a maximum alert at the Federation’s weapons development base. Blake concludes that Coser must have IMIPAK and orders Zen to get close to the maximum security space zone to stand some chance of finding him.

Travis reports to Servalan that Coser has stolen the IMIPAK prototype, and after destroying everyone linked with the project, ran away. The space commander has narrowed his destination down to four possible planets, but to pinpoint Coser’s state of mind, Servalan sends for psychostrategist Carnell (Scott Fredericks). Carnell promises that she will get both IMIPAK and Coser, and after Travis has found his ship, the puppeteer concludes that he blew it up himself with no means of escape as a symbolic act of guilt. According to Carnell, Coser is a very sick man and won’t be surprised when a folk hero called Blake arrives out of nowhere…

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Zen, in the meantime has made its best guess as to the planet on which Coser is hiding. Blake, along with Avon and Gan teleport down. On the planet itself, Coser and Rashel have found a mess room in which to hide, even though they have been disturbed by an angry creature. Coser uses IMIPAK to destroy it and reduce it to a steaming green puddle. Shortly, the clone of Blake arrives, and Coser, believing it to be the real man, explains the process of IMIPAK – or Induced Molecular Instability Projector and Key. Simply use the projector like a gun on the chosen target, which projects an unstable molecular potential in the part that’s hit, which the victim won’t realise. The key then triggers the unstable molecules at the press of a button, killing its victim. With a range of a million miles, and death at the press of a button, IMIPAK allows its user to be like God – unfortunately, the clone gives way to Travis and Servalan, who uses the deadly weapon to kill a screaming Coser.

As Blake, Avon and Gan make their way into the hideaway, Travis, unbeknown to them, marks them for death with the projector. When they find Servalan, she explains that they could be dead at the press of a button. However, Servalan allows them to teleport back up, allowing Blake to give his final order, a partial orbit that will ensure that Federation ships witness the Liberator’s escape – when this is done, Travis can have the honour of killing them. However, they are stopped by Rashel and the Blake clone, who threaten them with the IMIPAK key, after Rashel says that they too have been marked for death. With Servalan and Travis gone, Rashel and the clone beam a message to Blake to say that he is free.

A message is waiting for Servalan from Carnell, who has now lost his career and position after underestimating Rashel’s actions. He warns her of Travis, who is as mad as ever with the aim of killing Blake. And he also lets her know that she is the sexiest officer that he has ever known…

ANALYSIS IMIPAK. Sounds like a new form of processed cheese. Or a Dutch flatpack furniture store. As it turns out, it’s the latest deadliest weapon that everyone wants to get their hands on in the third offering of Blake’s 7’s second season.

Unfortunately, Weapon hasn’t had a particularly good press since its broadcast – even its writer Chris Boucher has expressed his dissatisfaction with the end product – or rather the slapdash direction from George Spenton-Foster. 30 years on, Weapon has its moments, but sadly, it fails to live up to its potential.

Boucher’s second script for the series is again cleverly thought out, with some strong dialogue throughout. It also follows on from Shadow with its themes of slavery, for example the way in which Blake refers to it as the only defence against IMIPAK. There’s also the harsh treatment that Rashel gets from Coser. Despite his many claims that Rashel is no longer a bond slave, Coser treats her like one throughout the episode, yelling at her, belittling her and even threatening to kill her.

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Coser himself has gone insane, blinded by his own apparent brilliance and sick to the back teeth of people who have not spotted his potential. Coser’s the sort of man who would have been the child genius at school, picked on by the boys and laughed at by the girls. Now after years of being patronised and belittled by others, Coser has gone over the edge. Ironically, despite his loathing of other people, his own downfall is created by him trusting his ‘folk hero’ Blake – who turns out to be a clone sent by Servalan.

The clone idea is an interesting one, especially with the race of Clonemasters and their emphasis on the rule of life. Despite having no real life of his own, the Blake clone also puts this rule first at the end, when he turns against Servalan and Travis – a nice link with Fen’s earlier speech.

What also helps this strong dialogue and character building is the casting. If there’s one thing that Spenton-Foster got right on this occasion, it was his spot-on choice of actors. All the cast deliver great performances: Kathleen Byron gives a controlled, dignified turn as Fen (even if she keeps inexplicably calling Servalan ‘Servalong’), John Bennett is perfect as the unhinged Coser, Candace Glendenning is nicely understated as Rashel, while Scott Fredericks threatens to steal the show with his highly amusing portrayal of the smarmy but self-deprecating Carnell – a man who on the one hand, delivers intelligent analysis, and yet on the other, is more interested in his fee and his state-of-the-art computerised chess set (which actually looks like the sort of cheap bling you’d win on a Blockbusters Gold Run).

It’s also amusing that Carnell brings out Servalan’s more human side. While everyone else gets on the wrong side of her, Carnell makes her laugh and flirts with her, especially in the episode’s final line. It’s certainly unusual to see Servalan smile – especially after she’s spent the whole episode barking at Travis.

Ah, Travis. Rehab has been tough, obviously. Especially now he’s magically turned himself into Ted Hills from EastEnders. Or Harry the Bastard from the Bottom episode with the fake wooden leg. Now that Stephen Greif was committed elsewhere, in particular on Citizen Smith as Harry Fenning, Wolfie’s arch nemesis, Brian Croucher was chosen to take over – never an easy task for an actor. Yet Croucher’s different take on the character is still very good indeed. Croucher’s Travis is more of a ruthless, unscrupulous thug, but it perfectly tallies with Servalan’s original description of him as a total advocate of war. Mind you, we’re never told what happened to his eyepatch, which has changed from a futuristic repair job to the sort of thing you’d get down the local joke shop.

Its a shame that Spenton-Foster’s direction is otherwise rather sloppy and rushed. Indeed, there are a lot of scenes which smack of first take, and the end result is a bland run-through without any real flair or imagination. That said, I guess Spenton-Foster does attempt to make the Clonemaster scenes august and awe-inspiring, which they are to a degree with Kathleen Byron’s excellent performance and Dudley Simpson’s atmospheric organ music (which he also used to great effect in the Gallifrey stories for Doctor Who). Yet, the copious amounts of dry ice, soprano warbling and Fen narrowly putting her foot through a polystyrene stair make the scenes more akin to Shirley Bassey singing Smoke Gets In Your Eyes on The Morecambe and Wise Show. The aforementioned choral noise is also a big no no in my book, since I always feel that choirs detract from the atmosphere rather than add to it, and rob the scenes of any tension that they might have had, because they’re so over the top and intrusive. The many Murray Gold choir-based scores for Doctor Who are classic examples of this folly.

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Mind you, for all the clever lines and themes in Weapon, the plot as a whole, is tedious, since nothing actually happens. The episode consists of people talking to each other in different rooms – or for the most part, bellowing. All this shouting makes an average instalment of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares resmemble a boy scouts tea party.

The plot of Weapon is slow and sluggish, and despite the good performances and thematic strength of the script, the whole shebang fails to come alive. Even the eponymous weapon isn’t much cop, since one minute it reduces a creature to a gooey sludgy puddle, and yet the next minute it curiously leaves Coser’s corpse intact.

Weapon is a catalogue of missed opportunities. While Spenton-Foster delivered the goods on Doctor Who with the brilliant Image Of The Fendahl and Ribos Operation, here, he failed to do so. It’s a great shame that the episode doesn’t quite work, since there are scatterings of inspiration among the slow plot and poor execution. As it is, though, Weapon misses the target.

Check out our review of season 2 episode 2 here.

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