Blake’s 7 series 2 episode 5 – Pressure Point

Blake's increasingly ambitious strikes against the Federation are about to cost the crew of the liberator very dear…

Blake's 7 series 2 episode 5 – Pressure Point

THE PLOT On planet Earth, resistance men Arle (Alan Halley) and Berg (Martin Connor) have entered the Forbidden Zone and are attempting to locate the main Control Centre. Before they can do so, they are enmeshed in a lethal trap that blows them to smithereens.

Blake’s latest scheme is not going down well with his friends – especially when it’s such a risky one as heading back to Earth to destroy the Federation’s computer complex that is the nerve centre of all its activity. Blake admits that destroying Control is a high-risk strategy, but believes that he can do this alone (to the sound of slow handclapping from Avon) without his crew. And if necessary, he can operate with the help of an Earth-bound resistance force led by Kasabi (Jane Sherwin).

Unfortunately, Kasabi and her troops, including her daughter Veron (Yolande Palfrey) have been discovered by Servalan, who has been tracking her for 18 days. Servalan’s Mutoids wipe out the majority of Kasabi’s troops and capture both the rebel leader and her daughter. Kasabi, Servalan’s former tutor, is forced to reveal the location of the rendezvous with Blake and the rendezvous signal by means of a drug. Servalan gives Kasabi a fatal dose, but as she dies, Kasabi’s dying wish is that she could have tried to help Servalan more.

The Liberator crew have agreed to accompany Blake on the condition that he is not going to lead them on a suicide mission. They are anxiously awaiting the signal from Kasabi, and almost pull out when it doesn’t sound by the allotted time. However, at this point, the signal comes through, and the plan begins in a number of phases. Blake teleports down to Earth first, followed by Gan. They both discover Kasabi’s daughter Veron in a church – Veron says that her mother has died, killed in an ambush. An uneasy Gan suggests that Blake pulls out, but he refuses, saying that there were always a risk factor – even with Kasabi’s people.

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Phase Two begins as Vila and Avon briefly teleport down to the defence zone to make an analysis of its risks and then into the church. While Blake formulates a new plan, Veron, who has gone out for air, knocks him and the others out with Sono Vapour, and then steals their Teleport bracelets, locking them in the church. Veron brings the bracelets back to Servalan and Travis, begging them to be reunited with her mother in return for her duplicity. But the girl has been tricked, and Travis knocks her out.

Gan manages to break the door down, and the four men make for the Forbidden Zone. They manage to overcome the deadly trap by firing at the mesh which allows them eight seconds to make for the Control door (although Avon has a narrow escape). Once inside, they make their way past more security traps to the main door of Control. Blake violently urges Vila to open the door – time is running out, especially since Travis and a party of Mutoids are in hot pursuit. Vila finds the right code and a fanatically triumphant Blake enters to find…

Nothing.

The whole building has been devised as a trap by the Federation to lure its opponents into thinking that they could destroy it. But as Travis explains to a devastated Blake, the real location of Control was moved 30 years ago to a domain so secret that even Travis doesn’t know where it is. Relishing the moment, Travis is on the verge of killing his greatest enemy…

Until Servalan enters the room – held at gunpoint by Jenna (who has teleported down) and Veron. Servalan orders the others to be released, and after a moment’s pause, Travis reluctantly agrees. Blake and the others escape, leaving Travis to receive a furious slap across the face from Servalan who is outraged that her wellbeing was put at risk.

As the others make their escape, Travis and Servalan follow in hot pursuit. Travis rashly decides to use a Strontium Grenade to try and stop Blake. The explosive causes rubble and masonry to collapse everywhere – and fatally injuring Gan in the process. Blake tries to free Gan, but the gentle giant is already dead.

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Blake and the others teleport back up, leaving Veron to settle the score, Travis in more trouble with Servalan, and the Liberator crew with one less member…  

ANALYSISAfter the dips in action with Weapon and Horizon, Season Two of Blake’s 7 gets right back on track with Pressure Point, a story that marks a turning point in the series with the death of Gan.

Up until now, Blake and his crew have managed to escape from their adventures with their lives intact – amazing, given that they’ve been up against Federation assaults, deluded priests, killer Ewok prototypes, bounty hunters and psycho fembots – and that’s just a sample. The production team, however, wanted to shake things up a bit and actually introduce the very real threat of death into the equation. Initially, Vila was the chosen crewmember to bite the dust, but Michael Keating’s performance had rightly made the cowardly thief a firm favourite with fans.

So, regrettably, Gan’s number was up instead. A pity, since Gan was never really utilised properly, chipping in with the occasional line and punch-up. A shame that his backstory was all but thrown away – really Gan was now surplus to requirements, especially since technically Blake’s 7 had become Blake’s 8. Still, David Jackson gives his all in his swansong, and his final scenes are rather poignant.

That’s what makes this story so memorable, and it’s a great shame that these days in cult TV programmes, the threat of death isn’t quite as real. Either characters are killed off and then brought miraculously back to life by some vast miracle just to appease the fans, or either they’re prophesised to die and then only end up transported to a parallel universe or being on the receiving end of a mind wipe. Not naming any names of course, but I kind of wish that modern day writers wouldn’t keep chickening out of making characters’ ends final.

Pressure Point is also a turning point in Blake’s leadership. Up until now, Blake has managed to take his fellow crewmembers’ opinions into consideration, even during a shaky wobble in Shadow. But the Blake of this story is too concerned about winning his own battle against the Federation at any cost. Admittedly, he initially declines to take his friends along with him, but once he’s teleported down to Earth, he’s like a power addict. When Gan warns him of the dangers, he doesn’t pull out. When he’s been tricked by Veron, he doesn’t pull out. When he’s faced with deadly challenges, he doesn’t pull out. Mind you, considering that the challenges are more like your average edition of The Krypton Factor, that’s not surprising.

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But it’s telling that when Blake rushes into what he thinks is Control Centre, he screams ‘I’ve done it!’ If Shadow was the episode in which Blake’s fanaticism threatened to rear its ugly head, Pressure Point is arguably where it really takes root. Gareth Thomas is really at the top of his game here, and in fact all the regulars are on top form – poor old Cally and Jenna though, don’t get to do a great deal, and not for the first time this season…

George Spenton Foster’s back behind the camera, and directs this episode in a similar fashion to Weapon. That said, his no-frills approach kind of suits Pressure Point in a strange way, giving it a gritty, warts ‘n’ all feel. The lack of incidental music is notable (there’s about less than two minutes worth here) and is actually quite effective – although it’s the sort of decision that would leave Russell T Davies and Murray Gold foaming at the mouth with rage.

Spenton Foster’s casting isn’t quite as hot here as it was in Weapon. The terribly posh Kasabi and her army are hardly terrifying opponents of the Federation, and come across more as a public school head teacher taking her class out for a spot of paintballing for the day. Still, if you can get past Kasabi’s plummy tones, then Jane Sherwin is actually pretty good as Servalan’s former tutor.

There’s a nice bit of backstory here, with Servalan already being a spoilt, power hungry brat in her school days (she probably used to steal all her other pupils’ milk, I bet). Kasabi’s final lines are also really effective – rather than wishing Servalan dead, Kasabi takes pity on her and wishes that she could have helped her. Excellent writing and also well acted by Sherwin and Jacqueline Pearce.

Veron is less effective, with a rather lacklustre performance from Yolande Palfrey (who nevertheless would go on to be one of the few saving graces of Doctor Who’s Terror Of The Vervoids story) – quite why Nation called her this name, considering we’ve already had a Varon in The Way Back, I don’t know. But then you could say the same about Dev and Del Tarrant. Elsewhere, Arle and Berg are just cannon fodder, and the speaking Mutoid manages to fluff her line beautifully.

That’s the problem with Spenton Foster’s direction. Under the helm of say, Douglas Camfield or Michael E Briant, we would have got some striking imagery and a real sense of action. The direction in Pressure Point may suit the feel of the story, but it’s still rushed and alas – can’t disguise the fact that the same corridors and sets for Control are used over and over. Blue and red lighting doesn’t make a great deal of difference and wouldn’t fool the viewers in a million years.

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Such a shame, since otherwise, Pressure Point is tautly plotted and well scripted by Terry Nation. In fact, it’s one of his best for the series, with some great material for the regulars, who rise to the challenge very well indeed. I just can’t help but feel that it would have been an all-time classic if it had been directed by someone else – rather than a flawed but still great story.  

Check out our review of season 2 episode 4 here.

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