The Plot Avon and Vila teleport down to the planet Fosforon, where they make for the Federation Q-Base where Avon’s old ‘friend’ Tynus (Ronald Lacey) is to be found. They are after a TP Crystal that will help to break the new pulse codes of the Federation’s transmitted A-Line messages. Avon suggests that a malfunction can be made in the base’s A-Line converter, and then while a replacement is found, they can take the second-hand one back up to the Liberator.
Tynus is, of course, reluctant, since it’d be his head on the block as commander technician. Avon is forced to remind him of the fraud that they once attempted. While Avon got arrested, he kept quiet about Tynus’ involvement, and so now it’s payback time. Tynus agrees to start a small fire, which would create confusion and also an opportunity for Avon to create a malfunction in the unmanned converter.
On the Liberator, Blake has detected one of the oldest space ships in existence, an ancient Earth Wanderer Class model that’s drifting in space. A salvager ship is launched from Fosforon to retrieve the vessel, but Cally detects a malignant presence on board the Wanderer ship… Blake is concerned about this, and despite Jenna’s protests about warning Federation personnel, he decides to teleport down to Fosforon to alert them.
The alert of life on board the ship is picked up by Gambrill (Colin Farrell) who delivers the message to Dr Bellfriar (Paul Daneman). Bellfriar decides to take the message seriously, and orders a quarantine around the landing bay. Blake, in the meantime, before teleporting, has identified the ship as K-47, a vessel that went missing 700 years ago in the vicinity of 61-Cygnii, containing the crew of Kemp, Wardin and Tober. Blake arrives on Fosforon, and is taken to Bellfriar. Despite knowing who Blake is, the doctor disregards his status as political criminal, especially when Blake warns them of a malignant presence.
A body has been found on the ship and is sent to Dr Wiler (Morris Barry) for autopsy. Wiler conducts his analysis of the body which turns out to be the remains of Wardin. Wiler concludes that Wardin is officially dead, but then the EEG readings go wild. The corpse comes to life and throttles the life out of Wiler, before collapsing again. Blake surmises that the corpse had been adapted, suggesting that a control device had been linked into Wardin’s nervous system with the task of killing Wiler, but for some unknown reason. There’s more bad news though – two technicians who went in to help retrieve Wiler have been taken ill with some sort of poisonous side effects including convulsions. Dr Bax (Michael Gaunt) then tells Bellfriar that the two men are dead, and what’s more, three of his men have gone down with the same symptoms.
The diversion is what Avon and Vila want. Tynus has shown them the A-line converter, and has arranged for a thermal pack to be detonated. In fact, the whole operation is a success – until Vila finds a message from Tynus alerting the Federation of their presence…
The virus is now reaching critical stages, and because of its airborne transmissions, is starting to kill off people in droves, including Bax, whose body has erupted with disfiguring red blisters – the last stage of the disease after memory loss, convulsions and rise in temperature. Bellfriar arranges for the air ducts to be switched off. Blake makes another suggestion – that the whole setup has been a trap devised by an alien civilisation that was highly mistrustful of other races, deliberately loading a virus biologically designed to wipe out the human race. Blake decides to take the raw data relating to the disease back up to the Liberator, where he can figure out a vaccine. It’s too late for Gambrill though, as he succumbs to the disease, his body also breaking out in disfiguring blisters.
Avon decides to go back to the converter to get the crystal and arrange for the converter to be destroyed, so it looks like it will have been destroyed by the fire. However, they are discovered by Tynus, who gets into a fight with Avon. During the struggle, Avon manages to punch his old friend so hard that he falls onto the converter, where he is painfully electrocuted.
Mission accomplished, Avon and Vila teleport back up, where Blake is communicating with Bellfriar to find a cure. Bellfriar says that the disease is Paratype 926, a virus that was designed to keep humanity confined to its own planet. Bellfriar has found a formula for information, since it is too late to help anyone on the base. However, as he tries to read, Bellfriar’s memory goes, and collapses back in his seat as his body starts to break out in blisters…
Depsite Avon’s protests that no one should be warned of the plague since Servalan may land there, Blake will not take the responsibility of killing millions of lives in the case that it may spread across the galaxy. He puts out a plague warning around Fosforon, and then sets course for the constellation Sauros.
Analysis It’s not often that you’d get to say Adamski, Jasper Carrott and Blake’s 7 in the same sentence. But when you’re discussing Killer, it’s inevitable.
Halfway through the yo-yoing Season Two, Killer turns out to be one of its best – and certainly a darn sight better than the sight of four goons arguing over whether they have a ‘Keeelluuurrrr’ in their collection of Golden Balls.
Killer is actually unusual in Season Two, since it doesn’t really get involved with the overall season arc. Indeed, you could happily place this story in the previous season and no one would bat an eyelid. It also goes back to the grittier style of that season, especially in the nasty scenes of people succumbing to the virus and breaking out in ugly disfiguring blisters. Blake is also seen to have more of a moral conscience, such as in the final scene where he adamantly puts out a plague warning – despite the iminent arrival of more Federation troops. Compare that with his actions in say, Shadow or Star One. An interesting contrast, but I do wonder about the continuity of Blake’s Season Two character.
All of which doesn’t really matter, since this episode is fast paced and gripping. This is Robert Holmes’ debut for Blake’s 7, after penning several highly regarded stories for Doctor Who. This is just as good, with a heady mix of action and memorable dialogue. Holmes has a knack for writing witty double acts, and this is seen in his depiction of Avon and Vila. Rather than the constantly clashing characters of Season One, this Avon and Vila are almost shown to be friends with a grudging respect for each other (this would be taken further in Holmes’ later Gambit and Orbit scripts). There are many examples of this in Killer, such as in the scene where they discuss Blake’s heroics which Avon has little time for. The self-serving Avon comes to the fore here, and also in the final scene, where he’s perfectly happy to risk the virus spreading if it gets rid of Servalan.
Holmes’ grand guignol style of writing is also seen in how bleak this story is. All the characters bite the dust before the bitter end, and there’s also the scene in which the corpse of Wardin strangles Wiler – a throwback to the Gothic Horror stories of Doctor Who’s 13th and 14th seasons. However, Holmes also manages to depict Federation crew as just ordinary people going about their everyday jobs. Bellfriar and Gambrill are likeable, normal characters who aren’t willing to give Blake away, unlike the double dealing Tynus, who would probably sell his family if it meant recognition from the Federation. There’s a nice bit of back story into Avon’s past too, and neatly sets events up for Countdown, where we learn even more of the cynical computer expert’s history.
In fact, the only fault of Holmes’ script is how it portrays Jenna and Cally. Jenna is only there to act as Blake’s Yes Woman, while Cally chips in with a token reference to her telepathic abilities for about 30 seconds, and that’s it. You can understand why both Sally Knyvette and Jan Chappell were getting unhappy with their Season Two characters, since they’re barely used, and unfortunately Killer is a prime example of this.
Despite that problem, and also the ridiculous costuming of the Fosforon inhabitants (Which is worse? The outer space Michelin Men or the Leather Beetles?) Killer is a great success. Top marks to all the actors, especially Paul Daneman as Bellfriar and Ronald Lacey, who has a strong line in portraying evil nasties such as the creepy Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark and the duplicitous Tynus. Vere Lorrimer’s direction is tight and stylish, and contributes greatly to the atmospheric, brisk pace of the story. Although I still can’t believe that Tynus’ dead body is still intact after falling onto the Converter, which, according to Avon, would burn him up so badly there wouldn’t be enough of him to fit into a sandwich. I don’t know, maybe Mary Whitehouse was sharpening her claws again.
Check out our review of season 2 episode 6 here.