Blake’s 7 series 3 episode 12 – Death-Watch

The cult 70s sci-fi show predicts the advent of reality TV this week...

Dayna and Avon fail to interest Tarrant in Death Watch.

THE PLOTOn board the Teal Star, Deeta Tarrant (Steven Pacey) is stopped by an apparent fan Karla (Katherine Iddon). In fact, she is a ruse, a representative of The Vandor Confederacy, which is at opposition with the United Planets Of Teal. Until Deeta reaches the combat grounds, he is a valid target for assassination. Another Vandor rep attempts to kill Deeta as does Karla, but Deeta is too fast for both of them, shooting them dead.

Vila wants a holiday, and tells the others of the war between Vandor and Teal. Avon instructs Zen to make for the combat grounds planet and for Orac to gain access to all viscasts relayed from there. Breaking out the booze and munchies, Vila explains that the fight between the two representatives is a major sporting occasion with festivities down below, none of which appeals to Cally.

On the viscast, Darvid (David Sibley) is explaining proceedings, in which the two fighters enter through two separate doors to a surprise destination to carry out their battle. In the meantime, Deeta is in an approaching space shuttle with his advisor Max (Stewart Bevan) – Max does not have much information on his opponent, who has apparently just appeared out of nowhere. Deeta also asks about the neutral arbiter, which turns out to be…

Servalan. Tarrant says that she is a logical choice, since she is in charge of an empire that borders on both systems. The two fighters swear their allegiance before Servalan – Vinni (Mark Elliott) and Deeta, who is recognised by Tarrant as his brother.

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Tarrant doesn’t trust Vinni, saying to Max that there is something odd about him. Getting some sleep, Deeta leaves Max to welcome his brother, who has teleported down. Max explains to Tarrant that Deeta stands a very good chance of winning, but that if he loses, the Convention requires that Teal surrenders three of its planets and two thirds of its fleet. Max also gives Tarrant a series of discs that allow mental access into each of the fighters’ brains, so that they experience exactly what they are feeling – murder without guilt, death without loss.

With the two fighters called to arms, they prepare for battle. They enter the combat ground through two separate doors to arrive in the burned remains of a large building. On the Liberator, Vila and Tarrant are wearing discs tuned into Deeta’s brain, while weapons expert Dayna is linked into Vinni’s brain. It looks like Deeta will win the battle, but Vinni proves to be surprisingly fast, and shoots Deeta. A tearful Tarrant listens to his brother’s final words before Vinni kills Deeta completely.

Dayna says that there was no instinct in Vinni’s mind, and Orac confirms this by saying that Vinni is in fact, a sophisticated android posing as a gunslinger. Tarrant now has the right to kill the android, and prepares to get ready with Dayna’s new gun. Cally mentally tells Tarrant what to expect, as he enters the observation gallery of a deep space liner. Cally says that Tarrant must reach the middle of the gallery in order to stand a good chance of killing Vinni. Vinni enters, and Tarrant not only shoots him, but blasts him into nothing with Dayna’s new weapon.

Avon tells Max that Servalan was undoubtedly behind the whole thing, most likely in conspiracy with an arms-manufacturing cartel. Avon advises that since a medical examination of Vinni never took place, the contest is actually void. If Max lodges a complaint, then the contest can be fought again. An excited Max starts proceedings, but as Tarrant is next behind Deeta, he decides that he and Avon should teleport back up to the Liberator immediately.

ANALYSISI wonder if Chris Boucher happens to be Mystic Meg. Its just that reviewing Death-Watch, Boucher has predicted the state of reality TV about 20 or 30 years ahead of schedule.

The way in which Death-Watch characters get a sense of catharsis by channelling the minds of fighters and their experiences via a virtual reality disc, is similar to today’s reality TV shows, and their viewers. For example, on Big Brother, when somebody like the loathsome Bea (played by Blakey from On The Buses) is evicted, viewers can give a cathartic sneer at the TV. Likewise, they can do the same thing when they tune into the miserable wretches on The Jeremy Kyle Show.

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Indeed, the deeply creepy Kyle and his show have taken the concept of Bread And Circuses to a whole new level.

Mind you, don’t forget that shows like New Faces, Opportunity Knocks and The Big Time were rattling around by 1980, in which ordinary members of the public were involved, thus marking the embryonic stages of reality TV. Its just that the whole concept has spun out of control to the point where people can’t tell where real life begins and ends. It’s an innovative idea presented in Death-Watch, which is ahead of its time.

It’s a shame though that again, the budget doesn’t do the concept justice. I’m guessing that the producers were saving up for the explosive finale, so Death-Watch accordingly, had to be made on the cheap. Vinni and Deeta end up in a random destination for their combat. And where do they end up? On the edge of a whopping great cliff? No. By a rushing waterfall? No. They end up in some disused building that looks suspiciously like where the third Doctor drove around in part five of Invasion Of The Dinosaurs.

Likewise, we get to hear of the festivities that send Vila into a drool, but we don’t get to see so much as a badly-acted extra. What there is instead is heaps of talky dialogue and exposition, which may alienate this episode to modern viewers who are used to non-stop action.

Luckily, director Gerald Blake makes the most of these limited resources and provides some inspired shots such as the close-up of Avon as seen through Orac and the video effects blaze of glory for Vinni’s death.

His choice of actors is also good, with Mark Elliott memorably smug as Vinni and Stewart “Clifford Jones” Bevan excellent as Deeta’s confidante Max.

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On the subject of Deeta, Steven Pacey gives the standout performance here, managing to make him a complete contrast to Del. Deeta is older, wiser, more thoughtful, and Pacey conveys these personality traits perfectly. It’s a shame that we couldn’t have had Deeta as a crewmember in place of the frequently annoying Del. Deeta’s Elvis haircut and sideburns are ever so slightly fake though.

I question the use of Servalan as neutral arbiter though. Again, it just seems to be a case of shoehorning Servalan into the plot just for the sake of it rather than having her there for a good reason. There’s also the slightly daft romance between Avon and Servalan, which never really rings true, and smacks of hokey American soap camp when the two indulge in a spot of tonsil hockey.

Boucher’s script is excellent, though, full of witty lines and a neat rip-off of the opening Shatner monologue from Star Trek. The regulars are well served by Boucher, with some great lines for Vila (such as his awkward moment when her refers to Dayna’s father’s death) and also Dayna, who gets a bit more to do than usual. Pity that he couldn’t have included just a bit more action, as was the case with Season Two’s Weapon, but at least here, the concept is much more memorable.

The ideas of Death-Watch are still more than relevant today, and I’d bet good money that, in the future, people will be able to experience others’ thoughts on TV. Maybe a bit too talky for some, Death-Watch still manages to overcome both the limitations of this and the budget to provide a thoughtful commentary on where exactly the media will take us in the future.

Check out our review of season 3 episode 11 here.

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