THE PLOT Dayna and Tarrant are on their first mission – teleporting down to the volcanic planet of Obsidian to find Hower (Michael Gough) who was a friend of Dayna’s father. They are tasked to investigate the alleged rumour that Blake is here, and also to use Obsidian as a home base, since it is in an ideal strategic position. Hower himself has picked up Dayna and Tarrant on a scanner and his son Bershar (Malcolm Bullivant) stuns both of them with a rain-type drug.
Servalan is also in the area, and outlines her instructions to Mori (Ben Howard) with the immediate objective of capturing the Liberator.
Tarrant and Dayna are having trouble convincing Hower of their offers of a portion of spoils, especially since his race, the Pyroans, are pacifists – indeed they have been taught the message of peace from the cradle right through their adult lives and any warlike tendency is curbed with a minute electric shock.
Avon has teleported down, worried that he has not heard from Tarrant or Dayna. Once there, he spies Servalan, Mori and a squad of Federation troops. Mori makes for the Pyroan base while Servalan returns to her ship. Mori ambushes Tarrant and Dayna after Bershar has sold them both out to the Federation.
Servalan orders a fleet of pursuit ships to corner the Liberator. Vila teleports Mori and his guards up by mistake, after a distorted message comes though on the communicators. Avon, however, manages to outmanoeuvre the ships. Mori wounds Avon in the arm, and takes Cally as hostage along with Orac, teleporting back down to Obsidian.
On Obsidian, Bershar says that Servalan will return with her battle fleets. Hower, however, orders his robot to kill Bershar with a lethal dose of the drug after his warlike inhibitions have kicked in. Hower frees Tarrant and Dayna, explaining that if any threat of invasion was imminent, the Pyroans would blow themselves up along with the invaders.
Cally, gagged and bound, senses that Tarrant and Dayna are in the area near to where she is being held captive by Mori. She warns them to make for the rim of the volcano where Mori has gone to investigate. Mori shoots Tarrant, but Dayna throws a mini-grenade at Mori, causing him to somersault screaming into the heart of the volcano.
Having teleported back up, Cally, Dayna and Tarrant join Avon and Vila on the bridge, where they receive a message from Hower. With the Federation battle fleet again making for Obsidian, Hower has decided that there is no other way but to detonate the planet. He activates the button, causing Obsidian to explode. Cally muses that the only winners in all this were the Pyroans to which Vila replies that he’ll take losing every time.
ANALYSIS With a title like Volcano, you’d have thought that this would be an episode full of thrills and spills and daring do. As it turns out, Volcano’s got all the heat of a muddy puddle in the middle of January.
And hey, what do you know? Allan Prior’s back. After the quite reasonable Keeper, it was hopeful that Prior’s next script would carry on the momentum. But no. It’s business as usual with a script that’s bogged down by heavy handed dialogue, incomprehensible scenarios, and of course, the customary pursuit ship tangles and Soma cocktails.
A pacifist message never really seems to work in sci-fi TV. Dr Who’s creaky old Dominators story is a classic example, where a load of pacifist drones are up against two shoulder-padded heavies and their pet Quarks, which look like building blocks on wheels. Volcano’s plot is based around the plight of the Pyroans, a singularly dull bunch of boring dullards who are basically space age hippies but without the hair or the beads or the kaftans. They do have their own version of – ahem – waccy baccy – with their rain-style knockout drug that’s used on Tarrant and Dayna, and ultimately Bershar.
And they also have the glazed eyes, such are the weak performances. Malcolm Bullivant’s Bershar is such a drip that you can’t help but sigh with relief when his father puts an end to his ineffectual bleating. Michael Gough does his best, but Hower is hardly up there with the most memorable of guest characters in Blake’s 7.
But then if you had to say such dross as “It is our belief that every man is at war with himself,” you’d be struggling too. The god-awful clichés are back, including such ‘classics’ as the reference about “Peace puppets” and the stating of the blinking obvious when Mori says “Well this is the place and this is the time.”
Servalan’s motivations are all over the shop, a characteristic of season three. She’s aiming to get the Liberator, but after the initial failure of the battle fleet, she basically says that Avon and the Liberator crew will keep, since Blake is no longer there as a unifying force. It’s hard to take her seriously, and her many Doomed Lackeys of the Week are hard to take seriously either. Mori is the first in a long line of ineffectual goons who were presumably recruited in a quick five-minute conversation on the phone by Servalan. The battle fleet commander also seems to have trouble understanding Servalan’s instructions, since there are whacking great gaps between Servalan’s orders and his replies.
Poor old Desmond McCarthy got the short straw of season three, when he was landed with a boring script and a mind-blowingly weird one. He does his best with Volcano, and although his work is competent enough, it lacks the stylish finish that David Maloney or Vere Lorrimer would have provided. There are some visual goofs, such as the rather badly executed shot of Mori’s ridiculously slow motion death, which is laughable rather than dramatic. And as for Hower’s robot, what’s all that about? Not exactly the sort of thing you’d see on Tomorrow’s World, it resembles a poor cross between Metal Mickey and Howard Jones’ mime dancer.
Volcano does provide some reasonably good material for newcomers Dayna and Tarrant, who actually come across as likeable and efficient here. Avon, Cally and Vila take more of a back seat here – one thing I’ve noticed is that neither Avon or Cally figure heavily in Prior’s stories, I don’t know, maybe he preferred to write for the others instead.
All told, it’s a struggle to find good things to say about Volcano. There are the odd bad episodes of Blake’s 7, but very few are as profoundly boring as Volcano. For insomniacs everywhere, this is the ideal cure, but for those who like their Seven with a bit of edge, this isn’t the place to look.
Check out our review of season 3 episode 2 here.