Blake’s 7 series 3 episode 4 – Dawn Of The Gods

A new writer fills Blake's 7 with dwarves and oddballs, and the result might even make David Lynch say 'That's a bit weird'…

There's an expression that spells trouble…

THE PLOTThe Liberator crew’s game of Space Monopoly is interrupted by a deviation off course. The course deflections haven’t been programmed by the navigation computers, even though Cally’s home planet of Auron is still the reference point. Zen hasn’t recognised any foul play, and with the Liberator going further off course, Avon says that the crew have one big problem on their hands.

Tarrant suspects that the Liberator is in the grip of a traction beam and accuses Cally of her people being at fault. Which is all academic, since they are nowhere near Auron, and are, instead, on the edge of the galaxy. Avon suggests that they do nothing to counter the force and then when they have found out how it operates, then they can defeat it. The force is soon revealed to them – a black hole – a destination that’s been programmed by Orac simply for its own knowledge. The Liberator survives the slingshot orbit through the black hole, but Cally is behaving oddly. She is hearing a voice which she claims to be the Thaarn (Marcus Powell), a mythical creature from the Auron race.

Now in a place where space outside the ship has ceased to exist, Vila is chosen to explore the area. Vila finds out that there’s gravity outside and concludes that they are on the surface of a planet – or an underground cavern. Vila discovers the remains of a spaceship and what look like meteorite debris. Vila is interrupted by a distorted force and in the confusion, unplugs his protective helmet. However, the thief isn’t dead, and when a shocked Tarrant discovers that he’s still alive, Vila says that the place has a breathable atmosphere.

All of the crew bar Dayna investigate outside and are interrupted by a bizarre motorised machine that’s supposedly meant to frighten off newcomers. The machine exits, and a top-hatted man (Sam Dastor) appears, proclaiming himself the Caliph of Krandor, an artificial planet that is the palace of the Thaarn. The Caliph forces the crew (including Dayna) into a cell with the threat of his neuronic whip. The Caliph says that the Liberator will give Krandor much needed herculanium alloy.

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In the cell, Cally explains the myth of the Thaarn, a mad, jealous god who killed one of the seven gods of Auron at the time of the Dawn of the Gods. The five remaining gods, furious, built a chariot for the mad god and sent him beyond the threshold of space and time. The mad god claimed a terrible vengeance and vowed that he would return again, and become the master of the universe. The Caliph returns to the cell and takes Cally to the Thaarn. Avon and Tarrant, in the meantime, go with Groff (Terry Scully) to work on a series of targets that must be met.

Groff takes Avon and Tarrant to the gravity generator control room to work on a series of unsolved dynamic flux equations – with pencil and paper rather than computer, since the Thaarn has outlawed any threat to his intellect. Groff also suffered the same fate, after losing control over his ship. He originally came from Xaranar, a Federation world that specialised in the construction of survey ships. He warns Avon and Tarrant that a team has been sent to the Liberator to slice it up for scrap, but the team is stopped by Zen’s defence system.

Cally is taken to the den of the Thaarn where his voice promises her that she will rule with him over a thousand worlds. Cally, after resting, pretends to agree, and tricks the Thaarn into switching off the energy isolators that have stopped the use of the crew’s weapons. Cally shoots all around her, and moves to the curtain behind which the Thaarn sits. Pulling it back, she reveals the real identity of the Thaarn, a shrunken bald dwarf that claims that the price of his power has been too high.

In the confusion, Groff allows Avon and Tarrant to escape. The Caliph attempts to stop Groff from pulling the main switch that causes further destruction, but is too late. The Liberator crew escapes, and Zen reports that a small spacecraft has escaped too – the Thaarn. Tarrant orders Zen to go to Xaranar where they can deliver Groff’s last wish to his family that they were always in his thoughts.

ANALYSIS Dawn Of The Gods is odd. There’s no other word for it. Try and find some semblance of meaning in it, and you’ll find that it’s like looking for a nugget of gold in a big bowl of spaghetti Bolognese. I even tried watching it after several beers but it didn’t help – in fact the distortion during the slingshot orbit sequence only made me feel even more queasy.

James Follett’s debut script for Blake’s 7 can charitably be described as eccentric. It’s a crazy muddle of mad hatters, bald dwarves and psychotic dodgem cars. The problem is that this weird hotch potch doesn’t translate well to screen at all, resulting in one of the more unintentionally hilarious episodes of the whole series. There are serious deficiencies in the logic of the whole thing. Orac is responsible for the initial mess – simply because it wants to fill in a gap in its knowledge banks. As a result, it puts the crew in unnecessary danger. Why Orac suddenly wants to acquire this knowledge is anybody’s guess, but then without this, there would have been no episode.

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The format of Dawn Of The Gods is similar to the stories of the first season in that it consists of two subplots in one. The first half sees the Liberator crew dealing with the menace of the black hole and trying to work out where they are. The second half sees them attempt to escape from the artificial world of Krandor while tangling with the occupants of the planet along the way.

Bridging these two stories is the mysterious Thaarn, actually an intriguing idea, and a commendable attempt to give Cally more to do. The back story of the legend of the Thaarn is well thought out, and Jan Chappell tells the tale very well indeed, not an easy task, since the massive infodump goes on for a long while. Indeed, this is one of the first tales to feature Cally heavily, and it pre-empts both Children Of Auron and Sarcophagus with its themes of possession and the powers of the Auron race.

Unfortunately, the end reveal of the Thaarn is ridiculous, especially with the MacGyver style zoom-in into the Thaarn’s unhappy bald head. Although it does neatly dovetail with Tarrant’s earlier description of Orac as a bald dwarf, the Thaarn just seems laughable.

On the subject of Tarrant, this is really the episode where his arrogance and bluster first comes through. He is quick to accuse Cally of the Auron race being responsible for their initial predicament. He later threatens Avon with death after the computer expert has attempted to escape from the painful slingshot orbit. And despite this, he doesn’t contribute anything to proceedings – for example, when he threatens the Caliph, he is overpowered by the Caliph’s bizarre walking stick that presumably boils Tarrant’s pea-sized brain into soup.

The characterisation, otherwise, is minimal – the crew don’t really seem to show remorse for Vila’s apparent death, which is surprising. The guest characters in the meantime, are only – apart from the Thaarn – the Caliph, a fey posho that for reasons known only to himself, likes stomping around in the costume of the Mad Hatter. And Groff, a man with an indistinguishable accent that sounds like a cross between Dutch and German. Actually, despite the accent, Terry Scully does well as Groff, giving him a sad back story – probably accounting for Groff’s relentlessly pained expression that looks like a small boy that’s lost his puppy dog.

Despite these bizarre characters and concepts, not a lot actually happens in Dawn Of The Gods. After they have entered the black hole, Cally is taken to a slideshow at what looks like a prehistoric planetarium. While Avon and Tarrant do… equations. Wow, can someone get me off this crazy rollercoaster of excitement before I pass out?

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Desmond McCarthy, at least, attempts to liven up proceedings with some good direction. He gives the story a surreal edge that’s needed, with unusual shots such as the close up of Tarrant’s eye, the psychedelic turmoil of the black hole, and the kaleidoscope shot of Avons – the most terrifying idea of the episode. Despite this, though, Dawn Of The Gods fails to work. Wacky ideas and characters just don’t gel on this occasion, and while at least Dawn isn’t as boring as Volcano, it’s just too – crazy.

Check out our review of season 3 episode 3 here.

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