Blake’s 7 series 4 episode 1 – Rescue

The unexpected season 4 finds our heroes a woman short and facing an enemy Oscar Wilde might find familiar...

Hold me back, Avon...

THE PLOTStuck on the planet Terminal, things are not going well for the stranded crew. Avon and Dayna have witnessed Servalan’s ship explode in a booby-trapped ball of flame. The living quarters have also been booby-trapped, and while Vila and an unconscious Tarrant have made it out alive (thanks to Vila), Cally is trapped in the explosions and dies.

On board the freighter ship Scorpio, a man called Dorian (Geoffrey Burridge) is enquiring about the time to planetfall to the ship’s computer Slave (voiced by Peter Tuddenham). With Scorpio approaching Terminal, Dorian picks up a heavy radiation shadow on the scanners, suggesting that a vessel like the Liberator could have exploded, generating more power than any normal ship would have done.

Avon tells the others that Cally has died, and prepares to move again in the morning. When dawn comes, Tarrant collapses again, leaving Avon to find him. Vila and Dayna, however, have fallen down a steep ravine and are holding on for dear life in order to avoid ending up as dinner for a large snake-like creature. Their problem is solved by the appearance of Dorian, who shoots the creature dead and hauls them back to safety. Avon confronts Dorian and orders that he take them back to his ship.

Dorian tells Avon that he is a salvage man and has come to Terminal to strip the planet of all its valuable wealth. Intriguingly, Dorian has heard of Avon and Vila, who has become aware of what looks like a teleport system. Before they can speculate further, Slave informs Dorian that Terminal is starting to disintegrate, as the ship is rocked about by heavy explosions and lava from outside. Having refused to co-operate with Avon’s hijack, Dorian moves to take the ship up, but an outside explosion causes him to fall and knock himself out on one of the ship’s pillars. It’s left to Tarrant to get the scruffy bag of bolts into the air and into space, as Terminal disintegrates.

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Now in space, the ship is suddenly locked off and moves into a flight pattern of its own choosing. Avon deduces that Dorian has pre-programmed the flight computer to take him home. Avon asks Dayna to look around and for Tarrant to try and work out where they are going. Dayna, to her delight, finds a stash of advanced guns with a whole range of bullets. Avon has also found that Slave is a much too advanced computer for a salvage man, as is the teleport. Tarrant tells Avon that they are en route for a planet called Xenon, a destination that’s outside Federation territory and could almost be safe – if they only knew what was waiting for them.

The arrival of Scorpio is picked up at Xenon base by Dorian’s girlfriend Soolin (Glynis Barber). She makes contact with Scorpio, as Avon forces Dorian (who had been pretending to be unconscious for the last few minutes) to prepare for final docking. Scorpio enters through an entrance in a rock face on Xenon where it lands in an underground silo that leads them to Dorian’s plush living quarters.

Dorian takes the inactive Orac and leads the others through as the silo door closes. The door can only be opened by Dorian, who is now starting to act oddly. He looks and sounds slightly older and considerably more tired than when he first met Avon and the others. Now technically stranded on Xenon base, Avon has no choice but to follow their host into the living quarters.

They are greeted by Soolin and some well-deserved wine, although oddly, she has laid out seven glasses rather than six – almost as if they were expected. Dorian greets Soolin and tells Avon that he is most welcome here. With things to do, Dorian leaves as Avon muses to Tarrant that Dorian’s taste in wine and women is impeccable.

In an underground cavern which resounds with an eerie rising and falling sighing noise, Dorian makes his way down a flight of stairs – now bent over and hunched, and a lot older. The aged Dorian speaks to a creature in the cavern and tells them that his new guests can be used for some unknown purpose – the creature demands that it be soon as the room seems to drain the life out of Dorian, who starts to scream and writhe in pain.

Tarrant and Dayna look for another way off of the base, as Vila gives up trying to open the silo door – instead he checks out Dorian’s considerable stash of booze. Dayna finds the underground room, where she encounters the creature. To her horror, the room seals itself shut, leaving Tarrant powerless to open it.

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Dorian, now recovered, and younger again, has repaired Orac, much to the amazement of Avon. Avon asks if Dorian created Slave, the guns and modified the living quarters. Dorian confirms that he did, and after Avon is further puzzled by his knowledge of Ensor, a man that a 30-year-old would have no knowledge of, Dorian confirms that he isn’t all that he seems. Avon pulls a gun on Dorian, but Soolin had replaced the bullet with a dummy. With a real gun now trained on Avon, Dorian forces him to the living quarters.

Dorian tells Avon that he is 200 years old, and that the mysterious underground room contains a being that allows him to stay young. The creature has absorbed all of Dorian’s vices and years, meaning that Dorian will stay young forever. Soolin enters the room and quizzes Dorian over the room, but is horrified that even her gun’s bullets have been removed by her boyfriend. Dorian forces the two out of the room and leads them to the underground cavern, where Tarrant and Dayna will be waiting. Vila, who has eavesdropped on the conversation, is torn between drowning his sorrows in more wine, or following them with a gun that works.

In the underground cavern, Dorian tells Avon that his group will become a gestalt, and that they will basically be used to give the creature more power, and make it strong. The eerie sighing gets louder and the room becomes brighter as a delighted Dorian realises that his plan will work.

Avon surmises that the creature was once a man, which Dorian confirms was once his partner. Despite Avon’s insistence that Dorian is one man short for his plan to work, Dorian says that Vila will join them later, and implores them to make their goodbyes. Laughing maniacally, Dorian looks on as the group convulses in agony – but fails to notice Vila coming to the rescue with one of the old guns.

Avon grabs it and shoots the creature dead. With his power source gone, Dorian, screaming in agony, falls to the floor in a writhing heap, and slowly ages and rots away to a skeletal cadaver and then dust. The creature has been replaced by a dead young man – Dorian’s partner. As Soolin sadly slips away up the stairs, Vila muses that he’s going to stop drinking, before he starts seeing pink asteroids…

ANALYSISLike a certain sandwich filling, season four of Blake’s 7 polarises fans to such an extent that it’s a case of love or hate. After three successful seasons, there was a longer gap before the fourth (and final) season went out in the autumn of 1981. However, a whole host of changes were to make their mark on the show, some of which were not altogether popular with the fans…

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Right from the offset, we’re treated to a new set of snazzy titles, which resemble a close up of a revolving Ferrero Rocher chocolate in space. No more Liberator, instead the Seven – or the Four, at this point, are introduced to the Scorpio, which after the plush Liberator, is like comparing a BMW with a Robin Reliant. The old freighter will become more proficient though, and even has its own gorbloymey Cockney computer called Slave, which sounds like Zen auditioning for EastEnders.

Regrettably, Cally’s out the picture after Jan Chappell declined to come back. She isn’t given the most dignified death scene, and although the production team did their best with a couple of voiceovers from Chappell, Cally’s demise is a bit of a non-event. Why does Cally call out for Blake anyway? Wouldn’t an “AAARGGGHHH!!!!” have been more appropriate?

The biggest casualty of season four is in the characterisation of the regulars. Previously one of the key strengths of the series, characterisation now appears to have been chucked out of the window with nonchalant glee in favour of hammy cardboard cutouts. Tarrant is still Tarrant. Vila is now a moaning drunkard, and sadly gets hardly any opportunity to shine this series, apart from Orbit, and even then, he’s more victim than hero.

Arguably the biggest casualty is Dayna. The feisty, likeable Dayna of Season Three has vanished and is now replaced by a cross between a menopausal factory worker and the world’s thickest child. Matters aren’t helped by Josette Simon’s mannered performance, which is now just artificial ham.

Talking of ham, how can I forget Avon, who’s also undergone a personality change? No longer the sly, sarcastic wisecracker of Season One, Avon has now become paranoid, overbearing, and slightly power- mad. And for some reason, tends to over-pronounce certain sentences. Just look at the way in which he hisses: “Who bequeathed it [Orac] TOOOO MEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!”.

Mind you, you could argue that maybe the events of Terminal have triggered the first signs of mental breakdown for Avon, and that in fact, his new behaviour pattern reflects this. Indeed, season four contains a very subtle season arc of everything going wrong for Avon and his crew, especially in the last few episodes when every situation goes spectacularly wrong – all leading up to the final tragedy of Blake. Anyway, Paul Darrow’s performance is still hugely enjoyable – just be prepared for a very slight change in gears, that’s all.

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Rescue introduces us to Cally’s replacement, Soolin. Soolin, to be honest, has only one function, and that’s to serve as eye candy. Poor old Glynis Barber has to work with a character that’s about as deep as a paddling pool. Soolin never contributes much to the stories, apart from chiming in with the odd sarky quip and slinging her gun.

Admittedly, more effort is made in the last two stories, especially Blake, but in Rescue, Soolin is just… there. We learn that she killed the man that was responsible for the death of her family, but beyond that, there’s no depth to Soolin’s character whatsoever. Not Glynis Barber’s fault by any means, she does her level best with such a non-entity, but all told, Soolin’s a wasted opportunity.

The only other character to crop up in Rescue is, of course, Dorian. Taking inspiration from The Picture Of Dorian Grey, Boucher came up with a central baddie that’s just like a space-age estate agent. All charm and smiles on the surface, with evil below. Just like Oscar Wilde’s story, Dorian is living on borrowed time, with all his excess vices transferred to the Sea Devil, sorry, the creature, instead of the picture.

Geoffrey Burridge, on the whole, gives a fine performance, especially in the early stages, when his charm is slowly replaced by a brooding, sinister manner. Burridge makes Dorian a memorably creepy villain, well, until the last few scenes anyway, when unfortunately, he does have a tendency to go slightly OTT. The ridiculous scene in which he explains his plans to a captive Avon is hilarious (even Darrow looks like he’s trying not to laugh) and it looks like Dorian is asking Avon out on a date to Gunn-Sar’s bar and grill restaurant.

Just look at the way in which he leers about all that appetite and vice gubbins. Similarly, in the final scene, Dorian descends to Abanazar-style villainy with evil bwa-ha-ha-ing thrown in for good measure. And then there’s all that girly screaming, what’s all that about? Again, ridiculously OTT, and it kind of lessens the impact of Dorian’s memorably gruesome demise when he gradually rots away to withered bones and then dust that magically blows away by itself. Excellent death sequence though, and Mary Ridge’s inspired choice of showing mobile disintegrating Dorians pays dividends.

Mary Ridge, again directs this story with great style. She carries on the stark location filming from Terminal, and manages to successfully build up the slow-burning atmosphere. The Xenon base interiors are very well done, as is the creepy underground cavern. And another mention to Liz Parker, who adds greatly to the effect of the story with the eerie background hum of the living quarters and the hugely effective electronic sighing in the cavern.

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In fact, I greatly enjoyed Rescue. I’m possibly looking at this episode through rose-tinted glasses, since it was the first one I remember seeing, and as a seven-year-old, I was hooked. There are plot holes to be sure, and some of the hammy acting doesn’t quite come off, but Chris Boucher’s story is well structured, and build up well, like a coiled spring, from a moody scene setter to its frenzied, dramatic conclusion. There’s an awful lot of noise in that last scene, what with the background sighing, Avon’s shouting, and Dorian’s hilarious shrieks, so turn the volume down.

Mind you, the ending to it all does go a bit Light Entertainment. The Sea Devil actually turns out to be camp Strictly Come Dancing judge Bruno Tonioli (my wife laughed at this) – what next? Len Goodman as Travis? Arlene Phillips as Servalan? The dancers as Decimas? And if that’s not horrific enough, the closing music. Ye gods, it’s dreadful, it sounds more like somebody taped over Blake’s 7 with Blankety Blank. And considering that most season four episodes end on a sour note, the whole arrangement is just wrong.

Despite that though, season four, by and large, gets off to a good start with Rescue. The influence may be slightly obvious, and the occasional hammy bit of acting threatens the story’s credibility, but luckily, the strong plot, dialogue and direction propel this episode above the average.

Check out our review of season 3 episode 13 here.

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