Blake’s 7 series 4 episode 12 – Warlord

The four-season space saga draws to a close with an episode that belies the poor reputation of season four...

Blake's 7 season four.

PLOTWith Zondor the latest planet to succumb to the Federation’s pacification and control programme, Avon has called a conference of planetary delegates to defeat the Federation. In order to overpower the Pylene 50 drug, three quarters of the delegates can provide the equipment, while the raw material can be provided by notorious warlord and president of Betafarl, Zukan (Roy Boyd).

Despite having harboured territorial ambitions against the other delegates, Zukan insists that he is here in good faith. He shows the others that he has brought technicians and equipment to help produce the toxin. The delegates agree to the alliance.

However, Zukan is not the only family member to arrive at Xenon Base. His daughter Zeeona (Bobbie Brown) has stowed away on the freighter to meet up with Tarrant again after the two struck up a very close friendship when Tarrant and Avon visited Betafarl to pitch for the conference.

Zukan is to stay on Betafarl till the next day when the equipment has been installed. This includes a neutron bombarder that, in theory, should provide no risk of radiation. As for the freighting of the raw material, Zukan leaves this to Avon, who orders a disgruntled Tarrant to collect it first thing.

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However, Zukan has secretly installed a canister in the bombarder. While doing so, he learns that his daughter is on the base too. Furious, he orders Avon to replace Tarrant as the pickup pilot, and to take Zeeona back to Betafarl.

Avon and Soolin leave for Betafarl, but Soolin secretly teleports Zeeona back to base, much to Avon’s chagrin. A delighted Zeeona reunites with Tarrant as a distracted Zukan leaves the base.

Orac informs the relaxing crewmembers that a bomb has been planted in the base teleport bay. As Tarrant investigates, a series of explosions runs throughout the base in all the entrances and exits. What’s worse, an airborne virus is spreading through the base, killing the Betafarl technicians and melting their flesh to leave just skeletons. Tarrant switches the life support systems off, but with about four days to dig their way out and only 20 hours of fresh air left, death seems inevitable.

Avon and Soolin have reached Betafarl, but there is no crop – only guards in a trap left by Zukan. Soolin pretends to be Zeeona, allowing herself and Avon to overpower their captors and leave again in Scorpio.

Zukan and his assistant Finn (Dean Harris) have met with Servalan, where Zukan tells her of what has happened. As she leaves Zukan’s ship, she secretly places a bomb on the airlock wall. Finn later notices this, and Zukan orders him to remove it. Zukan traps Finn in the airlock, and jettisons both Finn (who is killed by explosive decompression) and the bomb, which still causes an explosion on his ship.

Tarrant has sealed himself and the others in the communication room after the radioactive airborne virus Paraflame 5 has started to make its way through the debris. Zeeona has worked out that her father is responsible for the damage and deaths, much to a drunken Vila’s disgust. As Tarrant nearly punches Vila (who has been chiding Zeeona), Avon’s voice comes through on the intercom.

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As Avon talks to the stranded crewmembers, Zukan transmits to Scorpio as his ship spins out of control. He promises Avon that he will tell how to save the others if he is rescued. Avon replies that there isn’t enough time, as a horrified Zukan hears Zeeona’s voice. Avon tells Tarrant to reverse the air flow to allow fresh air to come in against the contamination. As Tarrant does this successfully, Zukan’s ship explodes, killing the duplicitous warlord.

Back on board the Scorpio, Zeeona ‘volunteers’ to teleport back to Xenon base to reverse the process on the bombarder and get rid of the contamination. Wearing a protective suit, Zeeona lands on the base and starts work. As time passes, Avon fails to make contact with Zeeona. A panic-stricken Tarrant teleports down to base with Dayna to find Zeeona.

However, he is too late. Although the base is clear of radiation, Zeeona hasn’t been so lucky. All that’s left of her is a skeleton, after her flesh has been eaten by the virus. A distraught Tarrant is told by Dayna that she had taken her protective glove off, leaving her susceptible to the radiation.

ANALYSIS I’ve never quite understood the hoo-haa made about season four to be honest. Judging from the harsh reviews that season four’s got, you’d think that its quality ranked alongside Eldorado and My Family. In fact, although its had a couple of duffers (Stardrive and Animals), season four has, by and large, picked up the slack and provided a very strong run of stories, especially in its latter stages.

Take Warlord, a magnificent, fast-paced adventure that, far from a show running out of steam, feels like a show that’s still full of fresh ideas and excitement. A lot of this is down to Viktors Ritelis, making his lone directorial contribution, who provides an exciting, imaginative and sometimes unusual reading of Simon Masters’s script (Masters, too, provides his sole contribution to the show).

Right from the start, Ritelis stamps his mark on the episode with an eerie prologue on Zondor, brutally showing the doped-to-the-eyeballs population being shot down by Federation guards. OK, so a location shoot at a shopping centre sounds as high-budget as a Poundstretcher spending spree, but Ritelis makes this opening rather special. Weird, out of focus camera angles, distorted voices intoning “You are loved. You are cared for” (sounding like a Groove Armada B-side) and an early use of split screen add up to a very memorable sequence. That said, the split screen shot of the Federation guards is very Top Of The Pops, so much so that I expected the guards to whip off their balaclavas to reveal Sad Cafe.

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Ritelis carries on like this throughout the story, and overall, Warlord is a visual treat, even if some of his imagery doesn’t quite come off. The delegates’ glasses seem to be overpowered by static electricity, and as for their haircuts and outfits…One looks like a cross between Treguard from Knightmare and a lion. Another looks like a reject from an Ice Warrior fancy dress party. The other looks like he was frogmarched through a Gok Wan tin foil factory. Even Zukan and Zeeona steal awards for silliest haircuts in Blake’s 7. Zeeona looks a bit like the creepy fixed grin woman from The One Show impersonating Toyah Willcox – badly.

Shame that the silly appearances threaten to overshadow the strong performances from the actors. Roy Boyd steals the show as the tortured Zukan, doing a fine job of portraying a warlike ruler with a guilty conscience. Bobbie Brown is also good as Zeeona, even if in some scenes, she inexplicably sounds Russian. The only weak link is Rick James as Chelsa, whose unintentionally hilarious delivery matches his unintentionally hilarious appearance (and pre-empting the haircuts of X-Factor munchkins John And Edward in the process). “But. Words. Are. No. More. Than…….Words.” That’s all I can say to sum up James’ performance.

Warlord carries on the tragic theme set up by the preceding two stories, in which the Seven look set to finally win some sort of victory, only to have that victory cruelly snatched away again. For the first 10 minutes or so, everything does seem to be going their way, with the delegates agreeing to an alliance, the co-operation of a renowned warlord and the strong possibility of defeating the Federation’s pacification programme. Heck, even Tarrant gets lucky in love.

Naturally all this goes belly up quicker than an elephant riding a tricycle. Zukan is revealed to be a double crossing swine, and in the process, Xenon Base is badly damaged, while Tarrant’s new squeeze inevitably bites the dust. Bad luck doesn’t seem to follow the Seven, instead it piggybacks every single move that they make. And just when you thought that it couldn’t get any worse, along comes Blake to kick that theory into touch.

Simon Masters’ script conveys this theme perfectly, while telling a compelling, action-packed tale in the process. He provides some great material for some of the regulars. Avon and Soolin, in particular, are catered for well. Avon, perhaps trying to make amends for his past gaffes, takes drastic measures by arranging a conference to beat the Federation. For the first time, Avon has taken some proactive steps in leadership, even if they inevitably backfire on him. Soolin, too, gets to use her brain by pretending to be Zeeona on Betafarl, and managing to seal hers and Avon’s escape in the process.

Elsewhere though, Tarrant still comes over as an unlikable thug, and its difficult to muster any sort of sympathy for him at the end when he discovers Zeeona’s skeleton. Vila is a cowardly drunk for the millionth time, although, interestingly, he’s barely in the same room as Avon in a neat follow-on from the events of Orbit. Dayna, too, far from being the tough warrior of Season Three starts bleating and moaning at the slightest provocation – or maybe its the prospect of being stuck with Channel Five forever that does it. A non-stop diet of Neighbours and Home And Away is enough to send any sane person round the twist.

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Regrettably, Servalan’s exit isn’t so much as a bang, more of a muffled cough. Her appearance in Warlord is just a token cameo, complete with weary flirting and OTT hand gestures. Poor old Jacqueline Pearce deserved a better send off than this, instead the last we get to see of Servalan is a disembodied floating head in space.

What’s with this obsession with Death By Radiation, though? After two Federation lackeys in Gold and Egrorian and Pinder in Orbit, countless Betafarlians and Zeeona are fried into oblivion by airborne radiation. This time, its pretty choosy radiation though, since it inexplicably leaves the hair attached to the skeletons. Zeeona’s death is interesting. Did she really take her glove off in ignorance, or was it deliberate? There’s a few fan theories floating about that she couldn’t live with the guilt caused by her father, and so died a noble death – Avon’s subtle facial expressions in the final scenes add weight to this theory. His final mirthless smirk indicates that he knows very well that Tarrant’s going to return to Scorpio empty-handed. Or maybe Zeeona suddenly realised that she’d be attached to a smarmy poseur with a bigger afro than Earth Wind And Fire for the rest of her life.

Despite a few superficial nitpicks, Warlord turns out to be one of the very best stories that Blake’s 7 has to offer. Simon Masters’ script is very well written indeed, and Viktors Ritelis’ stylish direction complements it perfectly. Only one more story to go, could the proverbial really be about to hit the fan in a big way?

Check out our review of season 4 episode 11 here.

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