Blake’s 7 series 4 episode 5 – Animals

Dayna gets her own episode, but it's far from a classic...

Servalan shooting the man who chose the wallpaper for Animals.

PlotTarrant is ferrying Dayna to Bucol Two, where she hopes to meet a friend of her father’s and her old tutor Justin (Peter Byrne). Dayna teleports down, but Slave informs Tarrant that Federation pursuit ships are in the area. The ships open fire on the Scorpio, which sustains considerable damage. Tarrant is forced to fly back to base, temporarily abandoning Dayna in the process.

Having encountered a strange race of half-men/half-animal creatures, Dayna finds Justin, who welcomes her into his dome. Justin is pleased to see Dayna, but Dayna, who learns that her former tutor has been genetically engineering the animals, can’t return the compliment.

Nevertheless, she tells Justin that Avon is looking for a group of experts to fight back against the Federation, especially in the quest to find an antidote to the Pylene-50 drug. Justin reveals that he stayed on the planet to develop a new race of creatures that are able to enter high-radiation zones and act as shock troops. Justin has stayed to look after the animals and complete the work that he is very close to finishing. Dayna tells Justin that her group would be interested in his work, although Justin replies that he wouldn’t want the rest of the group involved…

Intrigued by a report from her captain (William Lindsay) Servalan is intrigued by Bucol Two and orders her ship to be taken to the area. She also summons a man called Ardus (Kevin Stoney) who is the only man left alive from the bureau at the time of the Bucol Two experiments. Blind but determined, Ardus is convinced that he recognises Servalan, but is subtly warned off. Ardus tells Servalan about Justin and his experiments. After his ship has left, Servalan gives orders to shoot it into flames.

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Dayna attempts to convince one of the animals, Og (David Boyce) to trust Justin again. The attempt fails, and Og pushes Dayna off a cliff – where her unconscious form is captured by Servalan’s troops. Servalan places Dayna in a chair that causes pain if she doesn’t tell the truth. Dayna reluctantly tells Servalan about Justin, but the chair reveals that she is in love with Justin. Servalan forces Dayna to make Justin comply with her demands by making Dayna hate her former tutor.

Avon and the others have set course for Bucol Two, where they teleport down to rescue Dayna. Dayna, in fact, has led Servalan to Justin thanks to the hate conditioning. Justin agrees to help Servalan and give her control of the animals in return for Dayna getting her memories and personality back. The process is reversed, as Servalan orders that a captured Og is loaded onto the ship. Justin however tells Dayna to go, but before he can escape too, he is shot by Servalan.

The ship takes off as a shootout takes place below. Og and a handful of Servalan’s guards are killed in the melee. Dayna is reunited with her friends, but spies Justin’s dead body, which has been thrown out of the ship. Avon orders Vila to teleport himself and the others back up as a devastated Dayna is left weeping bitterly over Justin’s corpse.

AnalysisThere’s one big plus about Animals. But only in the fact that this is the last of Allan Prior’s turgid scripts for Blake’s 7. In true Prior style, he’s gone out all guns blazing with a script that’s about as thrilling as a 24-hour marathon of Last Of The Summer Wine.

In fact, if you’ve read my diatribes on past Prior straits, you’ll probably guess what I’ll moan about. Hmm, boring, talky scenes? Incomprehensible situations? Servalan sticking her nose in where it’s not wanted? Oh, and how could I forget the pursuit ship chases and the mugfuls of Soma? Quite easily actually.

Animals is further hampered by it being a Dayna episode. If this were the Dayna of season three, I wouldn’t have minded, since that Dayna was full of life and held out promise, with great performances from Josette Simon. The Dayna of Season Four, on the other hand, is about as much fun as watching paint dry in a funeral parlour. Sure enough, in Animals, Dayna’s character is whiny, self-obsessed and a crushing bore.

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I said in my review of Rescue that Josette Simon’s performance was now somewhat hammy, which is ironic given that Paul Darrow’s performance as season four Avon makes my local butcher shop look spartan by comparison. But there’s the rub. Darrow’s performance is genuinely full of life and enjoyable, whereas there’s a weary, joyless air about Simon’s performance in Animals and most of this season.

A really obvious example of this comes at the end, when Dayna breaks down over Justin’s dead body. Instead of say, the realistic reaction that Simon gave when Dayna discovered her dead father in Aftermath, here she just shouts: “OHHHH NOOOO!!!!! UHHHH HUHH HUHHHH!!!!!” at the top of her voice while pulling gurning, constipated faces. Who knows, maybe Simon was becoming frustrated with Dayna’s lack of character too?

Dayna’s subplot revolves around her old love Justin – and yes, I mean literally, old, We’re plunged right into Uncle Disgusting territory here, since Justin’s old enough to be Dayna’s dad. And as for how old they were when this ‘love’ developed, well, let’s not even go there. Apparently, the story was written with Cally in mind, and so would have made far more sense. But after Jan Chappell chose not to come back, the plot was altered to shoehorn Dayna into Cally’s place instead, making the end result both ridiculous and extremely dodgy. No wonder Justin’s eyes always seem to be bulging out.

That said, Peter Byrne is excellent as Justin, and is one of the few saving graces of the episode.

Justin is responsible for the ‘Animals’ – a cross between Roy Wood from Wizzard and a tree – technologically augmented men who are used to do menial but dangerous tasks in radiation zones. So, not at all similar to The Web then, where genetically engineered creatures were used to do menial tasks. While The Web has received a fair share of drubbing (I’m still one of its few fans, I’m afraid) at least it had a genuine sense of foreboding and horror. Animals has no such hook, and is instead a boring, incomprehensible ramble about nothing in particular.

The episode could have had something interesting to say about genetic engineering, but frequently passes this opportunity over in favour of lots of “Why are you doing this?” bleating from Dayna. Even Blue Peter could have given more forthcoming answers.

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Servalan’s still interested though – even if her motives are vague to say the least. Quite what Servalan would do with the Animals I don’t know. Use them as waiters? Hatstands, maybe? Of course, it’s just a convenient plot device to shoehorn Servalan into a plot that doesn’t really need her. Still as ridiculous and OTT as ever, Servalan has developed a couple of handy gizmos to keep her one step ahead of the game.

One is a boinging man in a TV screen, who provides handy information. The other is a lie-detector Jim’ll Fix It chair that manages to make its victims scream in pain if they give a wrong answer. If only they’d develop something similar for the whey-faced, pie-munching lumps on The Jeremy Kyle Show. Another handy facet of the chair is to make its occupant love or hate someone in rapid succession. This gadget would make a killing, especially on Valentine’s Day, and would actually shut the annoying Dragons on Dragon’s Den up for once.

All complete tosh, just like the episode, which forgets about the other crewmembers. Vila is waa-waa-waaaaa comic relief, Tarrant is a glorified taxi driver, while Soolin – uh- what does Soolin do? Still, there’s unintentional comedy gold to be had when Paul Darrow nearly slips and takes the whole set with him.

Good points are hard to find. Kevin Stoney’s brief cameo as Ardus is one of them. Diehard B7 aficionados may like to speculate that Councillor Joban from Hostage has fallen from grace, losing his status and sight in the process. Now going by the name of Ardus, he recognises Servalan’s voice in a telling moment. Nicely underplayed by Stoney and Jacqueline Pearce, this is an excellent scene. And the idea of Avon gathering a force of experts to unite against the Federation is a good one, and one that shapes up towards the end of the season.

Apart from that though, Animals fails to inspire. Even the normally reliable Mary Ridge is a bit off form, but then given the subject matter that’s hardly surprising. Boring, lifeless and derivative, Animals would even struggle to make sense to Dr Doolittle.

Check out our review of season 4 episode 4 here.

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