Blake’s 7 series 4 episode 8 – Games

Our heroes pre-empt the invention of the Wii, as the pursuit of a precious substance must be won the hard way...

Blake's 7 season four.

PLOT With Feldon now one of the most valuable subjects in the universe (and one of the rarest), Avon learns that the Federation is investing 200 billion credits in a project for unlimited energy. Avon plans to steal a consignment of Feldon crystals but has to move fast because a message comes through saying that Federation Security may reveal the target.

Avon picks up his outside help, academician Gerren (David Neal), who has manipulated the commodities market on a Federation deep space project, searching out mining planets. Avon threatened to blackmail him and reveal his activities if he didn’t co-operate.

On Mecron 2, Servalan meets the man in charge of the Feldon mining operation, Belkov (Stratford Johns). However, she is to arrest him for consistently bringing in below average targets of production, as well as survey team members encountering suspicious accidents.

Belkov, however, transmits to Scorpio, saying that he is under house arrest. He wants rescuing and promises the Scorpio crew half of the Feldon crystals in his ship. Gerren, Tarrant, Vila and Dayna teleport down, but do not realise that the whole thing is a trick. Belkov offers Servalan a deal – the Scorpio crew will be delivered to her in 24 hours in return for Orac, his ship and a large amount of Feldon crystals.

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Avon pilots the Scorpio into a new orbit pattern to throw Belkov off guard. Orac tells him that Belkov’s 197 model computer, Gambit (Rosalind Bailey) plays games, and would know how booby traps on board the Orbiter (which contain Feldon crystals) are programmed. Orac adds that it is a similar method to the Delphic Oracle, which answered questions truthfully without giving a true answer – so what Avon needs is the right question rather than the right answer.

Belkov tricks Dayna, Tarrant and Gerren (having left Vila on guard) into a trap. Gerren surmises that the mining site is to swindle the Federation, and that Belkov is using bombs to destroy the evidence, leaving them to take the blame. Belkov prepares to leave, ordering Gambit to self-destruct, and erase the evidence.

Vila makes his way into Belkov’s control room, and asks Gambit for an important control circuit. He also asks Gambit to free Dayna, Tarrant and Gerren. They escape, but Gerren is captured by Servalan.

With the crystals on board the Orbiter, Dayna is left on patrol on the Scorpio, as Avon, Vila, Soolin and Tarrant must pass test games successfully in order to reach their goal. Soolin, Tarrant and Vila pass their tasks successfully, but as Avon starts his, the Orbiter moves out of orbit. To regain control, Orac tells Avon that he must complete a coded sequence of star sources. Avon calculates that the next star in the right star sequence is Cygnus XL, a black hole. Avon concludes that there aren’t any crystals – like everything else, the whole setup is a game, and the last one must be impassable.

Belkov locks the controls for the black hole as the Orbiter disappears. Orac says that the positive and negative outputs balanced by the crystals means that everything in the vicinity will cease to exist. Vila, however, produces a set of Feldon crystals from his pocket, but Avon smashes them into dust, proclaiming them fakes. “End game to Belkov!”

ANALYSIS As Tarby used to say on ‘classic’ gameshow Winner Takes All, when it comes to Games, it seems that “We have a difference of opinion here, Geoff” with most of the Blake’s 7 fans.

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In theory, Games should have a lot going for it. The direction by newcomer Vivienne Cozens is magnificent and makes an immediate impression. The location filming is fantastic, and almost cinematic in quality. The few action sequences that there are also look strikingly good. The shot of the luckless Federation guard ending up as bloody dust after falling into a pulveriser is a memorable one, as is the human torch running from the caves.

Bill Lyons’ script also contains a few interesting concepts, including the games on board the Orbiter. One of the deadliest is a futuristic version of Wii, in which contestants do battle with themselves in a lethal shootout. Shoot the small screen version of yourself and you win. If not, small screen you reduces the genuine article to a crumpled dead heap on the floor. Needless to say, I can’t see a D-grade celebrity queuing up to promote this one on TV.

Without the stellar direction though, it’s debatable whether Games would enjoy its strong reputation. Lyons’ script, despite its good ideas, is rather slow and lacking any real threat or even point. The main baddie of the week is portly computer nerd Belkov, the sort of bloke who probably spends his evenings alone with a laptop, and playing games until 5am. His only friend naturally turns out to be a computer – it’s a similar sort of deal to Ensor and Orac, but somehow, this time around, it’s nowhere near as effective, probably because there was more backstory that took place in Deliverance and Orac at the end of season one.

Stratford Johns’ performance is good, but unfortunately, he’s working with limited material here, and in the end, Belkov just comes across as an irritating, one-note parody of a double crossing swindler, and even his friendship with Gambit is just weird rather than touching.

Servalan again contributes little to the story, and it seems that with each tale, her usefulness is reduced little by little. Luckily, things turn around with Sand, where she plays a pivotal part in the action, but here, she’s reduced to endless, boring slanging matches with Belkov.

In fact, none of the characters are really catered for well here, except Vila. Its nice to see Michael Keating get a bit more to do, and for Vila to save the day by rescuing Tarrant, Dayna and Gerren, making off with a vital circuit, and even snaffling a few handy crystals into the bargain (even though they turn out to be fakes). That said, he’s still being bossed around by Tarrant and Dayna (who are typically stupid enough to be fooled by Belkov) for the millionth time this series.

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What’s up with Avon though? Even by season four standards, Darrow charts new realms of ham during his scenes on the Scorpio. Perhaps miffed at missing out on the action, Avon manages to over-emphasise every single line that he says, with a whole load of face pulling and arm waving thrown in for good measure. In fact, I’m surprised that he doesn’t have Soolin’s eye out with all that wild hand gesticulating.

Or maybe Darrow’s bravely trying to make up for the lack of incident in Games. Battling against a computer-mad nerd for a load of crystals isn’t exactly the most thrilling plotline we’ve had in the series. The Feldon crystals are a valuable prize – we’re told so in a clunky infodump at the start of the episode – but somehow, it’s difficult to care who gets their hands on the crystals first.

The plot mainly seems to comprise lots of running around, getting captured, escaping, getting captured a bit more and then escaping again. The slack attempts to pick up towards the end, as Avon, Soolin, Tarrant and Vila play the outer space version of The Generation Game on the Orbiter. Regrettably, each test is done in a slapdash, over-in-seconds-flat manner, making it difficult to give a damn about what happens. Even Belkov’s fate is underwhelming, although his manic laughter neatly pre-empts Avon’s future reactions to dire straits.

Nice execution, boring plot. That’s the real problem with Games. The ending is admittedly very good, as Avon realises that they’ve lost yet again – but it’s too little, too late. Not a Game that I want to be playing again in a hurry.

Check out our review of season 4 episode 7 here.

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