Scorpio‘s crew are watching a series of explosions on a monitor screen.
Sue: Is it New Year’s Eve? Are they watching a firework display?
A Federation planet is being blown to bits.
Avon: Well, that’s one way of solving your energy crisis.
Sue: Paul Darrow is bored. Tom Baker had the same problem when he was Doctor Who – and Paul Darrow’s been doing it for quite some time now – he can’t say his lines without hamming it up. I still love him to bits, but he’s chewing the scenery in the very first scene. There’s nowhere left for him to go.
Avon has his eye on some feldon crystals – the hardest and most valuable substance in the known universe. (Unless you include Sopron, which is a little bit harder and marginally more expensive, obviously.)
Sue: What is it with Avon and rocks? He’s only ever happy when he’s playing with his crystals. He’s obsessed.
On the planet Mecron Two, a man named Belkov is playing chess against his personal computer, Gambit.
Sue: Ooh, he’s famous.
Me: Yes, he is.
Sue: Is it Stephen Fry’s dad?
Sue eventually recognises Stratford Johns from Z-Cars, a programme she remembers fondly.
Sue: He’s very good. I’m surprised to see him in this, though.
Me: He was in Doctor Who as well. He played a giant frog, so I’m not surprised you don’t remember him.
Sue: He looks like he’s working for The Body Shop, or a spa of some sort. He’s surrounded by beauty products.
Back on Scorpio, the crew are quarrelling over what to do with the feldon crystals: use them to power their ship, or sell them for a huge profit. They haven’t even stolen them yet.
Sue: I like it when they set out to steal something. They are much better at being outlaws than they are at being terrorists. It’s a lot more believable, and it reminds me of Firefly, which is no bad thing.
Me: Joss Whedon says he’s never seen a single episode of Blake’s 7.
Sue: Well he would say that, wouldn’t he. For legal reasons.
Avon tells the crew that the consignment they’re after is protected by a security system that’s supposed to be impregnable.
Sue: Paul Darrow has lost a lot of weight. His clothes don’t hug his figure like they used to. I’m worried about his health.
Belkov monitors three men as they attempt to break into an Orbiter that contains his illegal cache of crystals. The only thing standing in their way is a computer game. The first contestant reaches for a gun attached to the wall.
Sue: Phew. For a moment there I thought he was going to play Binatone badminton.
The first player’s opponent is a mirror image of himself. The player is so surprised by this, he loses his focus and is shot and killed by, er, himself.
Sue: Well, that was a shit game. I think they should play something else. Haven’t they got Wii tennis?
Then, despite an excellent first round, Player Two suffers the same fate. A third man – Gerren – barely escapes with his life.
Sue: He looks like the German submarine captain in Das Boot. I love that film. “Dive! Dive! Dive!”
She doesn’t recognise David Neal from The Caves of Androzani, but given the size of his beard this is only to be expected. Anyway, Avon has blackmailed Gerren into helping them.
Sue: So Avon’s latest expert is practically dead and we’re only ten minutes into the episode. That must be a new record. I don’t rate his chances of making it to the credits.
Meanwhile, on the surface of Mecron Two…
Sue: Great. Another ****ing quarry… Oh no. Even better! Another ****ing Servalan story. You’d think she’d wear something practical, just this once. You know, like a nice pair of dungarees and some hiking boots. She could accessorise the look with a nice diamond broach if she wanted to, but come on, Neil, it’s ridiculous having to watch her teetering around on a beach in those stupid heels.
Sue sighs deeply.
Sue: And this is too much of a coincidence for me. It stretches believability to breaking point. Can’t they think of a way for Avon and Servalan to meet each other on purpose? Is it really that hard?
When Scorpio arrives at Mecron Two, someone tries to make contact them.
Slave: I fear I am unable to identify them Master. I regret this failure most bitterly.
Orac: The message is coming via a Federation-class Alpha-One-Nine-Seven computer.
Sue: What is the point of Slave? Just switch him off and let Orac take over the ship. Slave sounds like he’s stoned all the time, anyway.
Belkov wants to do a deal: his safety in exchange for his secret cache of feldon crystals.
Sue: He’s a fabulous actor. He’s probably the best guest star to appear in the series so far. They must have been over the moon when they booked him.
Servalan isn’t very happy with Belkov.
Sue: Do you think people believe that Sleer is Servalan’s twin sister? Is that how they make sense of this madness?
Me: You have to let it go, Sue.
Sue: I can’t. It’s a big problem for me. Not only does it make absolutely no sense whatsoever, I don’t see the point of it. Why can’t she just be Servalan? It’s needlessly complicated.
Dayna, Tarrant, Gerren and Vila teleport to the surface of Mecron Two.
Sue: The direction is a lot better than usual. The high-angle shot of the quarry just then really pushed the boat out. They didn’t have to do that, but it was worth it.
Dayna shoots a Federation guard, although it looks like one of the planet’s natives got there first when Vila removes a blood-stained metal triangle from the trooper’s back.
Sue: I bet they got into trouble for that scene. That was very gruesome.
Avon wants to move Scorpio so it will be perpetually eclipsed by the Orbiter.
Sue: That’s a lovely shot. I bet they wish they had a bigger window they could look out of.
Avon brushes off Soolin’s concerns for the rest of the crew.
Avon: At least you and I can be certain that we can get away when we want to.
Sue: Avon’s still a selfish **** at the end of the day. Nothing’s really changed over the last – what is it – four years?
Gerren escorts Tarrant’s party to the planet’s high pressure processing plant.
Gerren: That’s the pressure container. An electro-magnetic field produces such high pressure that everything except the feldon crystals is reduced to a fine dust.
Sue: There’s a lot of chat in this episode. There’s only five minutes left and nothing’s happened yet.
Me: We’re only twenty minutes into this, Sue.
Sue: Really? Bloody hell, it’s even slower than I thought.
Federation troopers detain our heroes and demand to see their identification.
Sue: If Avon’s gang are on the Federation’s Most Wanted list, you’d think the Federation would know what they looked like, wouldn’t you. This just proves that they don’t give a shit about them, unless you count Servalan, and that’s definitely personal.
Our heroes make short work of the troopers.
Sue: Wow. A nicely staged fight for a change. I’m impressed.
Tarrant pushes a Federation trooper into the pressure plant and a puff of red dust fills in the blanks.
Sue: That was pretty grim for 7 o’clock. This episode isn’t pulling any punches. At least they didn’t dwell on it too much.
Me: It reminds me of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. And Belkov reminds me of a Bond villain, too.
Sue: So who’s James Bond? It can’t be Avon if he’s stuck on the ship.
Me: Well, Vila, obviously.
Sue: **** off!
Servalan wants to know where Belkov has hidden his crystals.
Sue: Are you sure he hasn’t stuck them up his jumper. Maybe he isn’t as big as he looks.
Belkov offers to trade Avon, Tarrant and Vila in exchange for Servalan’s help.
Sue: He didn’t mention the women. They can’t be infamous enough, which means they should both run away the next chance they get. I mean, why doesn’t Soolin ask to be dropped off on the nearest inhabitable planet? I don’t get it.
On the planet’s surface, Vila, Gerren and Tarrant approach the door that will lead them to Belkov.
Sue: The Federation are using supermarket packing trolleys. My friend Christine stole one of those from the back of a shop after school one day. I have a very vivid memory of me pushing it down the road while she sat in it and played her saxophone. Don’t ask me why we did it because I don’t know.
Me: When I was a teenager, I worked in supermarket called Victor Value as a shelf-stacker. When the shop was closed, we used the packing trolleys as stock cars. We’d race down the aisles pretending we were taking part in Mad Max meets Dawn of the Dead. The worst culprit was our supervisor, and he was in his thirties.
We swap more supermarket packing trolley stories before resuming the episode, at which point our heroes are practically knocking on Belkov’s front door.
Sue: That’s the best door-in-a-cliff to appear in Blake’s 7 so far. And to be fair, there’s been quite a few.
Avon wants Orac to tell him everything he knows about Belkov’s supercomputer.
Orac: You suggested I spared you the technical details.
Avon: Oh, don’t sulk, Orac.
Sue: I could watch these two sniping at each other all day. I like the way that both Avon and the other guy treat their machines with more respect than they do other human beings. And why does Paul Darrow sound like he’s appearing in a Shakespeare play?
Avon: So what we need is not the right answer, but the right question!
Sue: To be or not to be? See, he’s auditioning for Hamlet.
Tarrant, Dayna and Gerren reach Belkov’s lair. Belkov warns them that Gambit will raise the alarm if they kill him.
Sue: Wasn’t there a Doctor Who story called Gambit?
Me: No, but there is a Blake’s 7 story called Gambit. We watched it four months ago.
Sue: It’s all beginning to blur together into one big… thing. I don’t know how you can remember all this stuff. How can there be enough room for it in your head?
Belkov keeps switching sides. This time he offers to send Servalan into a trap so they can all steal a spaceship together.
Sue: He’s playing games with everyone and they don’t even know it. It’s really good, this. It’s a very clever script.
There’s an almighty explosion and Vila watches in horror as a man rushes out of the cave in flames.
Sue: **** me! Look at that! Either that’s a fantastic stunt or something’s going horribly wrong and we’re witnessing a terrible accident.
I usually only capture those moments in Blake’s 7 that are so bad they have to be seen to be believed. Today, I’m making an exception to that rule. I mean, come on! How good is this?!
When Servalan and her men investigate another cave, they interrupt a religious ceremony that’s already in progress.
Me: It’s all gone a bit Eyes Wide Shut.
Sue: You wish.
Servalan’s men are butchered on the spot.
Sue: Why is Servalan posing for a calendar shoot?
Servalan shakes her head and leaves.
Me: I’m sorry, Sue, but as far as I am concerned, that’s Blake’s 7 funniest moment by far. The look of disinterest on Servalan’s face just then – priceless.
Avon has identified Belkov’s weak spot:
Avon: Belkov does not trust anyone except that machine. It is his bodyguard, his companion, his playmate… his friend.
Sue: He reminds me of someone I could mention. Someone who isn’t sitting all that far away, Neil.
I don’t know what she means.
Sue: And Orac is the closest thing Avon has to a real friend, so he knows what he’s talking about.
Vila sneaks into Belkov’s lair.
Sue: His computer reminds me of a giant game of Frustration. I just want to pop it.
When Belkov returns, Vila hides behind the computer. Belkov asks for a security update and Gambit provides him the location of every single person except Vila.
Sue: (as Gambit) Oh, and I almost forgot to mention: there’s a weird guy squatting behind me. You might want to check that out.
Gambit: Security scan completed.
Sue: What? Did she do that on purpose? That was crazy.
Belkov has some bad news for his computer: he will have to leave her behind.
Gambit: Is there some other function you wish me to carry out?
Sue: (as Belkov) Yes, whatever you do, don’t forget to erase my porn collection as soon as I leave.
Belkov: I shall miss you. I don’t suppose that concept could possibly mean anything to you. I just thought I’d mention it.
Sue: This is touching. Weird, but touching. I couldn’t imagine Avon having this conversation with Orac, but he is really selling it to me; he’s such a good actor.
Vila convinces Gambit to part with one of her circuit boards before persuading her to set Tarrant, Dayna and Gerren free.
Sue: And he didn’t even have to raise his voice. There’s a message there, somewhere.
Vila shoots a Federation guard at point-blank range, as calm as you like.
Sue: Vila is stealing the show this week. Even I’m impressed.
Gerren is shot and captured, but Vila, Dayna and Tarrant are teleported to safety.
Sue: This is probably Blake’s 7‘s best directed episode so far.
Me: Even better than Douglas Camfield’s?
Sue: It’s definitely up there.
Me: The director’s name is Vivienne Cozens and you’ll be pleased to know that she directs the next episode as well.
Sue: Excellent. Things are finally looking up for this show. The direction is very cinematic. It makes all the difference.
Servalan interrogates a badly wounded Gerren.
Sue: Is he not dead yet? He’s ****ing indestructible!
Soolin prepares to play the Orbiter’s first game.
Soolin: You have to out-shoot yourself.
Sue: It’s the perfect game for people with low self-esteem.
Me: I bet this isn’t what Vila had in mind when he said he wanted to watch Soolin play with herself.
Sue: When did he say that?
Me: In a dream I had last week. Sorry.
Against all the odds, Soolin wins.
Sue: Is that it? All she gets is a message on a TV screen that says ‘Very Good’!? Doesn’t she get any tickets that she can exchange for sweets later on? Or a goldfish?
It’s Tarrant’s turn to step up to the plate – this time in a high-tech flight simulator.
Sue: (as Tarrant) So where do you put your fifty pence piece?
Meanwhile, on Scorpio…
Dayna: Slave, what’s the position of those Federation ships?
Slave: The leading ship will be within firing range in one minute, Madam.
Sue: What would have happened if Dayna hadn’t asked that question at that precise moment? Would Slave have kept his mouth shut, or would he have warned her? I need to know.
Tarrant’s piloting skills are put to the test.
Sue: This is way ahead of its time. Computer games were just coming into fashion back then – we wouldn’t see games as good as the one Tarrant is playing for years. If they ever bring Blake’s 7 back, this is one of the episodes they should definitely remake.
Vila uses his initiative to open the next door.
Sue: Vila is showing everybody up today. There’s no stopping him.
The Orbiter moves out of orbit, which leaves the Scorpio exposed to a Federation attack.
Sue: Ooh, this is really exciting all of a sudden!
Sue finally notices that Gambit’s circuit board has been bolted to the top of Orac.
Sue: So is she Orac’s girlfriend, now?
Me: STOP IT!
Avon: There aren’t any damned crystals. There never were any damned crystals. They’re like everything else on this ship: a game!
Me: It’s basically 3-2-1 in space.
Sue: They should have included a version of Tipping Point, but with bombs instead of coins. They missed a trick there.
Gambit decides to turn the tables on Belkov. Well, you know what they say about a computer scorned.
Sue: Checkmate, mate.
Belkov opens a door to a black hole (keep up at the back), but Avon has a cunning plan.
Orac: It would appear that positive and negative inputs were balanced by the feldon crystals. Indeed, the balance was so perfect, that they simply ceased to exist, along with everything in their immediate vicinity.
Sue: Eh? What? Oh, forget it. I don’t care. Whatever happened, it was exciting. So is the bad guy dead or what?
Me: I guess so.
Sue: That’s a shame. And Servalan? Where has she got to? Has she ceased to exist as well?
Me: What do you think?
Sue: I think she’ll be back next week.
Just when the crew think they’ll be heading home empty-handed, Vila produces a crystal necklace that he’s stolen from Belkov. Unfortunately, Avon has some bad news:
Avon: It’s a fake. End game to Belkov.
Sue: They didn’t even get a miniature Dusty Bin. What a shame.
Sue: It took a long time to get going – it was very talky at the beginning – but when it pulled its finger out, it was great. The direction was especially good and the man from Z-Cars was brilliant. I even liked Vila, so it must be good. I could have done without Servalan, but I’m getting used to that. And Paul Darrow needs to tone it down a bit, obviously. But apart from that… Yeah, I enjoyed that one a lot.