Blake's 7 #13: Orac

"Die? I can't do that." "I'm afraid you can. It's the one talent we all share, even you."

IN THIS ONE... It's the Seven vs. the Feds in a race to find the Orac super-computer.

REVIEW: Rather disappointed with the season finale and it's mostly to do with the eponymous Orac. Having just read that it's "part of the cast" in Series B makes irritates me even more. But it's not my only problem with the episode. We'll come to them as we go. First, it IS interesting that there are consequences attached to the previous ep. We were told that planet had been subjected to a nuclear holocaust, and though Avon's almost-romantic interest seemed fine, everyone who was part of the away team is now dying from radiation poisoning. The only chance is on their route anyway - deliver the power cells to Ensor's dad, maybe check out this Orlac MacGuffin the Federation wants, and ask for decontaminant meds. Aristo, an ocean world, looks cool from space, and though it's a quarry, they cut it with ocean surf and place weird ruins and objects in it to give it its own sense of place.

What Blake and Cally don't know is that Travis and Servalan are also on the island, skulking through the underground tunnels to get to Orac themselves. We find out it's a talking computer - as Ensor is the computer genius whose chips are in everything these days, but who ran from the Feds decades ago - and very valuable indeed. Though she says that she doesn't want to share the credit with anyone, I do question why a creditless bunch of mutoids or soldiers do not accompany the duo. Or why she would even walk around alien sewers herself. Can't she take all the credit from orbit as the person who organized and ordered the necessary subalterns? I don't want to criticize too much, since I'm always happy to see more Servalan on the show, but it's damn suspect. At one point, she gets harassed by a native "Phibian", reptilian "monsters" that don't do much and are seen even less. I know these are guys in rubber suits, but they're almost edited out of sequences here, which is a shame. Show me the damn rubber suit, I won't point and laugh. Or don't have them at all on the show if you're going to be ashamed of them. She does lose her cool there, but quickly regains it. She doesn't just have one color, which is good to know. Still, by the end, when Travis gets his hand shot off by Avon and she just stands there, held at gunpoint, it does seem to reduce her power. She's better as a puppet master, sitting somewhere in safety, than as a field agent. It's not a great moment for Blake either who foregoes killing his two biggest enemies, threatening them instead with sending a message to the Federation saying they've failed. Is that really much of a threat? Servalan is already blaming it on Travis, and it won't really have an impact.

Blake and Cally don't succeed in saving the old scientist, which fits the dark tone of Blake's 7. His heart stops working before they can get him to their surgery. He's an old eccentric that fails to amuse me as much as it does Blake anyway. But they do "rescue" Orac, and that's the worst tragedy. They rightly call him a junk heap, but it's not just his visual that's an anti-climax, it's the whole final scene. We already have Zen, a talking computer who's kind of an evasive jerk, and now we have Orac, who is just the same except perhaps more so. He has more of a personality, but it's that of an arrogant, self-satisfying blowhard, just as evasive and useless. So much so, Avon rips his power pack out and throws it away as Vila cheers. The season basically ends on the group sitting around a plexiglass box, arguing with it. It's big power: It can predict events. Not the probability of an event, actual events, and project it on the viewer as if it were footage from the future. I absolutely DO NOT BELIEVE in this ability, nor in the faux-climax of the Liberator being destroyed "soon". There was an obnoxious robot like this in the last season of Buck Rogers too, and everyone hated it.

Speaking of showing things on a viewscreen, I want to end by going back to the beginning. Because of the serialization between this episode and the last, the show creates a diegetic recap, using a new breakfast nook area on the bridge. I like it when they do recaps as part of the action instead of showing a clip montage. It's neat.

The crew racing to find meds for radiation poisoning was a plot point in Terry Nation's first Doctor Who serial, The Daleks.  James Muir, one of the Phibians, played a bunch of bit parts on Doctor Who, sometimes in monster costumes (he's been a Foamasi, a Tharil, and the Mandril). Springwell Lock Quarry, playing the beach here, also served as locations in The Twin Dilemma, Earthshock and The Three Doctors.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-Low - It never completes a pass and introduces what I think is a bad idea. Convince me otherwise, Season B!


LOL!! I laughed at your outrage the whole way through the review. Yes, ORAC is irritating at first, but the show is ultimately better for his introduction. The voice actor for Season B and on always said he approached ORAC as a snobby civil servant, who always felt put out and bothered whenever the other characters ask him something. And that’s dead on.

And yes, his visual predicting ability is plot driven nonsense, but serves the next episode. We won’t see that ridiculous ability again.

As always, your reviews are fun and I’m interested to see how you feel about ORAC by the end of the show.
Alex Osias said…
I was actually thrilled with the introduction of ORAC, because it was the addition of another member of the "team" that could potentially be at odds with the other characters (and, in fact, was at odds with them from the get go), and yet had impressive capabilities. Blake's 7 as a team that didn't always get along with each other -- not just a matter of personalities as per Spock & McCoy, but as a matter of fundamental values and principles being different and always causing problems.

Yes, the prediction ability was b.s., but it could've been watered down ala the Dune concept of prescience (mountains, valleys, plains, horizon metaphor). I just loved the idea that the characters were sitting on super-powerful devices (The Liberator, Zen, and now Orac) whose capabilities they weren't fully aware of, and / or that they had to convince to help them.