Blake's 7 #15: Shadow

"Law makers, law breakers, let us fight them all, why not?"

IN THIS ONE... Blake tries to recruit, hire or force an organized crime syndicate to his cause.

REVIEW: Finally, an episode not plotted by Terry Nation and we'll see what Chris Boucher thinks the show should be. The change is obvious. First of all, more of the characters come into focus. Gan's righteousness when Blake proposes an alliance with very shady characters. Cally isn't just a telepath again, but one who uses her powers to make things happen. Vila wanting to go to the Satellite of Sin, revealing certain weaknesses in him, and his thinking of Blake as a privileged dupe, make him seem much expanded. Nation notoriously hated Michael Keating's performance of Vila, who he imagined as a witty gentleman thief, not a venal coward, and there's the sense across the first season that he ignored the character, but he wasn't the only one who didn't have anything very distinct to do. I mean, Avon opened his share of locked doors, so even as a thief, Vila wasn't catered to. Jenna and Cally were often interchangeable too. But for the personalities they were given by Boucher's script editing and the actors' performances.

The other big change is that Boucher is really leaning into adult themes and gray zone dilemmas which were there in the first three episodes, but seemed to give way to Nation's space cadet plots over time. The Shadow of the title is an addictive drug, the smuggling of which carries a death sentence even in the Federation, and we spend a great deal of time with addicts under the local drug lord's control even before we see the Liberator peek out in a station window (a great entrance that justifies the perhaps over-long opening sequence with people we don't know). Through the course of the Space City stuff, we'll see someone dead of an overdose, the drug lord (revealed to be the guy who threw Jenna under the bus when she refused to smuggle Shadow) backstabbing our heroes, and his getting offed by his own ambitious enforcer. When Vila calls from Space Vegas, his voice distracted, it sounds like he took some Shadow himself, but it's just alcohol, and he's hungover for the rest of the episode.

This would work well enough as a dark, adult story, but the real crux of it is that Blake hopes to ally with that shadowy organized crime syndicate, or essentially pay it, to cause problems on Earth. And not everyone thinks it's a good idea. We've had push-back from Avon and Vila for their own selfish reasons before, but here Gan and Cally are even more opposed, on moral grounds. Blake seems to be furiously trying to keep the group in line through much of the episode. His opening bid fails, but with Zen's help, figures out where Shadow is being harvested - from very weird glass-like, telepathic "cacti" - and decides to strong-arm the Terra Nostra syndicate into helping him by taking control of their supply. And the Seven will eventually find out that the Federation is actually Terra Nostra (it means Our Earth, so maybe that was the clue), controlling both sides of the law. Blake's plan is entirely impossible, so he at least blows up the Shadow farms from orbit (or lets the surviving addict do it, as revenge for his sister's pointless death... not sure how credible this is since he's cutting off his own supply, but we cut to credits before he does and can imagine a further scene where Blake does it, impatiently).

Apparently, the original idea in the script had Cally forced to take Shadow, which made her powers go haywire. I feel like that would have been even more hardcore and scary than what we got, and also better integrated into the episode. As is, the B-plot is clunky and surplus to requirements. There's this telepathic entity from another dimension using Orac as a conduit to attack her, see? After some surreal bits of business, she beams down to the planet (which does look cool, for a quarry) and gets a psi-boost from the cacti and manages to defeat it. Uhm, okay? It just comes out of nowhere (their "telekinesis" that's actually teleportation too) and requires an extremely long explanation at the end that takes the stuffing out of the thrilling episode that preceded it.

In the Star Trek universe, there is an all-reaching organized mob called the Orion Syndicate. It's not secretly run by the Federation, but rather overtly run by the Orions.

BUT MIGHT BE MY EMPIRE: Space City is kind of like Cloud City, a hive of villainy of great proportions than Mos Eisley's, but just as likely to sell you out. As for the desert planet, it has two suns just like Tatooine.

WHO?: Cally's telepathic hallucination at first seems right out of Kinda (well, vice-versa). Derek Smith (Largo) has a tenuous connection, only eventually playing a doorman in 2007's Human Nature. Adrienne Burgess (the addicted woman, Hanna) was Veet in The Sun Makers. Vernon Dobtcheff (the Chairman) was a scientist in The War Games. The Binnegar Heath Sandpits (the alien planet) were used in Destiny of the Daleks as Skaro.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium-High - The Orac stuff requires so much explanation, it deflates what is otherwise a very strong episode.