Blake's 7 #20: Killer

"When Avon holds out the hand of friendship, watch his other hand: That's the one with the hammer."

IN THIS ONE... While Avon get the Federation's new transmission code, an alien virus ravages the base.

REVIEW: Robert Holmes' first script for Blake's 7 is a massive disappointment that not only has little of his characteristic wit, but little of Boucher's as well. He may have been working from some of the early Series A episodes in which Terry Nation pulled similar tricks, i.e. very specifically a heist for a code crystal (Seek-Locate-Destroy) and a secondary plot that could fit any space opera, i.e. a Problem in Space(TM). The two plots do eventually converge, but for a viral crisis occurring elsewhere on the same base, it seems to have very little bearing on Avon and Vila's scheme. And Blake only gets in on it because, well, he's bored. A very messy episode indeed.

The space virus, which establishes xenophobic aliens in a sort of Space Bermuda Triangle we'll never see, at least does push the boundaries of the macabre, which is a Holmes staple. An ickily-described autopsy, a zombie attack, a virus that acts quickly and produces a very nasty onscreen death... But I miss the classic Holmesian double act. I don't think Bellfriar and Gambrill count, there's little humor there. Bellfriar DOES have a light touch - and I especially like how he describes himself as an absent-minded scientist and has therefore already "forgotten" Blake is there - but I ascribe it to Paul Daneman who plays him in a fun, casual way. The main joke, if it is one, is that he's always telling everyone to move faster, like Holmes knew the episode would turn out to have a slow, procedural pace. Hedging his bets, I guess. At the end, we're rather wondering if/why Blake's crew is/isn't infected, especially since Bellfriar can't finish giving the serum formula. Blake will set up a quarantine signal even though Servalan is on the way to avoid a galactic pandemic, and it's all quite urgent, but the moment would have worked better if he were transmitting the cure instead, and had need of it himself. It just feels like he escaped through a big medical plot hole. Cally is almost useful, sensing the threat from the Liberator, but soon disappears from view. Jenna has a scene arguing with Blake and that's it. Not a great episode for the ladies.

So it's really too bad that Avon and Vila's mission is a repeat, because that's where the "Blakeness" is in the episode. Avon's ONE friend, turns out to be a betrayer with Servalan on speed dial, little more than a fellow hacker who owes Avon for not selling him out to the authorities when he was arrested. So it seems Avon DOES have more moral fiber than he lets on. Tynus has no such scruples. The best dialog is necessarily in the room with Avon and Vila and Tynus' interest in insect art provides some interest (his costume also looks like the wings of a ciccada). There's some more procedural pacing, but the heist is well planned. And it all ends with Tynus getting his just desserts (I guess those wires were still exposed), Too little to save the episode.

WHO?: Not only is Robert Holmes widely considered the best writer of Doctor Who's classic era, but he was its script editor from 1975 to 1977, working with Chris Boucher on his two first Doctor Who scripts. The pathologist Wiler is played by Morris Barry, best known in Doctor Who circles as the director of The Moonbase, The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Dominators, but he also starred as Tollund in The Creature from the Pit.

REWATCHABILITY: Low - Given the episode's DNA, it should have been a highlight. Instead, it's a huge let-down. (But for the Michelin Man suits.)