Blake's 7 #24: Gambit

"Right now I doubt if he's thinking of his living. Just keeping alive."

IN THIS ONE... Blake and Servalan converge on a surgeon who knows too much on a casino planet.

REVIEW: Robert Holmes' second attempt at a Blake's 7 script is much better than his first. In fact, it's kind of a triumph. For once, Blake brings the two women down on the planet to help him, and even if they don't do TOO much - seeing as this is principally a Servalan episode - they still stage a fun cat fight diversion and Cally plays human lie detector. The episode inadvertently shows why it's smart to leave Jenna and Cally in charge of the Liberator, however, because Avon and Vila (a Holmesian double act if there ever was one) get bored and decide to stage a casino heist using Orac to rig the games. This almost costs Vila his life - we don't see him partaking, but by the end, he's high on lizard venom - but the duo make off with millions of credits. It's a mostly amusing diversion, but it makes the best use of all the world-building that's done in the front half of the episode.

Freedom City may be neutral, but its manifest decadence feels very Top 1% Federation. Fascism - as has been demonstrated often in the real world - keeps everyone down except those who can pay to be above the law. They obviously raided the BBC's costume department for this one, because each subgroup has its own style - French aristocracy, western, cabaret, opera clown... And then we have Servalan, extremely glamorous in red, with glitzy make-up, a live bird in one hand, and a date - well, a toady - on her arm. She's throwing herself on piles of cushions, and manipulating the situation like a pro. It's wheels within wheels within wheels with her, and it's great stuff. If I've got this right, she WANTS Docholli - who she thinks knows the location of secret Fed HQ Star One - to be killed AFTER interrogation so she can call Freedom City's leader Krantor a security risk and finally have the Council allow her to invade the place with troops like she's always wanted. To do that, she's more than happy to sell Travis (currently Docholli's bodyguard) up the river and uses him as a pawn in her game. Lovely bit with the communication mirrors between the two villains as they try to outwit and outbluff each other. What she didn't count on was Blake' 7 being so close behind. I particular, Avon and Vila's winning streak distracts Krantor at a crucial moment, and Blake takes care of the heavies converging on Docholli (who doesn't actually know anything, but gives Blake someone else to look for, or a thumb drive supposedly around someone's neck that has the brain print info) and no one dies. Jenna is itching to kill Travis, but Blake says it would be a mercy and lets his nemesis scamper away with one arm off. It's true! The women never get to do anything!

What's really missing here is one last scene with Servalan where she reacts to be foiled. Or perhaps doing something to Krantor anyway, finding victory in defeat. She is so strong in the episode, it's absurd (but not as absurd as Orac's sudden ability to shrink itself down physically in this) that she doesn't return for the end of the chess game. HER chess game, that is, but it is a nice thematic element to have the casino host a speed chess (not "speeches", as I first heard it) death challenge. The Klute is this unbeatable savant that will make you fry rather than let you win... unless you have Orac feeding you moves (it IS rather silly that the casino can't figure out how Vila wins despite noticing he's holding his ear all the time). The computer graphics may have been cutting edge in 1979, but are charmingly passé now. What's well done is that the B-plot definitely has incident, literally and thematically, on the A-plot. And Holmes' characteristic double act humor shines through everywhere we look: Krantor's amusing play on the SUPREME Commander, Servalan's court jester of a lieutenant, and the hat jealousy between the Freedom City upper crustmen, being the highlights.

NOT MY FEDERATION: These drinking holes and casinos have nothing on Quark's... The western flair does remind us of Star Trek essentially being a space western, and specifically Deep Space Nine (whose Blake's analog is probably more like Space City than Freedom City) as a frontier town. Ze Klute, Deep Roy, was Keenser in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek films.

BUT MIGHT BE MY EMPIRE:
There's a "Who shot first?" scene between Docholli/Klein and Zee. Cally is clearly in Princess Leia drag ("Keep to the shadows!" in your bright white gown.) Deep Roy worked on the 80s Star Wars films, uncredited as Yoda in some Empire scenes and an alien in Jedi.

WHO?: The guest villain Krantor is played by Aubrey Woods who was the Controller in Day of the Daleks. His toady Toise - and this is a big one - is played by John Leeson, the voice of K9. Denis Carey (Docholli) was the Keeper in The Keeper of Traken and the Old Man in Timelash, but he's best remembered for his role in the serial that never aired - Professor Chronotis in Shada, where he ALSO had a dual identity. His hat and the western vibes reminded me of Holmes' forgotten Doctor Who serial, The Space Pirates. The cabaret "croupier" is played by Sylvia Coleridge, who was botanical artist Amelia Ducat in The Seeds of Doom. Paul Grist plays the heavy, Cevedic, and was FBI man Bill Filler in The Claws of Axos. And Deep Roy was Mr. Sin in Mr Sin The Talons of Weng-Chiang and one of Sil's people in Mindwarp.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Despite a couple of bad moves from the production, Gambit is a stylish and witty conspiracy thriller with great Servalan material.

Comments

Allen W. Wright said…
So glad you rated this one a high. Absolute gem of an episode. And I love how Krantor and Toise’s dialogue sets up the eclectic cosplay of the place.
Allen W. Wright said…
When we first talked about Straight Outta the Federation being a single special episode, I did a crash refresher course by rewatching around 12- 15 episodes. All the notable arc episodes, memorable firsts (and lasts). But I also included Gambit in that expedited rewatch because I had such fond memories of it.
Huntress said…
Glad to hear that you liked this one, Siskoid. Even happier you placed all caps on the SUPREME commander.
Echoing the others, so glad you enjoyed this one! It’s one of my absolute favorites. So much world building, it causes you to imagine so much about the Blake 7 universe, and it’s just so much fun!