Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Stripping Down... Blake's 7 (iii)


Issue: XV

Writer: Ken Armstrong

Art: Mick Austin

Scorpio is suddenly holed by the wreckage of another spacecraft. When Avon and Vila space walk outside to assess the damage, a meteorite storm knocks them into the void. Putting on a spacesuit, Dayna teleports after them with two bracelets. However, Vila is unable to grab his bracelet and helplessly drifts into the gravity well of a nearby planet as Avon and Dayna are teleported back inside Scorpio. Avon has Tarrant fly Scorpio above the atmosphere while Avon dangles on an 'astrocord', snatching Vila to safety at the last moment.

The crew are wearing their "first half" uniforms this week, putting this pre-Assassin. There are at least three bulky spacesuits aboard Scorpio (which aren't the usual Flash Gordon-style rescue suits from the TV series). There appears to be a viewing platform underneath Scorpio's antennae. Teleportation requires a fix on the person being transported, which is very difficult in space (the bracelets appear to be no help with this). The crew lose a teleport bracelet in this story.

Vila loathes wearing a space suit, and gets another three-way cuddle from Dayna and Soolin when he's safe. He really is more popular than he thinks, Dayna even thinks it's "great" to have him back.

Objects that are exposed to rantogen-charged particles can absorb radar waves and thus become undetectable. There are rantogen-charged meteorite storms to be found in Star Systen Cryno Callus in the fifteenth sector, along with at least three planets.


Soolin: We can't stand by and watch Vila die!
Dayna: Surely the life of a friend is worth the risk?
Avon: I have no friends.

Vila: Avon, I thought...
Avon: Don't think, Vila, it only complicates things.

Vila: Avon risked his life for me, I owe him a lot!
Avon: You "owe me" the price of a bracelet. Next time, catch it!

A thin story by any standards, this seems to be an attempt to do a happy-ending version of Orbit where Avon saves Vila instead of trying to kill him. Mick Austin is clearly not having much fun on the artwork, and all the space-walking scenes are drawn with more detail than the confusing indoor scenes where word balloons go to the wrong people. Ultimately, it relies on the whacking great plothole of Avon and Vila not thinking to wear their teleport bracelets in a hazardous situation, which is just ridiculous.

Kind of like the start of Stardrive before it all went downhill.


Issue: XVI

Writer: Paul Neary

Art: Phil Gascoine

The Federation construct a planet-sized computer called Federac. Using Slave to distract Federac's defense ships, Avon has Scorpio open fire on Federac, reducing it to scrap metal. However, the sentience of the computer survives in its remaining debris. A shard of Federac holes Scorpio, and when Avon and Vila remove it, the fragment is able to leave a post-hypnotic suggestion in their minds to return to the solar system in six months when the sentience of Federac has regained its strength.

Unaware they are being controlled, Avon and Vila return in Scorpio half a year later and go on a spacewalk, when the debris attack. Dayna is able to save Avon while Vila is knocked into planet fall. Federac removes its conditioning so Vila understands his fate, but Avon's conditioning is also undone. Thinking quickly, Avon broadcasts a message in computer language to Federac - "You are feeling sleepy" - over and over again until the sentience itself is hypnotized and they are free to rescue Vila.

The crew are all wearing their "second half" uniforms for once, and Soolin has her GP-hairstyle, putting this towards the end of the season. Avon locks the armory when he's off the ship (a strange move presumably down to his brainwashing) while Tarrant insists on abandoning Vila and saving Avon only for some reason (perhaps Tarrant got hypnotized as well at some point?).

Federac the computer world was build into a moon, and created with a personality. Scorpio attacked while it was still young and naive and could be fooled by Slave of all things. Scorpio's cannons reduced it to a few relay switches, solar panels and circuits, each one containing part of Federac's mind and capable of self-propulsion and triggering hypnotic light shows. Federac can undo its hypnosis simply by counting to three. Federac is left hypnotized and compelled to travel at top speed to Alpha Centauri, and according to Soolin was last seen near Arcturus. Avon regrets the loss of this great intellect, even though all the signs are he was the one that kept trying to destroy it. He is convinced that, on some emotional level, Federac is "human".



Phil Gascoine takes over as regular artist with this curiously-untitled tale which is at the end of the day a slightly more complicated rewrite of Overboard (the last page copies it panel for panel) only this time with an insane computer with a grudge. The mid-story flashback is just confusing and the static in the computer's message is almost as annoying as the cheap hypnosis trick that resolves the plot. Why Federac didn't simply brainwash Avon and Vila into killing themselves and the others escapes me, like why Orac is never used considering how handy he would be. Presumably Federac was some kind of replacement for Star One but this idea is never really dealt with. Even the living planet with self-willed parts seems derivative of Sand. As a side note, this is the final comic strip not to feature Servalan.

A weak attempt to make the previous story's plot more epic with a truly awful ending.


Issue: XVII

Writer: Paul Neary

Art: Phil Gascoine

Rebel agents have infiltrated Servalan's HQ and spread news of her secret holiday on Orion 4 where she will be unguarded. Orac picks up the news and Avon and the others head to Orion 4 in Scorpio to simultaneously assassinate Servalan and also make contact with the native resistance movement. But when Scorpio comes in to land, it is captured by the natives who have mistaken it for Servalan's ship. Servalan then arrives with a battle fleet - her "holiday" has been one giant trap for her enemies. The Federation forces wipe out the natives, but their shots at Scorpio only succeed in freeing the captured ship, which promptly shoots down Servalan's ship and flees in the confusion.

The costumes suggest this in the latter half of Season 4. Avon wants to kill Servalan himself, and is looking for potential allies to aide their fight against the Federation. He dubs Scorpio "a rebel privateer". Tarrant fears that Scorpio could fall apart if the drives were set to their full power.

Servalan's Outer Sector Security Headquarters are on Paalus Major. Her last few pleasure trips have been dogged by rebel activity (presumably a reference to the short story Credit Transfer), but she deliberately allows spies in her camps to set up traps. She wears a Ming the Merciless-style cloak in this adventure, presumably to help with her "body double" scam since the real Servalanwears her outfit from Orbit. It seems that the rebels are aware of her real identity, as the Orions address her as "Servalan" rather than "Sleer."

Orac has the ability to print out messages. It is tied down while aboard Scorpio, ala Blake.

Orian Four is a recreation planet and its surface seems covered with jungles, mountains and flowers. Dragonite lines are cables strong enough to hold a planet hopper like Scorpio down. The rebel spy ring consists of "Fox Base" (apparently on Orion 4) communicating with various "Foxes", the third of which is spying on Servalan. Until she arrests him anyway.


Vila: But Avon, if those rebels are after Servalan, why don't we leave them to deal with her?
Avon: And give them the pleasure of killing her? No - that pleasure will be mine and mine alone!

Tarrant: We're trapped! We can't break free!
Avon: ...Is that a fact?

Captain: Commissioner... are you hurt?
Servalan: Only my pride! He's turned the hunter into the hunted, but one day, Avon... one day I'll get you! That's a promise!

The central premise is pretty clever, with Servalan turning the rebels against each other and then bombing both sides, but the Scorpio crew barely appear and do sod all except get captured and then run away while the "lunatic" rebels of Orion make a huge balls up of everything they attempt. This time the no-score-draw ending feels much like a success for the good guys, with Servalan saving Avon from another doomed alliance...

As an effort to reestablish Servalan as the Big Bad of the comic strip, Hunted is an unqualified success, but the problem is it's not trying to do anything else.


Issue: XVIII

Writer: Paul Neary

Art: Phil Gascoine

Scorpio manages to hijack a Federation transporter, but the crew evacuate and hit the self-destruct, depriving the rebels of new food supplies and nearly killing Avon, Tarrant and Vila. In desperation, they head for Torrac Six, the Agri-Planet that provides catering for the Federation Headquarters. Orac hacks into the computers and has a consignment of supplies loaded into Scorpio - but the supplies were meant for Servalan, who always comes in person to collect her food. Realizing they're discovered, the crew flee in Scorpio, shooting at Servalan's ship when she tries to follow. Servalan survives, humiliated and hungry, while the crew enjoy a feast fit for a would-be empress.

Another mid-season story judging by the outfits with the men wearing their first-half uniforms. Soolin and Dayna seem to have swapped personalities, with Dayna being aloof and sarcastic while Soolin is meek and emotional - she once again offers to make Vila dinner (definitely something going on there). Soolin doesn't take her gun-belt off, even to eat dinner. Vila's hunger drives him to volunteer to be boarding party and hurl abuse at Avon when the plan goes wrong. Scorpio's flight deck is very different in this story, as a large square room with thick rhomboid doors and one flight console at one end in front of a huge square room (there's no sign of Slave at all).

Federation transports have a similarly-shaped craft as their sole escort. The crew seem to believe they can blow up all their supplies and not be punished for it (though presumably keeping the supplies out of terrorist hands is a higher priority?). Torrac Six is an Agri-Planet famous for providing food for Federation Headquarters, with huge hydroponic domes on the surface. Food is transported in wooden crates carried on floating sleds driven by blue-collar workers in baseball caps, while more distinguished-looking men act as Stewards (presumably for PR reasons). The usual troopers provide security. Thumbprints are used instead of signatures to sign off on clipboards.

Servalan's rations are consignment 106, and seemingly consists of roast turkeys, apples, grapes, loafs of bread and wine. She always collects it in person (presumably because she's paranoid it might get poisoned). She has the Steward executed for unwittingly humiliating her, and is accompanied by two bald men in Federation uniform (mutoids?).


Avon: [into communicator] Heave-to! We're sending a boarding party! Any treachery and your ship, its crew and contents will be blown to pieces!

[Dayna teleports Avon, Tarrant and Vila, saving them from certain death]
Soolin: They're alive, Dayna!
Dayna: And in one piece. I hope they're suitably grateful?

Vila: More re-processed junk! I thought the Big Man was going to ensure decent grub for us with this latest daring adventure. What a fiasco!

Tarrant: [to Vila] Just keep cool.

Servalan: I hope the food chokes you, Avon!
Caption: There was little likelihood of Servalan's curse coming to pass...

Avon: I give you a toast. Servalan - MAY SHE ALWAYS GO HUNGRY!

A clear sign of how the comic strip was becoming less and less of a priority of Blake's 7 Magazine, with a reduced page count, a simplified plot and promises of "laughs" yet little genuine humor: Gambit this ain't. It's played completely straight until the jolly romp of the last page, undermining an otherwise straightforward "scam-goes-wrong" plot typical of Season 4.

A lightweight kid-friendly story that can't decide if it's comedy or drama.

Target Practice I

Issue: XIX

Writer: Ken Armstrong

Art: Phil Gascoine

The Federation are testing a new weapon, the particle cannon, on the uninhabited planet Signatum Major. Their target is an unmanned Federation craft piloted by remote control when Scorpio (the crew not realizing the ship's true nature) attacks. The particle canon is fired on both ships, which fall out of the sky as all the power is drained out of them. In desperation, Avon drains the remaining source of energy aboard (Orac) into the force field, allowing Scorpio to scrape across the shore and splash down in a sea. Servalan arrives on Signatum Major to oversee the testing of the cannon and when she sees the testers used Scorpio as target practice, she heads out to capture the rebels. Twenty fathoms below, the crew in the stricken planet hopper realize they are trapped with their worst enemy right above them...

Once more, all the crew except Vila are dressed as they are in the final episode.

Avon considers any Federation craft fair game to be fired upon. Orac's logic cell is not effected by the particle canon, and Avon can transfer energy from the computer to Scorpio's systems by flipping a lever. Avon is concerned the freighter isn't water-proof (and he's right to judge from all the leaks in the flight deck), even though Dayna rightly points out any half-decent spaceship should cope under water.

The weapon testers record their experiments on video tape for ease of replaying. They do not recognize Scorpio as anything out of the usual until Servalan points it out for them and notes the huge reward for their capture. Servalan is dressed in her black feather outfit from Traitor. She bitchslaps her subordinates for showing initiative.


Tarrant: Let's hope the planet can support that ship's crew; they're about to lose their mode of transport. Five seconds to firing!

Tarrant: A hit! It's dropping like a stone!
Avon: Interesting, Tarrant... especially as you missed it.

Tarrant: We're flying like a brick straight towards the mountains! RESPOND, SCORPIO, DAMMIT!

Dayna: We're still safe inside the pressurised hull... aren't we?
Avon: In a manner of speaking. This ship, however, was never designed to withstand pressure from the outside, only inside.

Avon: Why did you issue a warning about danger now?
Slave: Oh, I should have said...

Vila: This is the end of the line, Avon! We're stuck in this submerged coffin with no power and no way out! We've got to throw ourselves on Servalan's mercy!
Avon: Servalan has no mercy, Vila, and she doesn't want our surrender. Servalan only wants one thing - and that's to see us dead!

Short on plot, long on action, this is basically one big cliffhanger with the comic strip again trying to recreate Scorpio's crash from Blake (in fact, it's start to lose its emotional impact considering how often the damn thing crashed on alien planets...) with the crew in a completely hopeless situation - no teleport, no Orac, and surrounded by Federation forces armed to the teeth. Unlike Blake, however, this cliffhanger has a resolution...

A well-paced drama with all the regulars getting a slice of the action.

Target Practice II

Issue: XX

Writer: Ken Armstrong

Art: Phil Gascoine

Servalan prepares to fire upon the submerged Scorpio when Tarrant, Dayna, Vila and Soolin swim to the surface and surrender, claiming Avon perished in the crash. Servalan has the Federation dredge the planet hopper, wanting to see Avon's body with her own eyes - while inside the ship, Avon manages to reactivate Orac and learn about the particle cannon Servalan now controls. Avon kills one of the troopers sent to search Scorpio and steals his uniform, mingling with the others who locate Orac sans key. While Servalan prepares to execute Tarrant and the others, Avon activates the particle cannon and sabotages all the trooper's weaponry. With control of the cannon, Avon maroons Servalan and her forces on Signatum Major and steals her ship. Later, once they have repaired Scorpio, Avon and the others destroy the other ship and the particle cannon, depriving Servalan and the Federation from its new weapons technology.

For once Vila trusts Avon to save them all from certain death while Tarrant is the one to panic, even though Tarrant does all the talking once they're on the surface (no doubt he's either trying to use his prior relationship with Servalan to his advantage, or simply doing his usual alpha male thing). Avon fears the particle cannon could be used against "a rebel fleet", suggesting the resistance is more organized than we normally give them credit for in this show.

The particle cannon fires a beam that can terminate all electrical and mechanical functions (which can be tuned to specifics like side-arms) and render them useless until the effect is reversed. A Scorpio clipgun can fire an electro-charge which is a silent but lethal blast leaving no injuries on the victim.

Despite recieving huge damage on its crash-landing, it takes only minutes to restore Scorpio to a space-worthy state. Avon is able to transfer the last of Slave's energy into Orac to get the little bastard working properly again, but it leaves Slave switched off.


Servalan: I want to see Avon's body for myself!
Captain: B... but Commissioner, it will take all our resources...
Servalan: Damn your resources! I've got to see Avon's body! I must know if he's really dead! Now obey my orders - or suffer the consequences!

Avon: Come on, Orac, I need you to give me some answers!
Orac: At last you have declared you have need of me! Then why did you deprive me of power?
Avon: The power was needed to save the ship! Now tell me what Servalan's playing at!
Orac: ...she never plays!

Dayna: That's put Servalan's takeover of the universe back a few years. She could have caused a lot of damage with that cannon.
Avon: She doesn't need a cannon to create havoc. Now more than ever she'll want us dead - we've only bought a little time...

Part two of the story is mainly a bluff between the Scorpio crew and Servalan, in which very little happens and all bar Avon are more or less sidelined. Admittedly, Servalan having the entire crew at her non-existent mercy gives the story a drammatic buzz... but the exact same thing happened in Sacrifice fifteen stories earlier. For the first time Servalan's survival really beggars belief as there is absolutely no reason why they should spare her, and one does wonder why Avon destroys the particle cannon instead of keeping it. There's some evidence the magazine was getting slightly bored of the comic strip and missing adventures at this point, as they cancelled the comic strip for the next two issues (whereupon the editors decides to end the magazine and published one last story...)

A reasonable conclusion, though it smacks of a "greatest hits" package.

The Omen

Issue: XXIII

Writer: Ken Armstrong

Art: Phil Gascoine

Avon has a nightmare where he is trapped in a black void surrounded by Federation troops lead by a spectral figure who Avon recognizes. He is then woken by Tarrant, who has prepared Scorpio for a final test flight before they leave Xenon for good. Tense and irritable, Avon joins Tarrant and Vila aboard the ship but as they leave orbit they are bushwacked by a fleet of Federation battle cruisers sent by Servalan. Avon has Tarrant jettison a cloud of delay charges, which destroys several ships, but Servalan nevertheless orders the survivors to continue to attack the damaged Scorpio. Despite the protests of Tarrant and Orac, Avon overloads the engines and puts Scorpio into flat spin...

Scorpio accelerates so fast it temporarily slides out of the space time continuum, and Avon sees the spectre from his dreams on the flight deck - the walking corpse of Roj Blake, who has been shot three times. Scorpio returns to time and space. Tarrant and Vila wake Avon from his nightmare and reveal they have eluded the Federation for the meanwhile. They return to Xenon for the last time and the dazed Avon knows that soon they all will have face their unavoidable destiny...

This story is set between Warlord and Blake, (though Vila is still wearing his "first half" outfit) as the crew are preparing to abandon Xenon. Most of the lights in the base are out, and Dayna and Soolin stay behind to gather supplies. Tarrant treats Avon with suitable contempt, telling Soolin he doesn't believe Avon has a conscience (understandable sentiments considering what's just happened to Zeeona). He is nevertheless impressed with Avon's genius in escaping the fleet, explaining why they appear to be on such reasonable terms in the next episode.

Avon sleeps alone in a long-sleeved nightgown. He doesn't keep his bedroom door in Xenon Base locked. His first nightmare leaves him ragged, with a hair-trigger temper and more paranoid than before to the point he ignores the advice of Orac and Slave, believing them "mere machines". He is the only one expecting the fleet to regroup (so either he's just pessimistic or else has twigged Servalan is behind it). Avon is the last one to black out from the acceleration and is left very disoriented afterwards. It's heavily implied Avon's on the edge of a total breakdown after the stress of recent events and perhaps the "ghost" is part of that.

It's not clear if Blake's appearance is simply a nightmare, an actual ghost or a side effect of Avon becoming unstuck in time - though there's no way Avon could expect Blake to look exactly like he does on GP after he's been shot dead. Avon's first nightmare has Blake seemingly leading the Federation troops and Avon shouts, "You can't do this to me!", as if he thinks Blake has betrayed him to the enemy (so despite his blind faith to others, Avon was already beginning to wonder if even Blake might turn on him). Oddly enough, in the first nightmare Blake mocks Avon for not listening to him, but in the second vision he seems to be almost forgiving, noting that things "had to be" and sadly wondering what would have happened if Avon had known the truth. Presumably Avon's final smile in the last episode is partly motivated by understanding what the nightmares foretold.

Servalan makes one final appearance, wearing the diamond-shaped earrings and black feather coat. She remains at Security Central coordinating the battle rather than getting anywhere too near danger herself (continuing her "pulling the strings" strategy from Warlord). She is presumably the one who sent the battle fleet to Xenon - although Zukan never told her the location, she could easily have found out herself by various means, not least simply triangulating Dayna's distress signal from the episode.

When Scorpio slides out of reality, the battlefleet abandon Xenon - presumably assuming the whole crew are aboard - allowing it to return in secret. Scorpio requires one last repair to its generator and stabilizers before they abandon the base. Avon uses the last of Dayna's bombs (recognized as 'delay charges' by both sides and can be remotely primed and released from the flight deck). Scorpio no longer seems to have any weapons. Orac insults Slave as "the inferior machine", continuing their bitchfight in the final episode.


Avon: It's happened. The time has come.

Blake: I tried to warn you but you wouldn't listen...

Tarrant: You look like you've seen a ghost!
Avon: Maybe I have, Tarrant. And not for the first time.

Servalan: Don't dare to question my orders, Commander. The rebels are to be destroyed at all costs, regardless of your own casualties. Do I make myself clear?
Commander: Perfectly, Commissioner. You're prepared to sacrifice us all to get Avon.

Avon: I'll have to risk a flat spin!
Orac: That would be extremely foolish. The time-related continuum would be destabilized. I caution against it.
Avon: The time for caution has passed! This is life or death, Orac!

Commander: We've trapped them! Blow them to atoms!

Blake: You're coming, Avon. I told you you would... It had to be, Avon. But if only you'd known. If only...

Avon: Xenon? Ah yes. That's where we're going. At least for the time being. Then we have another appointment to keep. One from which there seems no escape...

Blake's 7 Magazine clearly had been saving up this comic strip for their final issue, with the postmodern edge of Avon realizing that these missing adventures have run out, combined with the magazine's stoic acceptance that, two years after Blake had been screened, this really was the end. A page shorter than normal, Vila and Dayna get no dialogue, the plot consists of one last space battle, and it doesn't quite synch up with the final episode as much as it wants to (the Federation know about Xenon Base here, but the crew leave as a precaution in the filmed episode), but it's a (literally) dark and depressing tale as Servalan moves in for the kill and Avon realizes that their fate on Gauda Prime is inescapable.

A final, surreal chapter that - in terms of tone at least - segues perfectly into Blake.

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