Blake's 7
The Complete Series Two

Starring: Gareth Thomas, Paul Darrow, Sally Kynvette, Michael Keating, David Jackson and Jan Chappell
BBC Worldwide
RRP 49.99
Certificate: PG
Available 17 January 2005

The crew's attempts to avert Orac's prediction regarding the destruction of the Liberator fail miserably when the ship is attacked by a powerful adversary. The beings who created the Liberator want their vessel back. Even if Blake and his colleagues manage to survive this crisis, they still have to topple their Federation enemies. Could a lonely outpost called Star One hold the answer to their problems...?

First of all, let me assure all those of you who had problems playing The Complete Series One that the discs in this box set are not prone to the same error, which caused some episodes to freeze at the layer transition. That said, the transitions are in general still rather poorly placed, usually right in the middle of a scene, even when a nearby change of scene would have made the pause far less noticeable.

But enough of this technical banter - are the episodes themselves any good? Well, I might ruffle a few feathers with this opinion, but I don't like this series quite as much as the first one. I quite enjoy the pulpy quality of creator Terry Nation's scripts, but after the first series he turned over most of the episodes to other writers, such as Allan Prior and script editor Chris Boucher. There aren't as many conspicuously memorable lines as there were in the first series - though there are still a fair few, such as Avon's (Paul Darrow) comments about a "philosophical flea" in the Boucher-scripted Trial.

Three of the early episodes, Shadow, Weapon and Horizon, make rather dull viewing, in my opinion. Shadow features a very poor early role by Karl (Brushstrokes) Howman, while Weapon sees the not terribly successful introduction of Brian Croucher as the new Travis.

Stephen Greif was a hard act to follow, so we shouldn't judge Brian Croucher too harshly. The cool and calculating Travis had already begun to crack by the end of Series One. However, Croucher's vocal qualities make the character seem more whiney than he ought to be, and he spends too much of his screen time ranting and raving at the top of his voice. He works best of all in the episodes Hostage and Gambit, which see his Travis at his calmest, though the high-pitched whining tones creep back in towards the end of each of these instalments.

Following a disappointing beginning, the series picks up considerably. Pressure Point, Trial and Killer are all excellent. Countdown kicks off a plot arc concerning Blake's (Gareth Thomas) search for the Federation's all-governing computer control system, and the drama builds over the remaining four instalments to the powerful finale, Star One. My favourite two episodes are those written by Robert Holmes: the grisly Killer (let down only by the brief appearance of some Michelin-men-style containment suits) and the deliberately and extravagantly camp and comical Gambit.

Doctor Who fans can enjoy playing "spot the familiar face or name in the credits" while watching this series. In addition to creator/writer Nation and script editor Boucher, both of whom penned scripts for Who, and producer David Maloney, who rose up from the rank of director, there are oodles of actors in Series Two who had previously appeared, or would subsequently appear, in that other famous BBC sci-fi show. Watch out for the Lycra-clad Sheila (The Keeper of Traken) Ruskin and Harriet (Genesis of the Daleks) Philpin in Redemption, Peter (Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Genesis of the Daleks) Miles in Trial, and Kevin (The Daleks' Master Plan, The Invasion) Stoney in Hostage. Meanwhile, it would be quicker to list the cast members of Gambit who haven't also appeared in Doctor Who!

The first five episodes of this run should really be called Blake's 8 up until the point when David Jackson departs from his role as Gan in Pressure Point. Once Gan is gone, the production team count Orac (voiced by Peter Tuddenham) as one of the crew. And why not? If Zen (also voiced by Tuddenham) counts, then so should Orac.

The special features include audio commentaries on three episodes, as well as over an hour's worth of vintage and recent interviews and clip montages. These include a rather inept appearance by special effects wiz Mat Irvine on Saturday Superstore, a new interview with costume designer June Hudson (yes, they really were Michelin men in Killer!), a lovely discussion with Gareth Thomas and Jacqueline Pearce from a 1991 edition of Scene Today, and an extremely witty trailer for Series Three.

As I say, this isn't quite as good as Series One, but it's still well worth liberating from your nearest DVD store.

Richard McGinlay

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