Series three of BLAKES 7 saw major cast changes, the ultimate destruction of a well known series icon, and a general shake up of the established universe the show had set up pretty convincingly over the last two years. Carrying on from the cliff-hanger of the previous year, we find our heroes scattered throughout the stars following the massive damage sustained to the Liberator in battle during the ?alactic war? Conveniently disposing of two of the main stars of the previous years- Blake (Gareth Thomas) and Jenna (Sally Knyvette) the show makes Avon (Paul Darrow) its main focus. What could have been a weakness for many a SF show even today (giving the lead to a self centered, antisocial smart ass) is a real boon for B7, giving the third season a rather different feel to its forbears. Avon is no longer on a quest to destroy the malevolent Federation- indeed, the galactic war seems to have taken care of that problem and it was always Blake who led the seven to revolution and glory. No, series three finds the Avon led crew of the Liberator- Cally (Jan Chappell) Vila (Michael Keating) and newcomers Tarrant (Stephen Pacey) and Dayna (Josette Simon) attempting to keep as far away from trouble as possible. It? an interesting change of pace- indeed, it? a brave and somewhat realistic move to have the three original crew somewhat battle worn and not too bothered about what they fight for. Despite their squabbling and death threats shared between each other, this is a team, one that relies on each other, if not always for reasons of friendship but necessity.

The real strength of the series was always its sterling characters. Avon is probably one of the most underrated characters in science fiction- here is an intellectual man of complexity, played to perfection by Darrow. By far the best thing in it, any scene minus the cynical ?omputer genius?does lack a certain something, and at the end of the day that is how it should be, Avon being the star of the show. Tarrant and Dayna are worthy additions to the crew, Tarrant filling the Blake shaped gap of ?erson for Avon to piss off?and Dayna managing in one episode to be more interesting than Jenna was in an entire two seasons. Servalan, played by Jacqueline Pearce is back, much to my chagrin. The character is an annoyingly smug piece of work, who after her 100th attempt to steal the Liberator does get ever so slightly annoying. Sadly, her apparent demise in season finale TERMINAL was not to last, with her return early on in the next (and final) series.

Despite the good changes to the season (the crew shake up is welcome, as is giving Avon the starring role) the bad make themselves felt all to often in the course of this year. Season one enjoyed thirteen episodes scripted by creator Terry Nation, resulting in consistent characterisation and strong over reaching plot strands. Season three suffers the same problem as the previous year- the use of guest writers who really have no handle on what BLAKES 7 is all about. Clunkers such as DAWN OF THE GODS mingle with the forgettable likes of ULTRAWORLD and SARCOPHAGUS. The characters are all over the place- Tarrant suffering the worst of all, swinging from callous murderer, famed hero and common garden bully all within the space of a few episodes. That Stephen Pacey manages to do so well with such material is a testament to the actor. Indeed, there is always some good in any B7 story from this season, the main cast often being the best thing in it. Despite the incredibly patchy nature of the stories, the dialogue and interaction is almost always spot on. Script editor Chris Boucher is largely responsible for the really well written moments- and it? no surprise his three stories alongside Nation? three are some of the best on offer here.

Series three seems to feel the weight of budget issues begin to rear its ugly head- the number of reused model shots here are legion, and more often than not these visuals look pretty poor- the lighting of many key models is terrible and their isn? really a decent space battle in the entire year. The writing is what carries this series, and a good story can go a long way in glossing over the less successful aspects of a production. But what is good here works very well- the location footage is always well used, with the majority of planets being large fields this year (as opposed to the standard B7 quarry or power station) and some sets really look good considering the lack of funds the series had. The marvellous Liberator flight deck is a great piece of work, as is wall mounted super computer Zen. It is a painful moment when both are torn apart at seasons end.

The best stories from this year can rank among some of the best overall, thanks to Avon being in the centre of it all. RUMOURS OF DEATH is probably the best of the year, allowing Avon to show pretty much every side he has- ruthless bastard to man in love (don? expect flowers and meaningful declarations however, that just aren? our Avon). But there is room for the other characters too. CITY AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD is infamous for two things- one, future Sixth Doctor Colin Baker as the deranged Bayban the Butcher and two, Vila quite obviously getting his leg over! Other notable stories include the excellent DEATH WATCH and murder mystery POWERPLAY.

Overall, year three of BLAKES 7 was a very mixed bag. Actually pulling off a decent season without Blake is a bit of a feat in itself, but the writers had a lot to work with in the shape of Avon. If you have never seen the show before, start with the superior season one, but don? write this year off. Despite the notable dips in quality, there is always a great idea or piece of dialogue just around the corner. It? not slick, its not overly action packed but it is always a lot of fun- this is one for pretty convinced fans, but much of the crap could have been worse. Having really gotten into the struggle of this rag tag group I can? wait to cap it all off with Season Four – despite myself the naff costumes and bargain basement FX sucked me in all over again.


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