Orbit

Written by:
Robert Holmes
Directed by: Brian Lighthill
Episode Length: 48'38
Original UK Transmission Date: 7/12/1981
Original UK Ratings: 8.0m
Original UK Chart Position: 91

DVD Availability: Try SendIt.ComD Availability: Not yet released - check back later for pre-order details

Starring: Paul Darrow (Avon), Michael Keating (Vila), Steven Pacey (Tarrant), Josette Simon (Dayna), Glynis Barber (Soolin) and Peter Tuddenham (Orac/Slave).

Guest-Starring: Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan), John Savident (Egrorian) and Larry Noble (Pinder).

Crew: Jacinta Peel (Production Manager), Frank Pendlebury (Production Associate), Jan Willson (Production Assistant), Nigel Taylor (Assistant Floor Manager), Sheila S. Tomlinson (Film Editor), Sam Upton (Videotape Editor), Francis Smith (Properties Buyer), Jim Francis/Mike Kelt (Visual Effects Designers), Robin Lobb (Video Effects), Dick Bailey (Graphic Designer), Terry Brett (Technical Manager), Dave White (Senior Cameraman), Nigel Finnis (Vision Mixer), Warwick Fielding (Studio Lighting), Trevor Webster (Studio Sound), Elizabeth Parker (Special Sound), Nicholas Rocker (Costume Designer), Suzanne Jansen (Make-Up Artist), Dudley Simpson (Music), Terry Nation (Series Deviser), Chris Boucher (Script Editor), Ken Ledsham (Designer) and Vere Lorrimer (Producer).

Story: Avon has received a message from the scientist Egrorian, and travels "three star systems" to reach him on the planet Malador, a planet with a night temperature of -90 to -1000. When they arrive Egrorian offers them a Tachyon Funnel (a destructive weapon based on particles that travel faster than light, and powered by a neutron accelerator core) in return for Orac. Avon returns with a fake Orac, connected to the real thing with a voice box and a relay station, and takes the Tachyon Funnel aboard a shuttle Egrorian has prepared.
However, Egrorian is working for Servalan with the promise of becoming Chief Minister for Science, and has stored some high-tensile plastic with a microscopic fragment of a neutron star aboard. With the shuttle unable to achieve escape velocity, it will crash at a predetermined trajectory, allowing Egrorian to recover both Orac and the Tachyon Funnel from the wreckage. Avon and Vila set about disposing of all extraneous weight from the craft, (including the Tachyon Funnel), though it is still 70 kilos too heavy to be able to achieve escape velocity. After questioning Orac, Avon learns that Vila weighs enough to achieve this, and Avon goes looking for him with a gun, while Vila, having overheard Orac, hides in tears. Eventually Avon comes across the plastic and disposes of it, leaving Vila to emerge from hiding when the shuttle has docked with Scorpio.
Servalan decides not to kill Egrorian after his failure, but to leave him alive to consider "what might have been." However, his assistant Pinder - after overhearing Egrorian planned to leave him behind - kills them both with a burst of radiation. Meanwhile, back aboard Scorpio Vila tries to recriminate with Avon, who informs him "Well as you always say, Vila… you know you are safe with me."

Egrorian: Egrorian was a scientist who published the Egrorian Theory of Parallel Matter, and vanished ten years before the story takes place with "a few million credits" from the Space Research Institute. Despite conspiring to overthrow Servalan (as recorded in Central Control Record 15/9/834), it was she who helped him to escape and continue with his research. His took his Particle Physics degree (specialising in the properties of reshons) at Belhangria University, where his thesis paper E/9/6044 achieved a B+ grade. However, this was subsequently rescinded for gross misconduct. His assistant is mathematical prodigy Pinder, who was eighteen when Egrorian left with him for Malador, yet was aged fifty years after being accidentally exposed to neutron radiation.

The Federation: According to Egrorian, the Federation "monitor video signals from all parts of the galaxy."

Vila: While Vila's earlier ambitions have been to settle down with children, here he lists his fantasy as a diamond-floored imperial palace with a bodyguard of a thousand hand-picked virgins in red fur uniforms, known as "Vila's Royal Mounties." He also weighs 73 kilos.


Viewpoint:
"Well as you always say, Vila… you know you are safe with me."

This is pretty much a first-rate episode of Blake's 7, and thoroughly deserving of its high status in fan circles. However, I have to be honest and say that when I first saw it I really wasn't that impressed. I guess it comes down to the feeling of anti-climax you always get on initial viewings of a "classic." I originally thought all of season four was okay, as the unexpected twists and turns of, say, Assassin, can blind you to how truly awful it is the first time round. So too it is that understated subtexts and nuances can be missed at first glance.

Not only that, but I was off-put by John Savident's operatic performance with homosexual codings and Paul Darrow's ham-crazy readings of Avon. Seen again, these two are perfectly in character, and are actually perfectly theatrical renditions of early madness. You just have to get used to them, that's all.

Of course, the episode is famous for THAT scene… and spending forty-odd minutes with Avon bartering for a telly on casters with some jump leads (sorry, a "Tachyon Funnel") before the scene isn't immediately impressive. However, it's immensely well staged (particular note must go to the facial reactions of Larry Noble) and, while season four clearly uses the same set redressed for its many "bases", the production on this one isn't bad, either. Look at the way Avon stands in front of the moving viewscreen on the shuttle. Pretty ropy for any other series, a revelation for Blake's 7. Hell, there's even a nice touch of post-modernism when Servalan picks up the fake Orac and proclaims "It's just a box of flashing lights!" It took four attempts, but finally Robert Holmes delivers a gem for the programme.

However, it has to be said that seeing two people whom you'd presumed had deep-rooted love for one another - despite many claims to the contrary - try to kill each other, is horrifying. Well, I say "each other" - it's Avon trying to toss Vila off the ship, after being told by Orac (a bit unlikely, but who cares when it's this good?) that he has the required weight to reach escape velocity when removed. It turns the entire series on its head, and for once Dudley Simpson's doomy, pulsing music must be praised to the hilt. You get the feeling after watching this one that things could never be quite the same again.