The Complete Series Three DVD Boxset
Probably the best DVD set yet, season three comes in a cool metallic blue, with some limited edition boxes containing a Liberator toy (not seen for this review) and retailing for a couple of pounds extra.
Season three is, of course, the first Blakeless season, and while not as low in quality as season four, it does still manage to polarise some viewers. Personally I love it, the genuine antagonism between the crew and more free-falling plots work well. Yet having said that, while the opening (virtual) two-parter is decent, you have to go at least six weeks before you actually see a decent episode. Yet if you can get used to the fact that the best stuff is in the second half, then you can enjoy Children of Auron, Rumours of Death, Sarcophagus and Terminal with no real problems. This said, three has possibly more stinkers pound-for-pound than any other, with Dawn of the Gods arguably the nadir of the entire series.
As usual, the restoration is the “cleaned up but not as much as some” work that betrays lines and flickers on the film stock, but still effortlessly outclasses the VHS tapes, while some cheaper DVD players may have noticeable layer changes. Presentation again includes more CGI shenanigans, which is reasonably pleasant to look at, but reminds me more of a Red Dwarf disc than it does Blake’s 7. Chapter Titles sometimes amuse… apparently part of Aftermath is known as “The Snatch”, while Ultraworld has a Beatles title (“Hello, goodbye”) and one that sums up the story: “What a headache”. One interesting point is that – while all the box sets are given an overall Parental Guidance rating – the disc featuring City at the Edge of the World (the only episode to definitively portray a crew member as having had sex) is the first disc to be given a “U” certificate. Perhaps the BBFC just saw a clip of Colin Baker’s acting and assumed it was a kid’s panto?
The commentaries are pleasant and amiable enough, though not the sort of thing you’d listen to more than once. Seemingly recorded out of order, with references to Rumours of Death being made last, while Gareth Thomas finally gets involved for Terminal, we’re now missing out on input from Stephen Pacey or Josette Simon. In the case of the former, then it’s particularly notable that there’s a commentary for an episode where an actor plays two roles - Death Watch - and that actor isn’t involved. Instead we get the odd mix of Chris Boucher and Jacqueline Pearce, where Pearce has little involvement in his descriptions of the writing side. Her theatricality toned down in the presence of a forthright scribe (“he’s overacting, whoever he is”) poor old Jackie only gets to say “Daaaaaaaahling” twenty-three times. Though it’s the worst of the three, you do get to hear Chris talking about (unconsciously) ripping off the episode for a Doctor Who novel, and making a pointed reference about Jan Chappell. Yet it’s a commentary that clearly needed another actor’s voice to counterbalance things, or Chris talking with another technical crewmember. Much better are the two with Paul. While he doesn’t really have a lot to say, and none of them really seem to know what a commentary is, or how it works (Darrow frequently asks if viewers can switch it off while watching), he’s an ideal showman and ambassador for the programme and holds the conversation well. This is particularly fortunate for Terminal, where Gareth says hardly anything, and Jackie clocks up thirty “daaaaaaaahling”s just in case somebody misses one.
The extras on the fifth disc are what make it so special, and they’re by far the best to date. We have Tarrant Screen Test (14’34m), which is actual screen test and rehearsal footage from Stephen Pacey, followed by a brief anecdote from Judith Crosssss, the former Sssssecretary (sorry, bad form!) to David Maloney, talking about how she demanded that Pacey get the job. Particularly of interest are the small line changes and additions on the final product. Also on the subject of behind-the-scenes, there’s Look North (5’41m), which isn’t exactly essential viewing, but does feature location rehearsal footage and a brief interview with Michael Keating from the time Power Play was being made. Add to this Blake’s Bloopers (3’08m), which ranges from set-up luvviness to genuinely amusing mistakes, and includes the infamous “Gareth showing Paul his teddy” outtake.
Stuart’s Stunts (14’00m) is an interview with stuntman Stuart Fell, which I found a lot more interesting than I expected to, largely due to judicious use of clips to highlight events. Add to this character introductions for Tarrant (3’58m) and Dayna (3’45m), along with the obligatory - if pointless - Episode Synopses and it’s a pretty good set.
Sadly, it’s not quite all this good. A Series 4 Trailer (2’22m) has to be the most idiotic thing I’ve ever seen. Forget the fact that it’s absurdly pretentious, being set to singing by Lesley Garrett, I bought this set as a treat for a friend who had never seen the series – surely I’m not the only one? Surely there’s a reasonably significant percentage of the DVD buying public that won’t know how it ends, and wouldn’t want a two-and-a-minute spoiler reel? Finally, there’s Sheelagh Wells (12’46m), which sees the Make-Up Artist telling “amusing” anecdotes about her time on the show in a three-year-old interview. I guess it’s a subjective thing. Some may find it fascinating, but oddly enough I had more fun last month when I had my wisdom tooth extracted.
In addition to this, there are six Easter Eggs, which, to avoid spoilers, can be found at the bottom of the page or by clicking here
Easter Eggs (Spoilers!)
For once, the Easter Eggs have virtually no relevance to the boxset that they belong to. With the majority of them being the actors reading out their character briefs, then hearing the origins of Blake, Gan and Jenna on a season three disc sits uneasily alongside model footage from The Way Back. However, the eggs are as follows:
Disc One – Gareth Thomas reads from his character description, while making a few good-natured jibes at Paul (0’54m).
Disc Two – An amusing reading of the Vila character brief from Michael Keating (0’51m)
Disc Three – Sally Knyvette (can’t you just get it waxed?) reads hers, and is quite candid about her performance and details a nice story about Terry Nation. (2’11m)
Disc Four – David “I’m not bitter” Jackson reflects on his time on the series (1’39m)
Disc Five – Jan Chappell rather dully reads her character description and frankly deserves a slap (1’02m), while elsewhere there’s model footage from the very first episode (1’47m).
I know what you’re thinking… how do I find the eggs? Well, for once I’m afraid I’m going to have to throw in the towel. Play the discs on your computer’s DVD-Rom drive and they’re all incredibly easy to find, a Federation logo in the middle of the Episode Selection screen. (Disc Five also has one at the bottom of the main menu, below “Settings”) However, when it comes to locating these eggs when watching them on a domestic DVD player (or, for that matter, finding the rumoured “clean titles”) I’m afraid I’m at a loss…