Orac

Written by:
Terry Nation
Directed by: Vere Lorrimer
Episode Length: 51'46
Original UK Transmission Date: 27/2/1978
Original UK Ratings: 10.6m
Original UK Chart Position: 27

DVD Availability: Try sendit.com or Amazon

Starring: Gareth Thomas (Blake), Sally Knyvette (Jenna), Paul Darrow (Avon), Jan Chappell (Cally), Michael Keating (Vila), David Jackson (Gan) and Peter Tuddenham (Zen).

Guest-Starring: Derek Farr (Ensor/Orac), Stephen Greif (Travis), Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan) and James Muir/Paul Kidd (Phibians).

Crew: Geoffrey Manton (Production Assistant), Sheelagh Rees (Production Unit Manager), Ian Scoones/Mat Irvine (Visual Effects Designer), Terry Nation (Series Deviser), Ken Willicombe (Film Cameraman), John Gatland (Film Recordist), M.A.C. Adams (Film Editor), Brian Clemett (Studio Lighting), Tony Millier (Studio Sound), Richard Yeoman-Clark (Special Sound), A.J. Mitchell (Electronic Effects), Sam Upton/Malcolm Banthorpe (Series Videotape Editors), Rupert Jarvis (Costume Designer), Marianne Ford (Make Up Artist), Bob Blagden/Ron Platford (Graphics Designers), Dudley Simpson (Music), Chris Boucher (Script Editor), Martin Collins (Designer) and David Maloney (Producer).

Trivia: Blake's "Supplementary to flight log data; vision sweep to line one" utilises 42 seconds of footage from the episode Deliverance. The log is listed as "431, Time Co-Ordinate 662".

Story: The colour-blind scientist Ensor invented a Tarrial Cell, that led to a new breed of computers, all fitted with the cell. Taking up residence on the planet Aristo, in a base with an impenetrable force barrier, he has invented Orac, a computer that can draw information from any computer containing such a cell. Orac can logically process knowledge and also make future predictions based on such knowledge. Blake and Jenna arrive with the microcells that can power Ensor's mechanical heart for forty years. (See Deliverance). They also ask Ensor for decontamination drugs as Avon, Vila, Jenna and Gan have radiation sickness after spending too much time on Cephlon. However, with Servalan and Travis in pursuit of Orac, it's not long before Ensor's health is critical, and in a chase his heart gives way and he dies, giving Orac to Blake and Jenna.
Back out of Ensor's base, Blake and Jenna are concerned by Servalan and Travis, who prepare to kill them. However, Avon and Vila teleport down, shooting Travis's gun arm, thus forcing him to let all four crewmembers teleport back up to the Liberator with Orac. Once back aboard, they ask Orac to demonstrate his powers, where he shows on the ship viewscreen what appears to be a projection of the Liberator exploding…

Avon: Avon's despisal of Gan again rears its head, with the following heated exchange, which he stops himself completing: "Better still if there are three of us." "Better still if you-" However, this can be partly excused here as he is suffering from radiation poisoning when he says it.


Viewpoint:
"Sometimes he shows distinct signs of intelligence."

The first season of Blake's 7 doesn't so much conclude as grind to a halt. Expecting Terry Nation - one of SF's more limited writers - to compose an entire thirteen-part season is expecting too much. With an excellent beginning, a reasonable end and one or two decent episodes along the way, it must nevertheless be acknowledged that many of the stories were fillers that did little to further the series.

This one starts with the worst exposition ever seen in the programme - Blake making Avon listen to a recap of the previous week's episode, something Avon already knew anyway. There's a final usage of the cartoon to show the Liberator in flight, and that silver lizard is the sort of thing that would have looked dated in one of Nation's 60s Doctor Who episodes, never mind 1978.

On the plus side, Stephen Greif and Jacqueline Pearce give some of their best performances. Greif in particular has an amazing voice, though he was wise to bail out after five episodes. His "I'll get you, Blake!" end-episodes rantings were quickly turning the character into Claw from Inspector Gadget. His weapon here proves to be so powerful that its shot transfers from film to video. And how does the map show Servalan's route is quicker? Even Stevie Wonder can see it's not, for flip's sake! Mind you, Stevie could also see that the first location shot for Paul Darrow and Michael Keating wasn't recorded on location.

Derek Farr is also wonderful as the world-weary Ensor with his robotic canary. Some could see Orac the wisecracking portable computer as yet another kid-friendly concession, but at the end of season one you're ultimately left with hope for the future, despite its cliffhanger explosion…