Written by:
Robert Holmes
Directed by: George Spenton-Foster
Episode Length: 51’49
Original UK Transmission Date: 20/3/1979
Original UK Ratings: 6.6m
Original UK Chart Position: 90

DVD Availability: Try or Amazon

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

Guest-Starring: Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan), Brian Croucher (Travis), Aubrey Woods (Krantor), Denis Carey (Docholli), Nicolette Rigg (Cherie), Slyvia Coleridge (Croupier), Paul Grist (Cevedic), John Leeson (Toise), Harry Jones (Jarriere), Michael Halsey (Lee) and Deep Roy (Klute).

Crew: Michael Brayshaw (Production Assistant), Sheelagh Rees (Production Unit Manager), Mat Irvine/Peter Pegrum/Andy Lazell (Visual Effects Designers), Max Samett (Film Cameraman), John Gatland (Film Recordist), Sheila S. Tomlinson (Film Editor), Brian Clemett (Studio Lighting), Clive Gifford (Studio Sound), Elizabeth Parker (Special Sound), A.J. Mitchell (Electronic Effects), Barbara Kidd (Costume Designer), Anne Ailes (Make-Up Artist), Dudley Simpson (Music), Terry Nation (Series Deviser), Chris Boucher (Script Editor), Ken Ledsham (Designer) and David Maloney (Producer).

Story: The Liberator travels to Freedom City, looking for Docholli, whom they were told knows the location of Star One. Freedom City is owned by Krantor, a professional killer who runs not only the City but the casino there as well. Freedom City is outside of the Federation, and the casino there earns four million credits a week. However, Servalan is also in Freedom City, offering Krantor 2 million credits for Docholli. After he turns her down, she ups the price to 8 million, providing he hands over Travis, too.
When the crew finally meet Docholli, he tells them that he took a copy of the brain pattern of a man named Logar, who knows the location of Star One. That brain pattern now resides on the planet Goth. Blake, Jenna and Cally return to the Liberator, unaware that Vila and Avon have been using a reduced Orac (using a “stabilised atomic implosion”) to win 10 million credits in the casino, which they have hidden in the teleport room.

Travis: All of Travis’s left arm is revealed to be cybernetic. He is also said to have “a high pain threshold.”

“Avon, there are times when I almost get to like you.”
“Yes, well that makes it all worthwhile.”

A fun yet criminally overrated episode from Robert Holmes’s most self-conscious and indulgent side.

An operatic comedy would have been outstanding in Blake’s 7 were it not so smugly played, so flaccidly directed and so cheap. Even the normally wonderful Aubrey Woods is an irritation, while John Leeson is just an embarrassing Woods wannabe. There is at least some interest to be had in their shared homosexual subtext, and Brian Croucher’s reading and emphasis of the line “Looks like a powder puff!” (directed to Servalan’s effeminate assistant, with the accent on the final word) also does the same thing.

While he could be brilliant, I’ve often felt that much of Holmes’s work was overly assured of its own assumed worth and lacking in substance. There’s certainly more than a whiff of Emperor’s new clothes about this one, and he crucially misunderstands the sniping Avon/Vila relationship by making them into a knockabout double act. Not sure about Sylvia Coleridge’s pissed Marlene Dietrich act, either, and would Travis really have so little pride as to take his arm off in front of Blake?

It seems churlish to knock an episode of Blake’s 7 over budget, but this one is so cheap it goes beyond a joke. Strange how a serious slab of SF can be forgiven for scrimping, but a comedy doesn’t work without the requisite cash. The sets are supposed to be avant garde and high camp, yet come over more like Santa’s Grotto down Kwik Save.

There is a lot of intertextual referencing here, though none of it particularly subtle. There’s the white cats and exploding chairs of James Bond, though I guess casting the eyepatched Travis as a cowboy is relatively inspired. The episode also gives Cally and Jenna a little something to do for one in just a handful of instances this season. For the first time since season one an episode has adults as its primary target audience, with mentions of “slut” and “ten credit touch.” Another plus is the exposition Servalan has to deliver, which is knowingly contrived and therefore funny. In the midst of all these comic exploits Gareth Thomas’s ever-serious Blake doesn’t really fit, so the show’s titular character actually gets less than nine minutes of screentime. The full anorak facts even go to show that in 49’54 minutes of footage, the Liberator crew only gets a combined 18’20 of action. This is possibly the most innovative aspect of proceedings, as, by contrast, Servalan is on screen for 14’51m, with Travis at 12’49m. Their combined appearance actually runs to 22’36m, significantly higher than the stars of the show!

As an episode of Blake’s 7 then Gambit is an interesting, but flawed, experiment. It’s good, but its own uniqueness in the canon goes someway towards its undeserved high standing in fan rankings.