Rumours of Death

Written by:
Chris Boucher
Directed by: Fiona Cumming
Episode Length: 50'58
Original UK Transmission Date: 25/2/1980
Original UK Ratings: 9.0m
Original UK Chart Position: 33

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

Starring: Paul Darrow (Avon), Jan Chappell (Cally), Michael Keating (Vila), Steven Pacey (Tarrant), Josette Simon (Dayna) and Peter Tuddenham (Orac).

Guest-Starring: Jacqueline Pearce (Servalan), Lorna Heilbron (Sula/Anna Grant), John Bryant (Shrinker), Donald Douglas (Grenlee), Peter Clay (Chesku), David Haig (Forres), David Gillies (Hob) and Philip Bloomfield (Balon).

Crew: Stuart Fell (Stunt Co-Ordinator), Edwina Craze (Production Assistant), Sheelagh Rees (Production Unit Manager), Eileen Staff (Director's Assistant), Antony Root (Assistant Floor Manager), Peter Chapman (Film Cameraman), Ian Sansom (Film Recordist), Sheila S. Tomlinson (Film Editor), Steve Drewett/Jim Francis (Visual Effects Designers), A.J. Mitchell (Electronic Effects), Doug Burd (Graphic Designer), Peter Granger (Technical Manager), Dave White (Senior Cameraman), Nigel Finnis (Vision Mixer), Brian Clemett (Studio Lighting), Richard Partridge (Studio Sound), Elizabeth Parker (Special Sound), Nicholas Rocker (Costume Designer), Sheelagh J. Wells (Make-Up Artist), Dudley Simpson (Music), Terry Nation (Series Deviser), Chris Boucher (Script Editor), Paul Munting/Ken Ledsham (Designers) and David Maloney (Producer).

Trivia: This is the only episode to feature flashbacks, as Avon remembers his times with Anna. There are also some plot contradictions in this story, as it acts as a sequel to the season two episode Countdown. There we met Anna Grant's brother, Del. However, if Anna's not her real name, then how did her own brother not know about it?

Story: The episode opens with Avon having spent five days in a Federation detention cell, undergoing punishment from the best torturers until a specialist, Shrinker, takes his turn. When he does so, Avon switches off a homing device implanted into his neck, signalling the crew of the Liberator to teleport down. They do so, taking Shrinker back up with them. Avon rests, then takes Shrinker down to a specially prepared cave where he interrogates him about murdering Anna Grant. Shrinker reveals that he had nothing to do with the death of Avon's girlfriend, and that she was the responsibility of Bartholomew from Central Security. He tells Avon that "everyone you so much as looked at was marked" and that when Avon collapsed after being shot (see Countdown) all his known associates were taken to be questioned by the Federation.
On Earth, Servalan is attending the first official reception in her new residence, only to undergo a revolt by rebel factions attacking from section D1 Delta 0. The Federation has built itself up again, though not so much that the President cannot be beaten and chained in her own home base. The Liberator crew arrives looking for Bartholomew, while Avon promises to free Servalan if she tells him all she knows. The rebel leader, Sula, bursts in, only to be recognised by Avon as Anna. She tells him half the story, he realises the rest - she was Bartholomew herself all along, assigned to him with Anna Grant a fictitious codename. However, her love for him made her let Avon think she was dead and allowed him to leave. As Avon turns away from her, she pulls out a gun, only for him to turn round and shoot her dead.
The Liberator crew teleport back up, except for a despairing Avon, who has taken off his bracelet. At gunpoint, Servalan makes him put it back on, with the intention that she'll shoot him and Vila will teleport up a corpse. However, she is distracted by one of her own guards before she gets a chance to do so. Back on the ship, Avon leaves the teleport room, informing the others that rumours of his death have been "slightly exaggerated."

Avon: Planning to attack Servalan alone, Avon is joined by the others who make the following confession: Cally - "We've talked about it and discovered we care what happens to you." Tarrant - "Within reason, of course." Dayna - "We're as surprised about it as you are." Vila - "Not to mention embarrassed."

"I made a promise."
"To Anna?"
"To me."

I have a confession to make: I used to hate Blake's 7. Cut me some slack - I still hadn't reached my tenth birthday when it ended, and such a young age wouldn't appreciate the adult aspects of the programme. From what bits I saw, it was cheap, overacted and always ended with a stagy laugh. The last one isn't true, the first two maybe, but above all I didn't give it a chance.

Then one day I had to do research for a project on a single episode. This episode. I bought the tape with Children of Auron on the beginning, and fast-forwarded to Rumours of Death, to all intents and purposes the first B7 episode I'd ever actually seen.

It's a good place to start. I can't really fault the episode at all, particularly the writing. One of Terry Nation's chief flaws is his shorthand for characterisation. Here Chris Boucher fills us in on the lives of even two minor surveillance officers, in likeable scenes lasting over six minutes in total. This sort of thing helps break down the black and white representation of the Federation, something the whole episode does rather well. This is light years away from season one. Fiona Cumming makes her series debut here, her final work being on the following episode. It's a shame she didn't do more as she obviously has the aptitude for it. The story also highlights my view of the season being widely variant in quality. Compare the production of this or the previous episode with the four that proceeded them. And I can't get over how you never realise that Anna Grant and Sula are one and the same - obviously the same actress plays them, but it works.

The Avon/Servalan relationship is most interesting, with two jaded, world-weary adversaries wrapped up in a mixture of mutual pity and self-disgust. Note how Servalan suggestively rubs Avon with her handgun while he's kneeling before her, the sexual symbolism inherent casting her as the male. And her decision to kill him could be to save him from himself, or just out of malice. It's a complex relationship operating on many levels, and a far cry from the straightforward Travis/Blake bickering that Nation gave us. This really is superb stuff, and threatens to become my all-time favourite every time I see itů