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Blake's 7: Death-Watch

One of my favourite episodes here, with some of the sharpest writing, and some of the finest direction of the entire series. Deciding that they need a break, the Liberator crew head off to the celebrations surrounding an upcoming war between two adjacent star systems. Rather than fight proper wars, these two cultures appoint champions to fight a one-on-one battle as avatars for the entire populations. When they arrive, the gang discover that the champion for one side is Deeta Tarrant, the alarmingly identical older brother of the galaxy's spangliest space pirate. Gunfire and sequins ensue.

This episode really does have a good plot, just like 'Rumours Of Death' a few weeks back. There's political wrangling, double-dealing, and the surprisingly touching story of two estranged brothers caught up in the middle of it all. Lots of good ideas used well, and nothing to especially date it to the seventies either (that may be a lie). I can see this being a good episode for introducing a sceptical newcomer to the series. Nice to see Servalan having a proper plotline again, and being used by a writer who has some respect for the character. Here she's scheming and smirking, and is back to flirting with the furniture. Avon's scheming nicely too, and Dayna and Tarrant both get to have a little swashbuckly fun. There's even something for Cally to do, if not a great deal. The only thing I can really find fault with is Steven Pacey's appalling Deeta wig; and as drawbacks go, that's really a pretty minor one. There's decent incidental characters too. Well realised guest characters are often a sign of a good episode.

Deeta Tarrant, champion of the Teal Confederacy, and possessor of one of the galaxy's worst haircuts.

Back aboard the Liberator, the gang have parties on their minds; all except for Cally, who thinks that a fight to the death is no kind of entertainment. For some reason the "wine, women and song" that Vila promises her as incidental activity don't appeal either.

This guy's great. He's the presenter of a fabulously tacky show that follows the two competitors and their match, and off screen he carries on a catty dualogue with his producer.

Avon contemplates life, the universe, and the appalling costume he's been saddled with this week. Those shoulder pads could practically sustain their own gravitational field. He's also busy wondering what Servalan is up to, when it transpires that she's to be the neutral arbiter of the contest.

Deeta microwaves his brain for the entertainment of the populace. It's an interesting trick. Both contestants have neural transmitters implanted, which allow their respective supporters to live their experience alongside them, seeing what they see, and feeling what they feel. It's the ultimate in tasteless reality television, but the idea is to allow both races to be a part of the war without actually having to fight in it, thus keeping the damage to a minimum. The tacky TV show aspect of it works well from a modern perspective, given what so much of television is like these days. Shades of The Year Of The Sex Olympics, I suppose. Deeta's second, for those paying attention, is Professor Clifford Jones, from the Jon Pertwee Who adventure 'The Green Death'.

Deeta has a dreadful polo neck to go with the haircut. There really is no denying that this is the seventies, is there.

Avon and his shoulder pads confront Servalan. He's figured out that she's up to her usual tricks. She plans to do something that will spark a controversy, and turn the contest from a two-man affair into full blown war. Then she can move in to take over whatever's left. Her ruined Federation seems to be growing again remarkably quickly. Other than a brief mention in 'Rumours Of Death' that this is something of a surprise, there's been nothing to explain this so far. It's a shame. The collapse of the Federation was one of the more interesting story threads at the start of the third series.

Caught out, but unrepentant, Servalan's smirk never fades; even though she's being completely upstaged by Avon's shoulder pads.

Everybody wants to kiss Servalan lately. It's like some kind of space contagion.

Stupid clothing clearly runs in the family. Although, to be strictly fair, the other guy is wearing something similar. Isn't fighting to the death bad enough, without having to do it looking like a prat?

A fondness for playing cops and robbers also clearly runs in the family. The contest is played out in a special chamber, which projects a randomly created environment. Mountains, beaches, jungles, deserts - absolutely anywhere might be chosen, with countless backgrounds from countless worlds as possibilities. Deeta and his opponent get a ruined warehouse in the middle of London. I think they should demand another go. Still, I suppose it does make for a better game of cops and robbers.

Hopelessly outmatched by a superhumanly fast opponent, Deeta loses the match.

Oddly enough, having your brain plugged into the brain of a man who's just been shot to death proves to be a bad idea. It's a nice scene here, though. Deeta uses his last seconds to use the neural link to send a final message to his little brother, whilst millions of Teal Confederacy citizens listen in. It's remarkably effective.

Orac computes that Deeta's opponent was a ringer - an android substituted by Servalan to ensure that real war will result. The gang have to make sure that the truth about the android doesn't get out.

Orac-eye view. Does Orac have eyes? I wonder what he thinks of the shoulder pads.

Dayna gets to have a little fun delaying things, so that the medical examination of the winner can't go ahead. Meanwhile, Tarrant is challenging the winner to another contest.

Orac taps into the battle computer, to figure out what will be chosen as the setting for Tarrant's battle, and Cally transmits it to him. Last time she tried talking to him telepathically he couldn't hear her, so I'm not sure why he can now. Still, never mind. The advantage allows him to get a sneaky headstart.

Of all the gazillions of possible settings, the computer chooses the very same space cruiser that Deeta was travelling in at the start of the episode. That's a pretty spectacular coincidence. I don't blame them, as it was a good set, and worth re-using. It does look a bit weird, though. It's a shame they couldn't have made use of it in another episode instead. Anyway, Tarrant blasts the android. All is well in the world of galactic diplomacy.

Avon ponders how much better they are at being political rebels now that they're actively trying not to be. Life's frustrating that way.

Mildly irritating comedy ending, as Avon and Tarrant make a quick getaway, when it turns out that Tarrant is technically now the new Champion of the Teal Confederacy. I do wish they wouldn't do these comedy endings. It spoils the atmosphere.

Mild aggravations aside, this really is a good one. And, just like Avon's very bad day in 'Rumours Of Death', Tarrant's equally bad day proves to be a good thing for the viewers. Basically things are at their best when the gang are on the ropes. And, speaking of which, coming up next is another of my favourite episodes. Bad days here we come.

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