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Blake's 7: Animals

This one seems to have a particularly bad reputation amongst B7 fans. I can't say that it's bad as such - certainly not on the Ben Steed level, anyway. It is incredibly dull, though. It's also quite spectacularly creepy. Reportedly it was intended for Cally, but rather than give it to Soolin following Cally's departure, somebody decided to pass it on to Dayna instead. This turns what might have made a suitable storyline into something guaranteed to make your skin crawl, as well as leaving Dayna out of character for most of the running length. On top of that is the fact that the story itself has nothing much going for it. As adventures go, this one's pretty much lacking in everything. Quite a feat considering it features Servalan at her smiley-evil best, and has a very strong beginning. At some point though, it just goes totally off the boil.

Tarrant and Dayna are alone aboard the Scorpio, off for a rendezvous with a scientist named Justin. His speciality is something to do with radiation, and Avon has decided that he might make a useful addition to the team. Apparently he's an old friend of Dayna's father and, years ago, he was one of Dayna's teachers. It's clearly established that they haven't seen each other in a very long time, which makes it all the worse when the truth comes out about their relationship.

Dayna is quite sure that Justin will remember her after all this time. Yuck.

Leaving Tarrant behind on the Scorpio (oh lucky, lucky Tarrant), Dayna sets off to explore the planet where Justin has chosen to live alone. It turns out to be inhabited by the cast of the Lord Of The Rings musical. Well, they had to end up somewhere.

In just about the only thing she does all episode that really seems in character, Dayna's first response upon meeting this new life form is to point a gun at it. I don't know why this sort of thing endears her so much to me. It probably shouldn't.

Elsewhere, Tarrant has been set upon by Federation ships and, unwilling to leave Dayna, has got caught up in a battle. SFX go through some very difficult periods as time goes by. In seasons one to three, they did this by putting actual explosive charges on models. Now they're doing it with CSO. Problem is, the exploding models looked better. More than anything, at least the fireworks looked real then. Now we're getting a string of ships superimposed onto stock footage of explosions, and it looks about as real as Roobarb & Custard. CSO had existed for years, and for some reason they'd avoided using it before. I wonder what changed? Anyway, eventually he has no choice but to run, at new super-Scorpio speed, in order to avoid being atomised. Dayna's on her own.

And she's on her own with this bloke, the supremely creepy Justin. Not only did he have an affair with his pupil - and years ago, as well, which given Dayna's current age makes the whole thing even more creepy still - but he's also just plain weird. He keeps smirking at her, and asking her to stay with him on his uninhabitated planet to rekindle their romance. Dayna, run. Trust me, the growly things out in the forest couldn't possibly be his level of bad.

And she's about to get her poor little heart broken anyway. Justin has been involved in human experiments, cutting people up to create a new race, genetically designed to allow them to work in areas with high levels of radiation. Justin's new hobby is vivisection, practiced on his own personal species. He claims that the project was set up during the war, but the war only lasted five minutes, almost literally.

Dayna, run.

Back at base, Avon hears Tarrant's tale of explosions and Federation pursuit ships and a half-explodified Scorpio, and orders him back home with much growling. I love how he glares at the communicator, like he expects the glare to get transmitted across space. It probably does. Tarrant wants to go back for Dayna, disintegrating ship or no, but Avon demands that the rest of the episode be spent wasting time doing repairs. It'll be so much more entertaining than a fight.

For an intelligent man, you can be awfully dull at times, Avon.

Servalan's attention has been drawn to a certain super-fast ship in the region of an apparently uninhabited planet, where secret research went on during the war (all five minutes of it). She decides to go have a look. Sadly she is no longer driving her funky space whale. Presumably that was the booby-trapped ship that she left on Terminal.

Dayna has decided that, despite Justin being a vivisectioning ephebophile, he's really quite endearing. Dayna, listen to me. Just run.

It's at about this point that she claims she belongs to a gang of rebels, fighting the Federation. She does? Do the others know? I thought the gang gave up all that nonsense when Blake left/died/forgot where he parked the spaceship. In series three they were mostly itinerant swashbucklers, which makes for a much better business card, quite frankly.

Back on Xenon, everything has become deeply frustrating. Five minutes ago, Tarrant was pleading with Avon to be allowed to go rescue Dayna. Soolin was worried as well, panicking that anything might be happening, and that a delay might cost Dayna her life. Now suddenly we're getting The Vila Comedy Hour. Everybody sits around teasing him about getting dirty in a ballast tank. Did we suddenly forget about Dayna? She's stuck in a laboratory, having an endless conversation about scientific morals with the world's dullest statutory rapist. And it's dull. It's circulatory and meaningless and boring and dreary and dreadfully dull, dull, dull. Then she goes for a walk and gets captured by Servalan.

And even that manages to be pretty dull. Servalan's a great interrogator, I must give her her due. She's polite and chatty, and quite honestly if you have to be arrested and tortured, it might as well be by her. She somehow programs Dayna to believe that she hates Justin, and gets her to open the doors into his compound. Servalan, you may be despicable, but you definitely have your good points.

And one of them is entrances. Justin, who has spent the last hour smashing his laboratory in a drunken rage because of Dayna's disappearance - which isn't in the least bit creepy, oh no, not at all - gets hauled off with Dayna back to Servalan's ship.

Just as the others, having finally finished teasing Vila about his dirty face, arrive on the planet.

I can't quite decide whether Servalan is threatening her prisoners with her gun or with her fingernails. Could be either. Could be both. Actually I don't know that that is a gun. I think it could be a screwdriver.

I love this scene. The boys crash into Justin's lab, doing their Professionals act again, and Avon kicks one of those little chairs aside, in ultra-dramatic mode as usual. He loses his footing in the process though, and nearly goes down. Needless to say, this being the BBC of the early eighties, the cameras keep rolling regardless.

Justin hears Avon attempting to contact Dayna, and manages to sneak a reply. Only Avon could make listening into that much of a drama.

Who the hell has a spaceship with beige striped wallpaper?

It's taken until the last five minutes of the show, but finally things are starting to be a bit more entertaining. And then disaster strikes.

Justin gets shot by Servalan, accidentally I think. She wanted him to work on his radiation creature project for her, so I presume she wanted him alive. I admit to being slightly distracted by cats at this point. Trust me, that was a whole lot more interesting than the plot.

Dayna escapes, Servalan throws Justin's body out of her ship, and then speeds off into space. There then follows a scene where Dayna sobs over the creepy, murdered torturer, but there was no way I was going to screencap that. Trust me, Dayna, you are so much better off without him. Unquestionably so is the plot.

I said at the beginning that this wasn't a bad episode exactly, but that might have been giving it more credit than it's due. It really is boring. As a debate about scientific morality it might have worked, but it needed a lot more going for it than Dayna and her creepy suitor talking in circles. Meanwhile the rest of the gang are sitting in their spaceship teasing Vila about having to go into the ballast tanks to complete the repairs to the Scorpio, and what the hell's that about? Either you're in a hurry or you're not. As for the Justin and Dayna romance, that has to be the most misjudged thing in the show's entire history. If they'd presented it as being a one-way thing all those years ago it would have been fine. Lots of people have a crush on a teacher. A fully-fledged love affair though? If the episode had been filmed with Cally, as apparently intended, then an affair some years ago would have been fine. With Dayna though, we're left with a guy having a fling with his friend's underage daughter, which hasn't sounded like a good idea since the nineteenth century. Never were Servalan and her gun a more welcome addition to a script.

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