Interviewed by Big Finish about the scripts for their Blake’s 7 audios, Paul Darrow commented that sometimes we have Avon describing the computers as “he” rather than “it.” And because that wasn’t typical of the character, he asked for it to be changed. Which is true. A bit.
At the end of my story Mirror, Avon and Blake both refer to Orac as “he.”
Blake: Orac teleported me back to Liberator.
Avon: I know. He teleported me first remember?
I think that having any character refer to Orac or Zen as “it” rather than “he” is much more emphatic, and therefore “making a point.” Dialogue drives an audio script. When I’m writing mine, I try to avoid anything that sounds unnatural or awkward or contrived. But I also know that people (including Paul Darrow) think that Avon doesn’t tend to refer to Orac as “he.”
So my preference is to avoid having Avon use either “he” or “it” when referring to Orac, and thus just write around the decision about which to use. Sometimes it’s going to be awkward to have Avon repeatedly referring to Orac as “Orac” in a conversation with another character. And having him call Orac “it” is a bit emphatic, unless Avon’s making a point about the computer. And on those occasions, I don’t shy away from letting Avon say “he” — especially if it is cued by another character saying “he.” In the example above, “Orac teleported me first, remember?” would sound odd after Blake’s line. And “It teleported me first, remember?” would be an unusual emphasis for the scene.
But is it true to the original TV series? We pride ourselves in the Big Finish writing team that we’re all huge fans of the show, and getting the characters and story continuity right is important to us. I read through all the original scripts of the audio series to review continuity references. So, does Avon really never call Orac “he” on the telly?
Well, here’s a scene from the story that first introduces the computer, the eponymous episode Orac.
Orac: Demonstrate as a command is insufficient.
Gan: What does he mean?
Avon: He means, like Zen, that he requires specific instructions.
Twice in one sentence! What is more, it’s not something that Avon subsequently “grows out of” because here he is doing it again as late as in Games in Season D:
Avon: If Orac is going to get any information out of that machine, this is the way he’s going to do it.
Soolin: Who’s winning?
Orac: We’ve both made sacrifices.
Avon: He means that Gambit is.
Orac: A temporary advantage.
Avon: To an inferior computer?
Orac: Which merely disguises my long-term strategy.
Avon: Let’s forget your ego for the moment.
Throughout the TV series, Avon is more likely to engage in banter with Orac than with Zen, or to ponder his/its motivations. He even acknowledges, as we see in that scene from Games, that Orac has an ego. That makes Avon’s very first use of “he” in the episode Orac even more interesting, because he says it in the phrase “like Zen, he…” which draws a comparison between the two of them, despite using “he” rather than “it.” And yet elsewhere in Season A, specifically in Cygnus Alpha and Duel, Avon is much more emphatic about Zen being an “it”, not a “he.” He states explicitly: “It’s just a machine.”
Conversely, we know characters like Gan and Vila refer to computers as “he” — whether Orac or Zen or Slave. And yet there is this interesting dialogue exchange in Shadow (Season B).
Hanna: This is silly. It’s just a machine.
Vila: Of course it is. If it wasn’t so expensive I’d kick it to pieces.
Bek: Yes. If it didn’t bite.
Gan: Avon’ll fix it when he gets back.
The context is that they are discussing Orac in front of visitors, Hanna and Bek, who refer to Orac as “it” rather than “he” from the outset. The dialogue flows naturally, and logically, when Vila and Gan use “it.” And it works thematically, too, distancing Orac from us and the crew in the context of his/its behaviour during the episode.
There we are, then. I think that there should be occasions in the audios when Avon chooses to call Orac “he” rather than “it.” That is the case for my scene in Mirror. And it also fits in consciously with a theme of the audio series. But to find out more about that, you should buy the CDs and listen to them.