The Red Lines Page

December 21, 2019

Gauda Prime finale

Filed under: Blake's 7,writing — Peter A @ 11:11 pm

titlesGauda Prime Day is the anniversary when died-in-the-wool Blake’s 7 fans remember how the heroes of Season D died-on-screen.

I’ve blogged previously about how I and two pals, somewhat remarkably, were invited to the BBC studio recording of the finale episode, “Blake.” And then subsequently I wrote about our less-than-encouraging meeting with the photographer from Blake’s 7 Monthly.

This third blog describes the rest of our visit.

We returned to our viewing room after grabbing a quick snack and a toilet break. I popped into the gents. This was the point at which Michael Keating, in his Vila costume, also decided he needed a break. He stood at the next urinal. Now, you get the impression from his performance in Blake’s 7 that he is a slight figure. When he was not hunkered down to play Vila, and was instead concentrating on not splashing his costume, he seemed surprisingly tall.

I decided it was not the time to mention this to him. Nor did it seem appropriate at that precise moment to ask him for an autograph. And now that I think about it, I don’t think that I have ever mentioned this to him in any of our subsequent conversations in Big Finish audio recordings. Well, you can imagine how that might go: “We’ve met before. You probably won’t remember, it was a long time ago and you had your hands full at the time… er… these Big Finish lunches are terrific, aren’t they?”

1-film

Back in the viewing room, the film clips were playing silently over and over again. As well as the sequence where Blake talks with Arlen at the campfire, there were other location shots and model work, too. In one scene, Avon looks up when his hair is ruffled as something large flies overhead. In another clip, Vila, Soolin, and Dayna have a similar experience. We didn’t immediately make the connection that this was the Scorpio crashing – even though we’d seen the wreckage of the flight deck on the studio floor earlier in the day.

Closer examination of the film clips playing on the little monitor in our viewing room showed a map with its contours drawn out electronically, and then (rather more alarmingly) Scorpio taking flight as Xenon base exploded around it. A subsequent film clip revealed Scorpio crashing very impressively into a forest of pine trees, excellent work done by Jim Francis and the visual effects team. We would learn later from dialogue in the studio recording that this forest was Plantation 5.

I should probably mention here that, as far as I recall, we didn’t know that we would be watching the final-ever episode of Season D being recorded – for all we knew in advance, this was just one of the exciting episodes that year. As it was, we three enthusiasts were gradually realising something big was happening.

Another significant clue about events about to unfold should have been the various extras we’d seen in Federation guard uniform outside the studio while we got something to eat. None had yet appeared in the studio. Among the dozen or so of them, hidden behind those masks, were familiar names to Doctor Who fans including Pat Gorman and Dalek operators Mike Mungarvan and Cy Town.

1-klyn

The next series of scenes recorded in the studio were in the Gauda Prime tracking gallery. Paul Darrow’s wife, Janet Lees Price, played Klyn. She received a message from Deva (David Collings) discussing the shooting down of a ship that crashed in Plantation 5. On transmission, this was intercut with the Blake/Deva scene that we didn’t see recorded. Before Janet’s scene, the eagle-eyed production team noticed that she was still wearing her wedding ring, and ensured she removed it before the take.

1-blaketarrantOur first sight of Gareth Thomas on set had been in the brief sequence in the same set, in which he asks Klyn about a distress beacon on the official frequency.

Next in the same set was a longer scene that revealed Tarrant has survived the Scorpio crash – somewhat to Tony Murray’s disappointment (see previous blog). Tarrant’s rescue from the wreckage was borne out by the rips and blood stains on his costume and face.

1-screenpicBlake brings Tarrant into the room, and Blake asks Klyn what she’s looking at on the scanner. This turned out to be the electronic map contours we’d seen on our little monitor earlier in the day. Blake then moves off down a corridor, questioned by Tarrant. The whole sequence was recorded without problems quite quickly, something Vere Lorrimer told us had pleased the production team.

The final scene on the set was now prepared, and we could see Steven Pacey rehearsing his flight from Blake’s “betrayal” that happens in the earlier “short but profitable” scene that we didn’t see recorded. From this point, Tarrant runs into the tracking gallery on a cue from the studio floor assistant. We could see the floor assistant clearly in the reflective back of one set, though this wasn’t apparent when we watched the scene on transmission.

Steven Pacey grappled briefly with Paul Darrow’s wife to incapacitate her, and then fought off a technician who springs out to attack him, only for the technician to be shot by Soolin as she runs into the room followed by Vila, Dayna, and Avon – the latter carrying a whopping gun.

The whole action sequence was rehearsed slowly, then faster, and finally shot – as was the unfortunate Terry Forrestal, playing the technician.

1-pauljanetA short sequence followed in which Janet Lees Price recovers briefly, and barely has time to call security personnel to the main tracking gallery before her husband brings his gun to bear on her and shoots her dead.

There was a short pause for the gun to be reloaded, and then it was the sequence when Blake enters the gallery along with Arlen (Sasha Mitchell). The climax of the story was about to unfold, but the walk-through was deceptively subdued.

Paul Darrow spoke rather than delivered his lines, but it dawned on us what was happening:

AVON: Is it true?

BLAKE: Avon, it’s me, Blake.

AVON: Stand still. Have you betrayed us? Have you betrayed me?

BLAKE: Tarrant doesn’t understand!

AVON: Neither do I, Blake.

BLAKE I set all this up.

AVON: Yes.

Paul Darrow pointed his gun at Gareth Thomas and said: “Bang!”

Gareth lurched towards him. Paul said “bang!” twice more. Gareth reached Paul, grasped his arms and groaned “What the hell’s your name?” before collapsing to the floor.

This provoked much merriment up in the production gallery, who we could hear through our speakers but who could not be heard directly by everyone on the studio floor. “Tell Gareth that’s on tape!” said director Mary Ridge cheerily.

We were a bit more wary. Avon has just shot Blake? Three times! Maybe he’s just stunned. There was no blood. We know how these cliffhangers work out.

And the director seemed quite happy about it all. Earlier in the day, she had amused us when she was dissatisfied with some of the extras who were performing behind Klyn. At that point, she had declared “I’m coming down!” and descended from her director’s gallery to the studio floor via a long metal staircase attached to the studio wall.

Most of the time, the director’s words are relayed to the cast via her representative in the studio, production manager Henry Foster. He and the camera operators can hear what’s being said in the production gallery through their headsets, and Henry is the person who relays the director’s comments to the cast.

Throughout our time at this recording, Mary Ridge was cheerfully efficient. You do sometimes hear stories of other directors who yell thing like “Tell that idiot Gerald he delivered that with all the enthusiasm of a dead halibut, and now we’ll have to do the entire wretched scene again from the start” and the floor manager relaying that to the cast member as “Jonathan says he’d like to try the scene again from the top, Gerald, with a little more energy please.”

Now it was time for the Blake-Avon confrontation to be recorded on tape. The performances came alive, and the tension between them was electric:

1-shooting

AVON: [pained] Is it TRUE?

BLAKE: Avon, it’s me, Blake.

AVON: Stand STILL! Have you betrayed us? Have you… betrayed ME?

BLAKE: [dismissive] Tarrant doesn’t understand!

AVON: Neither do I, Blake.

BLAKE: I set all this up.

AVON: Yes!

BLAKE: Avon, I was waiting for you…

No “bangs” from Paul Darrow this time. His gun sparked into action as he pulled the trigger.

BLAKE: Oh, Avon…

The explosions of blood from Blake’s stomach were as much a shock to us as they seemed to Blake. The effects were activated by Gareth Thomas using device in his hand, squeezed at the appropriate moments.  The surprise on Gareth’s face was probably for real – it turned out that the explosive charges behind the blood bags were strong enough to leave bruises.

It was disconcerting later in the evening to see Gareth emerging from the gents toilet, still covered in gore. Again, this did not seem like a particularly apposite moment to say hello or ask for an autograph. It’s something I also didn’t mention to Gareth when years later I enjoyed talking with him in the more relaxed surroundings of the Big Finish green room, where he was always such entertaining company. Now, alas, I shall not have the opportunity to tell him.

It was time to rehearse-record the final big scene. Gareth Thomas didn’t have to lie down on the floor for this sequence – he got up and sauntered off set, looking remarkably chipper for a character who (we now had to accept) was not going to survive the episode. And as the walk-through of the next scene continued, it became increasingly apparent that none of our heroes would get out alive.

Arlen steps forward to take charge, and shoots down Deva as he rushes in to report the base is under attack. David Collings fell back against the wall so heavily that the set shook visibly – something still visible on transmission.

The Scorpio crew drop their weapons (for some reason – perhaps they felt as they were holstered that they’d just get shot down by her where they stood?) Vila bumbles his way “completely harmless and armless” towards Arlen. When she spots Dayna going to retrieve a gun, Arlen shoots her, and Dayna collapses into Tarrant’s arms.

Vila seizes his moment, and knocks Arlen unconscious. At the end of the scene, Michael Keating checked to see if Sasha Mitchell was all right, because he thought he had accidentally smacked her in the face for real. As scripted, Vila also says sorry to the unconscious Arlen.

1-castshot

One by one they fall: Vila pauses for a look around the room and is shot in the back by an arriving trooper (so that’s where they were!)  Soolin kills the trooper who shot Vila, but is then herself gunned down.

Tarrant, who has somehow left the room, perhaps to check what’s going on outside, races back in again.  hurries over to the motionless Avon, but is cut down by another trooper’s fire.

The irony for Tony, in our group of three dismayed observers in the visitor’s gallery, was that Tarrant died last. Furthermore, it became apparent on transmission that Tarrant is the last character ever to speak a line of dialogue in Blake’s 7 on TV.

Unlike the transmitted version, of course, this was all played out in “real time” and without any slow motion on any of the camera shots, so the whole thing cracked along at quite a pace.

As the rehearsal progressed, Mary Ridge needed the cast to give her and the vision mixer appropriate cues for the action, because the explosive squibs in weapons would not be activated until the actual scene recording. “If they won’t say ‘bang,’” she declared firmly, “I’m not playing.” Henry relayed this to the cast and extras, and they dutifully said “bang” on the next run-through.

On an actual recording, the explosive squibs in the weapons make enough noise to act as an action cue without the actors needing to say “bang” each time. The noise they make is merely a sparking fizz. The noisy gunshot reports, along with other bleeps and alarms and machine noise, were all dubbed onto the soundtrack during the editing stage later by special sound technician Elizabeth Parker.

Unlike Avon’s special gun, which had three charges, each of the other Federation or Scorpio guns have a single charge in them – you’ll see that the sequence is choreographed so that each of them only takes one shot.

Multi-camera video recording in the studio means that many of the shot-by-shot edits are achieved “as live” directly to tape by vision mixer Nigel Finnis, who sat beside the director in the production gallery along with the director’s assistant who calls out the camera numbers for each cut. There is the option later, if there is time, to tighten shots or select from the various continuous takes in the edit, or to combine scenes that were recorded separately in studio or on film but that happen contemporaneously in the narrative.

The awful events played out before us again, this time with the cameras recording to tape.

Troopers stormed in. Guns flashed. Heroes fell. The studio fell silent as the scene concluded, with just the flashing warning lights eerily illuminating the scene of devastation.

“Thank God,” declared Mary Ridge in the gallery, “they’re all dead!”

Sasha Mitchell and David Collings no longer had to lie down, and it was now time for Gareth Thomas to resume his position on the painted studio floor.

The troopers surround Avon. He looks at Blake, and then places his feet either side of the body to stand over it. He looks up, and slowly raises his weapon. The camera shot cuts closer, closer, and closer again. Avon grins.

1-finale.jpg

We weren’t to know until transmission about the different gunshot sound effects that would play over the end credits. Was one of them Avon’s gun? Could he have survived? Our assumption on that studio day was that it wasn’t looking good for him.

On the studio floor, photographers gathered to take publicity stills of the final scene. A few more shots to finish off a day full of them. We watched this via the camera feeds that continued to relay a live feed from the studio floor to our observation room.

If the three of us were each to get back home, we knew we’d have to leave soon. We were conscious that we were guests of Vere Lorrimer and didn’t want to overstay our welcome, but after all we’d seen it was a wrench to tear ourselves away.

BBC studio recording days typically went on until 10 p.m. so there were some other scenes recorded that day that we would not get to see. I think included what would be the final scene of Blake’s 7 ever recorded for TV, as the doomed crew made their way in the flyer to Blake’s base.

1-flyerORAC: When we reach the appropriate coordinates, I can simulate the necessary signals to open the silo and allow this flyer to enter.

DAYNA: Oh, sounds good.

VILA: No it isn’t. Sooner or later we’re going to drop into one of these holes in the ground and never come out.

AVON: Sooner or later, everyone does that, Vila.

Tony hurried off to catch his train. Peter and I grabbed something more substantial to eat in the BBC canteen. We also did one final phone call to the editor of Blake’s 7 Monthly, this time at his home number. He told us he’d definitely send us details of what he wanted us to write for him. To be honest, though, after 38 years waiting I’m now beginning to suspect he’s not going to do that.

Before we left BBC Television Centre, Peter and I sought out Vere Lorrimer to offer him our very sincere thanks for inviting us to the day’s recording. He spoke to us of how the ending would be reminiscent of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, with its famous freeze-frame as the protagonists burst out of hiding to face their fate. Both Vere Lorrimer and Paul Darrow were huge fans of that genre.

Possibly seeing the glazed look in our eyes, he also told us that he hoped the characters were only “badly injured” and that a public outcry would bring the series back.

I’m pleased to say that, in my own way, I was subsequently able to do something about – albeit three decades later – when I wrote a Big Finish script for the first of the Liberator Chronicles audios, and then the first full-cast audio script, Warship.

Warship

1 Comment »

  1. […] who were suggesting stuff that he could be doing himself for the magazine. Besides, after we’d seen the conclusion to “Blake” being recorded in TV Centre, it was fairly clear what prospects there were for […]

    Pingback by Horizon interview | The Red Lines Page — January 1, 2020 @ 1:19 am | Reply


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