Blakes 7 – Mission to Destiny (Review)

The only way to watch Mission to Destiny and enjoy it is to take it as a spoof. I have no idea whether this is how it was intended. But is has too many obvious plotholes to really work as a straight Agatha Christie in space, so either it’s a spoof, or it should have been.

Liberator spots a ship essentially chasing its tail in space. Naturally, Blake and Jenna decide to teleport over without asking anyone’s permission. They do, however, ask Avon nicely (for once) to tag along. There they find that the navigation system has been sabotaged, the crew gassed to sleep, and the navigator bludgeoned to death, having written a cryptic message in blood on (the Blakes 7 version of a) PADD. Hillariously, they take this message to be 54124, rather what it more sensibly turns out to be – the name of the killer:

CALLY [Picks up map viewer] Look at this – it’s blood. He tried to write something. [Hands it to Avon]

AVON Five four one two four. Whatever that might mean.

BLAKE Could be anything. Call sign, transmission frequency, navigation index, anything.

CALLY But it is important. He must have been dying when he wrote it.

And there you have it, Blakes 7 invented leetspeak. Take the 5 for an ‘s’, the 4s for ‘a’s, and ’12’ seen from a certain angle, as an ‘r’, and you’ve got it. There IS someone on board named Sara!

But first we have to wake up the crew and pretend they’re all equally suspicious so we can have a story. Also, we need to set up a red herring that everyone can see is a red herring where one of the crew and one of the lifepods are missing.

Blake demands to know what motive anyone could’ve had for gassing the crew, killing the navigator and sabotaging the navigation system. Reluctantly, the captain reveals that they’re transporting a Highly Valuable Object. It’s a kind of prism that bends light to cause it to emit a particular band of radiation that will kill the fungal kudzu that’s completely overgrown the agricultural planet Destiny, wrecking its agricultural economy. Give credit where it’s due – on a scale from 1 to 10 for MacGuffinns, this one’s way up at BEST ONE EVER. Also, it’s called a neutrotope, which is also a strong candidate for BEST MACGUFFIN NAME EVER.

Naturally, it’s hugely valuable – so valuable that it’s biometrically sealed so that only the captain can access it. We see him go through all the steps of getting it out of the biometrically sealed safe and then unlocking the molecularly sealed box. Convinced that no one can open this but the captain? Good, because in about three minutes he’s going to casually order another member of the crew to go and fetch it for him.

Given the state it’s in, the ship can’t possibly make the run to Destiny in time. Therefore, Blake suggests he deliver it in the Liberator instead, leaving Cally behind as collateral. So, sort of the science fiction equivalent of that situation we’ve all found ourselves in where we think we’ve left the stove on but don’t have time to go and check, so we find a kind stranger, given him the keys to our BMW and house in exchange for him leaving his daughter with us and have him go turn off the stove instead. I mean, who wouldn’t agree to that, amirite? So of course the Ortega‘s captain agrees, and Blake takes the box with the neutrotope in it onboard the Liberator without so much as an escort from the crew. Avon chooses to stay behind because he can’t stand an unsolved mystery:

AVON Must we? Personally, I don’t care if their whole planet turns into a mushroom. I shall stay because I don’t like an unsolved mystery.

BLAKE You don’t think Dortmunn and his life rocket are the answer?

AVON No.

Nor would anyone else. If you’re in deep space, lightyears from any place to land, you don’t just jump into a lifepod and launch. What we’re actually having trouble buying is the idea that Avon really cares about solving the mystery. If he doesn’t care if a planet turns into a mushroom, it’s difficult to see why he cares who killed the navigator. More likely, he just prefers to stay with Cally.

So, Sara goes all by herself to fetch the neutrotope from the safe that supposedly only the captain can open, and no one comments on this. Plot hole the first (of many). Blake teleports back, and they’re off.

It isn’t long, of course, before they find the supposedly-missing Dortmunn’s body. So now we’re back to square one: it could be anyone.

Meanwhile, the Liberator is blocked on its journey by one of those meteor showers than don’t exist in real life but feature frequently in science fiction. The cool thing about this one is that it’s a one-way meteor shower. We get a lot of dramatic sequences of the Liberator burning its shields out just getting through (because going ’round it will take too long), only to have them discover, on the other side, that the box is empty! Someone stole the neutrotope before handing the box over to Blake who, in yet another accumulation of examples that he’s either not very bright or entirely too trusting, didn’t check it before teleporting back to Liberator. So naturally they turn back around and head back to the Ortega. Through the meteor shower that’s burned out their shields? Why, no, actually. It apparently only exists if you’re coming at it from the front.

On the Ortega, Avon is having lots of fun, but little actual success, playing detective. In what’s easily the best sequence of the episode, he admits to Cally he doesn’t have the first clue whodunnit:

AVON About time. Any news from the search parties?

CALLY No.

AVON No, there won’t be. It was an unlikely idea, keeping out of sight for the length of time this ship has been in flight. Not really possible. [attends to the instrument panel]

CALLY I agree. So who do you think it is?

AVON Mandrian.

CALLY Why?

AVON Instinct. I discount Dr. Kendall.

CALLY I thought you mistrusted instinct.

AVON I do, so I am probably wrong.

CALLY It could be him. I told you I heard him quarreling with Sara, didn’t I? Sonheim makes me uneasy, too.

AVON He would be next on my list.

CALLY The answer is here. If only we could see it.

Now if that exchange doesn’t convince you this is a spoof, I’m not sure what will. Consider: the characters know they’re in a mystery story (‘The answer is here. If only we could see it.’). Nevertheless, the detective’s insticts are wrong (it is in the very next scene that Mandrian is killed by the real killer). What’s more, he knows this (‘I do [mistrust instinct], so I am probably wrong.’). And of course the best part is that they ironically CAN ‘see it,’ since the victim helpfully wrote the answer to the puzzle down for them in blood.

Eventually, as these things must, we end up in a room where Avon announces he knows whodunnit.

AVON I’ve just spent the last ten minutes in the filter plant looking for something that should be there but isn’t. The cable that was damaged carries a high energy charge. In order to cut it, he would need a laser knife or an insulated saw. Neither of which were there.

DR. KENDALL Then, somebody else was the saboteur?

AVON Yes. Mandrian came in, discovered whoever it was, and had to be silenced. The murderer then went out, taking the saw with him. Sonheim’s story is true, he just happened to be the one to discover the body.

SARA Then who did kill Mandrian?

AVON The same person who killed Rafford and Dortmunn. And I know who that is now.

GROVANE You know?

AVON Yes. I should have seen it right from the start, but my mind had conditioned itself to see the wrong thing. As Cally has been saying all along. [he produces the glass top of the map reader and lays it on the table]

CALLY You found the meaning!

AVON Yes, just before he died Rafford managed to scrawl this out.

DR. KENDALL Five four one two four?

AVON Precisely.

PASCO What’s it mean?

AVON Absolutely nothing. As a number it has no significance at all, but when I was in the filter plant just now, I noticed one of the instruments. Liquid crystals show a number, and then the confirmation circuit translates those numbers into the written word. Right from the start, we thought that those were numbers. They are not, they are letters.

And they spell SARA. On whom Avon turns his back when he’s announcing this, giving her time to pull out a giant gun from … where, exactly? I dunno, when they turn back around, she has a gun. It’s almost like you shouldn’t turn your back on the person you’re about to accuse of murder and sabotage?

Naturally, Blake teleports over in just the nick of time to save them, and all is well. They still have to make the titular "mission to Destiny," however, this time WITH the critical neutrotope – so just in case you’d forgotten about the one-way meteor shower (which, to be fair, you might have done, since they didn’t have to go through it on their way back), Vila reminds you:

BLAKE They’re locked on. [Traces merge, then a blinding flash on screen]

DR. KENDALL What was that?

BLAKE I rigged a charge on the entry hatch. Right, I think I can get you all home now. Zen, set a course for Destiny, speed standard by six.

ZEN Confirmed.

VILA Take us round the easy way this time.

And that’s the final line of the episode – the one that makes absolutely sure you didn’t miss the big plot hole!

It’s gotta be a spoof.

It’s played so straight, though, that you can’t be sure. If it’s a spoof, it’s not clear the audience is in on the joke. It seems more likely to be something that Nation did to work out some job stress at the expense of his bosses. More likely than that: on account of the stress he honestly didn’t see, at the time, just how terrible this was. A filler episode written in the wee hours of the morning, perhaps?

Spoof or not, the plot holes sink it. It’s fine to send things up, but you have to tell a plausible story while doing it. Meteor showers that exist travelling one way, are forgotten when the plot needs the Liberator to quickly return, and then reappear in time for Vila to be a loveable rogue in the closing scene destroy any chance of suspension of disbelief we might have wanted to muster. Which is a pity, because putting Avon at the center of things, sardonically smiling at inappropriate times as he stumbles his way through a mystery he can’t actually solve, is the right move for this show. Fortunately, we’ll get more than enough of that to make up for it in the last two seasons.

All told, not one of Blakes 7‘s best outings. Aside from Duel, which is next (but already reviewed 6 years ago here), that will unfortunately be true of most of the rest of this season.

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