RADIO TIMES: The Federation want Orac. Blake must get to it first. But what is it...?
Broadcast: Monday 27th March, 1978: 7.15pm-8.10pm, BBC 1
Writer: Terry Nation
Director: Vere Lorrimer
"Surely it is obvious even to the meanest intelligence that during my development I would naturally become endowed with aspects of my creator's personality." Orac
GUEST CAST: Derek Farr (Ensor), James Muir, Paul Kidd (Phibians)
Orac was commissioned from Terry Nation on 21 April, 1977 as the conclusion of a 2-part storyline started in Deliverance. Nation was asked to write a cliffhanger ending. He had not intended to keep Orac in the series permanently. It was originally Avon & Cally who went down to Aristo but Boucher thought that Avon would steal Orac and abandon the crew.
Terry Nation explained his inspiration for the new super computer in an interview with TV Zone in 1991. “Orac had two things that I loved. When we actually met his creator, he was a nasty, ill tempered man, and then we find that he has built the computer in his image. It was almost a godlike thing, that he created man in his own image. The other thing that I found very cute about that story was that Ensor had something in virtually every computer in the Universe, so that our little computer had access to everything in the Universe because of this clever man. I thought that it was a cute idea, but then, the power was almost too great. It’s one of the great dangers about a super power, that they never lose. Superman was always in trouble because he was too damn good, so I had to make the character of the machine so that it would go silent on them. They were all so obviously inferior that he wouldn’t deign to speak to them, and that was my device out of that. This wasn’t a polite computer.”
Script extract: A tea-chest sized piece of equipment. It looks like an un-cased television chassis (minus tube) packed with printed circuits & components, linked with a maze of cables. Not at all impressive, indeed looking slightly botched together. It has no nobility or robotic qualities.
Stephen Greif suffered an accident towards the end of the first season. He recalled the accident in an interview with TV Zone in 1990. “I’d broken my Achilles tendon playing squash, and it took about four months to get it back together again. We had done pre-filming for episodes twelve and thirteen, when I had my accident, so I never got to be in the studio. I only had a little bit of studio work for those episodes, so you only saw me and Jacqueline Pearce from the waist up. They got a chap in who walked around a bit flat footed as me, and then I came in later to dub over the lines. It was rather amusing. You wouldn’t realise it unless you knew, because most of the stuff was done on film way back at the beginning of the year.”
Vere Lorrimer & Chris Boucher restructured the script so Travis’ appearances could be largely off-screen or via obscure camera angles. Lorrimer had to employ careful camera work to help hide the problem. “I shot through a fish tank for the scene where Travis breaks through the wall, and next moment, we see his feet are coming out the other side. The replacement actor was a bit bow-legged, but nobody noticed.”
Stephen Greif dubbed his lines in prior to transmission; his final work on the series.
By the time recording was completed, Greif had made the decision to leave the series. “I said that I really wasn’t sure (about a second series) and I would want to have some discussion about the scripts to see where the character was going. I felt that I should do that, otherwise it would just become another run-of-the-mill job. I had some meaningful dialogue with the producer, and then a film came up to do with Ian McShane in the south of France, and I wanted to do that very much. I told Maloney that if he could fix the two of them – if I could do the film and the series – I would do it. The film would make the series more bearable, providing we could talk about the scripts. He said he couldn’t fit it in. His filming dates clashed with my filming dates, so I said ‘Bye’, and that was the end of that.”
Matt Irvine recalled designing the Orac prop in an interview with Horizon in 1984. “I think Terry Nation’s script said something like, ‘It looks like a television set without the case’ which is what I had to work from. We knew very early on it had to be portable because it had to be carried out of Ensor’s lab, so they had to be able to lift it. There was a limit to the size it could be. The first thing we designed for Orac was his case because the location work was done first and they were carrying it across the sand dunes, so therefore once we had got the case built, Orac had to fit inside it.”
Filming took place from Monday 20th to Friday 24th February, 1978 at Springwell Lock Quarry. The ‘shoreline’ was represented by stock film and sound effects.
Nation’s script had specified a beach setting but Lorrimer managed to get around this using clever editing. He recalled this in an interview with Joe Nazzaro in 1990. “There was a scene where Blake and Cally are on a beach near the sea, which was shot in Hertfordshire, where there’s no sea at all. When I read this script, which had cliffs and the sea and God knows what, I found a lovely piece of back-projection film that ran at least five minutes, and every now and again, whenever I could find a reason for someone looking out to sea, I kept dropping that in. By adding seagull noises and sounds of the sea washing over, the illusion was complete. I remember Ronnie Marsh, the head of the series department, saying to me, ‘Where on earth did you shoot that? Where did you get all those cliffs and the sea and everything?’”
More trickery was used to depict the lift coming up through the sand. “That great lift was actually about the size of a twelve-inch ruler, and we put some sand around it, placed the camera down there and simply pushed it up through the sand. We added a sound effect and the appropriate music, which always saves the day, and when we set the real piece of scenery up for other scenes, you couldn’t tell the difference.”
The tunnel sets and entrance to Ensor’s base were erected at Ealing Studios.
Orac was recorded in TC6 on Tuesday 14th and Wednesday 15th March. The episode was completed just 3 days before transmission!
RADIO TIMES LETTERS
Orac brought Series A to a dramatic conclusion. Letters were printed in the Radio Times from readers complaining as they thought the Liberator really had been destroyed.
The last of Blake
What a wonderful series Blake's Seven was. I enjoyed every second of it. After such a surprising end, and with Travis still remaining, I certainly hope the BBC will be showing another series... (Alison Gilbert, Manchester)
So the Liberator has exploded, and Blake's Seven are no more...or are they? I do hope that my eyes are deceiving me and that I shall see more of this most enjoyable space adventure. (Miss SM Debney, Bolton)
With a bang
So Blake's Seven ends with a bang and not a whimper. What else can the BBC have in store? Arthur Billitt buried in a collapsing greenhouse? Magnus Magnusson attacked by a black chair? The Germans winning the war in Secret Army? Farewell Blake's Seven; welcome back Angels. Wait though - will a mystery epidemic wipe out the entire cast in the last episode? (J.E. Miller, Southampton)
We have received over 100 letters following the end of Blake's Seven, nearly all of them in praise - although many are puzzled, like Miss Debney, by the ending. They will have to wait for the second series for an explanation, however. - LETTERS EDITOR
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Publicity still of Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) BBC copyright image.
Servalan in Ensor's laboratory
Publicity still of Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) on the set of Ensor's laboratory. BBC copyright image.