Broadcast: Tuesday 23rd January, 1979: 7.20pm-8.10pm, BBC 1.
Writer: Chris Boucher
Director: George Spenton-Foster
"I'm very good, Supreme Commander, believe me. I've taken everyone and everything into consideration." Carnell
An industrial dispute at the BBC, the recasting of a major character, over-the-top costumes and a controversial director made the production of WEAPON a turbulent experience for all concerned…
After Terry Nation had encountered problems completing 13 complete scripts for Series A, the production team realised that other writers would be needed for Series B. Script Editor Chris Boucher was keen to submit scripts of his own as he had a good understanding of the characters and he knew he could deliver manageable ideas. “If you watch any series that has a script editor, you will notice that the episodes he or she writes will all be set in the studio with two characters, three at the most. They are the episodes where, when things go over budget, they have to do the cheap ones, or they have to do the ones that knit the thing together somehow.” (TV Zone 18) During the early planning stages, the production team mapped out a rough structure for the first half of the season. Terry Nation would write the first episode as a resolution to the cliff-hanger ending to Series A. The second episode would reintroduce the characters of Servalan and Travis. Boucher elected to write this episode himself and he wanted to show that Blake and his crew didn’t always win the day. Boucher’s overall approach to the series differed somewhat from Terry Nation’s and he was keen to bring in more shades of grey. “Terry had a much clearer notion of right and wrong than I did. He saw the series as basically Robin Hood in space, whereas I sort of warped it a bit and tried to make it more ambiguous, so that in the end it became more like Che Guevara and the Dirty Dozen.” (DWB 108) Boucher was pleased with his finished script but ultimately he was unhappy with how it was brought to the screen. “As a script I liked Weapon, I thought it was one of my better efforts. I hated what George Spenton-Foster did to it.” (Anorak Zone, online) More on that later…
Travis Mark Two
The production team faced a major problem when Stephen Greif declined the offer to play Travis in Series B. He felt that he had taken the character about as far as he possibly could within the restrictive format of the show, and he had been offered film work that would have clashed with the recording of the new series. David Maloney was disappointed to lose a respected member of the cast, as he related in an interview with Alan Stevens in 1991. “When Stephen Greif decided that he wanted to leave, he wasn't contracted because he was a later character, he only came into the middle of the first series, so I didn't have a long contract on him as I did the others. I put a contract on them for the first series with an option on our side for the second series, so after the second series they were free to go if they wanted to. That's how Gareth Thomas was able to leave after the second series, but Stephen was another matter. I mean he was so good as Travis and we were determined to keep the character on, and he had other offers. He had a film offer and other parts offered to him and he didn't want to go on for the second series playing the character he'd already played successfully, so naturally he wanted to leave. I tried to persuade him, I really thought at one point he was going to rejoin us, but he didn't, and it then needed recasting.” The decision was taken to recast Travis rather than kill him off and David Maloney explained the reasoning behind this in an interview with John Fleming in 1980. “Terry Nation rather felt that he wanted to make more mileage out of the character and so we re-cast him. The reason that we decided to keep the character was that, so far, he had been very successful. We had a slightly comic-strip gimmick-villain who only had one eye and a raygun in his left hand. And we decided by a process of analysis that, if we killed him off, we’d only be looking to create the same kind of villain again.” (Starburst 18)
The role was ultimately given to Brian Croucher who had been considered for the part of Blake the previous year. David Maloney was responsible for the casting. “I cast Brian Croucher. I saw a lot of actors and I thought Brian was certainly the most suitable. I mean he was a good strong actor, extremely tall and I thought physically very attractive for the audience.” Croucher made a conscious decision not to base his performance on that of Stephen Greif. “Whether season one was there or not, you have to originate it for yourself because you are the person playing it now. Even if you look at it, you've still got to originate it; anything else is called impersonation, and not being. It was tough, but that's what had to be done. There is always going to be someone who is going to compare you to the other person. And you are not going to be the same, so it is tough but in the end that's the way it had to be done.” (Travis: The Final Act) Croucher asked if it was possible for Travis to have a scar rather than an eye patch but the producer vetoed the idea. David Maloney explained the rationale for this in an interview with Alan Stevens. “Basically he had the same appearance. I mean the physical things, his eye, his arm were all kept because rather like a sort of comic strip character, these were the fascinations of Travis, so they were retained. I think the fact that we made him a new suit and his arm was perhaps modified and his eye patch was a different shape, was all just lip service to another actor coming in.” Chris Boucher elaborated on this. “I think we probably felt that to make the outfits exactly the same was impossible, so it was better not to make the attempt.”
The decision was made to retain the same basic appearance for Travis but in a more streamlined fashion. Costume designer June Hudson used unusual fabrics to complete the new outfit. “Travis wore plastic leather given cigarette quilting from head to foot by an East End place who could quilt anything; very light but warm and easy to cut. You could also make anything foam-backed there; this firm usually supplied material for car-seats or anorak linings, and we used it out of context.” (TV Zone 14) Brian Croucher was pleased with the results. “It was June Hudson who created the new uniform for me, and although I didn’t have anything to do with its design, I did like the look of it very much. It was a bit like a biker’s outfit wasn’t it? It certainly gave me a start on the character, and because it was such a tight fit, I immediately assumed a sort of physicalness. With the boots and the tight-fitting costume, I saw the character as being more of a man of action. Which I think also fitted in with his established character.” (Zenith)
Chris Boucher had written Weapon before Stephen Greif’s decision to leave the series and it had always been his intention to take the character in a new direction. He explained the rationale behind this in an interview with Alan Stevens in 1991. “Basically he was re-programmed. His brain had been tampered with in some fairly major way, and the only reason that any of the old Travis remained was because he was such a strong character. He resisted it. Arguably he was sent there in order to erase everything that had previously been Travis, except for his fundamental training and replace that with something more malleable. Plus, it was a punishment for failure. I suppose the mistake they made was that Travis was his training and if you wanted to retain the training, they retained a large chunk of Travis. What they did was damage what was there and the result was someone who was no longer as stable and as useful as he had previously been, someone who was dangerously unstable. Its entirely possible that the negative traits of his character, I mean negative from the point of view of what the Federation wanted from him, the negative more personal traits probably have became more prevalent. The personality ultimately became fractured because we needed an explanation for what were inevitably discontinuities when the character was recast.”
Director and crew
The director assigned to Weapon was George Spenton Foster who had extensive science fiction credentials. He had begun his career at the BBC as a call boy on The Quatermass Experiment in 1953. He worked his way up through the ranks and by 1965 he was associate producer on sci-fi anthology series Out of the Unknown for which he also directed a number of episodes. In 1977 he directed four episodes of Terry Nation’s Survivors and the Doctor Who serial Image of the Fendahl. The following year he directed another Doctor Who story, The Ribos Operation. He also directed episodes of Paul Temple, Barlow at Large, Sutherland’s Law, The Brothers and Dr. Finlay’s Casebook. He was given the job on Blake’s 7 based on the strength of his Doctor Who work. Brian Croucher found it particularly difficult working with Spenton-Foster who seemed to take an immediate dislike to him. According to Spenton-Foster's colleagues at the time, he generally regarded actors as "puppets" who should do what they were told. Spenton-Foster was inclined to be more lenient in this attitude with performers whom he liked. Chris Boucher was displeased at how Croucher was treated by the director. “Brian was never less than totally committed and totally enthusiastic, and he was ill served on a number of occasions by one particular director, George Spenton-Foster, I don't think there's any secret about it. They had very little sympathy with each other and it was unfortunate that George was the first director he had, and that was very bad news because Brian was quite nervous, understandably, coming into an established programme, into an established group, with an established character that he was supposed to take over and George was less than sympathetic.” His treatment of Croucher was in stark contrast to that of more favoured actors such as Scott Fredericks and Jacqueline Pearce, who were given far more leeway in terms of character interpretation. Croucher wasn’t the only one who didn’t enjoy working with the director as Michael Keating revealed to TV Zone. “Some of the second series I didn’t really enjoy. There was one director we had, I won’t mention who, but he had a double barrelled surname, and I couldn’t stand him! He was all right with me but I found him annoying.” Somehow we don’t think he was talking about Jonathan Wright Miller…
The main guest actor for Weapon was Scott Fredericks as Carnell who had previously appeared in Z Cars, Sutherland’s Law and Dixon of Dock Green. He had also appeared in the Doctor Who stories Day of the Daleks and Image of the Fendahl. In the latter he had worked with George Spenton Foster and this led to him getting the part of Carnell. In an interview with Alan Stevens in 2001 Fredericks revealed that he enjoyed playing the part enormously. “Of all the characters I have played this story contains my favourite, Carnell, the psychostrategist. He was exceptionally well conceived and all his scenes were wonderfully written. I was given no instruction on how Carnell should be played, so I suggested to George that being everyone else in the show was so gung-ho, and were rushing around the place being intense, it would be nice to play Carnell in a Noel Coward fashion. Lightly, with a bit of humour, in a knowing sort of way. Bordering on the camp, but not quite camp, but then the costume was camp enough, so I didn't have to do anything.” Cast as Coser was John Bennett who had a reputation for playing villainous characters and had appeared in The Forsyte Saga, Porridge, The Avengers, Survivors and The Saint. He had also appeared in the Doctor Who stories Invasion of the Dinosaurs and The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Film actress Kathleen Byron was cast as Clonemaster Fen. She was most famous for her role as a mad nun in Black Narcissus in 1948. Candace Glendenning was cast as Rashel. She had appeared in a number of horror films including Tower of Evil and Satan’s Slave. She had auditioned for the role of Jenna back in 1977. She went on to appear in Flesh and Blood and Angels but later retired from acting to raise a family.
This was one of the first episodes to be worked on by costume designer June Hudson. She had previously worked as a wardrobe supervisor on sitcom Till Death Us Do Part before rising to the position of costume designer on The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. Producer David Maloney instructed Hudson to create a look for the series that was as colourful and spectacular as the budget would allow. This was certainly something she achieved in Weapon which has a strong Japanese influence including large, elaborately decorated collars for Servalan, Coser, Rashel and Clonemaster Fen. Hudson recalled that some of the costumes caused a few raised eyebrows on the set. “We had John Bennett, who was playing the engineer, and he had a long velvet robe that was embossed all over in gold, and they said, ‘Well, where’s the engineer?’, and I said, ‘It’s him’, and there was this great roar of laughter. He was a bit like that character from Flash Gordon, with a huge collar.”
Perhaps the most infamous costume was the one she designed for Paul Darrow. The red leather suit proved problematic with producers, directors and Darrow himself. The original costume included conical spikes on the collar, which were intended to reflect the character's angry nature, but David Maloney insisted they were removed before shooting began. “I was very cross actually, when they were filming that story, because on Paul’s chest I put spikes across it. I had some leather cones made that went all the way around the back, and while I was in London designing the next episode, during the filming, the producer asked if they could be taken off and I was furious. The whole point of it that garment was its simplicity, and just these little cones going around it gave it that little touch, and when they took these spikes off, they damaged the leather, leaving marks, and I could never forget why David Maloney asked for those cones to be taken off. ‘He could scratch his ear with them,’ or something like that. One shouldn’t take it personally, and you’ve got to be able to take criticism, but at the same time, I felt that they enhanced the costume, and they only stuck up about an inch and a half.”
Hudson particularly liked designing for Jacqueline Pearce. “Servalan always wore white. We had a man who did the dress decorations, and he did the most fantastic jewellery for them which he incorporated into the fabric. (In Weapon) he did one that was all silver wires with crystals in it.” Hudson enjoyed revealing her creations to the production team and Weapon presented her with a particular chance to shine. “Our moment was in the studio with Jacqueline Pearce. We went into the studio on Saturdays, the dress would be finished on Friday, and David Maloney used to come to the last fitting. The writer, the director and the producer all used to come to the last fitting for a laugh, because there was Jacqueline and Scott Fredericks – the two of them in those frocks that were so glamorous and so outrageously Hollywood.” Fredericks was pleased with the costume he was given. "All but one of my scenes were with Jacqueline Pearce, a lovely person. I wore this long black cape and these fabulous boots, and she was dressed like a white Christmas tree. The two of us looked quite extraordinary together. I wanted to keep my costume after, but they wouldn't let me have it. I offered to buy it too. It was very expensive, but they wouldn't even entertain the idea. I think there was a scandal at the time. Someone in the BBC had stolen a lot of stuff, like bits of scenery and costumes, and was selling it. Eventually the costume department sent me a piece of braid on some cardboard. I still have it somewhere.”
Location filming took place at Rutherford Laboratories in Oxfordshire from Monday 14th to Wednesday 16th August, 1978. This location represented the abandoned base occupied by Coser and Rashel. Filming was completed back-to-back with Pressure Point, also directed by Spenton-Foster. Weapon was the third episode of the season to enter the studio. During the production of Series B, the BBC was often disrupted by industrial disputes and Weapon suffered particularly badly as a result. Spenton-Foster was determined to ‘beat the strike’ and he set about rushing the production through. Unfortunately this resulted in a rather rushed looking episode with a number of mistakes left in the final cut. Chris Boucher was exasperated by the director’s approach. “Who was it who said he’d written something so good even a talented director couldn’t ruin it? I wish it had been me, but sadly it wasn’t. It wasn’t even a very talented director who turned Weapon into a second-rate pantomime. It would’ve been bad enough if George Spenton Foster had camped it up carefully, but a strike was pending and, and stubbornly determined to finish the episode before it hit, he made the show in half the time allocated. Foster hated one cast member, and left him swinging in the wind, and he probably hated the script. And why not? By the time he’d finished with it, I certainly did.” (SFX 44) Recording commenced on Thursday 28th September in TC6 for the scenes in the Clonemasters’ chamber and Servalan’s office. The scenes in the rooms of the abandoned base were recorded the next day. The monster which attacked Coser and Rashel was described in the script as an enormous stag-beetle. Aware of the show’s budgetary limitations, Boucher indicated that only the mandibles would need to be shown on screen. By the time of recording the scene, this had been changed to a giant claw. Recording was completed on Saturday 30th September and this included all the scenes on the Liberator flight deck. Scenes for Pressure Point were recorded on the same day.
Dudley Simpson recorded the incidental music for the episode on Wednesday 15th November. A small scene of Blake and Jenna on the flight deck was edited out of the final cut. This was the episode with the lowest chart position on original UK transmission although it received a relatively healthy viewing figure of 6.4M.
RADIO TIMES: Something very secret and dangerous is stolen from the Federation Weapons Development Base. Blake sets out to find it before Servalan's security forces close in. But Servalan already has a secret weapon...
Fen - Kathleen Byron
Coser - John Bennett
Carnell - Scott Fredericks
Rashel - Candace Glendenning
Officer - Graham Simpson
Production Assistant - Michael Brayshaw
Production Unit Manager - Sheelagh Rees
Film Cameraman - Peter Chapman
Film Recordist - Ian Sansam
Film Editor - Sheila S. Tomlinson
Series Videotape Editors - Sam Upton (Uncredited), Malcolm Banthorpe (Uncredited)
Visual Effects Designer - Mat Irvine, Peter Pegrum
Electronic Effects - A.J. Mitchell
Studio Lighting - Brian Clemett
Studio Sound - Clive Gifford
Special Sound - Richard Yeoman-Clark
Costume Designer - June Hudson
Make Up Artist - Marianne Ford
Music By - Dudley Simpson
Series Devised By - Terry Nation