Travis is facing a court-martial, charged with the murder of one thousand four hundred and seventeen unarmed civilians on the planet Serkasta. Whilst he remained useful to Servalan she was prepared to ignore his previous misdemeanors but following the events of Pressure Point she has no hesitation in throwing him to the wolves. She also plans to make sure that the verdict is the one she requires by suborning Travis’ defence counsel Major Thania (Victoria Fairbrother).
It does seem slightly strange that Servalan decided to go to all the trouble of arranging a court-martial when she could have either simply ordered one of her troopers to put a bullet in Travis’ head or (as mentioned in Weapon) sent him to the slave pits on Ursa Prime. It’s a pity that Blakes 7‘s script editor couldn’t have liaised with the writers of Weapon and Trial. Oh wait ……
But although the reason for the court-martial does feel a little spurious, Trial is compelling since it asks us to consider the morality of the Federation in general. There’s no doubt that Travis committed the crime (although he pleads not guilty, for a reason we’ll come to later) but is his action typical of a Federation officer?
In Travis’ debut episode Seek Locate Destroy, Servalan was confronted by a junior officer who registered his disapproval that Travis had been reinstated into the corps. For him, Travis was a killer and someone who disgraced the uniform of a Federation officer. In Trial, the court-martial is conduced by Samor (John Savident) a highly respected officer (Thania calls him “a rule book officer of the old school.”) Are they more typical of the average Federation officer than Travis is?
On hand to observe events are Bercol (John Bryans) and Rontane (Peter Miles). Like a space-age Waldorf and Statler they exist to provide an ironic commentary on events.
RONTANE:One almost has to admire that woman.
BERCOL: What, Thania?
RONTANE: We know that she’s sending Travis to his death in order to keep his mouth shut, but she is doing it with such an impeccably honest and painstaking tribunal that her real motives can’t even be hinted at.
BERCOL: Has a date been set for the Blake inquiry?
RONTANE: Does it matter? Without Travis’ evidence the mishandling of the Blake affair becomes a matter of conjecture. The inquiry becomes a formality.
The idea that the court-martial has been convened to silence Travis before he can implicate Servalan in the inevitable enquiry that will no doubt shortly be held into the continuing inability to capture Blake is a compelling one, but as I’ve said it would have been easier to just quietly dispose of him.
Bryans and Miles are once again a great double-act in this, their second and final appearance.
Trooper Par (a slim-looking Kevin Lloyd) served with Travis for five years. He tells Thania that he could always guarantee that Travis would not “get you killed unnecessarily. He never wasted troopers.” He’s certain of Travis’ guilt though – he heard him give the order – but it’s telling that he doesn’t feel any personal responsibility (“he gave the order. We just did the shooting.”)
Given that the Nazis often featured in Terry Nation’s scripts (most famously disguised as the Daleks) it’s not a particular stretch to assume that Chris Boucher was also drawing parallels between Federation troopers and, say, SS soldiers (who would also no doubt insist they were only obeying orders).
Brian Croucher has said that he wished Trial had been his debut episode as it would have allowed him to get a much better grip on the character of Travis. He’s certainly very good throughout and is never better than the climatic scene where Travis offers his defence.
A field officer, like myself, is frequently required to make fast, unconsidered decisions. You were all field officers, you know that’s true. Time to think is a luxury battle seldom affords you. You react instinctively. Your actions, your decisions, all instinct, nothing more. But, an officer’s instincts are the product of his training. The more thorough the training, the more predictable the instinct, the better the officer. And I am a good officer. I have been in the service all my adult life. I’m totally dedicated to my duty and highly trained in how to perform it. On Serkasta I reacted as I was trained to react. I was an instrument of the service. So if I’m guilty of murder, of mass murder, then so are all of you!
It’s no surprise that Samor does not accept this. “Space Commander, we have considered your sentence at some length. Your contention that what happened on Serkasta was a direct result of your training concerned us greatly. We accept that you are trained to kill. As are we all. What we cannot accept is that this training leads inevitably to the murder of innocents. Your behavior was not that of a Federation officer, but rather that of a savage, unthinking, animal.”
Since Samor is never presented as an officer that Servalan could influence, this must be his honest opinion. If so (and if it’s also held by his brother officers) then it shows the Federation in a very different light from the unthinking murderers that Blake considers them to be. It’s therefore deeply ironic that Blake decides to attack Servalan’s headquarters (where Travis is being tried) partly to regain some confidence after the death of Gan.
His attack kills the majority of the people present at the trial (including the reasonable Samor) and allows Travis to escape. And as the credits roll, the question must be which was the greater crime? Travis’ murder of the unarmed civilians on Serkasta or Blake’s murder of the unarmed Federation personnel on Servalan’s base? Exactly how many are killed by Blake’s attack isn’t certain (although it’s presumably a lot less than Travis’ massacre) but it’s a uncomfortable possibilty that the scene was designed to show that Blake and Travis aren’t that far apart.
As for Blake himself, he also finds himself on trial in this episode – although in his case it’s a self-imposed one. He spends most of the time having an odd adventure with a creature called Zil (Clare Lewis). This would be a strange interlude in any story but it really jars here when it interrupts the drama of Travis’ trial.
Avon, of course, gets some good lines at Blake’s expense – such as this one, after Blake announces his plan to teleport down to the planet alone. “It occurs to me that if you should run into trouble, one of your followers – one of your three remaining followers – might have to risk his neck to rescue you.”
Following Gan’s death there had to be some pause for reflection, but it doesn’t last long and by the end of the episode everyone pretty much carries on as before. This might seem a bit callous or it could just be that Gan was someone who was tolerated by the others as a work-colleague might be, rather than a close friend.
Minus points for the episode ending on a shot of Avon and Blake laughing after a rather weak joke. Not only for the sub-Star Trek feeling but also because it feels a tad inappropriate after they’ve just killed so many people. A similar thing happened at the end of Breakdown though, so maybe it’s a running theme that I’ve not picked up on before.