Blakes 7 – Star One

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There are two key scenes in Star One – both of which take place on the Liberator during the opening minutes.  The first demonstrates Avon’s wish to end his association with Blake.

AVON: We can take Star One, let’s get on with it.
JENNA: Very stirring. When did you become a believer?
AVON: Are you just going to sit there? You have led them by the nose before.
BLAKE: Excuse me, are you going to answer her question?
AVON: Show me someone who believes in anything and I will show you a fool.
BLAKE: I meant what I said on Goth, Avon. We are not going to use Star One to rule the Federation, we are going to destroy it.
AVON: I never doubted that. I never doubted your fanaticism. As far as I am concerned you can destroy whatever you like. You can stir up a thousand revolutions, you can wade in blood up to your armpits. Oh, and you can lead the rabble to victory, whatever that might mean. Just so long as there is an end to it. When Star One is gone it is finished, Blake. And I want it finished. I want it over and done with. I want to be free.
CALLY: But you are free now, Avon.
AVON: I want to be free of him.
BLAKE: I never realised. You really do hate me, don’t you?

Blake agrees that Avon will take him back to Earth after the destruction of Star One and that the Liberator will then be Avon’s.  This is a pointer towards the general direction that series three will take.  With Blake absent it wouldn’t have been credible for Avon to simply inherit his crusading zeal, so we see a shift towards more SF stories and less battles with the Federation (the balance changes again in series four).  Paul Darrow is excellent in this scene and it easily demonstrates that he’s more than capable of carrying the series.

Even more fascinating is the following exchange between Blake and Cally.

CALLY: Are we fanatics?
BLAKE: Does it matter?
CALLY: Many, many people will die without Star One.
BLAKE: I know.
CALLY: Are you sure that what we’re going to do is justified?
BLAKE: It has to be. Don’t you see, Cally? If we stop now then all we have done is senseless killing and destruction. Without purpose, without reason. We have to win. It’s the only way I can be sure that I was right.

This is such a key moment, as it shines a very cold and clear light on Blake and his convictions.  Earlier in the episode Servalan is shown examples of what happens when Star One fails – droughts, storms, terrible devastation, etc.  If Blake destroys Star One then these disasters will just be the tip of the iceberg.  Can any cause possibly justify this loss of life?  It’s hard to agree with Blake that it does – his sole motive for continuing is because he’s gone too far down the road of freedom fighter/terrorist (delete as applicable) to stop now.  It seems a monumentally poor reason for such wholesale destruction.

As we’ll see, Blake doesn’t destroy Star One.  Aliens have infiltrated the complex and the Liberator finds itself allied with a fleet of Federation ships in a desperate attempt to stop a massive alien invasion.  It’s possible to argue that the unexpected appearance of aliens is something of a cop-out.  The Federation in series three is shown to be in disarray following the battle with the aliens and had Blake destroyed Star One there would have been a similar amount of disruption.

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Star One is manned by a small number of Federation personnel, most of whom have been replaced by the shape-shifting aliens.  This makes no sense – we’re told nobody ever visits, so why didn’t the aliens simply kill everybody and then take over?  It’s also not clear why Star One has been failing recently – were these problems caused by the aliens or was Star One starting to run down of its own accord?

It also seems that quite a few events have been happening off-screen – when did Travis decide to ally himself with the aliens and why should he now wish to destroy all humanity?  He’s always been more than a little unstable, but this sudden desire to kill everybody doesn’t really sit with what we’ve previously seen.

With Gareth Thomas’ departure it was decided that Travis’ main function in the series was over.  And it’s difficult not to raise a cheer as Avon finally kills him off and sends him spinning down a very deep hole (via some very unconvincing CSO).  The problems with Travis during series two weren’t all down to Brian Croucher, but there’s no doubt that Travis’ death is a mercy killing (both for himself and the audience).

We end with a cliffhanger as Avon leads the Liberator in an apparently hopeless battle against the oncoming alien fleet.  There’s one final moment between Blake and Avon (“Avon, for what it is worth, I have always trusted you, from the very beginning.”) and then the credits roll.

After some wobbles in the second half of the season (Hostage, Countdown, Voice from the Past, The Keeper) Star One manages to close the second run on a high.  It’s a very talky episode, with little in the way of impressive visuals or effects (the alien fleet looks to be cobbled together from whatever was lying around the Special Effects workshop for example).  But the dialogue heavy nature of the story isn’t a problem as it allows all the regulars a chance to shine.

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Blakes 7 – The Keeper

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The Keeper isn’t a story that has a great deal going for it.  The setting is the planet Goth and its inhabitants, led by Gola (Bruce Purchase), clearly favour a faux-medieval feel (plenty of flickering torches and over-ripe dialogue).

Purchase, who’d played the Captain in the Doctor Who story The Pirate Planet shortly before, approaches this role with a similar lack of subtlety.  But whilst there was slightly more to the Captain than initially was apparent, Gola is just a blustering fool who spends his time shouting – it’s almost as if he’d taken lessons from Brian Blessed.

Blake, Vila and Jenna teleport down to find the brainprint of cyber-surgeon Lurgen.  Once they have that they’ll be able to establish the location of Star One.  Avon asks Blake what they’ll do once they know where Star One is.

BLAKE: Finish what we started.
AVON: Destroy it?
BLAKE: Of course. And the entire Federation with it. Does that bother you suddenly?
AVON: Star One is the automatic computer control centre for the entire Federation.
BLAKE: Get to the point, Avon.
AVON: That is the point. Through Star One we could control everything. The Federation could belong to us.
VILA: I could be president.
AVON: Ah.

Blake and the others are only on the planet’s surface for a few minutes before they’re overpowered – it’s a remarkably inept display by Blake (strategic planning has never been one of his strengths).  Vila and Jenna are carried off whilst they leave Blake behind (why?).  Blake urgently requests teleport, but Avon and Cally have moved out of teleport range in order to destroy Travis’ ship.

How Avon manages to identify the ship as Travis’ is never explained – surely there must be others in the galaxy that are similar?  It probably won’t come as a surprise that Travis wasn’t on board – he and Servalan are both on Goth.  Their on/off working relationship is now back on and Travis is in a remarkably mellow mood as he attempts to forge a more permanent alliance with Servalan.

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TRAVIS: Look, Star One is the computer control centre. It controls the climate on more than two hundred worlds, communications, security, food production, it controls them all. It is the key to our very lives. Think of all that power.
SERVALAN: You can see why the Council themselves don’t know where Star One is. In the wrong hands …
TRAVIS: Yes, but in the right hands: yours and mine.
SERVALAN: Be very careful you don’t overreach yourself, Travis.

One part of the story that does work very well is Travis’ contribution to it.  It seems obvious that he’ll be around for the duration, tangling with Blake and the others, but about twenty minutes in he disappears and it slowly becomes clear that he’s not coming back.  He’s already found Star One’s location and not only has he betrayed Servalan but as the next episode makes clear he’s betrayed the whole human race …..

A quick mention for his personal communicator, which is the size of several house-bricks (almost like the most primitive mobile phone).  Considering that Kirk and the Enterprise had pocket sized communicators a decade earlier you’d have imagined B7 could have done something similar. It’s hard to imagine him putting that into his pocket!

Whilst Blake runs around achieving very little, Jenna and Vila are making the acquaintance of Gola.  Vila becomes the King’s fool, supplanting his existing one (played by Cengiz Saner) whilst Jenna immediately attracts Gola’s attention.  It’s a good thing that The Keeper gives Sally Knyvette something to do, it’s a bad thing that she has to spend her time as the object of Gola’s attentions.  But Knyvette does manage to mine some comic moments from this fairly unpromising material.

Elsewhere, Blake meets Rod (Shaun Curry) who is Gola’s brother and plans to challenge him for the throne.  It won’t come as surprise that Rod is a bluff and hearty fellow (he’s not quite in the Purchase/Blessed camp for loudness, but he comes close).

Blake also runs into an old man locked in the dungeon (played by Arthur Hewlett) who turns out to be Gola and Rod’s father – and so is the old, disposed king.  Hewlett’s performance is notable for his moaning (he may be playing for laughs or he may not, I can’t be sure).  Also eschewing any subtlety is Freda Jackson as Tara, Gola’s sister.  She can cackle with the best of them and when she’s not doing that she maintains a baleful watch over the unfolding events.

Eventually (thank goodness) Blake discovers the location of Star One, which means we can happily leave the planet of Goth far behind and journey onwards to the climax of series two.

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Blakes 7 – Gambit

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Gambit is an unusual story, certainly for the series to date.  Robert Holmes’ script is laced with his usual love of wordplay and the camp quotient is set to eleven.  Krantor (Aubrey Woods) and Toise (John Leeson) are an unforgettable double-act – both actors seem to delight in upstaging the other (not least with their costumes – Leeson’s headgear is especially memorable).

There’s a throwaway line that it’s Mardi Gras time at Freedom City, which explains why they’re dressed as they are – and presumably all the extras (dressed as clowns, nuns, etc) are entering into the spirit of the occasion as well.  Or their costumes could have just been pulled off the shelves – this is Blakes 7, so it’s always a fair bet that money was tight.

The lack of a decent budget is probably best reflected in the main room of Freedom City’s casino, which is pretty sparsely decorated.  So what funds were available seem to have been spent on a handful of new costumes (especially Servalan’s stunning red number).

Servalan, and her assistant Jarriere (Harry Jones), have travelled to Freedom City to find both Travis and cyber-surgeon Docholli (Denis Carey).  It’s believed that Docholli knows the location of Star One – so Servalan is anxious to locate him before Blake does.  She offers Krantor a substantial sum of money in exchange for his co-operation, but whilst they’re perfectly pleasant to each other on the surface it’s plain that neither trusts or likes the other an inch.

Servalan on Krantor.  “He is a despicable animal. When the Federation finally cleans out this cesspit, I shall have that vulpine degenerate eviscerated with a small and very blunt knife.”

Krantor on Servalan.  “One of these days, Toise, I am going to have Supreme Commander high-and-mighty Servalan ravaged until she does not know what month she’s in. I’ll have her screaming for death.”

This is typical Holmes, although it’s a little surprising that Krantor’s wish to ravage Servalan made it to the screen.  He always delighted in putting lurid dialogue into his scripts and sometimes (especially when Terrance Dicks was script-editing his work on Doctor Who) the more extreme examples were excised.  Here, it seems that Chris Boucher was happy to keep them in (unless of course he removed even worse!)

If Krantor and Toise are a great double-act, then so are Servalan and Jarriere.  Harry Jones couldn’t have looked less like a Federation trooper if he tried, but maybe this is why he was cast.  Jarriere is present mainly to listen admiringly to Servalan’s increasingly convoluted plans about how she intends to deal with both Docholli and Travis.  Delightfully, after she’s explained herself in great detail he then admits he doesn’t understand a word of it!

The third excellent double-act in the story are Avon and Vila.  Homes had already latched onto the comic possibilities of teaming them up in Killer and he wastes no time in doing so here as well.  Their subplot is a little bizarre, but it fits into the odd nature of the story.

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Both are aggrieved at having to remain behind on the Liberator with Vila complaining that “if it was a desert down there, so hot your eyeballs frizzled, poisonous snakes under every rock” then Blake would have sent the pair of them.  Avon agrees and then decides they should teleport down and break the bank at the casino.

Why they should want to do this (the Liberator possesses untold wealth) is never made clear, plus the concept of Avon sneaking down is also bizarre – it’s difficult to imagine he cares that Blake would disapprove.  Some of his dialogue (“you dummy”) seems out of character too.

Avon and Vila intend to win a fortune at the roulette table with the aid of Orac.  But since Orac’s rather bulky, after a brief discussion about molecular reduction the computer obligingly reduces himself to one eighth of his normal size.  You can either enjoy the comic moment or fret that the episode once again isn’t taking itself seriously.

Blake, Cally and Jenna’s search for Docholli doesn’t last very long (they find a trace of him in the first bar they come to) so they don’t really have a great deal to do.  Jenna and Cally’s brief staged cat-fight is easily the highlight of their scenes.  Travis skulks about, wearing a silly hat, guarding Docholli as he knows that Blake will turn up to find the surgeon (although how Travis knows about Docholli is never explained).

Thanks to Orac, Vila wins a fortune but then finds himself conned into playing speed chess with the Klute (Deep Roy).  If he wins or draws he’ll earn another fortune, but it he loses it’ll cost him his life.  Naturally with Orac on hand to whisper suggestions, Vila manages to earn a draw and he and Avon return to the Liberator a good deal richer.

Blake, Cally and Jenna have returned too, with information that will send them off to the planet Goth to locate a tribal chief who wears the brain-print of someone who knew the location of Star One around his neck. When Blake asks Avon and Vila if anything’s happened he’s immediately suspicious by the sight of their innocent expressions (Darrow deadpans terribly well).

If you like your Blakes 7 on the gritty side, then Gambit may not appeal but everyone else should find something to enjoy here.

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Blakes 7 – Voice from the Past

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Where to start with Voice from the Past?  There’s some good ideas in Roger Parkes’ script but ultimately the story is incoherent and illogical.  It does have a decent opening hook though – Blake starts acting oddly and changes course from the idyllic sounding Del Ten to a lifeless asteroid called PK One One Eight.  He offers no explanation, beyond “try trusting me.”  Paul Darrow has the best of the early exchanges especially when he decides that Blake is “certainly not normal, not even for Blake.”

This is somewhat ironic, since Blake’s command style has so often kept everyone in the dark whilst he formulated elaborate plans that sometimes (as in Pressure Point) end in disaster.  So his behaviour here isn’t particularly out of character, though Cally picks up a faint tone oscillation which suggests somehow he’s being manipulated.

With the unstable Blake under restraint it falls to Vila to look after him.  Bad move.  It recalls a similar scene in Breakdown, where Gan was restrained and Cally was monitoring him.  Both Gan and Blake appeared quite normal and asked to be freed, but Vila proves much more gullible than Cally was – he not only releases him but also swallows his story that Avon and Cally have been plotting against the rest of them.  This whole part of the story does no favours at all for Vila, since it portrays him as an easily duped simpleton.

With Avon, Cally and Jenna locked up, Vila teleports Blake down to the surface of the asteroid.  The opening shot of Blake on the asteroid’s surface is a stunning example of incredibly poor CSO – not helped by the fact that the background image seems to have been drawn by a child.  Things then get stranger still when he meets the people who have summoned him.

Ven Glynd (Richard Bebb) was the arbiter at Blake’s trial, but he’s now defected from the Federation and has in his possession information which he claims will bring down both the civil administration and the space corps.  Also present is a broken, bandaged figure who we’re told is Shivan, a notable resistance leader.

Sadly Robert James wasn’t able to reprise his role as Ven Glynd, so Richard Bedd stepped into the part.  Whilst he’s not as compelling an actor as James, he still manages to do his best and there are the odd signs of just how wily an operator Ven Glynd is (he wants Blake to rule as a puppet leader whilst he enjoys the real power).  Glynd asks Blake and the others to accompany him to the Governor’s Summit Meeting at Atlay.  There, along with a powerful ally, Governor Le Grand (Freda Knorr), they will present their evidence.

One of the most obvious plot-flaws is why Ven Glynd and Le Grand should attempt to manipulate Blake by beaming messages into his mind.  Why not just contact the Liberator direct?  The most obvious answer is that they’re not telling the truth, but although they have agendas both are honest in what they want Blake to do – so why attempt to brainwash him, when he probably would have agreed to help anyway?

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Le Grand explains to Blake what will happen and that they want him to be the new ruler of the Terran administration.

LE GRAND: For years now, the Arbiter General and I have prepared for this moment. He gathering evidence of the Administration’s infamies, while I lobbied the support of my fellow governors. However, we could not challenge and discredit the Administration until we had found an alternative leadership, capable of uniting all factions.
BLAKE: Well, you, Governor.
LE GRAND: No. He who leads must be from Earth. Someone of renowned integrity, someone who has become a legend of hope to the great mass of the oppressed. A messiah.

It all comes to nothing though, since Servalan has been pulling the strings all along.  Shivan is really Travis in disguise(!) and Servalan seems to have allowed Ven Glynd and Le Grand to hatch their plot just so she can enjoy crushing their feeble attempt at rebellion in the most dramatic way.  Again, this doesn’t make much sense – why not simply arrest Ven Glynd and Le Grand?  Even if the evidence wasn’t particularly strong we’ve seen how the Federation can easily trump up charges, so the only possible reason for letting them live was so Servalan could enjoy their ultimate humiliation.

As for Shivan really being Travis …. words almost fail me, but it’s an undeniably enjoyable piece of very bad acting.  His initial scene is notable for the appearance of two of the most familiar faces from this era of television – highly experienced walk-ons Harry Fielder and Pat Gorman (who between them racked up hundreds of television and film credits).  They don’t do anything, but their presence is remarkably comforting.

Gareth Thomas struggles somewhat in this one.  Blake’s sudden mood swings would be difficult for any actor to cope with, so I wouldn’t want to be too hard on him.  Paul Darrow gets some great lines and makes the most of them whilst Michael Keating isn’t best served with a script that turns him into a credulous fool.

Jan Chappell and Sally Knyvette both have a little more to do in this episode.  Especially Jenna, who agrees (rather reluctantly) to undergo dual therapy with Blake in order to probe the reason for his erratic behaviour.  But Brian Croucher need not have taken part at all – Travis serves no useful function in the story which means that Shivan might just as well have been the man he claimed he was.  Jacqueline Pearce’s role is quite small, but her scene at the end (as her image is presented in widescreen) is a memorable one.

Not an episode you could say is actually good, but it’s certainly never dull.

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Blakes 7 – Hostage

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Hostage was something of a troubled production.  Duncan Lamont had been cast as Ushton but he died after completing the location filming, necessitating a remount with John Aberini stepping into the part.

The episode opens brightly enough though, with the Liberator coming under attack from a mass of Federation ships.  The unnamed Federation commander (played by Andrew Robertson) seems close to destroying the Liberator, but Blake and the others just manage to sneak away.

The all-out attack does contradict the likes of Project Avalon, which saw Servalan insistent that the Liberator had to be captured, not destroyed.  But if her objectives have now changed it does beg the question as to why she hasn’t ordered attacks of this magnitude before, as it’s clear they stand a good chance of succeeding.

Servalan is seen to be under some pressure in this episode.  It was hinted in Trial that the enquiry into the continuing inability of the Federation to catch Blake could be damaging for her and the visit of Councillor Joban (Kevin Stoney) restates this.  He’s only onscreen for a few minutes but it’s a pleasure to watch Stoney at work, especially since Hostage tends to be blessed with fairly indifferent performances from the guest stars.  John Aberini was a fine actor, but his part was rather limited.

There’s another lapse in continuity during the following exchange between Servalan and Joban –

JOBAN: Some members of the council are concerned. Many of our citizens now know of Blake’s activities, and those of the renegade Travis.
SERVALAN: But there have been no public spacecasts on either Travis or Blake.
JOBAN: People talk, Servalan. There’s no way of stopping them.
SERVALAN: This is a major breach of security. The punishment is total. Who are these people who have been talking? I want their names, councillor.
JOBAN: All sorts of citizens from Alphas to labour grades know of Blake’s defiance of the Federation. They talk of him as a sort of hero, many of them.
SERVALAN: What rubbish.
JOBAN: His men impede progress and more importantly order. Order, order Servalan. It is all that matters.

It seems strange that Servalan should react with surprise to the news that Blake has become something of a hero, since she’s commented on this fact several times before.  Only a minor point, but it does appear that Chris Boucher’s attention was elsewhere when this script was written.

Following the attack on the Liberator, Blake is surprised to receive a message from Travis.  He’s on the planet Exbar and he is holding Blake’s cousin Inga (Judy Buxton) hostage.  He asks Blake to come to Exbar to talk and maybe join forces – if he doesn’t, the girl will die.

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Five of the last six stories of series two feature Travis and that’s at least two too many.  Hostage is one of the episodes when it would have been nice to take a break from Travis’ painfully obvious villainy (and Brian Croucher’s not at his best in this one anyway) but it wasn’t to be.

The notion that Travis might be interested in teaming up with Blake was a fascinating one which I’m sorry wasn’t developed.  With them now both renegades it would have made sense – plus it would have provided the later stories with a great deal of dramatic tension.  But Travis (as might be expected) wasn’t really interested in an alliance – he merely wanted to steal the Liberator.

What happened to his Muto crew from the end of the last episode is never made clear, instead he’s recruited a number of crimos (criminal psychopaths).  They’re hardly the most threatening bunch – despite the odd half-hearted attempt to show how truly evil they are (slapping the unfortunate Inga, for example).

Also present on Exbar is Ushton, Blake’s uncle.  It’s revealed early on that he’s working with Travis (who’s agreed not to hurt Inga if he co-operates).  His betrayal of Blake is rather pointless as Blake was coming to meet Travis anyway.  John Aberini does his best, but Ushton isn’t much of a part and his mild betrayal is later forgotten when he and the others battle with Travis and the crimos.

Forty four minutes into the episode, Blake, Avon and Ushton send a number of the most painfully obvious polystyrene rocks ever seen on film down a slope to frighten away Travis and the crimos.  It’s a moment that never fails to amuse – not least for the crimo who runs away with his hands high in the air.  The scene where they throw a crimo down a cliff (so obviously a dummy) is comedy gold as well.

Yet another odd lack of continuity occurs when Travis asks Ushton which of the three members of the Liberator crew he holds prisoner (Blake, Avon, Vila) is the weakest.  Travis has been pursuing them all for some considerable time, can we really believe he didn’t know the strengths and weaknesses of all of them?

The final scene is nice though, with Jenna very huffy towards Blake.  This always seems to happen whenever he meets or talks to an attractive woman, clearly her unrequited love remains unrequited.

But all in all this is a somewhat forgettable episode.  The brief meeting between Servalan and Travis at the end is possibly the most significant moment.  He asks if they’re still enemies and she replies that “officially, yes. Unofficially, you lead me to Blake whenever you can. If you help me get him I’ll see you officially listed as dead. There’s no one as free as a dead man.”

Although his next appearance (in Voice from the Past) shows him working closely with Servalan, which is a far cry from how matters were left here.  Maybe that’s another case of slightly inconsistent script-editing.

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Blakes 7 – Trial

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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:Servalan.
BERCOL: Oh.
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.

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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.

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Blakes 7 – Pressure Point

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Whilst the initial reason for scripting Pressure Point was borne out of necessity (Gan had to be written out) in the end it proved to be something of a watershed for the show.  Since the start of series one we’ve seen that Blake is a far from infallible character –  he may have positive qualities which mark him out as a natural leader but his decision making can often be deeply flawed.

This is shown most brutally in this episode.  Blake has returned the Liberator to Earth – to howls of protest from everybody except Cally.  She, like Blake, is a fanatic.  They value their own personal safety far less than the cause they’re fighting for – you know that either would be only too willing to sacrifice their life and become a martyr.  But Avon, Jenna and Vila don’t share their burning intensity – they might be happy to ally themselves to Blake, but personal preservation is never far from their minds.

And what of Gan?  We can say for certain that he’s always been (with the odd exception, such as Shadow) one of Blake’s most staunchest allies.  But it’s possible to consider that his frequent shows of support for were designed mainly to allow Avon to score cheap points at their expense.  Blake would announce a risky scheme, Gan would give him his whole-hearted support, Avon would roll his eyes and mutter something disparaging along the lines that only someone as stupid as Gan could ever think it was a good idea.

Blake tells the others the reason for returning to Earth. “Two hundred years ago, when the Federation began expansion and conquest, the Administration established a computer complex to monitor information: political, civil, military – everything. That computer is the nerve center of ALL Federation activity. Smashing that would be the biggest single step toward the destruction of their power. I don’t think they would ever recover from it.”

This seems not dissimilar to the space control complex on Saurian Major as seen in Time Squad.  That was also seen by Blake as a vital part of the Federation’s empire – although after he destroyed it there seemed to be no change at all to the smooth running of the Federation.

Coming fresh to Pressure Point, and especially if you’re aware of Terry Nation’s history as a writer, it would be reasonable to assume that Control on Earth would be similar to the space control complex on Saurian Major – just a MacGuffin which exists for the sole purpose of giving the Liberator crew something to attack.  They teleport down, shoot some guards, lay some explosive charges and teleport back up – job done.

But this doesn’t happen.  Control is an empty shell designed to lure people like Blake into a trap and the moment of revelation is a stunning one.  Blake falls to his knees, speechless, whilst Travis explains.  “You see, it’s the great illusion, Blake. You give substance and credibility to an empty room, and the real thing becomes undetectable, virtually invisible.”

The only thing worse than Blake having risked all their lives for nothing is that Gan dies as they make their escape.  And it’s the complete pointlessness of his death which is striking .  Nation could have scripted a story where Gan dies a heroic death – saving Blake and the others – instead the last shot we see of his lifeless body is deliberately anti-heroic.

It’s a far cry from, say, Planet of the Daleks (a 1973 Nation-scripted Doctor Who adventure).  In that story we see various Thals die during the course of the six episodes and each time the Doctor is on hand to deliver a short moral homily.  The Doctor’s speeches were intended to demonstrate that the Thals didn’t die in vain – they were sacrificing themselves for the greater good.  No such comfort can be drawn from Pressure Point though.  Gan did die in vain – there’s no two ways about it.

Although George Spenton-Foster (something of a bogey-man for Brian Croucher) directed this one, Croucher does seem more settled as Travis.  There’s far less of the histrionics we saw in Shadow and a touch more of the calculating Travis of old.  Possibly this is because he’s convinced that the plan to capture Blake is such a good one.

The focus is slightly more on Servalan though, thanks to her interaction with Kasabi (Jane Sherwin).  Kasabi is the rebel leader who Blake intends to contact – without her help he won’t be able to breach the outer defences.  Servalan and Travis capture her, but she proves uncooperative.  Kasabi’s previous relationship with Servalan helps to shine something of a light on the Supreme Commander.  “Don’t try and browbeat me Servalan. Or have you forgotten that I knew you as a cadet? You were a credit to your background: spoilt, idle, vicious. My confidential assessment listed her as unfit for command.  But I forgot how well-connected she was.”

As Kasabi doesn’t survive the interrogation it’s lucky that Servalan and Travis have an alternative – Kasabi’s daughter Veron (Yolande Palfrey).  This was a fairly early credit for Palfrey (who died far too young in 2011) and she’s not always entirely convincing (although we could be charitable and say this is because she was feeling the pressure of being a traitor to the cause).

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It’s notable that when Blake and the others find her it’s Gan who’s the most solicitous.  This may be a decision from Nation to bulk up his part (too little, too late if so) or it could be a nod back to Project Avalon which saw Gan rather taken with the android Avalon.  Poor Gan, never a good judge of females (real or manufactured) it would seem.

I do have to mention Jacqueline Pearce’s dress (as seen in the first picture).  Not very practical, but it’s certainly memorable.

Another point of interest is an exchange between Blake and Avon before they launch the attack.  Avon rather surprises Blake by giving him his full support, but Avon being Avon there’s a reason behind it.  “If we succeed, if we destroy Control, the Federation will be at its weakest. It will be more vulnerable than it has been for centuries. The revolt in the Outer Worlds will grow. The resistance movements on Earth will launch an all-out attack to destroy the Federation. They will need unifying. They will need a leader. YOU will be the natural choice.”

With Blake unifying the resistance, Avon will take over the Liberator.  As we’ll see, this is something that will ultimately come to pass …..

But not for a little while as Blake’s defeat here will only intensify his desire to find the true location of Control.  This will form a loose running thread which will carry on until the the conclusion of series two – Star One.

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