Having given us moonscapes, haunted planets, webbed forests and space opera, Terry Nation gives us an ice planet in Project Avalon. So cold, in fact, even Travis admits to being unsettled in the opening moves of another of his slow-burn traps for Blake.
His plan involves kidnapping Avalon, another resistance leader like Blake. This is the first time we see any signs of significant resistance to the Federation – and we will later hear how news of Blake and the Liberator is fomenting rebellion throughout the galaxy.
There have been two attempts on Servalan’s life. “Hope,” says Servalan, “is very dangerous.” The dialogue between Jackie Pearce and Stephen Greif is packed with little gestures and tics, particularly as Servalan details disquiet at Travis’ lack of success in killing Blake.
For the first time Travis seems to be on shaky ground. His repeated failures seem to be adding up – and getting to him. By the end of the episode he seems momentarily to have slipped his moorings.
We also see more of the complicated relationship between the Space Commander and Servalan. At times they follow the traditional hierarchy, though Servalan affords Travis her utmost confidence and respect.
Yet at times she appears to defer to him – or Travis’ instincts run counter to the chain of command. Here he overrules Servalan, as the latter is about to order an evacuation of the complex. In Seek-Locate-Destroy he talks so candidly with Servalan, with the merest hints of contempt, that it is not clear with whom the upper hand lies.
Servalan’s appearances in the first season of Blake’s 7 are nothing as to what comes next. But already we can see what a dangerous customer she is: flirtatious, yet ruthless. Her arrival – throwing off her fur cloak for a Mutoid to pick up – is a nice touch here and Pearce does far more with the character than is always on the page.
There’s another dynamic developing in Project Avalon, between Cally and Avon. There are three specific moments in the episode where the two share meaningful moments that convey humour, antagonism and tenderness.
We also see that Jenna and Cally have moved on from their initially fractious relationship – perhaps because Cally is no longer a threat to Jenna in Blake’s affections – and the two show warmth and respect to one another. Avon continues to essay barbs at his shipmates, but there’s little spite in them.
We also get to see the computer expert in charge of the Liberator in the absence of Blake and Jenna – the latter is clearly identified by the crew as the Number Two at this stage, on the Liberator flight deck at least.
Project Avalon is stylistically similar to Seek-Locate-Destroy in its action-adventure narrative and also in that we see the Liberator crew acting as a realistic resistance force. We also get more of Blake’s undoubted strengths and weaknesses as a guerilla leader. Needing to gain access to the control centre he simply improvises and bluffs his way into reaching the imprisoned Avalon.
But, once more, Blake leads his crew into mortal danger through lack of planning. The crew escape, as Jenna says, because they are lucky. Yet not in the sense she means. Had Blake’s raid been met with maximum force it’s hard to see how any of them would have escaped.
Yet Blake is the only one who sees through Travis’ plan, because he instinctively knows something is wrong. Working from the principle of the dud gun he quickly realises that one of Chevner or Avalon is not who they appear. With the android Avalon detected, Blake comes up with an elegant plan to free the real Avalon using the unique skills of his crew.
In most of his dealings with Travis, Blake frequently seems almost amused – communicating his contempt through a sort of whimsical ambivalence. So it proves here – and Blake conveys a similar disregard for Servalan, whom he knows – although he has never previously met her. For him it’s never personal: The Federation is the enemy; Travis and Servalan are mere ciphers.
The crew might not quite take the role of terrorists here, but they do kill a lot of people without the slightest hesitation or squeamishness. We even see Blake snapping the neck of a Federation guard while gaining access to the cells. In addition to destroying an entire spaceship in Mission To Destiny, here we see Blake happy to condemn an entire base to a grisly death.
No wonder Servalan stops Travis from calling Blake’s bluff on releasing the virus. Just as she is quietly, casually – even charmingly – ruthless, so is Blake. Not so unalike. Servalan recognises it the second she sees him.