Probic Vent Ood For Thought

17Mar/180

Blake’s 7 – Duel: “No Victory For Either Side”

travis and blake

Terry Nation was a hack par excellence. The term has come to be inferred by some as an insult, but it is nothing of the sort. Instead it's recognition of professionalism, the ability to write tightly, efficiently - to recycle material while creating something original and engaging. In Duel, Nation's hackery is perhaps more evident than usual.

To plot owes much to a familiar genre trope, the most frequently cited examples of which is the Stat Trek episode, Arena: a battle to the death between two foes. In Duel we have perhaps the best representation of the low regard in which Travis and Blake hold one another - and the very different ways in which they choose to express it.

sinofar blake's 7 duel

The framing device of an ancient civilisation wiped out by an atomic holocaust is another set-piece straight out of the Nation playbook.

The atmosphere in Duel can't pass without comment. As usual Douglas Camfield brings an urgency and edge to direction - and creates a wonderfully ethereal atmosphere in the opening scenes, another detour for Blake's 7 into fantasy sci-fi territory.

sinofar giroc blake's 7 duel

Combined with the vaguely dreamlike ambiance of the episode - is it real or in some sort of dreamscape? - it makes for notably different episode of Blake's 7 to what's gone before.

There are rather more close-ups on individual actors in Duel, with plenty of focus pulls - and rather more thought has gone into how to block out the tricky Liberator flight-deck scenes. Notable shots include Blake's identification of pursuit ships, followed by the camera pulling back to allows Jenna and gan to share the frame.

blake duel

Travis gets several close-ups that allow Stephen Greif to shade in some more of his character's drives and instincts. And perhaps the most telling if Avon's smile and slow headshake as he realises Blake won't kill Travis.

Adding to this is the music, or rather the special musical effects that combine sound design with music here, created using stock music due to Camfield's refusal to work with Dudley Simpson. While the composer's work is one of Blake's 7's trademarks, Duel certainly benefits from a change in tone.

the liberator blake's 7

The escalating echoes as Travis pounds The Liberator with plasma bolts and the oppressive music concrete that accompanies any of the scenes on the planets are effective in moving Blake's 7 outside of its usual ambiance.

So too the level of violence. When Travis yanks back Blake's head and puts a huge knife to his exposed throat, ready to kill him, it's a startling moment. Similarly eye-catching is the moment the Mutoid extends a syringe towards Jenna's throat, ready to drain her blood.

travis and mutoid

The fight scenes are much more convincing here too, in terms of space and ground combat. Bested by Blake Travis is happy to discard the dead Mutoid, like a broken doll, in another display of his offhand brutality.

When Travis is asked by Servalan about his predilection for working with Mutoids in Seek-Locate-Destroy his answer is not wholly convincing. Stephen Greif does allow Travis some small inflections of fascination, disgust and even a sadistic pleasure in teasing the Mutoid with whom he works in this episode.

travis duel blake's 7

It suggests that Travis is somehow simultaneously repelled and drawn to them - perhaps, as he suggests himself, he feels vaguely akin to them. But it has certainly crossed his mind that the Mutoid might come to view him as a source of fresh blood - a reflection of the popular view of Mutoids as vampires.

There is more interesting character work here. Blake, Avon and Gan are clearly identified as the parent figures here, who choose to leave the others to their bickering. Towards the end of the episode Blake teases Jenna, asking her about the beauty of Sinofar, and shares a laugh with Gan. The big man and Vila jibe at Avon, who is back to his withering self following Mission To Destiny.

avon duel blake's 7

If Blake has learned anything by the end of Duel, despite having refused to kill Travis, it is not evident. Despite the warning that his crew could die because of his beliefs, he is still determined to destroy the Federation.

The only difference between Blake and Travis is the latter identifies Blake as his enemy; Blake sees past Travis to the entire Federation. Even his hatred of Travis is subordinate to it.

vila gan avon

Blake also believes his crew to be there by choice, but it is Hobson's choice. Cally's people are dead; Avon, Jenna and Vila are wanted criminals at the mercy of the Federation; Gan can't be on his own.

Neither Blake nor Travis heed the warnings of Sinofar and Giroc. He has bound his crew to his own personal destiny, against an implacable enemy, to mutual destruction.

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27Feb/180

Blake’s 7 – Mission To Destiny: “When You Have Nothing To Lose”

[Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: Cally and Avon

Mission To Destiny again shifts the goalposts in Blake's 7. A Flying Dutchman / Agatha Christie pastiche that frames the crew as galactic do-gooders; a Star Trek mission in a Blake's 7 universe. It bears all the hallmarks of Terry Nation's most hackish instincts, recycling plots, set pieces and, of course, character names.

If the plot feels familiar then so too are the characters by this point. Blake and Jenna again adopt their parent role on The Liberator, with Avon the awkward one, Vila the coward and Gan there seemingly to keep the latter in check.

As the most able member of Blake's crew, taking Avon to the Destiny is understandable but it's less clear what he has to gain by taking Cally. Her contribution so far has been to disable the ship while possessed by a malign force and to get captured on her first mission.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: "I believe you"

Although originally framed as a warrior, not unlike Doctor Who's Leela, it's hard to identify what separates Cally from Jenna at this point, telepathy notwithstanding.

The sole instance of it here, when Cally succumbs to sono vapour, has her moaning "Alone" - presumably a reference to the trauma of being the sole survivor of the Saurian resistance, but this is never expanded upon.

And despite both female characters having moments of agency and self-determination - Jan Chappell's ambiguous "I believe you" to the untrustworthy Sonheim is a nice touch - neither woman is dissimilar from the standard female Doctor Who companion at this point in the series.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: Mandrian (Stephen Tate)

Onboard the Ortega we get set-piece after set-piece of TV detective drama, no surprise given Terry Nation's extensive background in TV series such as The Saint, The Champions and The Baron, among others. Dudley Simpson clearly notes the shift as his score for Mission To Destiny is less operatic; more suggestive and tense than in previous episodes.

One again, as with The Web, the running storyline of the fight against the Federation takes a backseat to what would now be termed a bottle episode. Although later adopted by series such as Babylon 5, The X-Files and Deep Space 9, this was relatively unusual.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: "Vila, are you awake?" Avon (Paul Darrow)

Here, Blake's 7 is much more obviously similar to those later shows, as Blake and his crew adopt the roles of galactic good guys, with nothing to gain from helping Destiny beyond the fact they have resisted Federation integration.

In tone too, the programme has shifted. Mission To Destiny has several outright jokes and the banter between the Liberator shipmates is fonder than it has been previously.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: "I can always sense danger"]

"I can always sense danger," claims Vila at one point.

"Yes, even when there isn't any," remarks Gan with a smile, to Jenna's amusement.

Even Avon's barbs are delivered without his trademark sneer. Later we have the first stirrings of Avon's occasional fondness for Vila, when he contacts The Liberator to ask if he is awake. He smiles a genuine smile when the thief replies in the negative.

When Cally remarks that among her people a man cannot be betrayed, only mistaken, Avon replies: "Life expectancy must be fairly short among your people." But even this seems playful, flirtatious even.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: "You just bet both our lives on it"

Although much of this demonstrates how significantly Blake's 7 has moved away from the template of The Way Back and Space Fall, it works surprisingly well. Avon makes a convincing protagonist; a man who is self-centred and cautious, but also one who 'can't resist a mystery'.

Paul Darrow's significant experience in theatre allows his to carry several stagey, expositional scenes with ease - and Avon's narcissism, not to mention his background as a criminal, make him a believable detective.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: "...already knows"

Even the neutrotrope that will ensure the survival of Destiny, apparently beyond even the value offered by The Liberator, doesn't seem to distract him. Despite his protestation that he wouldn't care if the planet were to turn into 'a mushroom' and cavilling at Cally offering them up as hostages, the game's afoot, and besting the thief appears to be reward enough for him.

That suspicion is confirmed when he knocks out the villain with a punch and 'rather enjoys it'. Few television heroes punched women, even villainous women, in the face during this era, but Avon's actions are consistent: Man or woman, Avon will happily strike or kill a foe.

Blake's 7 - Mission To Destiny: "I rigged a charge"

With the mystery wrapped up there's just enough time for Blake to blow the villain, the Ortega and the ship with which it docks out of the sky.

For Blake the implication that the crew would happily allow a planet to starve is all the reason he needs to kill every single one of them - news he imparts with an amused grin.

It's a useful, troubling reminder of Blake's blithe outlook on good and evil.

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