Probic Vent Ood For Thought

20Mar/180

Blake’s 7 – Project Avalon: “Hope Is Very Dangerous”

Blake's 7 Project Avalon

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 involved 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 new of Blake and the Liberator is fomenting rebellion throughout the galaxy.

Project Avalon Travis Stephen Greif

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 and 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.

Travis and Servalan

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 power dynamic 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.

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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 Jenna

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 escapes, 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.

Blake Project Avalon

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.

Travis and Servalan

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 him destroying an entire spaceship in Mission To Destiny, here we see him quite happy to condemn an entire to 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. Servalan sees it the second she sees him.

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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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