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 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.

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 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.

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 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.

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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 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.

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 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.

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20Feb/180

Blake’s 7 – Seek-Locate-Destroy: “Because I Want To Survive”

Blake's 7 - Seek Locate Destroy: Travis and Blake

In the previous five weeks of Blake's 7 we've been introduced to the notional Seven and we've become well-versed in Blake's fight against the Federation. In Seek-Locate-Destroy we get something of a warm reboot, a re-setting of the template of the show that casts the regulars as freedom fighters waging a terrorist resistance. If Blake's 7 is The Dirty Dozen in space then this is their first mission.

Blake's thinking is sound enough: steal a Federation cipher, destroy the base to cover his tracks and read the enemy's top-secret communications. With a computer expert, a strongman, a picklock, a warrior woman and a crack pilot - not to mention the best ship in the galaxy - it should be a cinch. Except something goes wrong and Cally gets left behind. Not only that, but Blake's an old enemy is tasked with capturing and killing him.

Blake's 7 - Seek Locate Destroy: Teleporting

The dynamic of the crew attempting a daring raid or rescue, only for something to horribly wrong, is one enforced by the position of Blake and the others as outsiders and the need to maintain some sort of power balance that ensures the freedom fighters remain underdogs. Meanwhile production considerations mean storylines concerning significant uprisings or victories - such as those seen in later comparable shows such as Babylon 5 or Farscape - are never possible.

So while in Seek-Locate-Destroy we hear of Blake's popularity in fomenting revolt within the Federation, from Rontane and Bercol, we never get any sense of scale beyond the lightning raids that become a stock-in-trade for the show.

However we do get to see Blake's crew working as a convincing unit, even Vila, for whom work is clearly one of the few distractions that allows him to forget his natural cowardice. The thief's skills with locks are evident, but he is also relied on here for his cunning and is even tasked with attacking guards. Nevertheless Vila remains anxious.

Blake's 7: Vila distracts the guards

"Blake, don't leave me!" he begs, having helped to knock out two Federation guards - a rare moment of suavity for Vila in distracting them. But Blake does leave Vila and the guards, all are forgotten with his goal within reach.

Avon, Gan and Jenna all have their usual parts to play too, though Cally is lost in the mix. Easily overcome by one of the scientists she is notionally guarding, her role within the team as warrior is quickly forgotten.

In losing Cally on Centero while the rest escape it's unclear who is most to blame. Quite why Blake thinks she is the best suited to guard the prisoners is unclear, when Gan is also among the landing party. The big man seems to forget about Cally, as does Vila who is arguably responsible for the alarm being sounded.

Blake's 7 - Seek Locate Destroy: Blake and Avon

But it's Jenna - who has already shown outright hostility to the telepath - who is arguably most at fault. Later, to a grieving Blake, she barely hides her contempt towards Cally: "She convicted herself - you can't live like that. You've got to make peace with yourself, Blake, if you want to survive."

Blake returns a withering look and walks away. It's the only occasion he is unimpressed by Jenna's counsel and it invites the reading that Jenna is less than devastated by Cally's apparent death.

Blake's 7 - Seek Locate Destroy: Travis and Prell

In Seek-Locate-Destroy we see much less of Avon, largely because his role as Blake's chief antagonist is taken by Travis, the leather-suited Space Commander with a reputation for ruthlessness so severe even Federation officers are in open revolt against him.

Seek-Locate-Destroy gives us a much richer picture of the Federation than previously, in that we see scientists and troops such as Prell and Rai who are simply carrying out their duties - and even demonstrating some professional ethics.

Blake's 7 - Seek Locate Destroy: Travis and Servalan

For his part Travis, much like Avon, appears realistic above all. Although we do see him looking at images of Blake being tortured, he does not seem to revel in Cally's discomfort. He may be clad in leather, but he's no sadist.

Travis wears an eyepatch and has refused reconstructive surgery on his face - "you're certainly not decorative,' remarks Servalan, archly - because he sees disfigurement as a simple hazard of the job.

Blake's 7 - Seek Locate Destroy: Blake and Jenna

He and Blake bear scars both physical and psychological from their first encounter. Both men are single-minded and use their understanding of one another to gain the upper hand. They are seemingly set to forever play out their shared past. But perhaps Blake recognises a way to make peace with his own past in Seek-Locate-Destroy, as Jenna urges.

While Travis fixates on avenging himself upon his enemy Blake is more sanguine, telling him: "You don't matter enough to kill". Travis might imagine himself as Blake’s nemesis; Blake is playing for far higher stakes.

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