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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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, Farscape or Deep Space 9 - are never within grasp.

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 in this episode we do get to see Blake's crew working as a convincing unit, even Vila, for whom his work is clearly one of the few distractions that allows him to forget his natural cowardice. Vila'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, the having knocked out two Federation guards with Blake - 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 not evident here.

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 Cally - who is arguably most at fault. Later in her conversation with 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 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

Travis 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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