The Federation is beginning to expand agaim and Avon has decided that the planet Helotrix holds the key. The native species, the Helots, are once again Federation members after a long period of resistance and Avon is keen to find out why their resolve crumbled so quickly. Dayna and Tarrant teleport down to the surface but quickly lose contact with Scorpio. The arrival of Federation Commissioner Sleer further complicates matters ….
Traitor is the most anonymous of Robert Holmes’ four Blakes 7 scripts. Lacking the flamboyant characterisation of Gambit and Orbit or the rock-solid narrative of Killer, it’s simply there – solid enough, but a little uninspiring and never likely to be anybody’s favourite. There’s some nice dialogue, but maybe Holmes felt straightjacketed by the various story elements he was required to include (the pacification drug Pylene-50 which becomes a running theme and Commissioner Sleer, who turns out to be, shock horror, Servalan). It’s also a pity that his original title – A Land Fit For Helots – was rejected in favour of the descriptive, but dull, Traitor.
Avon’s transformation into Blake pretty much starts here – he suddenly decides to take the fight to the Federation. After spending the first two series sniping at Blake from the sidelines for exactly this sort of gung-ho approach, it’s an unexpected move, although there are several possible reasons. The boring real-life possibility is that since series three had been rather aimless, reintroducing the Federation as a tangible enemy helps to give the show a more cohesive feel.
There’s a more interesting fictional possibility though – Avon’s character is slowly being subsumed by Blake’s, meaning that he’s turning into a carbon-copy of his former colleague. To support this theory, the final episode – Blake – provides us with plenty of evidence that Avon’s obsession with Blake is colouring his actions. Can’t live with him, can’t live without him ….
There’s intrigue aplenty on Helotrix, although the downside of this is that the regulars, especially Avon and Vila, are rather sidelined. Dayna and Tarrant have more to do, but Traitor is really concerned with the various squabbling factions who are jockeying for position on the planet’s surface.
Colonel Quute (Christopher Neame) and the General (Nick Brimble) are in charge of Federation operations. They’re an odd couple, to put it mildly. It’s easy to tell that Quute is a baddy – he’s got a scar down his face and an eyepatch (two dead giveaways). The General doesn’t have any such facial embellishments, but he is caked in make-up. Both also have uniforms which sport the most amazing shoulder pads.
This may all sound fairly unpromising, but Neame and Brimble are good enough actors to be able to transcend the fact they look faintly ridiculous. They’re also aided by Holmes’ script, which isn’t content to paint them as simply another couple of faceless Federation killers. The General (he doesn’t seem to have a name) is a military bore, forever droning on about battles from the past, meaning that Quute is forced to feign politeness on a regular basis.
GENERAL: Do you remember the Fletch expedition of twenty-nine?
QUUTE: No, I don’t think I do, sir.
GENERAL: Fletch used gas, against the Wazis. Hmm. Complete massacre, bodies everywhere. Took dinner with his officers that night, suddenly the Wazis came over the wall, butchered the whole expedition. Seems the Wazis are gill breathers – they can lie dormant for days.
QUUTE: Ahh, that’s very interesting sir.
Just before this, the General mentions that the best way to deal with these rebel types is with a dose of the cold steel. It’s very hard not to think of Corporal Jones ….
Star Major Hunda (Robert Morris) leads the rebels, but frankly he’s rather dull (as are his grimy cohorts). By a staggering coincidence, Tarrant and Dayna teleport down right beside him – which means that he’s able to fill them both in on the plot. Handy that.
Forbus is a cut-price Davros. He looks a little like Peter Sellers (or possibly Lewis Fiander in the Doctor Who story Nightmare of Eden) and he’s there to explain to Dayna and Tarrant all about Pylene-50. His appearance suggests that the budget was running rather low, although there are also signs of penny pinching elsewhere. The Federation HQ features some very familiar-looking panels (if you watch far more Doctor Who and Blakes 7 than is healthy that is) as well as flashing disco lights which I assume are supposed to represent power lines. The unconvincing studio grassy knoll is at least lit quite low and covered in mist.
The return of Servalan (or Sleer as she’s now calling herself) is odd.
A few lines of dialogue confirm that the Federation is now under new management and those loyal to Servalan have been executed. This makes the idea that she’d have assumed another identity just about feasible, but it’s strange that she’s made no effort to disguise herself, meaning that everywhere she goes there’s the risk she’ll bump into someone who’ll recognise her. She was the President for goodness sake, it’s a safe bet that most people would have a fair idea what she looked like.
This happens here, as the new puppet leader Practor knew Servalan of old, which means he has to die. For some reason the story attempts to keep her presence a secret until the end, but earlier on her voice (albeit distorted) was heard, so I doubt many were shocked when she did turn up in the flesh.
Although the return of Servalan is a non-surprise and the rebels aren’t terribly interesting, thanks to Holmes’ dialogue for Quute and the General plus the location filming (I’m a sucker for a nice quarry) this isn’t too bad at all.