This is a good episode for Travis – especially since for once he doesn’t have to run around after Servalan. Although even this early on it’s easy to see just how limited a character he is (something which Greif had quickly picked up on – pondering just how credibility could be maintained if every time Travis and Blake met, Blake ended up winning). The answer, of course, is that it couldn’t – but we’ll leave that topic until series two ….
Although the duel part of the story was clearly designed to be the showpiece, I prefer the earlier dogfight in space scenes. With Dudley absent (although not, as long assumed, because of his feud with Camfield) the selection of discordant stock music helps to raise the tension nicely. A number of simple visual effects – slowing the camera down, coloured lights – are cheap but effective ways of showing the ships – post intervention by Sinofar and Giroc – stuck in space.
Given Camfield’s skill with a film camera, it’s maybe a little surprising that there’s not a great deal from the woodland scenes that’s terribly memorable. It’s also a shame that the climatic fight between Travis and Blake is a little rushed (and Travis’ grand plan to ensnare Blake – a spiky trap – looks a little feeble too).
Avon might be playing second fiddle today, but he still gets some very decent moments. His “nuts” speech (cut from the original compilation VHS) is one and I also love his brief smile and headshake when he realises that Blake won’t be able to kill Travis. The fact that Vila, Gan and Cally were all urging Blake on at this moment is another example of Avon’s self-imposed distance from the others.
Solid, but it’s possible that Douglas Camfield helped to cover a few cracks. With a more run-of-the-mill director it may have been rather more forgettable.
Although the plot is a bit thin, as so often with B7 the performances make up for it. Stephen Greif continues to impress, especially when he’s teamed up with Glynis Barber’s icy Mutoid. Barber doesn’t have anything much, dialogue-wise, to work with, which means she has to work extra hard to make an impression. A pity she didn’t return as a Mutoid, since she and Greif made a good double-act.
Less impressive is Julia Vidler’s Avalon. I’m not sure when she’s more wooden – during the scenes when she’s playing Avalon, or later when she’s Robot-Killer Avalon. True, her one big showdown scene with Travis is somewhat compromised by the fact she’s been reduced to her underwear and strapped to an operating table, but even had she been fully clothed I’ve a feeling her delivery would still have been as stilted as it is.
Wookey Hole, as ever, is a good-looking location and Stuart Fell falls very nicely. The late twist – Chevner (a slightly underused David Bailie) is moved into position for a few seconds as the baddy – doesn’t really work as it needed more of a build up or a tense hunt through the corridors to sell it. And the way that poor old Travis is humiliated again at the end seems to have been the point when Greif decided he wouldn’t have a long term future with the series.
Breakdown is something of a bottle show (and a cheap one). Largely set onboard the Liberator, when they do reach their destination (XK-72) it’s nothing more than a few studio flats, populated by a couple of actors. The Federation ships are represented by reused footage, which makes it all the more surprising that they decided to splash out on some filming (the scenes in the medical wing could just have easily have been shot in the studio).
This sort of budget scrimping isn’t necessarily a problem though, since it enables the regulars to have more screentime than usual. But it’s ironic for a story where Gan is the plot motivator that he spends most of it either unconscious or dangerously feral. Poor Gan never got a decent crack of the whip.
He does have one standout scene though – the moment when he gleefully throttles Cally in the medical centre. His sudden switch, from the apparently recovered Gan to an implacable killer, is more than a little disturbing.
Gan’s fight with Blake in the first few minutes is also good – thanks to the hand-held camerawork. Although whenever Blake is thrown against the Liberator’s controls it’s impossible not to worry that they’ll break ….
Avon, as always, shines. His continuing distance from the others (markedly telling Blake that “you” rather than “we” are running out of time to save Gan) is thrown into sharp relief later on when he elects not to hide away on XK-72 but take his chances with Blake instead. Blake and Avon continue to clash entertainingly, this following exchange being one of my favourites –
AVON: Blake, in the unlikely event that we survive this ….
AVON: I’m finished. Staying with you requires a degree of stupidity of which I no longer feel capable.
BLAKE: Now you’re just being modest.
Julian Glover adds a touch of class as Kayn. I love the face-off between Kayn and Blake where our hero threatens to destroy Kayn’s hands if he doesn’t operate on Gan.
Breakdown is a little slow but, as noted in some of the previous episode summaries, the interactions between the regulars always helps to shore up an average episode. A few points off for the chucklesome ending though – considering that XK-72 had just been blown to smithereens it hardly seemed the right time.