Blakes 7 – Pressure Point

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Whilst the initial reason for scripting Pressure Point was borne out of necessity (Gan had to be written out) in the end it proved to be something of a watershed for the show.  Since the start of series one we’ve seen that Blake is a far from infallible character –  he may have positive qualities which mark him out as a natural leader but his decision making can often be deeply flawed.

This is shown most brutally in this episode.  Blake has returned the Liberator to Earth – to howls of protest from everybody except Cally.  She, like Blake, is a fanatic.  They value their own personal safety far less than the cause they’re fighting for – you know that either would be only too willing to sacrifice their life and become a martyr.  But Avon, Jenna and Vila don’t share their burning intensity – they might be happy to ally themselves to Blake, but personal preservation is never far from their minds.

And what of Gan?  We can say for certain that he’s always been (with the odd exception, such as Shadow) one of Blake’s most staunchest allies.  But it’s possible to consider that his frequent shows of support for were designed mainly to allow Avon to score cheap points at their expense.  Blake would announce a risky scheme, Gan would give him his whole-hearted support, Avon would roll his eyes and mutter something disparaging along the lines that only someone as stupid as Gan could ever think it was a good idea.

Blake tells the others the reason for returning to Earth. “Two hundred years ago, when the Federation began expansion and conquest, the Administration established a computer complex to monitor information: political, civil, military – everything. That computer is the nerve center of ALL Federation activity. Smashing that would be the biggest single step toward the destruction of their power. I don’t think they would ever recover from it.”

This seems not dissimilar to the space control complex on Saurian Major as seen in Time Squad.  That was also seen by Blake as a vital part of the Federation’s empire – although after he destroyed it there seemed to be no change at all to the smooth running of the Federation.

Coming fresh to Pressure Point, and especially if you’re aware of Terry Nation’s history as a writer, it would be reasonable to assume that Control on Earth would be similar to the space control complex on Saurian Major – just a MacGuffin which exists for the sole purpose of giving the Liberator crew something to attack.  They teleport down, shoot some guards, lay some explosive charges and teleport back up – job done.

But this doesn’t happen.  Control is an empty shell designed to lure people like Blake into a trap and the moment of revelation is a stunning one.  Blake falls to his knees, speechless, whilst Travis explains.  “You see, it’s the great illusion, Blake. You give substance and credibility to an empty room, and the real thing becomes undetectable, virtually invisible.”

The only thing worse than Blake having risked all their lives for nothing is that Gan dies as they make their escape.  And it’s the complete pointlessness of his death which is striking .  Nation could have scripted a story where Gan dies a heroic death – saving Blake and the others – instead the last shot we see of his lifeless body is deliberately anti-heroic.

It’s a far cry from, say, Planet of the Daleks (a 1973 Nation-scripted Doctor Who adventure).  In that story we see various Thals die during the course of the six episodes and each time the Doctor is on hand to deliver a short moral homily.  The Doctor’s speeches were intended to demonstrate that the Thals didn’t die in vain – they were sacrificing themselves for the greater good.  No such comfort can be drawn from Pressure Point though.  Gan did die in vain – there’s no two ways about it.

Although George Spenton-Foster (something of a bogey-man for Brian Croucher) directed this one, Croucher does seem more settled as Travis.  There’s far less of the histrionics we saw in Shadow and a touch more of the calculating Travis of old.  Possibly this is because he’s convinced that the plan to capture Blake is such a good one.

The focus is slightly more on Servalan though, thanks to her interaction with Kasabi (Jane Sherwin).  Kasabi is the rebel leader who Blake intends to contact – without her help he won’t be able to breach the outer defences.  Servalan and Travis capture her, but she proves uncooperative.  Kasabi’s previous relationship with Servalan helps to shine something of a light on the Supreme Commander.  “Don’t try and browbeat me Servalan. Or have you forgotten that I knew you as a cadet? You were a credit to your background: spoilt, idle, vicious. My confidential assessment listed her as unfit for command.  But I forgot how well-connected she was.”

As Kasabi doesn’t survive the interrogation it’s lucky that Servalan and Travis have an alternative – Kasabi’s daughter Veron (Yolande Palfrey).  This was a fairly early credit for Palfrey (who died far too young in 2011) and she’s not always entirely convincing (although we could be charitable and say this is because she was feeling the pressure of being a traitor to the cause).

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It’s notable that when Blake and the others find her it’s Gan who’s the most solicitous.  This may be a decision from Nation to bulk up his part (too little, too late if so) or it could be a nod back to Project Avalon which saw Gan rather taken with the android Avalon.  Poor Gan, never a good judge of females (real or manufactured) it would seem.

I do have to mention Jacqueline Pearce’s dress (as seen in the first picture).  Not very practical, but it’s certainly memorable.

Another point of interest is an exchange between Blake and Avon before they launch the attack.  Avon rather surprises Blake by giving him his full support, but Avon being Avon there’s a reason behind it.  “If we succeed, if we destroy Control, the Federation will be at its weakest. It will be more vulnerable than it has been for centuries. The revolt in the Outer Worlds will grow. The resistance movements on Earth will launch an all-out attack to destroy the Federation. They will need unifying. They will need a leader. YOU will be the natural choice.”

With Blake unifying the resistance, Avon will take over the Liberator.  As we’ll see, this is something that will ultimately come to pass …..

But not for a little while as Blake’s defeat here will only intensify his desire to find the true location of Control.  This will form a loose running thread which will carry on until the the conclusion of series two – Star One.

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Blakes 7 – Weapon

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Weapon gives us our first opportunity to see Travis Mk 2 (Brian Croucher) in action.  And he’s angry, very very angry.

One of the main character flaws with Travis is that he exists for one purpose only – to kill Blake.  And when, week after week, this doesn’t happen he can’t help but become something of a figure of fun (or contempt).  But it’s not only Blake and his friends who hold him in contempt, in this episode it’s clear that Servalan loathes him as well.

As we go through series two there will be the odd highlight (Trial) as well as plenty of lowlights (Voice from the Past is easily the most bonkers use of him).  Given that he became something of a marginalised character almost immediately,  it’s no surprise that Stephen Greif decided to bail after series one.  This leaves Brian Croucher with an almost impossible task.

Croucher has made no secret of the fact that his time on Blakes 7 wasn’t terribly happy – he’s singled out director George Spenton-Foster as someone he had serious problems with.  And since Spenton-Foster directed this episode it looks obvious that the problems start here.

From the first scene Travis is struggling with barely suppressed rage.  It’s a totally different acting choice from Greif, who had much more of an ironic detachment, and it doesn’t really work (it’s easy to imagine Greif saying the same lines, but in a very restrained way).  If Spenton-Foster wasn’t giving Croucher adequate direction then it’s probable that he just went his own way – resulting in a performance where Travis is little more than a thug.  He’ll tone things down as we move through the series, but it’s not an auspicious start.

His first scene is quite arresting though – as he kills Blake!  Or at least, someone who looks remarkably like him (is this a nod to the pre-credits sequence of From Russia with Love?).  Travis has, of course, just killed a clone of Blake – but one that’s identical to his arch-enemy in every physical way.

Clonemaster Fen (Kathleen Byron) is clearly a being of awesome power – we can tell this because Dudley Simpson goes overboard on the organ and there’s a great deal of dry ice floating about.  I do always worry when she’s walking rather gingerly down the stairs though, one false move and she could have had a nasty accident.

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In Project Avalon we saw it was possible to create a perfect android replica of someone (something that’s never done again after that episode).  In Weapon we see that it’s possible to create a perfect clone of someone (something that’s never done again after this episode).  I sense a pattern emerging here.  Given how incredibly useful both android duplicates and clones could be, it’s remarkable that once they’ve served their purpose in their respective stories they never crop up again.

Although the Blake clone will be an important figure in a great deal of post Blake fan fiction ……

I like the idea that Servalan commissions two clones of Blake, since she knows that Travis will be unable to resist killing one of them.  Their dialogue after this happens is instructive and it clearly indicates the current stage of their relationship (not good).

SERVALAN: Travis, you are pathetic.
TRAVIS: If you say so.
SERVALAN: Of all the cripple-brained idiots.
TRAVIS: Me – or you?
SERVALAN:What did you say?
TRAVIS: You’re angry, Supreme Commander. Surprised by what I did. You devious – you always have been devious. You knew what would happen.
SERVALAN: Take your hand off me.
TRAVIS: You knew if it was Blake I’d kill him. I’d have to kill him.

The clone of Blake is part of a highly complicated plan by Carnell (Scott Fredericks).  Carnell is a psychostrategist (who are unflatteringly nicknamed “puppeteers”) and Servalan appears to have commissioned him to kill two birds with one stone.  Eliminate Blake and his crew as well as acquire IMIPAK (a deadly new weapon).

If you’re not particularly aware of Blakes 7 fan-fiction and spin-off fiction then it might come as a surprise than Carnell (a one-shot character) has had quite an extensive after-life – appearing in numerous fan-fiction stories as well as novels and audios by Chris Boucher (superior fan-fiction you might say).  Most of his appeal has to be down to Scott Fredericks’ twinkling performance – his sparring with Jacqueline Pearce is a highlight of the episode.

The main guest star is John Bennett.  He plays Coser, the inventor of IMIPAK, who’s been manipulated by Carnell to not only have a nervous breakdown but to escape from the Federation’s weapons development faacility with IMIPAK.  Servalan then plans to use the clone of Blake to retrieve this from Coser.

The most obvious question is why go to all that trouble to create a clone of Blake when it doesn’t actually do anything?  Servalan could have simply turned up herself and taken IMIPAK (which is basically what happens – Coser gives it to clone Blake and he hands it over to her).

I always had a lot of respect for John Bennett, he was an actor who enlivened many a dull programme.  But he’s got his work cut out here as Coser is such an unlikable sort right from the start – he’s a terrible bully to the lovely Rashel (Candace Glendenning).  And once you see what he’s wearing it’s even harder to take him seriously …..

An odd story then and somewhat illogical.  Some of the banter between the Liberator crew does go some way to salvaging things and Jenna and Cally look rather fetching in their blue and red outfits so there is some small recompense.

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Blakes 7 – Orac

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The Liberator is en-route to Aristo, to deliver medical supplies to a seriously ill man called Ensor (Derek Farr).  He isn’t the only sick person though, as Avon, Jenna, Vila and Gan all display signs of radiation poisoning following their time spent on the planet Cephlon.  Since there aren’t any anti-radiation drugs on the Liberator they have to hope that Ensor will be able to help them.  Also travelling to Aristro are Servalan and Travis, who are keen to acquire the mysterious Orac, an invention of Ensor.

Orac was the second episode of a two-part story (a unique occurrence in Blakes 7).  Rather helpfully, for the benefit of anybody who might have missed the previous installment Blake spends the first few minutes recapping the events of Deliverance to Avon (and of course the people watching at home).  This is a rather obvious device (there’s no logical point for Blake to tell Avon what he already knew) but it sort of works.

The lack of anti-radiation gloves (sorry drugs) on the Liberator is hard to swallow.  It’s the most fantastically equipped ship in the galaxy and there’s nothing suitable?  Hmm, okay.  Even odder is that they make no attempt to stop off at any other planet before visiting Ensor, which means they pin all their hopes on the possibility he’ll be able to help them.  Yes, they know that Ensor’s life is at stake, but so are theirs – you’d assume they’d put their own interests first.

Derek Farr was a very familiar face with numerous television and film appearances to his credit.  On television he had decent guest spots in the likes of Bergerac, Rumpole of the Bailey and Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em whilst his film credits included The Dam Busters.  He also appeared with Gareth Thomas in Star Maidens, but I doubt that’s a credit either would have put at the top of their cv’s!  He’s rather good as the seemingly cranky and bad-tempered Ensor, who displays a much more human side when he realises that his son is dead.

CALLY: We went to the aid of a spacecraft that had crashed, one of the crew was already dead and the other man was dying, but before he died he asked us to get these to you.
ENSOR: Both men dead, you say?
CALLY: Yes.
ENSOR: One of them was my son.
CALLY: I’m sorry. He tried desperately to reach you. He did everything he possibly could.
ENSOR: Oh, such a waste. He had a good mind. Death is such a waste. You were with my son when he died?
CALLY: Yes.
ENSOR: It’s always too late, isn’t it? I wonder if he knew how much I loved him?
BLAKE: I think he did.
ENSOR: Oh I, I’m sorry if I snapped at you. It’s, it’s just my way. Thank you, for doing all you could to help.

Orac isn’t a story that serves either Servalan or Travis especially well.  Neither are central to the story and the sight of Jacqueline Pearce being mauled by a man in a rubber suit (one of the Phibians) isn’t one of her finest moments, although the concept of Servalan not being in control is an intriguing one.

It’s probably just as well that Greif’s role wasn’t especially large, as an accident meant he was unable to shoot the studio scenes.  A body-double was used and Greif dubbed Travis’ dialogue a few months later (though he was far from impressed with the actor they used, remarking that he had flat feet!)

Blake offers to take Ensor back to the Liberator so he can perform the operation that’ll save his life.  Travis’ arrival forces them to escape via the tunnels and Ensor dies before they reach the surface.  His death is rather perfunctory alas, but it’s necessary in story terms – since it allows Blake to take charge of Orac.

And once Orac is back on the Liberator, everybody is keen to test his limits.  They know it can draw information from any computer without a direct input (not very impressive in the modern internet age, but this was 1978, remember) but what else can it do?  Orac boasts it can effectively see into the future and demonstrates this by showing the apparent destruction of the Liberator ….

Thanks to Terry Nation, the first series of Blakes 7 had a consistent tone, although he would later admit that he found difficulties in finding ideas for some of the later stories in this first run.  So he fell back on some familiar storylines (radiation poisoning, for example) and also had to rely on Chris Boucher to take more of an active scripting role.

From series two onwards, Boucher’s voice in the series would be even stronger and he also bought on board a group of different writers (some better than others) who would take Blakes 7 into various different directions.

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Blakes 7 – Deliverance

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Approaching a planet called Cephlon, the Liberator crew comes to the aid of a stricken ship.  Avon, Jenna, Vila and Jenna teleport down to the surface to see if anybody survived the crash-landing.  Of the two-man crew, one of them, Maryatt (James Lister), is already dead, but the other, Ensor (Tony Caunter), is alive – although badly injured.

They teleport him back to the ship, but when the others realise that Jenna hasn’t returned, Avon, Vila and Gan return to look for her.  Ensor is insistent that they leave straight away (to the planet Aristo and his seriously ill father) and he forces Blake at gunpoint to comply.

This leaves the others stranded on a planet high in radiation and surrounded by distinctly unfriendly primitive types …..

Like several previous stories, Deliverance has two main plot-threads running throughout the episode.  The first, concerning Ensor and the deal he’s made with the Federation, is set up here, but won’t be concluded until the series finale, Orac.

Ensor and his father have enjoyed a long period free from Federation interference, but his father’s declining health has meant they now need to trade something to pay for the medical attention he desperately needs.  They offer the Federation Orac and in return the surgeon Maryatt travels back to Aristo with Ensor Jr.

There’s several major flaws with this.  Are we to suppose there’s no non-Federation surgeons available?  Even more ridiculous than this is Servalan’s plan.  She’s rigged Ensor’s ship with a bomb and once it detonates (killing both Ensor and Maryatt) she plans to travel to Aristo and take Orac.  Ensor Snr will be dead by then, since the medical attention he requires wouldn’t have arrived, so she foresees no difficulties.

The obvious question is why didn’t she simply detain Ensor Jr after he’d approached her.  Why go to all the trouble of allowing him to leave and with a top Federation surgeon who she needlessly sacrifices?  When she later discusses this with Travis, he expresses a twinge of conscience when he realises that Maryatt has been killed – he was the surgeon who saved his life.

Travis is more subdued in this episode, no doubt this has something to do with the loss of his command during the Project Avalon debacle.  After he enters Servalan’s office, she deliberately ignores him for a moment.

TRAVIS: You sent for me?
SERVALAN: You’ve lost some of your fire, Travis. Whatever happened to your pride?
TRAVIS: My pride, Supreme Commander?
SERVALAN: I ignored you. A calculated insult. You obviously recognised it as such.
TRAVIS: I did.
SERVALAN: And yet you remained silent. There was a time when you wouldn’t have taken an insult like that from anyone. Not even me.
TRAVIS: True. I want my command back. To get it I’ll do whatever’s necessary. If you think my silence is weakness, you mistake me.

Both Jacqueline Pearce and Stephen Greif are excellent in this scene.  Travis is more restrained and rational than we’ve previously seen – though he still has an intense desire to hunt Blake down.  Servalan’s murder of Maryatt clearly disturbs him, but he’s prepared to ignore that (and help Servalan steal Orac) if it means he’ll get his command back.  By now, hunting Blake is his sole motivation and he’ll do anything which will ultimately lead to Blake’s destruction.

As for Servalan herself, she oozes ruthless, smiling villainy in a way that would become very familiar over the next three series.  This is highlighted when she tells Travis that Maryatt will be posted as a deserter (ensuring that his family will be sold into slavery into one of the Frontier Worlds).

The second plot, on the surface of Cephlon, has its problems, mainly centered around the shambling, skin-covered primitives.  Once you’ve seen them, you know you’re in for a rocky ride – articulate conversationalists they’re not.  The most interesting game to be played when they pop up is to try and identity them, as the likes of Harry Fielder and Pat Gorman are amongst their number.

But the last fifteen minutes or so are livened up by the arrival of Meegat (Suzan Farmer).  She is convinced that Avon is an all-powerful Lord, sent from another world to aid her people.  “Counting yourself, that makes two people who think you’re wonderful” says Vila acidly.

Paul Darrow has some nice moments here.  He manages to show us that Avon is both uncomfortable and slightly flattered to be worshiped as a God.  And Avon lives up to his God-like status by reactivating a dormant spaceship, which contains genetic banks and brood units.

GAN: Do you really think we could launch that ship?
AVON: If the people who built it did their job properly, I don’t see any reason why not. And it does seem we have a reputation to live up to.
VILA: Oh, you certainly do, Lord Avon. I wonder why she picked on you?
AVON: Well, now, you are hardly the stuff that gods are made of.
VILA: And you are, I suppose?
AVON: Apparently.

On its own, Deliverance isn’t that impressive, since it’s mainly concerned with setting up the plot for the final episode (and the stand-alone part of the episode, with the grunting primitives is quite tiresome – although Meegat is some consolation).

The line about the high levels of radiation (always a favourite Terry Nation trope) on Cephlon seems to be merely a throwaway one – but we’ll see how it pays off in Orac.

Blakes 7 – Project Avalon

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The Liberator has travelled to an icy, inhospitable planet in order for Blake to make contact with the resistance leader Avalon (Julia Vidler).  Avalon has started resistance movements on a dozen Federation planets and has requested Blake’s help in relocating somewhere safer.

Blake is keen to assist, but when he and Jenna teleport down they find a scene of devastation – clearly the Federation has beaten them to it.  Avalon isn’t amongst the dead though – they learn from the sole survivor, Chevner (David Bailie), that she’s been captured.  So Blake sets out to rescue her, not realising he’s fallen into Travis’ trap …..

Time has obviously moved on since the events of Seek Locate Destroy and Duel and it’s interesting to note how the Federation’s plans have changed.  In Seek Locate Destroy, the apprehension of Blake was their main objective – now it appears that capturing the Liberator is just as important, if not more so.

The notion that there’s been some unseen adventures between Blake and Travis is confirmed when he bitterly mentions to Servalan he’s twice had the chance to destroy Blake, but it would have meant destroying the Liberator as well, so he was forced to disengage.  Servalan concedes this, but in an early display of the same needling relationship they’d enjoy from now on, tells him that whilst she’s defended him, he needs to capture Blake soon or he’ll be replaced (and no doubt his life will be forfeit).

It’s clearly meant to be a surprise that Avalon is female – a mere girl leading a resistance cell! – and this is reinforced by Dudley Simpson’s tinkling piano just before she’s captured by Travis.  Once she’s in his power, she’s reduced to her underwear and strapped into a very uncomfortable-looking machine for a purpose which only becomes clear later on.  Whilst it’s no surprise for a female character to become an objectified figure in a late 1970’s British science fiction series (or indeed any series of this era) it’s still slightly eye-opening.  When Blake found himself in a similar machine, his modesty was rather better preserved!

Whilst Avalon is helpless, Travis tells her that she should be flattered to receive such “special” attention.  She replies that “anyone who opposes the Federation knows what to expect if they get captured. It’s a risk we’re all prepared to take.” It’s a difficult line to deliver and it’s fair to say that Julia Vidler does struggle somewhat in depicting the idealistic young rebel (her delivery tends to stay on something of a monotone).  It’s probably a blessing that later she reappears as an emotionless android – she manages to play this rather more convincingly.

Rather more engaging is Glynis Barber as this week’s Mutoid sidekick.  I’m not sure whether it’s as scripted, or just her performance choice, but Barber’s considerably more assured and confident than Carol Royle’s Mutoid in Duel was.  This works very well –  as she operates more as an equal with Travis in the early part of the episode, rather than living in his shadow.

Director Michael E. Briant had previously filmed in Wookey Hole for the 1975 Doctor Who story Revenge of the Cybermen.  Although the caves are a lot smaller than you might think, it’s still a very good location and makes a nice change from Blakes 7′s default locations (quarries, refineries, nuclear power plants, etc).   This wasn’t the only link to Briant’s previous work on Doctor Who as he cast David Bailie (who had appeared in The Robots of Death) as the doomed Chevner.

Alas, the silly looking robot pops up again.  His first scene is priceless – since he speeds along a such a lick it’s obvious he’s being wheeled on a board.  Indeed, if you freeze frame, there’s a tell-tale flash of the board to confirm this!  Like the Daleks and K9, he was clearly a robot with serious mobility issues.

Gan’s very taken with Avalon (or at least what appears to be Avalon).  His hero-worship (if that’s what it is) does allow David Jackson an entertaining scene towards the end of the episode.  Once it’s become clear that Avalon isn’t all she appears to be, Gan attempts to strangle her – but Avalon’s super-human strength stops him.  I wonder why the limiter didn’t prevent him from hurting her?  Is his implant so clever that it knows what appeared to be Avalon was only an android or is it just a case of selective scripting?

It may come as no surprise to learn that Travis’ rather elaborate plan doesn’t succeed and he finds himself, for the first time but certainly not the last, relieved of his command.  His closing words are a none too subtle hint that he may be down but he’s far from out. “If it takes all my life, I will destroy you, Blake. I will destroy you. I will destroy you.”

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Blakes 7 – Seek Locate Destroy

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The Liberator crew teleport down to Centero to steal the Federation’s cipher machine.  They achieve this successfully, but Cally is left behind and is apprehended by Federation troopers.  Blake, of course, vows to rescue her, whatever the cost.

Blake’s devotion to his crew will be used by Supreme Commander Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce) and Space Commander Travis (Stephen Greif).  Servalan has been tasked with the job of capturing Blake and she assigns Travis (who has history with him) to carry out the mission.  Using Cally as bait, Travis lures Blake into a trap, where he plans to destroy him …..

Everything changes in Seek Locate Destroy.  Until now, the Federation has provided Blake with rather faceless opposition.  But here, Servalan and Travis are strong, defined characters who will obviously be much more of a challenge to overcome.  And for those who regard Blakes 7 as a sci-fi version of Robin Hood (Blake = Robin, Jenna = Maid Marion, Gan = Little John, etc) the parallels are strengthed by the arrival of Servalan (the Sheriff of Nottingham) and Travis (Sir Guy of Gisbourne).

As with most Robin Hood series, we’ll see how regular returning villains tend to lose their effectiveness over time (due to overexposure).  Of the two, Travis was always going to be harder to write as a continuing character.  When Greif decided to leave at the end of the first series it probably would have been best to create a new character, rather than recast, since there’s only so many times that Travis can be bested by Blake before it becomes monotonous.

But Greif certainly does his best with the material he’s given – he even manages to invest his ripe closing speech with a striking intensity. “Run, Blake. Run. As far and as fast as you like. I’ll find you. You can’t hide from me. I am your death, Blake.”  His replacement in series two, Brian Croucher, was rather less successful unfortunately.

What gives the Blake/Travis conflict extra spice is the history the pair have.  Blake explains to the others exactly what happened.

BLAKE:  The group had arranged to meet in a sub-basement. There were about thirty of us. I was very particular about security. I had our people watch the entrances and exits for a full twenty-four hours before we were supposed to meet. No Federation forces came anywhere near the place. I was absolutely sure that we were safe. That night we were assembled and about to begin, and Travis and his men suddenly appeared from nowhere.

AVON:  Didn’t you post any guards?

BLAKE:  Of course I did. Travis was already there. He’d been hiding in that basement for more than two days. We made no attempt to resist arrest. There was no point, we had no chance. I said to Travis, “We will offer no resistance.” And he just stared at me. And then he ordered his men to open fire. Everybody was diving for cover that wasn’t there. I, I ran, I found myself grappling with a guard, and I managed to get his gun away from him, and then I was hit in the leg. But as I went down, I saw Travis. And I fired. I saw him fall. I was sure I’d killed him.

Another character who would suffer from overuse is Jacqueline Pearce’s Servalan – plus she would become camper and camper as the series progressed.  She’s quite different here – efficient, charming (when she needs to be) but also capable of barely suppressed fury (when speaking to her old flame Rai who dares to question the appointment of Travis) as well as showing occasional moments of hesitancy.  It’s a controlled performance which works very well.  In this episode we see Servalan the politician, manouvering others to do her bidding.  Later, she’d become more mobile and would appear to run into the Liberator crew nearly every week, which didn’t always work.

Pearce and Greif help to bolster what is a fairly flimsy story – Blake steals the cypher machine, realises Cally has been captured and then rescues her.  The location filming (at Fulham Gasworks) does help matters – Blakes 7 always loved an industrial setting – but several minus points for the rather silly-looking robot.  Sadly it reappears in a later story – presumably (despite appearances) it was expensive to make, so I assume they felt they had to get their monies worth.

It’s difficult to believe that nobody realises Cally hasn’t returned with the others, but given the excitement of the raid it’s just about believable I guess.  Jan Chappell’s fight with the trooper, which results in her losing the teleport bracelet, is rather ineffectual – had it been shot on film there would have been time to cut it together properly, but the unforgiving medium of multi-camera VT simply didn’t allow this (so it’s less a fight, more a series of shoves!).

Afterwards, it’s interesting to see the Federation trooper remove his helmet – to reveal a fairly nondescript looking man.  The masked troopers have a nightmarish and dehumanised appearance, so this moment (whilst understated) helps to show us that the troopers aren’t monsters, they can be just normal people.

A similar point is touched upon later, when Rai (Ian Oliver) expresses to Servalan the disquiet that he and his fellow officers have concerning the reappointment of Travis.  Travis has been suspended after another massacre of unarmed civilians and in Rai’s opinion he should have been dismissed from the service.  Whilst the series in general tends to paint the Federation en-masse as tyrants and killers, here we see Rai presented as a decent and honourable officer, disgusted with the return of a psychopath like Travis.  And the fact he’s not the only one to feel this way about Travis does suggest that maybe the Federation isn’t quite as black as Blake believes.

Although Travis is the centre-point of the story we don’t actually see him until more than half way through the episode.  His first scene in priceless though – to the strains of Dudley Simpson at his most dramatic, Grief strides in, hands on hips, as he confronts Servalan.  He’s already spoken a good few lines before the camera cuts to his face and we see the signs left by his last tussle with Blake.

Any episode is always enlivened by a touch of Peter Miles (at his most cutting here),  He forms a nice double-act with John Bryans and the pair will also return in the series two episode Trial (Bryans also pops up in series three, in a different role, in Rumours of Death).  Ian Cullen (formally a Z Cars regular) is rather wasted as Escon and Peter Craze (brother of Michael) is Prell.

Solid stuff then and it’s obvious that Travis will be back again and again – only death, it seems, will end the feud between him and Blake.

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