Saturday, 31 May 2014

Blake's Seven Review: Series A Episode 8 - Duel

"I have never understood why it should be necessary to become irrational in order to prove that you care - or indeed why it should be necessary to prove it at all." 
 - Avon

The Story
The Liberator is low on power and has taken refuge in orbit around an apparently uninhabited planet in order to recharge.  However,  unknown to the crew, Travis is in the area laying in wait.

Blake, Jenna and Gan teleport to the surface of the planet to look around.  They find evidence of a long-dead civilisation although Gan sees two women who mysteriously appear and then quickly vanish.

The trio quickly return to the ship when they see three Federation pursuit ships moving in on the Liberator. Despite being low on power, the ship manages to withstand a heavy attack from two of the ships but Blake knows that they can't defeat all three ships.  He decides that they will have to make a run for it and plans to ram the lead ship, belonging to Travis, and run from the battle.

The Liberator moves towards Travis's ship.  However, just as the two ships collide times seems to slow down and the two ships are frozen in space.  Blake and Travis vanish from their ships and reappear on the planet's surface with the two women Gan had seen earlier.

The two women identify themselves as Giroc and Sinofar. They explain that they both once belonged to a race that wiped itself out in a massive war.  To atone for the destruction of their people, the women have transported Blake and Travis to the planet to fight each other and prevent any unnecessary deaths amongst the crews of their ships.

Blake and Travis are then transported elsewhere on the planet and start to hunt each other down.  They are each joined by a member of their crews - Jenna is with Blake while Travis's pilot is with him.  Jenna is captured by Travis and used as bait to lure Blake to him.  Blake duly arrives and he and Travis fight hand-to-hand.  Blake beats Travis but refuses to kill him.  The two women are satisfied with the results of the contest and allow Blake and his crew to leave unhindered by Travis.  Travis then departs the planet, vowing to continue to hunt Blake down. 

The Seven

Blake: In 'Seek-Locate-Destroy', Blake tells the crew that Travis originally captured him by hiding out in Blake's meeting place and waiting for Blake to come to him.  Here, Blake falls for the same basic trick and he seems angry at himself for falling for the same trick twice.  He does redeem himself somewhat though by coming up with an effective way of withstanding an attack from three enemy ships without draining the ship's limited power supply.

On the planet's surface, Blake seems quite at home in the wilds, creating wooden spears as weapons, making a fire and finding shelter. He admits that he didn't kill Travis because he would have enjoyed it too much.  He also knows that, whilst Travis is alive, he will be the one coming after Blake.  And Blake now knows he can beat him.

Avon: Is compared to a machine by Vila.  But as Vila considers himself as human, Avon takes this as a compliment.  Along with the rest of the crew he watches Blake and Travis trying to hunt each other down on the view screen.  When nothing much seems to be happening he opts to go to bed rather than continue watching.  Despite appearing dispassionate he does seem to care for the welfare of the crew - including Blake.  Cally seems to be aware of this even though Vila isn't.

Jenna: Is chosen by Sinofar and Giroc to join Blake on the planet's surface to hunt for Travis.  The intention is that Blake should experience 'the death of a friend' and learn something from it.  Jenna is to be that friend although, in the end she doesn't die. Why Jenna should be chosen for this role is not made clear but, throughout the series, she does seem to have been most loyal to Blake and his beliefs.  Early episodes also seemed to hint at the possibility of a romantic relationship between the two. 

Vila: He falls asleep at the teleport controls and fails to notice Travis's pursuit ships converging on the Liberator.  He feels that, whatever the outcome of the duel between Blake and Travis, things won't be good for the crew.  He doesn't think that the crew will be able to operate effectively without Blake should Travis win.  However, if Blake wins then the Federation will still hunt them down until the day they die.

Gan: Is the first to see Giroc and Sinofar although, when they disappear he thinks he might be seeing things and is concerned that his Limiter might be malfunctioning.

The Federation

 Travis: Has successfully managed to trick Blake into travelling to an area of space where Travis was waiting for him.  He uses two of the three ships under his command to run down the Liberator's power reserves, allowing himself to then move in capture Blake.  It goes a little wrong when Blake chooses to ram him instead.

Travis is unimpressed by the two mysterious women and their powers, even though they have disabled his ship and rendered the gun built into his hand useless.  He's eager to begin hunting Blake down. Travis, unlike Blake, seems less suited to survival in the wilderness.  He delegates many of the basic tasks to his pilot who has joined, representing the 'death of a friend'.  Perhaps he just doesn't like getting his hands dirty. 

Mutoids: Mutoids are genetically enhanced humans who are designed to serve as soldiers within the Federation.  The personalty of the person is wiped before they become a Mutoid and they have recollection of who they once were.  They are kept alive by regularly ingesting what they refer as blood serum.  This need to drink blood means that they are often referred to as 'vampires' by others. 

Travis will only work with Mutoids and values them more highly than another human being.  As such they regularly appear in episodes alongside Travis.  Here, Travis's Mutoid pilot joins him on the surface of the planet to help hunt for Blake.  She is there to demonstrate the 'death of a friend'.  There appears to be no actual between the two of them although Travis is aware of who she was before she became a Mutoid and says that she once was a beautiful and popular woman.  The inference here is that she and Travis were once in a relationship but that she no longer has any memory of it.

Mark's Remarks

This seems to be seen as one of the episodes that a lot of people rate highly and, although it does have a lot going for it, when you break it down there isn't much of a story to this.  It is however significant as it's the first big confrontation between Blake and Travis.

Travis once again proves that he is a worthy foe and really it is only the chance intervention of the two women that saves the Liberator and her crew from being captured or destroyed.  Blake's reason for not killing Travis ("I know I can beat him") might seem logical but the evidence doesn't really agree with Blake's reasoning. Blake may well have beaten Travis in a fist fight but, thus far in the series, Travis has seemingly had the upper hand far more than Blake. 

The director of this episode is Douglas Camfield, well known in Doctor Who circles for creating some of the more dynamic and action packed episodes of that series.  Certainly, he manages to wring a good deal of tension out of what is a fairly static space battle and his climactic duel between Blake and Travis looks suitably hard-hitting. 

One side-effect of having Camfield as director is the absence of regular composer Dudley Simpson on the incidental music.  This was the result of a long-standing dispute between the two men which meant that Camfield never used any Dudley Simpson music on anything he worked on.  The stock music that replaces Simpson's work is quite different and gives everything a sort of ethereal quality which, given the mysterious, otherworldly nature of the two women, enhances the episode perfectly.

With the exception of Jenna (who even gets her own little fight scene) the rest of the crew take a bit of back seat this week although they all get a chance to shine a little.  But really this is Blake and Travis's story and they rightfully take centre stage.

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