Sunday, 29 May 2011

Blake's 7: Duel

“Not only is he primitive, he is pompous as well.”

It’s an odd start, with two bizarre-looking women, one of whom is played by Isla Blair, telling each other things that the other would undoubtedly know, but without leaving the viewer much the wiser. I presume that their longing to “be at peace” is essentially a death wish. Nice.

Anyway, Travis is busily chasing Blake in his pursuit ship, where he’s surrounded by some rather yummy goth girls. Except these ladies are mutoids, meaning they subsist via little green tubes full of blood. Urgh. The Liberator is running low on fuel, and needs to remain in orbit around the nearest habitable planet, for the period of time required by the plot, so that it can “recharge”. Recharge with what, exactly? Also, Travis claims to have pursued Blake “into this galaxy”. So the Federation spans multiple galaxies? Or does Terry Nation just not know the difference between a galaxy and a star system? I suspect the latter myself.

Blake, Jenna and Gan nip down to the planet to kill a bit of time, and find a world suspiciously similar to Skaro in Terry Nation’s first ever Dalek story for Doctor Who. Not only is the sight before them “Almost like the effects of a fusion bomb”, but there are stone (petrified?) statues. Suddenly, Gan sees two women, who quickly disappear before anyone else sees them. Interestingly, at this point he says “I hope my limiter hasn’t malfunctioned.” Why would he say that? Killing wasn’t an issue here, but women were. This seems consistent with the idea of his crimes having been sexual in nature.

Blake spots the Federation support ships, and they all teleport back on board. The Liberator is out of power, Travis has them surrounded, they have to ration their power, and they’re basically screwed. So Blake decides to ram Travis. What else?

Then time slows down, and the two alien women teleport Blake and Travis down to the surface. They spin a tale of a thousand year war, a “planet made barren by radiation”, and make it very clear that, like, war is bad, m’kay? They question Blake and Travis, and it’s interesting that Travis says that Blake is “An enemy of the Federation, tried and convicted.” Why not mention the child abuse charges? Surely it would be in his interests to do so?

Annoyingly, the two alien women conclude only that the two positions are irreconcilable; they don’t give a monkeys about the relative merits of both cases. I may have my doubts about Blake’s unrealistic pessimism, but I don’t like the Neville Chamberlain-style mindless pacifism being espoused here. This is very different to the message Nation seemed to be imparting in the aforementioned The Daleks.

Anyway, there’s to be a gladiator-style duel, complete with gladiator-style swords, which is supposed to, er, show that the aliens are more civilised. Right. And we get Jenna and that rather nice-looking mutoid goth lady teleported down, too. This dual takes place in a forested region of the planet which looks suspiciously like the South-East of England.

Interestingly, it seems Mutoids have no memory of their previous lives, and Travis’ sadistic attempts to tease his companion about her previous life are to no avail. Are Mutoids ex-criminals then, who are altered, have their memories wiped, and are made to serve as military slaves? And Travis clearly has a history with this Keyeira, as she was. Is he responsible for her condition?

Meanwhile, aboard the Liberator, Avon says something very interesting: “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.” He may be a bit of a cold fish, and somewhat self-centred and cynical, but it’s interesting how he seems to imply that he does in fact care.

There’s a climactic fight scene in which, yet again, Blake refuses to kill Travis for some rather flimsy reasons. He seems to be making a habit of this. He’s returned to the Liberator where, interestingly, Gan makes a rather laddish comment about Sinofar, the younger of the two women. More evidence?

The mutoid, meanwhile, faces a bleak future of court martial and execution, yet continues to follow orders. Creepy.

I’m in two minds about this one. I really, really don’t like the central concept or message, but there’s some excellent characterisation, and the stuff about the mutoids was fascinating. And, of course, Douglas Camfield directs it beautifully.

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