Sunday, 22 May 2011

Blake's 7: Seek-Locate-Destroy

“I’ve come to blow something up. What do you think might be suitable?”

Now that’s more like it. An incredibly action-packed episode full of menace, tantalising bits of backstory, intriguing bits of world-building and not one but two great baddies.

We begin on the planet Centero, which oddly seems to be a gas giant. On the surface (for there is one, gas giant or no) is a 1970s industrial complex patrolled by a hilarious toy robot which half reminds me of the robot from Doctor Who and the Sontaran Experiment and half reminds me of one of those obscure Kenner Star Wars toys, a robot that didn’t seem to appear in the film.

Into this surreal situation teleports Blake, soon joined by Vila. As well as showcasing his skill with locks, Vila also takes the time to remind us that Terry Nation is writing his words: the scene where he distracts the Federation guards is suspiciously similar to a scene in Doctor Who and the Genesis of the Daleks.

Blake is looking for the Federation cipher room, so he can build a kind of Enigma machine. He’s soon joined by Cally, Gan and Avon and a tense hostage situation develops while our heroes try to remove said Enigma machine, which has apparently been screwed down very well indeed. Top marks to the Federation’s collective DIY skills there.

The mission, after some tension and some time bombs (very Terry Nation, that) is accomplished, but Cally is left behind. Of course, we then get one of those faintly implausible scenes, inevitable in these situations in all TV drama, in which it takes everyone a good few minutes to realise that she’s missing.

Elsewhere, on a circular space station, extreme coolness is happening. Not only does the splendid Jacqueline Pearce make her really rather excellent debut as the wonderful Supreme Commander Servalan, but we also get the bizarre combination of Peter Miles and Peter Glaze as Administration politicians, visiting on behalf of the President. This scene actually gives us a fair bit of new information on how the Federation operates. The outer planets are run by “controllers” whose loyalty to the Federation can be “delicately balanced”. The powers that be are nervous that Blake is starting to become a legend; real pressure is now being brought to bear that he be caught, and quickly.

The introduction of Travis is masterfully handled; before we meet him we get a lot of talk about him, and how notoriously cruel and ruthless he is. This really serves to build him up. Not only do we get the scene with the two political flunkies, but one of Servalan’s underlings expresses concern. There’s a subtext here that I didn’t catch before; Travis later refers to Servalan’s “decorative staff men”, and I rather suspect that, when Servalan refers to her underling as a “friend”, this is a euphemism for certain perks of her position. This is all a bit Catherine the Great or, to be more topical, a bit Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The point is, Servalan is powerful, clever, ambitious, dangerous, and takes what she wants. And her willingness to use a monster like Travis underlines her utter ruthlessness in pursuit of her aims.

Travis, incidentally, would perhaps be more menacing if not for the very Terry Nation title of “Space Commander”. I take it there are also Space Chiropodists and Space Accountants. Still, his arrival (to ominous chords) is effective, and Stephen Grief both looks and acts the part. Travis promises to be a great and very nasty baddie.

Meanwhile, on the Liberator, Avon has finally got the Space Enigma Machine working. Our heroes are recording everything on to “micro tape”- how very futuristic. Fortuitously, this causes them to overhear a conversation stating that Travis is off to Centero to investigate. This is a bit of a blow to Blake, who thought he killed him.

Travis shows himself to be a highly intelligent and effective investigator, and also something of a workaholic. He takes time out to provide some exposition for us as well, though, coincidentally at exactly the same time as Blake. After Blake almost killed him, he turned himself into the Bionic Man and started hanging around with “Mutoids”, whatever they are. It seems they met when Travis foiled a plot be Blake to attack a “political rehabilitation centre”, where dissidents are sent for “indoctrination treatment.” This sort of thing reminds us just how nasty and totalitarian the Federation is.

Blake’s memories from before his treatment seem to be returning. He is certainly now able to bear a huge grudge against Travis for killing large numbers of his friends before his own capture. He has more things to hold against him, too; Cally has been caught and it’s very heavily implied that she is tortured.

Travis shows himself to be very clever indeed, not only realising that Blake has the Enigma machine, but also realising the potential opportunity to use disinformation to set a trap for his nemesis. Cally, of course, is the bait. But, in a neat reversal, Blake was already there and waiting, the same trick Travis earlier pulled against him. Conveniently, though, Blake doesn’t kill Travis on the grounds that “You don’t matter enough to kill.”

This changes quite a lot. Rather than being up against a powerful but faceless enemy, Blake has now acquired a rather cool arch-nemesis with whom there’s clearly going to be quite a due. And there’s an even bigger and cooler big bad lurking in the background…

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