Blake’s 7 – Project Avalon

Rebels and rescues
“Another idealist. Poor but honest.”

Until I encountered this Blake’s 7 episode, Avalon was simply the name of a Roxy Music song and album. Here she is an anti-Federation enthusiast that Travis uses to try to lure Team Blake into a trap – this is becoming a running theme. While Blake has beaten Travis before, this one felt the most satisfying.

There has been a change of tack by the Federation. Previously, they were hunting down Blake but in Project Avalon we learn they now want The Liberator as well, with Travis specifying that it should be “undamaged”. The Federation have probably cottoned on to the ship’s power as it has managed to outrun their pursuit ships, but from early on it has been clear that The Liberator was something special. When Avon, Jenna and Blake first look around it, their reactions demonstrate that it has capabilities far beyond what they are familiar with. They must work out how to operate the teleporter, which is technology they believed was only experimental. I’m inclined to believe The Liberator has come from their future somehow. I don’t believe it is alien because its design in items like the chairs, beds and teleport bracelets is humanoid-orientated. It leaves an air of mystery to the vessel and this fits in well; like most the other members of Blake’s 7, we know little about its history.

Travis, Servalan and the Federation

We continue to see more of the Federation’s brutality, which starts early with a massacre of rebels. This shooting is carried out by mutoids, whose blank faces speak for the heart of the Federation. It also probably prevents actual humans from getting massacre fatigue as it seems to be a favourite tactic.

Later, Travis is joined by Servalan to watch a prisoner being experimented on. Servalan looks awesome as she sweeps through in her white furs. I was happy to see Servalan again. She delivers lines so coolly that I find it difficult to judge her emotions. I get the feeling she is simmering away sometimes.

She presents Travis with a small, round container that contains a virus. The virus looks purple and sparkles using a special effect. I’m really impressed that the effect works fairly well because it has to move around in shot. It seems a brave thing to attempt and a curious one to choose to spend their money on. I like it though as it makes this tiny object more intriguing. When let off in a sealed room, it seems to age or alter the random male prisoner to a skeleton. He doesn’t look in pain and has no lines, but his face is miserable.

Perhaps he was expecting something like this because Avalon was. Travis picks up Avalon and we see her placed under a scanning machine. She’s naked apart from two silver strips and it’s a bit odd as the reason for this is never explained! I had to simply presume that it was an additional humiliation for prisoners. The machine pulsates red over her head and I realised I had seen this before – in Blake’s flashbacks to his own interrogation by the Federation. Travis gloats that Avalon will tell him everything and, oddly for a fictional prisoner, she doesn’t object. She’s supposed to scream, “I’ll never talk! I will tell you nothing!” Instead, she admits that she knows enough about the Federation’s methods to realise that she will eventually give them what they want.

I’m curious how she knows about their interrogation techniques because the Federation doesn’t seem to release their prisoners. They are killed, have memories wiped or disappear to penal colonies. I don’t think there has been talk of any actual prisons but perhaps there are and some people do return to tell others about their experiences.

It’s implied that Travis isn’t just going to be allowed to carry on hunting Blake without getting anywhere because people are watching him. Servalan tells him, “There has been considerable criticism of your handling of the Blake case.” Travis’s simple reply of, “What?” is laced with fury. How dare anyone! As with the guard we saw in Seek-Locate-Destroy, Servalan employs her delicate feminine touch, stroking Travis’s chest while they talk. It was at this point that I noticed for the first time that Travis’s uniform has the Federation logo on the chest.

I find this logo aesthetically pleasing and enjoy seeing it subtly appear in various places. However, the one place we’ve see it several times now is the Federation guards’ uniforms, where it looks poor – it could be sellotaped on. We’ve been seeing these guards from fairly early on – Time Squad is the first place I recall seeing them in these uniforms, which I do like. In contrast to the inhumanly-regarded mutoids, the faces of the actually human Federation guards are completely covered by masks. It makes them faceless representatives of the Federation, which is the perfect metaphor for a government that chooses to treat its citizens with no decent humanity, ignoring their freedoms and individuality.

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Team Blake

Team Blake is going to pick Avalon up as she is an old contact of Jenna’s, who gets out of The Liberator for the second episode in a row. Once she and Blake find the massacred rebels, they head off with the sole survivor, Chevna, to rescue Avalon. They call Vila down too and after what felt like forever, Team Blake reach the Federation base.

Vila departs The Liberator with his cool box full of tools again and is less than happy about it, moaning, “I don’t know why it always has to be me. I’m tired of being indispensable.” Following a couple of episodes of everything being very serious, I was pleased to see more of one of my favourite cowards again. He takes his time as he dons an outfit for the freezing climate and we discover that the Liberator raincoats can incorporate a suit with a thermostat, which I thought was a neat idea. Vila turns his up painfully high as Avon and Cally watch him slowly get everything together in the teleport room. Paul Darrow provides some wonderful expressions. As soon as Vila has stepped into the booth though, Avon begins moving switches and he and Cally exchange great smiles once Vila has disappeared. It’s a lovely moment as so much is done with just their silent reactions.

Breaking into the Federation base eventually provides some proper excitement. There is a fantastic assumption of authority by Blake who challenges a guard, calling out, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” They force their way in by threatening the guard and even Vila finds some guts as he jams a gun into the man. There is nothing like loud alarms sounding to hurry us along with a bit of tension and soon Team Blake are having to blast their way out. I enjoyed all the shooting. However, virtually every combatant is a crap soldier, leaving themselves way too exposed during the battle. Chevna is the only one occasionally leaning around walls to use them for cover.

Blake shows how far he is willing to go during Project Avalon and my mind continues to whir as I try to work him out. When breaking into the base, he breaks a guard’s neck. I’ve always known he has little regard for the Federation’s guards, but this seemed brutal and unnecessary.

To free the real Avalon, Blake decides to use the glittery virus against the Federation. He teleports down to the base and demands a meeting with Travis. Servalan joins him for a cracking scene. With the robot Avalon reprogrammed to obey some simple commands, it holds the virus and will drop it if any (unspecified) actions are taken. Blake makes it plain that he is willing to kill them all, himself included, to risk getting what he wants. He’s incredibly cool and calm, savouring the moment of having the Federation by the balls.

Servalan must be a well-known public figure in the Blake’s 7 universe because this is the first time she and Blake have met yet he recognises her immediately. I adore the way Gareth Thomas emphasises Blake saying, “…and the Supreme Commander!” His tone has a sort of mock-honour, but Blake must really be delighted by the presence of Servalan as it enables her to witness his humiliation of Travis.

It is apparent that Travis thinks Blake is bluffing. Perhaps Blake hasn’t always been prepared to be so ruthless or take such risks. Travis initially tries to step forward and a hand from Servalan stops him. I’m not sure if it was intentional from Stephen Grief, but when a livid Travis is watching Blake position the virus between the robot’s thumb and forefinger, Travis’s cheek twitches. It’s a small, subtle thing but I thought it was good. Once Blake and the real Avalon have teleported to The Liberator, Travis slowly approaches the robot and as he inches closer the virus drops. He catches it, before saying to himself, “If it takes all my life, I will destroy you, Blake.” I’m enjoying the layers of their rivalry being built up.

Team Avon

Early on in the episode, before they have even met, Avon dismisses Avalon as, “Another idealist. Poor but honest.” Then, positively dripping with sarcasm, “I shall look forward to our meeting with eager anticipation.” I do wonder what keeps Avon going. He has no hope that the Federation will ever be overthrown but seems quite content with this idea. He presumably has his own plans for the rest of his life.

Avon has no enthusiasm to head down to this week’s planet. At one point he’s sat down on a sofa, looking comfortable and tapping away on a small handheld device. It appears to be the interactive notebook Blake used to draw on Zen’s screen in Duel and from the present day it almost resembles a smartphone.

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An exchange between Blake and Avon reveals that the former has not been playing Candy Crush though. Avon says the teleport coordinates have all been “computed”. If it wasn’t for the use of this word I may have assumed he was using a calculator but this implies that the device is actually connected to the ship – The Liberator has wifi!

Avon remains on The Liberator with Gan and Cally throughout the episode. While waiting for the return of the others, the ship is detected by interceptors and Avon suddenly seems flustered. They can’t stay where they are. But I like how he soon naturally takes control. He knows there’s nothing else they can do but leave so insists, deciding they can move and come back later to be in the range of the teleporters.

This additional plot point is needed because all Team Blake are doing for much of Project Avalon is creeping around caves and corridors for ages. I got a little bored of the characters roaming around for so long. It feels like parts of the episode have been stretched out. Even though there is only so much tension that can be wrought from it, Team Avon’s subplot seems another way of ensuring those left on The Liberator get enough screen time because they aren’t involved in the main action.

When Team Avon do come back into orbit, Team Blake is desperately calling to be teleported back up as they have been pursued from the base. Avon has to sprint across the ship to the teleport room. Once they have been returned safely, Avon asks, “What went wrong?” and a furious Blake retorts, “I was about to ask you!” Blake seems even angrier than usual, which may be because he knew how terrible it would be for them all to have been trapped so close to the Federation. Only managing to get teleported off at the last moment is becoming a running Blake’s 7 trope by now. We’ve had this from Space Fall onwards and Blake’s very first trip! A variation on “That was a bit close” could probably be written into every episode. It would be useful to have some controls for the teleport on the bridge.

Team Blake has brought back a Federation gun from one of the guards they were fighting and Avon’s extensive technological expertise is demonstrated further when he examines it. He determines that it is “not standard issue” This got me wondering: what sort of previous close experience did Avon have of Federation guards and their guns before he joined before The Liberator? Or what sort of research has he done? Surely the Federation wouldn’t have allowed that sort of knowledge to be public and easily accessible. How often has he got hold of one of their guns then? I can only conclude that this information must have been stored within a computer system that Avon hacked into. Maybe he wanted to research Federation weaponry in case he got caught in the middle of a crime.

Project Avalon may be the first episode I wasn’t overly impressed by. With Travis featuring in three out of the last four episodes, there has been a certain amount of repetition. We are now nine episodes into a 13-episode series so I think it would be good if Travis disappeared until the finale.

I didn’t see the robot Avalon reveal coming at all and thought it was clever. The robots we have seen have been guard robots – there was one in Seek-Locate-Destroy and one in Project Avalon. Even ignoring their boxy of-their-time design, they are demonstrated as poor as Team Blake is able to get around them fairly easily by keeping out of the robot’s vision, which is sometimes as simple as lying on the ground until its patrol moves off. To then get a full humanoid robot is quite a step up. It isn’t usual for the Blake’s 7 universe either with an impressed Avon describing it as “the best robotic engineering I’ve seen” when he opens the head up. The implications from it are also significant. Although it’s made clear that someone who knows a person well wouldn’t be tricked, it could be used to create copies of people and the Federation could perfect the technology further in the future.

However, this ending and reveal felt a tad rushed for me and I think I would have liked it expanded. As mentioned above, I was also bored by the endless bloody caves and corridors that partly felt like padding. Avalon herself is not an especially interesting character and the performance is not engaging. There was nothing particularly bad about Project Avalon though and there were several small elements I loved, like Vila faffing in the teleport room. Blake’s confrontation with Travis and Servalan was also absolutely marvellous and I am finding him an increasingly interesting character, even if my early personal frustrations with him still linger.

Comments

  1. Unknown

    I'm enjoying your posts on Blake's 7. I hope you will watch all four series, and avoid any spoilers if you can!

    I've always thought Avon's knowledge of the Federation gun was down to some enforced military training; perhaps something like the Federation's more amped up version of the Officer cadets.

  2. Mrs Underhill

    Avon and guns: there're many possible explanations for this. Yes, it could be military training included into his science/tech education: sounds likely for the Federation to do that. But what about Blake? Wouldn't he get a similar education – but maybe mindwipe destroyed his military knowledge?
    The guess that Avon learned about guns during his criminal activities is closer to what I think. Also, Avon keeps acquiring new skills and knowledge on the Liberator ("All knowledge is valuable" – The Web, to Cally). Maybe he researched Fed guns after being thrust into rebellion – for his own safety.

    Avalon being naked for interrogation: could be related to the making of the android. They needed her like that to make a copy, and maybe just passed her on to Travis after. Yes, I appreciated her realism too! She didn't waste effort denying the obvious.

    And you're right – Avalon's machine was the same as used on Blake in TWB! I never noticed that!

    Hehe, Avon and his iPhone! 🙂 There were also Travis playing on an iPad and Servalan in the ear-phones listening to a player while waiting for their victim. Servalan in the mink coats was magnificent, glad you're enjoying her! Her and Travis were awesome in this episode.

    Avon and Cally sharing a laugh over Vila was a sweet moment. Also Avon stroking wounded Cally's face later came as a surprise to me, I recall.

    Overall I felt the same about this episode – it's padded out a lot, boring in the middle and not very rewatchable after you know the main plot twist. It also suffers from NEA syndrom (Not Enough Avon :D), but that will be remedied in the next episode, hope you'll enjoy it! There'll be more of interesting Blake and Vila there too.

  3. Eve T

    Yes, the relationship between Avon and Cally is another dynamic of the show, about half of B7 fans seem to think there was something there while the other half don't. I am firmly on Team Avon & Cally! I am glad you seem to be picking up on this strand of the show. Really enjoying your blog btw!

  4. AndrewP

    When I first saw the show in 1978, this was my *favourite* episode. It had Travis. It had Servalan. It had the Mutoids. It had the Federation robot which had looked so brilliant in all the pre-launch publicity photos and then slightly less brilliant when it trundled into action. And it had so many of Terry Nation’s favourite tropes which always seemed to offer solid excitement for this young viewer: underground tunnels, germ warfare, robot doubles… They’re all thrown in there with great glee and enthusiasm… but, yes, in the cold light of adulthood it doesn’t really make sense, does it? If you can quickly assemble as robot as complex as the Avalon duplicate, why on earth are you still relying on the Dalek-style ones?

    I remember being so excited when – the following year – the second Trevor Hoyle novel was entitled “Project Avalon”; I hadn’t audio-taped any of Series A on its original transmission (barring the Christmas compilation of “Orac”), so the paperback was a wonderful chance for me to relive what had been my favourite episode… albeit – as I recall – with Cally and Jenna swapping roles, which sort of made more sense as Cally was more likely to have known Avalon (in fact, this might have been how the original script was written).

    You’re bringing back a lot of happy memories here. And I’m glad you’re having a lot of fun!

    All the best

    Andrew

  5. H E Cooper

    Thanks all for the nice feedback. I am hoping to watch all four series and have been doing my best to avoid spoilers since I started. It's so tempting to head off and explore things on the internet, but I know I would regret it. Having no idea what to expect from the very start is one of the reasons I have been enjoying watching so much.

    Having now watched Breakdown, it's evident that Avon has been doing a lot of reading of the databanks. We know so little about The Liberator that it wouldn't surprise me if it had info on the Federation, even if it was unavailable to most people.

    I've come across the Avon/Cally suggestion from fans. I'm currently not convinced, although it did cross my mind in The Web when she visited him tinkering around. However, I dismissed this because she was possessed at the time! I am beginning to appreciate the NEA syndrome I think!

    I can see how a lot of the episode would appeal to young viewers, especially at a time when you are along for the great adventure. I'm incredibly forgiving of some things I watched as a kid. I can defend almost any Bond film and in a similar way to certain episodes of Doctor Who, was initially surprised to discover some of my favourites were not generally regarded well among fans. I seem to remember criticism of 'Attack of the Cybermen' that mentioned too much continuity, yet I was never bothered by it and still think the story is great fun.

  6. Andrew P

    Goodness… you’re always saying fascinating things which engage my interest and I want to respond to. So arthritic fingers to keyboard once again…

    Your lack of spoilers is adding to your words. I find similar ventures which are tinged with knowingness and irony about what is to come less to my tastes. And there’s so many points where I’m *dying* to say “Ah, but you wait until ——-” or “Of course, that’s because ——- was hoping that the show would be more ———— and so make it ——-“. But that will deprive you of fun – and that’s so much of what this is all about. There’ll be time to say all the other stuff later when you’ve finished it.

    Trying to watch a show with the perspective of the target audience is something which my wife and I have found immensely beneficial to our entertainment. Every time we’ve sat down to watch a new “Doctor Who” since 2005, we sort of mentally put ourselves into eight-year-old mode. I know that “Doctor Who” is designed for a family audience, but really you start watching when you’re about five or six, it kind of hits critical mass when you love it more than anything else in the world when you’re about eight or nine, and then – for most viewers – their horizons broaden and it slowly loses its grip when you’re about twelve to fourteen. You can then return to it to share it with your own kids a decade or so later. Otherwise, if you stay with it, you need to stay with “Doctor Who” on its terms and understand that it’s now being made for all the kids who are loving it just as much as you did. And that’s the best way to see it.

    And how lovely to hear about your fondness for “Attack of the Cybermen”. I liked this when it went out… but for all the wrong reasons. It’s always brilliant to hear somebody’s fondness for a story which is maybe less well-regarded than others… purely because they were the right age to enjoy it on their first encounter.

    Thanks again for brilliant writing.

    All the best

    Andrew

  7. Eve T

    Well even if one takes the idea of "possession" at a surface level (and it is a theme often used in literature & film there is no doubt that he is interested in the advances she makes in that scene from The Web! And in this episode, as mentioned in another comment, the concern he shows for the injured Cally (it is Avon who immediately rushes over to her) is revealing imo.
    Though I will leave you to make up your own mind and will not reveal any future spoilers!

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