Blake’s 7 – Seek-Locate-Destroy

A sadistic sod.
“The man who killed 20 of my friends.”

This was undoubtedly my favourite story so far, primarily because we meet a marvellous villain called Travis. I was also pleased to see some more worldbuilding as we start to learn about the Federation’s structure when we are introduced to Servalan.

Once again Blake’s 7 continues its pattern of placing us straight into the action and I particularly enjoyed this opening. We join Blake and Vila as they are breaking into a communications facility. The Federation must have a fair few. After quarries and forests, this location looks much more Earth-like, yet I can only guess at its real purpose – some sort of industrial plant. It provides plenty of structures for Blake and Vila to hide behind, although it seems to lack CCTV.

I enjoyed this opening for showing us more of Vila. I’ve liked his character from early on but the more we see of him, the more he grows on me. Vila’s overcome his fear of everything to teleport down and meet Blake. He brings a cool box with him, but I doubt they’ve come for a picnic. Instead it contains his tools and we get to see more of Vila’s thievery skills as he tries to pick the locks to an electronic gate. Blake calls out as some guards approach and doesn’t see where Vila disappears to. When he finally emerges from a cupboard a surprised Blake asks, “How did you get in there?” Vila replies, “There isn’t a lock I can’t open. If I’m scared enough.”

Despite this claim, I was impressed that once they were in Vila was brave enough to walk straight up to a pair of Federation guards, then tell them exactly who he is and what he’s doing there. As usual, he can’t help but diffuse his own fear with humour, remarking to them that he’s “recently become interested in sabotage. In a small way, you understand.” But once they are both clobbered, Blake heads off and Vila’s bravery disappears as he cries out, “Blake! Don’t leave me!”

Liberator fashion

I sang praises for the raincoats Blake and Avon wore in The Web so was delighted to see Blake in his again as well as Vila in a red-maroon one that matches his trousers and boots. Unlike the other two, Vila doesn’t sport a utility belt with his, which implies to me that he doesn’t intend on staying on the planet long enough to need it.

I was a little confused as Blake’s coat looked brown during the location scenes, but once they were inside the complex it seemed to turn green. I’m not sure what’s gone on there as it seems to switch back and forth throughout the episode.

Gan’s coat is brown (and stays brown), completing the impression I’ve always had that he should be playing Robin Hood’s Friar Tuck.

Jenna is the only one who doesn’t come down to help Team Blake. In fact, I’m struggling to remember the last time she left The Liberator. She investigated another ship with Blake during Time Squad but I’m not sure we’ve seen her on an actual planet since they left Earth in The Way Back. My hopes for seeing this tough woman kick arse alongside the lads are diminishing.

The crew has come to steal the Blake’s 7 equivalent of the Enigma machine, which will enable them to intercept and decode Federation messages. When they are done, they attempt to cover their tracks by destroying everything. I do love a good explosion and we get several as part of the complex goes up in flames. Blake’s 7 continues to rebut my initial ideas of it being low-budget and therefore unimpressive.

Cally

Not helping the women’s cause in Team Blake, Cally ends up trapped in the complex after the explosions. Following a scuffle with some employees and a guard she loses her teleport bracelet. She scrambles around trying to find it, but the collapsing building knocks her out.

This is not the first time the programme has shown the problems of the teleport bracelets. In Cygnus Alpha the crew had to hurriedly get bracelets on while fighting off Brian Blessed, who then managed to sneak onboard after nabbing one. I see losing bracelets or having them confiscated as being a potentially reoccurring issue.

Avon

Avon’s role in the episode isn’t huge but he’s at his snarky best throughout. As the others on The Liberator get impatient waiting to hear from Blake and Vila, he remarks, “That’s the trouble with heroics. They seldom run to schedule,” and when Jenna says, “Avon’s right,” he must have been delighted to get the pleasure of adding, “I usually am.”

It takes an embarrassingly long time for the crew to notice that Cally is missing. Blake being Blake, he instantly wants to go back. He does try to rush into things sometimes. It is very likely that Cally is dead. For once, Avon isn’t the only one to object to Blake’s idea, though he is the most vehement, insisting, “If you turn this ship round you will kill all of us!” Thankfully, Blake isn’t that stupid and reluctantly agrees that it is too great a risk.

Their Enigma machine later picks up a message telling them that Cally has been taken prisoner by the Federation and is travelling to Centero for “treatment and interrogation”. Avon is ever-cynical, remarking, “That doesn’t sound too promising.” Even without the knowledge that this is a trap, I find myself agreeing with him. They don’t know what physical state she will be in nor whether they would be able to find her. Yet Blake immediately turns the ship around. “Blake, what are you planning? What exactly have you got in mind?” Avon demands, sounding both worried and angry. He increasingly sounds like he’s beginning to have had enough of this and I can’t blame him.

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The Federation

Seek-Locate-Destroy is the first time since The Way Back that we have seen some the Federation’s governing structure. We pan across a space station that is definitely partially constructed from a couple of coat hanger hooks, but nonetheless is impressive model work. I’ve been very pleased with all the model work depicted in the series so far. I think it looks far better than anything could as CGI.

I knew of Servalan before I began watching Blake’s 7 for the first time and she was in the ep I’d previously watched for Back in Time for TV. In all honesty though, I’d half forgotten about her because there’s just been so much else going on while we got Team Blake together. Yet I was quite excited to see her as I had found her such a magnificent and intimidating presence before. I was a tiny bit disappointed to find that lacking here. There is something there, but I’m going to have to wait to see more.

Her scenes help to bulk out the episode more than usual, which meant it absolutely flew by for me. Blake is making an impact and a couple of guys come to chat to her, as head of Federation security, about what should be done. We discover Blake is “a rumour”, “a fairy tale” and is being described as “a legend”. This isn’t bad work for him and it has clearly been built on his previous reputation.

Space Commander Travis

The two men initially meeting with Servalan look uneasy when she says she has selected Travis to deal with Blake. Travis is built up a fair amount before we meet him. He’s massacred civilians, has created “embarrassing” incidents for the Federation, and is currently under investigation. Servalan is keen to proceed with her appointment though, positively describing Travis as “ruthless” and “committed”.

A guard of some sort comes to express his concerns about Travis. Servalan strokes his shoulder while they chat, in quite a feminine action. It’s meant to be reassuring for the guard but perhaps it also makes him vulnerable. She’s his superior and he can’t change her mind about Travis. I can’t wait to see more of her – what sort of villain can she be to be willing to employ someone like this? We haven’t even met Travis yet and he’s already been set up as a total scumbag.

Our first view of Space Commander Travis is his tightly-coated black leather arse. We linger on it a while as he speaks to Servalan. When we do see his face, it has an eyepatch of sorts that seems moulded on. When I saw Travis previously, I was intrigued to discover what was behind his patch, so was glad that in Seek-Locate-Destroy we learn the story of how his face was damaged.

Hearing Travis’s name on their Enigma machine, Blake recognises it – “I was sure I’d killed him.” We then get a very good few scenes where Travis begins telling Servalan how Blake shot his face and hand, before we cut to Blake telling the story of how Travis ambushed a dissenters’ meeting, killing people after they had surrendered, and therefore finishing Travis’s tale. I thought this broke up the exposition nicely.

The inclusion of this story shows us that Blake’s memories of his earlier life are returning, something he himself comments on, saying that they have been gradually coming back since the events of The Way Back. Blake seems to think it has happened because of him witnessing a similar massacre of civilian dissenters by Federation guards. This may be true but when he’s made odd references in earlier episodes, I had just assumed that his memories were no longer suppressed because he wasn’t subject to the Federation’s daily food and drink suppressants.

Travis and Blake only meet briefly during this episode but there is clearly a lot of loathing on both sides. Travis resents that Blake managed to damage both his face and hand, which is now part machine with a powerful gun incorporated. Capturing him again would be fantastic revenge as Travis holds the Federation in such high regard that he abhors anyone who dares stand against it.

Although Blake has been passionate about attacking the Federation, his anger has been directed at this enormous faceless entity. The introduction of Travis gives Blake a personal rival and the series now has a visible villain. It’s grand having Avon here to feud with and slash cutting commentary at Blake, but, well, I like Avon more than Blake! And while Avon is sarcastic, selfish and a bit of an annoying sod for Blake, Travis is something else entirely – he’s a vicious, inhuman bastard. Blake describes him as “the man who killed 20 of my friends.”

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Travis teases Cally, as she is trapped and immobile in an interrogation room. Yet while he could appear lustful and creepy, I think he instead comes across as just a genuinely sadistic sod. This is emphasised by another scene where we see him looking through photos of Blake’s torture.

Blake

It is interesting that before they meet, Travis already knows Blake’s mind well. He sets a trap to lure Blake to Cally, saying, “He wouldn’t abandon the girl – not Blake,” as he has, “one reliable flaw – loyalty.” In contrast, Cally, who has been travelling with Blake for a short while now, claims, “Blake will not risk his ship and that crew just for me.”

Blimey, Cally – what has given you that impression? I’ve spent six episodes watching Blake doing almost exactly that – risking everything without consulting anyone else to get what he wants. This is exactly the sort of thing that Blake would do and the fact he is so predictable to a virtual stranger, even after several years, is bound to be a major weakness.

When Blake does arrive to rescue Cally, he chooses not to shoot Travis, telling him, “Killing you will change nothing. You don’t matter enough to kill.” I was livid with Blake. You can’t be having morals over this swine! You thought you’d killed him years ago anyway. You’ve probably killed some innocent people at the communications base earlier today and you were acting so bloody high and mighty then! Just shoot him. You’ll feel such a prick when he kills one of the Liberator crew.

The future

There are a couple of aspects that date this episode. Setting anything in the future is always difficult as it is incredibly hard for most people to accurately predict anything more than a few years in advance. We haven’t had an exact year or even century for Blake’s 7 yet, though I would guess we’re at least a few hundred years in the future. But by the 21st century it has already fallen foul of something that plagues 20th-century programmes – its prediction of an analogue future.

While explaining the unscrambling Enigma machine (I probably should have tried to remember the actual name), Avon explains that everything will be recorded on “microtape”. I wonder just how small Blake’s 7 was expecting microtapes to be? Is it supposed to be something absurdly tiny, or simply the type of microcassette commonly available for dictation machines?

Similarly, in The Way Back, Blake mentioned receiving “vidtapes” from his family. This is an odd word to make up when I am sure ‘video’ was already in use. Red Dwarf always amused me in that despite all the fantastic ideas it had for future technology, it could still only get as far as predicting that videos might become triangular instead of rectangular.

In a different sort of dating, I christened Seek-Locate-Destroy as ‘Bad CSO Week’. This is something of a misnomer of course because in my experience all CSO looks a bit crap. This week we see Travis’s head floating in an oval in the air, when he appears via some sort of video or telephone link to speak to some medics and Cally. The outline of his head is a fuzzy dark blue and is usually the telltale sign for spotting CSO. The use of this is reasonable enough for the plot though.

What is not reasonable is the depiction of a couple of blokes looking at a monitor, with CSO used to add in the background of the room behind them. What does that room show? Some ceiling lights, some electronic equipment on a table and bugger all else. This entire clip is used solely to provide a reference for a guard who is telling Travis about Centero’s monitoring system. It lasts a grand total of eight seconds and is completely unnecessary, so I remain annoyed about it.

Zen

I’m still naffed off about Zen being counted as a member of the crew – clearly ‘Blake’s 6’ didn’t sound as good. Zen continues to be somewhat shady. He ignores some questions and only volunteers certain information. He names the ship The Liberator after picking the name from Jenna’s thoughts, which is creepy.

Yet in Seek-Locate-Destroy I found him slightly amusing. Blake asks for a readout of everything in the databanks on Centero – again. Presumably Zen has already provided this information once already. Sounding slightly fed up, Zen says his usual “confirmed” with a sigh. Blake picks up on this, snapping, “I want it now!” There’s a suggestion early on that the ship is organic and I wonder if we may see Zen develop more of a personality. I have no idea what else this could mean for Zen, but based on his unconstructive attitude, we definitely can’t discount him going rogue in some way.

I’m hugely looking forward to seeing more of Servalan and Travis. After an action-packed opening, the rest of the episode could have dragged as we sit in on a Federation meeting, learn the background to Blake and Travis’s relationship, and essentially watch a lot of plotting going on. Yet I found the main characters to be compelling viewing. I think it’s been good to get to know the Liberator crew before shaking things up with the introduction of a couple of regular adversaries.

Comments

  1. Andrew P

    So delighted that you're having so much fun with this series. I found it utterly captivating when I watched it through originally, and – by and large – whenever I've returned to it over the years I've still relished the characters and the sheer drive for adventure. I'm so pleased to find that people can come to it and share the thrills and spills all these years later!

    All the best

    Andrew

  2. H E Cooper

    Thanks for reading Andrew. 'Fun' is exactly the right word. Despite the serious nature of some of the events, the show's lighter moments ensure the atmosphere is still great. It is undoubtedly the characters that have kept me gripped so far and I've been really impressed by them. It has been wonderful to discover how well-loved the series is and I'm enjoying my first tentative steps into Blake's 7 fandom!

  3. Andrew P

    Interesting show isn’t it? ‘Fun’ shouldn’t be the word for some of the things which happen in the series – it tackles some very nasty things, but somehow in a manner which (for the time) was perfectly acceptable for a family audience. There’s a lightness of tone which off-sets the gravitas – and a lot of that is down to the characters.

    Hope you’re having some great experiences in the fan culture. I was in “Horizon” for a while in the 1990s and there were some terrific people to meet through it; made some good friends whom I’m still in touch with today. It’s so tempting to discuss elements of production with you or make comments which pre-figure episodes which you have in store… but that would utterly defeat the purpose of this brilliant “cold reading” which you’re doing. As such, I’ll save some of my comments until you’ve got to the end.

    But this is great. So nice to see people enjoying the plots and characters after so long!

    All the best

    Andrew

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