Blake’s 7 – Trial

“You’re not going to use me anymore.”

Trial was an odd experience in that I had never felt so indifferent about what the Liberator crew were up to. You could have chopped the regulars out, stuck all the Space Command scenes together, and I would probably have been happy with a half-hour episode that didn’t feature the Liberator crew until the final five minutes.

Do we need the Liberator crew?

The Liberator’s activities are a sideshow compared to the episode’s main event – it’s even in the title! It didn’t take long to realise the production wanted an episode to move along Servalan and Travis’s stories but still needed to find something for the main cast to do. I’m not sure we have had an episode where so few of the crew have been off the Liberator, and I don’t think it matters. Blake’s little adventure on the planet is filler and though I didn’t find it dull, it did seem pointless. Maybe the climate change parallels didn’t seem so stark in 1979.

Blake’s reason for going was for some solo contemplation so if he did have to meet someone, I would have liked it to link to the rest of the plot, with him seriously trying to decide whether he should carry on. Trial would have possibly worked better as a Blake-lite episode. Just have him disappear to the planet and have the tension come from the uncertainty of whether he and the other crew will choose to keep the rendezvous. Maybe Chris ‘Many Plots’ Boucher wasn’t prepared to give Blake’s 7’s eponymous lead such a small role in any episode.

I’m torn on this though as I think the scenes at Space Command headquarters work well because they are all a good length. It’s easy for courtroom scenes to get dull and repetitive. Along with the scenes in Servalan’s office, we are essentially just watching people sat around talking. Similarly, the only reason the Liberator crew must jump into any action on board is that they realise Blake’s bollocksed and going to drown on the planet. Therefore, without that little ‘filler’ plot, Chris Boucher would have had to expand those Space Command scenes and provide more in-depth debate among Jenna, Cally, Vila and Avon. I’m not sure this would have made a balanced episode as the only real excitement and action would have come at the end, with no growth to the climax.

Do we need Blake?

I struggled to work Blake out during Trial. For a moment, I thought: what if he actually does leave them? I hadn’t expected us to lose a regular character barely midway through a series and now it feels like the show might do anything. That’s wonderfully exciting.

Blake’s voice message was convincing, but I’ve previously thought what Avon voices here – Blake feels guilty, and this drives him more than real care for his friends lives because the cause has always been more important. Yet I am no longer sure.

What would Blake have done if the crew had decided to leave him on that planet? He gave them that option and if they had done, his cause would have been lost. Why give them that if he wasn’t prepared to give up everything for them?

Yet maybe he is as deceitful as Avon believes. I struggled to believe that the passionate, determined man I have watched up to now would be willing to stop fighting just because of one, albeit close, casualty. Maybe Blake is also very arrogant, so was convinced the others would never actually leave him, and only wanted it to look like he was giving them a choice about their future. Whatever Blake decides is normally what they end up doing. With Cally as his only confidant for recent plans, he may have perceived the unhappy rumblings within the rest of the crew. It is possible he believed giving them a choice for once would placate everyone. Well, everyone except Avon.

Not one of your followers

I enjoyed Avon and Blake’s private chat in Pressure Point and they have a couple in Trial as well. There was no time to dwell on Gan’s death at the end of Pressure Point but I would have been surprised if Avon hadn’t made some remarks eventually. I rewound a few times because I adored watching Avon’s stony exterior as he riled the already highly-strung Blake. While the two of them often push one another’s buttons, Avon essentially says here that he will encourage the others to leave Blake to die!

Avon “It occurs to me that if you run into trouble, one of your followers, one of your three remaining followers, might have to risk his neck to rescue you.”
Blake “Then you must advise them against that, Avon.
Avon “Oh I will.”
Blake “They might even listen to you this time.”
Avon “Why not? After all, I don’t get them killed.”

Avon’s words have certainly been considered and calculated – he does not include himself in Blake’s number of followers. It’s a nice couple of little digs one after the other. Avon’s utter stillness was a tad unsettling and Blake looks like he has been on edge for a while. It’s important to pick up that Avon doesn’t actually want Blake dead – he just doesn’t want anyone to die for him. It would have been relatively easy to leave Blake to die on that planet when things started to go wrong, but I think Avon must see the advantages of Blake being around. He may dislike how Blake goes about things, but Avon isn’t keen on the Federation either and probably still wants his idea from Pressure Point to go ahead: Blake will leave the Liberator to lead an organised rebellion movement and the ship can become his.

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Follow the leader?

Gan’s death is used as the driver for the events here, although I don’t think it needed to be – Blake’s adventure on the planet is incidental compared to the deliberations back on the ship. I would have liked to have seen more debate among the crew, but they do all seem to have similar feelings. At one time Jenna would have jumped to Blake’s defence and loudly insist they stay but there is none of that from anyone. They are all questioning whether they are doing the right thing.

I’m pleased that Blake’s 7 has addressed this. There has never been any real debate about what their purpose should be. Apart from Avon, none of the crew has ever questioned if they could do anything besides this crusade against the Federation. Following Cygnus Alpha, everyone has been willing to give Blake the benefit of the doubt at least. This didn’t have to have come about because of Gan’s death as I think the powerful shock of that empty room was enough. If Control is what they need to bring down the Federation, how are they ever going to find it now?

When Blake returns, Avon makes a point of telling him that his crew nearly abandoned him. I think, like their conversation in Pressure Point, Avon wants to ensure Blake realises he is not indispensable as a leader. Despite the humour of Avon telling Vila that while Vila is following Blake, Avon is being led by him, I think there is a difference. They may all originally have been following Blake but the dynamic on board has begun to change. The hesitation of everyone demonstrates they may be willing to be led by someone else.

Avon now carefully chooses his moments alone with Blake to deliver these comments that are designed to knock him down a peg or two, as well as reinforcing Blake’s guilt. The others may have jumped in to tell Avon that his digs about Gan were harsh or that they were never really going to leave Blake. Regardless of whether they meant it, it would bolster Blake and Avon’s words would lose some of their impact. I wonder if this is strategic of Avon, to make Blake doubt himself and ultimately hurry up in leaving them.

We get our best Paul Darrow grin for a while when Jenna asks Avon, “What would you know about guilt?” and he replies, “Only what I’ve read!” Avon is a little too confident about how much emotions affect him, turning Series A’s ‘machine’ comments on their head, but I think he may just have been lucky so far.

Travis’s trial

Despite only having appeared in a couple of episodes so far this series, Servalan and Travis’s relationship has clearly developed since Series A. She’s always been delightfully evil but this felt a new low. As she and the Major were speaking, my brain was wracking who could be on trial, and when I established it couldn’t be Blake, I knew it must be Travis.

We learn bits and pieces from the conversations of the assessors (including lovely nuggets like the poor food quality of Space Command) and they think that Servalan wants Travis dead so he can’t spill her secrets. When we also learn that there is an upcoming enquiry into “the Blake affair”, this makes slightly more sense. They reckon Travis would now be more willing to speak against her if they postponed his execution until after the inquiry. My query is: would Travis have condemned Servalan if she hadn’t managed to put him on trial? What secrets of hers would he be spilling to the Federation that he wasn’t part of himself?

In their earlier appearances, I had assumed that all their plans were Federation-sanctioned, but it became clear that this has not always been the case so Travis may have quite a bit to reveal. Space Commanders cannot simply ‘disappear’ though, hence the trial. Despite that cool exterior, Servalan must have become concerned to risk going through with this.

Travis’s genocide was mentioned when we were first introduced to the character and it appeared that Servalan had managed to make this investigation disappear because she felt he would be useful. Maybe Travis has now simply outlived his usefulness. He’s had Blake cornered on several occasions and had him slip through his fingers. This has rarely actually been Travis’s fault and indeed, the end of Pressure Point was arguably Servalan’s own fault for getting caught by Jenna.

If Servalan wanted to replace Travis, she couldn’t dismiss him and have him walk away with all that knowledge of their illegal actions. This feels like such a shift from those scenes in Deliverance when she was relaxed, had him in the palm of her hand, and confided to him about her dastardly plot to obtain Orac. Even with all the evidence so far, I think I have probably underestimated Servalan’s evilness. I presumed some degree of loyalty between her and Travis. She could have dismissed him after Project Avalon, she could have got rid of him after Orac, yet instead reconvened with him after his mysterious “conditioning”, which I have always thought she must have had a hand in. Perhaps she already felt he knew too much then, but still had hope he could stop Blake.

Travis’s humanity

Prior to Trial, I considered Travis the more brutal of the two, but in Series B we have seen more of them both and there is something redeemable within Travis. We saw it in Deliverance when he was initially hesitant about ruining the surgeon who repaired his hand. It was a brief hesitation, but it was there.

In Trial, we see a small bond between the Federation Trooper who had fought under Travis during the genocide, and who smuggles him a hipflask. When Travis comes to escape, he and the Trooper both seem willing to shoot one another but Travis clearly doesn’t want to and ultimately chooses not to kill the man, instead karate chopping him unconscious. Why? Why not just shoot him? The Trooper had said that Travis never showed care for his men – his respect was due to Travis being a good fighter. Yet it appears Travis does have a tiny ounce of selfless humanity in him.

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For anyone else, a demonstration that they aren’t a complete psychopath would be a Very Good Thing. However, for Travis I think this could be a weakness and Servalan is good at exploiting people’s weaknesses.

The Federation

We haven’t seen a great deal of the Federation’s internal workings. We’ve heard about them but apart from tons of dispensable guards, the Federation’s hierarchy has been represented only by Servalan. As such, it’s been relatively easy to just stamp it all as evil. Yet in Trial I got the impression that the Federation began with good intentions, yet its corruption became so widespread that it inevitably went irretrievably wrong, until such things became normal.

There is a trial and unlike Blake’s, it doesn’t look like a foregone conclusion. The assessors are frustrated that Servalan seems able to get away with doing whatever she wants. They judge that Travis definitely is a terrible person, and, something that I found surprising, say that the Federation don’t want people like that representing them. Penal colonies, slave labour, a Big Brother society – fine, but blatant genocide is a step too far. I still don’t doubt that the Federation as a governing system is bloody horrific, but there do appear to be people within it who are trying to do good-ish things. After this episode, it looked as though the Federation may be dreadful, but Servalan is downright appalling. I’m not set on this at all and look forward to seeing how it plays out further.

Dastardly design

I know the Federation may be the greatest source of evil in the Blake’s 7 universe, but it does also possess some superb designers. I am a big fan of the logo of the Federation and the series. However, last series the version on the guards’ uniform was incredibly naff and looked like it had been sellotaped on their chests. Thankfully, this has now been rectified and it looks much smarter.

If this impressed me, I was even more thrilled when the assessors turned up for the trial sporting silver Federation logos. SILVER. I thought they were gorgeous. And John ‘I say, I say’ Savident is here to wear one. Are there other variations? Are there gold logos for higher ranking people? Is it purely for official events like trials and ceremonies? Can I get one?

I would also be happy to possess the trial room. I love how the silver, white and black complements the uniforms of the assessors. I like that the room is not simply round or square but both its shape and the furnishings are constructed around semi-circle and curved designs. The assessors sit on a raised area with a silver, almost dripping, effect behind them. Everything looks open and bright, yet the accused sits in the middle of the room, with everything built to look at them, judging.

I like the symmetry going on with the white and coloured pedestals on each side – I think these were used to accept evidence. This is also present in the lovely black chairs on white, round platforms, which are extended versions of Travis’s single black chair. That curved high back looks great.

Winners and losers

Series A often felt triumphant. The Liberator crew were knocking little chunks out of the Federation and it was such a joy as Blake’s 7 established the regime’s vileness so quickly. Yet these were mere flesh wounds and in contrast, Series B has shown how hard it is to have any larger, significant impact against the Federation. It feels so far-reaching, impenetrable, and, I keep coming back to that word – invulnerable. Blake especially has realised the importance of having a more organised rebellion, but Shadow, Horizon and Pressure Point have been repeated knock-backs. It must be increasingly detrimental for their morale. At this point, Trial is a well-placed episode for everyone to stop and consider whether they should go on. As this appears to be settled, I will be interested to see if Blake looks to alter his strategy. While they do all appear willing to continue for now, I am not sure everyone shares Blake’s passion – it really is an obsession, and his complex history with the Federation likely means his dedication to its destruction will always be the strongest.

I was incredibly excited by the end of Trial. Well, not the very end – this is the second episode that has ended with the crew laughing together and it’s nastily cringey. My brain has lingered on the scene when Travis burst into Servalan’s office. I never expected to be cheering Travis on but I was so bloody pleased. Although we had seen their relationship change this series, I hadn’t been expecting it to develop so quickly and I wouldn’t have predicted them to part ways either. This really is grim for Blake, who doesn’t even know about it yet! He will now be pursued by two enemies. Travis may not be as creatively-vile as Servalan every day of the week, but it’s different when it comes to Blake. I cannot wait to see the next time they meet, with Travis completely unrestrained from Servalan and the Federation. I’m also excited to see how this situation develops – will Servalan care more about capturing Blake or Travis?

Comments

  1. AndrewP

    My most vivid memory of “Trial” was that it was the episode where – for me – Servalan and Travis really came into their own; their narrative was more engaging than what was happening to the Liberator crew… something that I hadn’t really expected. I realised that in some way the focus was really meant to be about Blake putting himself on trial because of Gan’s death – but it was the Federation-based events which really held my attention. Nevertheless, some nice character interplay between Blake and his cohorts – and Chris Boucher’s dialogue is almost always enjoyable. But the laughter at the end was one of those odd moments where it quite work for me…

    It’s brilliant seeing you engaging with the characters and their development so much. What a great blog!

    All the best

    Andrew

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