Blake’s 7 – Weapon

“You can be like God!”

I’d had small reservations about Chris Boucher after Shadow but Weapon has alleviated those. His stories have a different style to Terry Nation’s and I’m reluctant to try to define that yet, but I’m finding it interesting. Bonus points for starting an episode by blowing something up. I was thrilled to see Servalan and Travis again. Frankly, sod Team Liberator in Weapon – it was Servalan’s scenes I enjoyed the most, by far. It was pointed out to me that Servalan’s name is never actually said onscreen during Series A, so this episode becomes the first time it’s used. The clone woman’s pronunciation wasn’t how I had heard it in my head.

“Is there anything of me left?”

I was so disappointed to see a new Travis, who is now played by Brian Croucher. I had had such fun hating Stephen Grief’s evil Space Commander and it’s immediately apparent that New Travis is not of the same ilk. There’s an absence of menace and Grief had built up a presence, to the point where I was on edge every time he appeared, unsure whether he wanted to interrogate or kill someone. The recasting has lost that, at least for now, and I’m wondering whether it will ever return.

New Travis is introduced as ‘Blake’ walks into a room with him. I thought this was a great idea as it does look exactly like Blake. When I’ve seen fake versions of people – either robots or clones – in fiction, the creators tend to give them tells. Our heroes are supposed to have something to spot and this can be made clear to the audience, whether it’s in appearance, language or tone of voice. Like the robot in Project Avalon, this version of Blake is given no apparent tell immediately. My mind suddenly raced, trying to work out what was going on. But seconds in I knew there was no way Blake would ever trust Travis enough to meet him unarmed, walking in so normally. The situation alone made me doubt it. The moment when ‘Blake’ drops to his knees pleading with Travis felt entirely out of character.

Seeing Travis kill Blake, even a cloned Blake, does seem the perfect way to reintroduce the character – ‘This is the same guy – look how much he hates Blake.’ I did feel that these scenes with the clones lasted too long – there is so much chat with Travis, Servalan and the clone woman.

Supreme Commander vs. Bryan Ferry

In Series A, I couldn’t wait to see more interaction between Travis and Blake, and I was happy to see Servalan full stop. Based on Weapon, I’m looking forward to watching how Travis and Servalan’s relationship progresses. This open disdain and disloyalty to one another from them both was shocking.

I certainly never thought Travis was subservient to Servalan in the last series – it was what made his quieter, more reserved appearance in Deliverance so strikingly different – but while proud and assertive, he didn’t seem arrogant and there was still unspoken respect for the Supreme Commander. Any trace of deference has now vanished and for a man who has been beaten by Blake on several occasions, humiliated by him and Avon in front of Servalan, he’s far too cocky.

After he’s shot the Blake clone, Servalan tells him, “Travis, you are pathetic,” adding, “Of all the cripple-brained idiots.” He puts his hand around her throat and she threatens to send him to a slave pit. The arguing between Servalan and Travis does make a marked difference to Series A when I got the feeling that Travis held back some strong feelings, or at least toned them down. Servalan must retain the upper hand in their relationship though as he needs her – so he can take revenge on Blake – far more than she needs him.

There are references to Travis having undergone some sort of conditioning and I’m curious what this was exactly. Travis tells Servalan, “My visits to the retraining therapist have left me… I don’t know… Is there anything of me left?” So he still had enough value for the Federation to try to improve him, instead of chucking him on the scrapheap of failed Federation officers. I imagine replacing skilled and ruthless Space Commanders can’t be an easy task – not everyone’s got multiple mass murders in them. Surely such treatment should have made him easier for the Supreme Commander to control! It appears the results are somewhat unpredictable. It currently seems a huge change in personality for Travis, so I am glad that it is explained.

I do feel that Blake’s 7 missed a trick as this conditioning experience could have been used to explain his change of face; after the events of Series A, it might have been helpful for Travis to become unrecognisable to the Liberator crew. Having seen enough of this universe, swift plastic surgery certainly seems within easy reach of the Federation. It’s a loss I’m going to have to bear it seems and perhaps the production team just wanted to be able to crack on with the show, without having to dwell on such a major cast change.

The sexiest officer

Servalan has recruited the services of a psychoanalyst, Carnell, to predict Coser’s actions. Initially, these seem to hold up, but it starts to unravel for him when things go wrong. I was amused by how much of a coward he is, quite reasonably scarpering rather than face Servalan’s wrath. But he does leave her a video message to explain, which leaves her satisfied. I really enjoyed their scenes together. With Servalan walking around the seated Carnell, their height difference helps to emphasise her power and she seems so relaxed.

As in Series A, in Weapon Servalan continues to be dressed in pure white silky materials with furs. She always looks utterly stunning and her outfit in Weapon is probably as teasingly revealing as you can get away with at this time in the evening, with a small top hanging down that is cut off high and surely only just covering up her breasts – I’m pretty sure I could see a skin-coloured bra. We get to see a lot of different angles for this outfit in her scenes with Carnell. It was a tad distracting, in a nice way. If there weren’t already a generation of teenage boys (and a few girls) watching Blake’s 7 solely for the chance of a glimpse of Jacqueline Pearce every week, then they should be from now on. It certainly made an impression on Carnell, who finishes his video message by telling Servalan, “You are undoubtedly the sexiest officer I have ever known.”

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I love that while presenting a sexual image, I don’t think Servalan ever appears the stereotypical vulnerable female. I mention further on in this post about the cast appearing comfortable in their costumes, and Servalan looks so at ease in every scene. After seeing things slip through her fingers in Orac last series and seeing her fearful for the first time, in Weapon she seems in control again. She’s incredibly confident and despite Travis’s cockiness, she’s the one who continues to exude power. I think Servalan also uses her sexuality with men. Though we have really only seen her with Travis up to now, repeatedly with him and here with Carnell, she takes the small action of placing her hand on their chests.

Team Liberator

I’ve enjoyed Chris Boucher’s scenes with the whole crew over the past two episodes. Blake and Avon do often tend to dominate conversations on the flight deck, punctuated with the occasional witticism from Vila. But there seems to have been an effort to give the others more lines. I have no doubt that some of the reasoning for this would have been behind-the-scenes discussions with the actors. It’s much more natural for the conversations to have this type of back and forth.

I thought this worked well in their first scenes for Weapon, from which Blake is absent at the start. Instead of all being seated at the controls, they are sat or stood around the sofa area. This was good too as we must assume that even on the Liberator, there are quiet days for relaxing, perhaps odd evenings and weekends when they are not on standby for fleeing Federation pursuit ships or attacking strategic bases.

Blake the Bloody Hero

None of the crew is happy when Avon reveals, “another of Blake’s little schemes he hasn’t thought fit to tell us about,” although it turns out Cally does know, and it was in fact her idea. The others are not pleased by this either. Blake has always gone ahead with his “little schemes” and I have always been on Avon’s side about their imposition without consultation.

I don’t think it bodes well that Cally and Blake have effectively been plotting together. As Avon puts it to Cally: “On Earth, it is considered ill-mannered to kill your friends while committing suicide.” When Blake’s ultimate plan to return and attack the Federation on Earth is referenced, Vila hopes it will be “later, much later” and Avon reckons Blake will be attempting it alone. Jenna and Gan’s loyalty is shown when they refute that, but nonetheless, neither of them – who have both been keen fans of Blake – was happy that he and Cally had been making plans behind their backs. This feels like something that will continue to fester until someone (definitely Avon) has had enough.

What the plot

In Series A, I had noticed that Blake’s 7 often spent a long time on the Liberator in the first half of episodes. I was concerned that this might become a problem, but I’ve always been alright with it because Terry Nation still always brought in action, the plot does start moving, and I’ve never felt like the crew were spending 20 minutes wading through exposition or expressing simple drivel while sat on the flight deck. Nonetheless, in Shadow, Chris Boucher swiftly got us off the Liberator to Space City and it was interesting to have this different dynamic.

For Weapon, we return to Nation’s usual format and are easily over halfway through before the crew head down to the planet, yet this isn’t because we are watching the Liberator. The script spends a while with Servalan, Travis and the clone masters, which is probably longer than necessary. In a way, it reminded me of Deliverance, when the Servalan and Travis scenes were used to demonstrate how Travis’s failed mission in Project Avalon had impacted him. He had been under investigation then and a broken man. I expected something similar here, but there wasn’t, and I couldn’t quite work this new man out. It just seems to be used as a slight character reboot, emphasising Travis’s loathing of Blake.

Time is also taken up with us following Coser and Rashel on the planet. These were the only scenes that felt weak as they don’t add much, with the two escapees squabbling and pondering whether they can hear something. If it was an attempt to build up tension before the reveal of a giant crab-like claw, this is lost by repeatedly cutting away to Servalan and Travis or the Liberator. We aren’t at all invested in Coser at this point and the way he treats Rashel means he comes across as a prick, so I couldn’t give a shit what happened to them.

“IMIPAC! It’s called IMIPAC.”

Coser’s destruction of the crab does show us the potential of IMIPAC and was possibly an easier special effect to achieve than on a human being – the murder of the guard later on isn’t as horrifyingly disgusting as the melting crab made me think it would be. We cut away from Coser’s own death altogether, which did make me feel cheated. One could argue that after seeing the remains of the crab claw, the audience’s imagination could come up with something far more vile, yet this is taken away when we do cut back to see Coser’s intact corpse.

IMIPAC isn’t a fighting weapon for shoot-outs and duels, so I do think its gun-like design is misleading. I thought it was a marvellous strategic concept and Servalan seems the most perfect person to own it, as it gives a fantastic hold over people. I loved it when she shot Travis and thought this could be something that, with their altered relationship, dragged out over the series. Likewise, once Blake, Avon and Gan had been shot, I felt sure they were all doomed and might have to spend the series trying not to get too close to Servalan. When confronted with this fact, the three of them are uncertain initially – it could be a superb bluff, yet it really isn’t a risk they can take. Gan had earlier posited, “Is there a defence against IMIPAC?” with the reply coming from Avon, “Yes, it’s called slavery.” This possibility hadn’t occurred to me – I guess I just expected Servalan to want to kill people! It would have been ironic if the evil Supreme Commander had been the one to turn them into something resembling the Wicked Witch of the West.

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I couldn’t help but keep wondering whether Avon could have shot Servalan before she pressed the button. As at Orac‘s conclusion, he’s immensely trigger-happy around her and Travis, quickly analysing the situation when they walk through the door: “They’re too confident, Blake. This looks like a trap. Let’s kill the bait and get out of here.” Again, it’s Blake who holds him back. In a way, I can start to see how the two of them benefit each other, with Avon pushing back against some of Blake’s most risky propositions, while Blake prefers Servalan and Travis alive so that he knows who his enemies are.

Worldbuilding

There are a few bits of worldbuilding given to us by these scenes, with Coser repeatedly referenced as of “Beta grade”, added to the Alpha and Delta ones mentioned in Shadow. Rashel is described as a “Labour grade slave”. I don’t think this is the first time Blake’s 7 has mentioned slaves – it’s no surprise at all that the Federation has them. Interestingly, Blake himself, or at least his clone, is recognised by Coser. I’m hoping this is due to Federation ‘WANTED’ posters else the crew have got no chance of ever impersonating their way into anywhere.

Blake’s 7 meets glam

As a collection, Weapon‘s costumes have been my favourite so far. I’m finding all the costumes from Series B so entertaining. It’s a superb step-up from Series A and I love that the regular cast is getting something different every week. So many fantasy-type series keep their costumes the same for every episode or make only minor adjustments, and perhaps it is seen as an unnecessary budget expenditure. The sheer variety of outfits is making Blake’s 7 stands apart and they are impressive. I can’t believe that in one week we’ve gone from World of Leather to glam rock. I’m also impressed by Costume Designer June Hudson’s attention to character, as I increasingly find everyone’s outfits are so suited; nothing jars and for me, that’s how it should be – the cast look comfortable and natural, despite having outfits that were probably quite different to their usual 1970s’ clothes.

The word for Weapon is GLAM. Travis should be fronting Roxy Music on Top of the Pops, being a dead ringer for Bryan Ferry (I can’t get over this), while Coser and Rashel could easily blend in as someone’s guitarists.

Stephen Grief’s Travis had an awesome Federation uniform, although I do think it’s good to have changed it for a different actor; there will be comparisons anyway and it helps the new actor put their mark on the part. New Travis’s outfit remains black but it’s much sleeker and, like everyone else’s in this episode, looks that touch more glamorous. Travis’s eyepatch has also been updated and I prefer this design. The previous version was bulky and the hole for Grief to see through was blatantly obvious. I’m certain it must have been difficult to keep on because it looked like it would fall off at any moment. This one seems more bespoke.

This week Avon has come dressed as an all-black gentleman thief – Paul Darrow has that slightly chiselled face – while Vila could be his bumbling sidekick, being also in black, but more of a silky shirt. I can’t make my mind up about Avon’s totally red outfit – at least you aren’t going to lose him. Meanwhile, Cally and Jenna are done up beautifully and could be ready to walk onto Dallas. The ladies really add a touch of sophistication this week. Blake is still playing Robin Hood.

Heroes and villains?

I’m aware I have said relatively little about the Liberator crew in Weapon, though, in fairness, they get a limited amount of screentime. Maybe this was planned. It’s been a whole year since the 1979 audience has seen Servalan and Travis and while it has been barely a couple of months for me, I was keen to watch them again.

Having such compelling recurring villains is a huge part of Blake’s 7’s appeal. When your heroes are criminals with some questionable morals, they need truly despicable opponents. The further we see the Liberator crew go, the further we need to see their enemies go.

I love how outrageously heartless both Travis and Servalan are, yet both display it in different ways. Travis is an aggressive and blatantly sadistic man of action, while Servalan enjoys surveying results with a satisfied smirk. He is a mercenary while she is a strategist, taking enormous pleasure as she delicately moves pieces into position. I loved her line, “When you know an enemy’s strengths and can use them against them, they become weaknesses.” It’s interesting that this is close to Blake’s strategy, having repeatedly said in Series A that he knows he can beat Travis. So often Servalan seems one step ahead of everyone – either Travis had too much trust in her, or it never even occurred to him that she might use IMIPAC on him. Both Orac and Weapon have shown Servalan willing to get more involved in missions on the ground, overseeing operations more closely. I do wonder whether this is putting her at risk. I’d like to see whether the Liberator crew begin to realise this and try to take advantage of it.

Comments

  1. AndrewP

    Again – so much of what you write here evokes my own memories of 1979 and the feeling that I was watching a rather different version of the same series that I’d enjoyed a year earlier. The heavy emphasis on the Servalan/Travis material was something that I hadn’t expected, and – for the first time – I felt that Servalan was being written as the key focus of the pairing as opposed to Travis in the traditional “arch enemy” role.

    I remember it being a shock to lose Stephen Grief, but in retrospect there’s other qualities that Brian Croucher brings to the part. I now realise that both have their strengths in different areas of the character.

    Chris Boucher frequently has a very sharp manner with the dialogue of the Liberator crew which is very enjoyable; he starts to play with the character dynamics very well with an engaging approach.

    Delighted that you’re getting so much out of this show! 🙂

    All the best

    Andrew

  2. Mrs Underhill

    Ah, the Weapon – yes, it's a Servalan, Carnell and Travis show with the Libbie crew being a cameo: that's very unusual for the show but Servalan and Carnell especially were so much fun I didn't mind too.

    Servalan is back to claim her iconic place in the show – she finally gets a name, yes, and the most fabulous outfits. I read somewhere that as a supposed one-off character she didn't get any promo materials in S1, and in the end they had to hastily photo her in Prof. Ensor room in "Orac". And in S2 she's one of the main attractions.

    New Travis was a shock to me too! Took a while to get used to him. Later I watched Jeeves and Wooster and realized that recasting wasn't uncommon in British TV. But I wish they would explain it better – like in your suggestion to make him unrecognizable to the Libbie's crew, for example.

    I'm so happy that you are enjoying June Hudson costumes! I love them so much, and there's a collection of her B7 clothes lovingly maintained and displayed at B7 cons. June Hudson herself is a delight, she's still doing convention rounds and a joy to listen to.

    About Avon "Red Lobster" outfit: June Hudson's original version had a spiked collar, but David Maloney (the showrunner) ripped them off. She's still railing about it, bless her.
    I photoshopped the spikes back in and showed to her at a con, she was very happy about them and said that it's exactly how they looked. Was the highlight of my B7 fan experience. 🙂 Here's the picture: https://69.media.tumblr.com/2a2dc46b80d8df1d55548b2db02e17e8/tumblr_inline_pr5xrsd9qz1w7e4qu_640.jpg

  3. H E Cooper

    I do increasingly feel that it's a different show to the previous series. I'm still unsure how I feel about that. It certainly feels an adjustment. Outside of Deliverance perhaps, yes, Travis gets the focus. There seemed so much potential in Servalan's character last season and I always found myself wanting to see more of her, so it was nice to get so much in Weapon.

    Now I've got over the shock, I'm keen to see more of Brian Croucher.

  4. H E Cooper

    Loving these photos you share. Those spikes are fab. How wonderful to hear that some costumes have survived! I hope some of the cast nabbed them, just for flouncing around at home.

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