Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Season 1 Episode 6 - Seek-Locate-Destroy - Enter Servalan and Travis, straight from a fetish club

What happens in this one?
Having finally reached Centero, Blake and the crew sabotage a Federation communications base and steal a device, called a cipher, that will allow them to listen to its messages. They succeed, but Cally gets left behind on the planet and is held as a hostage to lure Blake back. Servalan, the Supreme Commander of the Federation, is introduced, and a nation sits up. Responding to concerns from the Federation's president that Blake is becoming a hero among its opponents, she reinstates a space assassin called Travis, who has had previous run-ins with Blake, to seek, locate and destroy him. DO YOU SEE?
A patrol robot at the Federation's communications base on the planet Centero, honestly
The start of this episode would look familiar for fans of 70s or 80s UK sci-fi. Shots of a disused processing plant full of pipe work (Fulham Gas Works, location fans!), with the camera panning over to a robot that moves on wheels and twists its head while making a beeping noise (and an annoying rattle - not sure if that’s deliberate). Age has not been kind to this robot but let's not judge it - but then again, with its boxy appearance and clunky arms, did it ever look stylish and futuristic? We all know the answer to that one.

However, I have little faith and am certainly not quite prepared for what follows.

This episode contains some brilliant comic timing. Vila’s character, getting a chance to get out and about with Blake, is really given the opportunity to shine, and shows off his two main skills as computer-based lock picker and, erm, coward.

And he's back to carrying that cool box again.

Vila and his cool box - this time containing
explosives and lock picking equipment; no sandwiches

'Gathers momentum'

But when humour is used well in British sci-fi, it shows a confidence that helps makes a programme compelling. It’s also good to have a clear plot that builds and gathers momentum.

For what feels like the first time so far, the crew have a plan with a motive and there’s no bumbling around and falling into unknown trouble, which I was beginning to find so repetitive. There's also a sense of building mythology, and bringing some previously heard-of elements to the fore.

Here are the crew on Centero, where they've been headed for the past few episodes, while later we get some back story on Blake's time before we began following his adventures, and most significantly, we get to find out more about the Federation, whose ships have been in pursuit of the Liberator up until now. Best of all, we meet its Space Commander.

Enter Servalan

The entrance of Servalan is perfect. Imagine watching this go out back in '79 - you think you've got a handle on what this show's like and then along comes Servalan, a soon-to-be regular arch-enemy and the face of the Federation - and with a taste for young male guards and stylish cocktail dresses at every occasion.

You can just imagine the discussions the programme's makers must have had to get her right. Should she wear a dark menacing cloak? What jewels should be encrusted around the throne she could sit on? How many gold teeth could she have to allow lots of slow close ups when she laughs menacingly after concocting her latest devilish plan?

Fortunately they didn’t go for any of these. The choice of Jacqueline Pearce in a long white dress and her short cropped hair is a breath of fresh air, and the character was originally planned to appear just this once. But as the actress says on the episode's DVD commentary, "I can see why they asked me back".

The straight-talking attitude she brings gives a gritty, honest, compelling edge to the show. That's most apparent when she describes Blake, not as a feared and worthy adversary, but "just a man backed by a handful of criminals and that is all".


Servalan's new right hand man and Blake's nemesis: Travis
'Tight leather outfit'

Her appointment of the ruthless assassin Travis, recently stripped of his authority for a massacre on Auros, is another boost for the programme, even though occasionally he is in danger of becoming a  panto villain ("You better kill me Blake. Until one of us is dead there won't be a time that I'm not right behind you." *cue evil chuckle*) - but Stephen Greif makes it work, even if he and Servalan look like they have just come from a peculiar space fetish club.

It's the tight leather outfit and eye patch that does it. 

Watching this new double act take on Blake and his crew has suddenly brought new life to the programme. It feels like it's all going to be a lot more fun.

Oh and Blake beams down again and manages to rescue Cally from Travis' clutches, right under his nose.

Curses, foiled again!

Fact box ahoy:
Blakes 7 S1E6 Seek-Locate-Destroy
First shown: 06/02/78
Director: Vere Lorrimer
Guest Star(s): Jacqueline Pierce (introduced as ice-queen and arch enemy 'Servalan'), Stephen Greif (introduced as space commander 'Travis').


All images/screen-grabs copyright BBC

Related stories:
-Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Season 1 episode 1: The Way Back. Sci-fi for grown ups?
-Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Season 1 episode 2: Space Fall - story grips, effects do not
-Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Season 1 episode 3 - Cygnus Alpha: BRIAN BLESSED; plot holes
-Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Season 1 Episode 4: Time Squad - Enter Cally the telepath. Hmm
-Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Series 1 Episode 5: The Web - a moral dilemma with an easy solution
-Blakes 7 DVD rewatch: Season 1 Episode 6 - Seek-Locate-Destroy - Enter Servalan and Travis, straight from a fetish club



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