Blake's 7 #8: Duel

"Blake is sitting up in a tree, Travis is sitting up in another tree. Unless they're planning to throw nuts at one another, I don't see much of a fight developing before it gets light."

IN THIS ONE... Blake and Travis must fight one another at the behest of god-like aliens.

REVIEW: A strange hybrid, this one. It prominently features Federation baddie Travis and shows us Mutoids and pursuit ships (as more than blips on a screen anyway), but also indulges in a derivative Star Trek plot. But what I hold against it is that it hints at ideas, but doesn't make them clear, as if the script were filled with orphaned scenes and lines. Most notably, and I'm starting at the end, what is the nature of the powerful being that puts Blake and Travis to the test? After spending the episode showing disdain for the cruel old woman (Giroc), the younger Sinofar fades away. As given, it might just be one of their powers, but Giroc doesn't vanish. It seems to suggest... something. Giroc is mean and bloodthirsty like their people were, but Sinofar is perhaps too young to be a survivor from their apocalypse. It's almost like she's the people's conscience made manifest, or their regret, their need to atone. Giroc is really alone there.

We might also wonder if these people are, or ever were, human. Their timeline implies they were civilized before humanity went out into space. But we don't really have a date for Blake's 7. Destiny Colony (from the previous episode) was founded a century ago, BEFORE the Federation, but 100 years isn't enough to mutate into a telepathic species. Are Cally's telepathic people human? Or is this universe as full of humanish people as others in the television landscape? The green lighting at the top of the show seemed to promise actual aliens, but this mood is dropped by the end (sadly).

The slightly nebulous test of character involves Blake and the Gorn--I mean, Travis fighting it out in the wilderness, building makeshift weapons and traps. It's to the death, but Blake wins by NOT killing when he has a chance, stating that he would have enjoyed it too much and therefore stayed his hand. Sinofar seems to think that was the lesson she wanted to teach - Blake had already learned it, Travis never would - but how this would have been taught if he HAD murdered Travis isn't clear. The crone and the younger woman (in a see-through blouse that seems post-watershed indeed) also through the potential "death of a friend" into the mix - Jenna for Blake, but some random Mutoid for Travis, not an equivalent - as... hostages to force them to fight? Can't really wrap my head around the plot. So it's a lot of portentous talking (some of it hard to understand under the distortion on coms) and not enough focus.

The battle is well played, mind you. The forest is properly creepy. The trees are interesting to look at. The other property that's part of the show's DNA, but that doesn't have a rubric in these articles - Robin Hood - is well represented with a quarterstaff fight (though it should be Blake v Gan for it to be proper Hood). Travis' Trap looks nasty (if only their machetes weren't so blunt). I do think the music in this episode - not by Dudley Simpson on account of the director having something against him - is very noisy and I'm not always sure if it IS music, or some red alert klaxon. The Mutoid has a good role, and it's interesting that Travis does try to bond with her, but fails to. She's basically a human robot (with vampiric needs) and can't herself connect because she has no path and, in a way, no future. Check out that helmet hair too!

There is a difference between ambiguity and vagueness and Duel falls too often on the latter side. Strong ambiguity is, for example, Avon refusing to prove he cares. Vila questions it and wonders if he missed something. Cally confirms he had. No more is said. What he missed is that Avon DOES care, but showing it would be like saying the sky is black. He's not unfeeling, he's merely logical and pragmatic. These are the kinds of conversations we saw on Star Trek between Bones and Spock, but because Avon isn't singled out as an alien, we're perhaps left more mystified. On the other side, Travis gives every impression that he knew Kiera before she was turned into a Mutoid, and that they perhaps had a romantic relationship. That's his attempts to reach out to her and subsequent almost angry dismissal play. But we're not TOLD this explicitly. Another highlight is Blake confessing that "there are six of us" with just enough hesitation to address the show's title and its casting limitations.

NOT MY FEDERATION: In Star Trek, Starfleet and the Klingons were prevented from fighting by god-like aliens who forged the Organian Treaty. Blake's version looks more painful (and shorter term). As hinted at several times, the premise here mirrors that of the first season TOS episode "Arena", which had Kirk fight an alien captain with whatever was available in the wilderness, while the action was broadcast to the ship above. Like Blake, Kirk refuses to kill and the Metrons commend him on his civilized nature.

BUT MIGHT BE MY EMPIRE: Like the original Stormtroopers, Mutoids are devoid of identity (clones there, cybernetic organisms who have been brainwashed here), ensuring their loyalty.

WHO?: The episode's director, Douglas Camfield, worked on over a dozen Doctor Who serials, including The Time Meddler, The Web of Fear, Terror of the Zygons, and as an production assistant, the very first episode, An Unearthly Child. His falling out with composer Dudley Simpson was during the production of The Crusade. Isla Blaire (Sinofar) was Isabella Fitzwilliam in The King's Demons. Patsy Smart (Giroc) was the old bag lady in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and a character was named Patsy after her in the Jago & Litefoot audio series. Terry Nation's appellation "Mutoids" sounds a lot like Skaro's "Mutos", though their natures are completely different.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium(ish): It doesn't quite connect, and has a very derivative plot to boot, but ALMOST does. I'd rather give it credit for what I read between the lines.


Huntress said…
Your review of these episodes should be printed out and published at the end of your journey.