Blake's 7 #19: Trial

"Is it that Blake has a genius for leadership, or merely that YOU have a genius for being led?"

IN THIS ONE... Travis is on trial for war crimes. Blake has a think on a living planet.

REVIEW: Of all the possible trials, I wasn't expecting it to be Travis', and for a three-year-old massacre, no less. And while trials are conducted by computer and therefore potentially boring in the Blake's universe, Chris Boucher's script does a good job of extending the proceedings with reading the charges, questions of sentencing, and various side-hustles, in particular giving life to a couple of guards as a double act right out of the Robert Holmes playbook (and look who's in the writer's box NEXT!). We spend a lot of time on the Space Donut and none of it is wasted, even if we can never really know what Servalan is thinking. She seems to have sold Travis out (to which I say, FINALLY; he's been a big disappointment to her, after all), and has manipulated events to get a certain sentencing, but at the end, when the Liberator attacks (you can see it out the window) and Travis escapes his execution in the confusion, it's almost like this is the result she wanted. Travis, alive and on the run, trying to track down Blake even as the Federation tracks him down. If not, she certainly bounces back well, and is always checking if her calculations were correct, since Travis could also have decided to kill her. And that's everyone on the Donut. Travis plays dead until he suddenly dismisses his defense attorney, and makes an impassioned speech about Federation policy being the true culprit (using an Act vs. Think argument that also taps into the Blake plot). That attorney has all the names of the victims read into the record to push the arbiters to sentence Travis most severely under the guise of checking facts. The ministers are back and conspiring against Servalan, unaware that she has them bugged. The guards have shifting loyalties, but really, they don't want to be pulled off the cliff by Travis' descent ("He gave the orders, we only did the shooting"). It's fascinating, ambiguous, and even sometimes darkly funny stuff.

The brilliance of the episode is that Blake is also on trial after the death of Gan last episode. He's put himself on trial, perhaps judging himself more harshly than his crew does. Avon likes to twist the knife in the wound, saying things like "of your three remaining followers". Blake is haunted by guilt for having believed his own legend, led a ruinous mission, and caused Gan's death. Like Travis, he seems dead to the world and you can't quite know what he's thinking when he leaves for a secret mission on a wild planet, only taking the two computers into his confidence, and cutting off ties with the others. The theme here too is TRUST. Blake needs time to think and he's made it impossible for himself to return until a set time - enough to get his thoughts straight, and enough for the crew to either leave or forgive him - and he's willing to live with the consequences. If either side fails to get to the rendezvous, then that's that. Of course, it gets a bit more complicated than that when the planet turns out to be a living creature and he needs a rescue, but such is life in a space opera. The important thing is that they have the necessary conversations and even Avon chooses to bring Blake back, now that he's eaten his share of crow. As for Blake, the adventure is enough to restore his sense of purpose and head back into Federation space to maintain the "legend" after showing the group's fallibility in the previous chapter. An attack on the Space Donut just when Travis needs it? Oh, irony!

A few words about the living planet because it's a pretty cool idea, and Claire Lewis gives a fearlessly alien performance as Zil, one of the sentient "parasites" living on it. Boucher has given her strange words, and the designers a weird, handless look. And though the planet is essentially a forested area, the descriptions from orbit make it seems stranger, and then there's the scene where Zil slices the skin open to get at food... RIP Zil. This show is ruthless with its guest stars. I'm not entirely sure Blake learned the right lesson from his invigorating adventure on "the Host" (right back at it, eh?), but it's the one we need him to make for the show to go on. He does shed a death wish and any remnants of self-pity. From what I've read, he and the crew have also shed the very idea of mentioning Gan, which they never do again. Poor Gan.

NOT MY FEDERATION: Like Star Trek's, Blake's aliens appear to either look human, have god-like powers, or like Zil, have bits of latex stuck on their faces. The Trekverse didn't really feature a living world until Prodigy's Murder Planet, only a couple years ago. Trek has done several trial episodes, but with a goodie in the accused's chair. That Federation doesn't have the death penalty.

BUT MIGHT BE MY EMPIRE: A living planet in Star Wars? Only in the extra-canon (Zonama Sekot from Rogue Planet), but the sock puppet whale in The Empire Strikes Back evokes the same idea. Kangaroo courts certainly exist in Star Wars (if not kangaroos), as Andor can testify to.

WHO?: The first of two episodes directed by Derek Martinus - he did six Doctor Who stories, mostly in the black and white era, finishing his stint on the show with the third Doctor's introduction in Spearhead in Space. John Savident (the arbiter) was the Squire in The Visitation. The planet is "played" by the Royal Alexandra and Albert School in Merstham, Surrey, which is where they shot the infamous drowning cliffhanger from The Deadly Assassin.

REWATCHABILITY: High - The Machiavellis on both sides get some cracking dialog as Boucher uses common themes across both storylines. One of my favorites yet.


Allen W. Wright said…
Absolutely agree that this is a wonderful episode. And yes, with the double-acts, you really get the sense that Chris Boucher learned from Robert Holmes — not a bad thing. The one odd moment for me is the sort of Star Trek “cock your head back and laugh” ending between Blake and Avon.
Siskoid said…
They had one before, and it's always weird.

Glad to hear you speak well of this one, because as a whole, Straight Outta the Federation was fairly dismissive of it when I listened after.
Allen W. Wright said…
Really? I am surprised because I have always liked a lot of it aside from the final laugh.
Siskoid said…
I think it wasn't you so much as the others, but the overall effect was more mockery than appreciation.