Season 1: Episodes 5-8
I must admit I watched episode 5, “The Web”, at the same time that I was writing my article about the previous four episodes. As such, I didn’t pay much attention, except to the flaky Ewoks that were dancing around the screen. My view as I was half watching was that it was a big let down after the first four episodes. When I decided to carry on with this watch through I went back and watched it again.
Episode 5 has the feel of an episode of Star Trek. It is the first in the series that has a “Monster of the Week” plot and suffers a little because of it. The Liberator has acceleration problems and is hurtling along out of control. Meanwhile, an alien intelligence, through the possession of Cally, directs them into a distant system where they are caught in a mysterious web. Unable to escape, Blake is forced to teleport down to the surface of a nearby planet where he encounters the BBC Ewoks, one of whom throws a spear at him. He tries to find shelter in a nearby building and is trying to find a way in when one of the little darlings comes up and asks him for help. Before he can respond, a pale looking man emerges from the building and kills the little critter to death. Blake, shocked but dealing with this particularly well, enters with the man and meets a woman. He is told that they are brother and sister and that they are in trouble. The little creatures, known as decimas, are repeatedly attacking and bent on destroying the pair of them. This isn’t surprising as the two of them have every intention of culling them as there are too many. Blake learns that they are genetically engineered creatures designed to perform simple tasks. They appear to have developed emotions and run amok. If you recognise this from anywhere, you’re probably right. It’s reminiscent of any number of stories in science fiction but really it harks back to the slave trade and the respective rights of individuals. It also foreshadows the current debate about stem cell research. Blake has a dilemma. In order to escape the web he must give power cells to the two slave masters, which will enable them to carry out their cull. The rest of the plot I’ll leave . Suffice to say that there is a karmic payoff in the end. I enjoyed it more the second time around, especially the banter between Blake and Avon, who is quite content to hand over the cells and sentence all the decimas to death. Also, there is an especially nice bit of camera work early on, moving through the forest in a most eerie way which reminded me of a shot from Twin Peaks.
Episode 6, “Seek, Locate, Destroy” gets the main story back on track. I really liked this, not least because of the introduction of Space Commander Travis and his boss, Servalan. We begin with Blake blowing up the Fulham Gas Works (or the Centero Communications Base) as part of his campaign against the Federation. All goes to plan and they even get their hands on the Federation’s equivalent of an Enigma machine which will allow them to monitor everything the Federation is saying. Then disaster strikes as Cally is left behind. Avon is ready to give her up for dead but Blake struggles with this. He doesn’t have much of a choice though as going back will mean certain death.
We are then introduced to Servalan, who is facing a grilling from some government types about why Blake is still at large. She gives them the brush off and tells them that she’s put someone in charge of finding Blake and killing him, Space Commander Travis. There is great consternation about this as he has a somewhat spotty record involving mass murder and a penchant for shiny leather clothes. She then meets with one of her senior men who raises more objections about her choice. She goes from sitting with him, stroking his arm to giving him his marching orders when he disagrees with her. I must, at this stage, say how amusing it was that this gentleman was called Ray. I don’t know why exactly; just the idea that a senior military commander on a space station in the far future would be called Ray. Apologies to any Rays out there who harbour ambitions about employment with the Federation.
Travis’ entrance is quite superb. Indeed, he puts me in mind of the FBI agent, Mahone, in Prison Break. He enters proceedings and immediately figures out what Blake was up to and how to trap him. He’s clearly very good at what he does and comes across as quite an adversary. Blake manages to get the better of him and they escape. This is a really good episode. Stephen Greif is wonderful as Travis and Jacqueline Pearce has a great introduction. I especially enjoyed the way Blake refused to take revenge on Travis, coldly dismissing him by saying that he’s not important enough to kill. That was a nice touch.
Episode 7, “Mission to Destiny” takes us into Miss Marple territory, with the crew of the Liberator encountering a freighter going around in circles. It even involves a Sherlock Holmes style exposition by Avon, loving every minute of it. having said that, this is a disappointment after the previous episodes. There’s not much time to develop any of the characters involved and, as a result, I found myself paralysed by not caring very much. The only plus in this episode is the chance to spend a bit more time with Avon.
Episiode 8, “Duel” brings Travis back. This is another episode that calls to mind Star Trek. Picture Kirk and the Gorn battling it out at Vasquez Rocks, but replaced by Blake and Travis. Its interesting to see just how good Travis is at his job. His failings are not altogether his fault. He comprehensively outmanoeuvres Blake in their space battle and is about to destroy him until they are interrupted by the aliens on the planet below who set up an elaborate gladiatorial match between the two in the New Forest. Travis grabs the chance to kill Blake instantly but is denied by one of the aliens because it is not fair. You can’t blame him, however. He thinks the object is to kill and I have to say he has a point. I feel a bit sorry for Travis in this episode. By all accounts, he should win this one easily. He’s ruthless and willing to sacrifice his other spaceship crews to guarantee the win in space. It seems silly at the end that he sacrifices his advantage by not letting his vampire/mutoid assistant to drink even a little bit of Jenna’s blood. Keeping Jenna alive seems like a silly risk to me. As a result, the mutoid is useless and it’s Blake for the win. His reward is a head start on Travis and off he goes. I love Travis’ interactions with the two aliens at the end. He hasn’t learned a thing and he doesn’t even care about taking his mutoid with him, even though she can be healed and then fly his ship for him (she’s back on the ship later though, so he obviously changes his mind).
I enjoyed this episode. I have to say, I had forgotten how much I liked Travis as a character. As I recall I much preferred Stephen Greif to Brian Croucher who replaces him in season 2. This was Greif’s favourite episode to film as he and Gareth Thomas were old friends and got to be on screen together more. He has said that he did not come back for season 2 because he felt he needed to expand the role a bit as it was too two-dimensional. Four and a half episodes of two dimensional were enough for him. It’s a shame as it would have been good to see him do more with the role.
Thanks for reading. I’ll be back again with the rest of season 1 in a little while.