02/03/2012

Blakewatch - Week 9: Project Avalon

52 Weeks in The Year- 52 Episodes of Blake’s 7. Can we watch them all?

Episode 9- Project Avalon
(1978) Writer: Terry Nation / Director: Michael E Briant
Blake’s attempts to contact renowned resistance leader Avalon are thwarted when she is captured by Travis who has a plan to lure his nemesis into a trap.


"Well, this is just ridiculous.."
This story confirms that what we’d now call the `arc` episodes with Blake and co trying to do something against the Federation are more successful than the standalone ones like `Mission to Destiny` or `The Web`  which seem as if they could be slotted into any tv sci-fi series. It may eventually become repetitive watching people sneaking in and out of top secret locations but it is the kind of action that goes to the heart of what the series is about. `Project Avalon` choreographs its constituent elements very well, without the slack that has pulled on some of the previous episodes. It’s as if the production team have now worked out what sort of show Blake’s 7 is and how best to make it fly.

Travis (do we ever find out his first name?) is too clever for his own good this time but for once this is a successful part of the plot rather than seeming like a narrative error from Terry Nation. You can believe Travis would over-reach because he seems to be obsessed with catching Blake. This contrasts neatly with the latter’s ambivalence towards him. Probably someone did advise Travis that the best idea would be to lure Blake and co into the base and then capture them, clone Blake and send him back to the Liberator with the virus?

Stephen Greif’s performance puts over the Space Commander’s swaggering self confidence but you can tell from Servalan’s looks she is not as certain. Her grand arrival in a coat that seems to have a belt of deceased stoats underlines her ultimate superiority. Both Greif and Jacqueline Pearce are a lot of fun together, every line of dialogue is a declaration, every glance open to interpretation. They both look so pleased with themselves that there is a risk their ongoing story will become more absorbing than Blake’s. The progression is already evident when Servalan fires Travis at the end of the episode provoking another slightly amusing “I’ll get you, Blake, grhhh” moment from Greif despite the fact he’s lying on the floor looking at a futuristic snow globe.


"Not as ridiculous as this!"
Shot on generous sets, in real caves and utlilising a large number of extras, `Project Avalon` looks expensive when compared with some of the episodes so far. Director Michael E Briant takes full advantage of these assets even managing to stage one of the few convincing gun battles seen in UK telefantasy of the 1970s thanks to a corridor set that actually looks like a corridor!.  There is also something about real caves as opposed to sets that adds verisimilitude whether it’s the background noises or the look or simply the sometimes awkward spaces. Here, you get a real sense of alien-ness. One thing the show is also proving good at is integrating things like doors and futuristic touches into existing locations. It sounds simple but when it’s done as seamlessly as in this episode adds a richness that makes the show look more expensive than it probably is.

The script employs enough twists to make it a strong episode that demonstrates the series’ potential so you really want to see the next one. Even more surprisingly it works in 2012!

Notes
Servalan and Travis are watching Avalon on what is supposed to be a monitor screen but when the order is given to take her away, we see her being wheeled out from behind the screen. So why didn’t they just go round the other side to look at her?

While Travis’s mutoid servants are all female, when Servlan turns up, her Mutoids are male.  Makes you wonder how far their duties extend?

Our old friend Rubbish Security Robot (from `Seek-Locate – Destroy`) is back; this time simply leaning against a wall is enough to fox it. What’s more, it fails to notice the open circuit and wires hanging from the door which Vila has part opened. The Federation should ask for their money back.

The cave sequences were filmed in Wooky Hole in Somerset. Part of the Mutoid attack takes place on the same steps where three years earlier Cybermen and Vogons battled in Doctor Who’s `Revenge of the Cybermen` which was also directed by Michael E Briant. The caves were used again by the programme in 2010’s `The End of Time`.

Glynis Barber who plays a Mutoid would later return to the show as a regular character. David Bailie (Chevner) was known to Doctor Who fans as having played Dask the previous year in `Robots of Death`. He was born in South Africa, moving to England in the 1960s to pursue an acting career and was a member of the National Theatre. During the 1980s he left acting to start a furniture business. He has also done computer programming, health and safety in the building industry, photography and film making during a varied career. In the 1990s he returned to acting and is featured in a small role in three of the Pirates of the Caribbean films. He’s also recently appeared in audio Doctor Who stories.

Julia Vidler who plays Avalon was one of actors who was tested for the role of Jenna.

 

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