November 28, 2021

Gabbing Geek

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Blake’s 7 “Duel”

The series may be ripping off Star Trek for the plot, but the real emphasis is on the characters.

There are a number of elements to Blake’s 7 that were clearly inspired by Star Trek.  The villains are called the Federation, and the Liberator doesn’t land so much as beam characters to different locations.  It makes a lot of sense.  Why wouldn’t the series go that route?  Blake’s 7 can certainly put their own spin on things, and so far, the character work has been far more impressive than anything else the show is doing.

Then we get episodes like “Duel” and the Star Trek comparisons become more obvious.

Essentially, “Duel” in basic description sounds an awful lot like the classic Trek series episode “Arena,” where powerful aliens force Kirk and an unnamed Gorn captain to battle to the death to settle a dispute and prove who had more of a right to live.  Though Kirk prevails in the battle, he likewise shows the Gorn captain mercy, a concept that impresses the aliens enough to let everyone go free.  Something a lot similar to that happens here.  Some powerful aliens, this time taking the form of an attractive woman in something that suggests it was either cold on set or they don’t have bras in space along with an older woman are the last survivors of their race, the rest’s having died to some violent war.  They see Blake and his crew doing their best to counter and escape from Travis, who happens to be attacking the Liberator with three ships while Blake’s is low on power.

The space duel is actually done well considering the budgetary limitations of the show.  To conserve power, Blake only flips the shields on just before something hits the ship, and he quickly deduces which of the three attack ships Travis is on based on who isn’t attacking him.  Travis, meanwhile, knows his own ships will lose power if they keep firing on Blake and orders the two escorts to attack and let them use up Blake’s shields only to swoop in for the kill in the end.  If Blake does destroy one or both of the other ships, Travis doesn’t much care.  He wants the glory of Blake’s defeat for himself.

That’s when Sinofar (the young woman) and Giroc (the old woman) step in.  They have the power to freeze both ships and bring Travis and Blake to the planet’s surface to talk.  Blake had already looked around there with Jenna and Gan, and Gan had even seen the two women.  The women even prevent Travis’s ray gun hand from working.  Since the two have no problem ordering others to die, the women decide to test their mettle and see how they feel when they or a friend are in danger.

It’s probably worth noting that Travis isn’t exactly making any friends at first as he threatens and orders Sinofar and Giroc around almost from the beginning.  Blake asks more reasonable questions, but his overall desire to fight the Federation isn’t exactly winning him over either.  As it is, the two will first fight to the death solo armed only with what look like machetes, but then the women decide to let them each have a friend to worry about.  For Blake, that’s Jenna.  For Travis, that’s a subordinate referred to only as a “mutoid”.

I would actually make a joke that Travis never really refers to his companion by any name, but it turns out to be something of a bit of character development there.  Some people are apparently changed into these mutoids to make them better fighters in space or something, requiring blood from time to time to survive, giving them the nickname “vampires”.  However, they also lose all knowledge of their previous life.  Travis may actually know this woman’s previous life and teases her with the knowledge as he probes to see if it bothers her what she has become.  It turns out whatever changed her also made her not care in the slightest.  I wouldn’t say Travis really cares for this woman–even Blake and Jenna wonder how Travis is making out in this challenge since he probably doesn’t even really have friends–but it was close to the generally awful Travis to acknowledge another human being even if he ultimately doesn’t care about her fate anymore than anyone else’s.

That contrasts with Blake and Jenna.  While Travis the mutoid make a booby trap that ultimately fails, Blake instead spends his time chatting with Jenna to get to know her better.  He knows that if he wins, he and his people will be allowed to go free by the aliens.  But instead, he asks Jenna about her past and how she got there.  I think there’s something appropriate about Jenna being the friend here.  Of the various members of the crew, I get the impression Jenna is the one who stays out of personal loyalty to Blake.  Avon is likely to take off at the nearest opportunity.  Vila is a coward who probably stays because it’s safer than leaving.  Gan needs people to help him protect himself. Cally is a freedom fighter, as seen here when she comments on the appropriateness of both Blake and Travis’s respective plans.  But Jenna? She and Vila have known Blake the longest, and of the crew, she’s had the most opportunity to swipe the Liberator and take off but hasn’t taken it.  I just get the feeling she stays because she is loyal to Blake and that’s it.

Unsurprisingly, Blake and Jenna prevail.  It may or may not help that Travis not only doesn’t care what happens to his companion but he doesn’t care that she hasn’t had enough blood to function well.  Granted, that meant the mutoid couldn’t feed off the temporarily captured Jenna, so that was a good thing for the rest of the series.  But not only does Blake prevail, but he does so without killing anyone, further impressing the aliens.  He isn’t bloodthirsty, and he also puts it that he doesn’t mind leaving Travis alive because, and here is a place where this series definitely deviates from when Star Trek did it, Blake knows he can beat Travis again if necessary.

Huh.

Regardless, Blake and his crew get to leave while Travis stays behind and fumes, getting a bit of a mild reaction from the mutoid who was stuck on a planet with him overnight.  It’s moments like these that show how character matters in the world of Blake’s 7.

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