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Blake's 7: Traitor

A fun episode, made up almost entirely of guest stars, with the regulars pushed very much into the background. Doesn't seem to matter, though. The guest cast is of a very high calibre, and I get a good bit of Tarrant and Dayna adventuring, which generally keeps me happy anyway. It builds up to a fine bit of intrigue, too. Yet one more explodified bit of the old days, recovered for series four.

There's a very troubling bit of dialogue early in this episode, though. For all the fun adventuring that comes later, I was left puzzling over this one bit for the rest of the show. The Federation is growing quickly, rapidly building its empire back to a size approaching that of the pre-Andromedan War days, and the gang want to find out how. A planet on the verge of toppling to Federation pressure seems a good place to search for answers, so Tarrant and Dayna decide to go down to the surface for a bit of investigative work. Dayna then asks if she'll stand out, and Avon explains that she won't, because there are black people there. After all this time with nobody feeling the need to point out her colour, suddenly it's an issue? It bothers me that it should have become one in 1981, but I'm even more bothered that they think it's still going to be any kind of an issue at all hundreds of years in the future. What gives, writers?


There is a planet, then. Most of the governing is done by this fellow, with a nicely sparkly eye-patch.


Nick Brimble! Nick Brimble is evil, obviously. Well, he probably isn't really, but he's awfully good at pretending. Whenever you see him in a programme, you know he's going to be thoroughly unpleasant, which is probably unfair typecasting, but whatever. He's brilliantly degenerate as Boatswain Adams in my beloved Return To Treasure Island, and if possible even more evil in the BBC's 1997 adaptation of Ivanhoe. Once he played a kindly father in a baked beans ad, but he wasn't fooling anybody. Anyway, yes. The plot. Sorry.


Biggles!


The gang discuss interplanetary politics, and Soolin gets in her line of the week by asking a question about the Scorpio's engines. And yes, that is all she does for the entire episode. You can see how necessary that second gunfighter was, can't you.


Biggles has got a big gun. He's a rebel, incidentally, which is much as you'd expect. Obviously Biggles would be an enemy of the Federation. I haven't seen Algy yet, but I assume he's around somewhere.


Hmm. My 'season four has a bigger budget' thesis may be on rocky ground. Granted the models look a lot more sturdy this time around, but I definitely can't say the same for the background. Whilst it's theoretically an improvement to no longer have the ships dangling on wires, the wires did at least have the advantage of not looking dreadful. You can pull your models across a background that's actually there, when you're using wires.


"You are just going down to ask a few questions," says Avon. "You will not help any rebels. You will not get into any fights. You will not get into trouble." As you can probably see, Dayna and Tarrant have every intention of following his words to the letter.


But whatever they do, they must first play with their guns and wrist communicators. It's the law.


The other three sit up in the ship, and discuss how Tarrant and Dayna are probably already in trouble. Honestly, they're so suspicious.


"Oh look," says Tarrant. "There's a rebellion. Shall we go and join it?" "I thought you'd never ask," says Dayna. It's taken them a grand total of about half a second to end up in trouble, which isn't quite a record.


It's Malcolm Stoddard! I suppose I shouldn't really be pleased to see him, as he's playing a Federation officer here, but evil or not, he's still Malcolm Stoddard.

Actually that's pretty rubbish logic, isn't it, especially as I've only ever seen him in one thing. He was in a Scottish/Canadian co-production called The Campbells back in the eighties, which I seem to be alone in remembering. There was musket-fire and galloping about on horseback. It was fun.


Malcolm Stoddard is a traitor, it seems, feeding information to the rebels. He tells Tarrant and Dayna how they can get a sample of a new drug that the Federation is using to gain the co-operation of the worlds they're busy conquering. I'm not sure of the mechanics of it, but there's a laser that shoots it at you, and it makes you do as you're told, and then the Federation can blow you up whenever they feel like it via remote control. He's not actually a traitor, though. He's a loyal follower of the local police chief, a certain Commissioner Sleer, and he plans to lead everybody into traps. Never trust a man with a pointy hairdo, I think is the moral here.

And yes, Tarrant has completely changed outfits at some unspecified point. I have no idea how or why, but the new one is a definite improvement on the polo neck, so I'm not going to quibble.


Peter Sellers! Or not really, but if by some unlikely bit of finagling they had ever got Peter Sellers to play Davros, I can't help thinking that this is what they'd have ended up with. He's a scientist, dying of horrible fungal poisoning, who's being blackmailed by Commissioner Sleer to design and produce the amazing obedience/exploding laser drug. Helpfully he's also designed a sort of antidote, which will allow the rebels to attack the Federation base by the front door. By this point we've gone quite a long way past just asking a few questions and not getting into trouble. Consequently, back on the Scorpio, Vila's convinced they're all about to get blown up, Avon's growling at the furniture, and Soolin still hasn't been given anything to do.


Just where did he get it from? Was it in his pocket when he teleported down? Did he peel off the polo neck to reveal the leather and studs beneath, like Bond peeling off his wetsuit? It makes him look like he wants to be Avon when he grows up. And why is Dayna suddenly wearing her grandmother's cardigan?


Armed with the new antidote, Biggles is ready for action. Still no sign of Algy though, which is troubling. I hope he hasn't had to bail out over enemy territory. Off they all go to fight the Federation forces, but wait! Who's this, leading the police force, and claiming to be called Commissioner Sleer?


It's Marc Almond. Well that's certainly unexpected.


Tarrant and Dayna are surprised too. Tarrant is also a bit concerned that Marc might want his Tainted Love outfit back. Fortunately the rebels win, forcing the Federation into withdrawal, so the spangly one gets to keep his clothes on.


Having asked their few questions (and quite a bit else), Dayna and Tarrant teleport back aboard the Scorpio, using the BBC's exciting new teleport effect. Strangely they are not greeted with hails of congratulation. Tarrant is back in the polo-neck and blazer again. Did he leave the leather jerkin hidden in the forest, or did it dissolve on contact with teleportation energy? Whatever did happen to it, the same fate also befell Dayna's dreadful brown cardigan, which is no great loss.


Avon greets the news of Servalan's survival with growling and denial, and then with relief. He's glad she didn't blow up with the Liberator. He'd much rather kill her himself. It's nice to have ambition.


Back down on the planet, Malcolm Stoddard gets fresh with Servalan, so she stabs him. She has, she says, to date murdered twenty-six people in her attempts to keep her true identity a secret. Servalan is dead, long live Commissioner Sleer. Why she's pretending to be dead, who knows. Why she'd suddenly rather be chief of police, instead of emperor of the galaxy, who knows. Why she thought Sleer would be a good name, again, who knows. Still, the downgraded rank doesn't seem to have affected her wardrobe any.

A funny sort of episode, then. Fully three quarters of it is driven by the guest cast, with the regulars doing almost nothing at all by comparison. I didn't feel that that was a problem, but I can imagine that it's not a fan favourite. The build up of the Commissioner Sleer figure, culminating in the revelation that she's Servalan in an inexplicable disguise, was nicely handled, although it's a shame it wasn't spread out over a couple of episodes. I do wish I knew why we're suddenly supposed to worry about Dayna being black, though. That has to be the weirdest plot detour that I've encountered in a whole lot of years.

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