THE PLOT Having failed to capture and destroy Blake, Travis has a new plan up his sleeve. On a freezing, winter-bound planet, he outlines his latest scheme to a Mutoid (Glynis Barber) – he plans to capture the leader of an anti-Federation resistance force called Avalon (Julia Vidler). A rogue element in Avalon’s party, Terloc (John Rolfe) reveals their precise location. Travis and his party of Mutoids find Avalon in one of the caves, and capture her. They then blast down the remaining members of Avalon’s party, including the duplicitous Terloc.
Blake has made contact with Avalon, and along with Jenna, teleports down to the planet, which is now in the period of the Long Cold. There, they find the bodies of Avalon’s force, although one of them – Chevner (David Bailie) – has survived. He inadvertently attracts the attention of Blake and Jenna, and, after helping the injured man, they form a plan to rescue Avalon.
Avalon herself has been captured and interrogated by Travis, who says that her capture is no coincidence, and is part of his plan to get her to lead him to Blake, his ship and his crew. Project Avalon is welcomed by Servalan, who still warns Travis of the necessity of its success – due to growing hearsay about Blake’s exploits and criticism of Travis’ handling of Blake’s capture.
Travis, desperate to redeem himself, has requested a costly but deadly solution – a small pathogen of poison gas, that when smashed, releases deadly plague vapour into the air. The pathogen is tested on a prisoner, whose skin mutates into green fungal matter and then disintegrates, leaving only a skeleton behind.
Vila teleports down to the planet to help break into the prison centre where Avalon is being held captive. Blake, Jenna, Vila and Chevner break into the prison centre and force a Federation guard to help them. While Jenna holds off a band of alerted guards, Chevner and Blake rescue Avalon from her cell, and although Blake is hit, they manage to escape in the nick of time – a result of the Liberator’s temporary change of course to evade Federation pursuit ships. The rescue mission has been rather too easy though…
Blake is deeply suspicious. The hit he took from the gun wasn’t fatal in any way, and would have hurt no more than a nasty kick. Examining the captured gun, Blake and Avon suspect that the whole thing has been a set-up, possibly by Chevner. Blake, Jenna and Avon run to where Cally was looking after Avalon, but find her unconscious and Avalon missing.
Avalon is still alive – she asks Gan innocently if he has seen her tunic. While looking after Cally, a terrified Jenna is confronted by a badly injured Chevner. He attempts to incoherently warn them of something, but dies from his wounds before he can do so.
Gan has found Avalon’s tunic – which contains the deadly pathogen. Avalon starts to crush the pathogen and it takes Blake, Avon, Vila and Gan to all overpower her – little wonder, since Avon discovers that she is a machine – the real Avalon is still on the planet!
Expecting success any minute, Travis and Servalan are aghast when they receive visitors in the form of Blake and Avalon. Blake produces the pathogen (which has been identified by Zen as Phobon Plague) and threatens to crush it. Despite enduring an unpleasant death, Blake would still have the comfort of killing Travis and Servalan – that is, unless they hand over the real Avalon. Servalan reluctantly orders the real Avalon to be handed over to Blake.
As backup, Blake places the pathogen between the finger and thumb of the android – at the slightest movement or mention of certain words, the android’s hand will move. As Blake and Avalon teleport, Travis makes a move – just as the android drops the pathogen. Travis catches it in the nick of time, vowing desperately to kill his nemesis, whatever it takes.
In the meantime, Project Avalon has failed…
ANALYSIS You’ve got to hand it to Travis – at least he’s consistent in his incompetence. For the third attempt in a row to capture Blake, Travis fails again. Much like the current crop of blundering Apprentice goons, Travis is given endless chances by Seralan – sorry Servalan, and yet, seems to waste them all. It’s no real wonder that he’s reduced to incoherent babbling at the story’s end, since, as plans go, it did have a vague chance of success, unlike the backstabbing toadies’ efforts in the current run of The Apprentice.
However, unlike Travis’ plan, Project Avalon itself succeeds in almost every respect as a top Blake’s 7 episode. The plot is well thought out and offers a number of unexpected twists, rather than being a standard runaround. For example, we’re led to believe that Chevner has set the whole thing up – he gives Avalon a quizzical look on the Liberator, as though he’s the bad guy – but in fact, he becomes the victim. It’s a good bit of misdirection that adds a bit of extra weight to the story.
As a bonus, Project Avalon is also extremely well produced. Yes, it’s that man Briant again, who, after the gritty nightmare art direction of The Way Back and the surreal horror of The Web, delivers a more straight-ahead piece of action adventure. That’s not to say it’s in any way inferior. In particular, his location filming at Wookey Hole is very effective and a stark contrast to his previous trip there in the mundane Dr Who story Revenge Of The Cybermen.
His set pieces are well shot, such as the battle in the prison centre and also the death of the luckless mullet-headed prisoner. This sequence is particularly well handled, with the gradual cross-fades between the fungal matter gradually spreading over the man’s head and Travis’ glee at the prisoner’s skeletal remains being particularly effective. Briant’s hand held camera technique also adds greatly to the struggle between the android Avalon and Gan.
Out of the guest cast, Julia Vidler doesn’t quite convince as the rebel leader. And while she certainly makes an impression in the interrogation sequence, she seems too young to be the credible head of a resistance force – although that said, Vidler’s next appearance in Blake as Barr in the Season 3 story Powerplay is an improvement.
David Bailie, on the other hand, is excellent as Chevner, and a stark contrast to his equally convincing turn in the Dr Who story The Robots Of Death as Mickey Mouse-haired baddie Dask.
The number of faults are few and far between in Project Avalon. The shot of the android Avalon is a bit sloppy and looks like something out of Rentaghost. There’s also the now weary plot device of Blake struggling to teleport back up in time because the Liberator’s run into some sort of jam. Unfortunately, this still isn’t the last we’ll see of this predictable old cliché, which really should have stayed in one of those old Saturday morning B-movies. Otherwise Project Avalon really sees Blake’s 7 hitting its stride with a clever script, cracking dialogue and fantastic direction. One of the highlights of the first season.
Check out our review of episode 8 here.