THE PLOT The aftermath of Gan’s death has made deep impressions on both Blake and Servalan. To take focus away from the constant bungling of the Blake affair, Travis has been put on trial for his many war crimes. And with old ‘Starkiller’ Samor (John Savident) as the judge, the verdict against Travis seems inevitable.
Blake, in the meantime, is crushed with guilt over Gan’s death. Eschewing the support of his friends on the Liberator, he quietly teleports down to an apparently uninhabited verdant planet without telling anyone. When he teleports down, though, he finds that he is not alone, as he meets a strange female alien creature called Zil (Claire Lewis), who warns Blake of absorption by something called the Host.
The remainder of the Liberator crew are wondering where Blake has gone. Avon naturally assumes that Blake has run out on them, but Jenna refuses to believe that this is the case. Thinking about what Gan would say, Vila concludes that he’d ask whether Blake had left a message. At which point, sure enough, an image of Blake appears on the screen, explaining that he needs a bit of time out to decide whether he wants to carry on with his mission – as well as allowing the others time to consider if they want to carry on too.
The crew are divided on this, with a cynical Avon extolling the virtues of pursuing wealth and Jenna sticking by Blake. The decision is taken out of their hands though when Orac announces that the planet that Blake landed on is a living organism and is ‘cleansing’ itself of parasites. Blake is now in danger, especially after he is left by himself when a weakening Zil is absorbed by the planet.
In order to get their leader back, Avon rigs up a device that links in with the teleport to scan the planet for a trace of Blake. When it pinpoints his location for a split second, it’s down to Cally to hit the teleport switch otherwise he’ll be gone for good. The device works, and a relieved Blake concludes that if he wants to think, in future, he’ll do it in his cabin.
The Liberator crew all agree to carry on – they have come this far – and so their next daredevil scheme is to mount a rapid, fleeting attack on Servalan’s headquarters – a challenge that’s made a little easier by a detector shield that Avon has constructed.
Travis – despite offering a spirited defence, and having disregarded the advice of his defendant Thania (Victoria Fairbrother) – has been found guilty. Before he is sentenced, Travis accuses the Federation of being as guilty as he is – after all, they were the ones that made him an ‘instrument of their service’. Samor refutes the accusation and sentences Travis to execution.
But before sentence can be passed, the Liberator opens fire on Servalan’s headquarters. During the melee and confusion, Travis manages to escape from the damaged trial room, which has been exposed to the vacuum of space and resealed, killing everyone inside. Blake, without realising it, has allowed his nemesis to escape from sentence of death. Travis goes to Servalan and demands safe exit in a pursuit ship with a party of Mutoids and the trigger in his hand reinstated.
Blake is left to muse over the philosophical flea that was Zil – if only Vila hadn’t barged in with his own philosophy at that point…
ANALYSIS In 1978, melodramatic rock ‘god’ Meatloaf proclaimed that ‘Two out of three ain’t bad’. Later that same year, work began on Trial, a Blake’s 7 story that could almost have been written with this mantra in mind.
Trial is a classic example of Blake’s 7‘s occasional penchant for the ‘Three Hander’ story. Here, three stories intertwine to form a coherent whole, all dealing with the aftermath of Pressure Point’s events. Travis is put on trial for his war crimes, in order to take the focus away from Servalan’s own involvement in the botched Blake affair. The Liberator crew are left to muse over where they go from here, while Blake takes a breather by teleporting down to a jungle planet where he meets a ridiculous alien called Zil.
The first two story strands are excellent, so it’s a shame that Zil and her ‘One-netttthhhh’ had to be included. Possibly one of the silliest looking aliens in the show, Zil resembles a deranged Play School presenter badly impersonating Big Bird from Sesame Street. To her credit, Claire Lewis does her level best with such a daft character, but both the appearance and the dialogue of Zil are nonsense. As a result, this subplot fails to work, and resembles Star Trek on a bad day.
That said, director Derek Martinus’ location work is fresh and exciting, and overall he directs this episode with much style. Such a shame that this part of the story fails to live up to the standard of the other two subplots. Still at least Brian Croucher liked Zil, as he says many times on the DVD commentary. Incidentally, avoid the tense commentary on this episode, since it’s so frosty it makes the North Pole seem like Lanzarote in high summer by comparison.
Travis’ story is well thought out, and Brian Croucher gives his best performance in the role, in particular, his spirited defence against the judges. This speech exposes the hypocrisy of the Federation, and ruthlessly shows how they are more than willing to chew up one of their own and spit them back out again in several little pieces. This also tallies well with Servalan’s ‘Me me me’ attitude to life, since the trial is essentially a sideshow to take the focus away from her own mistakes.
The character studies are well written and acted. Boucher has a penchant for writing double acts, much like his mentor Robert Holmes. So here we get the return of Bercol and Rontane – as pompous and ineffectual as ever – acting like a Greek chorus throughout the trial scenes as they discuss the political motivations at play. We also get the minor characters of guards Lye and Par. Kevin Lloyd, better known as Tosh Lines from The Bill, makes the very most of his small role, as does John I say John Savident as ‘Starkiller’ Samor, a restrained performance in comparison with his later enjoyably hammy turn as Egrorian in Season Four’s brilliant Orbit episode.
Finally, we have my favourite element of Trial – the interplay among the Liberator crewmembers. All four react in the ways in which you’d expect. Jenna is torn between her loyalty to Blake and the implications of his recent actions. Avon predictably scoffs at Blake’s apparent self-pity and is ready to move on to a future of wealth. Cally is the mediator, doing her best to keep things civil between Avon and Jenna, especially when the computer expert gleefully taunts the smuggler over Blake’s apparent decision to bail. Vila, in the meantime, is reduced to stating the obvious and asking innocent questions – not to mention being the butt of Blake’s and Avon’s joke at the end.
So has Blake learned anything? Maybe. Although, his decision to attack Servalan’s headquarters is a typical example of him now shooting first and asking questions later. The most ironic thing of all is that if he’d left well alone, Travis would be dead rather than free.
The two successful segments of Trial are testament to Boucher’s skills as a writer. He makes intelligent, shrewd points about both the corruption of power and also the different facets of human behaviour in crises – but without resorting to cliché or syrupy over-earnestness. If only Boucher hadn’t scored an own goal with the tedious Zil subplot, otherwise Trial would rank as a classic. As it is, it stands head and shoulders over clunkers like Horizon and Hostage, but like other season two offerings, there’s the nagging feeling that it could still have been better…
Check out our review of season 2 episode 5 here.