Blake’s 7 series 4 episode 3 – Traitor

Servalan's back again, and the crew of the Scorpio struggle a little to be surprised...

Scorpio rising...

THE PLOTOn the planet Helotrix, one of the Helot natives Igin (George Lee) is tricked into swallowing an explosive device by Colonel Quute (Christopher Neame). Igin is released by Quute and makes his way back to a rendezvous arranged by Star Major Hunda (Robert Morris). Hunda, from a distance, witnesses Igin being blown into several tiny pieces.

Orac informs Avon that the Helots are back in the Federation, after they previously resisted so strongly. The Federation’s expansion plan is growing with alarming speed and Avon, suspecting that the reason for all this is to be found on Helotrix, lays in a course for the planet. Tarrant and Dayna are assigned to investigate, but after the two teleport down, they lose contact with Scorpio.

The General (Nick Brimble) escorts President-elect Practor into his quarters on Helotrix. There, they meet Leitz (Malcolm Stoddard), who has been sent by Federation Commissioner Sleer to act as Practor’s liaison officer. Sleer is responsible for pacification programme Pylene-50 that is injected by laser into its subjects, leaving them docile and subservient to Federation will. After Leitz and the General leave, a mysterious intruder enters the suite and shoots Practor dead with a laser blaster.

Tarrant and Dayna meet Hunda, who tells them of the resistance on Helotrix. However, a double-crossing Leitz is pretending to be in cahoots with Hunda. Hunda plans to knock out the Magnetrix Terminal, the Federation’s communication centre. Leitz tells Hunda that he can gain access via a disused monorail and also tells Tarrant and Dayna about the source of Pylene-50, where it is made in a synthesising plant.

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Leitz later tells the General (who has founnd Practor’s corpse) that he has double-crossed Hunda on orders from Sleer, and that the monorail tunnel should be caved-in to crush the resistance.

Tarrant and Dayna manage to penetrate the plant, where they meet Pylene-50 manufacturer Forbus (Edgar Wright), who is being forced by Sleer to make the drug in order to stay alive. Forbus also tells them that Leitz is an agent of Sleer’s. Armed with a sample of Pylene-50 blockers and a chemical formula, Tarrant and dayna warn Hunda and his men against entering the monorail.

The General and Quute attempt to stop Hunda and his men from reaching the terminal. During a fight, both are overpowered and killed. But more significantly, Tarrant and Dayna meet an old friend – Servalan. As Hunda and his men reach the terminal, Tarrant and Dayna teleport back to Scorpio. Servalan, in the meantime, kills Forbus for insubordination and Leitz, who realises that she shot Practor.

An appalled Avon learns that Servalan is still alive. He tells the others that he’s glad she didn’t die on the Liberator as he’d rather kill her himself…

ANALYSISLike a boring ghost reading the telephone directory, Traitor, the third instalment of season four, always seems to fall under the radar. As opposed to classics like Blake and Orbit or clunkers like Stardrive and Animals (guess what’s next…), Traitor doesn’t really do anything – it’s just… there.

Robert Holmes returns to Blake’s 7 with an episode that’s a mixed bag. I say mixed bag as it’s full of wordy, frequently witty dialogue, and yet it’s so subdued. Not so much the OTT camp of Gambit or the horror tale of Killer, Traitor is a muffled whimper.

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It does, however, get the season moving with the Pylene-50 subplot and Avon’s quest to defeat the Federation, which is again spreading across the galaxy like measles.

Avon is all for this quest – strange, since a couple of seasons ago, he was dead set against Blake’s heroics. But ever since Star One and Terminal, I guess Avon’s trying to carry on Blake’s fight for freedom – maybe as a tribute to his old sparring partner. It’s left to a whiny Vila to act as Devil’s Advocate and also complain about Tarrant’s heroics – something that Avon would have done in a heartbeat the previous season.

Actually, Avon and Vila – oh, and Soolin – barely feature in the episode. They’re reduced to a couple of grouchy cameos on Scorpio. Tarrant and Dayna handle the action on Helotrix, but even then, these sequences aren’t that memorable because – well, this is Tarrant and Dayna we’re talking about.

Instead, Holmes gives most of his time to the power struggles on Helotrix. On the one hand, we have Star Major Hunda and his mullet and his faceless bunch of rebel goons. On the other side, we have the laughable Quute and the General.

The General’s so useless that he doesn’t even have a name, he’s just called The General. In order to make up for his lack of title, The General seems to be impersonating Steve Strange from Visage. Taking a leaf out of The General’s Guide to Camp Pop book, Quute goes all Village People on the viewer with a silly eyepatch.

Bridging these two is the double crossing Leitz, not a man you’d want as a friend, since he’d stab you in the back. And I mean that literally. Leitz, appearance-wise, puts The General and Quute to shame, looking like a giant melted Thunderbirds puppet. Leitz is betraying Hunda, and whilst technically on the General’s side, is actually in cahoots with…

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Servalan! Didn’t see that one coming did you? Plastered in more make-up than ever before, Servalan now appears in the guise of a transvestite crow inexplicably going under the name of Sleer.

Apparently, Sleer was devised as a replacement for Servalan in case Jacqueline Pearce didn’t return to the show. Since she did, the team’s decision to stick with the Sleer subplot fails, since it’s too confusing. Besides, surely Servalan’s miraculous return from beyond the grave would make for excellent Federation propaganda?

No wonder Avon and co are on the sidelines, what with all these power squabbles jostling for attention. That said, Holmes’ dialogue is well up to scratch, with plenty of amusing lines among the characters. In fact, Traitor almost serves as a dummy run for Dr Who‘s outstanding Caves Of Androzani, which also features backstabbing, unlikeable characters.

David Sullivan Proudfoot’s direction is fine, and manages to get some decent performances from the cast. Christopher Neame gives an impression of how he might have played Skagra in Dr Who‘s abandoned Shada. Nick Brimble, despite the bad make up, is very good as the General, as is Malcolm Stoddard as Leitz. On the downside, Forbus is bizarre – a cutprice Davros, as apparently portrayed by what looks like a 75-year-old Liam Gallagher, who’s just had an argument with a roll of toilet paper.

On the whole, though – not a bad episode. It’s just not that memorable, and surprisingly low key for the return of Servalan. It’s a key moment in the season, but lacks that big fanfare. Instead of which, it’s got all the fanfare of an apple in Louis Armstrong’s trumpet.

Check out our review of season 4 episode 2 here.

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