Monday, 29 April 2013

A8 Duel


BROADCAST: 20/02/1978
WRITTEN BY: Terry Nation
DIRECTOR: Douglas Camfield
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: David Maloney
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 1

"Blake is sitting up in a tree, Travis is sitting up in another tree. Unless they're planning to throw nuts at one another, I don't see much of a fight developing before it gets light."

Travis locates Blake in orbit round a planet where the Liberator is recharging it's energy banks. Blake, Jenna & Gan teleport down to the planet to explore where they find huge carved statues and an endless field of graves. Gan briefly glimpses two women watching them but when Blake and Jenna look they are gone leading Gan to think his limited has malfunctioned. They sight the pursuit ships in orbit and teleport back to the Liberator. The Liberator is attacked by the pursuit ships firing Plasma Bolts but stands it's ground with judicious use of it's force wall. Blake attempts to ram Travis' command ship but as he fires time slows on both ships. The ships are held in space a short distance from each other as Blake & Travis are teleported to the planet by Giroc, the keeper, and Sinofar, the guardian. The ships are held in position by their power and the crews released to observe what happens on the planet. They explain how warfare consumed their planet and made it barren by radiation. They force Blake and Travis to fight in the nearby forest armed only with a knife and accompanied by one of their crew - Jenna with Blake and a Mutoid with Travis. After surviving the night Jenna is captured by Travis' Mutoid companion. Blake attempts to rescue her and fights Travis, defeating him but doesn't kill him, causing the Guardian & Keeper to end the contest. They recharge the Liberator's energy banks and hold Travis and his ships till the Liberator has time to escape.

"There's nowhere to run Blake!"

No hardly Star Trek: Arena at all is it?* The sad thing was I had to dig out my TV Sci Fi encyclopaedia and read till I worked out which episode of Trek this was reminding me of. Amok Time (the battle element) and Errand of Mercy (the all powerful aliens) sprung to mind but this "Gorn ship pursues Enterprise to unknown planet where all powerful beings force the two captains to fight" is spot on. Deary me. And a planet devastated by a war with radiation? No not Skaro is it?

* Matt Marshall points out to me the short story "Arena" on which both tales are based.

Still at least Travis is back adding some much needed Federation villainy and we get to meet the Mutoids - cybernetic ally adapted humanoids dependant on a blood serum (which is oddly bright green) to survive. Travis blames the Mutoid for their failure but she'd told him she was in need of more blood: If Travis had let her drain Jenna she'd have had the strength to help Travis beat Blake. Still it gives Jenna something to do and we finally get to see Jenna's surface outfit in a girly pink colour. Gan, briefly seeing Sinofar and Giroc on the planet, wonders again if his limiter is malfunctioning: it serves to remind the episodic audience that his brain implant is there but watching these is quick succession it makes the imminent failure of the device obvious!

The reason the episode works as well as it does is that in the director's chair sits Douglas Camfield one of the true greats of 60s and 70s TV. His Doctor Who credits are legion, but by this stage he's stopped working on the series due to the stress it was causing him which his wife feared would evacipate his heart condition. Out of all his Who stories he'd only done one set on an alien planet - Terry Nation's (and Dennis Spooner's) Dalek Masterplan, almost all of his were set on contemporary Earth.

The cast for this episode is very small so there's not a lot of room for Camfield to bring his regular actors into play. Sinofar is played by Isla Blair (later to be Isabella in DW: The King's Demons) who is the wife of the great Julian Glover, who'll be along shortly. Her choice of costume leaves us in little doubt that it was cold on the studio set! Patsy Smart plays Giroc and she's got another DW credit to her name as Ghoul in The Talons of Weng Chiang. Christopher Smart is the extra playing the non speaking Mutoid on Travis' ship. He's already been - uncredited - in The Way Back as Federation Trooper, Space Fall & Cygnus Alpha as a Prisoner. He'll be back as a Mutoid, presumably the same one, in the next episode Project Avalon then in Star One as a Star One Technician and Powerplay as Hi-tech Patient. He's also got a ton of DW uncredited extra credits to his name: Day of the Daleks: Episode Four - UNIT Soldie, The Monster of Peladon: Part Three - Miner, Genesis of the Daleks: Part One & Two, The Masque of Mandragora: Part One - Peasant villager & Part Three - Brother and will appear in Full Circle: Part One as a Citizen and Time and the Rani: Part 4 - Genii

This is the only episode of Blake's 7 NOT to feature incidental music by Dudley Simpson - even the musical sting as someone arrives by teleport is missing. The only thing Simpson contributes is the theme music which is on every episode. Many years ago Camfield employed Simpson to do the Incidental Music on his first two Doctor Who stories, Planet of Giants and The Crusade. At some point after this a dispute arose between the two: Kaldor City, despite making an error on which story they last worked together says

The last time Douglas Camfield had used Dudley Simpson as composer was in 1964, on “Planet of Giants.” According to Simpson, at a subsequent dinner party, Camfield asked Simpson what he earned as a composer of incidental music, and, on hearing the answer, never employed him again.
while Wikipedia's Dalek Masterplan article claims
The series' soon-to-be regular composer, Dudley Simpson, did not work on this serial owing to a serious dispute with director Douglas Camfield. Sometime after the production of the serial The Crusade, the two had a small falling out. On the next serial that Camfield directed (The Time Meddler), Camfield elected to use percussion music, feeling that it lent to the story's atmosphere. However, Simpson interpreted this as a snub by Camfield, causing the dispute to escalate. By the time this serial had entered production, relations between the two had grown so bad that Camfield refused to even consider Simpson, instead hiring Tristram Cary. The dispute was still unresolved at the time of Camfield's death in 1984.
Since Camfield is no longer with us we are unaware of his view on the matter.

This episode of Blake's 7 was broadcast 2 days after Doctor Who episode 476 The Invasion of Time Part Three, which was broadcast on 18/02/1978, and 5 days before episode 477 The Invasion of Time Part Four, which was broadcast on 25/02/1978.

This is the second episode to appear in the second Blake's 7 book, Project Avalon, along with Seek Locate Destroy, Project Avalon, Deliverance & Orac. Dual gives it's name to the second Blake's 7 compilation released in the mid 80s which also contains Seek, Locate, Destroy and Project Avalon. Initially released for around £25 it was re-released for £10 on 5th March 1990 alongside the other three compilations. An episodic version was released on Monday 7th Jan 1991 paired with the previous episode Mission to Destiny as Tape 4 and alongside the rest of the first 8 episodes all paired off Tape 1 The Way Back/Space Fall, Tape 2 Cygnus Alpha/Tine Squad & Tape 3 The Web/Seek-Locate-Destroy with a DVD release for the whole of season 1 followed on 1st March 2004.

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