WRITTEN BY: Robert Holmes
DIRECTOR: David Sullivan Proudfoot
SCRIPT EDITOR: Chris Boucher
PRODUCER: Vere Lorrimer
DVD: Blake's 7 - Series 4
"Blake would have been proud of you, you know?"
"I know. But then he never was very bright!"
On the planet Helotrix Colonel Quute interrogates a surprisingly docile prisoner Igen who he releases to return to his resistance group led by Major Hunda. Orac tells Avon of Helotrix's reintegration to the Federation furthering their quick rebuilding. He decides to visit Helotrix to discover how the Federation are conquering planets again so quickly. Quute has missiles launched at Igen's position believing he's taken out Hunda's resistance cell. Quute dines with his superior general who tell him to check that the cell has been wiped out. The general is due to meet the president elect of Helotrix, a native loyal to the Federation. Vila worries that Scorpio won't be able to outrun any Federation ships if they're attacked. Avon is using Orac to calculate a way to give Scorpio a speed boost and Orac has used his powers to pass the problem to specialist computers. Hunda decides to infiltrate the city by swimming in under the reactors to scout where they should attack and leaves the rebels in the hands of Sgt Hask. The General explains to the presidential candidate Practar that about the techniques commissioner Sleer's people have been using. Tarrant & Dayna teleport down to the planet but an audio malfunction prevents Scorpio from speaking to them. Practar keeps a picture of Servalan in his quarters who was reported killed when the high council regained power. Hunda meets Dayna & Tarrant and hides them while the Federation search for unadapted natives. Hask's group is attacked by adapted natives but wipes them out. Avon confirms the teleport's audio works and they try contacting Tarrant & Dayna, who are being shown how the Federation's new drug weapon works. Practar received a visitor who kills him and destroys the portrait in his room. Hunda, Dayna & Tarrant meet with Leitz who tells Hunda his unit is the only still functional and Hunda tells him how he got into the city and intends mining the terminal. Leitz suggests they bring a force in through the old monorail terminals. Leitz tells them what little he know about the Federation's new drug Pylene 50. Orac's use of the terminal on Helotrix is detected by an operator who reports it to the General and Colonel Quute. Leitz reports to Sleer of Practar's death and Sleer assumes charge of the investigation. Leitz tells the General he met with Hunda and two off worlders on Sleer's instructions. The monorail information is a trap and all the general has to do is blow the tunnel up. Leitz says he sent the offworlders to the laboratory and expects they are dead now. Tarrant & Dayna meet Forbus, the crippled and scarred inventor of Pylene 50. He intends to kill himself taking Sleer with him. She has poisoned him and keeps him alive by supplying him the antidote on a daily basis. He hopes to get Leitz too who he views nearly as bad as Sleer. Tarrant & Dayna guess Hunda too is walking into a trap. Forbus supplies them with a drug and a formula to resist Pylene 50. Slave detects a surface launch from Helotrix searching for them. Tarrant communicates with the ship but refuses to teleport up. Avon deduces that Orac's research transmission was detected and brings the ship down to cloud level under the search pattern. Tarrant & Dayna find Hunda and warn him of the ambush and Leitz's betrayal. Hunda's forces attack but are ambushed by Sleer who Dayna & Tarrant recognise as Servalan. Quute and the General are killed in the attack. Tarrant & Dayna are teleported back to the ship and Scorpio leaves for it's base on Xenon. Tarrant & Dayna tell Avon that Servalan is alive. She visits Forbus and tells him she is cutting his drug supply off for another 3 days. He tries to attack her and she shoots him. Leitz volunteers to act as a witness. Leitz says he worked out she killed Practar and that he wants the presidency. He tries to seduce her and becomes the 26th person that Servalan has killed to conceal her survival. Avon decides to believe Tarrant & Dayna's account and says he needs to kill Servalan himself.
I think this episode is more important for what it represents than what you see on screen.
Yes the Federation has got a new wonder drug pacification weapon but that's really just an extension of what we see in the very first episode for controlling the populace of Earth. Using it as a theme here does help the episode a lot though as it's a very back to basics approach by the Federation.
Yes it sees the return of Servalan, posing as a Commissioner Sleer, but as soon as the possility arose of the series coming back it was likely she'd return: The last shot of her in Terminal was in the Liberator's teleportr bay, you couldn't have made it more obvious that she was going to survive.
Provision *had* been made for Servalan not returning though: Jacqueline Pearce had fallen ill and been hospitalised following series 3 and it was unclear if she would be available. A new female villain for the series, Commissioner Sleer, was created but when Pearce confirmed she would be available Sleer became Servalan's cover identity. I'm not sure how well it would work: Servalan's a very recognisable figure. She's killed 27 people so far to protect her identity and that's in a pretty short space of time. Terminal, Rescue & Power all follow in quick succession and although Traitor doesn't directly follow on from Rescue it doesn't seem like too long has elapsed
But for me this episode represents a shift in the series themes back to what it had been in the first series and a distinct shift in Avon's thinking and role. During season three of the show the major theme has been the Federation trying to get their hands on the Liberator. Throw in some traps to that effect, accidentally stumbling into situations and a major case of personal vendetta and that sums series three up. There's nothing in the way of resisting and attempting to overthrow the damaged post Star One Federation. Indeed in Rumours of Death Avon's personal quest can be said to have hindered a rebellion against Servalan as a person, if not the Federation as an organisation, and helped preserve Servalan's life. Avon's been a background character for large periods of time in this consumed by his two personal quests. It's only since the start of this series that he's looked solidly in control which is a bit odd. You'd have though his falling for the trap in Terminal might of caused certain members of the crew, notably Tarrant to rebel against him, but they now seem to be following him more readily. In fact Tarrant seems to have had a change of attitude and is much more the team man under Avon's leadership now. I wonder how much his brother's death and then his own near miss on Terminal saved only by Vila, possibly at the cost of Cally's life, have affected him? Having found a ship, a base, a replacement crew member and obtained a teleport the first thing we see Avon do is take an interest in the Federation's activities and when he discovers Helotrix is back in their hands he investigates. For the first time Avon has assumed Blake's role as a resistance leader. You can see this fitting in the first season of the show, what happens here is exactly what Blake would have done. Then finding out that Servalan is alive that makes it personal for Avon. The Loss of the Liberator, it's systems and Cally could almost have been justified by them getting Servalan. Her survival changes that for him.
As well as the themes of the episode something else is present here that's missing from a lot of season 3: a sense that the episode is part of something bigger, an ongoing narrative. It was there in seasons 1 and 2 but absent for season 3. Vila mentions them getting a base (a link to Rescue & Power), Tarrant's worrying about the Teleport (link to it being new in Power) and Vila & Soolin are wanting to be able to run faster than the Federation ships which looks towards the next episode Stardrive. Servalan's seeming death in Terminal is mentioned, although how the Federation believe she "died" killed in a rear guard action on Gedden as part of a revolution that restored the High Council to power and purged the Old Guard. I wonder if this revolution actually happened, and if it happened *before* Terminal which might account for the non standard uniformed personnel she's using there.
There's lots of really nice stuff in this episode: It's good to see it being remembered how Orac actually functions, by communicating with other computers, and using this in the plot as the means by which Scorpio is detected. Two of the revolutionaries are academics (commonly amongst the first to be rounded up in an oppressive society). Dayna worries about whether the colour of her skin will make her stand out on Helotrix but is reassured by Avon that the Helots are pretty representative being Earth descendant.
Quute and the General are a decent double act, very Colonial British officers. The Double Act/Pairing is a trademark of writer Robert Holmes who uses it in several of his Doctor Who scripts. His previous two Blake's 7's have missed the mark a bit but here he gets it spot on. As well as the two officers he also gets to write Vila & Avon together again: they're paired in both his previous scripts but here are on the flightdeck with Orac, Slave and Soolin. I'd have been tempted to send Soolin down to the planet to give her something to do but I suppose she gets a few lines of dialogue with Avon & Vila this way.
I noticed that Helotrix is Magnotrix Terminal 406 in this script. Knowing Holmes' fondness for little jokes embedded in the script my mind immediately thought of the A406 in North London a road that's always on the travel news if you live in the capital.
About the only thing I found concerning in this episode was Forbus, yet another entry in the "disabled mad scientist" canon. It's a bit of a stereotype by this point and the way he's presented here, wired into his life support system, does rather say Davros in a big way.
Some fab locations are used in this story with the water logged scenes being recorded at Binnegar Heath Sandpit in Dorset, the location for Zondar in the Blake's 7 episode Shadow and Skaro in Doctor Who's Destiny of the Daleks.
Many of the cast have form in something you'll have seen: Malcolm Stoddard, Leitz, has a CV a mile long including a stretch of 5 episodes in By The Sword Divided. Nick Brimble, the General, was DC Gerry Burtonshaw in The Sweeney and Little John in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves. Christopher Neame, Colonel Quute, was Skagra in the unaired Doctor Who story Shada before emigrating to the USA and appearing in many productions there. David Quilter, The Tracer (who I assuming is the technician in the Federation control room0 turns up in new Doctor Who as Greeves in The Unicorn and the Wasp. Amongst the rebels Robert Morris, Major Hunda, was in the Hammer version of Quatermass and the Pit as Jerry Watson. George Lee, Igen, has two Doctor Who's to his name as Corporal Forbes in Spearhead from Space and a Farmworker in The Time Monster while Neil Dickson, Avandir, has lots of US voice and video game work to his name.
This episode is the first work for Director David Sullivan Proudfoot who returns for 2ish stories following this one!
Traitor was included in the Blake's 7 novelization Scorpio Attack written by Trevor Hoyle along with Rescue & Stardrive. Traitor was repeated on 18/06/1983. It was released on video on 07th July 1992 as part of Blake's 7 tape 21 where it was paired with the previous episode Rescue and alongside Tape 22 Stardrive & Animals. Blake's 7 season 4 was released on DVD on 24th April 2006.