Magic Bullet Productions


Travis: an Analysis

Part 1: Travis: the Empty Room by Dianna Firmin
Part 2: The Fascination of the Abomination by Fiona Moore


Travis: the Empty Room
By Dianna Firmin
Previously published in Zenith

"You give substance and credibility to an empty room, and the real thing becomes undetectable. Virtually invisible."

What Travis is saying here concerning the "illusion" used to entice and trap Blake could equally well be employed as a description of Travis himself. On the surface, Travis' hatred of Blake does not make sense. Surely an experienced field officer, one who leads his troops into conflict, should expect to be wounded at some point in his military career? We are ignorant of the Space Command statistics on the subject, but they must be pretty high. The majority of officers would perceive such injuries, not as crimes to be avenged, but as war-wounds - an acceptable risk of Federation service.

Granted, Travis experienced severe disfigurement; but he was lucky to be alive and appreciated with gratitude the debt he owed to the field medic who saved him. So, why the personal vendetta against Blake? My feeling is that, because of these injuries inflicted by Blake, Travis for the first time in his life confronted himself - and he didn't like what he saw.

Travis is a soldier. This isn't simply a job - his whole identity is bound up in the Federation forces. We never see him at rest, or off-duty. In Travis: The Final Act, Chris Boucher describes him as "a boy soldier," a career man who "rose through the ranks to become an officer." The logical result of this, as Boucher points out, is that Travis "never had a family, except the army. He was one of those ideal people in any military force for whom that force is his family, his life , his reason for surviving."

I wonder what Travis had to endure following his maiming by Blake. Not simply the physical trauma, but the struggle to survive as a Federation officer. How close did he come to being medically retired from the Service? How hard did he have to work to prove himself, to his colleagues and his superiors, before he was permitted to retain his post and his rank? Because Travis is a sham. Take away the military, and there is nothing left. He is a creation of the army which made and moulded him, and nothing recognisable as Travis remains. Blake makes him realise this. It is the beginning of the disintegration of Travis' world.

These are the same concepts he uses to taunt the mutoid who fails him in "Duel". She cannot comprehend what it means to be "dismissed from the Service," replying that she exists only to serve. Travis responds, "Then you will probably cease to exist." It is a potential future which he has considered for himself. And it was Blake who brought this home when he opened fire and failed to kill him.

Servalan deliberately touches on this when she insensitively refers to Travis' facial disfigurement. He is defensive. His injuries are too deep for cosmetic surgery to disguise. They are reminders, not merely "that the man who caused it is still alive," but also of the unsettling realisations that came with them. Blake has threatened the very essence of Travis' life, almost removing the purpose of his existence. Perhaps any other rebel could have been disposed of impassively, but Blake became a challenge. His continued existence threatened everything that Travis stood for. His disposal meant that Travis and his world-view were secure and unchallenged. Even when he became outlawed from the Federation, Travis could not himself have become a rebel - all his energies were focused at first on pursuing and eradicating Blake.

Before Blake, Travis was probably fairly secure and contented with his life. He had made a life-commitment to an organisation which housed, fed and clothed him, and which gave him a purpose. Travis believed in the Federation, believed in Space Command - not as an ethic, but as a way of life. He never questioned it. Within this closed, safe world, Travis was a significant person - a Space Commander - at the peak of his career. That Travis considered himself important is evidenced by his arrogant manner, his impatience with civilians, his air of unarguable authority.

But given a man who thinks himself consequential, what better way to ridicule him than to throw it straight back in his face? That is precisely what Blake does: "You don't matter enough to kill, Travis". Time and again Blake refuses to do Travis the honour of shooting him, preferring to see him disgraced before his colleagues and superiors. It is as if Blake recognises this humiliation will eat into Travis' soul, eventually destroying him. Once the window of self-doubt had been opened, it could not be closed. Blake had begun this destruction of Travis' world, but there were other threats to his personal security: Servalan, and the Federation itself.

It isn't clear when Travis realised Servalan was using him for her own ends. The fact that she continually employed him as a convenient scapegoat in order to keep herself free from the contamination of failure must have eventually rankled. She needed someone to do her dirty work, and who better and a Space Commander who was in peril of being proscribed from the Service? Releasing Travis from suspension, "pending an enquiry into the massacre of civilians," she acquired a presumably grateful adjutant, who could as easily be abandoned if he ceased to be worthy of her benevolence.

Travis' downfall followed his forcing Servalan to implicate herself in a bungled attempt to capture Blake. She was exposed to criticism. Her instincts for self-protection could only lead to returning Travis from whence he came. If Travis anticipated justice, he was disappointed. And if he expected to find that Servalan's self-seeking aptitudes were unique among the Space Command hierarchy, the shock must have been overwhelming. He was betrayed by what had been his family. "Space Command runs the Federation. And we look after ourselves," said Par. What this meant was that the Federation looked after itself, and that individuals who got in its way were simply eliminated. Servalan's casual disposal of Surgeon Maryatt should have brought that home earlier.

When the attack on Space Command Headquarters came, Travis finds he has a second chance - and one not promised to him at the whim of a capricious Supreme Commander. He could have made a better use of it. But without the Service, Travis has nothing left. He had seen himself almost as 'Control' - a place of importance and power. But just as the room which appeared to house so many secrets is empty, so is Travis. He descends into desperation and insanity. Blake and Servalan between them exposed the emptiness of Travis' life. His purpose of destroying Blake transmuted into a new obsession - the destruction of humanity itself.

Travis, whole and un-maimed might not have come to the same conclusion. His physical injuries threatened his career, for which he blamed Blake. Servalan used and abused that hatred. Without the two of them, Travis might never have realised that he was living an illusion - that he was nothing more than an "empty room."


The Fascination of the Abomination: Travis, Mutoids and Madness
By Fiona Moore

While the image of Travis flanked by one or more mutoids is as much an icon of early Blake's 7 as the image of the original crew on the Liberator flight deck, not much has been done towards exploring the strangely complex relationship which Travis has with mutoids, both as individuals and as a concept. An examination of the first two series of Blake's 7 suggests that, for Travis, mutoids seem to be at once a reflection of his own situation, the antithesis of his moral system, a substitute for normal human contact, and a symbol of a more complex progression within Travis' own character.

Initially, at least, Travis' relationship with mutoids is explicitly said to be a sympathetic one. In "Seek-- Locate-- Destroy", the first story to mention mutoids, Travis claims to feel an affinity with "individuals with a high bionic rebuild," due to his own makeup. As time goes on, also, the mutoids seem almost to provide a metaphor for Travis' own situation; as the mutoids were once individuals but are now unquestioning slaves, capable only of following orders, and which are destroyed or "blanked" should they malfunction, Travis describes himself in "Trial" as an unthinking instrument of the Federation, "programmed" to kill, and destroyed as a scapegoat for the Federation's own mistakes. His defense to Samor effectively argues that if he is a killer, it is because he was made to be one by the army, much as the mutoids succeed or fail, not on their own abilities, but on those of their programmers. However, the "official" version of Travis' story does not seem to be the complete one: Travis' conversations with Keera in "Duel", in which his attitude towards her changes from companionship to something approaching disgust, suggests that Travis is initially seeking an identification with her, but then being repelled by the differences between them. While Travis' feelings towards mutoids have a simple explanation, this appears to hide a more complex whole.

One must thus consider the reverse possibility, which is that his outward fascination hides a deeper contempt. The mutoids often seem to provide a foil for Travis: however bad his situation is, there is always someone around who has it worse. In "Seek-- Locate-- Destroy" it is implied that it is ordinary people's discomfort at Travis' appearance which causes him to seek the company of those even less normal; at the end of "Duel", he takes out his anger at his failure on his mutoid pilot. His use of criminal psychopaths in "Hostage", similarly, suggests a need to have someone more dysfunctional than himself around. One might also note that the mutoids are, in many ways, the antithesis of Travis' personal code of ethics; Travis is loyal to the Federation almost to a fault, and the one thing about which he seems to care deeply--beyond revenge--is the brotherhood of the service. The mutoids, by contrast, will follow whomever they are programmed to follow, and have no concept of loyalty and comradeship. However, this too cannot be the complete explanation, as it fails to explain Travis' initial fascination for them, or why he continues to favour mutoid subordinates above any other equally dysfunctional sort.

It is also possible that mutoids form a kind of substitute for human relationships for a person increasingly incapable of forming same. What starts as the obsessive pursuit of one man becomes, as Travis' initial mission is frustrated and he develops an awareness of his manipulation at the hands of the Service in general and Servalan in particular, a kind of sociopathic madness which ultimately leads to him attempting to destroy all human life. Interestingly, however, as Travis' mental state degenerates, he makes one or two sporadic attempts to seek out human company; his curious quasi-friendship with Docholli in "Gambit", for instance, or his respect for Par in "Trial". It is not surprising, then, that Travis increasingly seeks the company of mutoids, who will neither manipulate nor betray him, but who do not require trust or respect in return. In a way, there almost exists a parallel to Servalan's treatment of her subordinates; much as she seems to require a constant stream of none-too-intelligent junior officers whom she can control and cast aside as she pleases, Travis surrounds himself with similarly unquestioning, uncomplicated underlings. The difference, however, is that Servalan, whose lust for power never quite achieves psychopathic proportions, is still able to enjoy matching wits with intellectual and social equals such as Carnell and Joban, while Travis, as the end approaches, withdraws more and more from the human race, finishing up by conspiring in its destruction.

This comparison brings us to another issue with regard to Travis and mutoids. Many of Servalan's relationships with her subordinates seem to be more or less sexual in nature, with the elements of power and control blending in with her frank sexuality; for her, sex appears to be for the most part a means of controlling people or getting what she wants. Travis, by contrast, seems to register a near-total blank in terms of his sexuality. He never gives the slightest suggestion of having had a relationship with a woman in the past (an analysis of the scenes in "Duel" involving Keera does not reveal any concrete evidence that they had so much as met prior to her conversion). He also does not show any obvious signs of being sexually attracted to men (but see below). He does not outwardly respond to Servalan's attempts to rattle him through aggressive flirtation, although the fact that she carries on doing it suggests that she believes it to be disturbing him on some level.

Where Travis does show outward signs of sexuality, it is in a controlling, one might say sadistic, fashion, as symbolised from the beginning by his predilection for black leather quasi-fetishistic uniforms (see the analysis of "The Caves of Androzani" elsewhere on this site). He appears to enjoy seeing Cally and the naked Avalon being restrained in "Seek-Locate-Destroy" and "Project Avalon" (in the latter episode, interestingly, his apparent delight at the sight of a restrained prisoner's death also suggests a sadistic element to the character; the fact that the prisoner is male in that case might indicate a latent bisexuality). He further enjoys taunting Inga in "Hostage" and witnessing her torture at Moloch's hands. The only times he takes pleasure in the sight of a woman is when he has control over her. Interestingly, however, in all cases Travis is rarely seen to restrain, torture or harm the victims himself; the pleasure he gets from it is vicarious, suggesting that Travis is drawn to sadistic acts, but too afraid of his own sexuality to carry them out personally. It is no accident that all but one of the mutoids belonging to Travis are female; we know that there are male mutoids (interestingly, Servalan appears briefly with an honour guard of them), but Travis only ever has oblique onscreen contact with one. Travis' fascination with his mutoids fits into this pattern: they are (for the most part) female, but they have had all emotional responses removed, thereby eliminating the threat of their sexuality and making them completely controllable. Where Servalan, with her unrestrained but ultimately superficial sexuality, goes through a series of casual flings with men less powerful than herself, Travis is surrounded by female figures who are equally subordinate but ultimately sexless.

In the end, however, none of these theories totally explains Travis' fascination with mutoids. Rather, all are aspects of a more complex whole, which changes as the character of Travis itself does. Initially, the recently-scarred Travis feels a strong identification with mutoids, which by "Project Avalon" appears to have shaded into contempt; by the middle of Series 2, in an echo of Travis' own degenerating mental state, he seems virtually incapable of interacting with anyone else, despite his conflicted feelings for them. By "Star One", in which Travis has at last reached the point at which he desires not only his own death, but the destruction of all human life into the bargain, he is totally alone, symbolically deserted even by mutoids. Travis' relationship with his various mutoids thus parallels, and thereby symbolises, his mental state over the course of the series.

In short, then, Travis' behaviour towards, and relationships with, the mutoids with which he surrounds himself not only reveal striking aspects of the character's psychology and view of the world, but the changes in his attitude towards them expose the changes in Travis' own mental state as he descends into insanity and self-destruction.

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