B7 Classic: AVON by Ann Worrall (part one)

AVON by Ann Worrall

(Part two continues here)

I'm not expendable, I'm not stupid and I'm not going.

Thank goodness he didn't!
Despite the loss of its titular hero, the Blake's 7 ship was kept running by Paul Darrow in his guise as Avon, creating a most memorable tragic hero in the process. Or a most memorable tragic anti-hero… criminal… victim… lover… action superman. That is the problem: your Avon, my Avon - we each have our own take on him, and our disagreements are fierce. And it's not only fans that disagree about who Avon was. The creators of the series and the actor who played him envisage the character in ways that differ from what we see on the screen. Interpreting the facts about Kerr Avon is not going to be an easy task, but as another sci fi classic once advised, I intend ‘to boldly go’ with the attempt, first examining what we learn about Avon throughout the series and then considering the behind-the-scene views, Paul Darrow's interpretations and fan depictions of the character. So let us start at the very beginning (a very good place to start) with:

What's in a name?
Well now, although we know his name, we are never told why his brother, his lover, his friends, acquaintances and enemies all call him Avon, not Kerr. This is not a uniform practice in the series: Blake is addressed as ‘Roj’ by his friends Bran Foster and Ravella, and by his relatives Ushton and Inga. The Tarrant brothers call each other by their first names. Admittedly, the series is inconsistent on the issue of naming, so it's not easy to estimate its significance. Jenna, Dayna, Vila, Ushton and Inga are all known by their first name by both enemies and friends. Cally has only one name - fair enough, she's an alien - but if that is the explanation, why do Servalan, Soolin and Travis also appear to have only one name? Can we assume that the universe the characters inhabit employs the same naming traditions that we use today in the West? For all we know, 'Stannis' may be the personal and 'Jenna' the family name, as is the case in modern China. However, despite these reservations, the fact that those intimate with Blake and Tarrant call them by their first name does suggest that at least on Earth, this is the name personal to the character, the second being the family name. So it is therefore a revealing character point that Avon is only ever addressed by his less intimate family name. It establishes him from the outset as a guarded personality who may not encourage close relationships.

"You are very beautiful" (Dayna, Aftermath)
Avon is an attractive man, and it's not just Dayna who thinks so. Jenna openly flirts with him in Space Fall when she shows off her new tunic. Meegat regards him as a god (Deliverance). Cally obviously enjoys his company, sitting close to him in Death Watch. Both Servalan (Aftermath, Death-Watch) and Pella (Power) enjoy his kiss, even if what happens subsequently is less pleasant. Pella, especially, with her hatred of ‘the Hommik’ should be resisting him fiercely. Avon seems to be set up in early scripts to appear both attractive and unattainable, though the reason for his lack of response to any flirting is not revealed until Countdown.

It is surprising that Avon has the phwoar factor, because taken individually his features are characterful rather than handsome. His nose is large. His mouth is thin. His eyes, probably his best feature, are expressive and deep. When he smiles he shows his teeth, and while the smile often doesn't reach his eyes, it's still his most arresting expression, combining humour and threat in equal proportions. Mention Avon's smile to any fan and they will all have a memory of a moment defined by it.

It is in Space Fall that we first encounter the smile; a threatening grimace when Avon warns Blake not to try to manipulate him. Then, when Blake's attempt to take over the ship fails, there is this exchange:

AVON: We had one chance. You wasted it. There won't be a next time.
JENNA: In which case, you can die content.
AVON: Content!

Avon smiles as he says "Content"; the smile of a man who has an ironic sense of humour and a pessimistic view of what life can offer. Many such smiles will follow.

Avon knows the odds are stacked against him, whether the issue is the arrival of three pursuit ships that foil his chance of escape (Horizon), or the information that Zerok has ceded to the Federation and the millions he holds in its currency are now worthless (Gold). He knows that ultimately he can't win, but also that he has to make the attempt or perish. Worse, he knows that failure may actually make his enemies stronger (Gold). So he smiles or laughs maniacally, because there's nothing else he can do except give up. He even learns to smile about his discovery that the love of his life betrayed him, giving Cally a rueful grin as he tells her he has banished his regrets to a small part of his mind (Sarcophagus). He knows he cannot afford to let regrets overwhelm him if he is to survive. In Terminal, Avon chuckles when Servalan questions whether his real reason for keeping Blake's discovery from his crew was because he didn't want to share it with them, acknowledging that it might be greed that is motivating him. He smiles when she wins him as her slave in Assassin, because she has been victorious in this round of their power game. In Gold, Avon smiles when he tells Servalan that the black gold was ‘very good bait’, because he mistakenly thinks that this time he has won. Each smile encapsulates an aspect of the series’ nihilistic tone.

Those Outfits

Grim though his struggle to survive may be, Avon seems to be of the opinion that appearance is everything, and if you are going to lose anyway, then it is best do it in startlingly memorable attire. As he plunders the wardrobe room on the Liberator, his clothing choices become progressively more distinctive. His most outrageous outfits include an ensemble of silver leather tunic, black trousers and thigh-high boots, and a skin-tight red leather suit. In general, he seems to favour clothes that form a barrier between himself and the world: embellished or spiked tunics and heavy leather jackets with complicated fastenings, which convey that he is as 'buttoned up' emotionally as he is literally. By Season D, his over-sized studded gauntlets, heavy boots and massive shoulder decorations suggest that this is a man at war. This impression is heightened by his choice of black, which adds an air of brooding menace to his character.

Does He Ever relax?
In general, he is quite physically fit. In Horizon he suffers from back pain, but that is the only reference to this problem. He seems to hate being fussed over when ill or injured, refusing to give in to the radiation sickness during Orac. He must also have a high pain threshold, judging from his ability to withstand five days of torture in Rumours of Death, as well as resisting the torture by Lector (Moloch) and the pain Pella inflicts on him in Power. He is given to playing with something such as a probe or rubbing one hand over the other when thinking which conveys the sense that he is always tense, poised to react: Avon never slouches or seems to relax, and this tension might explain his back pain.

Attentive viewers also note that Avon’s facial expressions and body language express different emotions to the words spoken in his musical, yet precise, voice. This provokes much analysis as to which represents his true feelings. A good example of this occurs in Pressure Point when Avon physically comforts Blake by holding him tightly around the shoulders, whilst addressing him in sharp, accusatory tones.

The presentation of the character, costume, gestures and intonations all combine to suggest that while Avon appears rather a cold fish on the surface, he may be hiding a volcanic range of emotions under his buttoned-up outfits.

He Must Have Had a Family
We know that Avon has (or had) a brother, who to judge from the visual image projected by Zen in Space Fall, is younger and physically unlike him. It is possible they are step-brothers, rather than full blood brothers, which would suggest a different father or mother for the younger brother. He may even have been adopted. However, the two seem to have been close, because Avon is compelled to reach him, and later tells Blake that Zen used his brother as bait. There might be a suggestion here of unfinished business. But we learn nothing more about Avon's family or his early years. I'm not sure what we can conclude from this. We learn something of the family background of most of the other characters: Blake's parents and relatives; Vila’s mis-spent youth; Jenna’s mother; Dayna’s family set up; Tarrant’s brother and Cally’s sister. Perhaps the reason why we meet none of Avon's relations, and why he doesn't talk about them, is because he is the black sheep of his family and has been disowned by them- but there is nothing to support this canonically.

Alpha or Beta? A Blake’s 7 Parlour Game
What position did Avon hold in Federation society? We don't know. Roj Blake is identified as an Alpha (Shadow) and as Avon and Blake worked on the same research project it would be reasonable to assume that Avon too is an Alpha - but this is only an assumption. It may well be that Blake worked on the Aquitar project after his mind wipe, and that it was a demotion. Tynus, Avon's contemporary and friend, is the Commander Technician on Fosforon, ‘a hole in the middle of nowhere’', which hardly seems a position for a high grade Alpha. The only other technician we meet, Coser, the inventor of IMIPAK (Weapon), is a Beta grade and bitter about it, because his grading means that he cannot claim his technological innovation as his own. However, since he calls himself a Beta grade technician, it is possible that there are also Alpha grade technicians and Avon's technical skills would suggest that he could be one of those Alphas.

It is interesting to consider whether Avon could be a Beta grade, as this could explain his attitude towards being treated as a subordinate: for example, his expression when Blake shouts: "Enough, Avon!" in Time Squad is positively murderous, as it is in Redemption when Blake orders him “Go back to your position.”

There are also parallels that can be drawn between Avon and Coser besides their shared occupation and prickly attitude which make it a feasible hypothesis:

Both affect impractical outfits which suggest someone trying a bit too hard to look sophisticated, especially if we compare these outfits with Blake's more practical clothing (bat-wing sleeves notwithstanding).

Both are exceptional inventors: Coser of IMIPAK, Avon of Liberator’s cloaking device and the artificial Sopron.

Both have committed a crime against the Federation in order to be free of its restrictions.

Both lack patience with those of lesser intellects:

Avon (to Gan in Redemption): It’s slow. You should appreciate that problem.

Coser (to Rashel): I should have known better. A labour grade slave. You’re pathetic.

Both treat women roughly:
Coser (to Rashel): Shut up! [shoves her across the room] Will you shut up?”

Avon hits Sara on the jaw in Mission to Destiny and throws Servalan to the floor in Aftermath.

In short, there are sufficient parallels between the two to support the notion that they might occupy a similar strata in society and share its values and social behaviours, while bitterly resenting their position. But this is pure conjecture. Accepting this hypothesis does require us to disregard Vila’s claim in Volcano that social statuses could be bought.

Starter for Ten: Unappreciated Computer Genius or Career Criminal?
We learn in Killer that Avon trained with Tynus, possibly at a university, though we don't know what he studied. The word 'trained' suggests an education with a practical application: probably computer studies, because some time after he graduated, Avon obtained a position handling the computer analysis for the Aquitar research project into matter transmission. ‘Handling’ suggests to me that he was in charge of this process, and if so, his degree grade and skills must have been high. However, he may have been just one of several handlers.

We also know that at some point Avon turned to crime. Whether this was one or more crime is open to debate. What we know for sure is that Avon attempted a major bank fraud to provide a safe and luxurious life for himself and the woman he loved, and he believed she died under questioning when the fraud was discovered. Vila alludes to this crime when he introduces Avon to Blake as ‘The number two [computer] man in all the Federated worlds’ - number one being ‘The guy who caught him’. This implies that Avon is near the top of the criminal hierarchy, though whether this was because his crime was huge or because he had gained a reputation after committing several frauds, we are not told.

It’s not even clear how huge the bank fraud was. The amount Avon was trying to swindle is variously reported as 5 million credits (Vila in Space Fall), 500 million (the Ultras in Ultraworld), and in Space Fall Avon tells Jenna he could easily embezzle 100 million credits, implying that this sum was considerably greater than his first attempt. Your guess is as good as mine as to which figure is correct, but to be capable of undermining confidence in the security of the entire banking system, I would have thought it had to be higher than 5 million.

We can probably conclude that Avon did not commit his bank fraud until after he obtained his Aquitar research post. It seems unlikely he would have been allowed to work on such a high profile project if he had a criminal record. If his family was highly placed in society, they could perhaps have got it hushed up, but there is no evidence for this. In any case, when Avon speaks to Jenna about it in Cygnus Alpha, the words he chooses seem to prove that the fraud happened after his stint on the Aquitar project. He says: "Before I put my talents to more profitable use, I worked..." The italics are mine, but the preposition and use of the past tense are his.

The question as to whether Avon had committed one fraud or more arises because in Killer he tells Vila that he and Tynus “…"were in a fraud together. When I was arrested, I kept my mouth shut. If I hadn't, [to Tynus] old friend, you would be sweating away the rest of your life on a convict planet." Is Avon describing the bank fraud or a different crime?

You may think that this question doesn't matter very much, but examining it is key to the way you understand Avon's character. Committing a crime because you are in love is one sort of crime; making a habit of fraudulent activity quite another. The first presents Avon as a romantic hero, the second as a recidivist criminal. See what I mean about different takes?

I doubt that Tynus was involved in the fraud Avon committed for Anna. For starters, Avon tells Vila they committed a fraud together. He would have been more likely to say: "We were in the bank fraud together," if that had been the case. ‘A bank fraud’ suggests this was one of several. I also think that Avon would have been reluctant to call in the favour that Tynus owed him if he knew there was the risk that Anna's death might be brought up, especially in front of Vila. At this stage of the series, Anna and her fate is a secret which Avon seems to guard jealously, as we see later in Countdown when he refuses to discuss her with Blake. It seems possible that Avon is referring to a different crime.

We get more evidence that Avon might have been involved in several frauds in the heist episode Gold. We learn that at some point, Avon became acquainted with the dodgy Keiller, and it is strongly implied that they share a dubious history. It may be that Keiller was involved in the bank fraud with Avon: Avon tells Grant that he only “...used the visa and left the city… after we got word [Anna] was dead", which suggests that there were others involved in the crime. However, Keiller and Avon may have collaborated on another felony.

If there are problems in reckoning how many frauds Avon committed, there are problems too in assuming that he was sentenced to Cygnus Alpha for the Anna bank fraud.

For example, Avon says that he knew Del Grant, Anna’s brother, ‘a long time ago’ and that the last time they met Del had promised to kill him, because he held Avon accountable for her death (Countdown). Yet Avon's sentence to Cygnus Alpha took place only about a year and a half prior to their meeting on Albian; hardly a long period of time.

Avon tells Del that he had been shot and badly injured during the incident, and was unconscious for three days. We know he is not lying, because Anna doesn't dispute this when he mentions it in Rumours of Death. So for this to be the crime that led to Cygnus Alpha, he was either given time to recover fully before his trial, as he shows no signs of injury on the London, or there was a considerable delay between his trial and sentence.

Blake's sentence seems to have followed almost immediately after his trial, but was this common practice or was it an exception because it was in the Administration's interest to get rid of him quickly? The wheels of the law can grind slowly due to lawyer interventions, with sentences carried out weeks or months after conviction. We see a potential example of such a ploy in Trial when Thania demands that details of each of the thousand victims of the Zircaster massacre be read out by the computer, prompting Arbiter Samor to protest: "Do you know how long that will take, Major?" However, we do not find out whether her request was granted and in any case, this was a military court martial, not a criminal trial, so the rules might have been different.

If delays did occur between Avon's conviction and sentence, this would explain his lack of injuries on the London. However, I think that as Security needed to conceal Bartholomew's role in his arrest and maintain the pretence that 'Anna' had died under interrogation, it is more likely that the process would have been expedited, as it was in Blake's case. Even if this were not so, the Federation was hardly big on human rights and this, together with the fact that guilt or innocence was decided by Justice Machines rather than humans, would have made it difficult, if not impossible, for his lawyers to establish grounds for appeal and delay the process.

Finally, in Rumours of Death, Anna claims that she let him go. This assertion would make more sense if she had arranged to have Avon watched rather than arrested, especially as we know that he used the visa to leave the city after he recovered, so he clearly wasn't arrested straight away.

For all these reasons, I would argue that it is possible that the crime Avon committed with Tynus is a later one than the bank fraud, and that this was the one that led to his transportation sentence – especially since it would also have been Tynus' fate if Avon had implicated him. It is unlikely that Avon would have received a lesser sentence for the crime, so it could not have happened earlier.

On the other hand, it may just prove that they were both involved in the same bank fraud, and that Avon was not caught and arrested for the crime until well after he committed it and then kept his mouth shut about Tynus' involvement. But even if this is so, it doesn't necessarily negate the argument that Avon was a career criminal.

Avon seems to feel no guilt about the fraud he committed, just frustration that it didn't succeed because he was let down by other people (Space Fall). Generally, he seems to revel in his lack of morals, as this snippet from Death-Watch illustrates:

Avon: Tarrant, I presume you have no tedious scruples about cheating and lying?
Tarrant: None at all.
Avon: Oh good.

Such a cavalier attitude to morality does suggest a criminal mindset, even if he was relatively new to acting upon it. Servalan observes in Aftermath: "You [Avon] are infinitely corruptible. You'd sell out anybody, wouldn't you?" Why would she conclude this about someone who had committed only one offence, especially as Avon had made no attempt to sell out Blake to the Federation while on the Liberator? The message informing Travis that Blake was on Exbar (Hostage) was sent anonymously, not as part of a deal. Servalan cannot know anything about Avon’s arrangement with Farron on XK72, because the station was destroyed (Breakdown). She must be basing her opinion on what she knows about Avon from his records.

Of course, if we accept that Avon is a serial fraudster, then we have to question when and why he turned to crime in the first place. This means starting from the only piece of concrete evidence we have about this - the Anna bank fraud.

Avon tells Grant and Shrinker (Countdown, Rumours of Death) that he committed the fraud so that he and Anna could be rich and safe, but he also takes pride in the fact that his fraud would have undermined the Federation. We are also told that the security forces put their best agent on to him when they became aware of his activities. These facts point to Avon being considered a suspect citizen before Anna was assigned to him. Avon must have had a negative attitude towards the Federation to wish to undermine it, and the Federation would hardly have wasted such a valuable resource as Bartholomew on a first time offender. Avon tells Shrinker in Rumours of Death that he was about to undermine confidence in the whole Federation credit system, so it is possible that Anna was assigned the case because of the scale of his crime. But Shrinker replies that Avon wasn't close to succeeding and that they were on to him from the start; further proof that Avon had already been identified as a potentially dangerous dissident, and that the only reason he was allowed to run with the fraud was because the authorities hoped that he would lead them to a rebel cell. It is not difficult to believe that such a snarky character would have been unable to resist the temptation to voice his criticisms of the Federation openly, and that this would have marked him out as someone to watch, even if he had no criminal record.

Equally, Avon's explanation that he committed the bank fraud because he needed enough money to make a new life for himself and Anna off-world, where they could both live free from Federation interference with all the sparkly bedding that they could desire, still leaves us with questions.

If Avon really was a top computer expert, we would expect him to have a job that commanded good money, so why would he need to embezzle more? Why couldn't he and Anna just live comfortably on his salary? Either they were both very greedy for a luxurious life style, or this points again to his already being under suspicion, and perhaps already fearing that his job was under threat or that he might be taken for questioning. Conversely, if he had previously been marked as a potential dissident, this may have barred him from the top posts his skills warranted and crime may have seemed the only way to secure the life-style he craved.

We do not have sufficient information on the way Federation society worked to be sure of an answer. It may be that only the Alpha Elite were rich and powerful enough to make their own rules, and that top experts were paid better than the ordinary citizen, but still modestly. This certainly seems to be the case with Tel and Maja Varon (The Way Back), but it's difficult to estimate whether Varon was at the top of his profession or just a jobbing lawyer.

Maybe Avon decided to commit one last fraud as a means to break free from his criminal lifestyle and start afresh with a new identity and Anna - something which would certainly have cost him a lot of money.

Or perhaps Avon's criminal career only started after Anna's death. I've postulated already that he may not have been arrested for the bank fraud until some time after the crime. Supporting evidence for this is provided by Shrinker (Rumours of Death), who says: "You [Avon] dropped out of sight after you killed the man who was supplying you with exit visas." If Avon wasn't caught immediately it would explain why he had not seen Del Grant for a long while, why Anna claimed she had let him go, how he met Keiller and why Tynus might have moved off-world to a ‘hole in the middle of nowhere’. It would have given him time to heal from his injuries and if Avon was a man on the run, then crime would have been his way of surviving.

We cannot be sure which, if any, of these scenario is the true one. If Avon did drop out of sight for any length of time following Anna's death, it is strange that he didn't bother to change his name. But for all we know, ‘Avon’ may be a common surname in the Federation. However, even if the timing of his arrest is open to question, I think we can be pretty certain that even before he met Anna, Avon had been marked as someone who was disloyal to the Federation, and was being monitored.

During the series, we encountered many examples of people who despite being in the more privileged section of Federation Society became social deviants: Jenna, Blake, Tynus, Del Grant, Hal Mellanby, Dr Plaxton, Egrorian. The most likely reason for Avon's turning to crime is that like those other highly intelligent people who kicked against the Federation's repressive practices, Avon chose the criminal path, hoping this would cripple the Federation as well as free him from oppression.

The Gestalt Conundrum, or “Tell me, Mr Avon, how do you rate your fellow crewmates?”
It is ironic that Avon, whose ambition was to be rich and safe, ended up careering round the Galaxy in the company of an ill-assorted bunch of dissidents, risking his life for a cause he did not support, in a spaceship laden with treasure he could not spend. And he spends a good part of the series expressing his dissatisfaction with this fate, and detailing the shortcomings of his crew mates.

According to Vila: "When Avon holds out the hand of friendship, be careful of his other hand. That's the one with the hammer" (Killer). Was Vila right? Did Avon regard the Liberator crew simply as commodities, to be disposed of when no longer needed?

Dorian (Rescue) was of the view that Avon felt something for those he fought alongside and eventually led, claiming they were a gestalt entity and telling Avon: "After what you've been through together, you couldn't fail to care for each other. Even you." Avon, predictably, thought Dorian was mad. He had already expressed his opinion of his companions with bitter clarity when he left the Liberator for Terminal: “I don’t need any of you… I don’t want you with me.” Did he mean it? Or was it a ploy to keep them safe in the event of a trap?

It’s a tricky one. If, as Avon hoped, Blake was in possession of something that would make them both rich and invincible, then he would no longer need his companions. They would have outlived their usefulness to him, so he may have been speaking the unvarnished truth. Yet it’s almost inconceivable to accept that he could have no feelings for any of them.

Avon and Cally – the ‘Did They / Didn’t They?’ Question
Cally, for instance. She believed that Avon cared for them all, telling Vila that he had ‘missed something’ when Avon remarked that he didn't see why he should have to prove it (Duel). It is possible that she telepathically sensed some hidden emotions in him; she was able to sense Avon's unease in Hostage and intuit that he had put Blake in danger and felt guilty about it. But she also says she cannot read minds except those of other Aurons (Time Squad, Sarcophagus, Terminal), so it may be that she just saw what she hoped was there.

Avon does seem more relaxed with Cally than with the others, sharing some companionable moments with her. However, he is often irked by her idealism: her statement that "He who trusts cannot be betrayed, only mistaken" provokes the cutting retort: "Life expectancy must be short among your people" (Mission to Destiny). His criticism of her and her people as 'gutless' is particularly harsh (Children of Auron).

There is a slight case to be made that the pair shared an intimate relationship. Avon seems to touch her tenderly when she is unconscious (Project Avalon); Blake told Vila that they had ‘paired up - mutual affinities’ (Voice from the Past); Tarrant believed something was going on between them in Harvest of Kairos and Avon was concerned enough to seek Cally out when she retired to her cabin grieving for the loss of Auron (Sarcophagus). Then there is that the kiss they shared and their exchange of looks at the end of that episode. All of this is evidence that may support the notion.

Unfortunately for this theory, Blake was under mind control when he claimed Avon and Cally were together, and Tarrant's judgement was a misreading of the situation - though it is interesting that both Tarrant and Vila thought a relationship between Cally and Avon was feasible. Avon approaching Cally in her cabin may have just been the concern of a leader for a crew member who was unavailable to take her shifts. The kiss was part of Avon's ploy to disarm the Alien that had taken Cally's form, and whatever the meaning of the look he later shared with the real Cally, it requires imagination to interpret it as a loving one. Nor was Avon noticeably affected by her death. The only remaining evidence that supports the idea of a relationship between them is one apparently tender touch, which is not really very much, as Cally herself dismisses any notion of a relationship in Children Of Auron with the scathing: "Why do you think I've never gone back there? Affection for him?"

And it’s even less evidence when you consider that just four episodes before the tender touch, Avon had recommended that Cally should be dumped from the ship because of the sabotage she committed under the influence of the Lost (The Web).

While I am reluctant to disappoint any ardent Avon and Cally 'shippers, I should also point out that Avon never discussed Anna with her, as this exchange from Children of Auron shows. He is explaining to Cally, obviously for the first time, why he has directed the Liberator to Earth to seek out Shrinker and says: "One of his victims was a young woman called Anna Grant. She was important to me." We might have expected the subject of Anna to come up at an earlier point if he and Cally were intimate.

And we would also have to conclude that if they were lovers, he was not a very romantic one, because he had to be persuaded by Tarrant to help her people (Children of Auron) and in the episode immediately following Sarcophagus he shows an equal reluctance to rescue her from the Ultras, describing the attempt to do so as ‘insanity’ (Ultraworld). In any case, I suspect that Cally’s vulnerability to alien possession would have ruled her out as a lover in Avon’s eyes, even if he was tempted by her charms.

All in all, it seems safer to conclude that although Avon found Cally the most sensible of his companions, trusted her loyalty and even occasionally listened to her opinions, his feelings for her were not deep.

Avon and Jenna - Who is Your Money On?

With Jenna, one gets the impression that Avon recognises that he has met his match. They tested each other in Cygnus Alpha; Avon pretending that he didn't know if he could kill anyone, presumably to minimise his threat that she was ‘next on his list’ and Jenna subtly threatening him back by telling him that there was one way to find out if she was capable of killing someone face-to-face. At times she seems quite hostile towards him, snapping: “That still won’t make you likeable,” when he threatens to reprogramme Zen, and rolling her eyes on the many occasions when he complains. She was also too obviously on Blake’s side for Avon to trust her.

However, by the start of Season B, Jenna appears to have become fonder of Avon, which is perhaps an indication that she was becoming disillusioned with Blake. She rests her head on Avon's shoulder in Redemption, and by Star One she was concerned enough for his safety to advise him: "Watch yourselves… Blake's rushing things." But the only direct evidence that Avon might have any reciprocal affection for Jenna is provided in Deliverance, where he volunteers first and without complaint to go back for her.

Jenna was valued by Avon as an excellent pilot, but she was also his rival for the Liberator. I think he may have welcomed her disappearance after Aftermath; he doesn't seem to make any effort to find her, which indicates his feelings for her were not warm.

Avon and Vila – Organ Grinder and Monkey?
Avon and Vila were both probably associated with the criminal underworld on Earth, and appear to have an understanding of each other. Vila certainly reads Avon quite well: "You think you've found Blake." (Blake)
For me, this exchange from Gambit sums up their relationship:

Vila: Ohhhh, that is beautiful! Avon, there are times when I almost get to like you.
Avon: Yes, well, that makes it all worthwhile.
Vila: I mean, you give me a warm feeling right here, around the money belt.

Throughout the series there is a sharing of goals and mutual respect for each other’s abilities – but little affection. Avon sometimes finds Vila amusing ("The plain man’s guide to alien invasions" - Shadow); is often irritated by him ("It's a question of intelligence, so your opinion has very little relevance" - Weapon) and frequently insults him, calling him "a fifth grade idiot" in Horizon. None of this suggests Avon regards Vila as a friend.

They make an amusing double act at times, as in this exchange in Hostage:

Vila: What did I do to deserve this?
Avon: How long a list would you like?

And never more so than in Orbit, where their witty, barbed repartee creates a sense of camaraderie:

Egrorian: Now, then, Avon. What would you say if I offered you mastery of the galaxy?
Avon: I would say thank you.
Vila: For a whole galaxy? Come on, Avon, show the man some gratitude.

Witty and companionable - but this makes the moment in Orbit all the more shocking, when the viewer realises that to Avon, Vila is - and has always has been - expendable.

Avon was never solicitous towards Vila. Even Cally remarks on this in City at the Edge of the World, asking: "Why are you suddenly so protective of Vila?" - the inescapable conclusion being that Avon was protecting an asset, not a friend.

In turn, Vila has few illusions about Avon. He describes him as a ‘machine’ in Duel. In Volcano he remarks to Cally, "There isn't a volcano alive that would dare to swallow Avon. He's cold enough to put out the fire, anyway." Vila seems to regard Avon as almost superhumanly dangerous, which may be why he thought he'd be safe with such a chilly individual. Events were to prove him wrong, but if Avon ever felt guilty about the shuttle incident, he never revealed this to Vila.

Avon and Gan - I'm With Stupid
Avon's relationship with Gan seems similar to his relationship with Vila, without the respect for his abilities or intellect. Gan was mainly useful to Avon as a target for his insults. One of Avon's cruellest but funniest jibes occurs in Shadow, when Gan reports he had tried calling Orac's name to discover where it was hidden: "Oh I wish I'd seen that. It's the kind of natural stupidity that no amount of training could hope to match."

Avon sweeps Gan contemptuously out of his way in the teleport area in The Web. He refers to Gan as ‘stupid’ again in Weapon, and ‘slow’ in Redemption.

However, Gan wasn't noticeably intimidated by him, even managing a sharp come-back in Time Squad: "For a clever man, you're not very bright." Maybe he felt Avon's bark was worse than his bite. From Avon's point of view, Gan's limiter rendered him useless as a protector, which may explain his dismissiveness of Gan when he was alive, and his indifference to Gan’s death.

Avon and the Newbies

Teacher's Pet
Avon seems relatively patient with Dayna, perhaps because she is young, accepts his orders and generally obeys him. He values her skills as a weapons designer. However, Dayna makes more independent decisions in Season D, disobeying him outright in Headhunter when she and Tarrant conspire to kill the robot.

While he accepts her kiss when they first meet in Aftermath, and his quip about hoping her ‘curiosity was not too easily satisfied’ is vaguely sexual, there is no evidence he ever followed this up.

Their mutual desire to destroy Servalan brings them together, but also leads to friction when Avon
restrains her from charging to the kill when he felt policy dictates this ("I mean this, Dayna. You kill Servalan now, you blow everything wide open, including us" - Death-Watch)

During Season C, Avon is uncritical of Dayna. He sometimes bothers to explain things to her in both Seasons C and D, rather like a tutor (Moloch/Sand). But by Season D she no longer seems as much the favourite pupil, and he is willing to use her as a decoy in Stardrive, putting her at risk.

The Young Pretender
Avon's relationship with Tarrant is very much that of an old stag defending his territory from a younger one. In fact, Avon described one of their most memorable clashes as mutually "pawing the ground" (Sarcophagus). In that encounter, their normal level of antagonism was boosted by the presence of an alien, but it continues into Season D, with Avon dismissing Tarrant to Soolin as ‘...brave, young, handsome; three reasons not to like him’ (Traitor).

In most of their encounters, Avon comes out on top, unleashing a string of unforgettable put-downs. In Harvest of Kairos, after rescuing the crew from Federation troopers: "It was an obvious possibility, Tarrant". In Dawn of the Gods: "Calculate on what, your fingers?" and in the same episode, replying to Tarrant's threat to kill him one day, the laconic: "It's been tried."

Tarrant sometimes seems to act as Avon's conscience; for example persuading him that it was right to help the Auronar (Children of Auron) and pointing out that he owes loyalty to Cally (Ultraworld).

However, it is interesting that despite their antagonism, Avon nearly confides in Tarrant during Terminal, although he did also threaten to kill him shortly afterwards, which Cally felt was no idle threat. Nevertheless, there is a sense that they were on more equal terms at this point. Perhaps they had grown closer since Death-Watch; Avon feeling something in common with Tarrant when he discovered that they each had a brother with whom they had lost touch. And even after Avon's threats in Terminal, there was this enlightening comment from Tarrant:
"Come on, Avon. Look, we've been through a lot together. We've always been at risk; we've always taken chances. But we've survived because we worked as a team. So what is it you have to do that makes this so different?"

We may question why Tarrant was so supportive to a man who had drawn a gun on him, and why he teleported after Avon to make sure he was safe? Surely Tarrant and the others would not have taken so much trouble if they felt that Avon had never shown them any loyalty? It seems unlikely, so perhaps he did care for them.

When Tarrant collapses in Rescue, Avon goes back to help him, while claiming that this was purely out of self-interest:

Avon: Pass out again and I'll leave you, Tarrant.
Tarrant: I’m surprised you came back this time.
Avon: We stand a better chance as a group.
Tarrant: What? While something is eating me you can get away?
Avon: Or visa versa.
Tarrant (grins): I'll drink to that.

There is a dry humour in this exchange which again suggests that their relationship was not always as antagonistic as it first appeared.

Tarrant is clearly the recognised second-in-command on the Liberator, deputising for Avon, sometimes disastrously as we see in City at the Edge of the World, where his botched attempt to secure crystals puts Vila in danger and earns him Avon's wrath. In Season D, their mutual antagonism peaks again when they fight over Piri in Assassin; Avon claiming that she preferred his brain to Tarrant's brawn. This may have been a hang-over from Avon's disgust with Tarrant for destroying Muller's Android.

Sand was the beginning of the lowest point in their relationship. We never learn how Avon felt about Tarrant's indiscretion with Servalan, but becoming intimate with Avon's sworn enemy was a pretty dangerous thing to do. It is likely that it infuriated Avon, especially as, to use the stag analogy again, it must have seemed that Tarrant had stolen his prize doe. It may explain why Avon was willing to exploit Tarrant's hot-headedness in Orbit:

Vila: ...it might have occurred to you this could be a Federation trap?
Avon: Well, of course, it's occurred to me. Why do you think I'm sending Tarrant?

When Tarrant compounds his offences by jeopardising Avon's alliance with Zukan (Warlord), Avon appears to take rather cruel pleasure when he indicates that Zeeona is dead. But he gives such an odd - almost painful – grimace, that it could possibly indicate something quite different: that Avon feels empathy with Tarrant for losing someone he loved.

If the latter is the case, it might explain why during the period between blowing up Xenon base and seeking Blake on Gauda Prime, something seems to change between them, to the extent that Avon appears to kill Blake partly because of Tarrant's assertion that Blake had betrayed him. Either that, or perhaps Avon decided that because Tarrant had saved his life when Scorpio was crashing, he could trust his word.

Employee of the Month
Of all the new crew, Soolin is the one that Avon seems to regard most as an equal. The moment when she joins the Scorpio certainly presents the two of them as such:

Soolin: I don't give my allegiance at all. I sell my skill. [She whips out her gun. Avon is holding his aimed at her.]

Although he answers her questions about Vila and Tarrant in a somewhat flirtatious manner (Traitor), there is no indication that he followed up on this: it seems more like an employer humorously filling in the newcomer on the foibles of the other staff.

He challenges her eyeball-to-eyeball in Warlord: "If it comes to a choice between the alliance and Zukan's revenge, don't think that I won't sacrifice you."

Rather than making a threat, he seems again to be in employer mode, warning her that she had breached the terms of their contract and risked being handed over. It is difficult to imagine him saying something like this to any of the others; he obviously expects Soolin to understand and even accept his decision. She takes what he says calmly, although there is a sense that she might have whipped out her gun if he tried to hand her over, and that he is aware of this.

Soolin saves Avon's life in Assassin, so it is likely that he feels indebted to her. This may be why he seems to respect her and her skills. For her part, Soolin seems to care for him a little, wincing visibly as he tries to fit the head on the robot despite the electric shocks he is receiving (Headhunter). They work seamlessly together in Gold and she is sufficiently confident to throw the worthless money at him at the end of the episode, obviously feeling that she is entitled to show her professional displeasure at the failure of the heist.

Avon probably trusts her more than the others because her motivation for joining the crew was financial and not emotional. He knows exactly where he stands with her. As someone not given to emotional displays himself, he must also like the fact that she is invariably calm and rational.

The Artificial Intelligences
For a top expert in that field, Avon has a peculiar relationship with computers, often speaking to them as if they were on equal terms. In some ways, he seems closer to them than to his human companions. Although always quick to claim that Zen, Orac and Slave are mere machines, his responses to them suggest that, without realising it, he thinks of them also in human terms. For example, when Zen directly refuses to give information, Avon responds: "Don't philosophise at me, you electronic moron!" (Cygnus Alpha) and "Stop being pedantic, and give us the facts" (Moloch). He tells Orac it’s “Not very original,” when Orac tells him it is obliged to obey him even when he is wrong (Headhunter) and says to Slave: "Don't be sorry, be quiet" (Stardrive). Yet when Orac, while under the influence of the alien Sand, professes to love Avon, he appears completely unnerved by this declaration. Perhaps Orac had represented his ideal companion – useful, but unemotional – so when the computer begins to behave irrationally, it feels like a betrayal.

It is possible that Avon values the artificial intelligences more than the humans he lives alongside. Vila certainly thought so in Rescue:

Avon: Cally is dead.
Tarrant: Are you sure?
Avon: Yes, I'm sure.
Dayna: He went back in.
Tarrant: You wanted to be a hero too?
Avon: We needed Orac. We still do.
Vila: Orac got a bit dented. For which he blames me. It seems I rescued the wrong one.

However, later in Season D, when Orac suggests that its safety requires Avon to leave Vila and Tarrant to die on Scorpio (Headhunter) he furiously over-rules the machine, so Vila may not be have been entirely correct in his assumption.

Avon undoubtedly thinks computers are more reliable that humans, because they are incapable of telling lies. That is why he doesn’t question Orac on the Malodar shuttle when it tells him that Vila weighs 73 kilos. Avon automatically assumes Orac means that if he wants to survive, there is no option but to jettison Vila. It surprises me that Avon doesn’t recognise this as an example of the Delphic prophesy paradox: to answer questions truthfully, but not necessarily tell the truth. The only explanation I can come up with is that Avon is arrogant about his abilities and always assumes he has asked the right question.

The Impossible Blake
Finally, we come to Blake and Avon's relationship with him - a relationship that is at the heart of the series. What, if anything, does Avon feel for Blake?

It is possible that Blake misreads Avon when he remarks, "You really do hate me, don't you?" (Star One). It is understandable why he would think this: Avon had just stated that that he wants their crusade against the Federation ‘finished’, and worse, told Cally: "I want to be free of him". But was it the man he wanted to be free of, or the rebellion?

Superficially, Avon disparages Blake whenever he can. When Vila tasks him: "You don't have much time for Blake, do you?" Avon replies: "I never could stand heroes" (Killer), and sarcastically refers to him as ‘beloved leader’ in Voice from the Past.

But there is a lot of evidence to suggest that far from despising Blake, Avon becomes protective of him as he gets to know him, even though he hates the way that Blake's ‘great bleeding heart’ leads him to take unacceptable risks with Avon's life.

Leaving out the times when Avon goes out of his way to rescue Blake when he could easily have left him to die (if he hated Blake so much, he could have configured the teleport incorrectly during the events of Trial and left Blake to the mercy of the Host), there are other occasions when it is difficult to interpret Avon's actions as springing from anything other than loyal affection. For example, having told Blake that he has no choice but to sacrifice the Decimas for the sake of the crew, Avon concludes surprisingly: "So what do you want to do?", clearly intending to support Blake’s decision even if he disagrees with it (The Web). It's significant also, that when Avon was alone on the Liberator, assessing whether he would be able to survive on his own, he concludes: "Therefore I do not need Blake, I do not need any of the others..." (Horizon)

Why would he single out the man he has opposed at every turn, and whose leadership he questions constantly, if Blake had not become important to him? If you need further proof, then consider this from Terminal: Avon has admitted to Servalan he suspected that she might have set a trap for him, but goes on to say: "When you transmitted the recording of Blake's voice, Zen did a print analysis and confirmed that the voice could be genuine. On the strength of that, I had to follow it up."

Did you Avon? Did you really? A treasure room full of wealth, and you had to check out whether
Blake had obtained more wealth to share with you? And you were certain that Blake would freely share it with you, despite the fact that he demanded those jewels back from you on your return from Space City? (Shadow). Isn't it more likely that you followed up on the message because you felt loyal to Blake? And what about your admission: "I always thought that his death and mine might be linked in some way." Doesn't this suggest a deep connection between the two of you and if so, how do we explain it?"

Avon is first and foremost a cynic. Life seems to have taught him that it isn’t safe to believe in anything, and that those that do so are fools. He implies that he has never encountered an honest man (Space Fall). This suggests that he cannot even trust his own family. It would be unusual for such a sceptical man to have come to feel close to an idealist like Blake, yet that is what his words seem to indicate. However, there is a different way to interpret them. Avon may simply mean that he always believed Blake would get him killed one day, and that day seems to have arrived.

If that is the case, it is possible that as Blake became more and more obsessed, Avon came to hate him and sought him on Terminal for revenge. Or perhaps, under the pressure of constant demands to risk his life, Avon’s baser nature emerged and it was the financial reward that Blake offered that motivated him. Servalan, who always seems to ‘get’ Avon, may even have been correct in the judgement she made about him in Harvest of Kairos:

Servalan: Your skin always did come first didn't it?

It is difficult to be sure of anything with Avon.

There is even a plausible argument to be made that the Avon who held the line courageously against the Andromedans because his friend Blake asked him to, actually only did it because he could see no way out of the situation that wouldn't put him in danger or cost him the Liberator. The argument would go something like this:

“If I refuse Blake's request, Blake will rise from his sickbed to take charge again. Jenna and Cally will support Blake's decision to fight. Blake will either fight badly because he's injured or he'll deputise one of them to carry out his orders. I will be in danger whatever I decide, and I will probably be safer if I lead the attack.

If I refuse, but Blake insists we fight and we survive the battle, Blake will still want to return to Earth. But instead of handing over the Liberator to me, he'll gift it to Jenna or Cally as a reward for their loyalty. If I wish to stay on the ship I will have to do so under their command. That is not acceptable.

If Blake dies from his injuries because he insisted on being involved in the fighting, the others will blame this on me, and if I want to command the ship, I'd have to fight them for it. With three against one, two of them capable fighters, I might well lose.

Therefore, if I want to stay alive AND command the Liberator after Blake returns to Earth, I need to lead the attack on the Andromedans.”

Could the real Avon be so cold, calculating and emotionless that his apparent heroism was no more than a dispassionate calculation of the odds?

Surely, lurking inside that leather-clad carapace, is a man truly capable of caring for others, not just himself?

To be continued...

Illustration by Raine Szramski

· Posted by Travisina on 17 May 2017 4244 Reads ·