Blakes 7 – Power

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Power opens with Avon being chased by some hairy tribesmen.  I don’t know about you, but whenever I see hairy tribesman in Blakes 7 my heart sinks a little – it suggests that the story is going to be a little disappointing.  And since this one was written by Ben Stead it’ll be no surprise to learn that we’re in for fifty minutes of dodgy sexual politics.  But it’s by no means all bad as Stead, for once, doesn’t always go down the most obvious routes.

Gunn-Sar (Dicken Ashworth) is the leader of the Hommicks and he wastes no time in introducing himself to Avon.  “I am Gunn-Sar, chief of the Hommiks. I rule by right of challenge, which means I’m the biggest, toughest, meanest son of a Seska on this planet.”  It doesn’t take long before you realise that there’s an air of mockery about Gunn-Sar.  He knows it and the others know it too.  Ashworth is clearly having fun with a role that’s a little bit more interesting than the male chauvinist leader of a hairy tribe that it first appeared to be.

Apart from Nina (Jenny Oulton), the Hommicks appear to be a totally male enclave whilst the Seskas are entirely female.  We therefore see a battle of the sexes play out which initially paints the Hommicks as oppressors and the Seskas as victims, although the truth is a little more complicated.  The revelation that the Seskas are captured and operated on in order to make them compliant breeding stock is somewhat horrific (as is the fact that any girls born are left out in the wilderness to die).

This is odd though.  If most of the girls are killed immediately after they’re born it stands to reason that eventually the Hommicks will die out.  We later learn that Nina is Gunn-Sar’s woman, as it were.  So what about the rest of the Hommicks, don’t they want a little female company as well?  There’s more than one answer to this, but I don’t think we’ll go any further down that road ….

We seen an operation being carried out – by Nina – which poses another question.  The Hommicks appear to be primitive, but they’re surrounded by advanced technology.  This becomes a little clearer after Avon runs one of Gunn-Sar’s men, Cato (Paul Ridley), to ground in a computerised observation room.  Avon realises that Gunn-Sar is ignorant about many things, including this room.

CATO: He thinks we have scouts posted everywhere and runners.
AVON :Impractical. So why do you keep up the illusion?
CATO: For the Hommicks, the people. If they see this they’ll want more. Hydroponic food, machines, neutron blasters.
AVON: And you don’t have them to give. Because your civilization died a long time ago.
CATO: Yes.
AVON: What killed it?
CATO: A war. Everything was lost. Industry, people. Afterwards, the Council of Survivors decreed that we should start again, from the very beginning. Wooden tools, flint arrowheads, the wheel. Ten thousand years advancement destroyed in a day.

There’s something quite pleasing about this. An apparently primitive society being subtly guided with the help of advanced technology.

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Pella (Juliet Hammond-Hill) is the foregrounded Seska.  All the Seskas have mental and physical powers well in advance of the average woman, but of course she’s no match for Avon.  In a scene that I’m sure had Paul Darrow’s many female admirers swooning, Avon subdues Pella and then explains why he’s better than her.  “You see, Pella, it’s your strength, and however you use it, a man’s will always be greater. Unfair, perhaps, but biologically unavoidable.”  Score one for the male sex then.  But Pella later knocks him out by levitating a computer keyboard (this is probably the funniest thing in the episode, mainly for Darrow’s expression and the way he seems to plummet to the floor in slow-motion) so I think we’ll have to call it a draw.

Dayna later challenges Gunn-Sar to a duel (Avon also did this earlier but was unsuccessful).  Dayna fares better, although she did have the help of the Seskas , even if she didn’t realise it.   By the laws of the Hommicks, Dayna is now leader, although unsurprisingly she doesn’t stay for the coronation.  This raises another question – Dayna has effectively plunged the Hommicks into chaos (the revelation that only a handful of Seskas are still alive is another problem) so what will happen to them now?  Nina suggests they should leave, but do they have a ship?  Avon and the others certainly don’t stick around to see if they need a helping hand, which is a little unfriendly.

Pella turns out to be a wrong ‘un, which I’m sure proves something, although I’m not entirely sure what.  Avon sums up what we’ve learnt.  “You can have war between races, war between cultures, war between planets. But once you have war between the sexes, you eventually run out of people.”  A battle of the sexes script from Ben Stead could have turned out a lot worse, so I guess we have to be thankful for what we got.  Power isn’t perfect but it clips along at a good pace, even if it doesn’t make a great deal of sense.

Right at the end Soolin pops up from nowhere, offering to join the crew.  This is the sort of scene that really should have come at the end of Rescue as it does make you wonder what she’s been doing for the duration of this episode.  No matter, we’ve got a new crewmember and we’ve got teleport facilities (which was sort of what the story was about) so things are looking up.

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Blakes 7 – Moloch

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Ah Moloch.  The one with Sabina Franklyn and the stupidest puppet alien you’re ever likely to see.  It’s odd, but apart from those two facts I couldn’t remember anything else about the story prior to rewatching it.  That’s surprising, since parts of the episode are certainly memorable (although not for the right reasons).

Avon’s been following Servalan’s ship for the best part of a month.  Quite why he’s suddenly taken such an interest in her movements isn’t clear, although it seems to be simply because he’s got nothing better to do.  In a way that sums up the actions of the Liberator crew during series three – a little light piracy here, some strange sci-fi adventures there, but as the Federation’s no longer the dominant menace it was you do get the sense they’re just marking time.

At the moment Vila’s taken over from Tarrant as the most annoying crewmember – no mean feat when you consider how irritating Tarrant can be.  Vila spends the first scene moaning about the time they’ve wasted following Servalan (although since nobody pays him any attention he needn’t have bothered).  If Michael Keating’s not best served by the start of the script then you have to give him full credit for throwing in a little bit of business as the Liberator looks set for a crash landing.  Most actors would just stagger from side to side as the camera shakes, but Keating gives us a forward roll.  Well done that man!

The planet, which turns out to be called Sardos, is initially depicted by a painting of some cliffs (with a little bit of smoke wafting across the screen).  Clearly the budget had run out by this point, although they did manage to build one model set – showing Servalan’s docked ship – which looks quite effective.

As it’s a Ben Stead script (writer, lest we forget, of Harvest of Kairos) it should come as no surprise that there’s more than a whiff of misogyny in the air.  Poola (Debbie Blythe), Chesil (Sabina Franklyn) and the other women are depicted as little more than toys for the men to play with.  After Poola spots the Liberator on a monitor screen she chooses not to report it, which incurs the wrath of Section Leader Grose (John Hartley).  The unseen Moloch (voiced by Deep Roy) tells him that she must suffer and orders that she’s given to his men.  Poola then receives a slap (albeit offscreen) although nothing else happens for the moment since Servalan then enters the room.  Poola pleads with her for mercy – which the former Supreme Commander naturally ignores – and Servalan then sums up the state of affairs on Sardos rather succinctly.  “Well, Section Leader, the records were accurate. Women, food, and inflicting pain – in no particular order.”  This is jaw-dropping stuff.

Grose is, well, grose.  As he enjoys a meal with Servalan and his second in command Lector (Mark Sheridan) he suggests that the attractive young waitress (no surprise that all the women are young and attractive) would look better with a “bit of dressing, and an apple between her teeth, eh?”  He then slaps her on the backside just to drive the point home.  Whether Ben Steed is satirising unreconstructed male attitudes to women or whether he’s approving of them is a moot point.

Vila and Tarrant reach Sardos by a circuitous route.  They teleport onto a T-16 space transporter carrying a cargo of convicts and, as they make planetfall, Vila makes a new friend – Doran (Davyd Harris).  Although he’s not quite the loveable rogue he appears.  “Ahh, my problem was always women” he tells Vila.  When Vila then asks if he likes them, Doran replies with a monosyllabic “no”.  He’ll fit right in on Sardos then.

Things then lurch in an even more unexpected direction as Grose reveals to Servalan the secret of his power – an energy mass transmuter which “takes ordinary planetary matter – usually rock – and converts it into energy.  The computer then restructures it into matter of every kind.”  That Servalan finds herself completely outmanoeuvred by Grose does stretch credibility, although he does tell her that “if your reconstituted Federation was worth a light, you wouldn’t have chased halfway across the galaxy to retrieve one legion. Already I suspect my fleet outnumbers yours. Soon, it’ll be the most powerful in the galaxy.”  It’s an interesting point, although this doesn’t quite tally with the impression given in previous stories that the Federation was slowly regaining its power.

As we head into the last twenty minutes, things get funnier and funnier (although not always intentionally).  Servalan is introduced to Colonel Astrid, Grose’s former commander.  It’s difficult to find the words to describe the Colonel, but imagine a tatty doll suspended in water and you’ll get the idea.  Moloch’s voice then pipes up and suggests that Servalan be given to Grose’s men.  That seems to be all that Moloch does – recommend that misbehaving women be passed over to the men to be sorted out.  Hmm, probably best to say nothing more.

Grose has been recruiting convicts like Doran to swell his ranks and Vila (his new best friend) has also been pressed into service.  Doran tells Vila that he has a treat for him – a woman.  That it turns out to be Servalan is an amusing reveal, as is the fact that they decide to briefly team up.  Since Michael Keating and Jacqueline Pearce had rarely shared any screentime together, their odd-couple partnership is the undoubted highlight of the episode.  A pity it couldn’t have lasted longer than a few minutes.

And then Moloch appears.  “That is how I reasoned you would look” says Avon, incredibly.  Mercifully he’s only onscreen for a brief moment although there’s also the spectacle of dead Moloch a few minutes later, which is even sillier than animated puppet Moloch.

Apart from all its other problems, the passivity of the female characters is a major negative.  If at least one of them turned out to be a fighter and had helped to defeat Grose and his men that would have made some amends for the way they were treated.  Chesil seems to be written that way – but right at the end she and Doran appear to be killed off.  It’s never explicitly stated that they’re dead, but since we never see them again it’s a reasonable assumption.

Moloch is just bizarre.  There’s the germ of a good idea – Servalan being held captive by a rogue section of the military – but the rest veers from the forgettable to the hilarious.

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Blakes 7 – The Harvest of Kairos

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The Harvest of Kairos has a feel of a hastily rewritten S2 episode.  Otherwise, how do you explain that Tarrant seems to have become Enemy Number One in Servalan’s eyes?  She spends the opening few minutes musing about what he’s going to do next, whilst her cringing subordinate Dastor (Frank Gatliff) hesitatingly breaks the bad news that there’s dissent among her crew.

Some believe that she’s too afraid to attack Tarrant(!).  Chief amongst the dissenters is a worker from the construction grades, Jarvik (Andrew Burt).  Since he’s clearly designed to be an alpha-male, Burt’s casting is eccentric (to put it mildly).  Burt, the original Joe Sugden from Emmerdale Farm, also has to battle with Ben Stead’s script and his first line to Servalan sets the tone.  “Woman, you’re beautiful” he says, before grasping her for a quick snog.  There’s always the possibility that Stead had his tongue in his cheek, but I’m not so sure (there’s the evidence of his subsequent B7 scripts for example).  The sexual politics are skewered towards the dominance of men, with even Servalan seeming to melt under Jarvik’s winning ways (“But first, there is the question of that degrading and primitive act to which I was subjected in the control room. I should like you to do it again”).

Jarvik also attempts to humanise the very inhuman Servalan.  “When was the last time you felt the warmth of the Earth’s sun on your naked back? Or lifted your face to the heavens, and laughed with the joy of being alive? How long since you wept at the death of a friend?”  It’s a decent enough line and if delivered well it could have some impact (it brings to mind similar comments from Kasabi during Pressure Point) but Burt rather torpedoes it.  He’s a good actor, just hopelessly miscast.

Meanwhile, onboard the Liberator Tarrant is being his usual annoying self.  He intends to steal a cargo of Kairopan (a highly valuable crystal found on the planet Kairos).  Kairos is a dangerous planet, so Tarrant plans to hijack the freighter after it’s left the planet.

As the Liberator comes under attack from Federation ships commanded by Jarvik (he’s been given a chance by the clearly impressed Servalan) Avon is strangely distracted.  Maybe this is as scripted, or possibly Paul Darrow simply wasn’t interested that week.  Avon’s absorbed with a mysterious crystal called sophron – it’s no ordinary rock, as it seems to have a capacity for reasoning that slightly exceeds Orac’s (and many other qualities as well).  No surprises that we never hear of it again, so its only function is to operate as a get out of jail free card.  After Jarvik’s plan to capture the Liberator succeeds, the crew are exiled to the definitely unfriendly Kairos.  Escape seems impossible, until Avon’s magic rock saves the day.

It’s jarring to see Servalan in control of the Liberator (a warm up for the apocalyptic events of Terminal) and once Avon and the others have been exiled to Kairos her victory seems complete.  We then lurch into the next unexpected event – Servalan is so taken with Jarvik that she’s keen to make him co-ruler, but first he has to prove himself.  And how does she decide to test him?  He has to take on Tarrant, man-to-man, and defeat him.  Yes, okay then.

Just when you think you’ve seen everything, up pops the silliest looking giant insect …..

The Harvest of Kairos is dumb fun.  It’s never less than entertaining (if you can stomach all the “ah well, he’s a man” talk) but it doesn’t fit as an early series three episode (had it come towards the end of the third series then Tarrant’s status would have been more credible).  Chris Boucher seems to have taken his eye off the ball, script-editing wise, but luckily he’d also been penning a number of decent stories and the next episode will see a marked upswing in quality.