“The door is open”
In my very first blog post for this rambling incoherent series, I talked about my introduction to Blake’s 7 through the compilation tapes released by the BBC long long ago. But this is the story about that period of time spanning the discovery of a series, and watching the majority of episodes for the very first time.
Having bounced around the country as a younger child, by 1984 my six year-old self ended up in deepest, darkest Devon, which is where this story unfolds.
At some point in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s there was a hidden shop, in a backstreet of Exeter. Unlike the TARDIS, it really wasn’t bigger on the inside, but it was the best sci-fi/memorabilia store ever. It was called ‘Destiny One’.
Here, I purchased a copy of the Blake’s 7 Programme Guide, by Tony Attwood. The first thing I noticed is how it differed from the Doctor Who Programme Guide by Jean-Marc Lofficier, a book that was my bible for many years. What caught my attention was the synopsis of each episode. It was so much more detailed and written in a way that really captured my interest in those months/years before I actually watched the episodes on VHS cassette tape. Looking back, I discovered the whole story of Blake’s 7 over the four seasons through the written word, rather than the screen. And somehow reading about it made the whole series feel really epic, intriguing and exciting.
I still have it. A bit mouldy, battered and torn. But the spine is still intact.
At the time I was not part of any kind of fandom. I was my own fandom. I had no access to anything other than the compilation tapes, the programme guide, some warm but hazy recollections from my parents, and a vague memory of the title sequence for the final season. I had no knowledge of any of the errors in the guide. It didn’t matter. The story of Blake’s 7 was revealed to me solely through this publication. When I first opened the book, I didn’t even know how the series ended, but the final image of the picture insert in the centre of the book was of “the final moments“, which looked dramatic without revealing everything that happened in that climactic shoot out.
There were other things about the guide that I really enjoyed. The interviews with cast and crew were very entertaining; I especially enjoyed the appreciation of the scripts of Robert Holmes by Michael Keating and Paul Darrow who “didn’t even bother to read it, we knew it would be good“. And of Holmes himself, it was fascinating to read about the “m” episodes he wrote of “shoestring’n, Undermind n Doomwatch.” I can see Attwood biting into his fist when he saw that paragraph in print form. A bit like I do when I hit ‘publish’ on these blog posts.
Then came the complete and unedited episodic tapes released on VHS. ‘Power/Traitor’ was my first chance to watch the episodes outside of the hatchet job performed on the compilations. But once more I discovered that the story, the intrigue and the expectation of watching all of Blake’s 7 didn’t come from what was on-screen. Where Tony Attwood had previously provided the written explanation, now it was the turn of illustrator Barry Jones to provide the visual excitement.
Yet again I made a trip to ‘Destiny One’, where I purchased a load of the VHS covers, in a plastic wallet, printed as new, without the two folds in the middle that made up a video cover. Attached to it was some kind of press release from BBC enterprises. I didn’t really know what to do with it. Should I blu-tac it to the wall? Should I leave it in the plastic cover? I went for the latter. I’m glad I did – a pristine video cover without the folds in it felt like something special to this teenager. But I lost it in the end, during a house move. Tough times and places.
The VHS covers were a strange source of excitement and frustration. In my teenage years, as I was starting to develop my own sense of taste, artistic merit, and a dollop of arrogance, I sometimes scoffed at the depictions of some of the characters (the rendition of Avon in the ‘Warlord/Blake’ tape stood out) and the layout of his illustrations, feeling like there was sometimes too much on the page, with ‘Sarcophagus/Ultraworld’ being a good example. This was not helped by the design layout of the videos themselves, which sometimes pasted the story titles over key parts of the drawing. The text on the spine was woefully inconstant with each other, with ‘The Harvest of Kairos/City at the Edge of the World’ struggling to compete with ‘Gold/Orbit’ in terms of a consistent size of text – something of which was very important to a hoarding OCD teenager who liked his video and book collections to look neat, tidy and immaculately organised.
However the spines contained a small image of the front cover illustration, and this captured both the eye and the imagination. And despite the occasional niggles about layout and rendition, I really loved these covers. And I soon learned to love the cluttered layout on some of them, because they seemed to represent Blake’s 7 itself – a series that often struggled to contain a 50 minute story in as many minutes.
Buying the pristine video covers allowed them to be heavily scrutinised long before I even put the tape into the player and watched the episodes for the first time. It gave me a chance to work out what might happen in the episode, or let my mind wander with the possibilities. Of course the BBC budget often brought me right back to Earth, but linking Tony Attwood’s synopsis with the illustrations by Barry Jones gave me a different perspective of the episodes – for a short time at least. Travis became a far more sinister and dangerous hooded figure in ‘Star One’, the space battle in ‘Hostage’ was far more big budget, the events at Sarcoff’s residence in ‘Bounty’ took place in a highly atmospheric sunset, rather than a grab grey day, and both ‘Horizon/Pressure Point’ were the ‘greenest’ Blake’s 7 episodes of all, full of lush trees and fields.
Even the wording on the back covers shaped my view of what was happening. Was Avon really reluctant to helm the Liberator following the Intergalactic War?
Pairing the episodes created its own set of rules. Suddenly, I wasn’t watching 52 individual episodes, I was watching 26 paired episodes – or should I say “Two Complete Unedited Episodes“.
- The Way Back/Space Fall’ felt like one contained pre-Liberator story.
- ‘Bounty/Deliverance’ felt less action orientated, and initially slightly boring to my impatient teenager self.
- ‘Shadow/Weapon’ became ‘new Blake’s 7’ – the first time that I couldn’t hear Terry Nation’s voice in the writing, with Chris Boucher finally getting his opportunity to give the series a more adult and complex feel.
- ‘Aftermath/Powerplay’ became one mini-movie, introducing Tarrant and Dayna as a pair, rather than two individual characters.
- ‘Children of Auron/Rumours of Death’ was about loss; Blake’s 7 at it’s most emotionally brutal and grown up, where the cuts really were deep.
- ‘Moloch/Death-Watch’ were the mysterious episodes that I knew nothing about (the cover also gave away very little) The same was true of ‘Volcano/Dawn of the Gods’.
- ‘Terminal/Rescue’ became a fascinating study of how the visual and tonal aesthetic of a series can change over the course of 18 months.
- ‘Power/Traitor’ felt like a return to the first season (more on this later.)
- ‘Stardrive/Animals’ became the box that shouldn’t be opened, representing the point of Blake’s 7 where I was really struggling to maintain any kind of enthusiasm.
- Finally, ‘Warlord/Blake’ became a grim downward spiral; the final two-part disintegration of the rebel unit.
And then suddenly ‘Destiny One’ was a thing of the past. It closed down, and this coincided with a move to university. Plymouth was calling.
Plymouth was the total opposite of Exeter. A completely different feel. Often mistaken for Portsmouth, Plymouth labelled itself “Spirit of Discovery” for many years – you know, the type of thing that you see on a road sign as you drive in. However someone removed the “very” – leaving Plymouth as “The Spirit of Disco” for many glorious years.
But Plymouth did have something that connected it to Exeter, aside from the A38 and a battered sea wall railway line through Dawlish . I was delighted to discover there was another great sci-fi/memorabilia store – ‘Purple Haze’. Like the post war shopping centre it sat in, it is long gone, and like ‘Destiny One’, during the time it was open it was the best shop ever!
As I bought the tapes that I couldn’t find in Woolworths or WHSmiths, I was watching Blake’s 7 out of order, with little in the way of overall continuity. The way the episodes looked and felt were very much on their own terms, without the trappings of the greater narrative. For example I would watch ‘Power/Traitor’ and think how similar it seemed to the first season through the use of Betchworth Quarry, and Federation officers with eye patches. I noticed how sparse and white the sets seemed to be in ‘Project Avalon/Breakdown’. In contrast I would observe how ‘The Keeper/Star One’ felt a little more intricate in its visual style, and how humourless Blake seemed to be in it, which lead me to notice all the humour within ‘The Harvest of Kairos/City at the Edge of the World’.
This was still a time where BBC sci-fi stalwarts Doctor Who and Blake’s 7 got very little coverage on terrestrial television. These were the early days of me having a video player too. So the real clincher – the moment where I knew that Blake’s 7 was going to be a lifelong affair – was when the BBC screened that advert promoting the very tapes I was buying. Suddenly it seemed that someone out there was actually thinking about taking this material and doing something new with it. Holly from ‘Red Dwarf’ ended up in Tom Baker’s time tunnel with Spock ears (I’ve always wanted to write those words), while Avon teleported a series of videos to the screen. It was all terribly exciting. Suddenly everything I loved in private was on the telly, for all to see. In my head the entire population of the UK would finally notice, but in reality no one was talking about it in the high street.
I have to be careful how I write this, but fandom is great ‘n all that. No seriously. There are some lovely people I interact with, and I’m glad I made it there. It only took until my late 30’s to get to that point. But there was something really quite special about discovering a television series such as Blake’s 7 and being able to explore Doctor Who on my own, as a teenager, with no one to suggest what is a classic or not, in an era where there was very little available, especially if you were not part of any fan community. No one at school had any time for Doctor Who, and by the time I reached college it was the late Kurt Cobain that was all the rage, with my love of Blake’s 7 limited to the one other student who had “all the tapes.”
But yes, learning about Blake’s 7 and a good chunk of Doctor Who, before you’ve even seen it on-screen is really quite an interesting and tantalising experience, and is perhaps why I really enjoy post 2003 Doctor Who, but I don’t quite love it in the way I love the unbroken run of Doctor Who up until 1989. This might also explain why I think season 15 of Doctor Who is really quite brilliant, and ‘Voice From The Past’ is perhaps the most entertaining episode of all Blake’s 7.
You know it’s true…don’t you. Don’t you?
I’ve been looking forward to this one. The very first shot of Scorpio evokes a whole load of memories of watching the first VHS episodic tape I bought, and my first taste of season D. First impressions count, and it is a tasty model effect, nicely lit.
We cut to a close up of Vila telling Tarrant and Dayna that opening the door would be difficult. It is a perfect hook into the episode. I had not seen ‘Rescue’ and only had a memory of what Xenon base was. All I knew was that the door stood between our friends and whatever they needed to get to. And that was enough for me.
Looking at the scene today, it’s a neat introduction. Tarrant references Terminal and being prisoners once again. And naturally time is of the essence.
Apparently Tarrant is a “growing lad” as he swaggers in on Dayna’s attempts to contact Avon. I’m enjoying the dynamic of the three; Tarrant’s posturing, Vila’s lack of urgency, and that Dayna is the only one doing anything useful.
I love it when old CRT television sets are used as scanner screens. It’s one set dressing where I’ve never been able to separate fiction from reality. In my head I’m expecting to see a kettle in the background of the operations room.
We get our first glimpse of the Seska. The music suggests they are delicate, dainty skipping ladies basking in the glow of the sun that seems to have come out for them.
We cross fade to a ‘real man’ being massaged. His name is Gunn-Sar, and isn’t dainty. Not one bit.
Suddenly Avon is now surrounded by a load of big bad-ass men. All beards and braun. And Big Ron from EastEnders.
Into the dialogue we go.
Avon: “You have a fetching way with women.”
Gunn-Sar: “Who are you to address me like some kind of joker.”
If nothing else it’s very funny. A heady brew of ale, meat, and western showdown.
In fact, I’m loving both Darrow and Dicken Ashworth as they chew up the scenery. When Gunn-Sar tells Avon that “You smell like a man” – Darrow’s very subtle eye squint, suddenly becomes very bombastic.
The stand-off is very entertaining, with the discussion of Marquin’s demise being an enjoyable diversion. Gunn-Sar’s identification of Avon’s petroscope (which sounds like a ‘spectroscope’) is an intriguing development. So far Ben Steed’s trademarks are present – macho, quick-fire dialogue and a technological related mystery.
Back on Xenon base, the depiction of the Seska continues to take a distinctly delicate approach, as Nurse Pella gets out her make up case from her pouch and heals Vila’s hand.
Meanwhile, in the Hommik’s lair, Gunn-Sar is talking about snivelling sacks of offal and being all man. I’m watching it with bit of a rear view mirror – and it’s fun. This episode is getting some of the biggest laughs in ages – maybe not always intentional, but they are definitely laughs. Even the last line is hilarious.
Gun-Sar: “So you want to be number 27?”
Avon: “Don’t you mean number 26?”
Some neat backstory is established through a discussion between Vila and Pella. It’s a nice opportunity for us to find out a little more about one of the regular characters as Vila relates his escape from the academy. It’s been a while since we have heard something new about these familiar characters.
Outside on Xenon, the weather has turned, and suddenly the characters running around isn’t part of the action, it’s more a case of keeping warm.
It’s time for the showdown as Avon and Gunn-Sar prepare to fight. I’ll say this, Ben Steed is brilliant at poking fun out of chivalry and tradition. We saw it earlier with the 26/27 discrepancy, and here it is again as Gunn Sar goes through the formalities. Even the name of the previous leader – Mavarik – sounds like a gentle poke at being the all-powerful male warrior. Avon’s smirk when Gunn-Sar forgets his lines is hilarious, and there is also something quite touching about the nice little chat they have about tradition before they attempt to kill each other.
Looking back, I’m noticing how enthusiastic the performances are from the regulars. Michael Keating shakes off Vila’s increasing moroseness with a spirited energy. His scenes with Pella are a good example. When he was talking about the CF1 academy, it is like the Vila from the first handful of episodes right back in season A.
More great lines, as Avon selects a weapon.
Avon: “I’ll have a Neutron blaster”
Gunn-Sar: (Following deliberation, and with slight embarrassment) “No Neutron blaster.”
Again I want to give Steed credit for some good witty dialogue.
But Gunn Sar gets the first advantage, with the oldest trick in the book. Push him when unaware.
What follows is another entertaining scene, as the fight is choreographed in tricky, slippery and downright chalky conditions. It’s performed at half the speed of other fights seen in Blake’s 7. The heavyweight sword selected by Gunn-Sar is a factor in this, but as Avon retreats from his repeated swipes (I’m loving the swooping overdubs) there is a sense that Darrow is being just that little extra cautious. One muddy slip, and there is the risk that the glove will be lying on the chalky floor, complete with hand inside it. Eat that, Dr. Kayn!
It is a touch clunky. The moment when Avon destroys the sword is a bit naff in terms of timing, video and sound effects. I can hear in my mind Mary Ridge directing the actors to hold their position as the sword blows up. But there is something so wonderful about this brand of naff, as Darrow highlights nicely when he gets clonked by one of the Hommiks.
As we rejoin the Seska, I’ve stopped noticing how males and females are depicted, and more about how the actors in this episode are simply trying to survive the cold weather. Look at Juliet Hammond-Hill as she utters the line “The one being held by the Hommiks is called Avon”. Actors are good at hiding the discomfort behind the scenes, but Hammond-Hill looks desperately cold. It reminds me of the story of Sarah Sutton (I think) seeing Janet Fielding cry because it was so cold when filming the Doctor Who episode ‘Time Flight’ in 1981.
The Seska are attacked and captured quite brutally, and I am reminded of how vicious Ben Steed can write material, as my mind drifts towards ‘Moloch’.
There is some interesting in-depth backstory (something that is a big characteristic of a Ben Steed script) as Dayna obtains some of the older Seska records. There’s some nasty imagery created that doesn’t shy away from the dirty tactics people can use to fight. Correct me if I’m wrong, isn’t that a younger Nina, doing the newsreader bit? It took me years to realise that.
Pella ends up in a cell with Avon. The resulting scene in the surgical unit, was the first time I noticed a very different acting style from Paul Darrow, when comparing his earlier appearances on the VHS tapes I had purchased up to that point.
The first evidence was in the way he turns around having knocked out the Hommik guard. Then there’s the way he throws himself into the scenery when Pella uses her telekinesis. Then there is the line “Oh it hurts Pella, but I will win.” Finally there is the look on his face as Pella succumbs to the superior power of the alpha male!
This is Blake’s 7…starring Paul Darrow. I really wonder what happened between the end of Terminal, and the extended break between that episode and this series. It’s worth noting that there were signs in ‘Death Watch’, during the confrontation with Servalan, suggesting how Darrow might have developed his performance had everyone known that the show was carrying on at that point. It’s a change of acting approach, which will last up until the very last moments of televised Blake’s 7. I’m quite fond of it.
I remember when I saw Avon and Pella kissing. Once again it was another link to those early episodes – having grown up on a diet of chaste Doctor Who it was always quite jarring to see characters kissing in Blake’s 7.
Nina’s subsequent scene with Gunn-Sar was quite touching, and is a brief respite from the bravado, serving to give the impression that there was more to the Hommiks than meets the eye. Why Nina chose to stay with them isn’t explicitly revealed, but makes me think about the wider goings on. The following scene between Cato and Avon is more revealing. Again it is pure Steed – the themes of evolution, technological advancement and society.
Cato’s death is really brutal. But there is little time to dwell on this, as a keyboard on strings clonks Avon. Cue a fall that only Darrow can pull off. Lets not forget people, that it is only right that it renders him unconscious for such a long period of time. I’m sure many of us will remember how heavy these keyboards were, back in the day!
I’m still keeping an eye on the Hommik guards in the background. In my vital, urgent discussion of ‘Mission to Destiny‘ I pondered over the identity of the actor who played Thrylce, the doomed gambler who takes on the Klute during ‘Gambit’. I suggested that it could be Jan Murzynowski, but now I’m now wondering whether it is Ridgewell Hawks? (1). Answers on a postcard.
Dicken Ashworth is playing Gunn-Sar like a petulant teenager, which really works. Check out the fervour in how he plays the weird ball game before Tarrant and Dayna and Vila are brought to him. And I love how he repeatedly forgets his lines. It’s these lovely little character touches that make me a little wistful that – when you strip away the gender obsessions – Steed can be a pretty sharp writer.
Another lovely touch is how Dayna cuts through Gunn-Sar’s over familiar bluster, and challenges him to a duel. If nothing else, it means we don’t have to hear all his claptrap once again.
Dayna too, regains her fighting spirit, something of which we have not truly seen since ‘City at the Edge of the World’ – bar little moments here and there.
Kate and Nina meet in the corridor. But it is a short reunion, as the bells ring out for judgement day. I’m enjoying the fact that Kate moves out of screen a little too late, as Hommik guards run right past her.
The fight between Dayna and Gunn-Sar is a little more nippy than Avon’s earlier battle. It’s just as enjoyable thanks to the smirk on Josette Simon’s face. As it mentioned earlier it has been a while since Dayna got to demonstrate her bravado.
“The black woman must win.” Just in case we weren’t sure.
I’m a big fan of the grey haired chap laughing with the cross-bow. It’s a good 40-a-day laugh. “Gaw on Gunn-Sor.” He doesn’t get a credit though.
Gunn-Sar bites the dust, in another brutal moment. The following scene feels like the true climax of ‘Power’ as we witness the end of the war and the disappearance of Hommiks as we know them. As Nina promises, it’s time for a new way of life, far away from this set of chalky pits.
Things are coming to a head. Avon is back on the base, Vila is working on the door, Pella is doing her telekinesis, and Tarrant is holding out for a deal.
It feels a bit like ‘Moloch’ in that we’re reliant on Avon to provide lengthy explanations, followed by a quick fire series of events. On Sardos it was the endless scene of Avon explaining to Dayna his deductions, followed by the deaths of the supporting cast. Here he does the same, followed by the code being inputted, the death of Kate, and the closing of the door.
Scorpio flies away, and Avon joins Pella on the flight deck. It’s not a cosy discussion. In fact it’s quite final. And it includes the line “If you didn’t want the answer, you shouldn’t have asked the question.” Er, what was the question again?
To be honest, I couldn’t fathom what Avon was banging on about regarding wars between races, cultures and sexes. But he seems to know what he is talking about, so that’s alright then.
Soolin makes her token appearance, just in time for the closing credits. It feels like the same amount of screen time that she will get in other episodes – I’m thinking of you, ‘Animals’. Normal service then.
Right deep breath…
My relationship with ‘Power’ (blimey, I sounded like Servalan there) is a conflicting and sometimes contradictory affair. OK, lets start with the tricky bit. It’s well documented that writer Ben Steed likes to write about gender related themes/depictions. It’s all over his three scripts. And there seems to be many observations in fan reviews that his work contains material that is considered to be sexist. Women are forced and coerced, threatened and bullied. Sometimes they lack charm or personality. Men are often primary, powerful, pouty and the ones who make the decisions. And this is just on a surface level.
I see that there is definitely an argument there, but it’s sometimes hard to see this as all-encompassing in Steed’s scripts. I read ‘The Harvest of Kairos’ as the story of an old-fashioned macho man and a supremely bored President of a depleted empire who has had enough of the half-arsed efforts and total incompetence of others (all men) before Jarvik, who is a diversion to her, rather than a revelation. It’s a fun episode all in all. ‘Moloch’ does contain some nasty content and implications, but at the very least, the ‘boys club’ characters and their actions are portrayed negatively.
Steed’s episodes stand out for me, not simply due to the specifics of gender depictions, but because in all of his episodes he doesn’t quite get the Blake’s 7 pitch right. The tone of ‘Moloch’ is a case in point.
A first trial might give the prosecution a chance to wax lyrical about how he doesn’t seem to write for the regulars that well, yet the defence could state that ‘The Harvest of Kairos’ contains a curiosity that is lacking in other episodes. In the cases of Tarrant, Servalan and Avon, their characters are given an extra dimension or expand on established ones. Tarrant becomes a hero for the first time in the series, Servalan is always in control, but is given a chance to develop some personal affection, and Avon takes disinterest to a whole new level. ‘Moloch’ also deserves some respect considering that it was an eleventh hour write-up.
Another trial could be centred around the idea that Steed was – even then – being so bloody old-fashioned and simplistic in how men and women are depicted. Anything that I might entertain as being old fashioned in ‘Power’ often feels more about the depictions of the male and female characters, rather than the central concept. The Hommiks and the Seska are both equally flawed and unsympathetic.
I find the whole battle of the sexes idea simply a bit duff as an idea – even Avon’s final summing up on Scorpio seems a bit half-arsed. I’ve always loved one of the core elements of Blake’s 7 – the ensemble piece. I love the idea that you take a group of people in a tough universe, and make them all deeply flawed regardless of gender, background or character trait. From this comes great drama and humour. The gender thing in ‘Power’ lacks the subtlety that is often the treatment of big themes in a Blake’s 7 episode.
Today, I don’t watch ‘Power’ and find it difficult to watch, or even at the least, a rubbish episode. I think it is pretty entertaining and deeper than it might first appear. This includes Gunn-Sar’s embroidery, Nina’s solidarity and leadership when forging a new life for the Hommiks, and the important character of Cato. However it is Cato who represents a failing of this episode overall, where he offers some fascinating background, with talk of “10,000 years of advancement destroyed in a day“, but is shot down by Pella (via Avon’s crossbow) and with that, the whole technological theme simply disappears from the story.
It does stand out to me as a moment that sticks out a bit in a series from several decades ago, just as other programmes have similar moments, from the discovery of the ice tombs on Telos, to Machiavellian machinations in Victorian London. But this isn’t something that is unique to Steed, and I will stick my neck out and say that I don’t think this is the most blatant example in this regard. For what it is worth, I think ‘Assassin’ is an episode where I think harder about the way some characters and gender are represented, but ‘Countdown’ might be at the top of the list, its unevenness in terms of giving characters both male and female something purposeful to do, means the episode lacks a vital ingredient. But hey, I still really enjoy these episodes, as I do with ‘Power’. When watching this episode I think of the greater spirit of Blake’s 7 as a whole, and experience the episode on those terms.
When I started blogging, I wanted to keep the experience of ‘watching’ these episodes at the forefront of my rambling discussions, because Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who are the series that I watch in many different contexts; for escapism, for critical or cultural discussion, or for the art of television production. But I mainly watch it because it captures my imagination. So while I watch it primarily to be entertained, I’m quite happy to scoff, sigh, sneer and chuckle at older television tropes and conventions with todays eyes. It might seem unkind to those who made it, but not for one second do they stop me from enjoying these episodes, or getting something out of them. In fact ‘Power’ was the episode I had earmarked to watch with my wife, because I was interested to see how it would be read by someone who has no allegiance to Blake’s 7 whatsoever; a feminist who is outspoken, well read, and who can deliver a vicious and contemptuous eye roll. What resulted was a discussion about how she perceived this episode, with a ton of observations that were far removed from my primitive perspective.
Here are her notes:
There is a lot about division, and the fact that this is an episode aired in the early 1980’s – a time of division in the UK, and in Europe. And it really felt like a product of this particular time.
There were significant medical advancements in fertility, with the first IVF baby being born in 1979, this is picked up through questions in the episode relating to procreation. The referenced gender war may have been started by the Hommiks realising that Seska would procreate independently without any assistance from a man.
By the way, all the Hommiks look like Game of Thrones extras and all the Seska are running about in some highly impractical and chilly looking diaphanous Roman looking numbers…but at least their sandals are flat!
There are lots of depictions of manhood. The men felt so threatened they destroyed the own society by returning to a primitive concept of manhood; where physically and capacity for brutality rules, thereby making the advanced independent women their mortal enemy.
Particularly interesting was the parallels between the very brutal Gunn-Sar with his tallies, and Avon, who is essentially a technically advanced Hommik. He is also frightened by being outwitted and dominated by a woman.
Another depiction is the passive man Tarrant, who stands by while continually active Dayna, challenges Gunn-Sar.
There is also Vila who is more feminine in his talents and is more aligned with the Seska in his subtle arts of door breaking.
There was more to Hommik society. Clearly brutality is visible, by there is reference to a council of men, preserving conversation and judgement.
The computer room is key to how they managed to exist – it’s easier to treat men who use brutality as a way of existing – like children who believe in the magic box that light and heat their homes.
There is the important moment where Nina, the ex-Seska with the fab Bacofoil red chiffon number, makes the distinction between her life as Seska and her life as a woman. Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but my reading is that no one was right and you can’t create a civilisation based on a gender divide and that she may have felt fulfilled as a woman by being in a mans world and had been allowed experiences that she may not have had as a Seska (the tender kiss moment with her handy with needle point husband hints at affection and intimacy). By the end of the episode she is definitely a leader.
It’s too reductive to call this a sexist episode, but perhaps a misfired commentary on gender wars and sexual dimorphism with a hefty veneer of misogynistic language which serves to fuel the plot. After all can you take a mans dominant strength seriously when he ends up unconscious on the floor after a women has thought a massive keyboard might look very fetching flying into his skull. In fact I think that this episode is very rooted in the idea of an ultimate fear that men might not be needed by women, all the powerful men do at some point end up face down as the result of the combined strength of women. There is a great Margaret Atwood quote that comes to mind “Men are afraid that Women will laugh at them, Women are afraid that Men will kill them” which is ultimately the choice that Avon makes to preserve the fragile shell of his masculine identity.
Once we had mopped up the blood on the living room floor, and swept up the broken crockery from the kitchen, I had a another set of perspectives.
So thank you ‘Power’ – seriously, thank you.
There is much more to talk about.
It is an episode that is often fun, containing some witty and sparky dialogue, and lots of action. It never hangs around. Steed writes humour well. The interactions between Avon and Gunn-Sar are often amusing. Like ‘Moloch’, there are tantalising themes of the relationship between humanity, society and technological advancement. The characters are mostly well rounded, and at the very least, everyone shows conviction about whose side they are on.
On this occasion, Steed writes for the regulars effectively. He is quoted as saying that he previously struggled to write for Cally. With Soolin on the sidelines, it is Dayna who gets some nice material, and for this episode at least, a return to her original zest. As in ‘Moloch’, Orac is particularly waspish and arrogant – a perfect portrayal.
As I mentioned at the start, this story is also quite nostalgic for me, as it was the first episodic and unedited story I watched on VHS cassette. Watching it following my viewing of the early compilation tapes from (mainly) season A, it was a chance to see if anything had changed over the course of the entire run. And the answer was yes, because ‘Power’ feels so familiar. 30 seconds in to the episode, Avon is running down a familiar looking pathway down a familiar looking bank in familiar drab weather conditions. In fact, when Avon tells Orac that he needs “Teleport now” it’s as though nothing has changed since ‘Time Squad’ – the same quarry, one of the same characters, and the same means of escape. Even the crushing of a teleport bracelet in unknown hands is a typically Blake-esque image. Again this made ‘Power’ the perfect first season D episode to watch – full of the familiar.
It is also an important episode. The Xenon base is established fully, and the crew finally gain full control of Scorpio and Slave. The ground work is done and it’s time for the fourth and final season to truly start. As I mentioned in ‘Moloch’, Steed provides some good background sketching, such as Cato and what he doesn’t tell Gunn-Sar, the specialist skills provided by the Seska, the presumably tactical relationship with Dorian, and the telecast viewed by the crew of Xenon base, which illustrates the ongoing battle, making the audience consider the history of the war. Steed can also write nippy, quick fire and often witty dialogue. He isn’t responsible for the three episodes of Blake’s 7 that I find even a bit of a struggle to enjoy 100% of the time. Three out of the following six stories in the season win that award.
The production does let things down a little. There is so much that is brave about season D, but I’ve always wished it was a darker lit affair, simply because it would have not only covered the simply rendered set design, but sent out a signal that the cosiness, safety and splendour of the Liberator age is long gone. Mary Ridge lacks some of the distinctive visual stylings that characterised her previous two episodes. There’s no proper chairs to talk about for a start!
So, yes. I’m quite fond of ‘Power’. I’m not blind to its faults, but like Steed’s ‘Moloch’ and ‘The Harvest of Kairos’ – it’s an episode that stands out, makes me sit up and notice for better and for worse, offers some great dialogue and is a pretty diverting 50 minutes or so.
Dicken Ashworth’s many, many credits include Doctor Who, and Brookside, where he played a character amusingly called Alan Partridge. Aha! He also featured in the music video for The Pretenders ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’, pursuing Chrissie Hynde through some Avengers style world.
Juliet Hammond-Hill, appeared in tons of stuff before retiring to become a drama teacher. Alison Glennie also works in drama training, relocating to Ireland some years ago, check out this nice interview on Jonathan Helm’s Scorpio Attack website.
Jenny Oulton has credits dating back to 1962, including Villains, Armchair Thriller, and Angels. Paul Ridley featured as Tony Stone in Angels, and ten years later as Mr. Stone in Grange Hill. Stone me.
Linda Barr’s credits are restricted to the 1980’s, but you can see her with more dialogue than the entirety of ‘Power’ by watching an episode of Only Fools and Horses called ‘Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.’
Simpson’s music feels sparser here, with melodic brassy motifs for (largely) the Hommiks, and delicate flute/glockenspiel referencing the Seskas. Of course, it’s taking its cues from the theme of the script. Mind you once Scorpio makes an appearance towards the end, we’re back to timpani and pounding rhythms similar to any moments where Space Command makes an appearance in ‘Seek Locate Destroy’ or ‘Star One’. It’s interesting to note that there is no music during the fight scenes on Xenon.
Some other observations:
Dudley gets out his trusty marimba for the early scenes of Avon running from the Hommiks.
Halfway through the episode there is a scene in the surgical unit, which uses a high-pitched metallic sound that is recognisable in many crime and psychological dramas requiring an eerie, unsettling tone. In Blake’s 7 it is also heard during ‘Children of Auron’ during a similar scene at the replication plant. The instrument in question is a Waterphone.
Designed in the late 1960’s this is an instrument that can be struck or bowed like a violin. Tristan Fry, who was one of Dudley Simpson’s long-standing session musicians, and the drummer for the rock band ‘Sky’, was partial to a bit of Waterphone action.
Check out Fry’s work at the beginning of this track from the ‘Sky Five Live’ album which was recorded and released around the same time of ‘Power.’
Roger Cann, the man responsible for this episode, appears to be the architect of season D, with a number of stripped down and perhaps less extravagant designs than of old.
I noticed the illuminated panels on Xenon base, which featured in Cann’s Doctor Who credit ‘Nightmare of Eden’ (1979), but simply rotated 90 degrees.
He’s big on bold shapes and straight lines, such as the similarities between the back walls on ‘Eden’ and ‘Power’.
There also some motifs that will be seen in other episodes, such as the chain-like design seen in ‘Games.’
The base and Scorpio made their debuts in the preceding ‘Rescue’, leaving the Hommiks lair as the main source of interest here. The ‘rocky’ walls appear to contain the same patterns repeatedly and the backlit panels are given the revolving police light treatment. In fact his use of hazard tape on ‘Nightmare of Eden’ combined with the big bulbs, and swirling lights in ‘Power’ give his work an often ‘secure unit’ like feel.
It’s a perfectly good approach, but if I’m honest, it is a slight step backwards aesthetically from the overall design style of seasons B and C. It’s like the tightening budget is requiring more simplistic methods of depicting other environments.
There’s more about Roger Cann in the discussion of ‘Blake‘.
HOW TO SELL THIS TO AN UNBELIEVER.
As one where there is much worthy discussion when you watch it a number of contexts.
MY FAVOURITE MOMENT
The formalities before the duel between Avon and Gunn-Sar.
THE MOMENT I’D RATHER FORGET
“If you didn’t want the answer, you shouldn’t have asked the question.”
VERDICT IN TEN WORDS EXACTLY.
Hang tight. Game of Thrones ain’t got anything on this.
For what it is worth, this blog post was written in the week being “Talons-gate” blew up on Twitter. Funny that.