THE PLOT Held at gunpoint by the young man, Avon is baffled when he claims it is HIS ship. Other Federation guards enter, as the man introduces himself as Captain Del Tarrant. Avon poses as a man called Chevron, and claims that he and his wife Dayna have been on the ship, asleep. Tarrant and Section Leader Klegg (Michael Sheard) take them to the bridge, as they announce that the Liberator is now their prize of war. They demand that Avon and Dayna speak to Zen to confirm that their identities are not registered in its memory banks, in order for them to bring the ship under their control.
Dayna complies, but before Avon can speak, Tarrant knocks him out cold after he claims that he was going to attack him. Avon and Dayna are taken to be locked up as prisoners as the Liberator picks up Vila’s voice on the communicator.
Vila is on the planet Chenga, and after he senses movement in a nearby undergrowth, he pretends to contact non-existent crewmembers. However, the natives are friendly, as Lom (John Hollis) and his servant Mal (Michael Crane) introduce themselves. They take Vila to safety, as they are on the run from bounty hunters, the Hi-Techs.
Avon and Dayna attempt an escape, and their bid is made easier after the guard outside the door is stabbed to death by an unseen assailant. Avon and Dayna escape through a passageway into the inner workings of the Liberator. There, Avon formulates a plan to distract Tarrant and Klegg, so he can get to the bridge and find out Zen’s progress on locating Cally and Vila. He launches a life capsule, so as to throw Tarrant off the scent, and make him think that they abandoned ship.
Cally, in the meantime, is on a hospital ship after she was recovered, badly scorched, from her life capsule. The nurse (Catherine Chase) tells Cally that she is quickly healing. They are also en-route to Chenga, but when Cally quizzes the nurse over this, she doesn’t give any forthcoming answers. They have now picked up a new survivor – Servalan.
On Chenga, Lom is knocked out by the Hi-Techs, who now turn out to be no more than two black-clad women, Zee (Primi Townsend) and Barr (Julia Vidler). Vila is taken by Zee and Barr, where he is fed and looked after. Immediately recovering at the sight of the women, Vila is taken to the city, where he will apparently make an enormous contribution to their society.
Avon makes his way to the bridge, as the Liberator is on course for Chenga. Zen confirms that Blake is safe and well and en route for the planet Epheron, while Jenna is also safe and en route for the planet Morphenniel. Zen also announces that Vila’s latest transmission said that he was in great peril, and so the ship is on course in accordance with whoever is in the greatest danger. Another guard has been killed in the meantime, and to make matters worse, Dayna has been captured.
Avon makes for the control cabin where en-route, he has seen a guard, Harmon (Doyne Byrd) behave suspiciously in a room that contains riches and rare gems. Once inside, he is collared by Tarrant and Harmon. Tarrant says that he has rumbled Avon’s disguise after Avon had replied with “YOUR ship?” when originally challenged. Avon claims that Harmon is the killer, and when challenged, a furious Harmon wrestles him to the floor – only to be shot by Tarrant, the real killer.
Vila enters the city on Chenga and is delighted to be reunited with Cally. They are both taken to health reception where they are given trace elements to swallow for analysis. Vila happily obliges but Cally is suspicious and contacts the Liberator.
Tarrant explains that he has been on the Federation Wanted list for some time. He was involved in the war, but, after falling at the first salvo, was picked up by a Federation ship. After the ship, Tarrant’s life capsule homed in on the Liberator. Once there, he met Klegg and his men (the Federation’s Death Squad), and had no choice but to bluff his way through – and with a Federation uniform, the bluff managed to work.
Klegg makes an ultimatum to Avon – he wants complete control of the Liberator. In return, he will be transported to the nearest planet in safety. Avon apparently agrees and seems to trick Tarrant (whose ruse has been rumbled) into coming into the teleport area where Klegg is holding Dayna hostage. Both Avon and Tarrant manage to overpower the other guards, but watch in admiration as Dayna throttles the life out of Klegg.
Vila and Cally receive an unwanted visitor – Servalan, who delights in telling them that they are now in ‘The Slaughterhouse’. Their organs will be used for spare part surgery, and the capsules that they swallowed are now taking their toll as they become paralysed. Luckily, Avon manages to teleport them both up in the nick of time before they are killed. With all five recovered, Avon welcomes Dayna and Tarrant as official crewmembers of the Liberator.
ANALYSIS Carrying on where Aftermath left off, Powerplay carries on the hunt for the missing Liberator crewmembers.
Powerplay is similar to the preceding season’s Trial, in that it combines three separate plot strands into one coherent whole. Where Trial had nearly but not quite got it right (thanks to crap alien Zil), Powerplay manages to nail it with three entertaining subplots that all manage to come together by the end.
Each subplot deals with the three separate predicaments of the crewmembers. Cally’s on her way to the planet Chenga, where she meets Vila, who’s been having adventures of his own with two glamorous women. In the meantime, Avon and Dayna are trying to claw back the Liberator from the clutches of smarmy Tarrant and his sadistic new buddy Klegg. On top of that, someone’s picking off the invading troopers one by one. But who?
Well, it turns out to be new boy Tarrant, who’s actually double crossing the Federation after being high on its ‘wanted’ hit list. Tarrant actually comes across quite well here, using his heroic and resourceful characteristics to good use. I’m not a big fan of Tarrant’s, which is not Steven Pacey’s fault by any means – the actor gives it his best throughout his time on Blake’s 7, and contributes some excellent performances.
The real problem lies in the scripting, as more often than not, the stories can’t make up their mind as to what sort of character Tarrant is. Action hero? Loyal crewmember? Arrogant bully? Annoying pain in the arse? Regrettably, many of the stories plump for the latter two options, and so Tarrant frequently comes across as an unlikable know-it-all who’s too busy picking on the others (especially Vila and Cally) rather than making any valid contribution. I kind of wonder why Avon allows Tarrant to actually become a crewmember – maybe he enjoys taking the superior high ground of the new, inexperienced Tarrant, who tends to put his foot in it too often.
Anyway, back to the episode – the subplot aboard the Liberator works well, and the revelation of Tarrant’s real identity is well done. Michael Sheard is also good as Klegg, even if he’s saddled with an unconvincing London accent. Dick Van Dyke. David Tennant. Kate Nash. Sheard now joins these august ranks who have used annoying fake Cockney accents. Gaw bloymey eppels end pehhrs, who’d have thought that Mr Bronson would speak the same lingo as his arch nemesis KENDAAAAALLLLLL!!!!
Vila’s subplot is amusing, although he’s even more gullible than ever before. Refusing to heed the advice of Lom (a good performance from John Hollis) and his buddy Mal (apparently played by Geoff Capes with a feather duster on his head), Vila is ensnared by the doe-eyed female Hi-Techs, who send him to the local abattoir. It’s all silly and rather obvious, but Michael Keating is as excellent as ever, providing real comedy gold in scenes such as when he’s warning his imaginary troops of danger.
Cally gets less to do after she’s been recovered from her damaged capsule, but it’s nice to see her temporarily get one over on Servalan, after the Federation President fails to convince the hospital ship’s nurse of her importance. In fact the episode doesn’t need Servalan at all, since she gets nothing to do except go Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah at Vila and Cally when she gleefully explains that they’re about to be turned into a heap of spare parts for organ donation. Good though Jacqueline Pearce is, Powerplay pre-empts many future stories that don’t really need Servalan. Less is more – remember that people.
This is – surprisingly – David Maloney’s second and final directing contribution to Blake’s 7. Powerplay finds Maloney in good form, keeping the plot whizzing along with many cross fades and well-staged action sequences. The location work at How Steen Gorge is excellent, the verdant jungle scenery proving to be an excellent choice for the planet Chenga.
Powerplay is a triumph. It manages to tie up the loose ends of Season Two and paves the way for things to come. It successfully tells three stories simultaneously, whilst weaving them together into a coherent whole. And its also really enjoyable – a strong entry in the third season of Blake’s 7.
Check out our review of season 3 episode 1 here.